A.J. Walker



#MidWeekFlash - 05 May 2021


It was more than a bit of a surprise that the planet was dead. But we’d surveyed it for days from orbit and with the advance gauntlet of probes. There was no sign of any life: sentient or even single cell.

As we’d approached CygnusX-B12 the atmosphere had screamed life at me: at all of us. No one would even take bets on it. That’s how sure we all were. And yet here we were landing on a dead planet with an oxygen atmosphere. Where was the oxygen from and how was it not disappearing through geological interactions? Sometimes mysteries weren’t fun.

Clarr, Yip and I had argued for hours about it long after the rest of the crew had given up with the circular arguments. Our databases showed us what we had found on this planet had not been found elsewhere. It was an impossible place. Dead planets didn’t have atmospheres like this.

Just the three of us landed there leaving the rest of the crew to watch from afar. The fewer people on the surface the quicker and easier it was to deal with decontamination on our return to the Excelsis. It was always a concern what pathogens might be on a planet. But we’d found not a single cell here. There could be nothing.

Clarr had chosen the landing spot after studying much of the probe data. Yip and I had no reason not to agree with her choice. We’d set up camp for a few days and travel in a 10-15 mile radius and take in the geological features. There may not be life but the rocks and soils could hold valuable resources for us or for those that followed. The rocks could also reveal whether there had been life here once; whether there had been oceans. There was no water here now.

The landing was uneventful. The flat topography in the middle of what looked like an ancient crater made for a perfect spot. I hoped the rocks on the closest exposures were not to affected by any cataclysmic event as it might give us less information that we wanted, but there were plenty to investigate.

‘Can you see this?’ Clarr asked, as she pointed at her display. ‘The rocks over there. They’re reflecting rainbows.’

‘Where is that?’ Yip asked, straining to look around the horizon. Clarr pointed in the direction of the cliffs to the right of our position. We’d decided to designate that area North before we landed, though there was no discernible magnetic field on the planet.

‘It’s about 20 miles over there. That’s a bloody good image on the camera, isn’t it?’

‘It’s a strange view. I mean there’s no water here. No rainbows. It’s just the rocks. I’m thinking metals. I’m thinking we need to go there.’ I said, knowing that 20 miles was further than we’d intended to go.

Clarr nodded. ‘I think we need to look. But I’ll set the cameras to do a detailed search across the whole 360 here for a few hours. It may be there are similar exposures closer to home, yeah?’

We agreed. There was no need to rush.

Yip and Clarr had already decided when we were in orbit that the first place we should go was to a magnetic anomaly in the centre of the plain. Clarr had thought it may be something to do with whatever had formed the crater. Perhaps the remnant of a great meteorite. But Yip said it didn’t look right for that. “Unusual” seemed to be the watchword for many things on Cygnus. It was so different it warranted investigation.

Half an hour later the three astronauts were approaching the anomaly in silence. They could all see the same thing but none were prepared to say it out loud in case they were hallucinating: dead centre of what they thought had been a meteor crater was a giant rock formation. Each hoped that it had been natural and maybe an optical illusion, but as they got closer there could be no doubt. This was not a rock formation. This was made by someone or something. It was the sculpture of a hand—over forty metres tall.

On an empty planet millions of miles from earth, with no life at all across its face (and with an oxygen rich atmosphere) was a hand which to all intents was similar to a human hand. Was it a warning or a welcome?

The rainbows were forgotten.