An Enigma

an excerpt



Chapter One

"Well, the probe did show us trees. I just didn't know they were trees," exclaimed Major Wheaton, leaning back to try to see the top of the towering giant in front of him.

Turning back, he grinned to see Lieutenant Adam Deacon echoing his expression as the archaeo-linguist executed a three hundred-and-sixty-degree turn. Sergeant John Schofield was already checking out the area. Up until now their surveys had never found any sentient life forms on the planets they had visited, but that didn't stop them being cautious; there was always a first time for everything.

"I did mention those during the briefing, Rafe," Adam said, as he turned to face the major.

"Explain what?" Lieutenant Chris Davies came up from the rear, having secured the small survey ship.

"These giants' walking sticks," Rafe said.

"Rafe was doodling during the briefing," Chris said.

"Nothing new there then. Rafe was bored," John said, sounding remarkably bored himself and making both Adam and Chris laugh.

"No respect, I don't get no respect," Rafe muttered. "Perhaps I should rethink my idea of dropping the formality when we're on a mission?" No one commented and Rafe smiled to himself. "Let's get to this ruin Adam is so interested in," he said to get the mission back on track.

The sun shone so bright overhead Rafe's eyes watered and he had to settle his cap on his head so it shaded his eyes a little more, then he moved off.

"This whole place is remarkable. You think these are impressive? Just look at the city, Rafe. 'Cause the probe was at a higher altitude than usual because of the size of these gigantic trees and, even though we extrapolated, we didn't really get a feel for the size of this place. It's huge," Adam said, his excitement bubbling over as he went on to explain why this site might be important.

Rafe knew all he needed to from the briefing, despite his doodling, and tuned Adam out, letting his thoughts drift back to the night before when he enjoyed listening to Adam whispering into his ear as he moved over him. It never ceased to amaze him that Adam loved him. Rafe couldn't contain a smile as he recalled the day Adam had been so angry with him because Rafe hadn't confessed his feelings for Adam until the man had nearly died. It had been such fun when Adam had stopped being mad long enough to get even. Rafe belatedly realized Adam had stopped speaking and, glancing at his companions, he saw they were watching him. "What?" Rafe said.

"Waiting on you, sir," Adam said, giving him an ironic bow.

"What did I do to get stuck with you lot?" Rafe grumbled.

"Must've done something wrong." Adam grinned.

Rafe glanced at his lover and shook his head. Then he smiled. "Come on."

* * *

Just ahead there was a gentle fall off to the valley floor below and in the centre of the valley were the remains of what appeared to be a huge city. Adam was well aware the few days he could spend here would allow him little more than just blowing some dust off the place, but at least he'd enjoy it while he could. He had never seen anything remotely like this place.

Besides the remarkable appearing city, the probe had also sent back readings suggesting a variety of mineral sources on the small planet, and Chris and John would have plenty of samples to collect for the geologists to study. Chris would also have his own investigation to conduct into what might have powered the civilization on this world.

ALK1g--more casually known as Gamma--was a nice planet. There was warm sunshine amidst light pink clouds in a pale blue sky over forests made up of huge trees surrounding large valleys crisscrossed by rivers. It was the most remarkable of the planets they had so far visited in the sector. What had happened to the inhabitants was a mystery; perhaps the ruins would provide some answers. One of the first questions had to be whether the people who had lived here had been connected to the civilization, which appeared to have settled on many of the other planets in the sector.

The city was made up of long, low, rectangular buildings, interspersed with domed circular ones. A sudden tall spire would spear the sky, reaching almost as high as the surrounding trees; the whole pattern was repeated and repeated. Seen from the air, the pattern of the buildings began with the tallest spire in the centre, spiraling out from there. The roads followed the spiral, except where they were intersected at the long sides of the rectangular buildings. Even though a lot of it had fallen into obvious decay, enough was still whole to make an intriguing picture. And very different from what had been discovered on the other planets so far.

* * *

Adam had been studying the ruins for three days and he still didn't have any idea who these people might have been, or any idea why they left. He was puzzled by the artifacts left behind which made this society different from any they had investigated since setting up base on Alkya. The first clue was the shape of the doorways and the height of the window slits, which suggested the inhabitants were considerably taller than humans, while the Alkyans appeared to have been fairly similar to humans if the underground base was any indication.

There were also the materials used in the city's construction. Besides stone and wood, there was a metal alloy and an opaque glass-like substance, which hadn't been seen anywhere else. The latter two materials fascinated Chris and he was gathering samples from various locations to take back for research.

As interesting as that was, Adam spent most of his time studying the writing he'd found on the sides of some of the spires. It was unlike anything he'd ever seen before, but he found it fascinating.

Rafe accompanied him each day, but had little to do but watch and wait. This day, he began pacing up and down until a frustrated Adam asked if perhaps he should go and help Chris.

With a wide grin, his hazel eyes sparkling, Rafe said, "Keeping an eye on the language specialist is my duty, and accompanying my friend is fun."

"If you want fun with your friend when this mission is over, it doesn't pay to annoy him!"

Rafe laughed, executed a smart turn and went back to his patrolling. Adam shook his head and returned to making his notes about the new language.

On a whim, Rafe peeked inside one of the large round buildings Adam guessed could have been used for some kind of communal purpose. There was a rectangular entrance hall with another door opposite. The entrance hall was empty, and a curious Rafe pushed open the other door. Inside, Rafe found shelving running all around the walls from floor to ceiling, divided into equal sections and filled with thin, flat slivers of what appeared to be some kind of ceramic. Picking one up, he found it was very light and as he turned it over, he recognized the markings as similar to the ones Adam was trying to decipher on the pillar outside. He wondered if he could have discovered the alien's version of a library, but that was a completely arbitrary idea and he really had no idea what the slivers of ceramic actually were. Handling it carefully, he took one out to show Adam.

"Adam?" Rafe called, approaching the archaeo-linguist.

"Mmm?" Adam replied distractedly, so absorbed in his work that he'd barely noticed Rafe's disappearance let alone his return.

"I've a gift for my young friend, if he'll drag his nose from his book long enough to notice," Rafe said, waving a hand in front of his face.

"Rafe!"

"Adam, take a damn look."

With a sigh, Adam glanced up from his notebook and saw a thin sliver of some odd material winking in the bright sunlight. He climbed to his feet, his eyes never leaving the artifact.

"Where did you find that?" His hand reached out slowly and he took it from Rafe with care, turning it over and over.

"In the domed building on the left at the end of the next block. I think it might be a library, Adam. Floor to ceiling shelves full of this stuff."

They were just about to move in that direction when Rafe's comm-unit kicked in. "Major, come in, please."

"What is it, Davies?"

"We've found something, sir. For some reason it didn't register on the probe, but close-up readings show a power output off the scale."

"Okay, Lieutenant. We've found something here, too…could be a library. Adam and I are going inside now. The domed building at the north edge of the quadrant we're exploring. Take your samples and meet us for lunch."

"Yes, sir."

* * *