They were sitting in a restaurant that specialized in local food and drink. It was a very welcome change with all the prefab foodstuffs that were served in the outer colonies. The food was spicy, well cooked and most importantly fresh. They even had fish.
The man waved his Cinnamon Gin tumbler towards his guest in a welcoming manner. “Thanks Andrew for taking the time. I really appreciate it. You seem to be very busy at the moment so I’m glad I could catch you. How are your contracts going? I heard you are running data for a Wolf 406 company?“
Andrew Gaspurr sat opposite to the man. He had an hour before the next package of courier data was uploaded and prepared. They even had to augment their Cobra’s databanks for it. All in all, things were running smoothly, although Andrew sometimes wondered who might be responsible for that surprising influx of contracts. He wasn’t even a major league player or Wolf 406 exec. But nobody seemed to care. Which not always turned out good. They had upgraded their ship with heat sinks and some chaff, just to be sure.
“You’re right. There is a boom time in this sector and some major shippings are going on. Seems someone got a lead on me from my Navy Logistics days so here I am. I may even consider settling down here for a bit. It would make handling the admin much easier. Plus, I could finally buy some real furniture and not sleep in my Cobra’s bunk all the time.”
The man laughed out loud. He seemed awkwardly relaxed, Andrew noticed. A strange openness in his behavior which he did not suspect from a top agent who went into hiding. But maybe it was just part of the charade of blending in. In this crowded place he was unsuspicious. It was a busy place with guests talking, yelling, singing and laughing constantly. It almost seemed a wonder they found the time to eat their meals.
“Good to hear things turned out well for you. Setting up shop somewhere near big business is always a good option. Although people start getting ideas where they have to look for you when they want to meet you in person. For whatever reasons…” He raised an eyebrow towards Andrew.
Andrew nodded carefully. “Very true. So, what’s it you wanted to talk about? I have a schedule in about an hour.”
In an instant the man became much more serious again and his voice dropped somewhat: “Last time I only had the time to give you the rough sketches. About me and working for FINREG. There wasn’t much time for further talks but I left you with some questions I guess and I just wanted to know if maybe you found out something on your own or if I can give you some further answers.”
„You come out of hiding to answer my questions? Boy, what an honour.” The sarcasm was unintentional but it still left its mark on the man. “You threw some obsucre stories and names at me and I also have to admit your background left me a bit puzzled but I haven’t really found out anything substantial. Nothing about that FINREG project you worked on anyway, but I was hardly surprised given the fact that our most honest Galactic Federation indulges in R&D espionage. Imagine the PR disaster if someone found out they are stealing tech from others.“
Andrew smiled a wry smile and looked into his glass.
The man chuckled. „Very well, although they have their spin doctors who always cover their tracks and blame some terrorists or secessionists. It’s not that it’s too much of a puzzle, really. After all, working for any major faction is not comparable with an ethics seminar. But once you become familiar with how an organisation thinks and what it plans it is only from the outside that you start to see the bigger picture. On the inside you lose your sight and if you are not careful, you’ll lose your compass. If you are smart and have the nerves you can ignore it and put it away for a time. But it always comes back: The big picture that your superiors will never admit that it exists, because they always fear it endangers everything they stand for. Actually, it is pretty self preserving to think so.“
“Then why did you leave them? You could have made a living there and they seem to protect their ‘assets’ quite well. I mean you were a pro in your team, weren’t you? I can only assume what they would have done to keep you, shielding you from harm so to say. What one doesn’t know one can’t question.”
The man made a pause and took a sip from his tumbler. He looked at the glass, then put it down again and looked at Andrew “That was exactly it. You are an asset, no more. An unknowing asset that due to lack of knowledge of what is going on to your right and left inevitably will start making mistakes. And when you start screwing things up you become a liability. Not that I did but once I climbed the ladder I realized how things truly worked. It is always the price you pay when you are management rather than labor.”
“So you left, because they promoted you? That’s funny: They promised to promote me for killing you and I left them anyway.”
“Yes, but here is the thing: You left, because it was not worth it. More precisely, you left, because what they demanded went contrary to what you deemed was right. You had your personal ethics seminar, if you will. And they punished you for that and court-martialed you.”
“Showing a Chief Petty Officer the door for not doing his job and killing an exec scientist for doing his job are two different things, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Partially. Like I said, the big picture is missing; mostly for them who are in its center and need it the most. Now, what have you found out about the last things I mentioned to you?”
“Conundrums mostly. Coming from one of the Federation’s top research groups I didn’t expect you drifting into myths and legends at the end of our last meeting. Unless you wanted to give me a hint on one of your last assignments, of course; as a farewell so to say. However, some things seem to point into a very specific direction. Literally.”
“Well, you mentioned a Nebra Sky Disc. I can only guess but I think at that time you already knew my interest in old Earth history. Otherwise you would have laid out the bait in another way, a way a citizen of the 34th century can grasp a wee bit easier.”
Andrew cut him short: “Yes, thanks.” He then cleared his throat.
“Anyway, your disc: It’s a very special item and its truly ancient. It’s apparently an artefact from archaeology, one of the earliest ‘star maps’ that was hammered onto a disc of copper or bronze or something. Found originally on pre-”United European Nations” territory it had a rather peculiar ownership history. Presumably it was lost in the turmoils of the 23nd century Earth wars so things are vague and sketchy at best. And that’s it, lost to the fogs of war. It never turned up again and after the wars I’d wager people had other things to do than looking for pre-war archaeology. So, why would someone 1,200 years later even know about it?”
Andrew looked at the man as if he was demanding answers from him. And yes, something in his belly told him the man knew or had even seen that thing of the past.
However, he didn’t take the bait: “Have you uncovered anything about its make-up and purpose?”
“Sketchy, like I said. It was speculated that it was an agricultural calendar of sorts. People would hold it in a special angle or maybe put it on an aligned pedestal and it would show the spring equinox or something. Various observation angles, the sun, the moon, all for the tracking of time by looking and measuring the movement of heavenly bodies.”
He paused briefly and put more emphasis into his next phrase: “And even seven copper pins that allegedly represented the Pleiades, the Rain Sisters.”
The man whistled audibly and Andrew knew it was genuine. True, it had been extremely hard to dig up all this ancient stuff and yes, going back to his father had been one of the more unpleasant things he had done for it. All the more happy he was that he could make an impression on a top but ex Federation scientist.
“That is a lot you found out. Earth and Mars archives are not overly generous when it comes to pre-space flight history given the rather warlike times and political quarrels in those days. Understandably, not everyone is happy to share these dark days with loyal and obedient citizens. We have to look forward, not backward, don’t we?”
Andrew weighed his head. This was getting more and more philosophical and he was suddenly reminded of the tight schedule he had to keep. Still, all this talk about ancient knowledge fascinated him. He decided to share all his findings and play the ‘I trust you’ card.
“Debatable. And I don’t know, you must have had some very good experts on ancient history in your Federation research team as well. This knowledge is millennia old and it took me a nearly equally old acquaintance from the Merchant Academy to dig it up. And it gets even more obscure when you pour your precious spare time into finding out something about those Tablets Of Destiny you baited me with. I mean, nobody even knows if they exist at all and probably they don’t.
There are various legends about those tablets: What they were, where they came from et cetera. I hope I could memorize it all. Originally they were said to belong to the gods of the heavens and the earth in ancient Mesopotamia. That was one of the cradles of civilisation nearly eight thousand years ago. You know of the Farragut Battlecruisers ‘Babylon’ and ‘Gilgamesh’? They are names pretty much derived from that time. Anyway, these tablets were said to invest a godly ruler with divine powers. Later the gods deposited them in different cities. Maybe Babylon was one of them, I don’t know. Varying from city to city those tablets were also associated with certain stars. Here it gets interesting, because they also supposedly held the secrets of the ‘Way Of Enki’. That’s more obscure stuff but that Enki was one of the chief deities of that time, Enlil being another. And the ‘Way Of Enki’ in turn was a reference to the Pleiades, home of the ‘Seven Sebettu’, who were some sort of spirits, either good or evil, depending on whom you asked.
So we have the Pleiades again, and I am damn sure you threw these names at me for a reason. Your turn now.”
The man made a long pause and seemed to consider all this for what seemed to be a small eternity. Finally he carefully said: “I am truly impressed, Andrew. This knowledge is ancient indeed and it is not privy to most. I can only speculate about the contacts and sources you had to conjure up but they are certainly very well informed. And yes, our research group was indeed given these leads, because however legendary these items may be, they actually provided us with a mental gateway of sorts: A way how people thought out of scientific boundaries. Some say it is science that truly clouds the mind and maybe they are just a little right about it. I told you FINREG, our research group, also maintained people for creative or alternative thinking. We even had a couple of rather esoteric transhumanism freaks amongst them. But they were able to nail down fragments of very old history and make out a seemingly universal direction in which very, very primitive people looked.”
“It boils down to the Pleiades, doesn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on, you know more than you care to admit. The way you ask shows me you already know the answers and just want to see what I could come up with. Whatever happened in your clandestine FINREG research team, it had to do with the Pleiades, wholly or in parts. Why else would you care about ancient myths and artefacts from the dawn of civilization if you hadn’t got a substantial lead that something was in the making? Why would you even care what primitives thought about a cluster of stars some 400 light years away? You even baited me with the Synuefe findings in our last talk so don’t give me this ‘I know nothing’ garbage.”
The man leaned back in his seat. He had that ‘dare or don’t’ look on his face and finally addressed Andrew in a serene tone: “Have you ever heard of a woman named Salomé?”
Taken full by surprise Andrew could only muster a “What? Who?”
“Salomé.” the man repeated.
Andrew scratched his chin beard. “What, hardly. I mean wasn’t she a priestess of some love goddess and didn’t she perform a dance and later demand the head of some religious leader or something?”
“Yes, ‘or something’. But I’m a bit more factual this time. She is real; and she is looking for an answer as well and through certain people we both became ‘acquainted’ with, she let us know that she would like us to give her a hand.”
Andrew nodded: “The woman.”
“Not her, but yes, in a way. The woman you know seems to be one of her agents. She got me out of FINREG and unknowingly you helped her achieve that. And because you did and risked so very much, I put in a word for you afterwards. And you convinced her. And now she wishes you to come.”
“Convinced her? Come where?”
“To her children, Andrew.”
“A scientist speaking in riddles. Oh boy, you have to break that habit soonish. People are not used to riddles in the 34th century. Now, are we talking about some Children of Alpha Centauri Green Party here?”
“No, Andrew. It’s a group of people dedicated to helping her – Salomé – finding what she seeks. They are explorers and datarunners in a sense. And she? She seeks that gateway which may be myth or real for all we know. And only she must find it. You spoke of seven good spirits and seven evil. If she finds it, it may be the seven good ones. However, should my former employer or some other power block find it first, it may be seven evil.”
The man leaned forward: “I know you have a contract schedule to keep, Andrew. But will you help them? Will you consider it?”
Time flew by, another small eternity, and all kinds of things came and went before his inner eye: Spaceships, Stars, the Pleiades, Spirits, Monsters, Demons… and finally out of nowhere a hooded woman in white. And in his mind he seemed to hear a voice: ‘Remember…’
Finally he drew in his breath: “Oh boy, what would father say…?”