Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Sarraled stared through the viewport as the lander spiralled down through the thin atmosphere.

“Looks like this place was inhabited.”

The pilot nodded: “They died out just before we established the base. Sad, really.”

“That good?”

“Yes. Although innately aggressive and stuck in capitalist societies that were decaying towards several flavours of dystopia, they had the most wonderful art. There’s a display in one wing of the centre.”

“I’ll check it out. Thanks.”

He toured the ‘Earth Works’ gallery and was moved to tears of awe. Such élan. Such verve. Such a shame they were gone.

“Deputy Director Sarraled? Welcome to Kruptos.”

He turned to face a dryland-caste Chutfen.

“Thank you. And you are?”

“Director’s Assistant Edrumel, Deputy Director. Please follow me.”

The Director’s office was sparse in furniture but rich in art hung upon the seven walls. Director Nodrunj perambulated across to clasp Sarraled’s hands warmly with his manipulator fronds.

“Sarraled! Delighted to have you here at last. Ready for the posting that will ensure your career?”

“I am, Director. Although a little bemused by the distance.”

Nodrunj wove his fronds into a worryknot: “It is unfortunate, but the founders of Kruptos thought it fitting.”

“For what?”

“‘To’ what, actually. As Deputy Director, you are privy to the information. We – as in the Galactio Primul – killed this planet.”

Sarraled near fell off his chair in shock.

“But why? How? There was no record!”

“Be at ease, Sarraled. It started with a false assumption by the scout group, which led to an erroneous decision.”

“Erroneous? I’ve seen the Earth Works. To destroy a race capable of those marvels is a Dust Level offence!”

The fronds shifted smoothly from worryknot to peaceweave.

“Steady, Deputy, steady. The scouts thought this world was a single territory under a governing body called ‘United Nations’. It wasn’t. So when a fanatical nation fired nuclear rockets at the Galactio Primul ambassador’s craft, the warning given was acted upon. As fission attack is Dust Level, you know what followed.”

Sarraled took a deep breath. He knew: a Scorch/Freeze Retaliation.

Nodrunj slid his fronds into honourtwine: “In the aftermath, the scout group was executed. All mention of Earth was removed. Earth became ‘Kruptos’ – a word taken from one of its ancient languages. It means ‘to hide or escape notice’.”

Sarraled nodded, his face pale.

Nodrunj relaxed his fronds: “We have a twofold remit: the overt one is to ensure that every reconnaissance of inhabited planets is conducted with absolute rigour. In effect, ensuring that the horror perpetrated here is never repeated. The covert one is to ensure that certain Dust Level Threats are kept hidden, buried deep beneath the ruined surface of this planet.”

Silence stretched until the Director of Kruptos slapped a frond on his desk.

“Deputy Director Sarraled, do you still feel ready for this posting?”

Sarraled looked out of the window, where what had been a towered bridge drooped, partially melted before the sudden cooling by glacial winds solidified it, forever caught in the act of collapse.

“I am ready. Ready to hide what must remain hidden, and discover what must be known.”

By the time Deputy Director Sarraled became Director Sarraled, his words of acceptance had become the motto of Kruptos.

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