The key were the crystals, the ones found in the black rocks in the ejection zone. They were batteries.
Hutch who figured out how to install them safely in the alien machines. It did not take long for New Deaver City to come alive with rolling heptahedrons, floating spheres and giant undulating robot worms.
The Ring builders had stocked the city with millions of the devices and the crystals were plentiful Earthside. No one had to fight over access; right of way was a different story.
Mayor Monica worried aloud, “I don’t think these things were left here for us.”
Hyong felt a sense of relief upon examining the data. Up until that moment, it was not quite real. But with the satellites it became certain and true: he stood on a world other than Earth.
Miss Ryu stood nearby with a data pad. “Where are we?” she asked.
“Very far away,” he said.
Miss Ryu bowed. “The General has asked about the other Rings.”
“Yes.” Hyong frowned. “This world is large, at least twice the circumference as Earth. It will take time.”
Miss Ryu’s expression did not change but he sensed her apprehension.
“I will tell him,” said Hyong.
Ajani hunched over the battered tablet with its cracked screen. He did not complain. He was happy that it worked at all, so long after the stones had fallen.
It was not the only working computer in the Holy City, but it was the first he had found that contained the necessary programs. Even now its ancient processor churned, examining the glyphs and icons he had meticulously entered.
He rubbed the bruised bridge of his nose and winced. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.
He was just fading into sleep when the tablet bleated at him.
The weird little vehicle trundled forward, then back, then made a K turn.
“Holy shit,” said Mayor Monica.
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” said Ellie. She motioned to Hutch. “Do it,” she chirped.
Hutch manipulated the controls — an unwieldy old console sprouting wires like ivy — and the vehicle suddenly flipped upside down and landed on the ceiling as natural as could be.
“Jesus,” said Monica. “How did you figure this out?” asked Monica.
“You told us to,” said Hutch.
“We screwed with it on end until things started to happen,” said Ellie.
“Now we put them to work.”
Lajos and Eberardo dashed through the vine covered ruins. They hopped over shapes unseen beneath the growth and leaped alleys between mysterious structures.
“There it is!” yelled Lajos.
Eberardo glimpsed the flapping, fur covered tentacles of their prey long enough for him to stop, draw and fire. His arrow whizzed past Lajos and just missed its mark.
“Get out of the way next time!” laughed Eberardo.
Lajos out of sight and Eberardo followed him by his jubilant cries. A worrisome memory clawed at him but he rejected it.
In these new hunting grounds Lajos was the best of the hunters.
Thousands lined the lane as the parade marched through the Ring into Imperial Outpost One. They watched as columns of high stepping soldiers flanked stoic workers and peasants. Then came the cars, trucks, tractors and tanks. Overhead flew fighter jets and cargo planes.
Even beneath the roar of the airplane engines a cheer rose. The rocket rolled through the Ring next, pulled by an immense machine.
Finally came the Supreme Leader in an armored vehicle. He and his wives smiled and waved.
General Namgung applauded furiously. Hyong clapped politely, ignoring the knot in his stomach that the Supreme Leader inspired.
Genet came into the dusty square where the newcomer Turiq stood over Ajani. The scholar was akimbo, arms raised in defense. Genet noted Turiq’s bloody fist.
“What is this?” he demanded. The crowd milling around the fight stilled.
“This dog blasphemes!” Turiq roared.
Genet smiled and approached. “Surely not, brother. Ajani is a scholar.”
“Scholar!” Turiq spat. “A liar who says God is not here!”
Genet shrugged. “Would you call a blind man a liar if he said the sky was green?”
Turiq shook his head.
“Then Ajani is only blind. Come.” He stepped over Ajani and led Turiq away.
The drone lay in pieces on the workshop floor. Seeing the insides, they were certain that’s what it was. Its interior was too densely packed for a driver.
“What if the aliens were liquid?” Hutch had offered helpfully.
“This is way above my pay grade,” said Luiz.
“All of ours,” said Ellie, then to Monica, “except yours.”
Mayor Monica Deaver stared at the spread out crystals, plates, cogs and various unidentifiable bits. A heartbeat later she said, “Yeah, well, I’m delegating,” and left.
Ellie shrugged. “Fine. Let’s do it, boys.” She grabbed a sledge and chisel and went to work.
The eagle scanned the ejection zone and the wide lanes seen through the Ring. He saw something scurry and banked to pass between worlds.
The sunlight was sharper in the drier, thinner air. The eagle flew in an arc, eyes ever on the small creature trundling between the devices that had sat still for uncounted eons.
The creature waited in the open for a moment too long The eagle folded its wings, extended its talons and dove.
The eagle carried the furry, anemone like creature back to his nest where it would lay its eggs in panic before being devoured.
“Are they weapons?” asked General Namgung skeptically.
Hyong noted that since his passage through the Ring, the General was less demanding, less certain.
“I do not think so,” said Hyong as he peered at the streams of data flowing on his screens.
The cavernous warehouse was full of alien devices, many of which Hyong and Miss Ryu had fitted with sensors.
“They were surely stockpiled here.”
“General, little is sure here. We know nothing of the aliens, not even what they looked like.”
The General grunted his dissatisfaction.
Hyong said, “But we will discover their secrets. That much I promise.”