The Traveler was nervous as he sat in the waiting room looking at the door of the conference room on the headquarters ship. He was, after all, a young traveler, and was unsure of what to anticipate in the meeting that he had been summoned to. Had he been a more experienced traveler, to be sure, he would have been more comfortable with the rituals of the conferences with central command before and after missions, but he was not experienced in such matters at all. He was unsure of what he would be asked and told, and wondered if such uncertainty was not in fact part of the design. Perhaps young travelers like himself were given certain assignments and more well-practiced ones were given other assignments. Such matters were well above his paygrade, but he could not help but wonder at the way in which his people operated and had for a long time from what he could gather.
At length, there was a deep and a voice toned. “You may come in, now, traveler.”
With a sigh he stood up from his seat and walked towards the conference room door. It opened and there a solitary woman, somewhat older but not particularly so, who stood in the room. Otherwise, the room was clean and functional, with a viewscreen at the far end and a generally metallic look throughout, full of gray materials. He was greeted with a smile.
“Welcome to your first assignment as a newly minted traveler,” the woman said.
“Thanks, I don’t know exactly what to expect.”
“We will do the best that we can in order to make it clear what is expected of you over the course of your missions. As was the case in your training missions, travelers are sent to various places and times in order to gain insight and knowledge about matters that were forgotten or neglected or that faded into time.”
“Yes, but there are so many possibilities as to what places and times one might want to discover. There are many mysteries to solve.”
“There are, but we find it is most helpful to give people a particular set of assignments that are related to each other in some fashion that is based on our understanding of their expertise and skills and to some extent their background as well.”
“And this sort of profile is made of people all throughout their training and education?”
“That is correct. We would like to discuss at least some of what we have found from your training before we give you your first assignment.”
“I’m very interested in seeing what you uncovered.”
“In your training we found that you were especially skilled in dealing with the end of civilizations, in seeking to understand when and why these societies fell apart. This is by no means a common area of expertise, and so one of the things that we want you to master is how to deal with comprehending the final state of the societies to which you are sent, to understand the conditions that exist at the end. We will have more details for you shortly, but thanks to your curiosity and interest in the end of things, we will be giving you a set of assignments that relate to these decisive endings that we wish to know more about.”
The traveler nodded silently.
“Our first independent assignment to you is for you to make your base near the planet Sol 3, where you will be based for the foreseeable future. Your first assignment will be to gather information about the mysterious society on North Sentinel Island.” At this point the viewscreen showed a map of the island. “We are curious to see if you can uncover this island’s language as well as the DNA of the inhabitants. There is one additional goal you can attempt, but it will not be revealed until the time is right. The settings for your ship are located in Docking Bay 2, where you will have a shuttle all to yourself to conduct this mission. We are confident that you will demonstrate the same care and concern to detail in this assignment that you have shown ordinarily in your work for us.”
The traveler looked at the island. “Is there a reason why you are sending me to this planet in particular? There are a lot of planets a lot larger than this one, and this civilization in particular, if you want to call it that, exists only on one small island on a small planet in a fairly small and relatively insignificant solar system.”
“That is true,” the woman continued. “Yet this planet holds many secrets that our own people are deeply curious about, and since so few among us have an interest in history or an ability to relate to people in the past, it will be your job to uncover a great many of its secrets so that we may understand mysteries that are of far greater importance than first seems to be the case.”
“I will certainly do my best.”
“I know you will,” the woman said. With that, the screen went off and the traveler gathered that the discussion was over, as short and as uninformative as it had been for him. He nodded and exited the conference room and returned to his own quarters on the ship. He had been told that his shuttle to begin his project was in Shuttle Bay 2, so he gathered together his personal belongings and went to the ship, trusting that what he needed for the mission would be there.
He was not disappointed. He examined the small shuttle bay and saw sufficient food supplies to last for a long while, which concerned him, as he figured that there would be a drop ship located nearby and this indicated that this would not be the case, and he would be on his own for a considerable length of time. He saw as well that the shuttle bay was equipped with a lot of small sound equipment as well as DNA scanning equipment, which he figured would be important for him to uncover the information. He opened the computer and saw his assignment in greater detail on the screen. His brow furrowed as he read:
“The minimal goals of this assignment are for you to recover sufficient samples of DNA on North Sentinel Island to place the people within our general understanding of the people of this planet as well as to gather enough of the basic words of the language to allow us to categorize its language. During the time that you will be visiting this island, the island was off-limits to travel by the government which ruled over the island as the island’s inhabitants were viewed as hostile and unwelcoming. This ship has equipment that will allow you to bypass this unfriendliness but for the time being you are urged not to directly engage with the people as their hostility will make it impossible for you to fulfill your mission.
If you wish to have more ambitious goals, you are urged to adopt a furtive anthropological approach to the island, collecting all of the DNA for the people as well as collecting information about endemic plants and animals that can be found there as well, and also cataloguing the entire language and fully mastering it yourself. There is a further possible stretch goal that will be communicated to you later at the proper time that you will want to prepare for. Please also acquaint yourself with the equipment on this ship that will allow you to avoid being detected during your travels and also to allow you to move around on the island without drawing notice, so that you will be able to use such technology when you arrive at your destination.”
He looked at the bare information about his destination that was also shown on the video screen. It featured dark-skinned and hairy inhabitants of this island shooting arrows at a primitive looking hovercraft that was approaching the island, and one could see people on the beach with spears prepared to stab to death anyone who managed to set foot on this island. To be sure, the people on this island did not look very advanced. Even the apparently more advanced people who had the hovercraft technology apparently were not interested in pursuing a more aggressive position towards these people, and had not studied them in detail, which he was not being asked to do. He wondered to himself why he was going to this particular place and this particular time, and what larger meaning it had. And was it not ambitious enough to sneak around on an island full of hostile people and uncover their language and DNA? What would be more ambitious than that? He supposed there was only one way to find out.
He looked for the necessary documentation that he needed to sign that promised that he would take care of this shuttle, which belonged to Central Command, and that he would keep a detailed record of what he did so as to best communicate what he was doing on his assignment to those in charge of the mission. He signed his acceptance of the assignment and noted when it began and let the autopilot on the shuttle operate. His shuttle undocked from the central command ship and for a little while he could see the massive and sleek design of the ship that had been his home for as long as he could remember. He knew that his own personnel file, which he had seen, had noted that he had been born on a planet somewhere that he had never remembered seeing, but at least soon afterwards, he had made his home on the ship where so many of his people spent their lives. And now he was to depart that home and make his way to an obscure backwater society–it was not even civilized–on an obscure backwater planet, all to uncover a mystery that his people considered to be worth solving.
Before too long the shuttle informed him that it was time for him to strap into his seat. Having done so, with a relish, the shuttle itself spun around in a fishtail motion and when he recovered his equilibrium, the screen showed that he was now making his way through space towards his destination. He noted that the shuttle was engaged in full cloaking mode, and so he supposed that however primitive this planet was, it was at least advanced enough to possess some sort of scanning technology, which impressed him a little and convinced him that maybe this was not a planet full of hopeless savages as he had assumed to be the case. He looked around him and saw various probes of different kinds, all engaged in various tasks, as well as a bit of space junk around that signified that this society had apparently been engaged in space exploration for at least several decades. He looked at his screen again and saw that the shuttle was moving towards the island he had seen at Central Command and that the sensors were indicating that the shuttle was heating up a bit as it headed through the planet’s atmosphere. He noted the readings as to the various gases in the atmosphere and was pleased to see that this was a pleasant and habitable planet, certainly capable of supporting many billions of inhabitants. He then saw that the coure of the shuttle took him towards a small and isolated part of this island, and that his arrival had been gentle enough and secretive enough that it did not draw the attention of the people on the island. It looked like he had arrived safe and sound.