I looked out over the wastelands of what might have once been a civilised world.
“There’s nothing left to tell us of the nature of those who might have once inhabited this world,” I communicated. “Nothing of their science, their technology, their arts, their culture, their languages, even their physical appearance, nothing__nothing at all.” My telepathic communication trailed off, the disappointment in it obvious to all participating in our expedition.
I could see, early on, that this small world was going to be the greatest archaeological challenge any of us had yet faced.
Early on we had tried to take images of the past of this world using our time cameras.
We had sent insta probes to every corner of the world but there was a down time point about 10,000 solar orbits ago that our cameras could not penetrate. More recently than then the images of the past we captured were identical to those of the present moment.
Except for a brief period just about 10,000 solar orbits ago. A past time image taken here showed large tracts of the surface where the ground was fused and far worse than this evidence of the use of a planet busting weapon. One that thankfully, didn’t completely live up to expectations. Though it still did a lot of damage. My suspicions were that faced with a planet buster the locals tried to defend themselves using thermonuclear weapons.
Apart from this small window of time suggesting the use of thermonuclear and a planet busting weapon it was if someone or something had attempted to completely cover up what had happened here.
Had our time camera discovery inadvertently picked up something that was supposed to have been covered over? Or worse still had this brief snippet actually been left as a tantalising clue or even a taunt of some kind?
Even before we had arrived here we had wondered. Many worlds have a tendency to send out unmanned probes into interstellar space. We had detected nothing of this kind on our approach here. More significantly though we had encountered nothing in the nature of light speed communications emanating from this world. If they had been capable of such to have brought a halt to such communications spreading out through interstellar space would have been a formidable feat. Suggesting something on a parity or more with us.
* * *
In past archaeological expeditions we had occasionally come across races with a penchant for inserting secured capsules into particular secure physical locations for recovery in later time periods. These capsules had some capacity to resist the degradation caused by the passage of time and contained various artefacts and items representative of the time periods in which they had been buried. Time capsules if you will.
Here on this world we had been reduced to this approach to try and learn something of this place. Trying to locate any time capsules that might have been left by the former indigenous civilisation. The relatively small size and obscure/unusual location of potential capsules could easily have been missed by our initial broad based scans of the planetary surface and even core.
At first this approach had seemed promising.
Two small capsule containers were detected deep in bedrock on opposite sides of the planet yet on their recovery they contained just a small amount of black granules. The metallic capsules themselves had been left undamaged but the residual contents were valueless. Even our technology could not tell us what the black granule residue might once have been.
Then we found something. A frail looking damaged metallic container and within it several crude storage devices consisting of magnetic tape containing sound recordings.
We listened oh so carefully to the sounds we were able to pry from the devices. There was sound with an apparently musical inclination that we simply could not translate into anything that had any meaning for us. References to: lovin ya baby and shake your booty and endless repetitions of same were totally lost on us. Even though we had the best known universe translators. Also we could make no sense of a small bound collection of parchments called “book of jokes.”
“Someone’s toying with us,” I said this time my communication was not a telepathic one to all of the expedition. Rather a crude non telepathic verbalization to only the senior executive officers gathered around me. “Undamaged time capsules with nothing in them. A time capsule with pure rubbish suggestive of cultural pygmies inconsistent with thermonuclear weapons?”
“They, the architects of whatever happened here, could still be watching events now?’ asked my head of security utilising the same form of communication that I had.
Frankly I didn’t know. If they were I suspected that we were being observed from afar. Something we did may have triggered an awareness. Perhaps even the use of the time cameras. There were people in the Universe that resented the use of time cameras making our archaeological expeditions sometimes unpopular.
Just at that moment something came through at the telepathic level to all of the expedition. It was so faint a telepathic signal that some of us detected it and some did not. Though it registered on our communication systems.
It was laughter, laughter as we understand it and might occasionally engage in.
Somewhere – someone or something had the temerity to be laughing at us. I decided that by our standards it was a mocking, derisive form of laughter.
Try as we might and with all of our highly advanced technology we could not detect the source of the deriding telepathic laughter. Nor in all the time we had been here had we been able to determine anything at all about the nature and identity of those who destroyed this world.
Perhaps the author or authors of that laughter thought that we might pack up and go in frustration. We did no such thing.
Instead we redoubled our efforts to find out something more about those who once called this world home. Something aside from the fact that they may have had thermonuclear weapons and may have been cultural pygmies.
It took time but in the end we finally found something of this civilisation. A large time capsule buried very cleverly. Such that even those who mocked us from afar had apparently not uncovered it.
The capsule was made of an unusual bio metallic compound that approximated the security of a grade 3 force shield. Something that I was pretty sure was probably beyond whoever once lived here. Had someone or something else acted in the past to preserve some record of this world’s indigenous civilisation?
The capsules contents appeared totally undamaged. Among them audio and audio-visual recordings made on slightly more sophisticated storage devices than we had encountered earlier. Also physical writings contained on bound collections of many pieces of parchment. Also there were a range of artefacts and scientific and technical items in the capsule.
We gleefully distributed these materials among the expedition for examination. It was a most productive time.
* * *
Later we stood astride the very highest point of the waste land that was this world and we listened for a very long time to the various literary and musical works that we had uncovered in the time capsule.
My Deputy Expedition Leader wanted to undertake an audio to telepathic conversion but I cautioned against it. Somehow it didn’t seem right. Not on first listening – perhaps later for the benefit of the advanced races that I knew would be interested. We could preserve the original medium but also have the works in telepathic tape form. Yet I knew instinctively that something would be lost in the translation.
* * *
I do not know who or what destroyed this civilisation. Or whether they or someone else attempted to cover up what was done here. However I do believe that someone or something else intervened to preserve the time capsule that we ultimately uncovered. To preserve some record of those who lived and died here.
As the commander of a major Treen archaeological expedition these matters are ultimately not my responsible. Yet we are not an insignificant race and at our disposal are quite formidable law enforcement and military agencies. At my request some of those agencies will be here quite soon. They are all very good at what they do.
Our archaeological work here is not yet done and we will cooperate with our military/law enforcement agencies when they arrive.
We tirelessly scour this world for whatever else we can find of those who once lived here and called this home.
I am eternally grateful to whoever made it possible that the Multiverse will be able to share in some aspects of the race that was extinguished here. Most particularly in their literary and musical works. My first impressions that they might be cultural pygmies were quite wrong of course.
Now the Multiverse can share in the great literary works of the likes of Proust, Joyce, Melville, Shaw, Tolstoy, Homer and others. Also it can rejoice in the great musical works of the likes of Grieg, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Bach, Wagner, Chopin, Mozart and others.
Though we have not yet finished here and may yet find more – what was uncovered thus far in the single time capsule has been enough for me to pronounce this archaeological expedition a success.
David has written over 170 speculative fiction short stories in the 9 years he has been writing speculative fiction.
His publications include six collections of short stories and two novellas. All of which are on Amazon.
For some years he has been a regular contributor to the Beam Me Up Pod Cast, Antipodean SF, and Farther Stars Than These sites. He has also been published on a variety of other sci-fi sites including Bewildering Stories, 365 Tomorrows, the WiFiles, and the former Golden Visions magazine.
He has written three sci-fi series: the 12 part “Alien Hunter” series for then Golden Visions Magazine in 2011/12. The “Trathh” series for the Beam Me Up Pod Cast site in 2012/13 and the ‘Human Hunter” series also for the Beam Me Up Pod Cast site in 2014/15.
He is currently well advanced in writing a new (as yet unnamed) collection of speculative fiction short stories.