______________________________________________________________________________________________________It wasn’t much more than a rock, kept warm by a single, tiny sun, stuck to the far end of the universe. Our initial skip to the location had been little more than a miscalculation; we had been headed for Sarusel Prime. Back then, there hadn’t been many places where you could get relite reliably – it was pretty much only found in any commercially viable amount on Hiere, Kiedi Secundus, Alto Prime, Malcho, and of course, Sarusel Prime. We’d heard word that Gregory Corporation was making a move on the planet to secure a relite monopoly in the Monach sector, so we were heading out to try and make a quick buck doing mercenary work in the blockade.
I transgress. We were on our way to Sarusel Prime, yes. We’d missed the Sarusel system by several hundred lightyears, ending up in some miniscule system with a couple of rocks and several gas giants. Nothing spectacular, pretty much what you’d expect from a star of that size. No life.
Then we heard radio noise from the ternary planet, patterned, repetitive. So we headed in.
The majority of the planet was covered in huge, rolling clouds, an immense amount of water boiling away in the atmosphere. It seemed inhospitable at best, deadly at worst. The amount of greenhouse gases on this thing must have been incredible to sustain what seemed to be entire oceans of water in its stratosphere, boiling and steaming away.
We sank down, and down, and it seemed like we’d never get out of the clouds, till we finally broke through into the layer of clear air below them. Sarah and I shared a look, the sort you send each other to confirm that you haven’t just gone crazy all of a sudden.
“Holy shit.” she said. That summed it up just about perfectly.
Below us was a graveyard of huge skeletal figures, collapsed and leaning onto and over each other. Steel frames crisscrossed with slabs of some sort of sedimentary stone, matte grey and uniform. A dead city. This had been the last thing we’d expected.
“Stay on your toes.” I said. “Go get the sensor and let’s get this over with.”
The city was quiet in death. We parked the barge as close to the ground as we could get, then jumped the short distance down. The entire ground level of the city seemed to be covered in the same stonelike substance that plated the buildings. Sarah took guard while I cut a small piece out for analysis. It seemed to be like some sort of construction foam.
“Hurry up. I don’t like it here.” she said. I didn’t like wasting time there either, out in the open. We moved on, following the radio noise.
We passed shells of rusted vehicles, mostly small, some large. They seemed almost untouched, like everything here had died within a couple weeks. Sarah investigated for a couple of seconds, then came out shaking her head.
The signal grew louder. We had turned on the radios to try and interpret the signal, but we'd had no luck. We ducked into the husk of a skyscraper it had led us to, finding empty rooms, marble flooring. Darkness. The signal grew. It was almost decipherable now; before the thick atmosphere had pretty much rendered it into staccato static, something we could realise was artificial but nowhere near as clear as this. Every now and then Sarah would clutch at my hand, hearing a stray note or clear sound.
Then it began to resolve into a clear, high voice. Something which sounded like a human voice, singing a song we felt we should know, something ancient, something old. It resounded like an old frequency which should have inspired familiarity but now only brought slow fear, like slow shadows growing in the afternoon. Like the soft sounds of insanity in your head.
A door half-opened, hanging off it’s hinges. There was no need for the radios now, no need for the sensor. We'd found it, and we'd already heard what the signal meant, even if we couldn't understand. Click. The last few floating strains of song drifted into wind as we turned off the speakers.
I looked back to check our retreat, and heard the slow creak of Sarah opening the door behind me.
The lights turned on.
“Holy frak!” I yelled. The entire hallway had lit up with fluorescent lights, a sudden glow of unexpected brightness, and I could hear some sort of mechanical hum emanate from the room. Sarah was screaming too, a split second later.
I rushed in, and I saw the panels upon panels of displays, strange glyphs running across the screens. Sarah was standing in front of a control panel, glowing with a strange blue backlight.
The screens flashed white. Sarah and I both backed away towards the door, almost running into each other, till we were almost falling over ourselves. Then it began.
Pictures flashed across the screen. Primitive rockets, fuel-based thrusters. The song came back, from the room’s own speakers this time.
The pictures continued to change. Stars, nebulae, a pockmarked lunar surface, a humanoid figure with a faceless, glassy mask. A small robotic vehicle on a red planet.
Then something which shouldn’t have made us cry. We’d seen this sort of thing ourselves, from high orbit. A blue marble, a planet covered in oceans and greenery, almost identical to every other life-bearing planet. Yet Sarah and I couldn’t shake the sure, heavy feeling, that this was the obituary of a dead one. We were standing on its grave.
The final picture was a mosaic of faces. Human faces, like ours. Had this been a colony? They were of every colour and size and shape, smiling, crying.
Then the song wound down into silence. The lights turned off, power drained. Once again the city was as quiet as death, and the only sounds we could hear were our footsteps on the Earth.