Professor Tyler's Journal - Vol 2: Howling Mesa
TR-20195 was nobody's fault, really. All we did was stumble into an existing situation that we didn't recognize quickly enough.
The basics seemed fairly simple. We arrived on a comfortable temperate world with abundant natural resources and friendly natives. Our arrival point was just outside one of their largest seasonal camps, where a great forest met a vast plain. Every spring they would emerge from the shelter of the trees where they made their winter camps, and every fall they would move from the plains to the woods, laden with the supplies they had gathered during the summer. We met them in the fall.
Indeed, the natives were quite pleased at our presence, greeting us with genuine warmth and enthusiasm. We were welcomed with feasts and celebrations and invited to stay with their leaders. With the welcome we had been given, we had no qualms about setting up a world-ring gate.
The people of this place were humanoid, but small and dark. They generally stood between four and five feet tall, with short velvety fur over much of their bodies. Their hands were long and narrow, with only three fingers and a thumb on each hand, but with an extra, clawed joint at the end of each digit. The thing I remember most about them were their large and expressive eyes.
They called themselves "Ka'dok", which meant "The People" in one of their ancient tongues. They were basically nomadic hunters, moving between seasonal camps, following the herds of antelope-like creatures that were their game. Their mounts were bipedal lizard-like creatures with long tails. I rode one, once, during our visit with them. I'm not ashamed to admit that I fell off rather spectacularly.
During my time there, one called C'hedal volunteered to be my guide. He was the second son of a sub-chief. He didn't make much of his station, but working things out later it seems he would have been the equivalent of a royal Duke at the very least. He was very eager to point out all of the great works they had done. He was especially proud of the huge tents and the great woven rugs. I had no inkling of the trouble that was about to be unleashed.
"The cloth is woven tight, to keep the wind out, at the high place!"
"Really? What high place?"
"Of course you know the high place! The Mesa of the Gods. Now that you have arrived, it is time for us to begin the great journey."
Given their nomadic society, I thought nothing more of the conversation. I did see C'hedal speaking with some of his friends who had also volunteered to guide members of the Project team, and later I learned that they had casually mentioned the Mesa of the Gods to their charges. C'hedal may have thought at first that I was joking with him, or testing him, but soon he and his friends realized that our ignorance was unfeigned.
The day after the world-gate was completed, a delegation from the Ka'Dok leaders confronted us at the work site. For the first time there were serious expressions on the faces of these normally welcoming creatures. All of them were dressed in their finest clothing, and many of them carried beautiful ritually decorated, but still quite functional, hunting spears. C'hedal's father Roh'dal was their spokesman.
"T'yler! We must talk of the journey to the Mesa of the Gods. There are many of us who have doubts."
"Doubts about the journey?"
"Doubts that it is truly time for the journey. Doubts that you are truly the Gods."
This completely floored me. It was obvious in retrospect: the feasting, the celebrations, the enthusiastic welcome we had received. It was more than just hospitality. It was worship.
"Roh'dal... You have shared your food and homes with us. We have a debt of gratitude, and this is poor repayment. We are travelers. Explorers from another world. We are not your Gods. I am so sorry, I had no idea."
A sort of sigh went up from the group. Roh'dal's expression was unreadable. He looked at me for several long seconds, then nodded and spoke.
"It is... good that you do not claim to be what you are not. We have been ready to welcome our Gods for generations, and your arrival..."
He trailed off. I could see that he was holding back tears through sheer force of will. Behind him, I could see that some of the Ka'Dok were crying, while others looked fiercely angry. I glanced at my team and nodded slightly toward the gate before turning back to Roh'dal.
"I think, perhaps that we should leave. I can see that we have caused..."
A voice from the back of the group shouted "No! It is a test! We must not reject them!"
C'hedal turned with a snarl and shouted back, "You have heard their own words! They are not the Gods!"
A new voice shouted, "Then they are demons, and they must DIE!"
Roh'dal yelled back, "No! Let them leave! They are just..."
His words were interrupted by a scream of fury. A burly figure in bright ceremonial garb leapt at him, clawed fingers tearing at his throat. C'hedal struck his father's attacker aside with a double-handed blow to the head, but a fourth Ka'Dok entered the fray. He slammed the butt of his spear into C'hedal's stomach, then reversed his motion and stabbed Roh'dal's attacker through the back.
A general melee ensued. The Ka'Dok turned on us and on each other with instantaneous ferocity. If we had been their sole targets, we would have been overwhelmed in minutes. As it was, the factional fighting gave us enough time to fall back into the forest and lose our pursuit. We were able to pause for a while and treat our wounded.
C'hedal found our base camp late that night. He had been injured in the fighting, but Sgt. Walton was able to help him somewhat as he told us what had happened.
"There is a war now, within Ka'Dok. Three factions. One thinks that you are Gods, and will strike down any who deny it. Another claims you are demons, sent to lead us astray, and will slay any who support you. The third and the smallest, thinks that this is all a mistake."
"And what group are you with?"
"The third. I think this is a mistake. And I don't know what would fix it."
"Nor do I. I think, though, that I may have a partial solution. If we were to fake our deaths and use the Ring gate to return to our world..."
"...it would appease both the second and third factions, while demoralizing the first."
"Yes. Right now that may be all that we can hope for."
"I agree. And you are fortunate. My father and a group of his guards were able to capture the gate. We can go to it tonight."
With C'hedal's guidance, we were able to sneak back to the main encampment. I met with Roh'dal and we worked out a strategy for his followers. They would try to mediate the conflict and preserve the lives of as many Ka'Dok as possible. For our escape, he was able to provide some freshly killed game, which we used with some of our spare gear and uniforms to create a scene of grisly mayhem. After that, our return to Refuge Base was fairly uneventful.
Despite the fact that we had a completed gate on TR-20195, travel was restricted until after the fall of the Homeworld. Once it became clear that the gate system had been compromised, I led a small team back there in an attempt to warn the Ka'Dok about the danger they were potentially facing.
On our arrival, I was expecting to see the plains with the camp and forest in the distance. We had arrived in dim, pre-dawn half light however, so our view was limited. Even so, I could tell that the gate had been moved. Instead of grassland there was a windswept expanse of bare ground with low groups of rocks in the near distance. The gate had been moved to a raised platform with a ramp leading to the center. Below and in front of the gate was a table of rock with torches at each corner, their flames nearly horizontal from the constant wind.
A white robed Ka'Dok was dozing on her knees next to the table. She started awake when Sgt. Jared approached, and immediately threw herself flat on the ground with a despairing wail.
"Oh forgive! Forgive me Gods! I am a weak and unworthy servant! For so long we have prayed for your return! And I who was to watch and welcome you fell victim to my weakness and fell asleep! I beg of you, forgive!"
Sgt. Jared began to speak, "We're not..."
"Angry!" I interrupted hastily.
He looked at me, quizzically, but I gestured at him to stay quiet and continued, "We're not angry with you. If your eyes were closed it was to... to spare you the radiance of our arrival."
My eyes were adjusting, and the first light of the sun was cresting the horizon, revealing more of the landscape. I could see now that the distant rocks were low walls, sheltering tents much like those that C'hedal had shown me a decade ago. The horizon was unnaturally close, and I realized that the bare, rocky ground could only be the top of what the Ka'Dok had called the Mesa of the Gods.
I could see other white-clad Ka'Dok beginning to stir in the tent village, so I quickly said, "Please get up... uh... My child. I must speak to your leader at once. We bear urgent news."
The priestess led us quickly to a large tent near the far edge of the mesa. Our path led us through the center of the camp. As we passed, anyone who saw us immediately fell to the ground and began to pray. I'm sure it was meant as a sign of devotion, but it felt as if we were some strange disease, spread by visual contact with paralysis and glossolia as defining symptoms.
Although, when we reached the great tent, I very nearly fell over and started babbling. The priestess brought us in, sank to one knee before an ancient Ka'Dok who was seated on a low throne covered in warm blankets and said, "The Gods have returned to us! Heierarch C'hedal! The Gods have returned!"
The old Ka'Dok's head wobbled a bit as he looked up toward us. I could see that his eyes were milky with cataracts, but still alert. He raised a knobby, wrinkled hand in benediction and spoke to the priestess.
"My eyes are weak my child, but I can yet see. This is the God named T'yler, who came to us of old. May his blessing, and the blessing of all the Gods be upon you. Now leave us for a time. I sense that the Gods have much wisdom to impart..."
The young priestess bowed her way out of the tent, leaving us alone. I sat down across from C'hedal, who looked me over carefully and quietly said, "T'yler. You look the same as last I saw you, nearly fifty winters ago. Were you lying then? Are you truly Gods?"
"No C'hedal, we aren't. It's been... We discovered, not long after we found your world, that time flows differently in some places than in others. If we had stayed here longer, we would have likely discovered it earlier. As it was, our visit was too brief and our departure too sudden for us to realize the difference in time between here and our home. From our perspective, we've been gone less than ten winters."
"Ah..." C'hedal nodded slightly. "I think I understand. Even so. It is good you did not wait much longer. I am the last one here who knows the true story of what happened back then. I am old now, and winter is approaching. The Mesa is not kind to the elderly in winter. And I'm sure you are wondering why your gate is here. You want to know what went wrong."
"Yes... Yes I would."
"It was, as I told you back then, a mistake. We thought your departure would demoralize those who thought you were Gods. We were wrong. Your clothes were found, and the blood and all, but no bodies. The most fanatic worshippers drove their fellows into a frenzy. They claimed it was a sign that you had not truly died, and that if they were devout and slew their enemies that you would return."
His head dipped slightly and his eyes closed as he recounted his memories. "My father saw how things were going, and knew our plans must change. I posed as a convert to the cause of those who worshipped you, and helped them steal the gate from where you had built it. We carried it across the plains in winter, and raised it to the top of the Mesa of the Gods. In the summer, there is strife upon the plains whenever the hunters of the Ka'Dok of the Mesa encounter the Ka'Dok of the woods. In the winter, they retreat to the forest, and all of our tribe gather here upon these rocks."
He spread his arms in a slightly arthritic shrug. "And so it goes. I rose in the ranks of your priesthood, partially through displays of devotion, eventually through simple seniority. And now you are here. And your followers await your call. What would you have me say to them?" He cocked his head slightly to the side and continued, "Remembering, of course that 'I'm sorry' didn't work very well last time."
I thought for a bit, then said, "C'hedal, I wish I could tell you that we were here to make everything better. That we had found a solution that would unify your people again. But I can't. My people are fighting a war now, against an enemy we didn't even realize existed when we first met you and your people. We came here to try to warn whoever we could find that the gate we created might be used by our enemy. When we leave here that gate must be sealed."
"This will not be well received. The gate has become a symbol of your worship. It is said that divine favor flows out from within the circle. If you tell us to seal it, it could very well cause another schism..."
"I know. It has to be done, but perhaps it does not have to be permanent. If the gate is only open from dawn to mid-day on a particular day of the year, that may suffice."
C'hedal smiled quietly, "It could become a holy ritual. A means of pleasing the Gods... I shall declare it so. How can the gate be sealed?"
"Fill the center with rock. That should be enough to keep the trans-universal gateway from manifesting. Tearing down the wall at dawn and rebuilding it by sunset could be the ritual."
"We shall have it built by tonight. The ritual will commemorate the anniversary of your return."
There was nothing more to say. I bid farewell to C'hedal and the priestess, told the others in the village that we were well pleased with their devotion, and cautioned them to be vigilant. I told them of a war between the Gods and an enemy who would seek out those who were loyal to us. Before we left, I instructed them to wall up the gate, and to renew the seal every year.
Perhaps, in time, we'll be able to return. The Ka'Dok should have a chance to return to their peaceful way of life, and some day when my people are safe, I may be able to give them the time and attention that they deserve.