The Lonely, Dead Planet

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Within a lonely, dead planet a silent valley lay. And into the valley thin, struggling beams of moonlight made their feeble way from the sad, shattered remnants of a moon to the roiling masses of twisting foliage. Massive are the slabs which now lie beneath blankets of damp mass; lofty and strong were the towers from where they had fallen. Coiling vines made their slow, indomitable way towards the towers’ peaks, and weeds thrust their way through pavements laid by forgotten hands. Creeping plants crawled amidst the broad avenues and twined tightly around the monoliths and pillars. Far in the undergrowth shadowy things writhed.


And upon one of the steep cliffs that wall in the sides of the valley a structure stood that seemed out of place. Its smooth inclines were broken only by delicate wirings that traced a sinuous pattern around it. A veritable giant, it soared towards the sky, a glint that could be seen for miles across the ruined wastelands and the silent valley of which it lorded over. Next to it, a small, sleek spacecraft rested, stoically awaiting the onboard computers to reorient themselves. And smaller still, next to the sleek spacecraft was the pilot of the spacecraft.

The pilot had taken the opportunity to step out of the cramped shuttle and take a few breaths of fresh planetary air, so unlike the dead recycled air of the shuttle. Centuries of continual research and development in the space faring industry had not changed that, and most likely would never be realized. The ship had lost its bearings when it had passed too near to the last gas giant; the magnetic fields had wreaked havoc on the navigational systems. It was a mistake that was not very serious, luckily, and it was even more fortunate that a navigation tower had been built here in this back and beyond of the galaxy.
The pilot knew this planet in passing; it had made waves across society as the first civilization encountered that had been reasonably technologically advanced. Unfortunately, this civilization had long since ceased to exist. So the fervor that had gripped all faded away, turning from sensational news into something interesting to know of and for starry-eyed poets to romanticize, the civilization that once thrived but now lay dead. Archeologists, sociologists, biologists, and scientists from the newly-formed field of xenobiology converged on this planet for decades, disassembling, extracting, and digging for knowledge of this mysterious civilization. But after all the information that could possibly be gleaned from the sad planet was recorded, it was realized that because of its out-of-way location, the planet had very little use other than being a navigational marker. So a tower had been constructed and ships now seldom passed this way, unless, of course, they were off course like the pilot. The pilot checked the ship’s chronometer; it was okay, the deadline for the shipment was still a good while off. To pass the time while the spacecraft downloaded the recently-updated navigational charts, the pilot took a stroll towards the ruins below him. What devastation could have been so ruthless and complete that not one survivor had lived on? Perhaps, the pilot mused, it was by their own hands. The records that had survived the eons, when translated, had told of wars interspersed by ages of peace. The rise and fall of at least three great empires was faithfully recorded: one continental, one global, and one spatial. The last empire had raised flurries across scientific fields; a spatial empire would mean artifacts scattered around the region, but so far no-one had discovered any traces. Regrettably, since the dialect had seemed to undergo a major shift after the collapse of the last empire, few things beyond that period could be confidently translated, but there had been hints of a massive schism in society, where two separate nations had formed and the resulting tensions between them, but there the language had become too complex to decipher, much to the consternation of historians.
The pilot walked over the growth that blanketed the empty streets and stepped over a threshold into what had most likely been the equivalent of a private residential home. He stood within and smelled the musty air, heard the squeaks of creatures unknown and observed the oddly-shaped overturned table in the center; the pilot suddenly noticed a gleam in the corner. Walking through the billowing clouds of dust, the pilot realized that the gleam was coming from a small cube that displayed something within it. Something missed by the research teams, perhaps? The pilot recognized, in spite of the damaged condition of the cube, the physiques of the inhabitants of the unknown civilization. The pilot pulled it out of the grasping vines and looked closely at it. Despite sorely lacking in knowledge in the field of xenobiology, the pilot had no problem identifying the moving beings within the cube as the long-dead inhabitants of this enigmatic civilization. Watching what closely resembled expressions of happiness cross the aliens’ faces, the pilot felt a deep sadness in their ignorance. Had they known of the catastrophes to occur that would rip their society apart, or had they merely continued on with their lives before some sudden calamity claimed them? Once again the pilot experienced a deep disconnect with everything around him, a place that was once thrived eons ago but was now silent. If only, if only, these peoples of this planet could be reached! But they were trapped within this recording, their movements captured and forever repeated. And still the soft beams of moonlight fell about him.
There was a ping and then the computer announced that the navigational chart downloads were completed. The pilot broke out of his reverie and hurried back to the waiting ship. As the spacecraft took off, as the valley faded from view and the ever-shining glimmer of the navigational tower could no longer be seen, and as the faded night gradually became eternal darkness, the pilot suddenly thought of a question. The pilot lifted the speaker that led to direct access to the onboard computers.
“What was the latest reference to the planet made by its former inhabitants?”
The computer sifted through its data for a few milliseconds.

“The latest reference to the planet was found in an ancient manuscript by Research Team D-5. The manuscript was digitized for further analyzing.” It followed by displaying strange, alien symbols on the screen.
“Translation, please.”
The computer thought for another few milliseconds.
“Earth.”
The pilot nodded silently and contemplated the lonely, dead planet.





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