This was originally published on Storymoja Festival Blog>
I’m a Xenoarcheologist. I dig up the remains of ancient alien societies and then try to figure out what it is that I had found. 9,999 out of 10,000 times it’s broken, degraded and unusable garbage. The few gems that I find fund missions like this one; to the third planet of a K class star. An orange dwarf that is less luminous than our sun.
Salsbilla is Earth-like , with carbon-based life, close enough that we wear our encounter suits while xenobio makes sure we’ll be alright to go shirtsleeves or not. Gravity is 5.88 m/s2, about 5% lighter than my home planet.
We had made base camp on Salsbilla’s major continent, near the structures. The planetary survey had found this planet forty years ago, and it’s only now that we were able to build a wormhole gate to it. Our initial orbital survey found a ton of sites, so we picked the one closest to the equator and landed.
Now I’m standing here in this canal, and I’m looking at the most intact xeno-site I have ever seen on a planet. OK, it’s a large moon around a super Jovian. It’s smaller than Terra and bigger than Mars. We find more intact sites on proper vacuum scarred moons, but then that’s to be expected.
“Doctor Kerwo,” said Hanson, who was kneeling next to me with his encounter laser carbine, “it’s just…wow.”
“Yes,” I reply, “and that worries me. Something this intact may mean that the previous inhabitants are still around…”
“That would be interesting,” says Hanson. He has a wicked sense of humour.
“It will be when they pounce on us with whatever limps or weapons they posses, Hanson. I would like to see how you like that.” I say.
“Come on Doc, a little bit of apprehension never killed anyone.”
The time we landed coincided with the Orange spot in the sky moving to the other side of the planet so it was growing dark pretty quickly. The combination of the dying light and the presence of three rising moons in the orbit created phantasmagoric shadows cast far and wide from the old rusty structures. Soon the sun was gone and with it the beautiful aura. The shadows became skewed and ghost like. The night vision glasses did not help matters.
Hanson and the team were already poking around and collecting samples. I walked up to the most intact structure to begin my work and see what I could salvage. Usually my tomahawk was enough to destabilize different types of metallic elements, be they be made of lead or complex carbons surpassing diamond. It’s usually an easy job. This was different and it’s ressilience baffled me. The harder I tried to punch through, the tougher it got. I seemed to be actually washing the grit off it’s surface.
”Hanson, I think we have found our match. This is a real gem.” I shouted over my shoulder. I rechecked my equipment just to make sure it was not a malfunction. This was bound to be the hardest and the strongest element I had ever seen in my whole life. It was going to fetch a tidy sum once we broke it down. In every other mission, we collected samples and took them back to the ship for analysis. We then figured out whatever we were dealing with and it’s appliance in the confederate planets. This could build structures to withstand anti-matter bombs. Hell, we could even build dyson spheres and prevent stars from going nova and obliterating every thing surrounding them. It could be the discovery of the century! The excitement let down my guard and made me forget that when we landed the structures seemed extraordinarily intact. It was as if the civilization which had built what I presumed to be cities had left in a hurry.
The structures were not bulging and I decided to bring the lab to them. I checked my phone to activate the drone app and feed instructions to find it completely dead. This was not possible. Not with a phone powered by broken down atoms of Uranium 235. No known object could breach the containment field holding them at the back without extensive knowledge of it’s constituent elements. This thing was powered to outlast any known civilization. Long after we were gone it would still be beeping. It did not just go kaput, not without some outside powerful intervention. The good news was that the team had not dispersed far and wide and I quickly assembled them to the base of the ship.
Nearly half of all devices capable of producing electrons were off with the power completely dead. I was faced with a dilemma. Here was a planet rich with the strongest element I had ever known but it was also sucking the power out of our equipment. Did I say, the robotic drones were dead too. That meant even if we found a way of breaking through, moving copious amounts would be a difficult task. I decided to let every one get a good nights sleep and try to figure out everything in the morning with fresh minds.
The worse was yet to come. I was opening the door to my cabin when the chief engineer rounded up the corridor running and out of breath.
“Doc, we are a sitting duck.” He said between pants. “The engines are dead and they seem to have utilized the reserve power too.”
This was quickly turning into my worst nightmare. I had not bargained for this. Sleep was going to wait. I immediately put the ship on an alert mode. As of that moment there was no way we were leaving Salsbilla. A dead ship meant that soon we were going to run out of supplies and die. The ship was the only thing capable of releasing anti-neutrinos and activating the wormhole once were docked on the orbit. We were farthest from the orbit you could get. Sending distress beacons was out of question. We were more than 100 light years away from the nearest confederate planet or ship. I took comfort in the fact that other than utter lack of any mobility every other ship’s function was still great.
Then disaster struck.
The view panel on my lift flashed red and the automatic distress voice came on announcing that the hull was degrading. Either the atmosphere was corrosive or something was having our ship as a midnight snack. I found Hanson already in the bridge staring into the view screen like it was the first time he was seeing it.
“Doc, didn’t I say it was bound to an interesting adventure?” He asked.
“I hate to disapprove your words but this is hardly what I would call interesting, what’s on the hull?”
“Ben informs me that we have just encountered conductor mites and they mean business.” He said. ”A quick analysis from the database reveals that they feed on neutrons and metallic elements, I do not know which is more delicious to them but we are packing both in abundance.”
His explanation dimmed my hopes. A hull camera brought one to the main view screen. It looked like a giant brown spider with a purple crystalline structure sticking from it’s back. A sphincter below a giant front eye had a gooey slimy liquid flowing out and corroding our hull slowly.
Our options were limited. Sit down and stare as our hope of ever rejoining civilization was consumed or pick up carbines and blast the mites to hell. We chose the later. A bunch of two dozen scientists holding guns and chanting like deranged soldiers does not inspire hope or scenes of heroism. We opened the hatches and spread out. A few minutes into the fight revealed how useless an endeavour it was. We were feeding the mites laser energy directly and they were lapping it up like a baby on a breast. The first option didn’t seem so bad at all now. We decided to regroup on the bridge to figure out our next move.
The first person to step on the bridge was blown up to smithereens by a powerful hand held gun. The aliens did to my thigh what I had been trying to do to the structures all along. Punch a clean hole through. The mites did not even own the planet. They were pets. That was my last realization before I passed out.