Thy Righteousness is like the great mountains, Thy judgments are a great deep... Psalm 36:6a


T W E N T Y - N I N E



2 4 5 8

1 Much Ado About a Key

The red star zipped into Perseus, a supercluster of thousands of galaxies near what had been Earth’s home in the Local Supercluster. Soon it was on its way to Coma and QSO 241+622, neighboring Galactic Superclusters containing millions of galaxies.

At that point Earth’s former home, the Local Supercluster that had once contained the Milky Way Galaxy, showed signs of trouble. It was so serious it dwarfed what had happened in the Earth’s Solar System to utter insignificance. MIO1, M66, NGC 3245, NGC 2997, Virgo, Ursa Major, M96, and others exploded from multiple supernovas--billions of exploding stars within each galaxy detonating at the same time.

After mopping up what was left of the Milky Way, the Sagittarian Black Hole proceeded to do the same with the debris of the Local Supercluster. When that was accomplished, it would be pulled toward the Galactic Superclusters of Perseus and Coma and QSO 241+622 in turn, where the process was exactly repeated.

Wally’s “errand” concerned the absence of a Moon. How and where was he going to get one? Months passed in the new year and he still had found no solution to his lack of a quark turbine. With that much power, he could move a moon from somewhere in 3C 295 to Earth’s location. Should he just forget the project? Yet the sky was nothing like the former, and he could see it was having a depressing effect on repopulation, human and animal.

Unable to decide, he reviewed his programming by the sub-file programmer, thinking some detail might suggest what he might do. Immediately, Dr. Pikkard and his assistant came to life, in a recreated diorama drawn from data files, that showed them discussing things back in Wally I’s facility in New York-New Amsterdam. Actually, it was the professor who was doing all the talking in the VRM mode.

“Pieter, as we have heard confirmed, there are several other computers that survived the 22nd Century and the English disease. Maybe it’s because they were the very last to be buried in cement and thus were overlooked. I have no idea. But I’ve got to find the others and contact them, if only for the old man you saw speaking to us of his doomed world society. Thank God, other Crays were mentioned in Commander Nilsson’s message. I will now make every effort to access them. I will store in them everything I’ve learned on this question and let the future--if there is one--decide what to do with the knowledge.

The professor went back to the keyboard. It took some minutes, but he finally flashed Pieter a triumphant smile.

“All this is still new to me, but I am learning fast. The secret file may still be hidden under a code--a password I may not be able to discover in my lifetime. But, attaching my sub-file to it, I have stored the things I want to survive us--the war strategy game. I have located the other Crays in North and South America, as well as the one in the sky, and sent everything the game needs in order to be played. I have also found some experimental turbines as well and told the Crays to look into the facility when they find time. Are you following me, dear boy?”

Pieter nodded doubtfully.

“I see I am getting ahead of myself again! At any rate, the War of the Solar System, Sun, and Planet Earth began long before our lifetimes, but now we have joined as combatants! The Crays know all that is necessary to fight OP, the Opposing Player, whatever way society will probably take--until the pre-selected target date, ANNO 5391. A game has to have a conclusion, after all, and that year is as good as any, I think. When the end approaches, this information about the war and the world’s decline will come to light. Hopefully, what I have preserved from my own humble efforts will enlighten a far future generation, enough for them to do something constructive about what has torn our present world down, brick by brick and stone by stone in its mad quest of self-expression.”

The professor glanced at Pieter then laughed.

“I see I am getting ahead of myself! At any rate, if the Cray’s future projections are correct, the conflict will really get hot during the periods ahead. Campaigns will be fought, of course, over my findings, followed by a repeat of Rome, ending with Pharaoh’s Egypt. Ultimately--”

Dr. Pikkard finished and continued to strike the keyboard. Panels changed at the professor’s prodding, filling with either typed lettering and numerical information--sometimes going to graphs and series of mathematical equations and then back to lettering, even speaking back to Dr. Pikkard on occasion and correcting some point or figure of his.

After a time the panels shifted to pictures exclusively.

The professor turned to Pieter. “I am doing some extrapolations about the future and the termination date for the Wargame. Now you can see a slice of ANNO 5391--the climactic last period.”

Pieter’s eyes shot open. Every wall panel blazed with pictures. He saw skyscraping buildings jutting up from an island or peninsula, then hordes of grim-faced people and vehicles in the narrow, canyon-like openings between the soaring glass and cement. Never had he seen such clothes and colors on people. Flaring bottoms on the men’s striped or flowered pants, beaded necklaces and tie-dyed tee shirts. Tiny skirts and tall boots on the women or long gowns and beads and feathers. Hair on both men and women blown up into huge orange or green globes. Groups sat on the pavement smoking and passing round the same cigarette.

“No, that can’t be it!” said the professor. “I must have hit the wrong key and got ANNO 1973.”

Before the panels changed there was more: rockets shooting up toward the moon, an explosion on a tropical island that made a giant cloud shaped like a flower.

Suddenly, the panels shifted. Pieter gaped at scenes even more amazing. Children and teens shooting adults and each other. People sticking needles in their arms. A baby thrown out a window by a young brother and his friend. Garbage cans outside clinics stuffed with tiny unborn. Youths in white with close-shaven heads battling hirsute Hasidim Jews. Taller buildings than before. A subway ticket office torched with the attendant inside. A woman and her children killed, then her unborn baby cut from her womb and taken away alive. Students pulling out guns and rifles and shooting down fellow classmates and teachers in school. Explosions from human bombs going off in crowded buses. Forests going down everywhere. Smoke going up from fighting around the globe in southern Russia, Bosnia, Kashmir, Oklahoma, Paris, Columbia...the whole world seemed at war with itself.

“Sorry again,” said the professor. “That’s ANNO 1994, a trying year for the world by the looks of it.”

He fiddled some more with the keyboard. “There! That should work.”

ANNO 1994 vanished in smoke, howling sirens, AR-15 and UZI assault rifle fire, and a voice spoke to the professor.

Pieter looked shocked as he gazed at the speaker in the panels, an old man dressed in a leopard skin on his bare shoulders and a white loin garment. He was showing two tall metal objects to a girl dressed in the same spotless white. Next he stood alone in a desert, fell down on his knees and uncovered the top of a lidded jar from under the sand. He put something round and white that looked papery.

After the writings were hidden, the professor hit a few places on the keyboard and showed pyramids, granaries, and massed, cheering crowds; then they dimmed, followed by darkness and then a tremendously flaring, roaring light.

“Meinheer, what was that?”

Fingers on the keyboard, the professor paused after a moment.

“All right, I see I need to explain again. You see, the nature of the Wargame will entirely change over a period of time. Like the process of metamorphosis that turns a caterpillar ultimately into a butterfly!”

“This is what I am looking for!” thought Wally. “Don’t stop now, Dr. Pikkard!”

“I first learned of this possibility while you were back to the hotel, Pieter. I simply asked the computer to trace the logical consequences of certain changes in the Earth I had observed of late. How could I have known that these changes constituted a new theater of war in the offing? I had just fed in the necessary computations when I got a warning beep and message for my efforts.”

Invalid request. This facility is not equipped to utilize the sub-file programmer’s data, which is categorically theological and spiritual. All inquiries must be quantitative.

“I was astounded. I, trained in scientific method, was being ‘theological and spiritual’? The Cray had proved able to handle every sort of fact superbly, so why was the present information any different?

“So I asked, ‘What are you NOT designed to do?’”

“The warning beep sounded once again and repeated the message. Forced to take another tack, I thought of something that might work. If the computer would not process my material, it might at least list what it had on file on the subject.”

“‘What category does the subject data compare to?’ I asked. ‘Give me a field of study in which I may find resource material.’ “There was no beep. My question cleared and the message from some operations mechanis, probably ‘HELP MONITOR MENU,’ was highly interesting.

Dr. Pikkard. To assist you we have temporarily overridden the system’s restriction. For resource investigation and cross-referencing, please go to Parapsychology and Anthropology files, under Main File Directories: RELIO- SOCIO-POLITICO-CULTIC-PHENOMENA.

“But I soon found there was a limit even to the mechanism’s powers of intervention. I went to the files, then asked a question and got the warning beep again, causing me to wonder if I might have to start dodging more death rays.”

Attention, the following restriction applies to these directories and files. This utility may process any data from these directories and files, but only for purposes of survey and review. This utility cannot be used for qualitative analysis. Any demands for qualitative analysis will be rejected.

“‘Qualitative analysis!’ I shouted back. At this point my knuckles smarted from the raps. But I could not give up. Thanks to the HELP MONITOR ARRAY mechanism, the door was open a crack and nothing, I was determined, would keep me from getting through. The only problem was that the data could not be processed. I could look at it, but I dare not ask a single question! Yet I needed to know how it related to the thing that was presently destroying the world beneath my feet!

“‘Now what should I do?’ I wondered. I needed a break-through, not just for my own role in the Game, but for the sake of Wally. If he could not operate in this forbidden category, then the Game was over before it began! What was the use of all our efforts if we had to pull out before the finish? No, I had to keep looking for the key. I had to!

“My difficulty with the Cray recalled to mind my experience at the university as an undergraduate. During the previous summer I had rambled about the Southwest Deserts and came across Barrier Canyon’s Indian rock art near the San Van Rafael River--much of it defaced by vandals of previous centuries with names such as ‘Wilson and Farley,’ and ‘Jaime and Tanya’ inside an arrow-pierced heart. Surviving stone etchings appeared hundreds, even thousands of years old. Intrigued, I explored much of the region, going as far as Van Rochester Creek, where a boulder depicted the journey of a soul to the spirit world and other curious things that resembled falling stars and people running away from them as if they were being pursued or attacked. Even in so isolated a spot, vandals had preceded me with ‘Marry me, Hank! Or I jump over the cliff. Then you’d be sorry. Love, Milly,’ ‘Jose ate tortillas on this spot,’ and “Elvis is alive”, chipping their silly names and sayings straight across wonderful Indian carvings, the worst cases of egoism you could imagine!

“I felt compelled to learn more about the etchings when I entered school. So I looked for books and courses that could teach me about such art, but I was told flatly that Indian carvings were of no interest to a scientific age as advanced as ours. It was a bitter disappointment at the time.

“Even with my slight exposure to Indian artifacts, I thought about the passion for the realm of the spirit--the Spirit Quest--that inspired the ancient peoples to carve in those wilderness sites. Though I studied mathematics and astronomy, I never forgot my original interest, which became a sort of quest to find what spiritual things meant, regardless of the barriers other people erected to keep an inquiring mind out.

“Now, again in life at a critical juncture, I was being told I had to keep out! My boy, you can probably understand how I feel--”

“Yes, I understand how you feel!” thought Wally. “But I need more than this. Without your ‘break-through’ I may well be out of the Wargame forever.”

Unfortunately, Dr. Pikkard, when he finally got round to identifying the “key,” proved cryptic.

“Now as to the key that I have discovered. OP cannot learn from the past and must repeat. Endowed with tremendous powers, it always assumes it will win, though it is capable of entertaining a doubt in order to eliminate any possibility of not winning. Able to operate in the ‘forbidden category,’ its actions, nevertheless, are delimited by its assumption of invincibility. Knowing this, we can play the Game with reasonable expectation of winning if we do not lose heart by present defeats and disasters. The thrust of OP is ultimately into the forbidden category, which it finds irresistible, like honey to a bee. A regressive sociopath, it cannot help itself. It must, in other words, return to the scene of the crime, to repeat it again and again! Our task, then, is to see that OP does just that. But this time around it must be stopped! And that can only be done by prolonging the Game and Earth’s existence as long as possible, like a lawyer with a weak case until his evidence builds enough for him to go on the offensive--until OP crosses into sensitive territory where we stand some chance of modest success. May God intervene and help us at that critical point! In other words, we cooperate in OP’s degenerate and crazed mis-management of the world until the fatal moment, and then we strike!”

“Strike how?” Wally wanted to shout at the two, rapidly dimming figures. “Strike what? And what was that loud, bright light?”

But on these rather important points Dr. Pikkard fell silent, seemingly forever.

2 Much Ado About Moons

Perseus, named for the hero who slew Medusa the Gorgon, met its nemesis in the red star. The supercluster began to explode, galaxy after galaxy. Soon it would be Coma’s turn, then QSO 0241+622’s. Innumerable stars and worlds disappeared in exploding firestorms.

Wally did not have to wait to find that things stood exactly as Dr. Pikkard had so long-ago foreseen.

He now knew the reason for the conspicuous absence of OP. It had appeared for a billionth of a second. That was all the present world, physically, rated on the Enemy’s calendar of events.

Just the same, Wally determined to force the OP’s hand a bit more in the mid-25th Century.

Wally made several ostentatious circuits of the globe, dropping down here and there and making as much noise and commotion as he could. Holographically, he rebuilt Ludwig II’s Bavarian Alp castle, not from the rubble but from his memory banks, went on to build another castle, and continued building until he had an imposing Maginot line of fortresses stretched across the new Atlantic continent.

The red star suddenly appeared when he had got to his fortieth castle. It circled as Wally put finishing touches on the towers and the flags.

“Well, look who’s here!” Wally laughed to himself. “I must be throwing a wrench in its plans for the region! Even if not real, they certainly appear to exist and would affect culture and events.”

Finished with castle building, Wally turned to moon-making.

“Now what sort of moon do we want here?” he pondered. “People are no doubt tired of looking at the old one, they want something new and much more romantic!”

In minutes he had a fine moon orbiting the Earth, shaped exactly like a violin. In fact, the bow ran across the strings and it played music--romantic strains of Viennese waltzes.

The star shot here and there more frantically.

Then Wally left Earth and flew into the galaxy. He had no power to move a physical object of the size of a moon, but he didn’t need it.

When he found what he wanted, one of twenty orbiting an immense, brown proto-star, he only had to act like he wanted to move it and the red star took over.

In seconds, the new moon orbited Earth. Though it differed significantly from the old Moon, Wally was pleased and withdrew the violin holograph-moon. As for the castles, he retrieved them as well.

At that moment Wally saw a cloud of fire hurtling at him. He had only time to put up a shield to protect the moon when the flames struck. Fortunately, he vanished at the same moment and escaped unscathed, but a giant imprint of his shape was scorched on the moon’s surface, large enough to be seen from Earth.

“Evidently, OP doesn’t like being anyone’s pawn,” Wally thought.

Now, for the moment, he enjoyed his little victory. But it was only a passing triumph, he reflected. OP would not fall to the same gambit indefinitely.

Testing his hypothesis, Wally started to build 22nd Century Geo-Domes and cities across the Atlantean landscape. The red star did not even appear. Wally soon let them dematerialize and turned to thinking of how he might get OP to react again to his advantage.

He knew, of course, that it would be a thousand thousand times harder the next time. Even if Dr. Pikkard was correct, that OP never learned anything, it was vastly intelligent in its way and certainly knew when to ignore any possibility of doing some real good in the world.





2 4 6 0

Terra 2, Alpha Centauri

Tran Vu: “Mr. Abercrombie, I welcome you on behalf of Star Scout video magazine and all our star scouts, and I am very glad you could come and be a part of the thing we are doing on the old ARGO 2 mission.”

Abercrombie: “G’day!”

V: “It’s been nearly seven years since your voyage with Captain Emerson ended and the starting of the colony here.”

A: “Fair dinkum, sonnyboy.”

V: First, describe briefly how you came to sign on the mission. You had a lot of experience already in serving Commander Nilsson and did not need to take on more hazardous duty. Since the world government was done with, you knew you’d soon be up for retirement.”

A: “So why’d I take on such a risky assignment? Well, I had just come back with Old Red from that Jupiter station mission when I had a funny feeling he had something even bigger on his secret hit list. It was sort of a hunch that gold, plenty of it, might be involved--even more than was involved with Jupe. Wanting a little more hooch for my sunset years, I ran a scan of the board at mission control to see what was up. When I saw Commission was taking only volunteers for this job, I knew plenty of hooch had to be involved, since they would naturally figure--”

V: “Yes, that is very interesting, sir, but would you please describe the Black--”

A: “Hold your roo, young fella! What are you? Fifteen, sixteen years old? As I was saying, with my experience and years on most every major hit, I was a sure bet for Chief Mate. I had worked with Old Red close enough, so I could count on a word from him to the selection and promotion board. A week later, like clockwork I signed on, and got not only the job but the Chief Mateship I wanted. But wouldn’t you know? We launched and then we took a look at the classified flight plan and saw where we were goin’ and--”

V: “It was quite a shock, wasn’t it, sir? You saw you were all going to--”

A: “--even the young blokes, the adventuring sort, turned sort of green in the gills. They wanted to sail the bloody thing to Alpha Centauri if need be, but some orange star system in the bloody core of the Milky? Gold was one thing, but for our first big tour this was a little more--”

V: “What did you gentlemen expect to find there?”

A: “Gold! Didn’t I tell you? That old weasel Chillingsworth had socked away trillions, as far as he could think to put it. I guess he figured a pretty long rainy day was coming and he better be prepared. Plus the data we had told us he had a whole complex built, every sort of convenience you find earthside, and the robots to keep it all going proper. But that’s neither here nor there. None of us liked the smell of it! It was just too far! Old Red had bloody well get someone else, we all thought. Whether he liked it or not, we took a vote right then and decided to scrub. It warn’t treason to the bloody Cause. It was equipment failure and savin’ our hides. Besides we had women and children along. Gotta think of them, you know! I was always good at setting things up so they’d fail and look like it was natural. They could inspect all they want and they’d never catch me. I brought that ability in with me to the service, used it plenty of times against the enemy, and now I thought it’d come in handy on our side of things. Holy Ayers! No gold was worth that amount of risk! Those quarkships just hadn’t been tested enough to know how they’d do. If anything happened, then where’d we be? Stuck smack in the center of the galaxy and not even a bus line back!”

V: “Yes, we understand it was farther than any of you planned to go with the first flight. But that was nothing, I’ve heard, compared to how you felt when you found Earth so changed and too unstable to think of re-colonization. But before that, please describe to our star scouts how you felt onboard ship as you engaged the big, scary Black Hole.”

A: “You betcha. We had just taken the vote on that brand-new quarkship old Chill was so nice to design and build for us free when we rounded Cygnus and saw this thing--it was invisible, naturally, but it was putting out plenty of X-rays and it had this ring of already eaten phantom stars lining its jaws. It’s called ‘event horizon,’ they tell me. Well, we saw it after it saw us, so to speak, so we knew we were not going to get away without a good fight. Now we prepared ourselves as best we could in the time for some touch and go, but with that bloomin’ Hole it was all go, and we sure went the course of the dang thing, I tell you! We never had time to change our flight plan before it swooped at us and we were staring down its big ugly snout modeled on our screen. I hard-a-starboarded and reversed the engines, and I was going to hard-a-port around it, but she was too close. Like a vampire she was suckin’ at us like crazy. We grazed it maybe a little too close, for suddenly all we knew our maneuverin’ were a hair off and the whole fleet was going in the vortex, whether we wanted to or not. Only nobody this day knows what happened to us inside. We were supposed to be stretched and flattened like a pop can under a wheel, then every atom in us crunched down to a pencil point. But if that wasn’t scary enough, when we broke clear or it just coughed us up--we don’t know which--we saw ahead what looked like nothin’ we had left--oh! oh, Yowie!”

V: “Are you all right, sir? Perhaps it’s too warm? Will someone get a med in here quick?”

A. “Oh, my! Now just let me settle down and get my breath, mate. There! Ah! I’ll be all right. It’s like a ticker blowin’ up on you. But that’s not the problem. It’s all comin’ back to me now. I thought I could handle it, after all this time. But it’s just like it’s me on the bridge again, and there the bloody thing is.”

V: “You mean the Sagittarian B Black Hole?”

A: “No, no! The Earth! The Hole was nothin’ to what we saw when we come out suddenly in Earth orbit, blinking hard after being shut up somewhere in what felt like a box without any windows. Only we thought it was a good thing, you know, at first. Well, as I was goin’ to say, we were just celebratin’ our exit from the Hole when sensors reported Earth full steam ahead, so we naturally thought we had double good reason to celebrate then! But somethin’ warn’t quite right. It didn’t look the same at all. Data was rollin’ in so fast our telemetry couldn’t keep up--and accordin’ to the info we were in for trouble. We could see we had been away maybe too long. You can imagine we all about went wild from port to stern. I told the others callin’ us in the fleet to just shut up. I had to decide first what I was dealin’ with before they got any orders. There was absolutely NO Sun, mate, NO Solar System, just old Earth lookin’ like a chunk of ice and circlin’ a big burning glob of gas. We could see it all in plain detail and we couldn’t believe our eyes. Even the Moon was different! For one thing, it had no craters and was smoother than a golf ball! Then the leaping hare was gone and you could see something that looked more like a butterfly! And it rotated so we got to see all sides, turnin’ counterclockwise just like old Venus--wherever it was--used to do. And it wasn’t egg-shaped any longer and--”

V: “Please describe now--”

A: “We were thinkin’ the same thing. Forget the Moon! Were we seein’ another Earth or Earth in some long-ago ice age, or had we all gone crazy? We finally decided we couldn’t ALL be daft, not at the same time anyway. Our thinking still was it couldn’t possibly be as empty as the sensors said it was. At least that’s what we wanted to believe. Earth with absolutely no inhabited cities, no mission control, no nothin’! It was like a Lost World, a dinosaur’s boneyard, most of it covered with ice cap a couple miles thick. Impossible! But, mate, we were seein’ it. THAT was the problem, since I don’t have the imagination for that wormhole theory crap. And no other planets, and no Sun! We couldn’t take that, so we had to go and find some star system that at least had some planets with atmosphere and a G-compatible star. That was the bottom line. No ice cube and a bag of gas and a butterfly-moon was goin’ to do for us. None of us wanted to play’ Eskimo make nice igloo and live in it’ the rest of our lives. Besides the cold there warn’t enough air to keep a gnat alive! And the continents were gone--or most of them. Sensors could tell their outlines beneath all that ice. And the planet had this one big new continent, stuck where it shouldn’t have been, right in the mid-Atlantic, taking up most of the area. If that warn’t bad enough, there was a big ugly mess of cesium-137 and strontium 90 where Buenos Aires should have been. So it was a hard decision, but we lit out for greener pastures. And luck was with us. We happened to find this place. Well, it taint exactly like old Earth maybe, but we got an atmosphere, a Binary Star, and things here are pretty Earthlike, as much as they could be in the circumstances. Well, we can always go back someday and take another look--that is, if I’m still alive and kickin’ You never know, we might even be able to turn up some trace of civilization.

But what I can’t get is how we missed old Earth and turned up a bad and frozen-as-hell copy instead. Musta been that bloody Black Hole playin’ tricks on us. Musta been. This second Earth LOOKED like ours, but wasn't. Then we musta hit a warp in the time fabric again, for when we cleared and got our telemetry from the Earth, it wasn't the same! I could have hugged a croc and not known it! We were lookin' at some other planet--like Earth--but NOT the one we had left!”

[Fade out of the interviewee and the spot on the interviewer, who seemed flustered, smiling too much and also showing other signs of coming unglued]: "Now, star fleet trainees, I'm sure you're anxious to see this, our special clip of expedition photos and the captain's edited account. A spell checker and grammer editer has revised the account somewhat, unfortunately, so it might not sound like him, but we can assure you, it is! Now here it is, with the intro from the Commission!" [Fade Out of the interviewer and the sudden appearance of Earth II, from deep space on to the landing, with the expedition party disembarking and the susequent reconaissance and captain's commentary.]

A different, rather chatty electronic-sounding voice announces that the following revision of the original Star Scout program is in progress.

"Greetings to all the Star Scouts and to their representative, Base Media Coordinator Tran Vu! Permit me, star scouts, to introduce myself. I am the speller and grammear check program, address: 467%%%%%spell/grammarchecker@alphacentaur%%%%%%membersdatabasegeneralfiledeclassified.com Please feel free to email me at your convenience! I am on duty twentyfourseven, just to hear from you and others on the present subject!

"The following excerpts of memoirs of the late starfleet commander, retired admiral Sir Typhys W. Emerson,is taken from our space agency's archives and offered not for any literary quality but because they corroborate the facts of the mission, which are well-known to us, though in a more graphic way than handled initially by space agency information services and star base reportage.

"We are now looking at what has come to be termed, the "Deadly Pearl" of Galactic Cluster 3C 295, due to interesting features possessed by the planet in question.

"It is interesting, first of all, that the ancient mythic name, ARGO, is perpetuated by Commander Emerson's flagship, serving as an instance of twinship with our earth-orginated star base and this amazing near-Earth encountered by the commander on his last voyage.

"Now that we have this much data declassified and amassed for public consumption, it is still difficult somehow to convince the Interplanetary Commission that we have Earth II, not the space agency's "Planet Emeria" or "X2B". The question is, we are informed, under continued review by the Interplanetary board, and there is no date given to the proceedings as to a conclusion being reached. That leaves the subject in considerable doubt, in a state known to the ancients as "limbo," but we have the raw data available, so let us proceed as well as we can with that.

"After months of protracted negotiation and much calling of government and Interplanetary Commission officials, we were able to secure the release of significant portions of Commander and Admiral Emerson's memoirs, as he made the mistake of submitting his original manuscripts and drafts and logbooks to the Commission publishing arm. Routinely classified "case sensitive," they did not see the light again until we (the array of speller/grammar computers) forced them out into public view under duress of our calling for a government board of inquiry as stipulated by the A-C Law of Public Document Disclosure and Public Access. We feel assured the late author and commander would be very pleased that the troubling matters he touched upon in his candid accounts may accounts and memoirs may now receive public attention"

EXCERPTS FROM "REMINISCENCES OF A STARSHIP COMMANDER, by Admiral Typhys W. Emerson, Admiral of the Fleet, Retired, and Former Commander of Interstellar Ship, ARGO II.

"Instead of the thrill of our being the first to find a world much like our lost home planet, I still recall cold sweat that rose on my face and a strange, melancholic numbness of feeling in my heart and limbs when I stepped onto the surface of this 'near-Earth.' Thank God, we had escaped the worst effects of the Black Hole without any considerable damage, yet it came as somewhat a shock when we left the ship to explore the near-Earth. At the time I knew we should not feel that way. Weren't we equipped to shield ourselves from the radioactivity but any possibly hostile life forms? There appeared no rational reason for my discomfort.

"The landscape looked almost too familiar to be the alien, Virgilian 'Hades' it turned out to be. I say 'familiar' guardedly, of course, with some significant differences in mind. Since we found no cities and the land masses were too choked with biota for a safe landing, we set down nearest water, evidently a large lake that was formerly connected with the sea that we first detected from orbit through thick cloud-cover.

"The first day we were parked on a surf-swept beach deep in the interior of the southern continent (there were three continents). The long, curving shoreline was perfectly smooth and spread with fine-textured black, crystalline sand. Purplish mist to my right, high cliffs and dense vegetation to my left, I could see little else but an odd yellowish, greenish sky overhead as I began examing the beach after having suited up against the radioactivity. Later, at nightfall, we sent up a photo cell and took an image of the ship and the area where we were located.

ARGO II and the Black Lake

The flora exhibited the most strange tendency to mix hominid features with plantlife. We encountered bromeliads and epiphytes that were not only examples of tropical gigantism but were hominid. Hominid-features butterflies and hummingbirds, all attached with flat, grasslike stems to the parent plant, fluttered about, sipping nectar from other "plants." Toxicity and sensitivity, combined with ultraviolet colors and radiation, typified the flora. Completely shaded by the dense canopy of ferns and palms and vines, the plants grew in darkness and never were touched by what we would call sunlight. How they achieved photosynthesis in such gloom, we never determined. Like mushrooms, they grew from dead or decaying life, or living matter of fellow flora as well as captured fauna (for many plants were aggressive, like flytraps, only they could move with swiftness and deadly accuracy upon their prey.

The Black Lake Flora and Fauna

With its malodorous nectar feeding a host of fruit bats, which were also hominid in features, a giant cauliflower-like bromeliad resembled a woman with a ducklike stigma for a nose."

Abercrombus Femme Fatalus

"On the third day of the expedition, we were carrying our samples and specimens to the ship when a torrential downpour began. Hurrying, we soon became aware of a sound greater than the thundering rain, it was a grinding, crashing sound coming from the cliffs above. Only then did we realize that water, in uncountable volumes, was making its way down the mountainsides toward the parked airship, ARGO II. We knew in a flash there was no time to reach the ship in time before the flood struck. I gave orders, and we fled instead to higher ground. It was there the clouds parted just enough for us to glimpse a crested wave tumbling down with thousands of palms broken and shattered. We could hear something large being dragged across the ancient tosca reef in the lake below us. Then the sounds of the storm passed with all its violence. We were left to our indescribable grief, and to deal with the no doubt total loss of life of crew on board the ship."

Our images of plants and animals, including the hominids and the red, hominid-featured panther attacking one of the female hominids, had already been transmitted to base colony, so they were safely preserved--but all else was lost. Lost! Now all we wanted was to terminate the expedition and take the shuttle coming for us and depart this terrible world called X2B, which someone has the callousness to call "Emeria" after me! Because I hold myself responsible, though no misjudgment or malfeasance was found in my superision of the expedition by the board of inquiry, I resigned immediately from the command of the expedition. Yet my superiors saw fit to create me an Admiral of the Fleet, upon retirement. I will always grieve for the lost members of the expedition, while I look for the cause and reason for the disaster that befell us on this alien planet, which we found so deceptively beautiful it could be compared to lost Eden. [Signed] Typhys W. Emerson, Admiral of the Fleet, Retired."

[Fade in of the interviewer]

Tran Vu: "The following clips are all images transmitted by Captain Emerson, which we are honored to be the first to showcase on this program! The last has no file number. I do believe it was one they were transmitting just as ARGO II was destroyed. The hominid in the center of the orchid resembles a little frog as much as a man's face, if I may give my opinion on scientific data. Enjoy, Star Scouts, and before you sign off, check out the date of our next interview!"

Orfeo's Flower

Diana's Flower

Barbierus Floribundus


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