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Denizens: 27 - Leviathon

The crew of the Hermes spaceship, which has crash-landed and sunk into the sea of an alien planet, are shown the most amazing creatures in the galaxy and charged with saving them from extinction.

Brian William Neal's bold imagination has spanned space and time to produce a story which will take hold of you and stay with you for ever. If you are coming to the novel for the first time please click on Denizens in the menu on this page and start reading it from the beginning.

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BOOK THREE

REVELATION

“Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” - William Butler Yeats

Part 5

Sacrifice

’Tis a far, far, better thing I do now than I have ever done.
It is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.” - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

**

“There are still some questions that need answering,” said Cal. He looked around the table at the others, then addressed the alien.

“You said there were spacecraft here, left behind after the migration of your people. How many, and what condition are they in?”

’Tau nodded, and sent to them all. [There are nine vessels suitable for travel to your world. As to their state of fitness, you will be able to determine that better than we. There are none of the Guild of Spacers left on this world, another reason why we could not leave, even if we desired to].

Cal frowned at this news, and ’tau went on. [I believe you will find they are similar in design to your own vessel. After all, they were built by humans, for human use].

The others looked at Bill, who shrugged. “He’s got a point. They can’t be all that different from what we’ve been used to; hopefully, we won’t run into too many problems learning to operate them. I guess ’tau can translate any written instructions, labels or whatever?”

The alien nodded again, and Cal said, “O.K., when do you want us to see these…creatures, or whatever they are?”

At that, ’tau rose silently and stood looking down at the astronauts, the remains of their breakfast still on the table. After a moment, Bill said, “I think he wants to do it now.”

[If you are agreeable, we will visit the home of the Loti. After that, you can inspect the spacecraft].
He walked to the door, and after a moment, the others followed.


*

The oval-shaped, streamlined disc slipped beneath the calm surface of the water, carrying the four travelers and their guide. They descended rapidly, and were almost immediately in darkness, the dim light from the surface extinguished. ’Tau touched a panel, and powerful lights shone through the murk, although there was nothing to see.

When they had left their quarters, ’tau had led them through a maze of twists and turns to a door that had let onto the outside world, and they had all boarded a flat, disc-like platform that was standing, unsupported, next to the path. There was a railing around the edge of the disc at waist height, and they held on to this as ’tau passed his hands over a small box at the forward end of the oval, and they had begun to move.

The disc, large enough to easily hold them all, had traveled through the overgrown parkland surrounding the city until they reached the waterfront area. The undersea craft had been moored at a jetty, and they had all boarded and cast off. It was about twenty meters across, and its entire upper surface was a transparent dome.

Its motive power was not immediately apparent, but ’tau explained that it was, as Jonathan had surmised, a form of anti-gravity, which was the main form of propulsion on his world. It tapped into the magnetic field of the planet, and cost next to nothing to run. When the travelers remarked that it sounded like something their world could have used, ’tau promised they could take some of the units with them when they left.

Now, descending through the deep waters, the travelers became aware of a strange light, different to the light from the ship, which was growing all around them. Jonathan was puzzled by this, and when ’tau turned off the ship’s lights, he asked, “How can there be light at this depth, ’tau? Just how deep are we?”

’tau replied, [By your reckoning, approximately seventy-five thousand feet].

There was a stunned silence, and Bill asked, in a strangled voice, “And just what is preventing the pressure from crushing us like an eggshell? What’s this ship made of, anyway?”

The alien regarded them mysteriously. [What it is constructed of is one reason we are here].
He looked ahead, then pointed through the clear dome. [Look there]’ he sent. [Behold, they come to us].

The silvery-white light was all around them, and Karen grasped Cal’s arm. “Look!” she gasped. The others followed her pointing finger; something was moving in the depths, a twisting, sinuous shape slowly materializing out of the haze, coming closer.

The four people of Earth sat motionless in their seats, enthralled by the spectacle unfolding before them. ’Tau had brought the craft to a halt, and they hung suspended, thirty meters off the bottom. Slowly the approaching shape drew nearer, until at last they could all see it clearly.

Filling their entire frame of vision was a beast of legend, one only heard of in sagas and fables, a creation of fantasy. By the plumes on its head, from the length of its body that they estimated to be at least one hundred meters, to its leathery wings and forked tail, the creature before them was unmistakably a dragon.

As they looked on in wonder, the dragon spread its wings and came to rest on the sea-bed. ’Tau positioned their craft so that they were level with its head, and about fifty meters away. Jonathan was the first to find his voice.

“Smaug,” he said, in a half-whisper.

Cal, standing beside the Englishman’s wheelchair, looked at him curiously. “What was that, Jonathan?” he asked.

Jonathan looked up at him and smiled. “Smaug,” he repeated. “You know, Tolkein’s dragon, in The Hobbit. It’s exactly how I always pictured it.”

The dragon sat quietly before them for a few minutes, its plumes waving gently in the eddying currents, then spread its wings and swam/flew away and out of sight. Then Bill pointed away to the right of the sub, his whisper almost religious in its awe.

“Jeez Louise, will you look at that!”

Gliding across the front of the ship was a sight that defied description, and threatened the senses. At first, it appeared as if the entire area of water within their vision was moving, like some gigantic wall. Then they noticed that the ‘wall’ had eyes, and the outline of a huge mouth, slightly open and straining the water for food.

The travelers stood up from their seats, dumbstruck at the sight of a whale-like creature gliding majestically across their path. Jonathan’s voice, low and reverent, broke the silence.

“‘There is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.’”

Even at a hundred meters distant, the beast took five full minutes to pass, gliding with a silent, unhurried dignity and finally disappearing away into the gloom.

As the massive behemoth receded from sight, other creatures approached the ship, almost touching it. The four astronauts recoiled, and ’tau sensed their unease.

[There is no need to fear them. The Loti will not harm us].

“Is that their collective name, Loti?” asked Karen.

[Collective, yes. They all have their own names, but Loti describes them all well enough]. He closed his eyes briefly, and the creatures began to move away from the ship, all together in one huge group. Then ’tau sat in one of the seats, and swiveled it around to face the four.

[I have asked them to leave us alone now. I realize you have many questions, and there are things I must tell you. You asked about the light. As you have by now no doubt surmised, it comes from the Loti themselves. They are, however, much more than merely luminous creatures].

Sitting in the semi-dark of the ship, Bill spoke softly.

“‘Luminous beings are we, not this crude flesh’.”

Jonathan looked askance at him, a small smile on his face. “That sounds profound, Bill. What is it?”

The engineer shrugged. “Oh, just a line from an old movie. It seemed appropriate.” He smiled self-consciously as the alien continued.

[You will recall I mentioned that some fifteen alien races have visited our world over the past fifty millennia. They came for many reasons, trade chief among them, but also they came to see the Loti. These creatures, as far as we know, are unique in the galaxy. Nowhere else does their like exist].

Bill said, “I can believe that. Nothing bigger than that can possibly exist.”

[It is not merely their size that makes them unique. Their peculiarity has another base. You may also have been wondering how such creatures can survive at these depths, under the enormous pressures that exist outside this craft, and how the craft itself, and we in it, can survive].

[You will recall when we first met yesterday, and I told you of the element we call Kivvex, which can withstand pressure such as this. The craft we travel in is constructed from it, the glass as well, being an amalgam]. He looked at them for a moment, then he smiled.

[I see the thought forming in your remarkable mind, Jonathan. Yes, you are correct; the creatures are not wholly organic. They are, so far as we have been able to determine, the only known living combination of organic flesh and inorganic metal. It is that metallic content, spread throughout every cell in their bodies, that allows them to survive at these depths.

[The Loti live a long time, longer even than my people. When they do eventually die, the organic components of their bodies rot away, like all flesh, leaving behind the metallic substance. It gradually becomes a part of the sea-bed, then the planet’s crust, which we mine. The ore, when refined, releases the metal we call Kivvex, which we use to construct our vessels, both sea-going and space faring].

[It might seem that pressure has no apparent effect on this metal; in fact, however, it has a profound effect. The more pressure it is subjected to, the stronger it becomes. The deeper we go, the stronger our craft will become. The faster our spacecraft travel, the more impervious they become. Small meteors and the like cannot harm the hulls of these ships. Unlike your ship, which has to rely on the magnetic field surrounding it, and which we detected both times that you approached our world].

[We have gone to great lengths to prevent the commercial exploitation of these creatures. To kill them for their metallic prize would be a great crime. We could not, would not, allow that to happen].

’Tau paused, and Jonathan said, “If we take these creatures to earth, and release them into the oceans, I have to tell you that, if they survive until our time, they will eventually be found.”

’Tau thought for a moment. [They seldom venture above a depth of…twenty thousand of your feet. Does your technology have vessels that can operate commercially at that depth, or deeper?]

Jonathan looked at the others, then shrugged. “None that I am aware of. At least, not yet. But devices such as sonar could detect them. And I have to say, given the unfortunate venality of some of my species, the creatures will be exploited. Perhaps even, like some species of creatures on earth, to extinction.”

Karen nodded. “Like the whales.”

’Tau considered this for a moment. [I must give this further thought. I am grateful for your honesty and candor, but my initial feeling is that the Loti will still be better off with you. No matter what their fate may be on your world, they will have a far longer existence than if they remain here].

Just then, movement outside the craft caught their attention. More of the massive beasts appeared out of the depths, swimming right up to the ship and cavorting in a display that seemed almost human in its joyfulness. They appeared to be displaying a level of happiness unknown in any terrestrial animal, and the traveler’s were enchanted at the sight.

Dolphin-like creatures, with several of their young, swam and frolicked in a dance of delight, drawing gasps and exclamations from the four. Most entrancing was the obvious affection the adults showed towards their young, exhibiting it in the way they touched and caressed each other. Once, in a moment none of the travelers would ever forget, two adults held a baby between them, looking for all the world like a pair of proud, doting parents.

All of the observers, including ’tau, were moved to tears by the beautiful, emotional display. After several minutes, the creatures moved away again, and their alien guide faced the four. He stood, looking after the retreating Loti, his cheeks shining and his arms outstretched.

[Now that you have seen them, will you not save them?]

There was silence in the craft for a few moments, then Cal, wiping his eyes and smiling, said, “That’s dirty pool, man. You know we’re human, same as you. You also know that we couldn’t refuse you now, even if we wanted to.” He looked at the others. “We’ll take your Loti to earth, ’tau. They deserve that chance, at least.”

The alien gave one of his rare smiles, and turned back to the controls. There was a slight hum, and the craft began to move across the bottom. Then the sea-bed receded, and they headed at a steep angle for the surface.

*

Leaving the craft at the jetty, they followed the alien to the floating disc and again boarded it. The ride was again silent and swift; they passed through seemingly endless parklands, with only the occasional building dotted here and there. The air was warm and faintly scented, and it occurred to the travelers that this was a genuine paradise; had the planet not been on a path to destruction, they could have done a lot worse than stay here.

Presently, they came to a large building, long and lower than the others, like an enormous aircraft hangar. So large was it, in fact, the far end of the building could not easily be seen. ’Tau touched a control on the disc, and a small door opened in the wall of the structure. They left the disc and entered the building, and the door closed after them.

The interior of the huge structure, though windowless, was illuminated from some source they again could not discern, a soft bluish gray light that suffused throughout the entire space. The ceiling, although a lot lower than the council room, could still not be clearly seen.

Then the alien touched another panel, and the light grew in intensity to the same level as existed outside. For the second time that day, the four travelers stood transfixed by the sight before them.
Spread out across the vast floor of the hangar were several craft of obvious alien design, their surfaces gleaming in the light. Boarding another floating disc, they moved slowly past the craft, feeling like visitors to the most elaborate science-fiction set in existence.

’Tau’s “voice” sounded in their minds. [You may examine them all if you wish, but I believe I can take you to the vessel best suited to your purposes]. The disc continued on, the travelers goggling at the array of ships, all in obvious mint condition.

Finally, they halted before a ship, inevitably disc-shaped. It was about seventy-five meters across, and fifteen meters thick at the center, tapering down to five meters at the edges. It sat, massive and silent, on four landing struts, and the travelers stared at it in wonder.

There was no obvious entrance, but ‘tau touched another control on their disc, and a ramp descended from the underside of the vessel. When it was down, he stepped from the floating platform and walked a few paces up the ramp, then gestured for the others to follow.

When Bill muttered, “Why do I feel like a fly approaching a web?” Karen punched him on the arm, and they followed their guide into the ship.

Inside, the alien ship was impossibly large. Jonathan steered his chair along a corridor that disappeared into the distance, following their host. He was fascinated, in his element, and the others followed, in various stages of bewilderment. Cal moved beside ’tau. “How can this be?” he asked. “We all saw how big the ship was on the outside. This is impossible.”

Jonathan turned in his chair, smiling. “No, it isn’t, Cal. It’s a space-time warp, isn’t it, ’tau?”

The alien nodded once. [It is as you say. I do not know the science behind it, so I cannot explain its workings to you. However, all the machinery involved is aboard the ship; you will have ample time to study it before you leave].

Bill turned from the panel of computers he had been studying. “And who do we show it to? There’s no one but shepherds, barbarians and Roman legionaries on our world, remember?”

“Now, Bill,” chided Jonathan. “There is still a good case to be made for knowledge for its own sake.”

“Yes,” said Karen. “And who knows, we might be able to leave it somewhere for future generations to find.”

Bill nodded grudgingly, and they followed their host further into the ship. Presently they came to a set of double doors that slid apart at ’tau’s touch, and they entered a large area that was obviously the ship’s command center or bridge.

There was a row of terminal screens and seats on one side of the room, and Cal went to one and sat down. He studied the instrument in front of him for a few moments, then turned incredulously to the others.

“This is a computer! It’s very similar to those we used on the Hermes! The figures, letters or whatever on the keyboard are different, but otherwise…we could use this!”

The others joined him and began examining the equipment; it soon became evident that, once the alien symbols were translated, they would have little trouble using the controls. ’Tau stood behind them, answering their questions and moving from one to the other. Karen asked to see what passed as the ship’s sick bay, and was soon studying instruments, some familiar and some totally alien.

Finally, Cal swung round in his seat and faced ’tau. “We’re going to need a couple of weeks to study the machinery and instruments, but it looks as though we’ll be able to handle her all right. I suppose, like the other ships, this one doesn’t have light speed capability either?”

When ’tau replied in the negative, Cal went on, almost to himself, “Doesn’t matter. We’ll still reach earth in a few weeks.”

He glanced at the others and saw the hope he felt reflected in their faces. They had seen the alien world and, despite its obvious attractions, had decided that they preferred their own, even in its raw and uncivilized state. This world may be a paradise, and full of technological marvels, but it was still alien. And it was, ultimately, doomed. Earth, regardless of its level of development was, and always would be, their home.

They returned to the ship’s instruments, anxious to learn all they could. The sooner they understood its workings, the sooner they would be on their way home. Buoyed by a newfound sense of purpose, they went to work.


***


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