Solanamatera ThreebyRonald Thurman©
Dominis came into the control compartment and scanned the console before making his relief and saw that the cybernetics were switched off and the feed to the internal intelligence was bypassed. "What happened, Petruk, did the ship malfunction?" he asked.
"You're on deck early," Petruk said. "Trouble sleeping?"
"According to my chron it's past my watch," Dominis said, looking over the nav monitor. "It appears that we're lost. None of these co-ordinates are familiar."
"We're not lost. We are now fourteen parsecs beyond the Zalaktorian Boundary and headed towards the stellar system of Solanamatera."
"That's an illegal transgression. Our authority only extends to the Zalak border. What are you trying to do, get us canned?"
"Remember that Trechoran slaver we busted last fortmuth? I translated some of the language that the humanoid captives spoke and talked with several of them."
"They were classified as `unhomed' weren't they? Drifters from several different systems."
"Yes, but they were not unhomed. They said they were all from the same world, called Earth of the Solar System. It sounded as if their world could be the Old Empire's penal colony."
"So you think `Solar' could be a shortening of Solanamatera, eh Petruk? Trouble is, the Old Empire is mostly a myth."
"It's only a myth until it can be proven historically, and that's what I intend to do. I don't want to be on boundary patrol forever."
"If we get caught this far outside our boundary, we won't be. We'll be carrying rock on Godern for the rest of our lives."
"Don't worry about it. That's why I'm flying uncybered. When command down loads our banks, they'll be none the wiser."
"Well let's hurry and get this over with," Dominis said as he sat at the aux seat. "We can get another four gigoles out of the energyne and recharge at Quayfex Nebula before we return."
Traffic was nonexistent so they were able to get another gigole by shutting down the cloaking. When they approached the co-ordinates that Petruk had set, they slowed and recloaked. "I don't understand," Petruk said. "Legend says that this system should have a minor star orbiting the main one beyond the fourth planet."
"According to my readouts, the gas giant that is in that orbit could have been a star at one time. Part of its core has been chipped out of it."
"If this is the system, then that blue planet must be the colony. It's the only one here capable of supporting human life. There is supposed to be another orbiting around the secondary star, but it's not even here." Dominis adjusted the scan. "This must be what is left of it," he said pointing to the belt of planetary debris between the fourth solid planet and the gas giant.
"That's impossible. A whole world does not just come apart like that."
"I'm taking us in for a closer look. Those asteroids are not a natural phenomenon. I'm showing too many traces of preserved organics for this to be just cosmic debris."
As they approached the blue planet, their monitors were screaming with the inputs broadcast from its surface. "They sure don't make their presents a secret, do they?" Dominis said.
"Maybe they're trying to draw in unsuspecting victims to demonstrate their powers on," Petruk said with a wry grin on his face.
"Don't say that!"
"Don't worry. If the colonists were so terrible, why would they allow the Trechorans to abduct slaves from them? We've come this far, we should at least scan the planet with our sensors."
Petruk adjusted the visual scan and aimed it towards the space above the upper atmosphere. "See that?" he said.
"It looks like some sort of primitive satellite array."
"If that's any indication of their technology, it looks like they don't even have interplanetary capabilities, let alone the ability to blow us out of space."
"OK, then what caused that other planet to explode and snuff out the minor star?"
"We'll just have to go down to the surface and find out, won't we."
"Not until I find out what kind of people there are down there."
"According to the myths, there were prisoners from every sentient race in the Empire, so they should be mostly humans, just like us."
Dominis maneuvered the craft into a low orbit and began a surface scan. "This is unbelievable! There are representatives from every civilized world in the confederation and some others that I've never seen."
"As near as I can figure the empire fell some time over five hundred millennia ago, so these people have been together on this planet for at least that long. There has probably been a good deal of ethnic mixing in that time."
"Something else that I find interesting," Dominus said. "There is some evidence of a pyramidal energyne complex on this world. Three parts of it are only marginally operational and the whole system is out of alignment."
"That would explain the lack of technology on this world and the destruction of the neighboring planet," Petruk said. "You remember the experiment performed on Tertious Four where they concentrated all the power of their energyne into one beam aimed at Tertious Seven?"
"Yeah, Seven was on an elliptical orbit and after several centuries, ended up on a collision course with Four. After trying several different methods of changing Seven's path, they decided to blow it up."
"And they wiped themselves out anyway."
"There were some survivors off world."
"They say it will still be several centuries before their planet is habitable again."
"So you think that's what happened here?" Dominus asked.
"The signature's the same."
"Well let's take the boat down and see what the populace is like."
They moved their craft to a higher orbit, reinitiated the basic cybernetics without the feed into the intelligence and made doubly sure the cloaking was in effect before departing to the surface. Out of their flight suits and dressed in their off duty apparel they looked little different from the people roaming the streets below them.
They picked an area where the local inhabitants spoke a language called `English' located in the Northern Hemisphere of the secondary landmass. English was the most prevalent being broadcast to and from the array of satellites, so along with the translations that Petruk had made, it was easiest to decipher.
They scooted their lander over a secondary body of water and hid it in an area of thick foliage. Surrounding the botanical site were rectangular constructions in tight groups separated by corridors that appeared to be used for ground transportation. On their flight in, Petruk sighted a corridor lined with artificial lighting of all colors and inhabited by quite a few of the local people not too far from where they parked.
The garishly lit corridor was not unlike some of the bazaar districts they had visited on various worlds. It seemed strange that there were no vendors about, only doors leading in to the tall constructions marked by brightly colored lights. "By the Powers!" Dominis exclaimed. "The females here are amazing!"
"They all seem to be in a state of estrus."
"I've never seen mammaries so swollen or hips flared to that extent. They must all be beyond estrus."
"This is probably an area set aside for mating rituals of some sort."
"What're you guys starin' at? Haven't ya ever seen a girl before?"
"Never any that displayed their femininity in as much abundance as we see here," Petruk said.
"If that's a compliment, thanks. All this femininity can be yours for fifty bucks."
"I under stand fifty, but what is `bucks?'" Dominis asked.
"Money, you know. Hell, I'll do you both for seventy-five. You're both kinda cute, maybe you'd like to do a three way."
"That would be a bargain, Petruk," Dominis said.
"I don't understand what we would be purchasing. Besides we don't have any `bucks,'" Petruk said.
"If you ain't got any money, sweetheart, it don't make any difference if you don't know what you're buyin', 'cause you ain't gettin' any," the female said as she turned to hail one of the transportation conveyances.
"Don't you get it, Petruk? Their mating ritual consists of exchanging money before performing the act."
"The females would mate with anybody that had enough money?"
"This matter deserves closer study. Maybe we could find more information in one of these establishments."
A short ways down the walkway a local male dressed in black with a ribbon of sorts tied around his neck was talking to passers by. "...All nude. Some of the sweetest dancers this side of the Mississippi. Come on in, they'll dance right at your table. Hey, you two, looking' for a good time? These babes are buck naked just for your pleasure."
"This looks like a good place to gather information," Dominis said, tugging on Petruk's sleeve.
"That's five bucks each, guys, and a two drink minimum," the male said.
"Here we are, back to the no `bucks' again," Petruk said.
"Do you think we could exchange our credit points for `bucks?'"
"I have a sixteen pointer," Petruk said, digging into the pouch fastened to his trousers. "Would this be worth anything in your society?" he asked the man as he showed him what was in his hand.
"Holy Shit!" the man gasped. "Where did you get that rock?"
"It is what we are given as a medium of exchange for our services," Dominis said.
"You didn't steal this did you? Diamonds like that don't come around every day."
"No, it was fair payment," Petruk said.
The male stuck his head through the portal. "Hey Vinny, come get a load of this," he said to someone inside.
Another male stepped outside and looked at the stone. "You want to sell this?" he asked.
"We would like to exchange it for some `bucks,'" Dominus said.
"I can do that," the male said. "Follow me."
He led the two through the darkened interior of the establishment. The space was filled with a deafening din of obnoxious noise. Their discomfort was forgotten when they saw three unclothed females on a platform under harsh lights contorting and undulating their bodies to the meter and frequency of the noise. They all appeared to be in the mating process with unseen males, showing off their overt sexuality to a group of males seated around them.
The male led them up a flight of stairs and into a lighted cubicle furnished with a table supported by two banks of drawers and several soft padded devices used for sitting. The male opened a drawer and took out a tiny metal cylinder and pressed it into one eye and scanned the stone with it. "It's hard to tell these from the fakes nowadays," he said. "But this is the real article. I'll give ya thirty five hunnert for it."
"Is that a fair exchange?" Petruk asked.
"No it ain't, but that's all I'll give ya for it. Rocks this size are hard to move."
"That should be more than enough for our purposes," Dominis said. "We'll take it."
The world's sun passed overhead, unnoticed by both Petruk and Dominus, three times before all of their `bucks' had been exchanged for drink, food and mating privileges with the local females. As they traveled back to their cruiser, Dominis asked; "Are you going to publish your findings?"
"Oh, I'll need to do a more extensive study before I can do that. Besides, someone needs to protect those people from the Trechoran slavers."
"My thoughts, exactly."
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