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In the Gloam

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"Don't tell me that man doesn't belong out there. Man belongs wherever he wants to go - and he'll do plenty well when he gets there."
— Wernher von Braun

"All civilizations become either spacefaring or extinct."
— Carl Sagan


The first time Phelskei left the Gherductivian Galaxy it was on an educational cruise with two of their parental units since Tdophe-lo had to stay behind due to work and also to care for Loma, their five centrads old uthgar. Phelskei hated leaving Loma, but there were rules about bringing pets to unsettled starsystems so bringing numerous holopix of them long would have to do.

The cruise had been exciting so far, there had been a celebration when the ship crossed the designation of their solar system's edge and Undilo-phe had allowed Phelokei a sip of their fancy drink. It was fizzy and spicy and not very good but they felt like a proper full-grown citizen when they drank it and not like a juvenile fledgling barely out of their second metamorphal growth.

There had been presentations, a few classes, and lots of various arts and crafts. The ship stopped to see the sonic falls on Kahadelvar Three and anyone who wanted to had been able to take a ride on a herd of tamed walking woodbringers on the ninth moon of Cetrian. The short stops along the way were fun, but Phelskei was most interested in the main destination of the trip- a tiny little planet in a solar system in the Verkurdian Nebula that once been the homeworld of the now extinct species, the Oomans.

Jhakei-lo and Undilo-phe were experts in Oomans and that was why their family could afford to go on such a fancy cruise. They were both technically working and along with running some classes during the journey, and both would be giving lots of lectures once they arrived at the system's third planet.

Jhakei-lo was the lead researcher at the genetics division of their home planet's premier university, trying to trace back the common markers found in various species throughout the galaxies to see if there were any similarities that matched ones that had been obtained from samples of Ooman remains to determine if there had been a common ancestor. Phelokei didn't really understand the specifics of it, but they thought the idea that you could trace all these different races back through the ortas and that some were still around while others had died out was pretty amazing.

Undilo-phe on the other hand, studied what remained of the Ooman culture. Despite dying out cycles upon cycles ago there were a few holovids that had been carefully preserved detailing the work of scientists who actually met and studied the last of the Oomans and a lot of effort had been put into collecting the bits and pieces of Ooman artifacts that had made their way across the galaxies.

All in all, Phelokei thought Undilo-phe's job was much more interesting than Jhakei-lo's. Undilo-phe had explained it was like attempting to solve some kind of puzzle- for example, they were currently involved in a study looking at the few surviving Coca-Cola receptacles and trying to figure out what what sort of ceremony they were used for. Why did the symbols on them differ sometimes? Was it the shape that mattered? The liquid that they must have held? The noise they made when you blew into them? Why did the containers seem to spread to every region of space that the Oomans did? Why did some Coca-Cola images contain creatures resembling colorless, fur covered ursos? What was the difference between Coca-Cola and Pepsi? According to Undilo-phe there was a lot of arguing among their fellow scientists about that. Some thought they were used by the same Oomans but at different ceremonies while others argued maybe Oomans had more than one belief system or different ways of celebrating the different holidays or… the explanation could really be anything.

Either way the containers were made of something they called 'kan' and seemed to last a really long time[1]. The Oomans must have been very smart and spent a lot of time crafting these things for them to have survived for so long after the Oomans themselves were gone. Phelokei got to hold one once. It felt weird trying to cradle it with their appendages but apparently Oomans had 'hands' that were smaller and had a 'side digit' so either they might have found the Coca-Colas easier to grasp or the uncomfortableness of the objects were part of their design, no one could say for certain.

"What will we see when get to the Ooman planet, Jhakei-lo?" Phelokei asked when the announcement had been made that they were only a few citras away.

Eye sparkling, Jhakei-lo clapped their front appendages together. "Oh, so many wondrous things! There is the Sitting Man in the Cliffside[2], the Wall between Worlds[3], the Great Dam[4], the Pyramids Surrounded by Ruins[5], both the Pillars of Stone and the Pillars of Metal[6], and the Faces on the Rock[7]. And who knows, if there's time we may even be able to buzz by the radiation fields on both the small island chain and the large upper landmass[8]! Won't that be exciting?"

Phelokei didn't really think that visiting radiation fields sounded like it would be as exciting a time as Jhakei-lo was making it out to be, but some of those other things did sound like they'd be interesting at least. "But we're not going to see any Oomans will we?"

"No, not any living ones anyway; you know they're all gone now. But they left many, many things behind and we'll be able to look at those. And, of course, we'll be docking at the Conservation Port in orbit so we can disembark and get on the shuttles that will take us planetside. The museum there is supposed to be amazing. They even have the remains of the first long range probes that the Oomans sent into space. Of course they're so old there's nothing left of them but bits and bobs of useless junk, but there's simucasts of what we think they originally looked like to examine."

"And the gold disk[9]?"

"Yes, yes, the melted remnants of the original golden disk is there as well. You know, it's too bad it was so badly damaged, I suspect many of the questions Undilo-phe has from their studies would be answered if it, or other repositories of Ooman knowledge, had survived to this day. Maybe we'd even know why the Oomans died out."

"It's sad they're gone."

"It is, but that's the nature of the universe, Phelokei. Some things change and adapt and keep going and others just disappear and sometimes it's never clear why one species takes one path while a seemingly similar species can take another. At least with the Oomans we can study what they left behind, right? Now, why don't you go grab your rebreather, it's time to meet up with Undilo-phe, we should be docking soon."