Artifact

the artifactAuthor: How do you prove that something is of extraterrestrial origin? How do you prove that it may not be a threat?

I was called from the Heiman Institute on Domain to investigate the finding of a possible alien artifact on Alpha Calypso 5. Normally I wouldn’t travel so far out for something that couldn’t be confirmed, but the message from Paul Ruder made me think that this might the real thing. I know, 250 light years is a long way to go for a maybe but, to finally find another, 23 confirmed so far, would make the two-month journey in the cramp quarters of a transport ship worthwhile.

The T1.1 planet was the fifth one from Alpha Calypso and had a moderately heavier gravity than Domain’s T.093 (or Earth’s T1) and orbited well within the Goldilocks range so it sustained an active atmosphere and liquid water. The planet was in the process of entering a post-glacial period, so it’s been given a G-5 geological rating for surface conditions. Liquid water meant indigenous life and although most were oceanic a few species of moss-like trees and insectoids accounted for most of the terrestrial lifeforms. The landscape, with its sparse tree, huddled mostly along the waterways, resemble something from Earth’s primordial times. Thus far nothing in the way of intelligent life has been detected so if the artifact proves to be of an artificial origin it’ll imply interstellar visitation.  

The Ageas assumed a geocentric orbit around AC5’s equator, just above the research camp, and I descended to the site on one of the supply shuttles. After a turbulent entry through the cloud deck, the slow descent under the heavy clouds gave me my first view of a plain surrounded by receding glaciers and rough moraines. On my left, which would be the planet’s geographical south, I could see snowcapped mountains telling me that the camp was situated on the northern edge of a valley that was 50 kilometers at its widest. Even from a hundred kilometers off you could see two features that immediately stood out. One was a large extrusion of probable volcanic origin and the other was a rectangular plateau that was the artifact itself.

The object that I was called to examine was massive. From the air, it rose up several meters while occupying a space about five kilometers in width and, maybe, 3 times in length occupying what looked like an area tens of thousands of cubic meters! The structure’s alabaster coloration contrasted with the surrounding sandy colored ground. The top surface, though flat, was studded with several scattered objects that later I was to find out were pylons several meters high. We landed a half kilometer from the site and I accompanied the crew in their wheeled land carrier.

 Climbing out of the carrier the first thing that struck me the was the temperate climate. It was overcast and it had just rain so that there was the smell of wet granite in the air. The oxygen level was surprisingly high enough that breathing was easy and carbon scrubbers were not required. I had read in the reports that the reason for this was because of the great abundance of phytoplankton in the oceans. This may explain what provided early water-bound creatures the means to evolve and exploit terrestrial niches. It felt like I was not only on the new planet but in a different time.

The first thing I did was to make my way to the great wall. I felt its lightly pitted surface with my bare hands. Up close you could see that it was milky white like quartz and where it was smooth it had the feel of liquid softness and warmth like that of glass. Coming close to it, touching it with my cheek, I then looked first south and then north along its length and into infinity. The top edge was 40 meters in height and from where I stood I marveled at the straightness of the line that separated the bleached flat surface from the gray tumultuous sky. Left to my moment of elation, I came to the belief that only gods could have created something this perfect and beautiful. So it surprised to find out I wasn’t alone.

“You know, Yoshi, the use of state property for personal use is a punishable offense carrying a term of no less than three years in a rehab institution.”

It was Yon Kimber, the site aid from Heiman and a friend I have known for past 10 years. Tall and lanky, he was jovial by nature and very intense when it came to his work. He was assigned to the survey as the team’s geologist and was very excited to hear that AC5 had glaciers. At first, finding a flat surface of granite in a wide valley didn’t mean much to him, that is until he realized that it had nothing in common with the surrounding geological strata. What really got him going was the fact that it was not made of anything that was natural at all. When he ordered its excavation four months ago they managed to clear only what I was able to see and there’s seems to be significantly more hidden underground. It became clear to Kimber that he was dealing with something artificial and convinced Field Director Nat Ibaria to contact the Institute and the Department of Exo-biology and Natural History.

 “My god, Yon, this is wonderful”, I said to him as I embarrassingly detached myself from the wall.

 “You haven’t seen anything yet.”

“What’s it made of?”

“Some kinda of molybdenum disulfide silicate crystal in a carbon graphene-iron alloy matrix with a few other earth metals thrown in for variety. It’s nothing like the surrounding granites, heck, it’s nothing like anything I’ve seen or read about.”

“And the surface, it’s smooth. It has no seams or lines. Don’t tell me it’s all one piece?”

“As far as we know it’s made of one solid block all uniform in composition with very little variance. The only disparities we’ve been able to find are cupric chloride nodules embedded randomly 20 meters beneath the surface.”

“Do you know what they are? What they do?”

“Hell, we don’t even know what IT is! And then there’s the age.”

“How old is it?”

“Well, let’s discuss this and a few other things at the campsite. Ibaria and the team want to meet you and you’re probably a bit hungry.”

“After looking at this I don’t think I can eat.”

“Professor Yoshu Ishimoto”, said the squat, bulldog face man that was Field Director Nat Ibaria of the Dominion Department of Planetary Exploration and field director the survey team, “of the Heiman Institute Exo-biology and Natural History, I presume?”

He sat at his desk looking up at me with a stern look on his face.

“Yes, Field Director”, I said as I held out my hand.

“Yes, well, around here we follow protocols one of which is that we report to the main camp upon arrival.” I let my unanswered hand drop down without comment.

“I do apologize for the indiscretion, Field Director, but when I arrived I just felt the need to see the artifact up close.”

“Around here we call it the geo-anomaly. It is your required presence here that will make the final determination as to whether it is an artificial artifact or remain a geological anomaly. Until you make that determination we will continue to refer to it as an anomaly. Your credentials, please?”

I handed the small I-Data chip to the director who then inserted into his tablet.

“Well, it all seems in order. If you and Mister Kimber will follow me, we’ll go into the lab module where you can meet the rest of the team leaders.

We left the modular habitat that made up his office and entered a larger one that was the lab itself. In there I saw several tables with a variety of samples, both biological and geological, and an assortment of testing equipment. Present there were what I assume were the two lab specialist that made up the rest of the team leaders.

“Professors Mark Harmon of biology, Elaine Melon of hydrology, I want you to meet Professor Yoshu Ishimoto of the Heiman Institute Exo-biology and Natural History.”

“Professor,” said the shorter man who was introduced as Harmon. The other, Melon, just nodded in acknowledgment.

After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Iberia finally said, “Well, now that we have the introductions out of the way we can discuss the matter at hand.”

“Before we begin,” I said, “I would like to say a few things just so that there won’t be any misunderstandings.”

“Oh, and what misunderstandings could there be?”

“Here we go”, said Melon as she crossed her arms and began to turn away.

“Mister Director, let me make this clear, I’m not here to question your work or to take any credit away from you or anyone on your team. I’m not here to oversee, or to be critical in any way. My job is to make an assessment of what you have found here and, hopefully, to help in any way I can. If it turns out to be what I suspect it to be, that is of an artificial origin, I will see to it that do credit is given to all that have done the work. I guess what I’m saying is, I’m not here to take charge. I’m here only as a professional courtesy and nothing more.”

“That’s all fine and dandy,” said Harmon. “But, don’t be offended if I say I don’t trust you.”

“You see, Professor Ishimoto,” Ibaria began, “you have to understand why we’re a bit hesitant to share our findings, especially since they are very preliminary.”

“I understand, Mister Director, and I’ve read the reports. Preliminary as they are, if you don’t mind me saying and it is not an exaggeration, I think what you have here may be the find of the century. As for trust, well, you’ll just have to accept that in my word.”

“You see, Yoshi, this team didn’t just spend the past six months here on Alpha Calypso 5, we’ve been working independently on this planet for 3 years before we got the go-ahead to come here. And for some A-See Fiver is looking like a life’s work for many more years to come. A discovery like this, well, it’s not only an academic bonus but one of lifetime notoriety as well. We don’t want it to be taken away from us.”

“We worked very hard on this, Professor Ishimoto,” Melon suddenly spoke up. “And we’re not about to let some bureaucrat from the Dominion take it away from us.”

“Professor Melon, everyone, please understand, although I’m a representative of the Heiman Institute I’m a scientist first. I want to know what the anomaly is every bit as much as the rest of you. If by chance you all agree that it is, or is not, of an artificial origin I will accept the opinion of the team and I will respect that. As for the Dominion, let me deal with the data processors. The Institute has significant clout in the government and we’ll you up all the way.”

“Mark, Elaine, Mister Director, I’ve known Professor Ishimoto for years. I’ve done research with him and you’ll never meet a more open-minded and honest individual than Yoshi. If he said you can trust him to believe me, you can.”

“Well, Mister Kimber, I guess since you vouch for the man we’ll just have to trust him too.” With that said from Ibaria, both Harmon and Melon took turns explaining their findings.

Their report was long and detailed and went straight through the night and into the early hours of the morning. Although we took several breaks we never stopped discussing what was discovered about the geo-anomaly. Besides what Yon had told me the rest left my head reeling. Fact, the dimension of the structure, and I will call it as such from here on, is mindboggling. Its width is 4.2 kilometers and length 12.6. What had taken four months to uncover was soon discovered to be only the top of the structure for seismographic readings tell that there are another thirty kilometers buried underneath! It is not only embedded into the continental craton but may even be sitting on the edge of a magma plume. Fact, it’s old, very old, 2.3 BILLION years old! It dates to the very beginning of the crustal plate it sits upon. And yet, despite its age, no profound underground deformities have yet to be found. As it was in the beginning, with one exception, it still is. That one exception pertains to its original height; at one point it may have been 8 to 9 kilometers taller. Scattered along the moraines on the south side of the valley were found polished pieces of the structure measuring anywhere from 3 to 45 centimeters in diameter. Cataloguing the pieces, they added up to an estimated volume large enough to add the additional height. Even if we took the lower estimate of its total height, the total volume would approximate 2000 cubic kilometers! Then there’s it’s density. Using gravity displacement readings, and samplings from the debris, it gave them a density of 21.3 to 22.7 g/cm 3 making it as dense as osmium, one of the densest naturally occurring materials known. Yet, why it hasn’t sunk underneath the crustal plate remains a mystery. But, what disturbs the team the most, as well as myself upon hearing this, is that about 253,000 years ago some catastrophic event sheared the top third of a structure, a structure that had remained unchanged for thousands of millions of years.  Facts and more facts, the data on composition, structural distribution, and the purpose to the nodules and pylons added more to the mystery of the anomaly.

After breaking for lunch, I went to my temporary assigned quarters and began my report to the institute. We had all come to the agreement that this was not a naturally occurring geological structure but one of alien construction, an artifact. Besides providing all of the team’s findings, I also included why it must be necessary for an increase in manpower and equipment in order to continue the investigation into the structure. Finally, as I promised, I gave credit to all who were involved and strongly recommended that the same team remains. After sending it out through the comnet I took a nap before dinner.

I awoke and freshen up a bit before going to dinner in the mess commons. On arriving I found out that an impromptu celebration party had been organized for the entire team of technicians and the crew of the Ageas. As I slept, the Institute had replied to my report and had agreed with all my recommendations. I spent most of my time around Yon, conversing with some of the techs, and had time to get to know the director and the team leaders better. Ibaria turned out to be not as bad as first impressions. As a matter of fact, he could be a quite a jovial guy …especially after a few drinks. Harmon, as well, seemed like a nice fellow. I was soon to learn that my friend Kimber and Harmon had attended the same university and had even finished their dissertations around the same time; in different fields, of course. Elaine Melon was a bit harder to get to open up. She spoke very little during the gathering and seemed to just drift from one group to another. Someone suggested taking the party up on top of “the slab” and soon the everyone was starting to leave the commons to get in line for the lifts up to the “roof”. Once there, the revelry continued in small groups scattering across the wide, flat plateau. A few “strictly prohibited” conspiratorial bonfires had been lighted here and there in the distance with the knowledge that in the Director’s present condition nothing would come of it. The view of the sky above the vast plane was awe inspiring.

I spotted Professor Melon walking alone by a cluster of pylons several meters from a lift and, gathering strength from my inebriated state, decided to walk over to her. She appeared to be in deep thought when I spoke up and startled her.

“I’m sorry, Professor, I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“That’s okay. I guess I was lost in my thoughts.”

“Nice view.”

“Yes. Being as close as A-See Fiver is from the galactic center gives us a magnificent view seen by few, Professor Ishimoto.”

“Yoshi, please. My friends call me Yoshi.”

“Okay, Yoshi, and I guess you may call me Elaine.”

We spend a few awkward moments continuing to look up at the sky before I spoke again.

“So, what were you thinking about, if I may ask?”

“Thinking? Oh, yes, thinking before you arrived. Questions. Questions we don’t have answers to.” I could tell now that she too was feeling the effects of a few drinks.
“About the artifact?”

“Yes, the artifact.”

I waited for her to continued but when she didn’t I finally looked at her inquisitively.

“Well, if you really want to know I have to have you promise not to mention it to anyone, especially in a report.” She winked at me conspiringly.

“Cross my heart,” I said overemphasizing the mark I made with my hand as I crossed my chest.

“Do you have any idea what this is? I mean ANY real idea what it could be?”

“Well, I can say something quasi-profound like, ‘can we ever really know what an alien culture was thinking when it built it?’ but, that won’t answer anything.”
Elaine looked down for a moment before looking away. She seemed to me like she had an idea but was reluctant to share with me. I drew her attention back to me by saying, “Alright, let’s figure it out by understanding what it is not. Obviously, it is not a building or a similar structure because it lacks doors, windows, any kind of interior passageways or chambers. It’s solid, and solid with little variation. Those variations we have been able to find, the nodules and pylons, for example, do not seem to serve any applicable function, like structural support, or if they were once part of a larger array within the monolith’s matrix they seem to be inert now. To speculate any further into that would be fruitless without knowing what they are and so far, they aren’t giving up any secrets. Was it meant to serve a more basic function like a docking port of some sort? Thirty kilometers high is a short distance from the ground. Maybe it was taller, or not sunk as deep as it is now? Well, okay, but why only one, and if there were others, why did only this one survive?

I came across a story once where a strange alien artifact showed up at the doorstep of our ancient ape-like ancestors. This artifact began to “teach” the ape-men and that’s how humanity got its start. Could our monolith serve the same purpose? Is it meant for the potential, indigenous intelligent beings that might arise here, or for some spacefaring race like ours to find? Why is it not doing anything? Why is it not on? Could it be broken? We may never know.

Elaine, I’ve racked my brains all the way around this thing half a dozen ways, asked Kimber, Harmon, hell, even asked Ibaria what his thoughts were, and everything that I just put to you sums it up; one big zero.” I didn’t realize how much I had expressed my frustration in the last sentence until I stopped and looked at Doctor Melon’s face. With a look of mock indignation and humor, she said, “Did you ever thought of asking me?”

Feeling trapped by my own folly I asked, “Okay, so do you have an idea of what it could be?”

“When I was a growing up I was one of the first settlers to colonize Avalon.” I looked at her quizzically. “Now, wait a minute, hear me out. I was part of the initial settlement and we found ourselves in wide open expanses of land ready to be plotted and claimed. The GPS sats hadn’t been put up yet and a lot of the land that people were claiming was rather featureless so settle any potential disputes, ground survey teams divided the land parcels into grids. Markers were placed on the ground and all anyone had to do was go to the nearest claims office to make a bid.”

“I still don’t get what you’re getting at.”

“Listen, I remember once there was a dispute between two landowners; one claimed that the other had moved the marker further into his neighbor’s property. To settle the dispute, the land had to be resurveyed and the matter was settled.”

“So, who won?”

“Doesn’t matter. It’s what they used for markers that I’m trying to tell you. All they were was coded transponder on simple graphsteel spikes stuck into the ground marking off a gridline, that’s all. And that got me thinking. What if the monolith is a marker, a spike, telling others ‘We claim this as our own’?”

I stood there dumbfounded. I could see what she was getting at, and it did make sense, that is until I found a flaw.

“How do you explain its destruction?”

“Someone obviously disputes the claim.”

-A. M. Holmes 

 

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