Read Paw-Prints Of The Gods Online

Authors: Steph Bennion

Tags: #young adult, #space opera, #science fiction, #sci fi, #sci fi adventure, #science fantasy, #humour and adventure, #science fantasy adventure, #science and technology, #sci fi action adventure, #humorous science fiction, #humour adventure, #sci fi action adventure mystery, #female antagonist, #young adult fantasy and science fiction, #sci fi action adventure thrillers, #humor scifi, #female action adventure, #young adult adventure fiction, #hollow moon, #young girl adventure

Paw-Prints Of The Gods (10 page)

BOOK: Paw-Prints Of The Gods
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Xuthus and fellow
student Urania were working in dome three, where a series of
shallow trenches had uncovered a right-angled stretch of wall and a
number of fossilised tree stumps in regular rows. Urania knelt a
few metres away, engrossed in cleaning one of the black stumps near
the wall. She was an attractive dark-haired woman who wore her long
hair in a loose ponytail and her overalls tightly belted. Like
Xuthus, Urania had started her archaeology studies that year,
though was five years older. Her parents, aerospace workers from
Rio de Janeiro, were struggling to find regular work in Newbrum and
Urania juggled several part-time jobs to fund her dream of becoming
an archaeologist. In contrast, Xuthus and Hestia came from wealthy,
middle-class American families who owed their good fortune to the
Que Qiao pharmaceutical companies in Bradbury Heights.

“Had enough?” Urania
asked, glancing up from her own task.

Xuthus grinned,
captivated as always by her smile and lilting Brazilian accent.

“This is boring,” he
said. “I want alien bones, long-lost treasure!”

“You’ve been watching
too many holovids,” said Urania and gave a little laugh. “Most
archaeology is back-breaking and tedious, especially when you get
someone like Aberystwyth Jones who doesn’t trust automatic
excavators.”

“Why do you call him
that?” Xuthus asked irritably. Doctor Jones had chastised him for
using his nickname, but annoyingly still allowed the girls to do
so.

“He’s from
Aberystwyth,” said Urania. “It’s a joke! You must have seen the
movies.
Indiana Jones and the Golden Fleece of Sirius
was on
Ascension Freeview last month.”

“Aberystwyth Jones,”
muttered Xuthus. “Hilarious.”

“Here’s the man
himself,” she added, pointing over Xuthus’ shoulder.

Doctor Jones,
Professor Cadmus and the ungainly figure of Hestia had just entered
dome three. The tunnel-like walkway to the west led to dome one,
which contained a pair of habitation cabins, another series of
short trenches and an airlock leading south into the small hangar
containing the life-support plant and the expedition’s transport
vehicle. Dome two was to the north of dome one and it was here that
the mysterious inscribed arch and star chamber had been found.
Xuthus could not help feeling jealous that it was Hestia and not
himself whom Govannon had asked when looking for an extra pair of
hands.

“Aberystwyth!” called
Urania. She raised her trowel in a mock salute.

Govannon waved back.
Xuthus perked up at the prospect of a break from the hot, sweaty
conditions and a tedious morning’s archaeology in the trench. Today
marked the end of week six of their ten-week expedition and the day
they got to leave the dome for their fortnightly trip to meet the
ship. The excursion was a welcome change of scenery, while having
fresh food and a proper shower in a cool air-conditioned spacecraft
was a rare luxury between each two-week spell under the domes. What
he was looking forward to most was the chance to speak to his
mother and father back on Ascension. The expedition’s tiny fusion
power plant was not up to supporting an ED transmitter on site and
so there was a general rush to use the one aboard the ship whenever
it was on Falsafah.

Professor Cadmus,
Doctor Jones and Hestia arrived at where Xuthus and Urania were
busy in the trench. Hestia made straight for Xuthus’ area and
greeted him with the smile of a best friend, which annoyed him no
end. She had acted this way ever since Christmas, when his family
had joined hers at their ski resort cabin in Kirchel, where an
unfortunate series of events led to Hestia saving him from being
eaten by a mad mechanical wolf. In his eyes, being rescued by a
girl was embarrassing, which did not make them friends.

Urania, having glanced
at the time display on her wristpad, took their arrival as a cue to
stop work and climbed to her feet, trowel in one hand and kneeling
mat in the other. As the academics walked slowly along the edge of
the shallow pit, Xuthus noted that while Doctor Jones appeared
genuinely excited by the work he and Urania had done in the trench,
Professor Cadmus seemed almost bored. Govannon paused above the
fossilised tree stumps and gazed along the neat row Urania had
uncovered. Each jagged stub was half a metre wide and some had
visible growth rings.

“Good work!” he
declared. “That’s incredible evidence of climate change, see. It
puts me in mind of the fossilised forests found in Antarctica after
the thaw.”

“I suspect the
plantation had ritual significance,” remarked Cadmus. It was a
stock explanation much beloved of archaeologists when confronted
with a mystery. “The stumps appear to be arranged in a very regular
pattern.”

“Coincidence!” snapped
Govannon.

“Perhaps trees on
Falsafah were just better behaved,” said Urania, giving Govannon a
sly wink. “Born with a natural instinct to stand in queues, like
you English.”

“I’m Welsh!”

“What about the wall?”
asked Xuthus, feeling his own hard work was being unfairly
overlooked. “If it was an orchard, perhaps the wall was to keep
people out.”

“People, is it?”
Govannon frowned. “Mesolithic humans in Tau Ceti?”

“I meant aliens,”
murmured Xuthus.

“Aliens!”

“Greys?” offered
Urania.

“It seems the logical
explanation,” said Cadmus.

“Perhaps this is where
Neanderthals disappeared to,” Hestia solemnly quipped.

Xuthus scowled,
embarrassed by her attempt at a joke, though no one else appeared
to be listening. Govannon turned away, muttering obscenities under
his breath. Seeing Urania grab one of the wheelbarrows and head for
the exit ramp, Xuthus picked up his own bucket and headed after
her. By the time he and Urania returned from the spoil heap,
Govannon was walking back towards the tunnel to dome one, taking
his grumbles with him.

“Curious man,” mused
Cadmus. “Fallen off the boat to Thebes, that one.”

“Sorry?” asked
Urania.

The professor gave a
weak smile. “He’s in denial.”

 

* * *

 

The transport parked
in the hangar had been loaned to the expedition by the Que Qiao
maintenance crew who occasionally visited Arallu Depot, the nearest
supply base to the excavation. The six-wheeled vehicle was of the
type commonly used on airless worlds throughout the five systems,
though this one was more battered than most. The whole hangar had
to be depressurised before the main doors could be opened, which
did put a strain upon the life-support plant that maintained a
breathable atmosphere throughout the complex. For this reason,
trips outside were a rare and special treat.

“I’m not coming with
you,” announced Professor Cadmus, arriving late at the hangar.
“I’ve noticed an error in the site report that needs to be
corrected before it goes.”

“We can wait,” said
Govannon.

Behind him, Xuthus
paused in the midst of lugging the last of the empty water barrels
across the hangar, perturbed by the men’s conversation. Hestia and
Urania were out of earshot, busy with the job of linking the toilet
and waste disposal trailer onto the back of the transport. The
torrid heat and lack of air circulation fans within the
metal-roofed hangar was not helping the mobile toilet unit smell
any better.

“That’s hardly fair on
the students,” said Cadmus. “The ship is on Falsafah for just a few
hours and you know they look forward to a bit of time away from the
site. I can get the update to you via the short-range transmitter
before it leaves.”

“Don’t you want to
speak to your bosses yourself? Give an oral report?”

“I confess I’m feeling
a little under the weather.” As if to illustrate his point, Cadmus
gave a brief grimace, clutching his stomach as he did so. “A mild
touch of food poisoning, I fear. It’s my own fault for eating that
rather ripe cheese last night.”

“Cheese? The girls
used what was left three days ago when they made lasagne.”

“In that case, it’s
definitely my fault for eating something masquerading as cheese,”
said the professor with a smile, then winced again. “I’ll be fine!
You and the students need a break. I don’t want to keep you here on
my account.”

“You do realise we’re
taking the poop-mobile with us,” advised Govannon, glancing over
his shoulder to where Hestia was heaving the heavy trailer onto the
towing hitch. Impressively, she was using just one hand so the
other could hold her nose. “It badly needs to be emptied but
that’ll leave you with nowhere to go if your bowels demand
likewise.”

“I’ll manage,” Cadmus
reassured him. “You need to get going!”

Govannon gave a shrug
and watched the professor walk back into the dome. For some strange
reason Cadmus had now developed a limp.

“Is he not coming with
us?” asked Xuthus, sidling closer.

“It seems not,” mused
Govannon. “Professor Cadmus appears to be inflicted with a
debilitating case of bad acting and needs to lie down for a while.
Shall we make a move?”

Xuthus frowned,
puzzled that anyone would want to pretend to be ill on today of all
days, but nodded and trotted obediently towards the rear of the
transport. Hestia was helping Urania carry the final load of empty
food crates through the vehicle’s hatch. Govannon moved to close
the airlock to the domes and then paused, for on the far side of
the dome beyond, a distant figure was hurriedly making his way into
the tunnel to dome two. Xuthus looked to see what had caught
Govannon’s attention and frowned again when he saw that the
professor’s limp had miraculously disappeared.

“Fine,” Govannon
muttered. “Drool in peace over your so-called aliens!”

 

* * *

 

Professor Cadmus
paused at the end of the tunnel and listened to the dwindling roar
of the hangar’s air escaping into the Falsafah atmosphere. Moments
later, he felt a faint quiver at his feet and pictured the heavy
transport trundling away into the Arallu Wastes, then this too
faded to leave just the familiar background hum of the life-support
system. On the other side of dome one, red lights flashed at the
hangar entrance, warning the unwary that the airlock was sealed and
the outer hangar door open.

“Finally!” he
murmured. “Time to do some proper archaeology.”

He reached into his
jacket and withdrew his slate from the large inside pocket designed
for such a device, eager to read again the last message from his
sponsors. Tau Ceti’s sole servermoon orbited the more hospitable
world of Aram, which due to freak planetary geometrics was always
on the opposite side of the sun from Falsafah. The University had
been denied formal access to the Que Qiao Lagrange communication
relay, which otherwise allowed non-ED signals to reach the
servermoon without being swamped by radiation pouring from Tau Ceti
itself, so had to rely on visits from the expedition’s ship to send
messages home. What Doctor Jones and his students did not know was
that Cadmus was secretly in touch with his employers on Earth via
the local Falsafah police.

As an experienced
archaeologist, Cadmus was uneasy that his Alien Encounters Board
sat within Que Qiao’s huge research and development agency. He had
been equally disquieted when he learned his new employers knew of
his standing within the Dhusarian Church, something he had
concealed from fellow scholars for many years. Yet the latest
message from Earth, not to mention his sneaky peek several weeks
ago at what the student Ravana had on her personal slate, left him
in no doubt he was on Falsafah for all the right reasons.

In no time at all he
was standing once more on the edge of Govannon’s new trench in dome
two, gazing down at the exposed corner of the star chamber. Lifting
his slate, he thumbed the touch-screen display and read again the
all-important missive from Earth:

 

Proceed as advised,
preliminary survey only. Concur with recommendation that initial
investigation be conducted whilst Jones off site. Findings to be
reported in strict confidence.

 

Professor Cadmus
smiled and tucked the slate back into his jacket. A visit to the
nearby tool store equipped him with an oxygen mask and a
fully-charged lantern. After clipping the mask and lamp to his
belt, he picked up a mattock, walked to the ladder and descended to
the bottom of the trench.

Moving cautiously, he
entered the space between the excavated parallel walls and idly
brushed his fingers against the smooth surface, all the way to the
sharp edges of the strange hieroglyphs etched into the ancient
glass. Before him stood the two-metre graceful glass arch that
Cadmus knew had been raised by alien hands. Down in the pit, the
resemblance to a doorway was stronger than ever.

“Knock knock,” he
murmured, lifting the mattock. “Anyone home?”

 

* * *

 

Arallu Depot was two
hundred kilometres south of the excavation. Despite the lack of a
road, the easy terrain made the journey possible in four hours. The
Arallu Wastes lay on an ancient coastal plane, north of a
desiccated ocean and west of a range of mountains forced up by
long-dormant tectonic activity. Satellite radar imaging had long
revealed a cluster of unusual structures half-buried alongside dry
river beds, some of which were intriguing enough to justify
maintaining a supply depot in Arallu at one of the few spots where
water could be pumped from the ground. Surveys produced endless
evidence of ancient plants and animals, including massive
fossilised skeletal remains of creatures that defied description
and awaited proper scientific study. It was these ancient bones,
coupled with the fierce winds that now carved the once-fertile
delta, that had led early Arab explorers to name the bleak, dreary
region after the mythical abode of the dead.

BOOK: Paw-Prints Of The Gods
12.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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