Monument | TeenInk

Monument

August 25, 2019
By whosthat, Deerfield, Illinois
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whosthat, Deerfield, Illinois
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Author's note:

I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy books.

The author's comments:

This is the entire short story

“Space is a near endless expanse, filled with white-hot stars bigger than one can possibly imagine, planets ranging from miniature balls of ice to raging spheres of heat, and more emptiness than a beaker of infinity. However, among the ocean of extremes is the occasional ‘goldilocks zone’; planets with the ability to foster life. Many have been discovered and explored, but none have held life. Yet. Definite biological signs have been observed from a certain goldilocks, although it is stationed millions of lightyears away. The distance seems eternal, but with new technology, eternity is smaller than ever. A small group of juveniles will be sent through the expanse, with enough provisions to last a trip from one side of the universe and back as well as a machine complex enough to enable communication back home. These children will, with luck, live to see another planet. The group will be sent away in little more than a week; our hopes and dreams travel with them.”


०००००

 

“Mission Control to Crew. All Crew to hatches. One, are you in position?”

“Affirmative.”

“Two?”

“Affirmative”

“Three?”

“Affirmative.”

“All Crew in position. Air quality is unfit for respiration, so keep suits on at all times. Hatches lowering in three, two, one.”

I watched quietly as the metal door grated downwards, straining to open when it hadn’t in over a decade. I’d spent years on this ship, ripping its way through the silence of space, and as Three, I was the youngest. That meant I had virtually no recollection of home. My vision of that planet had faded to nothing more than descriptions sent over via the radio; my home had become the sleek steel halls of the ship. And yet, here I was, about to step onto an alien world. I couldn’t help but wonder how similar it would be to the simulations I’d undergone of the planet I had originated from: the soft green and crisp blue that I had come to understand was my true home.

“Air tanks activated. Prepare yourselves, everyone, you’re about to see life from another planet.” 

I startled, snapping back to the present. The hatches had opened, and all that was left to do was to step through the thin layer of protective gel over the doorway. I hesitated briefly, before stepping through...

And opening my eyes onto another world. The sky was what I noticed first: it was a brilliant gold streaked with white, casting everything in a metallic light, with the fireball that was this planet’s sun floating on the horizon. Spears of rock, impossibly tall, shot up in front, forming black silhouettes against the bright sky. Beneath them spread a wide ocean of green. It wasn’t green like home, either; this green was far brighter, far more vibrant. Speckled throughout were small shots of color, of blue, red, purple, magenta, chartreuse, and turquoise, in the form of strange plants with long stems and flat, circular, segmented heads. Despite the solid gold tint, it was an explosion of color and life that I’d never seen, not in the long barren halls of the ship. I keyed into my transceiver.

“This is Three- Are you guys seeing this? One? Two?

“This is Two- yes, I’m seeing this. I didn’t expect this much life. Quite surprising.”

“This is One- I didn’t either. It’s beautiful! Reminds me of home.”

“This is Zero- Remember, our goal is to explore and collect samples. Investigate any curious structures, and look for mobile life.”

“Yes sir; moving out now.” I stepped out from the shadow of the ship into the green sea. Once out, I realized it wasn’t a solid mass, as I’d thought before. Rather, it was composed of millions of small blades, not unlike the plants we had at home. I plucked a few from the ground, slipping them into a baggie as samples. There was a whole new world in front of me, and I couldn’t wait to see what it would hold. 

“This is Zero- check your bags one last time for supplies. This is an overnight mission, and if something happens you may not be able to return and refill. Good luck, and remember to check in hourly.”

I walked through the field, snapping photos as I went. As soon as this mission was over, we’d send them back home, armed with evidence of alien life. The discoveries my team made here could change the world. 

 

०००००

 

The sky had darkened into what must have been this planet’s night. Each member of the team had branched out in different directions, to divide and conquer, and we had traveled miles out with the assistance of the frictionless skates we’d packed in our bags. I had passed countless strange landscapes already. There had been the forests of strange columns, hard as rock, that branched out like pipes; the pillars of stone I’d passed that had been visible from the ship, even taller than they had seemed; and a vast expanse of liquid, a real ocean to provide for the native lifeforms. However, nothing had really stood out. The only life was the colorful but motionless growths that seemed to cover the planet, similar to the plants at home. After a while, I was ready to find a place to camp for the night while analyzing the collected samples. Tossing my bag down on a patch of bare ground surrounded by a thick grove of the odd stone-like pillars, I started unpacking. I had just been setting my tent up when I saw a flicker of motion out of the corner of my eye.

“This is Three- I think I see mobile life. I’m going to follow it. Will report back if I find anything.”

I walked out into the darkness, unclipping the transceiver from my helmet and putting it into my bag for safekeeping. The blades where I’d seen the movement were swinging about, clearly having been disturbed; there was nothing to do but follow. I slowly but surely slid through the undergrowth, following what was now a clearly audible rustling noise, leading like a path to what must be a mobile living being. It was drawing closer; I felt my breath quicken. Finally, I broke through a last section of alien plant, tinted a deep blue in the dark, and saw it.

Standing in front of me, perched upon a branch, was a real, mobile life form. It had a long tail, thick with some sort of fur, and four curious arms. They were all bent the wrong way, although I suppose it was the right way for it, as it straddled the branch. Although it was difficult to tell in the faint light, it appeared to be a rather bright red, with an unnaturally elongated snout and one too few tiny black eyes. The animal stood there for an eternity, staring at me, before suddenly twitching and dashing off. I hesitated briefly before pursuing. I had just seen real alien life, right in front of me. If I could get a photo or two, it would prove something to everyone: we really weren’t alone in the universe. I pursued, forsaking stealth for speed, and as a result stumbling multiple times. The creature’s tail flashed right in front of me: I was so close. I made a lunge for my camera mid stride, before suddenly falling over a stone jutting out of the ground and landing on my face. 

I was seeing stars. The world was making hoops around me, and I felt a splitting pain in my torso. I seemed to have pulled a muscle; more of an inconvenience than anything, but enough for the creature to have escaped me. I could not tell so much as which way it had gone. The chase was over. Reaching into my pack for the first aid kit, hoping to take a painkiller, I closed my hand instead around the transceiver; it felt worryingly loose. Frantically pulling it out, I inspected it, only to discover the case had cracked from the force of my fall. I held it up to my ear.

“This is Three- Hello? Anyone there? I- I just saw a real mobile life form, but fell. Think I pulled a muscle. Hello? Anyone there?” I heard nothing but static. I tried again, jiggling the machine around and holding it to my head. “This is Three, this is Three- is anyone there? Zero, One, Two? H-hello?” The transceiver fell from my hand; I realized I’d been shaking. Being stranded on an alien planet with nothing but my bag and no form of communication was definitely a worst case scenario. I took a deep breath in. There was no use panicking, and the transceiver had been built to rebuild itself when connected to my helmet. I’d be connected again in no time. Clipping the machine securely into its place, I reached in my bag again and pulled out my sleeping bag, which I had- thank goodness- not unpacked till then. The pain from my fall was fading already, so there was really nothing more to do but wait until morning. I curled up into it, checked the transceiver one last time, and fell asleep.


०००००

 

I woke up to a ray of golden light. For a moment, my head flooded in confusion- the light from the ship’s lamps were always white, and they didn’t start unless someone turned them on. Then, I realized where I was. The foreign plants were poking up past my head into my field of vision, and the sky had turned from black to pale gold once again. I was on the alien planet.

Quickly, I checked my transceiver: there was still nothing but static. There was no cause for emergency, as it could take quite a while to fix itself, but I still couldn’t help but feel a rise of fear. Pushing it back down, I figured I’d better make the best of this situation. I was alone on an alien world with a mission to explore it: might as well get moving.

Packing my things back into my bag and slinging it onto my back, I quickly got to my feet and started walking. At first glance, all I saw were the same strange immobile life forms that had been visible last time. However, as the world grew brighter, I began to realize something.

The brush was rustling all around me. Every so often, I caught a flicker of red or brown fur, from an alien animal. I suddenly realized this planet was not just supporting mobile life; it was filled with it!

As I walked through the branched structures which I’d begun to realize were plants in their own right, I noticed more and more life. To my left here: that blue streak was a sort of burrowing creature, sliding through the undergrowth. To my right there: that white flash was a furred animal not unlike the one I had seen last night, foraging for food. Above my head was something flitting about, making odd high-pitched noises as it went. The world around me was teeming with life, in a way that I had never seen before. I wished I could capture some of it with my camera, but upon taking it out, I discovered that it too had broken after last night’s fall. Thus, there was nothing to do but enjoy it, excitement spiking through me with every new discovery.

 

I walked for quite a while, observing the world around me as I went. After a certain point, I sped up to a fast jog, hoping to see even more of the life on this planet. As I progressed, the sky slowly brightened. Soon, it had passed the point it had been at when we’d first arrived; it was now a lemon color, with green edges. As I continued on, though, I felt something changing in the environment. I turned on my suit’s fan to get the sweat off my skin, flushed red with the exertion of running, and slowed down. There was less rustling in the undergrowth now, fewer branched plants, fewer animals flitting by overhead. Patches of bare soil were showing, exposing the bones of the planet; I couldn’t shake off the feeling that something had happened here. Ahead rose a towering fog bank, doing nothing to ease the ominous feeling cast over me. Unable to resist my curiosity, I continued on.

Upon entering the fog, the world around me virtually disappeared. I could see no more than a few feet ahead, if not less, and could only hope that there weren’t any patches of unsteady ground. Pausing for a moment, I reached up to test my transceiver, the state of which had surely improved. Now, there were scabs of sound among the static; I’d surely be talking with my friends within the hour. Ahead, there seemed to be a break in the fog. I quickened my steps, feeling rather eager to get out of the bank. Besides, electrical signals traveled easier through air, meaning there was a fair chance I would be able to hear from the rest of the team once through. 

I took a few more steps before suddenly exiting the murk. The sudden change made me stumble; I’d thought the exit had been at least a few more steps ahead. I glanced up ahead of me, hoping for a change of scenery, and froze mid stride.

The world around me was barren, not a hint of life visible for as far as I could see, and absolutely silent; not a sound besides the faint static in my ear. A few hundred yards from where I stood lay a vast lake, not a trace of wind disturbing its still surface. The water was dark and murky, so that one was unable to see what hid in its depths; however, I was certainly able to see what rose out of them.

Towering above me, seemingly even higher than the rock spires of before, were giant structures of concrete, unnaturally sharp, stabbing into the sky. There were hundreds of them, stretching out for miles into the lake before being swallowed by mist. Some had crumbled tops, while others had broken in half; some were blanketed in long strands of moss, while others had rivers of rust corroding their surfaces. Most were studded with gaping square holes, some of which still held traces of glass, plants twining through them after centuries of disuse. The entire thing seemed frozen, a refuge against time, and most of all, a sign of past life. 

I shuddered as a sharp twist of static stabbed into my ear, followed by speech. “Yes, I’m quite- wait. Three’s back online.”

“Three!” I couldn’t help but smile as I heard my friend’s voices in my ear. 

“Three, you’re back! Thank goodness, I thought-... Sorry, this is One- You were missing for so long! What happened?” 

“This is Three- I fell, and my transceiver broke. I’m sorry, guys, I’m back online now. But, have you all seen the life on this planet? There’s real, mobile life! And- well, you wouldn’t believe what I just found-”

“This is Zero- is it perchance a forgotten citadel, showing an absolute sign of intelligent life, yet with no lifeforms around it for miles?”

“This is Three- how’d you know?”

“This is Zero- while I was waiting back at base for you to return, I put myself to use and tested for any prominent remaining signals. Turns out, there’s some faint signals connecting to a network the past intelligent life forms must have created. While you were without means of communication, One, Two, and I have been looking through these creature’s history. The city you found belonged to them.”

“This is Three- but, what happened? It’s deserted! What in the world could have caused this?”

“This is Two- Zero told us all about it. Apparently, they created weapons that were a bit too powerful. To put it simply, they eradicated themselves, leaving dark spots on the planet- places with no life. They’ve shrunk considerably, though, due to the passage of time. It’s clearly been centuries since the incident.”

I looked up at the strange buildings, the monuments to a race long gone. They’d clearly been powerful, and I wished we could have met them, although it might be for the better that we didn’t. After all, they were clearly violent. I gazed up at the sky above, which had continued to brighten with time and had now turned a vibrant cerulean- a strange color for a sky, no doubt. Rubbing together my hands, which had turned back to their normal violet after I stopped running, I put my finger to the transceiver and asked Zero one last question.

“So, you have access to this races- well- everything, right? What did they call this planet?”

I paused, waiting for a response, wondering what a proper name for this blue and green marble, this sign that we weren’t alone in the universe after all, would sound like.

“They called it Earth.”

“Earth, huh?” I smiled. “I like it. Seems fitting.”

End of Short Story



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