The band of the galaxy seared through the starry canvas. The barrier of Base Central was as clear as if space itself was exposed. Even the internal lighting shone from underneath captured the image, rather the countenance, of the triumvirate seated in the stepped podiums. Their platforms floated above the ground plane, making them look far more imposing. Argon stood below; his decorum stiff with his head erect awaiting the first line of instructions. Despite his disciplined veneer, he was unable to ignore the disturbing shadow play casted by the shafts of light over his superiors. A front view of the tableau gave them a look of divinity, the triarchy of gods beneath the overarching celestial dome.
The first consulate commenced, “Thank you, Argan for your service to the Interplanetary Council. You possess qualities unique to anyone within our ranks. We, for one, are unequivocally amazed with, eeh…what is it again…? Please pardon us if we’re still not used to someone of your attributes.”
“Well, your Luminary, it’s a congenital discipline stemming from several generations of practice. We call it ‘aural harvesting.’ As a tribal isolate along the Woody Crest, technology––”
“Er––sorry to interrupt. You mean the fertile range that cuts across the great barrens on Tarpan?”
“That’s correct. Technology was sparse, even though we’re familiar with it. As an unsuspecting alternative, a monastic order was established whose practicians were based on deep visual meditation. We essentially viewed the matrix around us as fluid rather than something immutable. I owe it all to my grandfather, without whom I would be idling along the mountain forests overlooking desert planes.”
“Fascinating! So, the universe bends to whatever you imagine, and without any scientific crutch?”
“Well, your Luminary, I doubt what we do escapes science, but we use no technological mediums to speak of.”
“Ha!” The first councilman grew excited. “Well then…I’m certainly impressed! I’m sure you’ll win over a tribe or two with a little of that hocus pocus of yours.”
“With the proper instructions, I’ll do what I can to fulfill the obligations inherent in the task. It is my duty to serve the Interplanet––”
“Good!” The consulate interrupted. “Ever hear of Hagan’s Point?”
“Isn’t that, pardon the Terran coinage, somewhere in the Great Bear?”
“Well, it’s more specific than that. We’ve set the coordinates in the corvette you’ll be taking to your destination. It’s a human colony that relapsed into barbarism quite a while back…before any of us were born, so a bit of the old know-how was lost with time. We assume their low numbers were unable to maintain past knowledge, which is common with isolation. A pity! But we applaud their means of survival on what would be an alien world to them. Rugged species…rather like ourselves! And my apologies for the tasteless boast, but their future is crucial, and you must take every precaution to gain their goodwill.”
“I accept the assignment without protest, your Luminary.” Argan gave a quick bend of the knee and about-faced. He approached the corridor where a pneumatic tube would dispatch him to the transport bay.
“Oh, and another thing, Argan.”
In a heartbeat, Argan swiveled back facing the first councilman. “Yes, your Luminary?”
“See to it you avoid future shock; the savages will be overwhelmed as it is.”
“And park the corvette in front of the sun; it’ll be bright enough when you arrive just before mid-day. You’ll want to mask the details around your ship from the curiosity of the more astute savages. Now be done with it!”
The corvette, compact and almost spartan in its amenities, phased back into real space. It was nice to see the stars in their natural setting again, but they were different in arrangement from what Argan was used to. But now he had to focus. Hagan’s Point lay dead ahead. It was similar to Tarpan, except its oceans were greener from what he could tell with his naked eye looking out the cockpit window. Algal blooms, he thought. Leftover from recent oxygenation. I guess the planet’s younger than I thought, or it had a harder time developing on its own. No matter. These primitives could harness their oceans for widescale food production if they were only able to––
He hit the atmosphere. The ship slowed to cover reentry, but Argan was sure someone saw the start of that fiery streak through the sky. Descent would take longer than he would have liked, but he had ample time to admire the vistas below. It was mostly green. Looking up the file history, the planet’s biota was a carry-over from the mother world. He guessed the colonists were desperate to terraform as fast as nature allowed; the simulacrum showed the ecological systems were originally sparse, with only a few coastal fens and grasslands to boast. He tilted his head in admiration of Terran science.
The population was sparse, but unruly, bearing the brunt of civilization’s birth pangs. Argan took a deep breath and reiterated the Council’s mantra, More direction, less magic. The rest would be on their incentive after a little push in the right direction. Too much intervention beyond the call of duty would create dependency, and no one was up for catering to a giant cargo cult.
Within a village located a day’s sojourn from the coast, the peasants tended their harvest as they looked out across the sunlit hills. So far, they were clear, but the valleys below were the biggest concern. They were flat grassy steppes, perfect for quick mobilizations up into the mountains. The outer wall abutting the new lookout towers was thick and sturdy, and close to being finished. Every slab of masonry was carefully laid out to maximize fortification. The villagers were in no shape to press their luck on the next raid as they were strapped for land as it stood. Most worked in the upper plantations where arable land was scarce, though, their farming tools showed they had metallurgical skills crafted in the foundries just up the hill. Their weapons followed, and the mines provided them with the needed iron and copper.
It was not much later when everything darkened, causing waves of panic swelling through the village that never saw an eclipse. They searched the sky, and, on closer inspection, saw a strange object, a steed’s chariot perhaps, that dropped into the shadow of their sun. Nothing they were familiar with could have been referenced to even partially identify the silhouette resting in mid-air. Cupping their hands over their eyes, the villagers gawked through the blinding glare in absolute shock. They were equally mystified at the annulus surrounding the chariot; it looked like it was connected, but from their vantage point, it was impossible to tell. Was this some divine visitation? Heads shook and palms raised, revealing nothing of their understanding. The warrior ranks, mounted atop their trusted steeds, surrounded the perimeter while brandishing their white arms for summary use.
Within moments, fingers pointed at another shape emerging from the chariot that sprouted multiple limbs, six in count from what the observers could tell, as it descended towards the town piazza. As the figure came to a standstill a few stories above, it appeared arachniform. The villagers became frightened and began to mill in another panic. A moment later, a calming voice chimed from the mysterious figure, the words fully comprehensible to the natives.
“I have come to bare the gift of provision, to bring you a miracle from beyond the heavens. I am not here to beacon misfortune or make issuance of future portents. I urge you to elicit my trust, as I am here to serve you without recompense or favor, only that you open up your hearts and minds and follow my directions. Such is the gift of love!”
The crowd simmered but were steeped in trying to make heads or tails of what was overwhelming them with acts of sorcery unseen in their lifetimes. Regarding their day-to-day struggles, they were not without poverty and disease while teetering at the mercy of conquest or extinction. Nor did they have time for the chicaneries of some demon, its alien features all the more startling in light of their primitive perceptions. Anything resembling one of their steeds with a humanoid torso in place of its head that levitated without visible support was not exactly deigned to be trusted.
The creature spoke a second time, “Behold…” and a rock the size of an amphora that lay near a stable rose into the air and spun into a slab of pure gold. “Take this and mint it into several circular pieces as a means of exchange. As you expand, you will need a monetary unit in which to build your wealth.”
The villagers swiveled their heads at one another as the slab of gold drifted down into the rickshaw belonging to the chief metallurgist.
“This shall be the start of your economic authority. Present it to the tribes around you to use in the selling of goods, wares and services. It will strengthen your bonds over time.”
Another villager, trailed by a small group with a visible hobble to their gait, came forward. “If this is not some foolhardy deception, then I ask that you heal myself and my brethren of these afflictions crippling us,” he gestured an open hand to his lamed cohorts.
“Granted!” And the creature raised its arms and spread its four legs. Seconds later, the lamed regained their posture and celebrated their restoration as they danced around in boisterous glee.
The crowds stirred some more, swayed by miracles done in plain sight.
“Now, listen. Fashion your metals to build your arms. Soon you must take the valleys with land to tame and soil to till. You have much to learn about new techniques required for long-term survival.”
Another commotion flurried through the crowd. The tribal chieftain came to the forefront and quelled the peasants with the lowering of his hands. Confronting the creature, he asked with his head craned up, “We welcome you to Hil-Val, Star God. From whence you came, we know not, but we are forever grateful for your contributions, however,” he began to implore, “our land is limited, as you can see, and we are constantly under siege. How can we possibly expand our faculties at the risk of bloody reprisal? You’re telling us to conquer forbidden territory!”
“Behold…think long range weapons…not just cold steel.”
“Your highness, a sword can only be so long before its length and weight overburdens even our strongest warriors.”
The Chieftain’s advisor came forward, his forefinger raised to elicit the attention of his superior. “Your honor, our scribe has just informed me that this visitor may be alluding to some kind of projectile used for combat from afar.”
The Chieftain was aroused, but still perplexed. “And what method can we use to launch the projectiles with?”
“Is not catgut used in our textiles and footwear for longevity?”
“Our livestock. And if we can expand our agricultural means, we can expand on our raw materials!” Struck with an epiphany, the Chieftain faced the creature. “Are you sure these weapons can defend us if we bull our way down below?”
“You have nothing to fear. You must remember emotional outpour hampers focus. Commit to logistics in warcraft and retain your fortifications. With time and patience, you will slowly reverse enemy advancements.
“Then see to it you take the valleys below, and till the land to accommodate the monsoons. They come mid-summer in each sidereal cycle, so plan your calendars accordingly.”
“But Your Highness, even our own people have drowned in such storms. How do we tame the torrents that turn our hills into floods of white water?”
“Use the valleys and dig a series of arroyos in identical rows. This will allow you to properly channel the waters into a cohesive irrigation system. Build several sluice gates along the mountains with chutes that will channel rainwater down into the valleys.”
The tribal leaders conferred with one another; their brows furrowed in quizzical ambiguity. Heads nodded in approval, arousing the curiosity of the villagers around them.
The Chieftain was humbled and faced the creature. “Everything sounds feasible, Your Highness. It will be a while before we can make the necessary preparations, hopefully to be done before the next battle.”
“You must start now if you look to live and thrive. I’ve come to bare gifts, the gifts of knowledge, and you must use them to grow and subdue your enemies. You are a just society, the likes of which must be shared with your potential allies.
“However, now I must depart. As a last token of my provision, behold…” and with the splaying of its limbs, several more rocks were levitated and transmuted into gold and silver. “This is to diversify your currency and gain economic advantages in your means of trade. Any additional monetary units you wish to forge rests in your adeptness at mining. Until then, may your village be blessed with success in all facets of statecraft. Farewell!”
The figure retreated into the vessel before pivoting around and silently taking off into the sky. A clap of thunder followed, bestirring the crowd into a frenzy of worship as the final Word of God cracked through the mountains. That would be the last they would ever see of the creature of miracles, the bringer of manna, but not the last of its memory.
That night, the scribe, sharing input from Hil-Val's leaders, began to redact the precepts of an elaborate codex, a writ of stories and virtues that highlighting the exploits of a sky god who bore them the fruits of wisdom. Their gratitude was insatiable, the credos of which helped establish their church, one that encouraged acts of provision without reciprocation, the highest spiritual expression of love and grace. The patience and ascetics required as an integral value set the standard for other tribes and civilizations to emulate and assimilate. The final ingredient was the time it would take for a cultural renaissance to flourish across Hagan's Point.
The future was forged.
* * *
The deep blue and violet arabesques straightened and fanned out into a series of flashing lines that tapered into a single point. Seconds later, the images snapped back into a familiar star field. Argan had returned, his mission's course set and successfully implemented. The occasional return visit was expected for upkeep in the event the chosen people slipped, but that would be addressed when he crossed that bridge. Satisfied, he beaconed the Interplanetary Council as he entered a landing trajectory toward Base Central.
He wearily snorted. “Cultural shift has been catalyzed on Hagan's Point. The tiny village of Hil-Val sits on a gold mine of resources; their geography serves a tactical advantage in the meantime. They’re sure to be a cut above the competition.”
“We can only hope!” A soft whinny was heard in the background on the other end.
“I think it’s a go. After all, you have that knack for finding the right tribes. They were decent folks, easy to convince, but their powerful convictions carried them to new heights. Lay on a few miracles coupled with some virtuous aphorisms and random acts of kindness, and they'll accept any asservation you make with open arms. Their values were already a step or two above the hordes that rummaged the landscape, a rarity if you ask me, but they needed a bigger push in their demographics to fight the good fight.” He groaned as he was lost in thought for a second.
“Argan, what's going on? Magic drain a little too much of your energy?” IC asked, concerned with the protraction in silence.
“Oh, nothing. I just thought it a little odd they had only four appendages, two arms and two legs. Bipedal. I suppose it does the job for them, and for a minute, I had almost mistaken their mounts as the true intelligence of Hagan's World. I certainly wouldn’t enter them in a foot race!”
“Sometimes it takes getting used to the folly of homo sapiens, but with enough training of the right people, we can improve their stock in the course of their advancements. So, pony up for additional missions. As we centaurs say, you can lead a human to a city, but you can’t make him think!”
Argon was humored and nickered a laugh.