Part 6

Slanted rays of golden sunlight peek through the high windows of the great hall. You make your way between the towering columns that line the impressive hall and find a pair of thick wooden doors standing open. Inside, the archives of the University stretch out before you in a room so vast you can't even see the far wall. Scrolls line the nearest shelves, with tall tablets balanced precariously at their edges. The soft hum of something electronic - probably modern data cores - emanates from further back, but otherwise the room is quiet.

You shuffle through the scrolls stacked on the nearest shelf, astonished that you seem to be able to understand the archive labels. Amele notices your confusion. "Oh yeah!" she says, smacking her forehead. "I forgot to mention that the translator will handle standard Insulan visual language too. But not all of the pre-Federation languages." She points at a scroll. "Like ancient Felisian. That looks like the Sebulin dialect there! You might have some trouble understanding that." As you reach out to touch the scroll, you hear an inquisitive mew behind you.

"Do you need help with something?"A bespectacled young Felisi has appeared so silently that you're not quite sure when she arrived. Her arms are nearly overloaded with data tablets. "It can be hard to find what you need in the archives if you're new." She leans in and whispers, "And you don't want the Archivist to see you touching the ancient scrolls. They're very fragile." You hastily back away from the scrolls and explain your interest in the portals. "Intriguing!" she says, "I'd be delighted to assist you!" she says, gently depositing her tablets on a table and beckoning you to follow her.

She leads you to a large console, carved in woven patterns which remind you of reedy deltas and sandy grasslands. Her clawed fingers move deftly over the screen, and she pulls a fresh data tablet from below the console. "Most of the information I found is just raw data waiting to be analyzed, and there is a lot of it. Analysis is not really my speciality, but I did find a text referenced in the History of Insula survey course that should be sufficient for a novice." She hands you the tablet and wishes you luck. "I hope you find what you're looking for!"

You find a rounded nook with low-lit lamps and begin to read:

The first portal discovered by the Felisi was an inactive ring floating not far outside our star system. Early research documents refer to it as Ancient Construct 1, though we now refer to it as Portal-Inactive-07. Samples collected from the surface showed the portal to be comprised of reconstituted heavy matter: a material re-combined at the molecular level from common planetary elements. Even though early researchers were unable to date the material itself, we did discover a few small asteroids embedded in the surface of the ring, leading us to estimate that the structure has been in space for tens of thousands of years.

Though the materials of the ring were a bit too advanced for our early comprehension, the pre-Federation Felisi found the carvings on it fascinating. Mathematicians studied the grand geometric patterns placed across its surface and found that they fit complex functions with micron-level precision. Stone carvers, too, marveled at the beauty in their proportions. Whoever had fashioned the great ring was truly skilled.

We searched dozens of nearby planets for signs of the ring's creators or their equipment. After several decades all we had found was one small piece, assumed to be part of an ancient mechanical fabrication framework. We brought it back to Araveen for further study, but the piece was lost in the territorial disputes later that year. It has not since resurfaced.

Reecho appears outside the nook, interrupting your thoughts. "There you are!" he says, appearing frantic. "I've been looking all over for you. The Matron has decided last-minute to perform a full welcome-ceremony with you in the morning before brunch. How do you feel about juggling ceremonial blades? Do you happen to have any epic poetry memorized, by chance? I don't think we can get you 300 meters of embroidered silk cloth before then, but we can substitute a symbolic gift..." He wrings his hands. "It would be most impolite to refuse. We must make a good impression. But I can't see how--"

"Reecho, Reecho, Reecho," Amele places a calming hand on his shoulder. "It should be a cinch for the Humans to impress the Matron. They're already so new and weird! What's the minimum effort the Humans can do without offending her?"

He thinks for a few minutes. "Two events in the ceremony confer the greatest honor upon your hostess: the Demonstration of the Useful Gift, and the Performance of the Cultural Introduction Play. If you can execute one exceptionally well, you should be able to muddle through the rest of the ceremony." He preens his whiskers. "I think we just might do it."

Let the show begin! Click above to continue to part 7, confident that your other idea of a gilded mousey-toy as a gift wasn't the best plan!

(28%)Construct a hostess gift.