The gigantic transmitting stations, rising up like behemoths from stretches of windswept sand, were the only signs that life had ever existed on the planet.
When the Star-Rover’s communication equipment first picked up the faint, computerized call for help, it was coming from so far away, it was an event in itself that it reached them at all over such a great distance.
As word spread along the ship-to-ship grapevine, it evoked a great deal of speculation and excitement among the space exploration community; no civilization or race had thus far been encountered that had such advanced transmitting technology.
Ship-to-Earth communication links were all at once abuzz with requests to be allowed to respond to the call. All wanted to be the first to reach such an evolved planet, offer whatever assistance they may need, and perhaps form a new alliance that would help Earth in its own forward scientific thrust into the future.
Star-Rover IV was on a non-time-sensitive reconnaissance mission, so it was this ship’s captain, Roger Mondale, who got the go-ahead to deviate from his current flight path to respond to the still-repeating distress call.
Five weeks later, when the ship went into orbit around the planet, a bio-scan showed there was nothing on it that breathed, moved, or grew.
The three-man search team was now on the surface and stood in voiceless perplexity looking at a landscape of shifting, grey sand that ran like an ocean from horizon to horizon. After establishing that the air was breathable, they pulled off their helmets and discarded their cumbersome bio-suits.
Leah, the science officer, finally pulled her gaze away from the desolate scene and turned to Mondale.
“Rog, what the hell do you think happened here?”
Roger knew, after having spent so much time to get here, he would have to produce at least some kind of informative report about what they found and what may have occurred. To that end, he and two ship officers had been traveling for hours on the planet’s surface, and their probes, tests, and readings showed that nothing alive had been there for a very long time. Aside from the massive transmitters, there was not so much as a hint of prior habitation – no decay, artifacts, ruins, or even an alien skull, grinning, half buried in the sand. Even more mysterious and unsettling was how and why the transmitting devices were continuing to send out their synchronized signals, in all directions, across the vast reaches of space.
They were about to wrap up for the day when Ian, the third team member, saw something in the distance. They approached it, and now stood silently staring at what from the outside looked like nothing more than a towering, but carefully constructed pile of stones.
Ian slowly walked around it a few times.
“It has such a primitive, atavistic look to it. Maybe it’s a burial site, but if so, why would this be the only one”?
Rog turned and scanned the barren landscape while he considered the question.
“I don’t know Ian. Whatever it is, it’s the only thing besides those transmitting stations still standing. Someone wanted to make damn sure it was noticed.”
Leah, Rog, and Ian carefully lasered away each magnetically pinioned rock. When they first came upon the cairn, their initial scan showed a metal shape inside and descending downward underground so dense that the contents within, if any, were not revealed by even the scanners’ highest beams.
The now exposed, glittering, white obelisk appeared seamless. It took hours, using the laser cutter, to make an opening in the side of it wide enough for one of them to get inside. Leah volunteered, and using an air-pump ladder, descended the 200 feet to the bottom. As a precautionary measure, she was again in a full bio suit, and blinking hard, stared through the tinted face piece of the helmet. She raised her fist to rub her eyes, having momentarily forgotten she was wearing the suit, so was surprised when her hand bumped the helmet. She now became aware again of the susurrating hiss of the oxygen mechanism inside it. She looked around incredulously one more time, just to be sure she hadn’t overlooked something.
“Rog, there’s nothing down here but, well, I’m not totally certain yet, but it looks like it’s just a single sheet of blank, white paper, coated in some transparent, wavy stuff, sitting on a rock.
She touched the gelatinous surface of the thing with one gloved finger, and streams of digital symbols shimmered into view.
Back on the ship, Rog continued his report for Base Command back on earth.
“When we get back into electra-send range, I’ll beam you a universal translator printout of the page, along with my full report, but here’s a quick overview: it’s been preserved for thousands of years in a semi-liquid, glass-like substance that coats the page. In essence, they were quite technologically advanced, and were working on some type of energy-force experiments that make our atom bombs look like primitive pop guns. Something went catastrophically wrong, causing some unstoppable chain reaction. The society was decimated, with more than three quarters of the population of the planet wiped out in a matter of days. Those who remained, due to some kind of escalating, irreversible side-effects that this page doesn’t go into much detail about, died out over the next ten years. They were the ones who set up the transmitting devices at various points on the surface. They left this page as a brief record of what occurred.
In summary, I wanted to mention that those transmitting devices are advanced beyond anything I’ve ever seen. As you know, the computerized version of an SOS they put out reached us from thousands of light years away, and they’re almost indestructible, but here’s the clincher to all this – as the page covers, they weren’t calling out for help to passing ships or other civilizations. They were trying to send the signal to god.
Food for Thought
1)Do you believe there is truth in the saying “There are no atheists in foxholes”?
2)If you yourself were an atheist, and found yourself in a situation of utter hopelessness in terms of some form of technology, such as medical scientific solutions, being able to help you, do you believe you would ask God for help, or at least suddenly get religious?
About the Author
Ellen is a freelance writer living in the Rocky Mountains with her husband and two demonic cats that wreak havoc and hell (the cats, not the husband).Her short stories have been published in over a hundred magazines and anthologies. She as well has had an exciting life working as a circus acrobat, a CIA spy, a service provider in the Red Light District, a navy seal, a ballerina on the starship Enterprise, and was the first person to climb Mount Everest. (Editorial note: The publication credits are true, but some of the other stuff may be fictional.)
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