ESS Lore Volume 1: Eternal Winter
The story so far: 500 years after the civilisation on Pollux is destroyed, the Droo Alliance ship New Frontiers is on a mission to investigate the outer Juno system. After gaining a new crew member at Cylero and hosting a dinner party at which strange tales are told, the ship has reached the outer system. Dr Ogmaz and Kalfr make a disastrous trip to an impact crater on Phoebe, which results in Kalfr being admitted unconscious to sick bay. Mysteries deepen surrounding the mission, and these puzzles are brought to a head by bizarre events in sickbay. Hodiyah demands the truth from Lethe, and he indicates his story may be able to explain more than the captain expected.
Chapter 8, Juno Date 056.2167:
For a time, Lethe remained silent and deep in thought. Captain Hodiyah Xene waited for him to speak, realising that the old man was wrestling within his mind. Eventually he looked up at her and cleared his throat.
“Everything which I am about to say is truth,” he began. “But some things you may find difficult to believe or understand. Please have no fear—I mean no harm to you or your crew, you are all my family.
My true name is En’kih, and I am a citizen of Pollux, the planet whose moon we are now orbiting. I am the only survivor of a great catastrophe which befell our civilisation around five centuries ago. In accordance with the documents the inhabitants of Droo recently unearthed, Pollux was once much closer to Juno. My people were unified under a central council, supported by the members of our great religious order, the Wa’keth. My people were not advanced technologically, but we held a deep understanding of the nature of our reality. Through using this knowledge, we were able to access the Added Dimension, which is the fundamental intelligence of our mother universe. This enabled us to bring unity and peace on our home planet and showed us that Phoebe had been moved by an independent intelligence. We were also able to use powers connected to the Dimension in healing, as you have seen today. However, as Doctor Ogmaz has correctly theorised, the moon entered the system and dragged my home planet into a distant orbit of our star. While all my people must have died in following months due to the plummeting temperatures, many were killed through showers of radioactive debris during its initial approach. I was working at the headquarters of our order at this time and was sent through the Dimension to find the cause of the catastrophe and bring it to justice.”
Hodiyah listened in amazement to this tale. “Do you believe remains of your civilisation can still be found on the surface of Pollux?” she enquired.
“I do not know how much will remain after these hundreds of years,” Lethe replied sadly. “From observations of the planet I cannot imagine how horrific conditions were for the remaining souls during the last weeks of their lives. The landmasses are identifiable, but otherwise the planet is almost unrecognisable. That said, I believe that some of our ancient monuments, buildings, and strongholds may have survived the great upheavals. Due to the low gravitational force, architecture was advanced on Pollux; we were able to build vast structures with relative ease.”
“I see,” Hodiyah nodded. “But the part I cannot understand; how was it that you came to be in the Cylero One base, alive and well after five centuries?”
“I cannot fully explain in a way you will understand.” Lethe said thoughtfully. “But I shall do my best to describe the concept of the Added Dimension. It allows a living, material being to combine with the fundamental, all-present intelligence of the universe. I believe your scientists would describe the process as converting matter to energy. After entering the dimension, the life form can re-materialise as a separate entity when wished, at any point forwards in the timeline and at any spatial coordinates.
Through sensing their intelligence, my people were aware of two civilisations in the near vicinity of our system, one on the planet Earth and one within our own star system, on Droo. Due to the more advanced nature of the Earth civilisation, I chose to visit that planet first. My species lives longer than yours, and I spent a century living and working on Earth watching and waiting for the right moment. But as I described at the banquet when we passed Urados, they were destroyed just as they developed crewed interplanetary travel. I narrowly escaped destruction myself, but I escaped through the Dimension in the final moments of the planet. Seeing the humans’ fate led me to travel forwards another century to Droo, where I realised that your civilisation was on the cusp of great discovery. I joined the Droo Alliance scientific team, and it was during this time that I heard of the proposed outer system mission. It appeared that Cylero would be the best place to join your crew, so I travelled on a cargo ship to the Cylero One base awaiting your visit. I was unsure how I would become part of the ship’s company, but after getting into conversation with Xanadu I realised that open communication was the best approach. The attack which resulted from our meeting was not part of my plan and I had no wish to put you in danger, but other forces were at work over which I had no control.”
The captain stayed silent for a few moments, trying to process what Lethe had just told her. “But why was it my mission specifically which you chose to join?” she eventually asked.
“I chose your mission for two reasons. Firstly because of its target, and secondly because I knew your experiences on this mission would lead you to be open minded about these things.” Lethe replied. “If I had presented myself—an extra-Droovian time-traveller—at Droo Alliance headquarters, I doubt they would have believed me. As for the general population, the concept of life beyond your own world would capture their imagination, but that would not bring me closer to seeking those who destroyed my world.”
“I see now,” Hodiyah said, with understanding showing on her face. “And that is why you did not tell us about yourself and your mission until now?”
“That is precisely why,” Lethe nodded. “It was not easy to withhold such vital information from you, especially as you have shown such kindness and respect to me. But to have disclosed my identity too quickly would have invited failure, and it is essential that I complete the mission I was entrusted with by my people. In addition to this, there is one more topic which I need to discuss with you; the strange symbols linked to incidents over the past weeks.”
The old man’s face was very serious now and Hodiyah leaned forward in her seat, knowing that this information was of critical importance.
Lethe continued. “I have not yet discovered much about the force which destroyed my home world, but some things have come to light. As the leaders of the Wa’keth believed, it is an intelligent entity separate from the rest of the universe. This entity can diverge from the universe and bend the natural laws we are so dependent upon. Whether it is a group of beings or a single creature, I do not know, but it is symbolised by an hourglass shape and the name ‘Tempus’. In my people’s old legends, a story is found of an hourglass-shaped vessel which appeared in the sky over Pollux as a portent of destruction. While scholars were divided on the meaning of the tale, recent events lead me to believe that it may have been an early visitation of Tempus, indicating it is capable of travel in a similar manner to this ship.”
The captain raised her eyebrows in surprise. “We encountered both the symbol and the lettering multiple times recently. A damaged component in our engines, the knife carried by our assailant on Cylero, and the radioactive debris found by Kalfr all had these markings. Are you saying that this being is interfering with our mission, and is the same force that destroyed life on Pollux?”
“That is exactly what I mean.” Lethe nodded. “Now you see the link—after prior appearances Tempus destroys life on my home world and now attempts to delay and destroy your mission of discovery to the planet. I do not yet understand its motive; there is nothing unusual about Pollux except for its former population, who are now extinct except for myself. I believe that my people were destroyed because of our ability to communicate with the universe, so why should Tempus now interfere with you?”
“Perhaps it is to prevent you from sharing your knowledge and abilities?” Hodiyah suggested.
“This is a logical conclusion, but I do not think it is really the explanation.” Lethe responded. “The powers my people possess are made possible by our neurological system, and no amount of teaching or training can transfer this to another species.”
“Then it is a mystery.” The captain mused. “Maybe we will find the answer before long, it certainly seems that this power is willing to interact with us quite frequently. Perhaps we will be able to find a way of communicating constructively.”
“I doubt communication will be an option.” Lethe replied sadly. “The attacker in the bio dome was connected with Tempus, and their only action was to assault you and Mitra.”
“This is very true.” Hodiyah mused. “If we can determine Tempus’ intentions it will enable us to predict its actions. When the doctor returns from the surface we will discuss this in more detail. Of course, all this depends on the truth of your account, and I must confess to some scepticism about your tale. The radioactive debris on Phoebe that Kalfr found is the currently only tentative evidence we have of extra-Droovian life.”
“I understand your hesitancy.” Lethe responded. “However, when the ship visits Pollux the remnants of my civilisation will verify my story. I believe that much of our architecture will have survived the cataclysm and can be readily identified. If I can be of any assistance in planning your exploration of the planet, I am eager to help. The fate of my people weighs heavily on my heart, and I wish to revisit our sacred sites to seek solace.”
“You must have suffered an unbearable loss, so I shall do everything I can to make that possible. A map of important sites would be very beneficial,” the captain said thoughtfully. “We will need to make detailed scans to ensure it is safe to send shuttles down to the surface, but you will most certainly be part of the exploration trips.”
The two had been so absorbed in their conversation that they had failed to notice movement from Kalfr’s bed—and they were both startled when the crew hand raised his arm. Hodiyah and the old man rushed to his side and were overjoyed to see that he had regained consciousness!
Several hours later, Shuttle One touched down inside New Frontiers’ rear bay and the tired exploration team disembarked. As the airlock doors opened, they were amazed to find Kalfr waiting for them. He was pale, had half-healed scars on his face from the burns, and required crutches to walk steadily, but the whole crew were overjoyed to see such an improvement in his condition. The crew hand was eager to restart duties, but Captain Hodiyah had sternly told him that he was on leave until Lethe was entirely satisfied with his recovery. This did not prevent Ogmaz from chatting excitedly with Kalfr and Deimos about the day’s discoveries on Phoebe’s surface. In addition to high quality sensor readings and images of the terrain, the team had several crates of material samples to unload, all of which were carefully labelled and stored by the doctor.
“We landed in a tholin deposit region and made a short trek to the edge of the nearest graben.” Dr Ogmaz explained eagerly. “The deposits have the consistency of tar, several centimetres thick. It seems there is a vast supply of hydrocarbons in the area which have been broken down by sunlight to produce the red colouration. Strangely, the valley regions are free from tholins, so some work will be required to determine the source of the organic compounds which they are forming from. This will be a very exciting week!”