2018-01-11 22:49 fiction science-fiction return-to-ebyx Benjamin Brood


They would go to Ckiqs. They would build rockets the way rockets used to be built and they would go to Ckiqs.

They discovered a signal. They noticed it once they'd built wireless, and once they pointed antennae at Ckiqs. This did not happen quickly, it had been several generations since they arrived. As their villages grew, and their farms flourished, and their populations increased, little by little technology from that previous world, abandoned, left to rot and rust, was harvested and recreated. This wasn't easy, there was resistance. One group left the villages and moved south where they met a separate, uncontacted settlement, founded by lost pilgrims. And some of the resistance was violent. A faction had tried to destroy the city and its technology with bombs they'd retrieved from the city itself.

But over time, as crops were harvested and children were born, people grew up learning the newer ways and embraced the newer things their ancestors had been afraid of.

And they expanded them. The villages became towns, one of the towns became a new city. They connected these places with wireless for the harvest machines and the machines that kept the jungle back, and they built themselves trains so that all the towns and the new city could easily ship things and people back and forth. Great trains now roared through the jungle, stacks expelling smoke, twisting along cliffs, overlooking valleys dotted with land reworked into farms.

After they'd created wireless networks they wondered what would happen if they pointed it at Ckiqs. They received a very clear, repeating transmission.

At first they didn't recognize the language. They didn't know it was the language of The Sagas, something the people of the ruined city had spoken. The ruined city was an alien mythology and culture, something their ancestors would've encountered and lived side by side with, but not their own.

Adam's parents spent their lives studying this culture. Even his own name "Adam" had come from it. When he was growing up people constantly mispronounced his name, so now he lived with that mispronunciation because it was easier than correction.

Adam inherited his parents' work. He was an expert of the people of the ruined city, the lost civilization of Ekiqs, or as they said "Ebyx". And yet it was almost a full season before he was brought into the laboratory to hear the transmission. They simply didn't know where to begin.

When he entered the long utilitarian building where the scientists sat on benches, their equipment stacked up around them, multicolored wires snaking around and under nearly everything, they asked him passively if he was willing to listen. Then they flipped a big flat button and a deep rumbling noise came from the speakers they'd placed at the front of the table and haphazardly on the seats. The scientists did not react, having heard the transmission a hundred or a thousand times by now.

From the static, low buildup, there clearly emerged a voice, over-enunciating, saying words that he felt were familiar to him but which he didn't immediately understand. The voice spoke these words exactly the same way, in the same pattern, three times then stopped.

"It'll start again momentarily", one of the scientists said wearily, "the same way, always the same way."

"Where is it coming from?"

"A mountainous region of Ckiqs. Or, at least we think they're mountains." One scientist shot a hard glance at the other, causing the first to wince and shrug.

It took him a moment to transform the actual sounds into words since, except for his parents, he'd never heard anyone speak it. And not this way. The words, he realized, were from The Sagas, stories people of the ruined city believed were sacred.


"I know what this means," Adam said. Excitement swept through the laboratory. "This is a phrase from one of — or the most — sacred book of the ruined city. It's assumed… or tends to mean… that their people came from the stars and will someday return. This is much different than our own traditions. They never believed they were from this planet at all, it was never truly home for them. Whereas we know our people originated here, and that fleeing was necessary. We always knew we would return — they always knew they would leave. This phrase is a reminder that their home isn't Ekiqs, that they're from the stars. Their home is the stars."

He saw confusion on the scientists faces. "But why would that be broadcast from the surface of Ckiqs?" Adam recognized the words, the origin of the phrase, but it didn't actually answer their questions, simply created new ones. He apologized.

"We don't know what's going to happen next", the scientist admitted. "Find out everything you can about that phrase", he said, "spend time in the ruined city if you have to, we will make sure you are given permission."

Access to the ruined city was strictly controlled. The Council said they wanted to protect people by restricting access since it held technology well beyond their understanding. But Adam knew the real reason was that the Council wanted complete control over when and how certain technologies were resurrected. Things hidden in the city could shatter their nascent society.

His parents made frequent visits in their own time, before it was cutoff. Helping his parents, he'd been there twice, when he was a child. The strange and stark deserted buildings, seemingly defying gravity, and the labyrinthine nature of it had excited and frightened him. He'd never been given the broad kind of access they once had, the Council said that his parents had extracted enough material for a lifetime of study — there was no reason to go back, they claimed.

He never challenged that decision. But now he would have to dig deeper. Of course he could consult all of the written records and artifacts collected, and of course he could use his parents' work to help him. But the question became larger than academic work. What was the relationship between The Sagas and Ckiqs and the abandonment of the city?

He was given permission by the Council immediately, along with a stern cautionary lecture. And he wouldn't go alone, he would be accompanied by a marshal named Iissaq. This is for your own safety, he was told. He knew this wasn't completely true, but it was true enough that he conceded.

He worried about Iissaq interfering. He needed to explore, he needed to follow his instincts, he needed to follow some imperceptible stream of connections through the city. He would have to go far into that labyrinth that scared him as a child.

He and Iissaq left in a Skimmer one morning. It landed in the city on the same pad his parents had used many seasons ago, it was the same, nothing had changed. The walkway, which they'd pieced together with whatever they could find, still looked utilitarian and sturdy. As he went down to where they spent so much time gathering and planning, he remembered the sunrise that first morning he was in the city, as it split between the irregular and often towering buildings, he wondered how his ancestors had managed to exist in the same world as this alien place and alien people. "Snowfoot" was the term they had used to refer to his ancestors.

Iissaq wanted specifics about where they were going and what they were doing. Adam didn't know. He made something up. He would have to spend time retracing old ground. Something might present itself, something of the nature of place would have lead him. He would have to rely on serendipity, he would have to hunt and gather ideas. Soon enough he was used to having Iissaq quietly at his side, rarely asking questions. When Iissaq did speak the inquiries were general and not particularly confrontational or pointed. But he knew Iissaq was watching closely — the Council would hear everything Adam did and saw.

He spent two days moving from point to point, places his parents knew, a few he'd seen before, many he hadn't. He consulted their notes as he went. He was walking the steps his parents walked, trying to think the things they thought as if everything were new. He kept the phrase and way that transmitted voice had pronounced it in the back of his mind.

They went to the museum, a city in the city, a place of multiple levels and too large to have been thoroughly explored by anyone, even his parents. In many ways it was unclear where the museum started and ended. His parents suspected it was a group of institutions, for convenience they called it "museum".

Tracing their original routes he noticed something different than their records. Where there was a single path, he saw two, as if an avenue had since been revealed. Considering the amount of debris and partial collapses, it was possible his parents had never seen this fork. He and Iissaq entered a transitional space leading to other adjacent spaces. The architecture became markedly different, from what he knew of the city it looked obviously older. From the markings on several parts of the exposed walls he understood he was in an area designated as "Codex". Here he found a very large cache of "stones" — what his parents called the rectangular, heavy, cold, flat gray tablets they'd discovered in various other locations of the city. It was a mystery what these had been used for, the best guess was that they were used in some kind of social exchange, perhaps like currency.

As they continued the surroundings looked older still, as if the "Codex" was built around something else. Structures inside of structures. Soon they came upon a massive arch that delineated the two architectural styles. And on the arch was the word "Cyclopaedia". He knew this word, he'd seen it a number of times, it was an important part of the city, an important fixture of the culture and authority of the city. If this was the "Cyclopaedia", it was a major find. His excitement rose. He hurried forward, Iissaq indulging him. The corridors were mostly intact but complicated and difficult to navigate. He tried working inwards, trying carefully not to get caught moving in circles, yet he had to backtrack several times. And there were cabinets here, more cabinets than he could count. And there were broad cases, many smashed, holding items he could not identify, things that were ancient, broken, scattered, or obscured. It was a frustrating amount of evidence he could not understand.

He stopped to inspect the cabinets once in a while, and he could see they were engineered to hold something as wide and tall as his hand. Whatever may have been in there was now long gone. Now there was only a fine white dust. It was disappointing. He was tempted to retrace his steps and be more thorough, but he pushed on — feeling that Iissaq, although quiet, was a temporal pressure.

The corridors opened up into a large vaulted area where a surprisingly small building sat in the center, a building that was radically different and older than the surrounding construction. On the side of the structure was a metal sign. He brushed off inches of dust. Written on it was something he knew was a date, a date he believed was early in the city's history. Taking a moment to decipher the rest of the sign, he believed it said the structure was the home of "Quiddity" creator of the Cyclopaedia. Adam tried to open the door but it crumbled in his hands, turning into a pile of desiccated shards. Iissaq grabbed his arm and pulled him back, "this structure is dangerously unstable". Adam didn't doubt it, but he wished he could've gone in, even if it did collapse around him.

He regretted not knowing more, wondering what it must've been like here a long time ago. Then he noticed similar but much larger plaques on the walls, the far walls of the surrounding chamber. They seemed intact but caked with dust. Cleaning off corners of a few, they appeared to be something like gigantic metal broadsheets, a format he knew the city used for periodicals. He read a few lines and his eyes grew wide.

"This is what we've come to see, we'll need to spend time cleaning these off," he told Iissaq. Iissaq reluctantly helped him, poking at the walls tentatively.

The dates were vital. Adam saw a progression, these large metal declarations plotted the rise of the "Cyclopaedia" from its beginning. More importantly the other information on these gigantic broadsheet reproductions — which they'd probably considered extraneous — gave him a sense of the world outside the Cyclopaedia at the time. He read about a revolution. He read about a space program. He read about political assassinations. He read about restrictions on certain kinds of technology, something called "robotics".

A repugnant nationalism dominated the tone towards the end of the visible date range. Evidently, "The North" became independent and they were enemies. But he knew these people of "The North", the enemies, were his ancestors. There was a chilling series of short, seemingly offhand references in the last two sheets about cultural purification and a group that called themselves "Pilots". Without more of these kind of periodicals he was unable to understand exactly who they were. But he'd read enough that he was able to piece together a more complete picture than his parents had done, and using the information they'd already collected he believed he had an idea of what really happened.

He wasn't sure he wanted to tell anyone.

At the end of that day he told Iissaq they wouldn't need to return the next morning. Iissaq raised his eyebrows and took this as confirmation of some reportable conclusion. Adam regretted this, perhaps he could've strung Iissaq along for a few weeks, investigating alternate narratives, seeking details and evidential trails through the physical and historical maze. But he didn't have the energy. He understood the ancient city and its people now, and he was glad his parents weren't alive to read the things he'd read.