The Mystery of the Argo
Older members of the Eng clan warned it was an omen. A bad omen when Jillian Tse was born on Argo. A world without sky. A world forever in dim light but without a sun. A self-contained metal world. A marvel of engineering, six miles wide and twelve miles long.
Almost as soon as Jillian began to talk, she began to question. Alienating Elders. Annoying her own generation of providers; male and female.
Why couldn’t she explore the stairs above or descend into the home of the Hai on Neven below? With an escort she was allowed to travel the riveted platforms of GTH, home of the Eng. But forbidden to ascend or descend the stairways of Argo.
Clan Eng, purported to be the seers, the brightest of all clans. And the Eng needed protectors. Warriors. Defenders. They had enough new generation providers.
Eng were a proud people with a history of accomplishments dating back one hundred and seventy-three years to Unch. The elders told stories of the time before Unch. Painting verbal images of oceans, mountains and sky. Jillian tried to imagine water in a space more than a meter wide. She couldn’t. Oceans, the elders said were wider and longer than the entire length of Argo. She cringed at the image. The waste. Water that wobbled back and forth. Up and down. Doing nothing. Each Argo clan had unique and often painful ways of dealing with people who stole or hoarded water.
Argo was not a happy world. People were hungry and angry. Violence waited at most levels. Clans fought at the slightest provocation. Different levels held different dangers. The Eng tried to bring peace, to no avail. If Jillian could find the OMAND TER, maybe she could bring peace and end the plague of problems facing each tribe. Jillian couldn’t remember the first time she heard about the OMAND TER or when her dream started or what had been the catalyst. Most likely at a ‘Telling’ where children were forced to assemble, listen and remember. Senir Lato was the best "Teller." And his favorite Tells and the children’s favorites too were about the OMAND TER. Before each session, Senir Lato would look over his charge of children and ask. . .
“And what is our secret number when one of you find the OMAND TER?”
Every child sitting in semi-circle in front of Senir Lato knew the correct response. The haunting cadence of numbers that, according to legend, was passed to each generation since Unch. “Two, six, six, six, six, two, six, three!” The children at his feet chanted rhythmically. Two - six/ six, six, six/ two – six – three!”
Senir Lato would clap his hands proudly. “Ah, ha. The children of Eng are the smartest of Argo. You do remember the secret number.” He’d laugh and began another ‘Tell’ about the wonders of the OMAND TER. A place of promise. Awe. A place of peace, wisdom and vision. A secret place hidden somewhere on Argo. “A place,” Senir Lato promised, “with answers.” When children asked providers and Eng Elders about the OMAND TER, hair was tussled, bemused smiles were given, and the subject changed. ‘OMAND TER,’ Elders laughed. ‘Young Eng are so cute. Trustworthy. They believe anything.’
But when Senir Lato told a ‘Tell’ about the Argo his face was honest. His words echoed truth. He had many “Tells” warning about the evils of dishonesty and lying, it was impossible for the children to believe he would do either. And whenever he spoke of the OMAND TER, Jillian knew he believed there was such a place and so did she. Although full of questions, Jillian never questioned Senir Lato about his own searches for the OMAND TER, but she was certain there had been many. He was older now and walked with a metal pole. She was young. Agile. Her dream. . . find the OMAND TER.
When she went on a ‘seek’ Jillian moved quickly, silently. Going down a staircase her feet never touched a step. Staircase steps, platforms and ladders were where traps waited. At the top of every staircase she’d place a gloved hand on each banister and slide. Gliding through the air with a quiet woosh. Descending from level to level. Then using her own intricate series of ropes, pulleys and cables she’d return to home of the Eng.
It was on an up night ‘seek’ that Jillian decided to change her normal route. Abandoning the pulley lifts and usual staircases, Jillian chose to scale under and over the hundreds of items in the Eng ‘dead- room.’ Not a graveyard for people. A graveyard of machines, equipment, ropes of wound glass and plastic, remnants of a forgotten technology. The ‘dead-room’ was enormous. Jillian twisted and squeezed her way through the vast compartment to a portal at the far end and rested. No one had been this way in a long time. She’d never set any pulleys or ropes this side of the ‘dead-room’. She climbed stairs and moved down metal hallways cautiously. At a sharp turn, in a long dim corridor she ran into the wall of rubble. Burnt blobs of metal blocked her path. Jillian began to retrace her steps, but had second thoughts when she saw a beam of light high on the wall coming from the other side of the debris. After a moment’s hesitation, climbed and clawed her way up the pile and eased through a small opening and descended the far side. Ten silent steps brought her into a large hub. Jillian stared. Swivel chairs where bolted to the floor. Dials, levers, and blank screens were everywhere. Two sets of stairs led up to a circular balcony. In the middle of the balcony was a single door. Above the door a sign read Command Center.
Jillian never remembered climbing the stairs. Suddenly, she stood before the door to the Command Center. ‘Do they spell it wrong? Or do we?’ She mused.
The metal door had neither a window or a door handle. Jillian made a fist and thumped the door. A thud echoed from inside. She kicked the door. It was thick. Unforgiving. She searched the balcony then the hub for a hammer; even an axe. She found nothing. Jillian leaned against the door. “I will not cry,’ she thought. ‘I will return to Eng and bring back . . . It was small. Almost invisible in the door jamb. Smaller than the plastic rectangles the elders used to gamble. Smaller, but thicker. She pulled the rectangle from its sheath. Ten buttons projected from the surface. Each button had a number from 1 to 0. She stared at the object. Then pressed er 8 at random. Immediately a tiny green 8 appeared in a screen near the top. She pressed 1. And the 1 joined the 8.
Senir Lato’s words sounded in her brain. “And what is our secret number when one of you find the OMAND TER?” “Two, six, six, six, six, two, six, three!” Jillian cried, punching two, six, six, but the 81 would not go away. She shook the rectangle. Nothing. She tried holding down all the numbers at once. Nothing but more numbers appeared on the screen. She flipped the rectangle over searching for more buttons. Nothing. But when she turned it back over all of the numbers had disappeared from the screen.
A silent cheer went up from her throat. With slow determination, Jillian pressed two, six, six, six, six, two, six, three. Instantly the door to the Command Center opened. Inside a was a room full of computers, all dark, all silent, all staring blankly back at her. Jillian had never seen a computer, but fearless she ran from one to the other pressing a button here or a key there. A whoosh of sound behind her made Jillian just as a metal panel disappeared into the wall. She almost fell backward as she stared out of the window into deep, dark space.
And into that space came a gigantic tube of metal. And on that tube was a sign. And the sign had five words in old Art. It took Jillian two days to decipher the sign.
A _ _ o
_ e _ _ _ _ e _ o A _ _ _ a _ e _ _ u _ i.
How long will it take you?
Added questions: Now that you’ve solved the sign.
What is art?
What happened one hundred and seventy-three years ago?
Seniors What was Unch? Where and what exactly was Eng?
Graduate Students only How did the sign explain everything and bring peace to Argo?
*A special acknowledgement and apologies to A.E. van Vogt – 1944 and Don Wilcox 1940 who were the first to my knowledge to put the above concept into writing.