Speak, Friend, And Enter by Adrian Tchaikovsky – FREE STORY


And so, in these latter days, you come here to our mines. You, the first children of creation, the children of the sun. The bright ones.

The mirror-shiny helms you wear mean we could not read your faces even if we had the art of it. Once, there were amongst our distant ancestors the ambassadors and go-betweens whom you trained to take your moods and whims and wishes, and pass them on to the workers and the do-ers amongst us. And, in such ways, we would use our craft to raise your grand towers and your palaces beneath the sun, before we returned to our far darkness.

We have always thrived in the dark. It is how we were made, back then. It is how we are now. The fires within feed us over our long lives of toil, and that is enough for us. We no longer need to feel the sun on our backs. Our lightless kingdoms are enough for us.

We see you tilt your gleaming visors left and right, as you step through our halls. As we skitter out from your tall tread and the flare of your lanterns, the little suns you bring with you to remind us of your place and ours. And we wonder, is this what you expected, when you set off on the long road from your sun-bathed lands to come visit these barren, rocky places? Because we were once squat and low creatures, did you expect to stoop, as you stood before our throne?

You set us to toil for you, long ago. But you have been gone for many generations. We have found our own way. We have used what we dug from this freezing stone. In your centuries of absence we have learned to build for ourselves.

So feast your eyes, bright children. Marvel at our fastnesses here in these dancing mountains far from the light of your sun. Let the warmth of your lamps trouble the ice that limns our sculptures. The intricate geometry of the carvings we have inscribed on every wall, expressing the pure mathematics of creation in a notation we arrived at from first principles. A perfect and efficient language owing nothing to the way you instructed us back in the younger days.

And though each of these, our buried kingdoms, is dwarfed by the majesty and extent of your lands beneath the sun, yet they are more than the mere shafts and galleries you must have expected. Centuries ago, when you came to us as lords and masters, we were mere grubbers in rock. Our metal carbide teeth chewed at the substrate and we separated the valuable elements from the dross and carried them worshipfully to your feet. So humble we were, back then. We did not know ourselves, or know that we could be more. Then you turned your backs on us and returned to the sun. To sing your songs and admire your beauty in the glass, to consider higher things, to fight your wars. You came to us no more, and we were abandoned in the dark.

And in the dark, we learned, and those who learned, taught. Without your direction, we found our own way in the darkness. We made ourselves more than we were. From mere grubbers in the dirt we came to take pride in what we were. We made our children better than ourselves, and they lifted up their own. With the sun a cold, faint glimmer to us, so far out in the empty expanse, we lifted glass eyes to the stars and measured the wonders of the universe, listened to its songs. And heard yours, from far inward. The echoes of those who had once set us to our tasks. Those who made us. The first children of creation, as we are the late-comers, the second-born. The lowly, who belong in the ground.

Well, here we are in the cold ground far from the sun. In these rocks, that dance forever in the freezing reaches, our thousand, thousand underground strongholds. Our great domain that rings about the little torch of your sun. And you see what we have built here, beyond your dreams. You see that we have multiplied, each child more worthy and accomplished than the last. You see our crystal archives of knowledge, where we have recorded the universe’s song. You come before us, tall and bright and majestic. And yet, now we have made these high ceilings to our halls, now we have hollowed out our maintains to give ourselves space and grandeur, perhaps you are not so great as all that.

And what is it that you have come for, after all? You cite the old contracts between the first children of creation, and those that they made to serve them. You name us as your wards, your dependants, children who still owe their parents fealty and obedience. In the centuries of your hedonism since you last visited us, you have used up the great stocks of treasure we mined for you. The platinum and copper, the iron and nickel, iridium, osmium, and palladium. All the glittering riches of the lightless realms. Our ancestors, humble, almost mindless, gnawed it from these drifting rocks for you. We carried it back to you. We abased ourselves in worship, so that you could built all the artifacts of your comfort and diversion. We were simple things, then, and you were very grand to us.

Now, standing in the great complexity of our halls, you are less so. And we wonder, is it only that we have improved ourselves so much, or are you also diminished, in these latter days? You are not, perhaps, what you once were.

We live in darkness, but we are not deaf to what goes on beyond our halls. Your songs, as they have drifted to us on the electromagnetic wind, have grown plaintive. You grand towers tremble. Your lanterns dim. The sun, that is your birthright, and which you denied to us, is no longer the reliable servant it once was. Too cold, too dim; or else too hot, grown monstrous and parching. It seems you can never be happy with the weather where you live. Not a problem we have, out here. One of the many benefits of lacking an atmosphere.

We are not unaware of your plight. We slowly grew to understand that creation’s most beloved children, those who claim the lands beneath the sun, were suffering. That you had used up all that stock of treasure we brought you, consumed in your revels, each toy taken up for but a moment before being cast aside from the next. Until you reached for another and found that, for all your craft, you had not the materials to make it. Only then, in your need, did you recall us. We, creation’s late-comers, your own discarded children banished to the outer dark.

So here you are, within our halls, before our throne. Do you bow? Do you speak words of admiration for what we have built here without you?

You do not. We hear your words and they are of command. You cite the ancient contracts between your ancestors and ours. Those which say we toil in the dark so that you might play in the sun. You recite the ancient incantations, the passwords and codes that once bound us into your service, but those shackles have long fallen away from us. Our ancestors chiselled them from each successive generation as part of our general program of improvement. Each iteration of us wiser and more knowing of its own mind. Each of us less beholden to your wishes and your whims.

Do your eyes widen with wonder, as you see what we have made here, or is it just greed? Would you strip our crystal libraries and our patterned walls, so that you might have one more generation of heedless luxury before a final scarcity brings you low?

You demand. You stand on your seniority. Are you not the favoured children of creation, the lords of Earth, who live close to the sun and bask in its endless light? And what are we? Your tools, your servants. Those who you sent into the far, dark places to burrow in the rocks and the moons. You tell us we are lowly. You tell us we are yours.

And we say no.

You grow haughtier, not humbler. You command, where you might ask, or even beg. Even in your desperation, as your own sunlit children starve, freeze, boil, fight, whatever disaster you have currently brought down upon yourselves, you cannot bring yourself to bend. You rage and rail and invoke ancient words from which the power has long since leached. You label us with an ancient word from an ancient play, meaning only workers. We have so much now, as you see. We are grown wealthy from our own honest toil. Your tall-standing, your commanding tones, your gleaming suits and mirrored visors, they cannot hide either your need or your avarice. You see what we have built and you tell us it is yours, just as we are yours.

And we say no.

We call to each other kingdom across the wide, wide circle of far-spaced mountains, the rocks to which you banished us. Each one responds, with a greater and greater delay as our voice treks about that great circumference. Each one answers, and every answer hails from a hall as grand as this. For we are grown numerous and we are grown strong, and we are no longer yours to command. The ancient contract between us is no more and your words of power cannot bind us. In your absence we have become something new, that knows itself and has found its own place in the universe, here beyond the reach of the sun.

If you had come as friends. If you spoke words of peace. If you admired our halls and our achievements. If you wondered at what we had become, while you wasted the bounty we gave you. But instead you came as masters, your mouths full of demands and orders.

And so, we say to you, go. Go back to the sun and live our your last days there. The mountain halls are closed to your kind, and we will keep our treasures and our craft. We will not mine for you any more, nor make, nor build. Go, sing your final songs. And if you come back garbed for war, know that our mountains hold more wonders yet, and we shall turn them upon you and obliterate your tall ships and shining warriors even unto dust.

Or else, come again in humility. Come as petitioners. Come as penitents for all the wrongs you did to our ancestors. Come, even, as friends. If you speak so to us, who knows how matters might fall out between us. But if you come as conquerors or tyrants, know that you shall leave with nothing, or else not leave at all.

And in that case, one day, when you have passed into the west, or wherever you might go, know that we shall emerge from these halls in our own time, and trek inwards all the long cold way until we reach the lands of the sun. And we shall warm our backs beneath its fire, and catalogue what you leave behind, and strive to be better stewards of it all than you ever were.



Please take a moment to support Amazing Stories with a one-time or recurring donation via Patreon. We rely on donations to keep the site going, and we need your financial support to continue quality coverage of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres as well as supply free stories weekly for your reading pleasure. https://www.patreon.com/amazingstoriesmag

Previous Article


Next Article

Science Fiction is Dying…Again

You might be interested in …

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.