A/N: Uses the prompts in the comments on Prompt Post Two.
The largest of Talis’s oceans covered nearly half the planet but it took the atmospheric shuttle less than an hour to fly across it â€“ which wasn’t bad for an atmospheric vehicle. As they few over the sparkling blue waters, Amanpreet’s mind wandered to the question Chen had thought she was considering in the lounge.
“So what did happen here?” she asked. “Life’s pretty stubborn; it doesn’t usually disappear.”
“Well, it didn’t completely disappear,” Sangat said. “Some single celled life survived.”
“But all the multi-cellular life was destroyed,â€ Niobe said. â€œThere were even people who evolved here. What happened to them?”
“We think it was a nearby supernova,” he said. “Possibly as close as twelve parsecs. Which is interesting â€“ that would suggest that the people here were thriving around the same time humans first evolved back on Earth. From what we’ve uncovered so far they seem to have been an interesting bunch, but much as I hate to say it, I’m pretty glad we don’t have to deal with them. Any civilization that can create the Rune is disturbing.”
“Chen said that it wasn’t visible at first?” Amanpreet said.
“Yes, not until a Tkin scientist was taking rock samples in the mountains and apparently activated it by chipping off a bit off the wrong rock. The Rune flashed into existence right underneath them.” He frowned. “Mei still isn’t itself. It hears voices and has shown a remarkable ability to locate dig sites. It’s as if the Rune somehow psychically imprinted on it even through its environment suit.”
“I knew this was a horror movie,” Niobe muttered. “That’s going beyond disturbing into full-on scary.”
â€œI agree,â€ he said. â€œBut that’s been the only incident so far â€“ no one else has been allowed to touch the Rune. Anyway, we’re nearly at the primary dig site so I’d better call and check everything is okay.â€
The call was answered by a Mez scientist in a fully opaque environment suit but even the flat tones of the voice synthesizer and the lack of body language couldn’t conceal their excitement.
â€œDoctor Singh! You’re here! We were digging in the area Mei suggested and broke through into a huge cave. We haven’t entered yet but I sang into the hole and heard what I think are buildings. Buildings after all this time! What were they building with that it’s still standing? And why underground â€“ did they know what was coming and try to escape it?â€
â€œNiobe’s right,â€ Kane said. â€œWe’re in a horror movie. It probably contains an army of the former inhabitants in suspended animation. They’ll wake up and kill us all!â€ He mock swooned. â€œOh, the horror!â€
â€œWe thought of that,â€ the Mez scientist said. â€œIt’s not really likely and the Ishtari scientists think we’re being paranoid but we’re arming everyone just in case.â€
Amanpreet covered her mouth to stifle a giggle. It said a lot about the Mez that they thought of such things as well.
â€œBetter safe than sorry,â€ Sangat said. There was no hint of laughter in his voice and his face was completely straight but Amanpreet got the feeling her brother was thinking the same thing.
Half an hour later, they had landed and joined the other scientists in front of a ragged black hole in the ground. Amanpreet looked dubiously at the laser carbine one of the Mez handed her and tried to give it back.
â€œI’d rather not,â€ she said, â€œI’m a pacifist… Well, mostly a pacifist.â€
The Mez pushed it back into her hands. â€œYou have a license. Take it for self-defence â€“ just in case.â€
Amanpreet sighed and took the gun. â€œThank you.â€
â€œHumans make such impressive weapons,â€ it said. â€œIt comes of being so hard to kill.â€ It turned away to continue handing out weapons.
â€œWas it talking about the guns or us as being weapons?â€ Kane asked quietly.
â€œWith the Mez you never know.â€ Amanpreet shrugged. â€œI’m just glad our environmental needs are so different or we’d probably be at war instead of allies.â€
â€œWe need to be careful, so we’re sending in the robot first,â€ Doctor Mensah said. â€œOnly once we’re sure it’s safe and nothing inside will be damaged will we open the breach further ourselves.â€ She looked down and stopped, a confused frown crossing her features. â€œWait, where’s the robot? It was right here…â€
Sangat covered his eyes with his hand and sighed. â€œAre you sure you didn’t forget it again, Emma?â€
â€œNo,â€ one of the technicians said. â€œI helped her carry it. It was there. I’ll see if I can recall it.â€ He fiddled with a small remote. A few minutes later, there was a soft hum and a disc shaped robot about the size of a large dog hovered into view from behind a nearby ridge. â€œThere is it. I’ll run a diagnostic.â€ He waited until it floated over to them then knelt down beside it, held the remote above it and studied the small screen. After a long moment he frowned. â€œIt appears to have suffered a power surge that got past the breakers and that’s what activated it.â€
â€œWe have been getting some odd readings,â€ one of the Tkin scientists said. â€œIs the robot functional?â€
â€œIt should be,â€ the technician said. â€œShall we proceed?â€
The Ishtari and humans gathered around the screen as the robot dropped through the hole into the cavern and watched the images from its cameras as the Mez listened to the echoes from the sound pulses it was putting out.
“Those are buildings all right,” Amandeep said as the robot’s lights revealed a regimented grid of glistening white flat roofed buildings stretching from one cave wall to another. â€œBut the doors are all open.â€
“Yes and the shape of them suggests that the people who lived here were about a 130 centimeters tall and nearly as wide,” Doctor Mensah said. “This place is so large and well preserved that we’ll have to spend decades cataloguing everything.” Her eyes were sparkling. “But we should start there.” She pointed at the largest white building which stood at the exact center of the grid.
“Agreed,” Sangat said.
The robot swooped over the buildings and down towards the doorway. As it entered, its lights revealed that the building was a large single room. On the internal walls were paintings of dozens of creatures whose headless forms rather resembled barrels of scaly scarlet leather. They were dancing on short stubby legs with multiple long sinuous arms whirling around them and around them was painted a forest of what Amanpreet assumed had to be trees. There was something joyous and unrestrained about the image.
â€œOh! So that’s what they looked like!â€ Sangat said. â€œWonderful. We’ve learned so much today already.â€ He looked like he might say something else but instead he gasped as the robot’s light shone on something else. On a plinth in an alcove lay a book with a smaller version of the Rune on its silver cover.