The Dark Empire, Page 21-27 by Wolfenshire ()
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The Dark Empire, Page 21-27
The Old Library Jasai had been studying at had an adaptive language module built into it somewhere and after a few hours the computers and memory modules there had begun displaying the Darai language, but not this place. Every button on the panels in front of her were written in the Creator’s language, and weren’t translating.
Sern sat back in frustration. “I’m not getting anywhere with this.”
“Yeah, this place was intended for use by Creators that knew what they were doing.”
“Let’s take a break,” said Sern, getting up and stretching. Saeber rose from the floor where she had been napping and matched her partners stretch. The computer screen disappeared. Jasai stood also and her screen disappeared as well. She turned to follow Sern, he walked past the long flat glass topped table in the center of the room and ran his hand across the surface. “I think this might have been a military bunker.”
“Maybe, this table does look a lot like a battle table on a Carrier.” Jasai futilely pushed the same buttons on the table she had already tried – and again nothing happened. They went out into the hall and left the door open. All the doors to every room were propped opened and a slight breeze coming from the main door to the bunker brought fresh air in an effort to rid the bunker of the stale air smell – the bunker had been closed up for a very long time.
Jasai stopped several steps outside the computer room. A hatchling and his cub were sitting against the opposite wall. The hatchling was licking an ice cream cone he held in his right hand and the cub was licking an ice cream cone he held in his left hand.
“Where did you get an ice cream cone?” asked Jasai.
The boy looked up. “At the cafeteria.”
Jasai looked at Sern, but he only shrugged and gestured with his head toward the end of the hall. Jasai saw a crowd of cubs and hatchlings gathered at a doorway. “Let’s go find out what’s going on,” suggested Jasai.
“I want one of those,” said Saeber.
Sern laid a hand on Saeber’s head. “Yeah, me too.”
Jasai pushed through the crowd of hatchlings and cubs milling about and licking ice cream cones. Her boots made a crackly sound as she walked through the sticky mess the floor had become. She paused for a moment to look at a hatchling on his knees that had dropped one of his ice cream cones and now was sharing an ice cream cone with his tiger. Jasai decided to just leave it alone and walked past the two, if they were happy, why should she interfere. Sern grinned when he saw Jasai’s expression and asked, “You didn’t expect the cub to eat the ice cream off the ground, did you? That would be disgusting.”
Jasai rolled her eyes and entered the obvious cafeteria. The room was filled with round tables and chairs occupied with laughing happy hatchlings at every table laden with food. Jasai guessed from the amount of tables and chairs available that the bunker crew had been a little over three dozen personnel.
“Where did they get all this food?” asked Jasai.
Sern pointed. “Look, there’s Raen.”
Raen was surrounded by hatchlings at the far wall next to a bank of machines recessed into the wall. She watched Raen push a button on a video screen next to the machine - and an ice cream cone appeared. Raen handed the ice cream cone to a hatchling.
“Oh wow, a matter converter,” said Jasai. “How come neither of us has seen one of those?”
“Because you live in a library and nobody eats at a library, and I live at Master Aestar’s ranch, but he likes to cook by hand,” replied Sern. “We’ve only seen Creator tech Master Aestar has let us see, this place is probably more like the way they really lived.”
“Makes sense, I guess,” said Jasai. “If the Creators could build whole planets inside a Crystal Bubble, I suppose a matter converter would be a common kitchen appliance.”
Jasai made her way across the room and found Zil sitting at a table alone. There had to be at least thirty bowls of soup on the table, and ten of them were already empty. Zil was slurping noisily from a bowl. She took the bowl from Zil and put it back down. “Stop eating, you’re going to make yourself sick.”
Sern dipped a finger in one of the bowls and licked his finger. “Talu’se soup,” said Sern. “This is Master Aestar’s favorite dish, I eat it all the time at the ranch.”
“Yeah, but what the heck, why thirty bowls?” asked Jasai. “I would have thought you’d want ice cream.”
Zil shrugged. “I do, but I don’t want to wait in line.”
Jasai looked over at the matter converters. There were four of them set into the wall with a touch screen of brightly colored ice cream displayed next to the machine. Raen, Roael, and Koael were operating the machines and handing ice cream to the waiting hatchlings. The fourth machine’s touch screen was blank.
Jasai laughed. “So the broken one only makes soup?”
Zil nodded and smiled broadly. “Yeah, but I don’t have to wait in line.”
Jasai pushed through hatchlings to the machine Raen was at. “How much ice cream have they eaten?”
Raen was having a good time and his hands were covered with sticky ice cream. “We figured these things out about two hours ago, so yeah, they’ve put away some ice cream.”
“They’re going to get sick on this much ice cream,” said Jasai.
“Sometimes the right thing to do is to get sick on ice cream,” said Raen. “They’ve been through a lot, they deserve this.”
Jasai shook her head. “I’m a little worried. If that fourth one is broken, the others might not be working correctly, these are very old machines.”
“Lighten up, Jas,” said Roael. He had ice cream all over his shirt and pants. “That fourth one was working for about a half-hour before the screen went blank and it started making soup. I think we should enjoy this while the others are still working.”
Jasai looked over at the broken machine, then back at Zil. He was slurping from a bowl of soup again. Something was nagging at the back of her mind. Of all the things for the machine to get stuck on, it was stuck on soup. Jasai tipped her head to the side, not just soup, Aestar’s favorite dish. Her eyes widened with realization and spun back around to Raen.
“Guys, stop making ice cream,” said Jasai.
“Come on, Jas, can’t we just enjoy it?” said Sern.
“I said stop making ice cream, everyone get back from the machines,” Jasai shouted.
A roar of protest rose from the hatchlings. Roael held his hands up. “Okay, everyone stand back. Jasai, what’s wrong?”
Jasai tapped a finger against her temple. Roael and Sern both recognized the gesture as Jasai being in deep thought. Raen moved the hatchlings and cubs back while Jasai looked closely at each of the food processors. “How do you get to the soup menu?” asked Jasai.
Roael flipped though the touch screen to the soup menu. There were several dozen pictures of various soups, and under each one, the name of the soup written in the Creator’s language.
“What are you looking for?” asked Sern.
“The key to the encoded message,” replied Jasai. “It’s too much of a coincidence that of all the soups available, the broken machine started making Aestar’s favorite soup a half hour after you found the machines. Sern, can you tell which of these soups is the one Zil’s eating?”
“Talu’se soup, it’s this one,” said Sern, pointing at one of the pictures. “Why would Aestar send us a message on a food machine?”
“Raen said the broken machine started making soup about an hour and a half after we started mashing random buttons on the terminals in the other room. I bet alarms have been going off on Aestar’s computers that someone was trying to break into the computers here.”
“This is an enemy bunker,” said Moeth.
Jasai spun around. Moeth had entered the cafeteria and was coming across the room. “I don’t know, maybe that’s why he can’t turn on the terminals here, or maybe it’s another reason, but I think Aestar knows we’re here and is using the food processor video screen as a backdoor to send us a message.”
“You’re saying the soup is a decryption familiarity key that Sern held,” said Moeth.
Raen finished moving the hatchlings towards the door and walked over to Moeth. “That means he’s broken our codes.”
Moeth shook her head. “I don’t think so, familiarity keys are nearly impossible to break. Without Sern coming in here and seeing the soup, Jasai wouldn’t have realized there might be a message hidden. I think it more likely he’s been studying us and figured out how we make encrypted messages, but as long as we’re using familiarity keys instead of mathematical equations which he could break, he won’t be able to read our private messages.”
“Awesome, we’ve corrupted the Creators and taught them to be spies,” said Sern.
Roael held a hand up. “I think we have this wrong. I don’t think we set off any alarms.”
“Why do you say that?” asked Moeth.
“The food processor didn’t start make soup until an hour and a half after Sern and Jasai started pushing buttons in the other room. It wouldn’t have taken Aestar that long to find a backdoor to send us a message. The soup started a half hour after we started making massive amounts of ice cream.”
Jasai nodded her head. “Of course, he knew we were heading somewhere…somewhere I would have discovered looking through memory cubes at the library, so he’s been watching everywhere I might be going. This wasn’t where I was taking us, but this place might be on the list of places he was watching, and he knows we have kids with us, so it was an easy conclusion it was us here.”
“But he wants confirmation,” said Raen. “He might be using a familiarity key, but this is a challenge and counter-challenge encryption.”
“I was going to have all four machines order the soup,” said Jasai.
Raen winced. “Ouch, Jasai, you get a failing grade for the day in encryption techniques. What are you thinking?”
Jasai’s head whipped back and forth. “What? What did I miss?”
“I know,” said Saeber. She had been sitting quietly next to Sern. Everyone turned to the normally quiet tiger. “You can’t use a familiarity key twice,” continued Saeber.
Jasai smacked a hand to her forehead. “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I almost made such a dumb mistake.”
Moeth tipped her head in amusement. “Saeber knows encryption techniques?”
“She’s watched me preparing the messages I’ve been sending to you,” explained Sern. “I guess she was paying more attention than I thought.”
Moeth gestured for Saeber to continue. ““Alright, Saeber, what should we do?”
Saeber, suddenly becoming the center of attention, lowered her head and shyly replied. “Master Aestar showed us his favorite food, Sern should show his favorite food.”
Moeth nodded and waved a hand at one of the machines. “Excellent idea, go ahead, Sern.”
Sern stepped up to the menu screen and flipped through the pages looking for something familiar. He stopped on a page of drinks. “Oh, I know, I’ll order Jalu’je. It’s a fruit juice I have for breakfast every morning on the ranch.” Sern tapped the picture of the drink and a glass with red juice materialized. He picked the glass up and took a drink. “Yep, that’s Jalu’je, but not as good as fresh squeezed.”
“Umm…that could have been poisoned,” said Jasai.
Sern finished off the drink and wiped his mouth. “Naw, if Master Aestar was trying to poison us, Zil would have been dead ten bowls of soup ago.”
Everyone looked at Zil, he was slurping from his eleventh bowl of soup. Zil looked up at everyone with a concerned expression, then down at the soup. “Poison?”
Jasai immediately regretted what she said and hurried to correct it. “No, sweetie,” she said. “Aestar would never risk poisoning you, or any Mathor.”
Reassured, Zil went back to slurping the soup.
“Hey, guys, look at this,” said Sern.
Jasai looked back at the machines. The menu screens had gone blank and something was written at the top of each screen. “What’s it say?”
“It’s written in Darai, but it doesn’t make any sense,” replied Sern.
“Out loud, please,” said Jasai.
Sern gave Jasai a side glance then looked back at the screen and read out loud:
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—Only this and nothing more.”
“Oh my gosh,” said Jasai. “Aestar has been spying on my classwork. I studied that poem in literature class three weeks ago. It was written by a human poet. The poem is called, The Raven, and the thing tapping on the door is a raven, as in the bird. I think maybe Aestar did hear us trying to break into the computers here and is asking if it’s the Ravens, as in us, tapping on his door.”
“That could be,” said Raen. “But, a human didn’t write that poem. Remember, history is my thing. I read about the incident in the restricted section of the Temple Library. A Darai Raven on the First Contact team wrote that poem and revealed himself to the human poet. The idea was the human was to publish the poem as a greeting from Darai, but finding out that aliens from outer space were real caused the human to go insane. We waited about fifty years to try First Contact again, but the humans on that world are so xenophobic they destroyed the First Contact ship. They call it the Roswell incident. The Ravens then carved the image of a Darai on the nearest planet to theirs and left a First Contact A.I. to wait until those humans are sufficiently advanced enough to travel there and find the A.I. Until then, we left a defense monolith on their moon to protect them from any hostile species.”
“Well then, aren’t you just a fountain of trivia knowledge,” said Moeth.
Raen grinned and shrugged. “Okay, so Aestar is asking for confirmation it’s us. Do we really want to talk to him, and how do we send confirmation if we do?”
“Yes, we need to know what’s going on,” said Moeth. “He’s going to answer my questions or we’re done with him and his nonsense.”
“Okay, but the only thing we can do is order more food,” said Jasai.
“I have an idea, but it’s really disgusting, even for me,” said Moeth.
“Now I’m scared,” said Raen.
“Sing a song of sixpence,” replied Moeth, ignoring Raen.
Jasai gagged and threw her hands over her mouth. The hatchlings, having edged back into the room while Raen wasn’t looking, started screaming and fled the room. The hatchlings partner cubs, not understanding and thinking there was threat, started roaring in every direction.
“Woah, that is sick,” said Raen.
“Yes, it is, but the symbolism is there,” said Roael. “We started with twenty-four hatchlings, the same amount as the blackbirds cooked in the pie, and all Darai are descended from the Merula Blackbird Tribes, and we were in a train when they fired lasers at us. The symbolism is blackbirds being cooked in a pie.”
“Sern, would you search the menu for a chicken pot pie,” said Moeth.
Jasai grabbed one of Zil’s empty bowls and threw up in it. Sern, pale and a bit green, shook his head. “No, I won’t do it.”
Roael shook his head also, indicating he wouldn’t do it either. Koael turned and walked away angrily.
Raen sighed. “I’ll do it.”
Raen flipped through the menu to a section that looked like chicken pot pies and tapped on one of the pictures. A chicken pot pie appeared on the food tray. Jasai threw up again in another bowl. Sern ran to a corner and threw up. Roael turned away with tears in his eyes. Even Moeth was tight lipped and pale.
“I’m pretty sure I hate Aestar for making us do this,” said Raen.
“I may just kill him for this,” said Moeth.
The menu screen blanked out and there was a long pause before a new message arrived. Raen looked at message and dropped his head and stepped away. Roael turned to the screen and read the message out loud:
“That was an odd response. Sern led me to believe your species can become violently ill at the smell of any cooked fowl. I understand the symbolism, but I thought you revered all birds as sacred, why would you choose a cooked bird to verify your identity? I expected you to use the ice cream sundae on the ice cream menu called ‘Birds of Paradise’, as in you are birds, on an island paradise. I even translated it to your native language of Rositite. Very odd, and why haven’t you used Zil’s key to unlock the computers? We really need to talk.”
Jasai slowly looked up at Zil. “Do you have a key?” asked Jasai.
Zil shrugged. “I don’t think so.” Zil held up his necklace. “Is this a key?”
Jasai turned her head to Moeth. “Aestar gave him the necklace.”
Moeth’s lips tightened around her mouth.
Raen held up a hand and interrupted. “We need to just stop here before we start pointing fingers, the smell of this horror is nauseating. Let’s take it outside and give it a proper burial, and never speak of this again.” Raen placed an ice cream soaked napkin over the chicken pot pie and lifted it out of the food processor. He turned back to the others with a solemn expression, then led a procession out of the cafeteria.
Image Comments (11)
I'm having a turkey TV dinner tonight..... Now I feel bad.... 🤔
OK.... I see Poe, the Roswell incident, the face on Mars, and 2001 A Space Odyssey working their way into the story - and I love it! So cool!
Perhaps part of this mystery connection will be answered when the TNA Girls find that alien artifact they've been investigating all these years... It was found along the flight path of whatever crashed in the desert back in '47.. 😉