And such

<< Back to Chapt. 19

Chapt. 20: Artifacts

By Michael Jesse

"What . . . what is this?” Laura whispered.

"It's a ship,” Irenia stated matter-of-factly. "A sea-going vessel.”

"I know what a ship is!” Laura exclaimed. "But where did it come from? Who built it and why is it on display like this?”

Irenia glanced at Dr. Vellaran and nodded for him to make the reply.

"This,” he announced somewhat dramatically, "is The Adventurer. It was on this very ship that the famed explorer Emelya sailed across the ocean many generations ago — the exact date is unknown.” Vellaran gestured to a wall-sized map next to the ship that depicted the coasts of two continents separated by an ocean. A red line showed the route The Adventurer had taken in its travels, and there was much text apparently explaining it.

"If you please, Dr. Vellaran,” Laura whistled. "I have only just learned to speak your language, but I can't read it yet. Could you tell me what this says?”

"Oh, but of course,” Vellaran said, seeming pleased. "Actually, I wrote this display myself several years ago. It tells the story of Emelya, who was born and grew up in this province. In her early career she studied the stars, but then turned her attention to exploration of the sea. It had, of course, long been established in theory that multiple land masses probably existed, but it was Emelya who set out to discover and map them. She even observed, and drew examples of actual creatures she found inhabiting the land mass — beings, I dare say, such as yourself.”

"But I don't understand,” Laura said. "If your people crossed the ocean all those years ago, why don't my– I mean why don't the saviens know about it? Why isn't it in their history?”

"Because Emelya was a scientist, child,” Irenia said. "She didn't want to disturb the natural order of the places she discovered. She found out what she wanted to know and she returned.”

"But didn't she . . . didn't anyone ever go back?”

"There really wasn't any reason to do so,” Irenia said. "Until now. Dr. Vellaran, you know why I've come. Can The Adventurer still sail?”

"Mistress Irenia,” Vellaran said with an obsequious bobbing of his head. "I have been trying to tell you. The Adventurer positively cannot be placed under such conditions again. We would risk the catastrophic loss of a treasured artifact of our history.”

"Stop talking to me about history, Vellaran,” Irenia shrilled, her face reddening. "There are lives at stake. Children's lives. The life of the Minister of The Call — and the life of my granddaughter. If this ship is not to be used to rescue them you had better provide a better reason than history.”

Now Vellaran appeared angry as well. The skin beneath his facial hair reddened and he seemed much offended by Irenia's rebuff. He strode the few feet to the ship. "I have made my life's work the study of this artifact,” he piped indignantly, "and I hope I do not seem immodest by asserting that I am regarded as the foremost living expert on it. And I assure you, madam, this ship can no longer sail.”

"Dr. Vellaran,” Irenia replied quietly but with cold authority, "it would save us all a great deal of time if you could talk more about the ship and less about yourself.”

"I AM talking about the ship,” Vellaran bellowed as spittle flew from his pipes. "It's too old, I'm telling you! The wood is brittle! It could not withstand the slightest blow!” In his rage, Vellaran gestured wildly with his horns in the direction of the ship, apparently misjudging how close he was now standing to it. Before he could pull himself back his largest horn made contact with the hull of the ship, instantly shattering a hole in it. As the echo of his last note rang through the hall and died out there was total silence except for a tiny, high-pitched squeak from one of Vellaran's smaller valves. "You make a point.” Irenia said with a sigh. For the first time since Laura had known her the old ruah looked her age.

"What do we do now?” Laura whistled. "Isn't there another ship somewhere? Something . . . newer?”

Irenia shook her head. "No. We just have little one-ruah sailboats made for skimming across small lakes for pleasure, not crossing the ocean. No one thought we'd ever have to do such a thing again.”

Laura felt dizzy, her hope draining to the floor. She looked up at the big map of the ocean with its bold red line showing the route taken by Emelya — and now by Jack. How far across would he be by now? She heard the door of the museum open and an odd-sounding, yet familiar voice calling Irenia's name, but Laura was reluctant to look away from the red line on the map. As she traced its path with her eye she heard Irenia say, "I'm so glad you've come.”

Go to Chapt. 21 >>