Leone and Aristark completed their hyperspace jump and arrived in the h32 star system. Their spaceship automatically engaged the antimatter-powered drive and put them on course to the r121:23:45 d45:143:23 z1.9347 coordinates at standard acceleration.
Aristark helped the spaceship's artificial intelligence set up parameters for a search strategy that might find a ship near the specified coordinates, or on a trajectory that had recently passed through those coordinates.
At the same time, Leone was searching for an alternative target. Something from his dream about Kalid made Leone think that the coordinates were for a planet rather than a spaceship. But Leone had examined the data for the h32 system and had found that there was a significant asteroid belt with a minor component near 1.9 atronomical units. "Okay. I've initiated a scan for asteroids near the specified coordinates."
Aristark said, "If Kalid is using the Haldus Order technology for hiding spaceships our scans may show us nothing."
Leone agreed that was a worry. "I wonder if the Haldus Order might have developed another technology that allows you to penetrate their shield. Maybe the equipment that was installed on this ship has such a capability."
Aristark complained, "As far as I can tell, the Haldus Order technology that we have on this ship is not under our control, so even if it has such a capacity, we do not know how to make use of it. In any case, it will take us most of a day to reach those coordinates. If Kalid has a ship there then from this distance we will only detect it if it is transmitting a navigation beacon."
Leone examined the radio bands and saw that they were receiving an automated signal welcoming them to the h32 system and requesting that they transmit their flight plan. Of course, their ship had automatically done so as soon as they had jumped into the system. Leone said, "There does not seem to be much spaceship or communications traffic in this system."
Aristark nodded, "I do not think I have ever previously visited such a low population star system before...this is a real "end of nowhere" destination. I wonder why anyone ever bothered to settle here."
Leone examined the navigation records for the star system that had been transmitted to them along with the welcome. Leone knew from experience that for small systems like h32 the local navigation records were often more detailed than the limited information available in the standard astrogation database entries carried in ship's memory. Leone said, "Well there is a planet within the likely habitable zone for this star, right at one astronomical unit from the star. However, the records indicate that planet is not inhabited....but there is a small population on its airless moon."
Aristark was reading through the same local navigation records. "The largest population in this system is on the fourth planet, a terraformed world with little water and little air."
Leone examined the pattern of navigation beacons noted that most of the spaceship activity in the system was associated with the fourth planet, called "h32.4" in the navigation records. "Oh, I see! They are continually capturing water-containing comets and asteroids and sending them to the fourth planet. They are also sending water from the third planet to the fourth. Wow! The third planet is covered with water!"
Aristark was surprised. "A water world with no human habitation? And they are doing major terraforming to get more water to the fourth planet? That makes no sense."
"Oh my graviton!" Leone was horrified by a new realization. "The third planet is a Green planet!"
Aristark asked, "Green goo? Well, that explains why nobody lives on the third planet. I wonder why the standard astrogation database entry for system h32 does not mention the existence of a Green Planet in this star system."
"First Flammis and now this system." After decades of space travel and never having seen a Green planet, Leone was surprised to now be in a second star system with a Green planet so soon after having been to Flammis/Plato. "I'm starting to wonder if Green Planets are significantly more common than we are usually told."
Aristark commented, "And I wonder if there is some special association between the Haldus Order and Green planets."
Leone asked, "Why would there be such an association?"
Aristark shrugged, "When we were at Flammis you suggested that a Green Planet might be a good place to hide a secret base. Maybe the Haldus Order routinely makes use of Green Planets as hiding places."
"I've been thinking that if the Haldus Order originated on Earth, then maybe they would have selected a nearby and low-population system for their first base off of Earth. Maybe h32 was the location of the first Haldus Order training center off of Earth." Leone's thoughts swirled with possibilities. "There are many things we can ask Kalid."
Aristark asked, "What was it about your dream that made you think that the coordinates are for a planet?"
Leone could not put his feelings into words. "It was just a feeling. Early in the dream everything felt like there was another ship approaching our ship, then when the coordinates appeared, I was thinking about trees and mountains...scenes like the terrain of the part of Sakkara where I grew up. And there was something that had the feel of 'orbit'....I can't really explain it."
Aristark suggested, "If we are looking for an orbiting asteroid at about 1.93 astronomical units from the center of this star system, then we can estimate the expected orbital speed for such an asteroid."
Leone said, "Yes, we do not want to go directly to the coordinates that were given in the dream. The asteroid would have moved on in its orbit to a new location."
Aristark used the Thot interface to adjust their flight path slightly. "Okay, I asked Thot to make an adjustment to our course. We are now on route to the best guess estimate of where such an asteroid should be."
Leone was pleased that Aristark seemed willing to be guided even by Leone's hunches. "I've requested from the inhabitants of this system any records they have for the positions of asteroids near 1.9 astronomical units from the center of the system. The asteroid we are looking for might be in their database already."
Aristark was not much impressed by Leone's reasons for suspecting that their target was an asteroid. "If it is an asteroid we are looking for. I still expect Kalid to be in a spaceship. I do not understand why he would be sitting on some asteroid in the middle of nowhere."
Leone suggested, "Most of the inhabitants of this system live in space stations or in bases on airless moons and asteroids. It might be perfectly normal for Kalid to be at such an asteroid base in this system, maybe a base long used by the Haldus Order."
"But would Kalid give out the coordinates to such a base? Now we have broadcast our destination as being those coordinates. If the Haldus Order is so secretive, surely Kalid would not send us to the location of a secret base, not when we have to broadcast our destination for all to see."
"Yes, I agree with your analysis. Maybe these coordinates are just a safe destination for us, some place that Kalid does not mind having us reveal. We shall see. Maybe Kalid will contact us before we reach those coordinates and re-direct us to another destination."
Aristark chuckled, "Maybe you should sleep in case Kalid wants to contact you again."
Leone grinned. "I expect our next communication from Kalid will come by conventional radio communication. But maybe if I exercise now I will be ready to get to bed early and wake about the time we reach a sensible scanning distance from our destination."
Leone went to the gym and exercised for two hours. When he returned to the main control room, Aristark had news. "You were right. Our destination is a microplanet called Esclangon. It has a population of about three million people."
Leone was pleased. "Really? I actually dreamed the coordinates of a known planet?"
Aristark provided additional information from the extensive insystem asteroid-tracking database. "Esclangon is a small asteroid, but it even has a moon. They sent us a request for more details on our flight plan. They want to know if we intend to land on Esclangon, go into orbit, or if we will just be passing by."
Leone sat down, connected to the Thot interface and reviewed the data that had been received from Esclangon. "Of course, everything depends on Kalid. I'm tempted to send a reply asking if Kalid is a resident of Esclangon."
Aristark suggested, "Maybe we should just request permission to land on Esclangon. If Kalid contacts us before we land then we can change our flight plan at that time. I've been on this ship for nearly a week and I'm more than ready to get off for a while and see some new sights. I'm not the great space traveler that you are."
Leone chuckled. It was true that he had spent a large part of his life traveling around the galaxy. Before becoming Planetary Counselor for Transportation, Leone had served as a traveling Sakkaran trade negotiator, arranging for interstellar trade with other planets around the galaxy. Even while serving as Planetary Counselor Leone had logged more space flight time than any other head of Transportation. However, it was also true that a typical space flight involved just a few days on a spaceship and then you were at your destination and had a chance to get off your ship for a while. "Okay, I'll just tell them that we intend to land. I'll emphasize that I am an official of the Sakkaran Department of Transportation and let them imagine a reason for our visit....I won't mention Kalid."
A short while later Leone said, "Okay, I sent a reply to 'Esclangon', but I still do not see the name 'Esclangon' in the navigation database....that name is only in the radio message we received."
Aristark explained, "The database just uses a number code for the asteroid. Apparently the local residents have a name for the rock they live on."
"Yes, I see the asteroid '1509' in the database and its orbital parameters clearly are the same as those of Esclangon. In my experience, system navigation databases usually include the local names of planets, but even their major population center, the fourth planet, is only given a number designation...'h32.4'. It is almost as if they have purposefully not put common names into their database."
Aristark wondered, "Maybe that is the local custom. Where I grew up on Sakkara adjacent towns did not agree on names for the roads, so most people just used the numerical street numbers designated by the district authorities rather than the different street names used by each town."
Leone said, "Hmm, I guess it is possible that multiple groups of settlers came to this system from Earth and each group gave the planets different names. For example, I see that Esclangon is classified as a member of the 'Hungaria' asteroids. In my reading of Earth history I noticed that there was a national group called the 'Hungarians' in Standard Galactic. This star system is so close to Earth that it may have been colonized before the Standard Galactic language was widely adopted."
Leone did sleep during a large part of their approach to Esclangon, but he did not have any more interesting dreams. Aristark saw no more interesting power surges in Sybil's mysterious equipment.
Finally they were on final approach to Esclangon. Leone was delighted to find that Esclangon looked like some kind of exotic flower with a nimbus of space stations around the asteroid and a network of interconnecting space elevators. The surface of the asteroid was obscured by the cloud of associated space stations, but it was studded with thousand-story-tall towers. Their spaceship efficiently glided on autopilot through the tangle of structures and into a vast sub-surface space dock and to a docking chamber that was close to the size of their ship. Soon the chamber was sealed and pressurized and Aristark popped the hatch.
Leone and Aristark emerged from the ship and were met by a robot who said, "Welcome to Esclangon. I am your guide, Frank. How may I serve you?"
Leone replied, "Thanks for your welcome, Frank. I am Leone and this is Aristark..."
The robot interrupted, "Yes, I know. I am fully programmed and aware of your radio transmissions. You are from Sakkara, but we received no communication from Sakkara warning us to expect a delegation of planetary officials. I therefore assume that you are here on personal business, not official Sakkaran business."
Aristark explained, "We are both members of the Antiquist Party. For this trip, we are functioning as members of the Antiquist party and we are attending to Antiquist Party business."
Frank said, "I see. If you intend to engage in political activities here on Esclangon then you must first register your political party with the Secretary of State on Mars."
Leone was surprised, "There is no local branch of the Antiquist Party in this star system?"
Frank replied, "I see in the records that there was an entry for the Antiquist Party many decades ago, but its registration has lapsed. Apparently the Antiquist Party concept never took root here in this system. You will have to re-activate the registration. I believe political party registration requires the signatures of at least two residents of the h32 system and a five credit registration fee. Do you two intend to apply for residence? If so, that is another five credit fee, for each individual."
Aristark laughed. "I have no intention of applying for residency in this backwater system. We are here to meet someone. When we have had our meeting, I intend to leave and never return."
Leone said to Frank, "I'm having some difficulty understanding your accent. Did you mention 'Mars'... m .. a .. r .. s ?"
Frank replied, "Yes, that is the name of the fourth planet, which is the center of our political structure."
Leone was familiar with the term 'Mars' in the context of Earth history. Leone had read an ancient legend in which 'Mars' was the name of a star known to ancient Astrologers on Earth as a harbinger of war. Leone wondered why residents of this star system had selected 'Mars' as the name of their chief planet and political center. Possibly the history of this star system was dominated by conflict and war, particularly if it was originally settled by multiple competing nationalistic groups from Earth. Leone's thoughts were interrupted by Frank....
Frank asked, "Who are you planning to meet?"
Aristark replied, "We are here in order to meet with Kalid".
Frank said, "There are seven people in system who might be the 'Kalid' you refer to. None of those seven live here on Esclangon. Do you have more specifics, perhaps biometric data for the Kalid you know?"
Leone replied, "I've been told that Kalid is a member of the Haldus Order and that he spends time on the planet Flammis."
Frank's body language changed. "Let us leave the space dock. Come into the office." The robot led Leone and Aristark through a door and into a small but comfortable room. They sat down around a work bench and Frank offered food and drink. A second robot quickly arrived with cups and poured hot tea for the two humans. Then Frank said, "There is a Temple of Haldus here on Esclangon. I've contacted that Temple and asked if they know 'Kalid'. You have been invited to visit the Temple."
Aristark asked, "Invited by who?"
Frank replied, "I contacted a robot at the Temple. I believe that robot contacted one or more humans who instructed it to issue the invitation."
Leone asked, "Where is this Temple? How do we get there?"
Frank gestured to a wall and a complex three dimensional map of Esclangon appeared. "The red dot indicates our position here at the space dock complex. The blue dot shows the location of the Temple, which is also a subsurface structure about four kilometers from here. I can guide you through the tube system to the Temple."
Aristark drained his cup of tea and stood up, "Very well, let's go."
Leone lingered a moment over his tea. "This is excellent tea. What world is it from?"
Frank replied, "That variety is from a space station in orbit around Mars. I believe the claim is made that it is one of the few varieties of tea that has not been genetically modified from its original form as it existed on Earth."
Leone drank the last of the tea in his cup and stood up. Frank led them through the back door, down a short hallway and into another smaller room that seemed to only hold a man-sized hole in the floor. Frank explained, "We must drop down this tube to the transport level. Just step in, keep your legs together and your arms at your sides and relax. If you panic and want to over-ride the autopilot, just spread your arms outward. You will stop moving and I will pull you out of the drop tube." Without further comment, Frank took Leone's hand and pulled him to the tube.
Leone had used similar drop tubes in buildings on other worlds and on space stations. He relaxed and dropped through the floor. He looked up and saw Aristark following just above. The maximum drop rate was about twenty kilometers per hour, so it took nearly a minute to reach the transport level of the asteroid. At the bottom of the drop tube Leone, Aristark and Frank were each deposited in a small cubicle. As soon as Frank landed the low walls of the cubicles retracted into the floor and Frank led them through the large chamber towards a horizontal transport tube. The first transport line was just a local feeder, but it quickly took them to another transport tube where they could catch a high-speed tube car. They boarded the second car, sat down and they were quickly accelerated to a high speed. In two minutes they traveled several kilometers through the interior of the asteroid.
The car stopped and they exited the transport tube. Frank said, "This is the tube station for the Temple." He led them to another drop tube which propelled them up to the Temple.
When Leone exited the drop tube he was face to face with another robot who said, "Welcome to the Temple of Haldus." The robot repeated the greeting a moment later when Aristark emerged from the tube.
Frank arrived last and said to the other robot, "I leave these guests in your care." Frank disappeared down the tube.
The new robot said, "I am Bahney."
Leone stared at Bahney. While Frank had been largely ambisexual with modest hints of male characteristics, this robot was clearly modeled on the human female form and was wearing a colorful and short silk robe. Most dramatically, the robot's synthetic skin was tinted a deep green.
Aristark was also shocked by Bahney's appearance, but he recovered his wits first, glanced at Leone and then asked Bahney, "Can you take us to Kalid?"
Bahney replied, "Frank told me that you are looking for someone called 'Kalid', but as far as I know, there is nobody called 'Kalid' on Esclangon. You also mentioned the planet Flammis. There is a planet called 'Veritas Flammis' in our records. At one time there was a Temple of Haldus on that world, but it was destroyed 194 years ago, with great and tragic loss of life."
Leone asked, "Do you know anyone named 'Kalid' who is associated with the Haldus Order?"
Bahney said, "As you may know, our Order has been persecuted and marginalized for many centuries. We now take sensible precautions to protect members of the Order from harm. I'd prefer not to discuss our membership here in this transport tube chamber. Will you come with me to my office?"
Aristark replied, "Very well, lead the way."
Ring of StarsEdit
Bahney turned, opened a door and led them down a short hallway and through a second door that opened into a darkened chamber. Inside the dark room, Bahney paused and let the eyes of the two humans adapt to the low light conditions. Bahney spoke, "This is the Ring of Stars."
Leone looked up and as his eyes adapted he began to see what looked like stars. "This is your temple?"
Bahney explained, "Technically, this entire complex of chambers is the Temple, but the heart of the Temple is in the central chamber beyond that wall. This Ring is the access hallway to the central chamber. Since you are not members of the Order, you cannot enter the central chamber."
Aristark asked, "Are we under a glass dome at the surface of the asteroid?"
"No, we are far under the surface. What you see is a simulation of the night sky of Earth as it appeared thousands of years ago above Egypt."
Bahney led the way along the Ring. Leone asked, "Do you know that on many worlds Egypt is thought to be a mystical fantasy land?"
Bahney produced a musical human-like chuckle. "Yes, I am aware of that. What of yourself?"
Leone replied, "I would be thrilled to see evidence of Egypt. For example, I have been told that the great pyramids of Egypt have never been found on Earth."
Bahney explained, "Sadly, the Pyramids and all of Egypt were obliterated in a great catastrophe. It is futile to search Earth for the Pyramids." Bahney opened a door and led them out of the Ring of stars. They went down a short hallway and through another door into Bahney's office. The offer of food and drink was repeated and another robot brought tea.
When Leone and Aristark were settled across the desk from Bahney with their cups of tea, Leone said, "This is different tea than what Frank gave us, but it is also very good."
Bahney commented, "I see that Sakkara is not a major tea-consuming world. Things are different here; we have many varieties of tea. Of course, as a robot, I have little knowledge of what humans find pleasing in a drink."
Aristark asked, "Now that we are in your office, can you speak more openly about Kalid?"
Bahney replied, "I have heard of a Great Master named Kalid, but let me explain something. Very little information reaches us from other worlds where the Haldus Order is active."
Leone said, "We were recently in the Akara star system. Are you familiar with their history?"
Bahney nodded her green head. "Yes, Azur was a major player in the galactic wars. The people of Azur suffered mightily. This star system has suffered in its own way. Other branches of the Haldus Order tend to keep their distance from us. This Temple here on Esclangon is the public face of the Haldus Order. The rest of the Order usually avoids attention."
Aristark said, "Most people of the galaxy think that the Haldus Order is a lost part of ancient Earth history, something like the legend of Atlantis."
Bahney smiled, "That is good. We are happy to avoid attention....as a misunderstood minority group we have often become a target for persecution by others."
Leone asked, "If a Master of the Haldus Order from another planet came to Esclangon, would you be aware of that visit?"
Bahney had been instructed by Ketar to say nothing about Sybil and Kalid. She frowned, "That is an interesting question. We do have a rather constant, if small, stream of visitors. We ask few questions. People come, study, meditate, usually they depart. A few stay and join our community."
Aristark asked, "Is there any way we could let your recent visitors know that we are here. Maybe one of your guests is Kalid traveling under another name."
Bahney nodded. "An interesting idea. Very well, I will make sure that all of our guests are aware of your arrival here. How long do you intend to stay?"
Leone explained, "We might not be able to meet Kalid here, so it is hard to say. My hope is that Kalid is here waiting for us and will contact us soon."
Bahney suggested, "I can offer you the temporary use of modest rooms here in the Temple. If you plan to stay more than a week, I suggest you find permanent housing....there are many available residences around Esclangon, either subsurface or in one of the orbiting space stations."
Aristark said, "Thank you for your kind offer. The transportation network here is efficient, so potentially we could just stay on our spaceship. It did not take very long to get over here from the space dock."
Leone said, "If we are going to stay here a few days, I would like to study any public historical records you have here at this Temple. It seems most efficient if I just stay here."
Aristark agreed, "I have no objection to staying here for a few days. I am more than happy to get off of the spaceship for a while. I have little interest in ancient history, but I would like to learn about the justice system here."
Bahney nodded. "Yes, I understand that you are the director of the Sakkara Justice Department. If you would like to visit the Esclangon Government Center, I can provide you with a guide."
Bahney gave them a brief tour of the Temple complex then showed Leone and Aristark their rooms. Another robot then took Aristark first to a hospital for treatment of his wounds and then to the Esclangon Government Center. Bahney took Leone to the Temple library facility. The library had some public displays of images from Egypt. Bahney said, "I wanted you to see these displays. All of the other library materials and records can be accessed by the equipment in your room."
Leone was impressed by the holographic projections of images from Egypt. Walking through the museum-like display was almost like being in Egypt and walking in the shadow of the Great Pyramids.
They exited the Egypt display and Bahney introduced Leone to the robotic staff of the library.
Leone asked the Chief Librarian, "You have no human staff?"
The robot replied, "Sometimes a human takes interest in the records and becomes the Chief Librarian. The last such retired about 19 years ago. All of Esclangon only has about thirty million human inhabitants, so most jobs are left to robots. There are over a billion robots here serving the human population."
Leone said, "Thirty million? I saw the figure three million in this system's astrogation database."
Bahney explained, "There are different ways you can count the residents. Three million is the number of humans actually residing on the asteroid. About twenty seven million more live on the surrounding space stations. We count all thirty million as residents of Esclangon."
Leone spent the rest of the day in discussions with the library staff. Leone had never previously interacted with anyone who took seriously the idea that Egypt had been a real place. Earth began to come alive in Leone's mind.
Late in the day, when Aristark finally returned to the Temple they had a late dinner and discussed their days. Leone felt that he had learned more about Earth history in one day than he had learned in the past 50 years. Aristark described the Esclangon legal system which seemed very close to a direct democracy system in which exercising the judicial functions of society was part of the civic duties assumed equally by all citizens.
Tired and filled up with the excellent food served in the Temple's dinning room, Leone and Aristark walked back to their rooms. Aristark said, "Here's a wild idea. I'd like to visit this star system's seat of government on the fourth planet. If I left in the morning I'd spend about a day getting there, I could spend a day there and then another day on the return trip."
Leone laughed, "I'm still thinking Kalid should show himself at any moment. What if he does and you are not here?"
Aristark shrugged, "Find out what you can about the technologies the Haldus Order has. Try to get Kalid to agree to help stop Set's murderous rampage. If Kalid does show, send me a message and I'll get back here as quickly as I can."
Leone agreed to the plan and looked forward to the prospect of three more days of learning Earth history. Leone did feel somewhat guilty about the slow progress of his search for Kalid, but he told himself that he was working towards the goal of finding Kalid as efficiently as possible. He just hoped that his mysterious dream experience was not leading them to a dead end. "Maybe you should just go to the ship right now and start your little side trip right away."
Aristark moaned, "You are mean task master. I was expecting one night of rest off of the ship, but you are right. If I depart now and sleep on the ship I'll speed everything up by eight or ten hours."
Leone shrugged, "Do what you feel comfortable with. I'm not trying to rush you back onto the ship."
"No, you are correct." Aristark signaled to one of the green-skinned Temple robots. "I'm a little uncertain about how to return to the spaceship docks. Is there a robot available who could help me?"
The robot said, "Ah, Director of Justice Aristark. Are you leaving us so soon?"
Aristark replied, "I'm going to make a short visit to Mars. I'll be back. And Leone will be staying here while I'm gone."
The robot nodded. "I see." Another robot approached.....it was Frank. "Frank can take you."
Frank held a small device. "Alternatively, you can just use this. It will guide you through the transport tubes."
Aristark took the hand-held device, which appeared to be a standard directional assistant. "Thanks, Frank. I'm surprised you are still here...I assumed you had returned to the spaceship docks. This will do the trick, or I'd welcome your company."
Frank explained, "I'm the standard hospitality robot. There are about six million copies of me around Esclangon."
After spending the day with the green-skinned robots in the Temple library, Leone had grown used to the sight of green robots. Leone now realized that this Frank-model robot had a light green tint to its skin, so apparently it was assigned permanently to the Temple. The other "Frank' had not had green skin.
Aristark said to the green Frank, "Oh, I see." Aristark turned to Leone, "Okay, I'm off. I'll be back in a few days, or sooner if you call me back."
Leone went to his room in the Temple and fell onto the sleep platform. Within a few minutes he drifted into sleep.