For a few moments, Diplomat stared at Rudak in silence. I had to admit, I was also put off by my sedenbrok’s statement; just what kind of trump card could he be holding?
“What do you mean?” the tianlong finally asked.
Rudak glanced my way. “First, I must apologize to you. I haven’t been fully honest on what I was doing in the cabin.”
Before I could say anything, he turned back to Diplomat. Rising on his hind legs, he stared the tianlong in the eye, arms outstretched.
“I have given my people the secret of nuclear fusion.”
My jaw dropped. Diplomat was also taken aback, if the widening of his eyes meant anything.
“What?” we both asked at the same time.
“Liu allowed me access to all the documents stored by her crew,” Rudak continued, voice strong. “That included blueprints, engineering reports, and essays on their knowledge of physics, which is far more advanced than my own people.”
“That’s what you were reading on the drive over?” I asked. “How did you even know what to look for?”
“I’m well-versed in the science of the atom; I had to be in order to pilot Allmother’s Light. My people know of fusion, but we never knew how to harness it. Until now, that is.”
He lowered himself back on all fours. “I sent what I could in code to Du’lonkowo, where our top scientists are now analyzing the mechanics of fusion power.”
“And fusion drives, I presume,” Diplomat said, something like resignation in his voice. “That explains those strange transmissions I picked up.”
Rudak made a single click. “Yes. It won’t be easy, deciphering the technology and concepts, but we will manage. In a matter of ten of my years, we could have a starship of our own. It would be more primitive than Odysseus, no doubt, but it would work.”
Diplomat’s shoulders sagged. “And you would then be able to reach Earth, and reveal the truth to them yourselves.”
The tianlong straightened. “Very well, then. The only valid option at this point is to allow the truth to be revealed naturally, and let the humans be on their way.”
I raised my eyebrows at that. Not less than a minute ago, he was willing to basically imprison my crew and I to keep the truth from getting out, and now he’d swung in the opposite direction. Just how turbulent was he actually feeling, behind those owlish eyes?
“I will return to orbit and restore your vessel’s ramscoop,” Diplomat said. “Once that is complete, I shall return to Sheshak, and advise that they evacuate the nearest worlds to Earth. Hopefully, tensions will cool by the time you can reach more distant planets.”
“Evacuate?” I asked. “Diplomat, do you honestly think we’d go to war with you over this?”
He cocked his head, birdlike.
I sighed. “You didn’t have any malicious intent here, Diplomat. You were trying to save our species from possible extinction, and if what you said about your world and a few others are true, then you had good reason.”
“And yet, everyone here on Kauetirye is dead,” he said. “Who would they blame for the disaster?”
“No one,” I replied. “You really don’t know us, do you? You’ve studied us for thousands of years, but you don’t seem to really know us. What happened here was a tragedy, but it wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just a natural disaster, Diplomat; there was no intention behind it. Earth won’t blame you for what happened here. We’ve fought over stupid things in the past, but this isn’t one of them.”
When he stayed silent, I took a step forward.
“Contact’s gotten off to a rough start between us, but I think it can be smooth sailing from hereon out. We can forgive and forget trying to keep this secret, and you can come back to Earth with us, as we planned. The people are going to accept you with open arms, not guns. I think there can be a peace between us, between all of us. Just trust me, Diplomat.”
Rudak sidled closer to me. His presence was comforting, and I gently laid a gloved hand on his shoulder.
“I believe there can be peace between our kinds as well,” he said. “Don’t let this tragedy create more tragedies.”
Diplomat looked at Rudak, then to me, thinking. He clicked to himself, then finally spoke again.
“I… trust you, Liu.”
I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding in. Giving Rudak a reassuring pat, I pulled away and stepped closer to Diplomat. I stretched out my hand, offering it to him.
“For peace,” I said.
After a moment, he took my hand. His scales were smooth, almost like a python, but his skin was warmer than I expected. We shook three times, and he pulled away.
“For peace,” he said.
Rudak pulled off his helmet, his breath visible in the cool air as he let out a low whistle. His ears were drooped as he looked around the library.
“To think that this is all that remains of them,” he murmured, looking around. “They were so close, and yet so far away. I wonder-“
Suddenly, he paused. His palps twitched, and he breathed in deeply through his nostrils, like some scent had caught his attention. Perking his ears up, he looked my way.
“I think I smell something.”
It was tucked away in the corner of one of the unexplored rooms, with abandoned medical equipment nearby. A thick coating of dust covered the container, which looked almost like a coffin. Albeit, one that was longer and narrower than normal.
“It didn’t show up on preliminary scans,” Diplomat murmured, brushing away some of the dust with a claw. “It doesn’t emit much heat or energy.”
“Low power conservation,” I said. “They must’ve considered running on a generator for years on end, and designed it accordingly.”
Rudak pressed his snout along the seam of the coffin, then let out a violent chuff.
“It smells like human… and now I need to clear my nostrils,” he said, snorting.
“But is the occupant alive?” Diplomat inquired. “Fifty years in subpar conditions does not bode well.”
“Let’s find out, then,” I said. “Can you man the controls? I can’t read the writing system.”
“I invented the writing system,” he replied. “I can try.”
He stepped towards the panel, and experimented with the controls for a few moments. Then, he flicked some switches and pressed one of the larger buttons, and I heard something click in the coffin.
The lid swung open, slowly, and we all peered inside at the occupant.
It was a woman. She was tall, almost as tall as Diplomat, and her frame was spindly but graceful, almost like a willow. Her skin was paper white, but her hair was a soft gray, which ruled out being an albino. Her face had all sort of features from various races; her eyes had a slight epicene fold, and her nose was long and narrow, with a slight hook.
There were other features as well, ones not found in modern humanity.
For one, her brow was slightly pronounced, and her skull seemed a bit more sloped than what was normally found in modern humans; coupled with her protruding jaw, and I could tell what she inherited from her Neanderthal ancestors.
Her chest wasn’t rising and falling, and for a brief moment, I feared the worse.
Then, she sucked in a gasp, and her eyes fluttered open, revealing startling blue irises.
She was as naked as the day she was born, but she didn’t bother to try and cover herself as she slowly rose to a sitting position. I instinctively helped her along, putting a hand on her shoulder. She started at the contact, and glanced my way, staring into my eyes.
“Qis qid?” she said, voice hoarse. “Egå prisko jues klej?”
“Egå behewm ameiksa,” Diplomat replied.
The woman looked over at him, and her eyes widened. Diplomat spoke to her again, his voice unusually soft. Gradually, her shock seemed to disappear, and they began to speak back and forth.
“What’s she saying?” I asked him.
“She’s asking how long she was in stasis,” he explained. There was something new in his voice as he spoke. “She’s asking if there were any survivors.”
He continued to speak with her, and she began to speak more rapidly with him, clearly growing less uncomfortable. She glanced over at Rudak, and she seemed to understand when Diplomat briefly said something in my sedenbrok’s direction. Perhaps her people had been aware of the ktrit’zal?
“Her name is Hol-Thilre. She was a scientist in the facility, which apparently was built years in advanced when they realized a disaster was coming,” Diplomat said.
Hol-Thilre gestured with her hands, and he nodded along, occasionally interrupting with a word or two.
“They only had power for one pod after they lost some generators, and she won the draw.” He let out low hiss at that, and his voice seemed strained. “They’d remembered my people, and hoped… they’d hoped that we’d be able to rescue at least something of them.”
She stopped talking, and looked my way. No doubt I must’ve looked strange to her, and that was without having a pair of aliens with me. Just what was she thinking, as she studied me with those icy blue eyes?
What could I say to her? Even if there wasn’t a language barrier, what could I say to someone who’d lost their entire world, and now found themselves staring at a long-lost cousin?
Eventually, I decided to say something, even if I knew she wouldn’t understand.
“Welcome home,” I said, voice soft. I felt tears welling in my eyes, but didn’t brush them away. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”