The Quonians

 

Continued from The Cobalt Era

Anachronism

Artists have portrayed the scene many times: the misty plain, the grid marked out to plan the excavation, the shapes of buildings emerging from the strata....  and the faces of astonished men and women, examining artifacts of impossible age, dug out from ground which, a short while ago, was known to have contained nothing but featureless ice and gralm.

The possibility of it all being a hoax was soon dismissed.  To have fabricated such a site, burying fake artifacts on this scale, would have been pointless and impractical to an insane degree.  But what was the alternative?  The Sunnoad instructed his agents to follow all clues wherever they led; one of these agents, who also happened to be an archaeologist, rummaging in the ruins of a similar anachronistic site, accidentally put his hand through an activation beam and unleashed the broadcast mental warning which brought on Era 28.

The Nickel Era

The telepathic warning lasted 57 minutes.  During those minutes every man, woman and child on the planet heard the recorded message in nen's mind, and the truth dawned on the people of Syoom, that they shared their world with a race which could manipulate time.

That was one fact which could be gleaned straightaway.  Further details would follow as millions of hearers sorted out their memories and began to understood more of what their minds had received.  It was an almost wordless message, uttered so long ago, by a creature so ancient, that nen's extinct language was unrelated to any living tongue.  Being wordless, it relied on the direct communication of ideas, and that was not easy, for the sender's mind had plainly not been human.  Nevertheless, nen had been Uranian, evolved on the same world as the modern Nenns.  The ideas, images, expressions were not wholly unfamiliar.  And one part of the message was verbal: a name: THE QUONIANS.

These, warned the message, were a race of humanoids similar to the Nenns of Syoom in appearance but very different culturally.  They were an ancient race, surviving relatively unmodified through several Great Cycles.  They posed a threat to other cultures because -

And here came a very sharp, clear part of the message, the main point of the warning.  The only trouble was, the idea was so new, it could hardly be taken in at one mental gulp. 

The Copper Era

 Their heads ringing from the warning, the people of Syoom tried to resume their normal lives.  Gradually, as the days passed, a sense of normality did return, but the extraordinary experience remained the chief topic of conversation, debate and investigation.  Moreover the issue was kept alive in any case by the arrival in Syoom of the Quonians themselves.

The first Quonian scouts were humble and apologetic regarding their presence on Syoomean soil.  They came on their gleaming white skimmers, their white eyes peering around at whatever they saw, fascinatedly, as though they saw more than anyone else.  They asked diffidently whether the Kalishan Voice had been heard.  This question was met with puzzlement until one Syoomean guessed that the Quonians were referring to the broadcast warning.  That, evidently, was called the Voice of the Kalishan, a malicious mind - so the newcomers alleged - hostile to the peacable Quonians.  The Kalishan Voice was encased in a cubical probe which was programmed to follow Quonian civilization on its journey through history, and to spread slander about Quonia.

All that the Quonian newcomers wanted, they said, was to be allowed to settle and mingle with the Nenns of Syoom.  Surely there was enough room for a few hundred thousand more people, in the 400,000,000 square mile vastness of Syoom.  Quonia itself, they said, was an over-rigid society which had expelled them because of their adventurous spirit, a spirit wth which Syoomean culture must surely sympathize.

When asked where Quonia was, the Quonian visitors became cagey.  They vaguely admitted that the place was "somewhere in Fyaym".  (Of course, by strict definition, a civilization cannot be "in Fyaym", but in loose everyday language a hitherto unsuspected area of Syoom surrounded by Fyaym can be "somewhere in Fyaym".)

All this time, people were continuing to reflect upon their memories of the 57-minute Voice of Kalishan.  In fact the whole Copper Era (2,961 Uranian days; a little over 10 Earth years) was a kind of race between the warning Voice and the persuasiveness of the Quonians.

During the last third of the era, the Voice began to win out.

Triumph of the Voice

It began to be noticed that more and more people were not only "seeing things from the Quonians' point of view" in the sense of sympathizing with their social and political situation, but were literally seeing their environment as if it were Quonia: a land of different geography and traditions.  To bolster this illusion, physical objects continued to be found which should not have been in Syoom at all, and yet which could be proved to have been there for aeons.  These objects consisted of Quonian-style buildings, coins, works of art....  as if they had been smuggled back across Time, to give a false pedigree to the current Quonian presence.

The terrible thought occurred to the Sunnoad and his advisers, as well as to many other high-placed Syoomeans: what if the Quonians were able to alter human history in their favour?  What if that was what they were preparing to do?

On the other hand if they could do this, why had they not already done it?

Quonians were pulled in for questioning under hypnosis.  It was found that they did not possess true time travel, but were able to take advantage of certain "cul-de-sacs" in Time - areas which were out of touch with the lines of causation, and could be altered without paradox.  Quonian artefacts were sent to these areas.  The operation was fantastically expensive; the revenues of Quonia had been mortgaged to the hilt to finance the great deception.  Perhaps as a side-effect of the tampering with time, Quonians also seeped their world-view into the minds of the people of Syoom.

As soon as the plot had been uncovered, it lost its force.  Little further action was necessary; the truth was broadcast, and the defeated Quonian invaders were allowed to leave unmolested for their own country.  (Many eras were to pass before they were heard from again.)

>> The Zinc Era

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