A memory of an alien visit
|I remember the crystal ships when they first appeared. Four perfect silvery diamonds descended from the ash-grey sky and rested high above the Citadel.
Their edges glittered in the sunlight and they were unbelievably large, though their full majesty was hidden by the dark clouds. In the early morning before dawn when the fires of homes and forges had burned low and the skies cleared, their faces reflected the starlight like a mirror.
At the time, the armies of the Eastern Empire were camped only a day's march from our gates. They saw the crystals too and retreated in fear.
Some claimed that the Gods had come at last to put an end to our foolish ways. Others said that the crystals would defend us from our foes.
Neither guess came close to the truth. The mysterious objects flew high above our Kingdom, where no wind or cloud affected them, and gave no reason for their presence. They are watching us, I thought.
I worked in the Library in those days. I spent most of my time copying books, but as a result I learned much. Vlydas, the Chief of our profession, possessed a great memory and could remember scores of books, but he was overly pious. After the crystals appeared he spent days on his knees trembling that the end had come. “Flee if ye are able!” he preached, his mottled chin wobbling and his big yellow eyes wet and fearful.
How such a person had come to lead us, I knew not. I had once heard it said that science would soon discover all there was to know, and the idea of the Gods would slowly die out. It was not to be.
I had also heard that one day we would fly carriages across the sky, but still we had not left the ground. Great aerial machines had been constructed, but the more coal they consumed, the heavier their engines and the more they needed to carry. Flying machines were considered a futile pursuit for idealists and dreamers.
None of us knew how the crystals managed to sail so high. We guessed they might be powered by some unknown energy source.
“It cannot be sunlight,” argued my fellow Librarian Lazborga. “For they also fly at night.” He was broader than most, his skin a paler shade of green that was considered noble. I thought him an arrogant fool.
“What if they have some means to store the sunlight within them and use it when it becomes dark?” I suggested.
“Then we would see it shine at night,” he replied. His argument was flawed, but as neither of us knew the nature of the sun, I let it go.
For many days we pondered the crystals' purpose, while the young King appealed for calm and asked the people to continue as normal. “Perhaps they will disappear one day and we may never learn their nature,” he said. I had to agree it was a likely ending.
Later we learned that similar crystals had appeared over the capital of the Eastern Empire. That helped to hold a fragile peace. If the crystals protected both realms, then it proved that the Gods favoured nobody. Or if they were not sent by the Gods, then another power must exist greater than us.
Forty-three days after the crystals arrived, miniature ones appeared in the Citadel.
They swooped through the stony cobbled streets, following peasants and nobles alike. In size they were no larger than a pet monkey, and in appearance they resembled their progenitors above.
At first the people were startled, but soon they lost their fears and grew curious about the "crystallites", as they became known.
Some called them “angels” and believed they were here to protect us, but not everyone thought that way. I saw a farmer attack one inside the city's main square. A large crowd gathered to watch him attempt to strike it with his spade. It flitted rapidly and dodged every stroke, until the attacker gave up and sat down, exhausted.
I heard tales of a group of bandits who caught one in a net and attempted to smash it open with a hammer. Their hammer smashed and the crystallite escaped, burning through the net with a magic fire.
The crystallites floated through the Citadel, following people but never touching or harming anyone. I noticed that they often flew past the Palace and nearby buildings, including the Library.
One day whilst I was working, one flew in my window as if to wish me hello, like a stray ape might.
“Hello,” I said to it. It did not respond, but I swore that it watched me for at least ten minutes before floating away.
The next day it returned. At least, I assumed it was the same crystallite. It seemed to take interest in my writings, so I showed it everything I had written in the past few days.
Lazborga thought me a fool. “Do you think the angels care about your scribblings? They have greater matters to consider.”
“Perhaps they are trying to learn our language,” I replied. The comment was made offhand but it stuck with me.
Perhaps that really was their purpose. The Library was one of the few places where writing could be found, as most peasants could not read.
The following day, I obtained a study book - an aid for young Librarians to learn their letters. When my visitor reappeared, I read the book from start to finish, showing it every page.
The crystallite appeared interested, although I may have imagined that. But it sat and listened for thirty minutes, far longer than before.
It began to visit regularly, and I read it every book I could find. For fifteen days this ritual occurred. I spent so much time teaching the crystallite that I could not keep up with my usual work.
On the sixteenth day, Vlydas returned to the Library with new orders. After days of prayer he had decided that the crystals were not Gods. Instead he believed them to be Demons from beyond the stars, sent to torment us.
He became angry when he heard of my reading. “You are forbidden to speak with them,” he said.
I could not disobey an order from the Chief, but nor did I wish to continue working for the Library under his misguided direction. So I left.
Never had I made such a difficult decision. I confess that I wept when I handed in my cap and medallion that I had worn for nearly ten years. I did not know what I would do next. I had no family and few friends in the Citadel.
However, the crystallite came to my home the next day. I kept few books, and I wondered how long I could feed it new knowledge.
It rested on my old wooden dining table. Before I could speak, a small black rectangle appeared on its side. It formed an image that moved, as if I were looking through a window into another world.
Through it I saw a brown creature wearing peculiar clothes. It turned its small eyes up to look at me and moved its mouth. As I watched I heard a voice, and incredibly I could understand what it said, for it spoke in our own language. “Greetings, Librarian Bagar of the Citadel.” It knew my name.
“This is a message from the builders of the crystal ships. Think of it as a letter in the form of a living picture. Do not try to hold a conversation with us. It is not possible.
“We wish to make contact with your people. We come in friendship, and you need our help. We possess technology that can improve your quality of life, make your cities cleaner, and even help you fly.
“We ask for nothing in return, for there is little we can exchange. To visit your planet it is necessary to travel through a portal. It is complex to explain, but only well-defined molecular structures can be sent through it, like crystals. We have built many machines out of crystals, but we can never visit your planet in person. Nor can you send us anything useful in return.
“But we can exchange knowledge, if you are willing. You are one of the few individuals who has helped us on this world. Pass this message on to your King if you are able, or those who lead your scientific organisation.
“Ask any questions that you have, but remember that we cannot reply immediately.”
My heart raced. Did these creatures understand that I had left the Library? I expected that they knew very well, but perhaps they believed I was the best individual to make contact with, as I had helped them learn our tongue.
I decided to go to the King that same day. He knew me by sight, and I believed I could appeal to his reason. Vlydas may not wish to learn from the crystallites, but the King could make him.
I picked up the alien object, and it did not try to escape my grasp. I wrapped it in a cloak and walked to the Palace.
The guards recognised me, and before long I stood before the King's court. He sat upon his stone throne and smiled warmly. Vlydas stood by his side, his fat face beamed with a knowing grin. His eyes pierced me as if he could read my thoughts.
I asked for their patience while I brought out the silver rock. I held it up so they would all be able to see the pictures.
Before the image of the talking creature even appeared, Vlydas bellowed, “A Demon! He has brought a Demon into the Palace!” The guards moved so quickly I barely saw them. I was taken to a cell.
There was no trial and I received few visitors. The stoney prison was uncomfortable and I was often told that I would soon be allowed to leave, but I never was. I feared it would be the end of me. I had time to think over what had happened, what had gone wrong. It all came down to Vlydas - he had an unusual level of influence over the King and should have been removed.
The window gave me my only comfort, with good light and a pleasing view. I spent days gazing out at the Kingdom. I could see all the way to the eastern mountains.
I never learned whether the crystallites had tried to contact anyone else in the Citadel, but eventually it became clear they had not succeeded.
One day while watching from the window, after I had been imprisoned nearly two years, I saw the Eastern Empire's new army arrive. They hovered on great flying platforms suspended in the air.
I'm sure you know the rest. The Citadel was conquered. The King was exiled, along with many of his people. Most of us prisoners were set free.
I slipped away quietly. I dared not tell anyone who I was or the role I had played in our Kingdom's downfall. In the end I settled down in a village far away.
From travellers and merchants, I heard the rumours of change. The Citadel was rebuilt using smokeless power. The Eastern Empire ruled well and the land became prosperous and peaceful again.
Not all their intentions were peaceful though. They turned their powerful new weapons on the crystals who had taught them all their new knowledge.
That was forty years ago now. The crystals are long gone. Much of what you hear about them are lies. I'm sure you've heard the rumour that they were invaders defeated by the might of the Eastern Empire. But some of us remember the truth.
I will not be around much longer, I want you to know my story before I die. I do not think the Emperor will thank me for telling it, but I no longer fear what will happen.