Strictly Between Planets
Though there was still some controversy back home, the Crew hoped that the rules of old might apply, "Who ever gets there first, owns it." And luckily for Captain Norio, the first man to reach Mars, that meant he owned it.
Unluckily for Captain Norio, the first man to die on Mars, his celebration was short lived. A loose chunk of a Martian sky-scraper just happened to fall hundreds of feet to land on his proud self. Luckily, you may think, he died instantly. His suddenly saddened crew stood in shock under the cool Martian sun, and it took the new captain, Captain Allison Teller, to snap them out of it. She had a certain quality of voice, which was, whenever she spoke, you both tuned it out, and did whatever she had asked immediately after. She was one of those types you could describe as, PMSing twenty-four-seven, even when she was taking her little pink pills. Which, after Norio's death, would probably stop.
"You! Smith!" She barked, "Get a stretcher, now!" Smith, close to wetting himself, the poor fellow, ran of back to the Landing Site.
"The rest of you, form up a perimeter, and if you want to save your peckers, you'll do it now!" The men, all wanting very much to have their peckers when they got back to Earth, did exactly as they were told. They all watched the skies for more loose chunks of building.
Smith came back, and they walked solemnly back to the Landing Site.
The next day, unluckily for the crew, was the first full day under the iron fist of Captain Teller. If the crew had to wake up early, the gentle Norio would have said the previous evening, "Men, we wake early tomorrow, sorry, but we gotta do what we gotta do."
Captain Teller, on the far other hand, would only voice the time of awaking a few minutes before she wanted it. "Wake up men! If I don't see you awake in three minutes you'll have to explain to your bitches of wives at home why you don't have your peckers anymore!" For a month she said that, "Wake up men, or I'll take your peckers." One couldn't help but wonder why she hated the male reproductive organ so much. The Crew trudged though her harassment for a month, and would have to endure it for another two. Well, maybe not, ever since their Discovery, they might be able to go home early.
While patrolling though the seemingly dead and apparently Martian city, the crew noticed that there were no doors on any of the magnificently tall buildings. Oh sure, they would sweep back, they would twist, they would bulge here, and get impossibly narrow there. Sure they would tease the heavens with an eternal game of tag, and sure they seemed as if aged by millions of years, and yet they far exceeded anything on earth. And sure they were all an orangey-yellow color, but none of them had a single door. The lack of which opened several mental doors as to how, exactly, the inhabitants of this planet got into such marvelous structures. Not a single door in the whole dead city…
Well, save one. In one lowish building with an impressive dome atop it, they found one door, a grand door at that, fifty feet tall if it was an inch, and it opened with the faintest whisper of a push. Which the crew found odd, seeing how sand storms must have blown through here a thousand times. The inside was a massive atrium, a circular room at least a hundred yards across. The dome had a hole in it, similar to the Pantheon, and a disk of sun lay on the floor. A vague oval of bleached stone rested on the ground and walls, as a testament to how long the building had stood for.
It was not the murals of seemingly Martian history that covered the walls that impressed the crew, nor was it the sweeping letters that sang to you as you read them, though you did not know the words. (The latter brought them serenity, however, the sound of a gentle woman's voice was much appreciated over the harshness of their captain's.)
It was in the center of the room, which the impressed crew's eyes fixed upon. And the small object that stood on a slender pillar was the Discovery the crew made, one which they could go home early for, one which could make them very rich.
The crew was now sitting in the mess hall of the ship, which originally was just a storage bay for the ship, and it looked as such. Depending on how you thought about it, the crew was either very large, or rather small for such a journey. Similar to the glass filling paradox. There were only six of them, five actually, since Norio's death a month ago.
It would seem small, because in various science fiction writings, the pompous author would speak about how important the trip was, and so fifty or so crew members would be on board.
And it would seem large, because for a wealthy man like Norio to feed, train, build, and otherwise fund single handedly the crew and the entire mission, to have six people on board was amazing. But then again, despite the few billion or so missing from his many bank accounts, he would own all of Mars, and could make easily a few trillion in property sales. That is, before he died. But it was left to the crew to divide up the few trillion dollars now, all of which was about to come their way in the near future. And one fifth of a few trillion is coming out of it very, very well.
The crew, as it has already been mentioned, sat in awe of their Discovery in the mess hall of the ship. It sat alone on one table, and the crew sat on the other, looking intently at it, all wondering, more or less, "What is it?"
Luckily for them, they had snuck tranquilizers into the Captain's drink, and she would be out for the next few hours.
Unluckily for them, they had snuck tranquilizers into the Captain's drink, and she would be awake in a few hours. Very put off, as you can imagine.
The Discovery, not really aware of the trouble the men staring at it had gone through to get it, sat in silence.
And the crew, not really aware what trouble the people of the planet had gone through to ensure they'd fine it, sat talking in whispers.
The Discovery listened.
"I don't believe it," said one man, by the name of Kevin Ash.
"Why not?" Whispered a man sitting next to him.
"Well, we came all this way, and we find this huge abandoned city, and we're sitting here staring at this cube."
"It is shinny," The man next to him joked.
"Did you see that!" Todd Breslin shouted, though still whispering.
"See what?" Kevin and his companion asked.
"It, it flashed!" He pointed at it.
"Yes!" Then he went quiet, and begged them to just watch. Of course they all did, and of course the Discovery didn't flash again.
"Oh this is stupid," Kevin said. He stood up and walked over to the opposite table quickly. The men were startled at first, by the sudden movement, but now they waited for Kevin to speak.
"Listen, we carried this thing out of the Museum, and got it all the way back to here, and it didn't do a thing. Its not gonna hurt us, otherwise it would have by now." He picked up the small cube and tossed it in the air a few times.
"See?" He said, catching it. "Nothing." He looked down at it, and got a good look at for the first time since the Museum, which was yesterday. It was a roughly a cube, roughly because it was pit-marked with grooves and ridges. Here and there was a small crater, and there would also be the occasional dark dome. It was a silver-gray color, and the domes and craters were black. Very black, even, a black that was filled to the brim with emptiness. The largest dome was on what they all assumed was the top. Kevin's eyes locked with this dome for a moment. He shook himself after a hesitation, and said, "Nothing."
"The important thing guys," Sean Hall said while he got up and walked over to Kevin. Hall took the Discovery from him, and tossed it into the air himself once, and when he caught it, he held it to the rest of the men between his index finger and thumb. "The important thing is that this little thing, whatever the hell it is, will make us so unbelievably rich. Not to mention that, technically, we each own about a fifth of the planet!" This was met by a happy chatter.
"Picture it, guys, we are about to get so amazingly rich, we could bang a different chick each night, for the rest of our lives!" Sean Hall liked sex, so that was particularly important. Each man had their own vague idea of what they were going to do, but in order fit in, each agreed with Hall's idea. Hall kissed the cube and but it back on the table.
"Life, my friends," he said, "Will never be quite the same…" he fell back to rest on the table he sat on, and had visions of various guyish thoughts.
"It flashed!" Todd Breslin shouted again.
Kevin, laying on the table in a similar manor to Hall, said that it was bull shit. Hall, on the other hand, on the verge of an orgasm by the thought that the little cube of money actually did something, jumped up.
"Where! How!" His gaze shifted back and forth between Todd and the cube.
"There, the top part, something inside it suddenly flashed," he tried to stay calm.
"I should wake the Captain…" started Smith, poor Smith.
"To hell you will!" Shouted Hall again, quickly looking at Smith then back at the cube.
He whispered to the cube, "Come on baby, one more time, just once more, flash for me, come on…" If only he had a dollar for every time he said that. Not that it mattered, with all the money he was about to get, he could get any girl to flash him at any time, or so he figured.
Silence, the Discovery was thinking.
Silence, the Discovery flashed.
Uproar, the Discovery flashed again.
Silence, the lights went out.
Everyone shouted, more or less, "What the hell," but Hall used a few other, stronger words. He was about to order Smith to go fix it, when the Discovery spoke.
Flashing quickly, and drawing the gaze of the Crew toward it, the largest dome seemed to have a heart beat inside. Suddenly, though the blackness, it shot out rays of light that had a blue-green tint, with under tones of red. They spun, and collected at a zenith. Then from the thinness of the rays, a thickness grew. It took shape, roughly human, but taller, and more graceful. It hovered, only faintly could you see lines of light below or above it. It was as large as a human, but its upper torso was far more bulky, and its lower limbs more frail. It had compound eyes, with slanted eye sockets. Atop its slightly elongated head were antennae, which resembled feathers. It had wings as well, behind it, moving slightly as the image bobbed slowly up and down. All in all, it looked as if you crossed a moth and a human, and hit "fast forward" on evolution, to work all the kinks out. It had a certain beautiful wisdom, and the men where not afraid. Well, deep down Hall was a little terrified, but other than that, the men knew that this hologram was peaceful.
Plus, what harm could a hologram bring?
It shown in the darkness for a moment, then it spoke, "Greetings, men from the third planet, we welcome you here." The men were still silent.
"This program my people made is interactive, but only to a degree. What follows is an explanation." The figure bowed slightly, extending its slender arms and tilting its head forward.
"When this was written, and left behind, life on the third planet was basic, and primitive." The hologram brought its hands close together, and while gracefully extending the three fingers it had on each hand, another hologram popped up between them. It was a dinosaur, running along the air. Whether this was programmed, or these people could produce holograms in their hands, the crew didn't know, but the listened.
"So, I am sure, you have come along way. We set up places on this planet that have watched, listened, and learned from yours, as to be able to send you this message in a language you can understand. The message from my people to yours is this, 'We are not from this planet.'"
"No fucking way…" Hall managed to whisper in while the hologram paused.
"Rather," The moth-man went on, "We came upon this planet as it was still inhabited, and according to them, they were not from this planet either. They too, came upon it, and when they got here, it was abandoned by its people. A message similar to this one was left by them."
Another pause. Hall, sure that the hologram was about to go on to say "Leave the planet, you can not take it," charged at it. He screamed;
"You can't take it from me! Its mine! I came all the way here and you can't say I can't have it!" He tried to jump on the table and tackle the hologram, but since it was just that, he stumbled and fell off the table and crashed nosily on the cold ground. He moaned and the hologram went on.
"We used the planet as much as we could, and decided to move on. We looked to your planet with envious eyes, but since you yourselves had yet to dominate it, my people fingered unfair to take it from you. But nonetheless, we did throw an asteroid from the Belt at it, in order to change the evolutionary path. We figured that such abominations that ruled it would be unable to become intelligent. For that, although it is millennia to late, we apologize.
"This planet is yours, do with as you will, we ask only one thing in return." Hall sat back where he was before, rubbing his arm. He was about to say it, but Kevin beat him to it, "Well I'll be damned."
"When you find this solar system unfit, leave it to those on the second planet. When we left, life there was only single celled." Once more his fingers ran together and a euglena-like image appeared. "But we have no doubt that they will gain intelligence some day."
"This cube contains all the knowledge our people, and the two races before us, ever found. Though, be warned, since this is only interactive to a degree, you have to ask the right questions."
Presently, the moth-thing left, and the lights came back on. Smith shouted, "Fixed 'em!" and walked back over to the men.
"Well I'll be damned," Hall said.
They sat in silence, trying to understand what, exactly, just happened. After some thought, Kevin said, "I think that some dude just asked us to take the planet, and give it to Venus when we're done."
"So," Asked Hall, a little confused. "I'm going to get rich, right?"
"Enough to have a different girl each night," Said Kevin.
"I have a question for it," Todd stood up, and walked over to the cube. Unsure what to do, he asked it cautiously. "What, um, is the meaning of life?"
The rays of light appeared, and went though the same show as before, only the lights stayed on. The moth creature stood silent for a moment, then spoke in a less wise tone. "Strictly between planets, my people, and the two that came before us, have no clue."
It disappeared, and Todd said, "Well I'll be damned."