11/22/2103, 11:56 a.m., Planet Q-386, Eastern Hemisphere, Dig Site #4
As if the howling wind and blinding snow blast weren’t bad enough, the slick ice beneath Rachel’s feet made standing almost impossible. When she left home, she thought that this would be the opportunity of a lifetime – but now – she wasn’t so sure. Thirteen weeks ago, Dr. Amanda Riley, a renowned Archaeologist from her University, had discovered what she claimed to be the first signs of intelligent life in the galaxy. Two weeks ago, Rachel received a call from her professor telling her that a spot had opened up on Dr. Riley’s team – and he was recommending her!
Out of 10,000 students from around the world, Rachel was selected to travel more than 3,000 light years with four other scientific experts, to join the archaeology team on another world where they would discover intelligent, alien life! It was overwhelming – in a good way. Of course, the fact that the opening came because another member of the archaeology team had fallen through the ice on the planet’s surface to his demise, gave her reason to question going at all. But, the space program’s advancements in the last 65 years had made faster than light speed travel possible and unless you were one of the pioneers selected to explore the galaxy for locating new world’s upon which to live or a member of Dr. Riley’s team – it would be lifetimes before anyone from the general public would see the galaxy for themselves.
As Rachel stacked the specimen containers, she looked up at the top of the blizzard where a faint, green light could barely be seen. “Radiation,” Steven said across the comm system. “I know,” Rachel replied, smiling back at him. Steven was another student like herself, but he had been personally chosen by Dr. Riley to go with the team, the first time around. “It’s from the moon,” Steven said, almost as if he was ignoring Rachel’s reply. She felt a little hurt, as if he didn’t give her credit for her hard work.
Steven put down the specimen containers he was supposed to be helping with and moved into the land rover. Even inside the vehicle, they had to wear full body, environmental suits. The planet’s temperature was a negative 210 degrees Fahrenheit and the winter storms never ended. Rachel begrudgingly picked up the containers by herself and followed him in. Setting them down, she pulled open the face cover of her helmet and said, “You could help, you know.”
“Isn’t it amazing?” Steven asked – still ignoring her.
“The moon?” Rachel asked.
“Yeah – you know – it was once a moon like ours -” Steven tried to finish, but he was cut off by Rachel. She knew that he had a huge ego – even if he did like her – and she wasn’t about to be outdone by him. “But, around 12,000 years ago, it finally fell out of the sky, having inched toward the planet surface for more than a billion years – ‘much like our moon’, there was some sort of an explosion and – boom – it collapsed into the planet.”
“Yeah, and it shattered half the planet, killing everyone, destroying the atmosphere, and starting an ice age.”
“Uh, yeah? I know all of this – I’ve read Dr. Riley’s papers. The green glow in the sky is the radiation leakage from the plutonium core.”
“It’s sad, though. No one ever saw it coming. They never knew.”
“Well, just think about everything we’re learning from this planet! I mean – the reality that our moon could fall out of the sky one day and kill us all … I just mean, time is precious, you know?”
“Yeah, and one of your fellow scientists fell through the ice to his death only a few weeks ago.”
“That’s my point! See, I was thinking, you know, you … me … what if we were the last two people, trapped on this planet, and – ”
“Please! Give me a break, Romeo!” Steven opened up his face mask and smiled at her, but Rachel just threw a bundle of rags at him and said, “Finish helping with the containers, then we have a little talk about Chivalry.” The two students went back to work, loading the land rover full of specimen containers before heading to the dig site.
At the site, the snow was pounding more furiously than before. The field lights could barely be seen, situated between four other land rovers full of scientists trying to stay warm and process data. At the center was a large, bluish-clear, dome that had been dug into the ice on four sides. It was an atmospheric filtration and flow regulator (AFFiR). It’s job was to keep the outer atmosphere from breaching beneath the undisturbed ice as they dug into it. This prevented any potential contamination of the frozen world below.
Dr. Riley had dug at three other sites, all with no success. The ice was thick and they were barely able to find any signs of man-made objects. The team had discovered that the what they were digging down to were possible man-made buildings, buried deep beneath the icy surface. They had even discovered writings engraved on some of the structures that revealed that this lost civilization had formed a language not too dissimilar from their own. In fact, the structures they had run into were made of a hardened mineral and carbon substance much like the concrete they used in building construction on their own world.
These discoveries were more than just an answer as to whether or not they were alone in the Universe – but they could also provide answers as to the origin of their species and their possible futures.
11/23/2103, 2:13 p.m.
“Rachel – we’re about to breach the ice, we need #3 and #5 containers – stat!” Rachel couldn’t believe her ears – it was Dr. Riley calling her on the comm system! She immediately swooped up what she could into her arms and rushed into the AFFiR dome. Of course, Steven was there, tools in hand, helping prepare the winch that would lower their cameras down below the ice. Although the loss of their fellow scientist was devastating, his fall lead them to discover a part of the icy city beneath that had not been frozen in a solid block – or so they hoped! From what they could tell, his rope went more than 1,000 feet downward; and for them – that was exciting news.
Rachel watched as the plasma laser cut a very precise, very clean circle into the ice beneath. They had already dug about 30 feet down – but this looked to be the last cut needed, because they had already reached flat top of what appeared to be a man-made structure. Rectangular in shape, the top of the building had a four foot tall border around it and was about 5,000 square feet. They had dug out the side of it and could see down the edge of the building. One of the team members dropped a flare into the open hole, but it fell so far that the light eventually disappeared. Based on their calculations, this structure was similar to the skyscrapers on their home world.
The plasma cutter completed it’s round. Two team members, including Steven, pulled up on the round lid, revealing the room below it. Dr. Riley stared into it for what seemed like an eternity. “Get the camera,” Dr. Riley demanded. Connected to a titanium, steel cable, a professional-grade camera was quickly positioned over the hole. The rest of the team gathered around the output screen recording from the camera and watched with baited breath. Dr. Riley was in the center of the group, controlling the camera’s rotation with a joystick.
The light flickered on … the room was perfectly preserved. “Amazing,” one of the team members said out loud. “Yes,” Dr. Riley replied, “The room is completely untouched – this is everything we’ve been working toward!” They watched diligently as Dr. Riley panned the camera around, narrating for the screen. “Oh, see there? That’s a viewing screen – I think. See how it’s centered in the room and all of the furniture is positioned, focused on it? That must be their comm center for all their public announcements. Look at the unusual boxes and wires connected to it? It’s almost as if their communication center served as an integral part of their society, integrating various comm systems from around the planet!
Now … see there in the adjacent room? That rectangular object with the chairs around it? I believe this is their place of worship … or … no… I think I understand now. That rectangular object was their preparation table, assembling their offerings to their gods … see those round discs situated on top of the table? After preparing their sacrifice, they would load them into those boxes around the comm screen and in turn they would receive approval from their gods! For such an advanced society, clearly, they suffered from a multitude of cultural and religious misunderstandings”
“Such a complex society …” Rachel whispered. The other scientists smiled in agreement with her. Dr. Riley continued, “Now … this is clearly their place for food … and this … I … I don’t know?”
One of the scientists closest to Dr. Riley pointed at the screen and said, “Look there, Amanda, at that white thing close the ground … there’s an opening on top, like a bowl. They must have deposited something in there?”
Dr. Riley studied it for a moment and then continued, “No – on the contrary – think about how these people lived? They may have been advanced, but their destructive nature is clear! See that tub across from the white bowl and the spout up high – this was a torture room. Look at how small and cramped it is – nobody would ever reside in such a small room! I think people would be cut and forced to bleed into the bowl to serve their gods. Probably a punishment for failing to provide worthy offerings! It explains their brutal behavior – blowing up their own moon! Clearly, these poor people were lead into war for purely religious motives!”
“Wait! What’s that?” Steven asked, pointing at a flat object located atop a counter next to the white bowl. Moving the camera round, Dr. Riley focused in – it was a paper with writing all over it. Rachel tried reading it, “Dr. Riley – look at the words: Mass Panic and De… de…”
“Destruction, dear,” Dr. Riley corrected Rachel, “you see, their vernacular, although similar to ours, lacks the sophistication of a more complex, biological physiology such as ours. It makes you wonder what they looked like.”
Rachel continued reading, “Destruction amidst the colla … colla..,” but she couldn’t figure out the remainder of the text. Feeling for her, Dr. Riley took over, “Amidst the breaking apart of the moon into multiple pieces, scientists now believe there may be no way to stop the moon from breaching the atmosphere. Hundreds of millions let out cries of suffering and terror, knowing that … the … end .. is … near…”
Dr. Riley’s voice trailed off. She couldn’t reach her face through her helmet to wipe away the tears that were streaming down her cheeks. “How terrible … knowing that one’s death is inevitable – I couldn’t imagine just how horrible their suffering was.”
Suddenly … there was a loud cracking sound. Everyone looked around frantically – but no one could see where it was coming from. Again – the sound burst from all around them, this time followed quickly by another, and another, and another. Looking down, Dr. Riley whispered, “Oh, dear.” She knew that the ice beneath them was coming apart. Jumping to her feet, she screamed at the crew, “Run! Get to the rovers!”
Everyone turned for the door, pushing their way out. But, Dr. Riley stayed. She wasn’t going to leave the camera behind. Desperately trying to force it back out of the hole, the others called for her, “C’mon – let’s go! Amanda! Move it! Forget the Camera!”
“I can’t! My WORK! I’LL LOSE EVERYTHING …” CCCCCCRRRRRRRSSSSSSKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK
The others stared in horror – helpless to do anything to help her. As the ice broke beneath Dr. Riley, she grabbed hold of the titanium cable, but it was no good. In a single moment, the ice fell away and she was pulled downward. Terrified, Dr. Riley clung tightly to the rope, fighting back her tears and the pull of gravity below her. Realizing what was happening, she prayed to herself – ‘Please! Please don’t let me die.’
Dr. Riley felt her hands slide loosely down the titanium cable as it cracked and pulled back, tightly, still secure to the AFFiR dome. It had caught something! Quickly, in an act of desperation, she squeezed her hands, feeling the tearing of her environmental suit. Suddenly – she was no longer falling down! Opening her eyes she realized – she was swinging – but worse – she was swinging into the side of the man-made structure some 200 feet below the top! Bracing for impact, Dr. Riley clenched her eyes and tightened her muscles as she crashed through large, glass planes, falling headfirst into the ground and rolling to a wall.
Everything went dark. She tried to move but her body ached all over. It must have been several minutes before she could hear the rest of her team desperately calling for her across the comm system, “AMANDA! AMANADA, PLEASE!? Are you alright?”
Taking a deep breath, Dr. Riley looked around and groggily said, “Uh… ye … yeah, I think … I think I’m fine.” The cheers and laughter from above were so loud that it was hurting her already, sore head. She looked at her hands and could only see blood where the titanium cable had cut through her gloves. Slowly, the thought came to her – she was not only safe – she was IN one of the rooms!
Excited and scared all at the same time, pulling herself together, Dr. Riley stood up. The pain in her left leg was so severe that it should have knocked her back down – but the shock of what she saw was mind numbing. For several minutes, Dr. Riley stood motionless, staring forward, ignoring the yells and calls from above. She couldn’t even make out their words. She knew they wanted to know if she was okay and were trying to get to her … but none of that mattered – not anymore.
“STOP!” She demanded across the comm system. Shocked, the whole team came to a dead standstill. “Um … what?” One of the scientists asked her.
“Stop what you’re doing.”
“Amanda, are you -”
“YES! Just .. are the … you know … the cameras – are they working?” Dr. Riley asked, barely able to keep the pain in her head from taking control.
“You mean the visual comm … um, yeah .. I mean – I think so? Why?”
“Turn it on – NOW!”
The other scientists quickly shifted from what they were doing and ran back to the rovers. Pulling up the portable video screen, one of them began linking it to the comm system. It took a few moments of nothingness, followed by static, before a black and white image came into focus. They were looking at what the doctor was looking at – and like her – they were stunned into silence.
“What the – Oh my … You’ve done it! AMANDA! YOU DID IT!” One of them yelled! The others looked on.
There, laying in bed, terrified, and frozen in time, was a small family consisting of a female, a male, and a child, huddling close to one another in the final hours of their world’s existence.
1/22/2106, 7:00 p.m., The Museum of Science and History
The conductor was concluding his talk, “… and, the board would once again like to recognize and thank Dr. Amanda Riley and her team of highly skilled, and brave companions who discovered the new world and brought back to us all of the wonderful exhibits that you’re about to see. Let’s hear it ladies and gentlemen, one more time, a round of applause for, Dr. Amanda Riley!” Dr. Riley blushed at the standing ovation she received from the patrons. The last several months had been nothing but award banquets, ceremonies, and other gatherings in her honor. But, tonight – tonight was the pinnacle of her discovery – the night that they opened up the exhibits to all the world.
1/22/2106, 9:00 p.m.
“Well, well, Dr. Rachel Haust, if I’m not mistaken?” An old man said, holding Rachel’s hand and giving her a kiss on the cheek.
“Thank you, professor – for everything. For the recommendation, the opportunity, finally getting my doctorate, -”
“No, no, my dear. You did the hard work and you wanted it more than anyone else. You deserve it. Now – enough with the past .. well, our past that is,” the professor said, receiving some laughter from the small group that had gathered around them, “let’s hear about this exhibit.”
Rachel smiled and said, “Of, course. This exhibit is entitled: ‘Frozen in Time.’ These are the first of the alien species that Dr. Riley discovered. They were huddled in their beds, as the world around them was full of terror and screams, listening to the end of their world. Of course, as you know, the very moment the moon pierced through the planet’s atmosphere – everything froze instantaneously. We were very fortunate to find these specimens so we could better understand their physiology. You see, Dr. Riley had suspected that they looked like us, and except for the few, minor differences you can see for yourselves, we are very similar.
The reason I have taken special interest in this exhibit is because of the meaning it holds for me. In the last, few, moments of life, a brutal society that warred with one another, suffered from sociological disparity, cultural deprivation, and many other terrible tragedies that we now understand better, one family – this family – found the one thing that mattered the most – loving one another.”
A young child in the crowd peered through the glass and said, “Ew, they only have two eyes … how could anyone live with only two eyes?” Rachel smiled down at him, blinking, her eyelids moving from right to left, and opened up all three of her eyes and said, “Evolution’s a tricky thing, maybe that explains why they couldn’t see the world as clearly as we do.”
“Interesting,” the professor said. “So, tell me, is our future going to be the same as Planet Q-386?”
Rachel smiled and said, “Actually, Professor, the planet’s name is – Earth. And, no, I think we’ve come a long way. We’ve abandoned hatred. Where they centered their lives around video screens, we’ve centered ours around cultural halls and community gathering like this one. What we once thought were the brutal living conditions based on religion – were actually rooms that they crammed themselves into. Where this family was left all alone, terrified, knowing that the child they loved and raised would die in their arms, we’ve not invested our planet’s funds into warfare, but science, space, and exploration. No – professor, what happened to these people was terrible, but it’s not what will happen to us.”
The Professor looked closely at the three people, trapped forever in their moment of fear and sadness, and said, “It’s sad, really. We’re so much alike. I just wonder – what could have gone wrong? How could they have love, and families – and a whole world, just like ours, and wasted their resources, fought with one another, and let it happen? I just hope, that wherever they are, they’re at peace now.”