Two hours brought them back to the volcanic area, and knowing what to look for, Kennon located the pockmarked mountain valley. From the air it looked completely ordinary. Kennon was amazed at the perfection of the natural camouflage. The Pit was merely another crater in the pitted ground. He dropped to a lower altitude, barely a hundred feet above the sputter cones. "Look!" he said.
Below them was the crater of the Pit and in its center a smooth bluish-black hemisphere protruded from the crater floor. It would have passed unnoticed by the casual eye -- nearly concealed by two gigantic blocks of pumice.
"The God-Egg!" Copper exclaimed.
"Egg -- ha! that's a spacer! I thought it would be. I'd recognize durilium anywhere. Let's go down and look this over, but first we want a couple of pictures." He pointed a camera at the crater and snapped the shutter. "There -- now let's have a closer look at our baby."
"Do you expect me to get into that thing?" Copper said distastefully as she prodded the shapeless green coveralls with a bare toe. She eyed the helmet, gloves and boots with equal distaste. "I'd suffocate."
"If you want to come with me, you'll wear it," Kennon said. "Otherwise you won't come near that pit. Try it and I'll chain you to the jeep."
"Just try me."
"Oh -- all fight. I'll wear the thing -- but I won't be comfortable.''
"Who cares about that? You'll be protected."
"All right -- show me how to put it on. I'd rather be with you than worry about what you are doing."
The suit was several sizes too large but it covered her adequately. Too adequately, Kennon decided. She looked like a pile of wrinkles with legs. He chuckled.
She glared. "So I'm funny," she said. "Let me tell you something else that's funny. I'm hot. I'm sweating. I itch. Now -- laugh!"
"I don't feel like laughing," Kennon said. "I feel the same way."
They approached the edge of the Pit carefully. Kennon kept checking tho radiation counter. The needle slowly rose and steadied at one-half roentgen per hour as he thrust the probe over the rim of the depression. "It's fine, so far," he said encouragingly. "We could take this much for quite a while even without suits." He lowered himself over the edge, sliding down the gentle slope.
"How is it down there?" Copper called. The intercom crackled in his ear.
"Fine -- barely over one roentgen per hour. With these suits we could stay here indefinitely." The sigh of relief was music in her ears. "This place is barely lukewarm."
"That's what you think," Copper said.
"I mean radiation warm," Kennon said. "Stay up there and watch me. I may need some things."
"All right." Copper squirmed inside the hot suit. The thing was an oven. She hoped that Kennon didn't plan to work in the daytime. It would be impossible.
Kennon gingerly approached the ship. It was half buried in the loose debris and ash that had fallen or blown into the pit during the centuries it had rested there. It was old -- incredibly old. The hull design was ancient -- riveted sheets of millimeter-thick durilium. Ships hadn't been built like that in over two thousand years. And the ovoid shape was reminiscent of the even more ancient spindizzy design. A hyperspace converter like that couldn't be less than four millennia old. It was a museum piece, but the blue-black hull was as smooth and unblemished as the day it had left fabrication.
Space travel would have gotten nowhere without durilium, Kennon reflected. For five thousand years men had used the incredibly tough synthetic to build their spacecraft. It had given man his empire. Kennon gave the hull one quick glance. That part of the ship didn't worry him. It was what he would find inside that bothered him. How much damage had occurred from two thousand or more years of disuse? How much had the original travelers cannibalized? How much could be salvaged? What sort of records remained? There were a thousand questions that the interior of that enigmatic hull might answer.
The upper segment of the airlock was visible. It was closed, which was a good sign. A few hours' work with a digger should expose it enough to be opened.
"Copper," he said, "we're going to have to dig this out. There's a small excavator in the cargo bed of the jeep. Do you think you can bring it down here?"
"I think so."
"Good girl!" Kennon turned back to the ship. He was eager to enter it. There might be things inside that would settle the question of the Lani. The original crew had probably recognized the value of the hull as a repository as well as he did. But in the meantime there would be work -- lots of it. And every step must be recorded.
It was the rest of the day's work to expose the emergency airlock. The little excavator toiled over the loose ash for hours before it displaced enough to make the port visible, and the ash was not yet cleared away sufficiently to open the portal when darkness brought a halt to the work.
It would be impossible to unearth the spaceship with their low-capacity digger, Kennon decided. It would be difficult enough to clear the emergency airlock in the nose. But if the tubes and drive were still all right, by careful handling it should be possible to use the drive to blast out the loose ash and cinders which surrounded the hull.
Kennon reluctantly gave up the idea of entering the spaceship. That would have to wait until tomorrow. Now they would have to conceal the work and call it a day. A few branches and the big blocks of pumice would suffice for temporary camouflage. Later they could make something better. Anything in the jeep which might be useful was cached along with the radiation suits in the passageway through the lava wall -- and in a surprisingly short time they were heading homeward.
Kennon was not too displeased. Tomorrow they would be able to enter the ship. Tomorrow they would probably have some of the answers to his questions. He looked ahead into the gathering night. The gray mass of the abandoned Olympus Station slipped below them as he lined the jeep along the path indicated by the luminous arrow atop the main building, set the controls on automatic, and locked the craft on the guide beacon in Alexandria's tower. In a little less than an hour they would be home.
Kennon was morally certain that the Lani were of human stock. Evolved, of course. Mutated. Genetic strangers to the rest of humanity. But human. The spaceship and the redes proved it as far as he was concerned. But moral certainty and legal certainty were two different things. What he believed might be good enough to hold up in a Brotherhood court, but he doubted it. Ulf and Lyssa might be the founders of the Lani race, but they had come to Kardon nearly four thousand years ago and no records existed to prove that the Lani weren't here before they came. Redes passed by word of mouth through hundreds of generations were not evidence. Even the spaceship wasn't the absolute proof that would be needed to overturn the earlier legal decision. Other and better proof was needed -- something that would stand up in any court in the Brotherhood. He hoped the spaceship would hold that proof.
But Kennon's eagerness to find out what was inside the ancient spacer was tempered by hard practicality. Too much depended on what he might find inside that hull. Every step of the work must be documented beyond any refutation. Some method of establishing date, time, and location had to be prepared. There must be a record of every action. And that would require equipment and planning. There must be no mistake that could be twisted by the skillful counsel that Alexander undoubtedly retained.
He had no doubt that the Family would fight. Too much money and prestige were involved. To prove the Lani human would destroy Outworld Enterprises on Kardon. Yet this thought did not bother him. To his surprise he had no qualms of conscience. He was perfectly willing to violate his contract, break faith with his employers, and plot their ruin. The higher duty came first -- the duty to the human race.
He smiled wryly. It wasn't all higher duty. There were some personal desires that leavened the nobility. To prove Copper human was enough motivation -- actually it was better than his sense of duty. Events, Kennon reflected, cause a great deal of change in one's attitude. Although not by nature a plotter, schemes had been flitting through his mind with machinelike regularity, to be examined and discarded, or to be set aside for future reference.
He rejected the direct approach. It was too dangerous, depended too much on personalities, and had too little chance for success. He considered the possibility of letters to the Brotherhood Council but ultimately rejected it. Not only was the proof legally insufficient to establish humanity in the Lani, but he also remembered Alexander's incredible knowledge of his activities, and there was no reason to suppose that his present didn't receive the same scrutiny as the past. And if he, who hadn't written a letter in over a year, suddenly began to write, the correspondence would undoubtedly be regarded with suspicion and would probably be examined, and Dirac messages would be out for the same reason.
He could take a vacation and while he was away from the island he could inform the Brotherhood. Leaving Flora wouldn't be particularly difficult, but leaving Kardon would be virtually impossible. His contract called for vacations, but it expressly provided that they would be taken on Kardon. And again, there would be no assurance that his activities would not be watched. In fact, it was probable that they would be.
There was nothing that could be done immediately. But there were certain long-range measures that could be started. He could begin preparing a case that could be presented to the Council. And Beta, when it knew, would help him. The situation of the Lani was so close to Beta's own that its obvious merit as a test case simply could not be ignored. If he could get the evidence to Beta, it would be easy to enlist the aid of the entire Medico-Technological Civilization. It would take time and attention to detail; the case, the evidence, everything would have to be prepared with every safeguard and contingency provided, so that there would not be the slightest chance of a slip-up once it came to court.
And perhaps the best method of bringing the evidence would be to transport it under its own power. The thought intrigued him. Actually it wouldn't be too difficult. Externally the Egg wasn't in bad shape. The virtually indestructible durilium hull was still intact. The controls and the engines, hermetically sealed inside the hull, were probably as good as the day they stopped running. The circuitry would undoubtedly be bad but it could be repaired and restored, and new fuel slugs could be obtained for the engine and the converter. But that was a problem for the future.
The immediate problem was to get into the ship in a properly documented fashion.
It took nearly two months, but finally, under the impersonal lenses of cameras and recorders, the entrance port of the God-Egg swung open and revealed the dark interior. Kennon moved carefully, recording every step as he entered the black orifice in the spaceship's side. His handtorch gave plenty of light for the recorders as he moved inside - Copper at his heels, both of them physically unrecognizable in antiradiation suits.
"Why are we moving so slowly?" Copper said. "Let's go ahead and find out what's beyond this passageway."
"From a superstitious coward you've certainly become a reckless explorer," he said.
"The Egg hasn't hurt us, and we've been around it many times," she said. "Either the curse has become too old to hurt us, or there never was any in the first place. So let's see what is ahead. I'm curious."
Kennon shook his head. "In this business we must hurry slowly -- very slowly. You know why."
"But I want to see."
"Patience, girl. Simmer down. You'll see soon enough," Kennon said. "Now help me set up this camera."
"Oh, all right -- but isn't there any excitement in you?"
"I'm bubbling over with it," Kennon admitted, "but I manage to keep it under control."
"No -- I'm sensible. We want to nail this down. My future, yours, and that of your people depend upon how carefully we work. You wouldn't want to let us all down by being too eager, would you?"
She shook her head. "No -- you're right of course. But I still would like to see."
They moved cautiously through the airlock and into the control room.
"Ah!" Kennon said with satisfaction. "I hoped for this, but I didn't dare expect it."
"Look around. What do you see?"
"Nothing but an empty room. It's shaped like half an orange, and it has a lot of funny instruments and dials on the walls, and a video screen overhead. But that's all. Why -- what's so unusual about it? It looks just like someone had left it."
"That's the point. There's nothing essential that's missing. They didn't cannibalize the instruments -- and they didn't come back."
"Maybe because that curse you mentioned a few minutes ago was real."
Copper drew back. "But you said it wouldn't hurt us----"
"Not now. The heat's practically gone, but when whoever flew this crate came here, the whole shell could have been as hot as a Samarian summer."
"But couldn't they have come back when it cooled?"
"Not with this kind of heat. The hull was probably too radioactive to approach from the outside. And radioactivity cools off slowly. It might take several lifetimes for its level to become low enough to approach if there was no decontamination equipment available."
"I suppose that's why the early ones thought the Egg was cursed."
Kennon nodded. "Now let's check -- oh! oh! what's this?" He pointed to a metal-backed book lying on the control panel.
"It looks like a book," Copper said.
"I'm hoping it's the book."
"Yes -- the ship's log. It's possible. And if it is, we may have all the evidence we need -- Copper! -- Don't touch it!"
"Because its position has to be recorded first. Wait until we get the camera and recorders set up."
Gingerly Kennon opened the ancient book. The sheets inside were brittle -- crumbling with age -- but he could make out the title U.N.S.S. Wanderer with the date of launching and a lower line which read "Ship's Log." Kennon was thankful for his medical training. The four years of Classical English that he had despised so much were essential now. Stumbling over unfamiliar words and phrases, he moved slowly through the log tracing the old ship's history from .pleasure craft to short-haul freight tractor to obsolescence m a space dump orbiting around a world called Heaven.
There was a gap of nearly ten years indicated by a blank page before the entries resumed.
"Ah -- this is it!" Kennon said.
"What is it?" Copper said curiously. "I can't read the writing."
"Of course you can't. It's in English -- a language that became obsolete during the Interregnum. I had to learn it, since most medical terminology is based on it."
"What is an Interregnum?" Copper interrupted. I've never heard that word before."
"It's a period of confusion when there is no stable government. The last one came after the Second Galactic War -- but never mind that -- it happened long ago and isn't important now. The important thing that did happen was the Exodus."
"What was that?"
"A religious revival and a tremendous desire to see what was happening beyond the next star. During that century men traveled wider and farther then they ever have before or since. In that outward explosion with its mixed motivations of religion and practicality, colonists and missionaries went starward to find new worlds to tame, and new races to be rescued from the darkness of idolatry and hell. Almost any sort of vehicle capable of mounting a spindizzy converter was pressed into service. The old spindizzies were soundly engineered converters of almost childlike simplicity that could and did carry ships enormous distances if their passengers didn't care about subjective time-lag, and a little radioactivity.
"And that's what happened to this ship. According to this log it was bought by Alfred and Melissa Weygand - a missionary couple with the idea of spreading the Christian faith to the heathen.
"Alfred and Melissa -- Ulf and Lyssa -- they were a part of this ancient explosion that scattered human seed across parsecs of interstellar space. It seems that they were a unit in a missionary fleet that had gone out to the stars with flame in their hearts and Gospel on their lips to bring the Word to the benighted heathen on other worlds." Kennon's lips curled with mild contempt at their stupid foolhardiness even as his pulse quickened to their bravery. They had been fanatics, true enough, but theirs was a selfless fanaticism that would risk torture and death for what they believed -- a fanaticism that was more sublime than the concept of Brotherhood which had evolved from it. They knew nothing of the enmity of race, of the incessant struggle man had since waged with alien intelligences all too willing to destroy intruders who encroached upon their worlds. Mankind's early selflessness had long ago been discarded for frank expansionism and dominance over the lesser races that stood in their way. And in a way it was too bad.
The ship's log, meticulously kept in neat round English script, told a story that was more than the bare bones of flight. There was passion and tenderness and a spiritual quality that was shocking to a modern man steeped in millennia of conquest and self-interest. There was a greatness to it, a depth of faith that had since been lost. And as Kennon slowly deciphered the ancient script he admired the courage even as his mind winced with dismay at the unheeding recklessness.
The Weygands had lost contact with the others, and had searched for them in hyperspace, doubling and twisting upon their course until they had become hopelessly lost, and then, with their fuel nearly exhausted, had broken out into the normal three-space continuum to find Kardon's sun and the world they called Flora.
How little they had known and how lucky they had been.
It was only by the grace of their God that they had found this world before their fuel was exhausted. And it was only by further grace that the planet was habitable and not populated with intelligent life. They had more luck than people were entitled to in a dozen lifetimes. Against odds of a million to one they had survived.
It was fascinating reading.
But it was not proof.
The last entry read: "We have circled this world and have seen no buildings -- no sign of intelligent life. We are lost, marooned on this empty world. Our fuel supplies are too low for us to attempt to find the others. Nor could we. The constellations in the sky are strange. We do not know which way to go. Therefore we shall land upon the great island in the center of the yellow sea. And perhaps someday men will come to us since we cannot return to them. Melissa thinks that this is an example of Divine Providence, that the Lord's mercy has been shown to us that were lost in the vastness of the deep -- that we have been chosen, like Eve and Adam, to spread the seed of man to yet another world. I hope she is right, yet I fear the radiation level of the ship has become inordinately high. We may well be Eve and Adam, yet an Adam that cannot beget and an Eve that is not fruitful. I am trimming the ship for landing, and we shall leave it immediately after we have landed, taking with us only what we absolutely need. There is too much radiation from the spindizzy and the drive to remain here longer -- and God knows how hot the outer hull may be."
And that was all. Presumptive evidence -- yes. Reasonable certainty -- yes. But not proof. Lawyers could argue that since no direct exploration was made there was no valid reason to assume that the Lani did not already inhabit Kardon. But Kennon knew. His body, more perceptive than his mind, had realized a truth that his brain would not accept until he read the log. It was at once joy and frustration. Joy that Copper was human, frustration that he could not obtain for her and her race the rights to which they were entitled. But the immediate problem was solved. His conditioning was broken now he was convinced that Copper was a member of the human race. It was no violation of his code to love her. The greatest barrier was broken, and with it gone the lesser ones would yield. Relief that was almost pain washed through him and left him weak with reaction.
"What is it?" Copper asked as he turned to her. "What is this thing that has turned your face to joy?"
"Can't you guess?"
She shook her head. "I have seen nothing but you reading this ancient book, yet you turn to me with the look in your eyes that the redes say Ulf had for Lyssa."
Copper shrugged. "You're mad. I'm a Lani. I was born a Lani -- and I shall die one."