Sole Remnants

Having set down the Journeyman, suited up and walked a kilometre or so, Jeff and Sam would have to admit that they are still wide eyed and mesmerised by the beauty of this alien place. Tall spires of what look like rock but with massive yellow fans similar to leaves flowing out of notches along the top sixth of their height as they stand littered haphazardly all over the vast plains they are currently trudging across. And trudging is the perfect definition of the hard walk that they are being forced to endure. Their energies sapped as a result of the thick clay coloured mud that endlessly shifts under their feet without them ever sinking into it. The viscosity of this ‘mud’ forcing them to stop every step and literally pull one foot free just so they can take their next step.

Jeff hopes this slow punishing pathway will soon be over and they find themselves with feet on something a little more akin to a pavement or road. It has crossed his mind, more than once, that this might be whatever civilization likely, at least from the data fed to him by the CPG, calls this world home. He hopes that it is not but knows he cannot eliminate such a possibility until he has more data. After all, there is nothing to say that whatever species dwells here moves in the same ways as humans do. They could float on the dense gases that make up this planet’s atmosphere. The very same gases which would in no way be fatal but would be incredibly uncomfortable for Sam and he to breathe for more than a few short moments if either of their suits suffered failures.

Doctor Welty would recite the composition of the air except right now he is too drained to feel confident that any recall he might give would be an accurate recollection of what the scans had delivered to him. That is why he keeps trudging forward, lagging behind the more spritely yet still slow Sam.

Neither of them have their heads held high to survey what lies ahead as is normal for humans when they walk. Rather, their heads are bowed and focused entirely on their feet. Not just the slow stop start movement on the steps they take but also the study of where might, as everything is a guess, be the best place to make the next spot upon which to place one of their feet. So that they might be afforded greater progress and contend with having to suffer less.

On that front Sam has been luckier when compared to Jeff who seems to have gone from one wrong foot placement to the next.

Suddenly, the ground beneath one of Sam’s just placed feet changes. At first they are confused and unsure as to whether this is some alien rock of aquamarine or something more entirely. They dread that it is the former but nevertheless raise their head hoping to learn more. At first they are unable to work out what they have set their eyes upon after spending so long peering straight down at their own feet. Then finally their brain whirs back up to a respectable speed and all becomes crystal clear and sharply in focus.

However, Sam does not exclaim with joy. Rather, they stand fixed to the spot, jaw slack, mouth agape as their eyes dart left to right, up, down before repeating the motions over and over.

“Why have you stopped?” Jeff queries some time later after having almost slammed into the back of Sam due to the doctor having been focused so intently on the draining experience of wading across this land.

Jeff however never gets an answer, not that he needs one as he finally looks up to find that before them are structures. His own jaw drops shortly before his tongue appears and begins lapping at the corners of his open mouth subconsciously.

“Is this what you were looking for Doctor?” Sam asks after a while that neither of them could accurately surmise if asked.

“It…it might just be Sam. It might just be.” Doctor Welty’s voice cracks as he speaks. His eyes meanwhile study the more primitive than he would have anticipated structures of stacked dark green stones that are about the size of an A3 folder.

Before the pair attempt to perform any sort of analysis upon the structures that they have found they make sure to rest, hydrate and nourish themselves, in addition to firing off a transmission burst back to the Journeyman to keep Vanessa updated on the situation and their developments. In typical Meridian form she doesn’t sound anywhere near as interested as either of them do relaying their discovery. Jeff had expected nothing less, yet she’d played the enquiring role just enough to not cause friction, which is unlike most Meridian’s.

With the pairs rest over, Jeff and Sam have begun inspecting of the structures around them. Jeff’s first conclusion is that they are some form of storage silos meant to keep whatever foodstuffs it is that this species feast upon fresh and dry. However, the deeper they work into the cluster of pointed vaguely pyramid shaped buildings the more it becomes clear that while they are devoid of any furniture they cannot be stores for foodstuffs. Principally since they seem to posses what Jeff can only conclude as windows. The presence of such would be utterly pointless in food storage unless there is something about these natives that he has not factored into his personal analysis equation. Possible but unlikely, he thinks.

Yet, by the time he has reached these initial conclusions four human hours have passed. It’s the only form in which Sam and Jeff can measure time. Especially as they have been here so briefly that they have no way of determining what the passage of time is on this world. To discern that could take days, perhaps weeks Doctor Welty knows and while in time he may be afforded the opportunity of such periods of study that is not his immediate mission. His immediate mission is to assess and if possible make peaceful contact with whatever species he may come across. As yet he has come across no species, at least not one of sentience. What he has discovered are what he would term as equivalent to ‘birds’ on this planet. Though, their true size, features and position amongst the fauna he cannot ascertain since none of the bleating airbourne creatures have been curious enough to descend from what appears to be a significant altitude to survey these foreign specimens who are walking the surface of the world they inhabit. It’s unfortunate in many respects but not entirely unexpected. Especially if the ‘birds’ prove to be prey. They could very well be seeing as prey is often wary, and with very good reason. If they weren’t then predators would be overly successful in their hunting and quickly deplete them as a foodstuff, and nature does not like imbalance.

“Doctor I’ve found something.” Sam says a couple human hours later.

Jeff raises his head from his study of a decidedly different but much smaller structure that if this species are anything like humans he would determine as belonging to a pet about the size of a small dog.

This particular item is Jeff’s attempt to distract himself from the fact that he has seen no signs of either life or death in this place. In some ways that concerns him. In others it pacifies his fears that they are all extinct. After all, these structures are too pristine for extinction to have occurred. Since the ‘doors’ and ‘shutters’, as he has determined them, are made of what appear to be strips of the rock trees with the large flowing yellow leaves yet show no signs of decay as he would expect. And from what he has gathered these strips do suffer from decay much like a felled tree of a human world would, especially when left in such damp dense air that makes everything slick with liquid that is not like the liquid he is familiar with.

However, having been pulled from his deep contemplation by Sam’s voice he looks round unable to discern as to where his fellow crewmate is. His brow furrows as he wonders if this is some kind of joke. Almost immediately he ejects that as a possibility seeing as Jennesters, the system from which Sam is from, do not possess such traits. Yet, Sam is unusual even among Jennesters, not that that is a bad thing. In fact, it is quite refreshing. However, he can imagine that their life has not been easy because they have not followed the traditional roles and definitions for which Jennesters are known for sticking so vehemently to.

All of a sudden Sam appears at Jeff’s side and lays a hand upon his arm to alert him to their presence. Jeff jumps in response to the sudden unexpected touch.

“Sorry doctor.” Sam says apologetically before lowering their head as if they expect to be berated for their actions.

“Worry not Sam. Now what have you found.” Jeff says shrugging off what, in his mind, was in no way an intentional attempt to make him jump.

Sam at the delicacy of his handling smiles briefly and then signals the direction in which they need to head.

Jeff without pause declares, “Lead the way.” His tone is sure, confident, strong and eager as a smirk sits across his face. It would be a full ear to ear smile if not for his attempts to suppress his excitement. He feels the suppression necessary so not to get carried away and too far ahead of himself with possibilities of what might await.

Still, he would like to know where these natives are.  Out hunting seems the most likely possibility and yet he is concerned that he is too focused on that being a foregone conclusion without keeping his mind open to other possibilities. What those possibilities might be he cannot fathom. Perhaps his human brain is too primitive or confined to be able to imagine. That seems unlikely, especially as it seems to be this village that is primitive and not him, Sam, or humanity in general.

Nevertheless he follows Sam without uttering a word of his concerns. He lets them stew in his own thoughts as they slink down what he surmises are streets until they are on the far side of the village. There lays an open wound carved into the rock and mud of a slight bulge in the crust of this decidedly flat expanse of planet. It’s the first real and clearly not sentient manipulated change in terrain that he has seen up close. He doesn’t count the distant, what appear to be, mountain ranges off at the very horizon that he can barely see through what increasingly seems to be permanent haze of an atmosphere.

The wound as Jeff calls it is quite simply an entrance to what can only be a cave. Yet, Jeff stops and begins to study a series of marks near the edge. He wonders if these markings are some king of language scrawled into a decidedly different, in both colour, as they are blue, and composition, seeing as they appear to be significantly more porous, than the stone the structures are hewn from.

“This is fascinating.” Are the words that leak from between Jeff’s barely parted lips as he squats down to get a closer look at the markings.

“Huh.” Sam says stopping and turning to find that Doctor Welty has not followed them into the cave.

“I hadn’t even seen those.” Sam admits sidling up beside Jeff before cocking their end lightly to one side and blinking rapidly several times during a period that is their own few moments of analysis.

“Is there more?” Jeff says with a surprised look on his face as he angles his head to look up at Sam who is stood entirely upright.

“Like this, no.” Sam admits.

“Oh.” Jeff replies disappointedly in the brief moment before Sam adds, “What I’ve found is much more.”

“Really?” Jeff exclaims with wide eyes and a couple equally spaced apart blinks.

The tone of his voice is both intrigued and sceptical. Sam passes no judgement verbally or otherwise on his reactions. Instead, they simply resume their figurative dive into the cave.

Jeff falls into step right after them. However, his pace is swifter than Sam’s own. Because of that he is forced to cut slow so as not to bundle right into them and cause a collision in the narrow single person wide avenue that is the throat of this cave.

During the short jaunt down this throat of a cave Jeff is disappointed by the lack of any interesting items or details that he had hoped would adorn every zone around him but do not. That all changed however when he steps out from the throat of the cave and into what he can only describe as the interiors subtly illuminated belly.

For the second time today his jaw drops, literally, so that his mouth is agape. However, this time his reaction is much more deserving of what he has set his eyes upon compared to the discovery of the primitive looking stone structures.

He’s sure now that they must be some kind of homes. Even if they aren’t what he had been expecting, especially from what the CPG rep had said.

But all that is forgotten as what he is faced with now is irrefutable proof that this planets’ native race are developed. That proof is the entire interior wall space of the cave being covered with detailed depictions of what Doctor Welty can only assume is the history of the planet’s inhabitants. It’s breathtaking. Yet, he can’t resist the urge his urge to step forward, arm outstretched, and touch what he has decided to term a mural.

His fingers meet with the graphic covered rock but quickly withdraw. Not because the depictions are in any way wet or tacky to his touch but instead as, to his surprise, the rock is warm. It was not what he expected and yet he feels a need to return to it and so does.

First just a single tip of his index finger presses against the rock wall, but that lasts only seconds before he feels compelled to press his whole open hand, palm first, against the comfortably warm surface. He would be remiss if he did not admit that he finds the warmth from it soothing, in the same way that a hot shower is after a long day of standing giving lessons to an auditorium of inquisitive minds.

He drinks the sensation in, eyes closed, unaware of the passage of time. Finally, he determines that he must do more than simply stand here. Though, he would be lying if he did not admit that it is a struggle for him to pull his hand away and open his currently softly shut eyes. That is why he settles on keeping his hand upon the surface as he begins to carefully study the graphics so expertly painted, and that is truly the only word for it, upon this remarkably smooth interior wall of continuously curved stone. The curve a marvel in itself and only broken by the throat tunnel through which he and Sam entered and a second almost identical passage which he had not taken note of upon entry into this space. This second passage holds little interest to him. Likely it is another entrance/exit back to the surface. His first assumption is that it was likely dug encase of a collapse during construction. Not that this cave and its joined tunnels are deep under the surface of the planet’s crust. Jeff would guess they are at most a couple metres down at the shallowest point. Yet, a second tunnel encase of collapse is just what an advancing species would do. Humans had done much the same when they had dared to tunnel beneath the surface of their origin world, Earth. Back then the dangers of collapse had been high and almost assuredly fatal.

How far we have come, Doctor Welty thinks in the seconds before he casts these unnecessary thoughts from his mind so that he may use all of his brain capacity to study the story emblazoned before him.

“What do you think Doctor Welty?” Sam questions some minutes later; her words having broken the silence that had filled the air around them up to that point.

During that time Jeff thinks he has worked out the beginning of this tale. Yet, from his rough calculations that would mean he has glimpsed perhaps only the first few decades of this species development, and by looks of the size and later complexity of this mural he surmises that a full run through might take him hours. Though, he suspects that such a run through would likely leave him with the briefest and vaguest idea of the full details contained before him. Those might take him months to fully document even if they make contact with its creators.

“I think…I want to meet them. They are remarkable. Don’t you think?” Jeff says finally removing his hand from the warm stone and stepping back to take in the entirety of the mural, or at least as much as he can fit within his visual cone.

“I have to admit I did not expect when agreeing to be your pilot that I would bear witness to something as impressive, exquisite or unique as this.” Sam utters with a quieter voice than is necessary in a space where they are the only two present. It’s like they think this is some revered place, similar to the churches and cathedrals of Earth. The ones that have been preserved because of their unique architecture and historical period importance, that even though having passed are still viewed as vital reminders of where humanity came from in the millennia that have followed since their construction.

“And to think it all could have been missed. I doubt the CPG ever anticipated something like this would ever be discovered. They will be thrilled. Though, we are still to meet the artisans who created this…masterpiece.” Jeff rambles more to himself than as part of an ongoing conversation with Sam. It’s like Jeff has forgotten Sam is there with him.

Doctor Welty tends to get like this when he is able to experience something that truly astonishments and fascinates him. Yet, Sam does not take it personally. They understand, from the look on the man’s face and tone of his voice, just how much this means.

So, not wanting to cause any distraction determine that they will send an update transmission burst back to the Journeyman, seeing as it has been hours since the last, and then perhaps take a dive down the second avenue in this cave. The one that is barely illuminated by the same yellow glowing moss-like flora that clings in thick clumps to sections of the caves ceiling.

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