There turned out to be a huge amount of cargo ready to go to Gateway. Starr was right in that the Grajanic ship was not headed in that direction. They were sometimes excluded from class-A starports because of poorly maintained equipment, though he didn’t know if that was actually the case in this specific instance.
“We’ve got a full load for the first time in I don’t know how long,” said Viv. “You and Huppy aren’t going to be able to play hammockball.”
“It’s basketball,” said Starr. “How long before we’re loaded?”
“Some of it’s outside the dome, so it’s going to be at least tomorrow before we’ve got it all.”
“I hope Prinda has another vid for us to watch.”
“She called it a movie, and she said she has more, but there’s also a museum over in the other dome. Why don’t we all go take a look?”
An hour later, Starr, Viv, Huppy, and Prinda the Castorian were riding on a tram from one dome to the other. The merchant captain had insisted that they break out the respirators, so the three humans wore them, covering their noses and mouths. They probably could have made do with a cloth over their mouths. The atmosphere wasn’t poisonous, just full of particulate matter.
The village inside the other dome consisted of some two dozen small houses a four-story apartment block, and an administrative building that contained a company store and the museum. The museum was located in a room that in reality was nothing more than an alcove, with artifacts arrayed on shelves covering three of the walls.
A heavy-set woman in a brown jumpsuit was moving from left to right across one wall, a small cleaner in her hand, sweeping away the accumulated reddish dust that slowly drifted down from the air to cover everything.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hi,” Viv replied. “We’re here to see your museum.”
“Well, welcome, welcome. Come in and look around.” The woman’s accent indicated a Capellan, which wasn’t much of a surprise. Capellans were everywhere. “I’m Olla Winty. I’ve tried to put together the most complete collection of Ancient Thim artifacts anywhere.”
“So, this is all your work?” asked Starr.
“My husband is one of the recycling team foremen here. Most of what they pick up gets recycled or sold as art. There’s a big market for art forms of extinct species, you know. I’m working on my graduate degree in archeology and as part of my dissertation, I’ve established this museum.”
“Very commendable,” said Prinda. “Where should we start.”
“Right over here,” said Olla, stepping to the other side of the room. “Here we have some examples of the Thim alphabet.”
The writing was on several large ceramic sheets, each with ten to twenty large symbols. The writing was the same color as the background, slightly raised. It might have been that the Thim had some sort of sensor to detect the variation, or it might have been that all the coloring had simply worn off the letters. Each letter was a square, all the same size, with holes or cutouts to make them different from one another.
“I think these are the equivalent of street signs or storefront signs,” said Olla Winty. “There has been very little other writing discovered. Their society converted over to digital media millennia before they died out, and most of that has been lost. Nobody has found any equivalent of a physical book.”
“Sad to think of all the knowledge of an entire civilization lost,” said Prinda.
They continued around the room, looking at artifacts. Most were small electronic devices that were warped with age and whose original functions were unknown. A few were metal tools held in whatever the Thim had used for hands. They might have been the equivalent of combs, toothbrushes, or hammers. Without knowing what the Thim looked like, there was just no way to know. The last exhibit was a pile of wire spools about eight centimeters in diameter, and each containing thin, rolled wire, that had it been let out might have stretched a hundred meters or more.
“These rolls of wire have been found all over the planet—entire rooms filled with them,” said their guide. “No one has yet determined what they are, though one theory holds that they are the Thim form of currency.”
“I’ll bet these are your books,” said Starr. “Predigital societies often use magnetized metal or plastic plates or tapes to store information in the form of sound. I’ve heard of magnetic wire used for that purpose on other planets. If you run it across a recording/decoding head, it should play something.”
“By heavens!” cried Olla. “I’ve got to contact somebody. Maybe Dr. Lintul at the Gateway Institute might be able to help?”
“We’re going to Gateway,” said Prinda. “I could deliver a message for you.”
“Thank you. When are you leaving?”
“Some time tomorrow, probably after mid-day.”
“I’ll record it right away and deliver it to your ship by morning.”
“How’d you get so smart?” asked Viv, bumping Starr with her hip as they left the tiny museum.
“Twenty years in the Zarian Scout Service.”
There were food dispensers in the administration building, but none offered anything that wasn’t available on the Dancer, so they took the tram back to the starport.
“What does everyone want for lunch?” asked Huppy, as they walked up the loading ramp. “I’m going to have number sixteen: fish sticks with macaroni and artificial cheese sauce, apple bake, and rice cake. Viv, do you want number twenty-one: artificial crab cakes with long grain rice, fruit medley cobbler, and wheat crisp?”
“You know me so well, Huppy.”