"Skipper! Skipper!!" The voice was persistent and
very annoying for all that it sounded like it was coming from the other side of
his cabin door. For some reason his whole body ached. Lee Crane
opened his eyes and saw—nothing! The dark was absolute. He felt around him and
then checked himself to make sure the rest of him was intact. No broken bones,
just the aching feeling of bruises and bumps.
The recent past returned rapidly. They had been exploring an undersea cave, one found by accident during a normal survey. It showed regularities in form and composition indicating man-made influences. The admiral was adamant about exploring it, despite their tight schedule. Lee could understand, being as how the cave was almost a thousand feet below the surface and about that many miles from any coastline. The admiral wanted to explore it himself, but that was ruled out as too dangerous.
The rockslide in the amazingly airtight cave bore that out. Thankfully, Lee still had his air tank, but his flashlight was gone, probably broken by the falling rocks. Crane called out to the men above him. "Ski? Are you men all right?" The air seemed to be fresher down in this room.
"We were knocked around a bit, but we’re okay. How about you?"
"Light's gone, but I'm in good shape." Crane caught something out of the corner of his eye and noticed a soft light breaking the pitch-blackness. "I'm going to see if I can find it," he added, intrigued and anxious by the sudden appearance of the light. Everything around him was still totally dark, so he groped his way toward the small beacon. The light was coming from a side room. The room was almost entirely blocked off by old and new rock slides, but he was able to squeeze through a narrow passage. This room was larger than the one he had just quit. It was almost entirely filled with boxes ornately decorated. The shape of the boxes reminded him of coffins, but that would be crazy, unless.....
Lee heard the rest of the dive party behind him in the other room. "I'm in the next room," he called out absently, drawn to the steadily glowing light. It emanated from a console in the far corner and seemed untouched by whatever had happened here for however long this place had existed. The light began pulsing, brightening even more. The boxes reflected the light, but there was no other activity in the room. Crane walked toward the nearest box and examined it. Jewels, precious metals and the ornate carvings covered it. Who could have constructed such a place? And why? He touched the box and felt warmth spread into his hand. Lee pulled away and then he put both hands on the box and felt the warm tingle flow up his arms. Something whispery spoke to him. Open. Open. Open the box.
Again he pulled away, but only for his hands to reach to different places on the box. While part of his mind rebelled, the other part felt calm. Another take-over? But it didn't feel like any of those times in the past. This felt...comfortable. At his touch, the box opened of its own accord, as though only needing the warmth of his fingers to activate it. Again that slight anxiety, but calm pervaded his thoughts and the lid of the box continued to rise.
"Skipper, what'd you find?"
What he had found was a man in a state of perfect preservation. Not exactly a man, though, but definitely humanoid. The man’s chest rose and fell and the neck pulsed. It/he was alive! There were barely discernable gill slits at the top of his neck. As Lee was examining him, the eyes opened. The crewmen behind him gasped and he heard their weapons being cocked.
I am peaceful to those who come in peace, a voice echoed in his head.
“Stand down,” he ordered his men, gesturing them back. “Can you talk?” he asked the humanoid. He had a mouth, but that didn’t mean anything.
“Yes,” he said, his voice a bit hesitant. “I am Sargo.” He slowly sat up and studied the room. The light was still active, but not as bright. Carefully, Sargo stepped out of the box. While the three crewmen had their weapons pointed toward the floor, Crane didn’t doubt that it would only take a second to react to a threat. Still, there was something that told him this man wasn’t a danger. Sargo walked to the box nearest to his and laid his hands on it. He did that to each box in turn. Crane suddenly felt such melancholy that it was almost overwhelming. He looked at Kowalski to see if he was feeling the same thing. Ski, Pat and Johnson watched Sargo, distrust in their eyes. If they were feeling anything, they were hiding it well. Sargo was now at the console. He stepped back and turned to face the humans in the room.
“I am alone,” he said and Lee knew the other boxes contained corpses. “How did you find me?”
“We didn’t know you were here,” Lee admitted, still feeling the man’s sadness. “We only knew this structure wasn’t natural, so we explored it. A quake opened up these chambers.”
“You released me, or I would have soon been dead like all my colleagues.” There was gratitude in Sargo’s voice. “May I be honored with your name?”
“You are a leader among your kind?” While it was a question, Crane felt Sargo already suspected the answer.
“I am captain of the vessel that detected this place. Do you have any other places like this?” Lee asked. “With more of your people?”
Sargo shook his head. “A thousand years have passed since my people built the study center on this planet. Our sun was dying—is dead by now. We had hoped to find a water world that we could colonize and continue our race. In order not to disturb the balance of life on your world, we settled in the distant past. Your people are exclusively land dwellers. Or you were.”
Crane ignored the reference to time travel. “Sargo, you are telepathic.”
“Among my own kind I am. With humans, I am more empathetic.”
“But I heard you speak in my head,” Lee said, slight suspicion forming.
“You released me. You had contact with the life support devices. I have nothing to hide. Touch me and you’ll see.”
He laid his hand on the bare, yellowish-skinned arm of the alien. Lee felt no revulsion, no fear and no uncertainty. “Sargo, would you accompany me to my submarine and meet my leader? Of all the men on Earth, I think you would be most comfortable with Admiral Nelson. And of all the men on Earth, I think you would be safest with him. This place won’t last much longer.” As though punctuating his remark, the floor shook and several rocks rattled from the ceiling.
“You would do this for me? You would let me come among your own kind?”
“Yes, Sargo. You are the only alien we have met who is open and friendly. And you are alone. I couldn’t . . . the admiral would not allow you to stay here to die.”
They all made their way to the upper chamber of the cave, even as the quaking intensified. Crane contacted the boat, letting them know what happened. Soon they were swimming toward Seaview. Lee gave more details of their discovery as they swam toward the submarine.
Sargo hesitated as they approached. At their depth, the waters were inky black and Seaview glowed eerily from the observation lights fore and aft. Crane swam beside the gill man, touched him and tried to sign reassurance. They continued and entered the diving hatch in two groups, Lee staying back to go in with Sargo. He wasn’t sure exactly what the reception would be, but when they emerged from the diving chamber, Admiral Nelson all but ignored everyone else and greeted Sargo. As he took the gill man’s hand, his eyes lit up.
Several crewmen helped Lee out of his special deep diving suit and by the time he was back in uniform, Nelson was deep in conversation with Sargo. None of the crew had left the missile room, which Crane could easily understand, considering past contact with extra-terrestrial and non-human beings.
“Your people are from a different solar system?” the admiral was asking.
“Yes, Admiral Nelson. In fact I am from . . . or rather I was from another galaxy. I could probably point our system out on your star charts. It will most likely look like a nebula by now. Many things my people could change, but modifying the fate of stars was not within our capability.”
“But how are you so well adapted to these underwater depths as well as the atmosphere we breathe? I followed your progress from the cave. Your body must have many cetacean characteristics. Was that a natural development or did your people make genetic or medical changes to your physiology?”
“Obviously, I don’t need to introduce you two,” Crane said as he approached the pair. That the admiral also felt Sargo’s peaceful nature was evident.
“And how do you know our language so well?” Nelson continued with only a nod of acknowledgment to Lee.
“Our monitoring system remained active, even though I was in cryogenic stasis. It taught me almost instantly as I awoke.”
“Admiral, Sargo is the only member of his people left alive,” Crane reminded the admiral.
Nelson immediately changed tack. “Are you sure of that, Sargo? Could there be other colonies? There are so many unexplained phenomena in the oceans.”
“This was the only colony my people had on this planet.”
“Then maybe on another planet?
“Admiral, perhaps we need to talk of these questions in a place that is more relaxed,” Sargo suggested. “Perhaps someplace more private.” He looked meaningfully at the group of rates clustered in the missile room. “It has been a long time since I have been in a large group.”
“Yes, the observation nose. What kinds of things can you eat, Sargo? We have an excellent cook….”