2952-06-05 – Tales from the Service: The Tablet from 779C 

After the hard-won victory on Ayama, it seems Seventh Fleet is preparing to establish a series of forward bases in star systems deeper into the Sagittarius Frontier. To that end, the Naval Survey Auxiliary has been cataloging likely candidates for such a base. 

One survey pilot brought back a very interesting object from the habitable world in such a system – a stone tablet of great age, carved with indecipherable writing. Images of this artifact circulated widely in the Sagittarius Gate datasphere, but the item itself was apparently confiscated by Naval Intelligence. Shortly after he was debriefed, the finder sent us his account of the tablet’s finding. 

As a note, the catalog number I am using to identify the system is not the correct one; even in the account we were sent, the system’s catalog number was redacted. 

The first thing that Reade Marinou noticed when he cracked open the hatch of his PCS Tern suvey-ship was the smell. The ship’s sensors had declared the atmosphere on planet 4531779c to be well within breathable norms, but the rotten, sulphurous stench made Reade’s head swim. This made it an unlikely forward base for Confederated troops, but his job wasn’t to decide where to put bases, it was just to catalog the options. Decisions were best left for people with gray hair on their temples and holographic stars hovering over their shoulders. 

After a few slow, deliberate breaths, Reade began to grow used to the smell, so he decided against retreating into the ship for a filtration mask. He would only be staying long enough to gather a few samples anyway, and he’d certainly breathed far worse atmospheres in his time with Survey. 

Except for the smell, Reade had to admit, ‘779c was an interesting planet. Active volcanic activity and vigorous tectonic movements had given the world a rugged, jagged-edged landscape, most of which was thoroughly colonized by colorful flora. Only the snow-capped peaks of the highest ranges were not teeming with life. Biodiversity seemed greatest in the narrow coastal strips between mountain and sea, so that was where Reade had landed – on a rocky hill from which one could easily see both the white-gold beach and the sharp, ice-wreathed peaks of the nearest mountains. Four-winged avians wheeled overhead, and below the hill the treetops were alive with the flitting movement of flocks of colorful creatures, some bright blue, others yellow, yet more bone white. 

As Reade stepped off the ramp and onto the rocky soil, the two survey drones he’d set to chart the area cast free of the Tern’s upper hull and rose into the air with a whine of their vector-thrust turbofans. He barely glanced up at them; the automatons did their jobs without much input from him. He could review their data when he was back in orbit. 

Reade got two steps away from the ship before something struck him as odd, and it took him a moment to figure out what it was – it was the arrangement of the boulders scattered across the hilltop. They looked like the broken-off stumps of cyclopean pillars set in two concentric rings, albeit imperfectly round rings with plenty of gaps. The arrangement, probably a result of natural erosion patterns, was just regular enough to suggest the work of intelligent hands. 

With a shrug and a cough, Reade instructed the ship’s sensors to construct a 3D capture of the hilltop, then picked his way down on the gentler slope facing the sea. He soon lost sight of the shore as the trees rose above his head. Most of them seemed to be a tall, stately species with smooth gray trunks and a splayed crown of branches at the very top, but a few other species were also evident. 

There were boulders inside the forest as well, usually gathered into clusters, their dark, pitted surfaces free of all but the hardiest lichen-analogues. Passing one of these stands, Reade again got the uncanny sense that they were the remains of some ruined structure, but closer examination proved no clear pattern to their placement. He scraped lichen samples off the nearest one, then continued on his way toward the shore, confident that his ship’s homing beacon would lead him back. Though there were theoretically a few species on this world large enough to harm a human, he thought the risk of any attack to be low. On most unpopulated worlds, humans didn’t smell like prey to the local wildlife; only the most desperate predator would investigate him as a potential food source. 

By the time he reached the beach, the largest thing that had bothered Reade was an insect-like creature with a finger-length proboscis that leapt onto him from an overhanging branch and extended a proboscis as long as his finger. After a few futile attempts to push its impressive mouthparts through the thick material of Reade’s environment suit, the pest had hopped off him and vanished into the leaf litter. From that point on, he’d been careful not to let overhanging branches get anywhere near his face.  

The beach’s sand seemed yellower up close than it had from the hilltop. After pausing to make a note in his log about the insectile creature, he collected a sample of sand, then trudged across the beach toward the surf. Of all the samples he could get, water samples were probably the most important. 

Halfway to the water, Reade stumbled on something buried in the sand. He frowned and bent down to examine what it was he’d tripped on – it was the protruding corner of a smooth, flattened rock of the same variety as all the boulders. Though weathered, this one was not pitted or coated in lichen. 

Something about this rock struck him as odd, so Reade worked the toe of his boot underneath the edge and lifted it up out of the sand. It was roughly triangular, with two edges being uneven as if broken, and a third smooth and arrow-straight. The curved corners along the straight edge looked for all the world like a fine stone counter-top of the sort popular on his home-world of Tours. 

Reade bent down to lift the stone, running his gloved fingers over the smoothed edge. What were the chances of natural erosion creating such a perfect bevel? 

He received the shock of his life when he turned the stone over, looking for grooves or other definitive signs of artificial shaping. There, in six neat rows that vanished off the broken edges, were carved the letters of some forgotten language.