Return to the Curator
“You escaped the degeps!” said Des-Cnidda’s amazed voice from the yancibot.
“There was never any doubt of that,” said Itharieth. “They were simply trying to rescue me, as they put it, from the looming peril of the Cyber-Social Heaven. Actually they do not know about the Cyber-Social Heaven, but they disapprove of the ambulance tanks.”
“They are degeps! They understand nothing! Be glad they did not blast you and simultaneously slit your throat with a jagged edge of metal!”
Itharieth dipped his head. “I shall endeavour to be glad of that. In any case, may I proceed on to the Hall of Grandeur?”
“Yes, yes! Suffer no further excursions! Should degeps come a second time, you may not be so lucky!”
At length Itharieth and the yancibot came to the Hall of Grandeur. It is not easy to impress a dragon, especially as urbane and far-travelled a dragon as Itharieth. The Hall of Grandeur came close.
The entrance hall, for example, was banded with all of the chemical elements known to the Memharsh. Certain of those elements are too unstable to exist for more than minutes, but the ancient Memharsh had provided atomic furnaces to replenish the supply of those elements, as well as force fields to protect visitors from their deadly rays.
In the Hall of History, a great globe of Memharsh itself spun in the center of the room. A billion years of history crawled across its surface like fungus: the blues and oranges of the pre-memha ecology of the planet growing spots of silver for the first cities and arcologies, and then the silver growing to triumphantly conquer first the land, then the whole of the globe. A second globe at the far end of the hall synchronously swelled from a small purple sphere to a vast dim red monstrosity crawling with flame-tornadoes: Memharsh’s sun.
“Your people have a massive record of technological triumph,” said Itharieth.
“We do indeed! Though I am the terminus of this record,” said Des-Cnidda. “It pleases me to be host in my final centuries to an alien of discernment and taste, who shall tell to many worlds the story of Memharsh!”
I must have flattered him enough, thought Itharieth. Hopefully he won’t try to keep me for those centuries as a long-term witness. I don’t think I can endure to flatter him for longer than a few more hours.
The next nineteen hours were an exercise in endurance. The story of Memharsh was long, unexceptional, and full of catastrophes that the memha inflicted upon themselves and each other, all of which Des-Cnidda presented as triumphs. Itharieth somehow managed not to scoff at a single one of them. Thus:
Des-Cnidda proclaimed, in hour seventeen, “In the eleventh age, our conquest of the physical world was complete! All multicellular beings save ourselves had perished! Not only did nothing challenge us for supremacy — nothing that remained could ever evolve to challenge us for supremacy!”
«A dispassionate scientist might phrase it thus: ‘In the eleventh age, we accidentally destroyed all multicellular life on our world, except for ourselves. Oopsie! Also, he seems to misunderstand evolution.» said Itharieth to me, along the venstromo. But outwardly, Itharieth simply said, “A notable triumph indeed, and one which not one sentient race in a grand achieves.” «Most of the ones who get close wind up destroying all life around, including themselves. So, notable.»
“Precisely! Precisely! No small creatures with disgusting filamentuous protective layers to scuttle and scurry about, spreading their diseases and gnawing electrical cables! No slime-eating sessile entities, their lower appendages growing tentaculously into the filth that sustains them! No longer did memha find it advisable to consume the post-reproductive secretions of hulking idiot beasts, coagulated and partially decomposed! No longer did they sustain themselves upon the nauseating flesh of macroscopic monstrosities, which required chemical and physical processing to render it somewhat less noxious! All these things — gone! All of Memharsh — cleansed! What remained, what remains, is holy and pure and clean!”
«Admittedly, I would like to return home and share a roasted macroscopic monstrosity, liberally stuffed with coagulated secretions, with Psajathrion. But let this Des-Cnidda assume that I eat yeast and bacterial paste.» And outwardly: “A perfect triumph!”
“And that, my friend, is the full story of Memharsh, from the earliest sentience of our species in the Era of the Vile Sun, to our present lazy decline into death,” said Des-Cnidda.
“A most remarkable story, and one which surely deserves to be known throughout twelve-to-the-fifth worlds,” answered the tireless Itharieth. “Do you have, perhaps, a recording or a written version that you might grant to me, so that I can be more accurate and answer the detailed questions my colleagues are sure to ask?”
“Why, the resources of a world are mine to command!” cried Des-Cnidda, and exerted some tiny fraction of those resources to provide Itharieth an inexhaustable reader charged with every surviving writing of the memha. Reader, I believe you to come from a world where much is written, and much is transmitted from place to place over a complex communication grid. Imagine, if you will, taking the entire content of that grid for a billion years, and writing it all down into the subatomic corrugations of a field-crystal. I have spent an afternoon reading from it. Some few works that its indexers recommend are worth a glance. Nearly all of it is angry and oddly-spelled rants about foolish topics, or, before the eleventh age, pictures of non-memha creatures in cute or amusing poses.
“This is certainly a treasure for scholars, and I am sure they will devour it with all the attention it deserves,” said Itharieth. “Might I also return with objects that even the least discerning of other-universe species will immediately understand to be the products of a cosmically glorious civilization?”
“Why, the resources of a world are mine to command!” cried Des-Cnidda. He caused to exist reproductions of the greatest statues of memha art, one from each era.
“Alas, several of these are friable stone or metal. They will not long endure certain of the atmospheres that I must expose them to,” said Itharieth.
“Why, the resources of a world are mine to command!” cried Des-Cnidda. He caused to exist a second set of reproductions, this one made from imperishable materials — diamond and many gemstones that are colored corundum.
“All who look upon these shall glow in awe of the memha!” cried Itharieth. “And some may be moved to read from the archives, as well.”
“It is satisfactory,” said Des-Cnidda. “No fate is worse for a great race than to be forgotten.”
«Being mocked by dragons for grand-years is not worse? Very well!»
Itharieth’s loot did indeed cause great envy among the dragons of the company. The statues are now the centerpiece of his hoard. And his report on Memharsh explains how easy it is to trick the natives out of valuables — and how much difficulty and little point there would be to conquering the place.Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom’s books on Amazon, especially Mating Flight and World in My Claws, the prequel to this story. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.