The Mystery - A Short Sci-fi Story

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The Mystery


‘Ladies and Gentlemen,’ the professor began her address, beaming around at the expert team she had gathered around her. ‘It is with great excitement that we initiate this project!’


A big cheer went up.


‘Against huge competition we won the contract!’


Another big cheer went up. She was milking it now.


‘We will be the first group of archaeologists to set foot on planet Zeta,’ she continued in a more subdued tone. ‘As you know it is a tropical world. Nine tenths is water and every inch teems with life. But we are not here for that. We’ll leave that to the mere biologists,’ she added with a smile.


She then looked round at them with the most serious of expressions. ‘Health and safety comes first,’ she reminded them. ‘Bio-suits will be worn at all times when on the surface and full decontamination procedure followed. There are all manner of microbes that could prove deadly. I do not want anybody succumbing to some diabolical alien disease that could prove fatal and put the ship in quarantine.’


There was a general nodding.


‘Secondly,’ she pronounced severely. ‘I do not want any contraventions of the safety procedures. These jungles are full of the most fearsome creatures. They are all heavily armoured with great scales and equipped with enormous fangs, claws, spikes and venom.’ She gave a few of the younger members a piercing glare. ‘Protective perimeters are to be set up. We work within them and nobody…..’ she fixed one of the more adventurous young male colleagues with a prolonged stare, ‘but nobody, is ever to go off exploring outside that perimeter. Do I make myself clear?’


The young man squirmed and looked down at his feet and there were more nods from the others. When she was certain the message had been amply reinforced she went on with her address.


‘Our task is a simply one,’ she reminded them. ‘We have to find out what happened here. Millions of years ago this planet was home to a highly advanced civilisation. They were intelligent enough to have developed space travel and atomic energy. There are extensive remains of their cities all over the planet. Yet they suddenly disappeared.’ She raised her hands and eyebrows. ‘Our job is to find out why. If we achieve that we will received further funding and this planet will be ours to explore to our hearts content!’


‘No other intelligent life has been discovered anywhere in the galaxy,’ the professor continued. ‘It is almost unthinkable as to the immensity of the calamity that befell them. We have to find out what happened.’


‘I have split you into teams. Each one of you has your task. Now go out there and find out what happened all those millions of years ago!’


They were eager to get to it.


‘I wish I was going with you,’ the professor added with a sigh, ‘but I’m far too old for all that gallivanting around. I will stay here and coordinate the findings.’ She beamed at them. ‘So get out there and get to the bottom of it! Good luck everyone!’


They rushed off to their craft to start the adventure. The professor took up her position in the control room to await results. She had high hopes of solving this one quickly and was eager to gain the further funding that would really set them loose on Zeta.


‘Team 3 reporting,’ the first results came in from her competitive teams. ‘We have carried out a thorough survey of the whole planet. There is no evidence of a major asteroid impact and no prolonged period of impact induced winter.’


The rest of the reports came through in rapid succession.


‘Team 7 reporting, the fossil record shows that all other furry homeotherms were eradicated prior to the demise of the dominant intelligent species. The present fauna appear to have evolved from a tiny residual number of poikilothermic reptiles and fish.’


‘Team 1 reporting. The extensive obsidian plains were the result of nuclear explosion but there is nowhere near sufficient to create a nuclear winter that would have caused a global catastrophe.’


‘Team 2 reporting. This planet had extensive ice-caps. The sea levels were considerably lower and the land mass much more extensive. It seems the rise in sea level occurred prior to the demise of our predominant species though the evidence is that it is not this that wiped them out.’


‘Team 5 reporting. It appears that the planet housed a hundred billion plus Zetans at the time of the great demise. Their cities covered more of the globe and they had eradicated the natural ecosystems. All food was processed from bacteria.’


‘Team 6 reporting. The majority of the cities do not seem to have suffered any physical catastrophe. The Zetan remains display no extensive physical damage. They did not succumb to any violent act.’


‘Team 4 reporting. There has been no volcanic activity that would have resulted in a global catastrophe. There is no evidence of a volcanic winter.’


‘Team 8 reporting. It appears that these Zetans were extremely violent. We have uncovered great arsenals of explosive devices, weapons and missiles. There is extensive evidence of them having used these weapons against each other but not on a scale that would have caused their demise.’


‘Team 9 reporting. We have investigated this highly protected centre where the Zetans were seemingly experimenting with various microbes – though they do not seem to have been either developing either foods or medicines. We are not sure what they were doing here but there is evidence of some emergency at the centre. We’ll keep you informed.’


The professor sat back in dismay. This was not going well. She had hoped that it might be simple. The more they found out the stranger it became. How could a race as advanced as this still have been involved with weapons and violence? That was so stupid and primitive; it was unbelievable. How could they have allowed their numbers to get so out of control, the natural ecosystems to be destroyed or a series of nuclear disasters of such size? It simply did not make sense. What had caused that dramatic rise in sea levels and why had they not controlled it? Surely they had not deliberately used nuclear weapons or polluted the planet sufficient to cause global warming? No. That was too absurd. They were highly intelligent after all.


Yet there seemed no natural phenomenon had been responsible for the catastrophe. There had been no asteroid strike or major volcanic action and none of the events they had so far discovered should have proved fatal to a species of such intelligence and ingenuity.


The evidence was that this had been a majorly intelligent species with huge knowledge, resources and power and yet they had seemingly allowed catastrophe after catastrophe to assail them. How could any intelligent species allow that to happen? It was beyond all intelligent reasoning. How could an intelligent species have been so stupid?


What were they doing with those microbes in that laboratory that team nine had discovered?


The professor was flummoxed. What had killed the Zetans? It was a mystery. The more they discovered, the stranger it got.


opher goodwin Added Jul 1, 2018 - 10:29am
I'd appreciate any feedback good or bad!!  Cheers!! And I hope you enjoy it!!
Neil Lock Added Jul 1, 2018 - 11:12am
Opher: I recall a somewhat similar story - by I think it may have been Isaac Asimov? - in which humans are written into the Galactic books as a civilized species, because they have acquired enough knowledge to create nuclear explosives. Then they are immediately crossed out again, because they did the explosions on their own planet.
Anyway, the answer to the professor's question "How could a race as advanced as this still have been involved with weapons and violence?" is "Politics." And my money is on the microbes as the immediate cause... But isn't "global warming" wonderful? We've had plenty of it down here in the last few weeks, and I for one don't want it to end.
opher goodwin Added Jul 1, 2018 - 12:16pm
Neil - I don't recall the Isaac Asimov story and I think I must have read them all. Perhaps it lodged in my subconscious? I do love his writing. It sounds a good one.
Politics and the insane drive for power and wealth.
I too am enjoying the warmth immensely but I'd sure that there are plenty of people, fauna and flora who are not liking it so very much and I wonder how much we'll be liking it if the Gulf Stream changes, the Jet Stream alters, the huge storms come through or the sea levels rise ten metres or so?
Neil Lock Added Jul 1, 2018 - 12:51pm
Opher: It might have been Larry Niven, or someone else in that circle. The memory is faint :-)
And how long will it take to produce a ten metre sea level rise from now? Somewhere between 3,000 and 7,000 years is my best guess. "We" may well be "hesh" by then.
opher goodwin Added Jul 1, 2018 - 2:29pm
Neil - the evidence is that it proceeds quickly once the tipping point is reached. I'd say fifty years. But I'm hoping the politicians come to their senses in time to avert that. Most of them have. Trump is a Neanderthal (sorry Neanderthals - I know you had bigger brains). It won't take much of a rise to start causing us major difficulties. We already have major issues with flooding. I'm worried about our duck pond.
Neil Lock Added Jul 1, 2018 - 3:03pm
Opher: Trump is a politician. Politicians don't have any senses to come to. They don't care about peacefulness, or honesty, or respect for truth, rights or justice. They don't have any sense of personal responsibility, empathy with human beings, or any of the other good stuff we talked about on your other thread.
Trump is an idiot in many ways, yes. But is he worse than Major, Blair, Prescott, Brown, Cameron, May, Corbyn, Clegg (remember him?) and their ilk? Or O'Bummer, Shrubs I and II, and the Clinton dynasty? I can't judge yet. But at least he's a little bit different, and he's trying to tackle the green monster.
opher goodwin Added Jul 1, 2018 - 5:03pm
Neil - I can only go by what I see. He stinks. He uses fascist tactics of divide and rule, citing a scapegoat and building up fear and hatred.
If it looks like a fascist, sounds like a fascist, postures like a fascist and stinks like a fascist I reckon it's a fascist. His disregard for experts and the environment is enough to tell me he's a nutcase.
Flying Junior Added Jul 2, 2018 - 3:39am
I don't have a problem with either Blair or Cameron despite Blair's ill-advised support of Operation Iraqi Destruction.
I am to understand that you support Trump simply because he attacks the environmental movement and those who would call to reduce pollution and carbon footprint?
"He's trying to tackle the green monster."
Do you have any idea how ill-advised and erroneous that statement sounds to anyone who is learned of Earth science?
It's willful ignorance.  It's a type of addiction or thrill-seeking behavior.  No one espouses these beliefs from an educated frame of reference..  It's peer pressure and tribalism.
opher goodwin Added Jul 2, 2018 - 5:44am
Flying Junior - I agree with you. That was very well put. It is thrill-seeking, irresponsible, peer pressure and tribalism. That is unusual coming from a man who I respect as a man of intellect. I can only presume that there has been an incident in his past that has led to this unfortunate stance.
Ric Wells Added Jul 2, 2018 - 10:58pm
What is the purpose of exploring Zeta? Monetary, Curiosity, Own planet on verge of extinction? Separate species on their own planet in need of food source, safe place to live?
Need to make it a little more personal. Give me a name for the professor and the young man. Give reason why he was pointed out. 
Need some fill between liftoff and landing. Perhaps a stowaway as a side story. Possible friction between crew members. 
Possibly 10 ships and only 9 landed safely? 
How far away are they from Zeta? Possible travel through wormhole or vortex. 
What were the expectations of the professor?
This story has many possibilities. Don't rush it let it come to you. I did enjoy what you have so far. 
opher goodwin Added Jul 3, 2018 - 3:46am
Hi Ric - I wrote it for my writing group so it was written quickly and had to be short which prevented me from developing it too much. I did not want to reveal the names or give much detail on the aliens as they were aliens and I wanted to make it seem as if they were humans landing on an alien planet. The idea was that a bunch of alien archeologists were landing on Earth to investigate how humans, along with all mammals, were all wiped out millions of years before.
I may go back and develop it a bit more. Thanks for the pointers. I might well go down those paths.
Even A Broken Clock Added Jul 3, 2018 - 9:05pm
Hi, Opher. My observations is that the report backs from the teams are too pat and are lacking context. The premise is good (assuming you are describing the Earth after the demise of humanity), but the execution is weak at present. Hope this helps.
When I'm writing a blog, I try definitely to keep the subject under control and the word count limited under 1500. Were I to write fiction again, I've learned that it is necessary to give full exposition to the actions and motivations of my characters. Only then will your characters assume their own personality and begin to exert actions that you didn't know they had in them.
opher goodwin Added Jul 4, 2018 - 3:44am
Thanks EABC - yes there were limitations in length in order to read aloud at a writing group. It did rather truncate many aspects. I may have a go at developing it further. Thanks for your feedback - much appreciated.