Proof Through the Night
STELLA Aldrin gasped for breath. Tedd Armstrong, her co-pilot and husband, checked her pulse and then opened the oxygen valve to max capacity. Their Scrambler, Rocinante they called it, was nearly depleted of its oxygen supply, and time was running out.
With a second wind, Stella mustered the energy to check the Holographic PinPointer. “Tedd,” she said excitedly, “Look! An object buried near Luna Sector II!”
Their awareness perked and they high fived one another, though they continued to be mystified by the incomplete message inscribed on the “Sacred Epitaph” lying beneath a blanket of dust deposited by the polluters who ran the thermoelectric conversion plants which once brought power to Old Moon Tellurians in the mid-21st century.
Before time ran out, Stella and Tedd had been vacationing in the Great Magnetic Outback, a geo-archaeo-explorers’ paradise. They were well beyond the Forbidden Zone of Velikovsky’s Volcanic Veldt, which for the past several centuries had been off-limits. In the celestially perturbed year of 2076, this area of the Old Moon underwent a series of severe convulsions caused by meteoric bombardment of debris the size of mountains, castoff chunks from Bode’s Fragmented Planet. Stella and Tedd were considered lunatics by their peers, and admonished against venturing there to explore, but they were independent driven types, well-suited for adventure, and their determination and desire to locate the “Sacred Epitaph” was such that they were willing to take risks. Whatever it took. Even death.
During their explorations of the GMO, the lucky explorers found rare Sparkling Tektites, worth ten times more than the most precious diamonds back on Telluria. They poked around in wonderment at abandoned Phase IV Tri-Plenipotentiary colonization ruins. Their imaginations swooned over the confounding “Cairns of Caleidi” — hidden 700 feet down in a crater — dozens of mysterious monuments of multi-colored crystal spheres the size of gigantic billiard balls stacked 200 feet high, left by an ancient star-trekking culture from the Multiverse West Bend. And macabre as it was, a highlight of their explorations was wandering about on sore knees, absorbed for hours, in the labyrinthine pictographic catacombs of the extinct Proserpine Android Vole Cult.
Two days before Stella and Tedd were due back to their posts, they had left the Great Magnetic Outback and turned their attention to sleuthing around in search of the “Sacred Epitaph”. Several official expeditions over the years, led by senior scientists with advanced 26th century LIDAR mapping technology, had failed to turn it up; and countless treasure-seekers had risked death in the remote Veldt looking for the relic whose outrageous fetching price of ^100,000^ Platinumia on the Trans-Galactic Market was high motivation — and competition — for those eager, outfitted and talented enough to seek it out.
What Stella and Tedd knew for certain (though rumored) was that the “Sacred Epitaph” bore a profound message, inscribed in Paleo-Anglican some 500 years ago by Pre-Mutant Ancestors. Allegedly a gesture of pre-Holocaust goodwill, or so they imagined, they fancied the relic to be the Mother of all Riddles, a cryptic message to Trans-Evolved Sapiens that held encoded secrets — the ultimate Key of Knowledge to expanding Tellurian consciousness to spiritual levels of Magico-Technology, considered the pinnacle of Intelligent Cosmic Evolution. What Stella and Tedd also knew for certain was that they were in the right place . . . but time — and oxygen — were running out.
Stella turned up the Holographic PinPointer Amplification Magnometer, bringing the relic into partial focus. Leaning in, she strained to decrypt the illegible message sputtering into view on the HP dashboard screen:
. . . ME I ACE ALL ANK . . .
They both looked at one another with “What the heck?” expressions of bafflement. And with time a precious commodity at this point, Tedd began making furious adjustments to the HP in an effort to sharpen the PinPointer Pixelation.
“We should have this thing decoded in a flash!” he said with surprising optimism. “I just need to bring out the resolution a bit more.”
Stella stared out a port window at the bleak landscape and said, more to herself, “I wonder what ‘ANK’ means? Could it be related to Antiquarian Egyptian culture?” She closed her eyes and massaged her temples. “Tedd, seriously, what does any of it mean? . . . ‘ME’ ‘I’ ‘ACE’ . . . I seriously doubt that Capra’s Quark Conundrum or Stuart’s Infiniti-Calendrics were as difficult to decipher as this ancient relic!”
Stella began to feel tears welling up and sensed that Tedd, too, was a lump of frenzied emotional energy. It was just a short 32 CycloChron ago they had come to Livingston, Luna to begin a new life. Because of their pedigree, they were offered top posts with the prestigious Institute for Advanced Biological Sustainability researching Spinoza’s Phyto-Replication theory, hoping for a breakthrough to create oxygen, and a Tellurian biota, on Luna, long considered an eccentric’s fantasy, but now met with a degree of success owing to Stella’s accidental discovery of photoautotrophic bacteria near the CO2-bergs of Sere Mare.
Yes, their life on Luna was exciting, and discovering the “Sacred Epitaph” would be their crowning achievement — were it not for the one brutal moment when they received news that a sickening nuclear conflict had erupted on Telluria, the land of their birth, and had now spread to their new home, Luna, like a cancerous contagion. All the hopes, dreams and visions of Trans-Evolved Sapiens up in nuclear smoke and megaton brimstone.
They soon learned from static-blurred reports coming in that the war raging on Telluria was much worse than the Quasi-Armageddon of 2111. That abominable conflict had erupted when renegade nuke-nations, armed with plutonium molotov cocktails, rose up in protest over global economic inequities and horrific mistreatment of most of the world’s population. After the 29-Year Depression (from 2080 through 2109), the world’s pressure cooker blew its lid and all hell broke loose.
But how could it have happened again? After centuries of peace and prosperity fostered by the compassionate leadership of the Luminous Orwellian Visionary Ecstatica who salvaged Earth from the depths of despair and destruction?
After the QA of 2111, LOVE had divided the globe into Tri-Plenipotentiary Nationhood:
Soviet Hegemony of Independent Territories
Plutocracy of IndoAmerican Socialist States
Federation of United Caucasian Kingdoms
In theory, this division of power was an experiment in Utopian Idealism, positive steps toward the eradication of nuclear weapons, a great step forward in Trans-Evolved Sapient evolution, the heralding of the “Irenic Golden Age” of tolerance and co-existence of cultures, with the sublime goal of respect and harmony for all living beings on Telluria. The mayhem, bickering, killings, massacres, butchering, warmongering, speciesism and tribalism were barbaric pastimes of a primitive people. That’s what the LOVE potentates wanted you to believe anyway.
By now every living thing on Telluria had perished. Every living thing, that is, except for 100 Pinnacle Dignitarians, comfortably ensconced in cryogenic bomb-proof chambers in deep-set North Atlantic trenches. It was now Luna’s turn to burn, and eradicate the last vestiges of Trans-Evolved Sapient existence. Stella began to recite a sentimental verse she remembered from a science fiction book from her childhood: “I pray for one last landing, on the globe that gave us birth, let us rest our eyes on fleecy skies, and the cool green hills of earth.”
Tedd shook his head sadly, musing cynically on the “doubly-wise” species, Homo sapiens sapiens, who weren’t even able to survive 1/50th of the time that dinosaurs reigned, let alone cockroaches. Now, such a laughingstock, ecce homo, no better off than those sightless Proserpine Voles who lost their sanity, then their lives, in a complex maze of dead-end tunnels.
Tedd said, “Stella, get your suit on. We’re so close. Our oxygen’s about cooked anyway. Rocinante’s a dead horse, I fear.” He let out a sigh, figuring they had about twenty minutes left before their oxygen ran out . . . or less, before Luna blew up or yo-yoed off its gravitational orbit to fling forever through the chartless depths of the space.
Stella remained fixated at the Holographic PinPointer screen, still beating her brains out wondering about the archaeological enigma of a half-deciphered message:
. . . ME I ACE ALL ANK . . .
“This is pretty ridiculous at this point,” Stella lamented. “What good will it do even if we find it and learn what the message says? Who will be around to give a damn anyway?”
The sad answer was: not a single Trans-Evolved Sapien (except for those 100 Pinnacle Dignitarians programmed to awaken in 500 Tellurian years). Dead and gone forever. But news would quickly spread across the Ocean of Galactic Civilizations. The 100 million year old culture known as CEUU — Cosmic Eavesdroppers of Ubujumaka Umashtaqqopowoq — by means of their Universal Broadband Pulsar Satellite Station located 10 quadrillion nanobeats from Barnard’s “Spook” Star, would make sure that every single one of the 500 billion known Advanced Biological Entities in the Universe would be aware of the “Final Extinction”, the ignominious demise of Tellurian civilization. At long lost, the grand deception of a “Utopian” society exposed, just an insignificant anthill in the Scheme of Universal Cosmic Knowledge crushed under their own boot of ignorance. A lesson 500 billion known ABEs had passed, but perhaps many more had failed.
Tedd urged them to get a move on. Abandoning Rocinante, they made their way through an obstacle course of twisted metal left over from old Apollo and Icarus missions. Three ancient Tupolev LEM wrecks perched nearby on the rim of Caldera Crater like gargoyles watching over eternity. Clutching his miniature PinPointer, Tedd scanned the area. “It has to be right here . . . somewhere . . . right over there, Stella! C’mon, let’s make a run for it!”
They leaped and bounded across the unforgiving lunascape. On the distant horizon the jewel of heavens, Telluria, Old Mother Earth, was rising in pitch-black space like a half-doused ember, emitting smoky plumes and streaks of sporadic fireworks in blood-colored brilliance. Stars seemed to be falling from their positions.
Stella and Tedd finally made it to their destination. Their destiny. In their final, desperate moments, they stood together surveying the archaic site at the base of a low, sinuous ridge that looked like a Komodo dragon’s tail, once known as the Sea of Tranquility. Suddenly an explosion rocked Luna, and the horizon lit up in a thermo-nuclear glare of reddened madness: a vision of Hell. The long-awaited for, triumphant moment, shattered by a hideous reality.
“Make that one small step for a human, one giant blunder for humankind!” Tedd fumed.
There would be no encore, no curtain call, no more cool, green hills of Earth. Only a voided world envisioned a half millennium ago by Lord Byron: “Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless — a lump of death — a chaos of hard clay.”
“Civilization is a sham!” cried Stella. “We destroyed ourselves and our beautiful planet and all our hopes and dreams forever for all generations. We shall meet in the next world, a better world, I promise, my Love.”
They locked in embrace and said their final mournful goodbyes and the last of their sorrowful I love yous, before making their way over to Eagle Landing, where they stumbled to their knees at the foot of Old Glory. Around them, deadly fireworks burst soundlessly in the stratosphere, eerily illuminating their surroundings. Proof through the night that the flag was still there. And the fabled plaque.
Straining her eyes at the PinPointer screen, Stella let out an anti-climactic “Whoo Hoo!” over having located the “Sacred Epitaph”, buried beneath a film of dust a few feet from where they stood. She swiped at it with the last vestiges of her strength and will power, finally able to read the elusive message, the long-forgotten promise left by their direct ancestors, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
Dying, she whispered, softly, fading to black, the last words Tedd ever heard:
. . . WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND . . .