The Seventh Medallion • Chapter One – Thaumatar

In honor of International Rabbit Day, September 27, 2015, I am posting the first chapter of The Seventh Medallion, to be released within the next few weeks.

Chapter 1 – Thaumatar

“You’re certain? You’re absolutely certain this is the one?”
“Yes, I’m certain. You seem to forget I was deciphering ancient Mintarian star charts before you were a mouseling. Believe me, I know Thaumatar when I see it.”
“Creekers, hard to believe we’re orbiting the birthplace of inter-dimensional travel. The Thaumatarians dreamed up the World Doors back when we were still running around throwing spears at wild Nadwokks. We didn’t even have fire back then. Heh, can you imagine eating raw Nadwokk for lunch?”
“Focus, Beinerr. Take us in closer, please. Reduce orbit to one fifty miles and scan for infrastructure. I’m not seeing any ships. There should be ships. Lots of ships. Unless they don’t use them anymore – they could have some advanced form of travel we haven’t even dreamed of yet.”
“One fifty miles it is, esteemed Master Scientist Vahnar. Scanners on, as per your most excellent command.”
Vahnar grinned. “Now that’s the kind of response I like to hear from my senior nav-pilot. While you’re at it, see if you can get my wife to come out here and take a look at Thaumatar. It’s certainly more interesting than studying interstellar dust particles in that tiny lab of hers. Maybe she can use her gift to help us figure out what’s going on here.”
Beinerr gave Vahnar a sideways glance. He had his own opinions about Lybis’ gift, but he knew well enough to keep them to himself. Beinerr had heard all the stories – Lybis saw events before they happened, she knew what people were thinking, she could talk to people in their dreams. He might only be a nav-pilot on a puny Science Guild survey ship, but he knew when something was creepy.
Beinerr swiped the holoscreen, then tapped it twice. “Attention Madam Lybis, Master Scientist Vahnar requests the pleasure of your company on the bridge as soon as you are able.”
Vahnar laughed. “That should get her down here.”
Beinerr’s eyes were riveted on his scanner display. “This is odd. Broad spectrum scanners aren’t showing any activity on the planet. Nothing in this quadrant anyway. No ships, no lights, no vehicles, no movement of any kind. I’m not liking this.”
“Hmm, you’re right, that is odd. Try scanning for life forms.”
Beinerr tapped three circular discs on his console as he eyed the holoscreen. “Nothing. And I mean nothing. Not a mouse, not a bug, not a bird, not a plant, not even microorganisms. We’re picking up plenty of infrastructure, but it looks ancient. Half the buildings have collapsed. I don’t know how else to put it – the planet appears to be dead. Wherever the Thaumatarians are, they’re not here.”
“It has to be a glitch in our equipment. A species or a culture can fade away into history, but every single life form on an entire planet? If life force is anything, it’s tenacious. We should be seeing something. Double check the scanners, then take us around the planet and we’ll do a total field scan.”
“Increasing velocity to seven point three, scanners on wide spectrum, total field. Life forms will appear as white blips on the bridge screen.”
The main monitor on the forward bulkhead blinked on, displaying the planet’s surface in sharp colorful detail as it passed below them.
Vahnar eyed the screen. “If I wasn’t seeing it, I wouldn’t believe it. Everything looks deserted and totally lifeless. Right there, that looks like it used to be a forest. The trees are dead and have fallen over, but they’re not decaying, they look like they died last week. That can only mean there are no microorganisms and no insects to facilitate decomposition. I’m beginning to wonder if we should even do a planetfall. We have no idea what killed everything. I’ve never run into anything remotely like this before.”
Beinerr and Vahnar watched mutely as the surface of the planet slipped silently past on the bridge monitor. They had not seen a single blip of white light to indicate an active life form.
Beinerr was startled by a rustling noise behind him and spun around. It was Lybis, wearing her white cloak and hood. When a mouse becomes a member of the International Quintarian Science Guild they are issued a traditional white cloak and hood, an age old symbol representing the purity of science. Most scientists never wear them again, but Lybis always wore hers.
Beinerr managed to give Lybis a pleasant smile, trying not to make it look too forced. He wondered to himself how Vahnar and Lybis had ever gotten together. “Greetings, Madam Lybis, you’re just in time to–”
Lybis held up her paw, motioning for silence. Her eyes were fixed on the bridge screen, her face taut. “Wait. It won’t be long now. Wait.”
Beinerr’s smile vanished. He glanced at Vahnar, who shrugged and turned to look at the bridge display. For several minutes the three of them watched the Thaumatarian landscape passing by.
Lybis let out a long slow breath. “Now.”
There was a blinding flash on the screen and the image was replaced by a swirling vortex of white light. Seconds later the planet’s surface reappeared on the monitor.
Beinerr laughed nervously. “A glitch, that’s all. Sometimes the scanner feedback loop is–”
Vahnar shook his head. “No. Take us back. Find out what that was.”
“It can’t be life force. It would have to be as big as a planet. It’s not possible.” A deep wave of anxiety rolled through Beinerr. He did not like the feeling at all, and he didn’t care much for Lybis’ gift.
“Take us back over the area that flashed, and turn off the life form scanner so we can see what’s down there.”
Beinerr’s shoulders tightened. “As you wish.” He flipped on the inertia dampeners and with a low hum the ship came to a gradual stop one hundred and fifty miles above Thaumatar. Beinerr swiped the holoscreen and the ship slowly turned, retracing their path over the planet.
“Maintaining orbit directly above flash coordinates. The flash was directly below us.”
“I don’t see anything. There’s some kind of big rectangular structure five or ten miles to the west, but the flash seems to have come from the desert.”
“Switch on life force scanners.”
The screen turned a brilliant white.
“Creekers. Switch them off.”
The planet’s surface appeared again. They were looking at a vast, barren desert. Lybis looked at Vahnar. “We have to go down there. We have no choice. Everything depends on what we do now. Everything.”
Vahnar nodded. If there was one mouse in the world he trusted, it was Lybis. “Beinerr, take us down. Check the atmosphere for contamination. We still don’t know what killed everything. Well… killed everything except something.”
Forty minutes later the Guild survey ship touched down on the surface of Thaumatar. Vahnar stared out the porthole, eyeing the rolling sand dunes. To the west was the massive structure they had seen on the ship’s scanner. It was at least five miles away but looked enormous even from this distance. A dark sand color, with steeply sloping sides, the monolithic structure stood at least three or four hundred feet tall. It seemed like an odd place for the Thaumatarians to build such a mammoth structure. He wondered if the building had anything to do with the enormous life force flare on their scanners.
“Air is fine, no contamination. You’re good to go. You might want to suit up. You never know, especially under these circumstances.”
Lybis nodded. “Thank you, Beinerr, we’ll suit up. You stay here and mind the ship. If anything happens, take her back to Quintari. Tell the Science Guild what happened. Give them all the data.” Almost as an afterthought Lybis added, “I am getting a powerful sense of urgency, but it’s confusing. The feelings are coming from several different times and places.”
Vahnar and Lybis donned their protective suits, pressed a tab on the port bulkhead and watched the outer hatch unfold down to the desert floor. They were greeted by a blast of broiling hot desert air as they exited through the hatch.
Lybis and Vahnar made their way down the ramp to the sands below. Vahnar scanned the area for any possible threats, but saw nothing. “I don’t even know what I’m looking for. Maybe an invisible Nadwokk the size of a planet.” He looked around for Lybis. She had headed off across the dunes, one paw extended in front of her. Vahnar knew what she was doing. She was letting the universe guide her toward whatever it was that flared up on the scanner. With a sigh of resignation he followed his wife into the desert.