'Ancestor' / Georgia Ketels
Georgia Ketels is currently in her second year at the Victorian College of the Arts studying screenwriting. She hopes you enjoy this short story.
“Today we excavate the third octant of the planet, while we have the solar maxima in effect. We will dredge from the luminescent sand pools. We will need some machinery.”
Laws were written before humans made up their mind to colonise Orcaria that would protect its lifeforms from destruction. They didn’t want to ravage, like they did millennia ago, so the natives’ land wasn’t pillaged, but traded off civilly and protected. Pains had been made to find the right people to colonise who didn’t carry infectious diseases, and all meat and produce was brought in by shipment from barren agricultural planets. Indigenous authorities were proud of the effort humankind had gone to this time. And the first steps for Orcaria were made in the name of science.
Two teams of people do their jobs when it’s time to excavate a new octant. They work in coloured groups, wearing full suits and helmets to protect from radiation. Reds lift and relocate the tents, ornaments and structures of the native people. Purples communicate to the natives, make the efforts of the investigation clear, then move them out. They have several methods of achieving this. The two teams follow through with the relocation to a suitable alternative. In this case the natives were only moved several miles, to a plain on a large rock formation. They are provided food and comforts for this period to mitigate stress.
Then the slate is clean for our people to do crypto-archaeological work.
Firstly, and somewhat primitively, White technicians will take swabs, scrapings and soakings of natural materials. Sometimes natural materials are toxic or flammable. We rely on analog tests that produce tiny chemical reactions between the unknown scraping and the known variable. They turn a colour which tells us the degree of safety with which we are handling.
The luminescent sand pools will be investigated today. So a piece of machinery is carried out by the Reds. The machine is the Felter. Its metal box is activated, and a slot opens – bringing out the white arm that feels. The arm is loose like a tentacle, prickled in a soft way, like a lip gloss wand. It erects itself from the box, and slips into the loose sands, at the attention of its radio operator.
In this instance its vision sensors are not going to work. The sand it slides into is both opaque and viciously bright, glowing with natural bacterias. But it does proudly have enough other senses to make up for blindness. It feels, by plain friction, and by blasting out radioactive and sonic pulses in a ring around itself. It, too has a kind of proprioception, which is to say that it can extrapolate the shape of a thing, even from a fragment. If it knew it had found part of a vase, it could find the rest of it, knowing the outcome of its full form.
The Felter softly beeps. Its arm coils out longer to facilitate the depth of the pool. To do as little damage as possible, the radio operator prefers to dive the Felter into the pool vertically, with a big arc formed between the hand and the metal box of its origin. It is a white rainbow above the yellow pool while it is searching.
Everyone watches. The arc is glowing, telling them the hand has become autonomous.
"In the light of this solar flare, you could say all this is beautiful."
The coronal mass ejection causes a visual effect on the air above the pool. So many charged, heavy protons and plasmas are shot out of the sun, where they come to rest and glow in the atmosphere. The particles ebb and flow from the sky, forming small auroras.
The radio operator, having no other work to do, observes ultrasound images. The hand of the Felter works its way around something of considerable size.
The arc glows green. It is a confirmed find. The radio operator is in control again, lifting, like the tail of a sperm whale from the water.
A great amount of strength is necessary to dredge something as large as this from the thick and wet sands of Orcaria. The Felter has artificial muscles, made of electrified pouches of water. It could carry fifty men. Yet its touch is soft enough to be trusted with the body of a newborn child.
The item is lifted. The Blues prepare a sterile bed and tools to examine the find, upon the naked, earthen floor. The silicon of the Felter wicks the sand from its white skin. Its tentacle has been spread to a leaf shape, carrying a mass out of the pool.
It is so blindingly covered in luminescence and the sun that it is impossible even to speculate what the item might be. But the sands drip off the porous body and give definition to it, giving it legs, arms and a head.
No one speaks. It goes to the bed of the Blues. The sand slips from the body quicker than it can be sheltered from sight by the white curtain. It is human.
The arc glows again, in the periphery. The Felter pulls, the pool swells and laps at its edge, a huge item in its belly. Not even the radio operator watches his ultrasound.
What was put behind the curtain is remarkable. People search for another glimpse.
The object whaps, and swishes violently from the basin. The Felter is gripped into a crevice of the structure, which lifts in one piece, preserved in time.
It is a cone, large, with a door and a point on its head. Its dull metal surface appears, dented and soft. It has the quality of a natural object; hand-welded and worn through countless years of sand exfoliation, it is rounded and natural, though irrevocably an unnatural thing, like a shard of glass going through the sea and becoming like coral.
The sound of the cone lifting from the earth, and the sight of thin aurora, are noticed several miles away on a flat rock formation. Orcarians lie there, high on human comforts.
Behind the curtain, the Blues are all in tiny, private internal conflicts. This body is human. She is not an Orcarian. All her body is mummified in a spectacular way, not shrivelled, but full and eternal, her pores filled with shimmering micro-particles. Her clothes are gone, but her nakedness is beautiful, and not stark.
"The specimen will decay in the atmosphere. We should take steps to preserve it. The fats in the body can be replaced with plastic at the main site in Orcaria."
A Blue takes a pair of thin scissors and samples her fingernails. Two follicle samples each are taken from her body - from her eyelashes, pubic hair, the fine hairs that survive at her neck and her back. The Blue scrapes skin from areas of the body. She touches the wet, long hair. It is so thick.
Bone, brain, organ, muscle and marrow samples are also taken, in more sterile ways, but with minimal trauma to the body. This is mostly performed with long spider needles, removing only cells.
Then a hose emerges, with a flat nozzle fitted, that a Blue tests by spraying onto the ground.
The stream touches her body. It is hard. The shimmering particles lift off and sprinkle into the air, flushing out the pores.
The sun flashes. It pushes its solar material and plasmas out violently, and they travel magnetically to Orcaria.
"The solar storm has briefly taken us offline" says the Officer. He communicates this manually to both sides of the curtain.
An Orcarian steps up to the rim of the excavation site and her home. She walks to the Blues. She cannot see past the curtain. She cannot see the cone. She is with the Blues, at eye level with them.
The hose is pointed and sprayed at the Orcarian's feet. She jumps in confusion, but presses closer.
The hose is aimed at her body.
"What are you doing?" The Officer says. "We do not touch these creatures."
A Blue responds: "This body is human. It is too important a find. It can't be contaminated."
One prepares to hose the Orcarian down again. The Orcarian whines, into the air. It pulsates, and echoes. The Officer steps in.
"Let it go. Touching a native is a punishable offence."
The Orcarian looks at the body. She kneels down, and touches her breast. A Blue looks at the officer.
She rounds the skin around her eye. She touches her hands together, and lifts them. From the forests around the site her family begins to come. They call to her with the whine. She calls back.
The Blues avoid the Orcarians as they surround her.
Behind the curtain, the Felter has darkened and become limp. It is retracted into its box by a crank on its side.
The metal cone looks to be some kind of primitive technology. Primitive, but too advanced for Orcarians. They all agree on that.
"An early cryosleep chamber, big enough for four bodies. It looks like parts are missing, and it may have once had an outer rim."
The Orcarian woman lies on the ground, next to the body. Their long hair spreads, and touches. The tribe kneels around them, they are all naked, and so beautiful; full, strong, clear.
A Blue tries to film this from a device on his wrist. Humans behind the curtain can only listen. In harmony, the wailing becomes music.
A Blue woman steps forward. She touches her neck to take her helmet off.
The Officer says: "It is not correct or safe to interfere."
The aurora brightens. The air is charged.
Her helmet presses off with a hydraulic whirr. The Blue woman's face is round, her hair is thin and very sparse, tufting. Her eyes are large. The Orcarians open the circle to her, and she steps in.
She looks at the Officer, then removes her uniform before the body. It peels from her skin in one go, made of one piece of fabric, and finely fitted to her body. Her nude underskin layer is all that remains, the bodysuit pumping veins of water around her body to keep her cool. She is beautiful underneath too, her skin perhaps never exposed this closely to the raw sun, especially as it is flaring.
An Orcarian woman touches her hand. She flinches, but returns to it. She is guided to the other side of the body, and she lays beside it as the Orcarian woman does.
The three women are links of one another. The body is their ancestor.
An Orcarian begins to trace a symbol into the ground.
Inside the cone, so much of the machinery has been eaten away by friction, and possibly small parasites.
"If only the door were closed when it fell in."
There is an engraving in the inner metal of the capsule; sanded back over time, it is still visible. A Purple traces the engraving and projects it onto a hovering screen, to more closely examine it, to cross-reference it. They search from the limited offline archive for now, all knowledge and discovery being stored locally, until the magnetic charge of the atmosphere disperses.
Whether it is the blinding strength of the sun, captured and magnified by the white curtain, or the magnitude of this event which fails to be recorded except by eyes, something moves the Officer to draw back the curtain.
The Red, Purple, White and Green humans now see the strange display of science and ceremony. The Blues and the Officer see the beauty of the pool as a beacon in this rare time and place. The Orcarians see their symbol lifted from the ground into the air above the pool.
The cross-referencing is complete. There are two matches for the symbol, NASA and Soviet Space Program.
The information is too far past in human history for anyone to understand, but a short description is provided for each:
NASA was a 2nd and 3rd Millennia space research agency established by the former United States of America of Earth. It made some of the first steps in human space exploration, including the first human landing on Earth's moon.
The Soviet Space Program was a 2nd Millennia space research agency of the former USSR of Earth. The agency is responsible for the first satellite and first human in space. It also created the first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.
See also: Cold War of the 2nd Millennia, "Space Race" and First Human Space Research Attempts.
The sun and its aurora and begin to vanish from the air, seemingly being sucked into the luminescent pool.
People move to it, and the Officer does not stop them. No one stops them, even when their helmets come off their heads and their thin, balding crowns meet the sun, huge eyes watering.
All gloves come off, and human and Orcarian hands touch their common ancestor's shining body. They pick her up, and those who can't touch her follow, carrying her past the curtain and to the cone, which rests beside the pool.
The cone glistens and heats up, but the inside is cool. Into this place the body is lowered. The ship and its pilot - the woman - the ancestor - are sent back into the place they originated from.
The pool greets them, hungrily and magnetically, covering all the edges until the ship is entirely covered in bright, heavy sand. The two pieces come together again, leaving the hands and the heat of the sun, and entering the cool deep forever.