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 (9 page)

BOOK: Paw-Prints Of The Gods
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“The Dhusarian Church
is the light in the black!” announced Nyx. “It is written that the
greys, the mighty galactic travellers of infinite insight, will one
day return to lead the twelve kingdoms of humankind. That time is

“Praise the greys!”
cried the congregation, all except Bellona who missed the cue.

“Tonight, we are truly
honoured,” Nyx continued. “Our pleas to the Third Temple of Yuanshi
have been answered. This is the day the Dhusarian Church of
Ascension welcomes our planetary guides, our teachers, our

“Praise the

Bellona gasped as two
figures stepped from the shadows and approached the centre of the
stage. Both wore long grey cloaks, with hoods that masked their
faces. Nyx stood to one side and bowed deferentially. The monks
stepped up to the lectern and with hidden stares regarded the eager
faces of their congregation.

“The power of the
greys!” cried Bellona with the others. “In your head be it!”

The monks lifted their
hands in triumphant six-fingered salutes.

“zz-aand-bee-iit-iin-yyoouurs-zz!” they screeched.


* * *

Tomb of the


[Chapter Two
] [
Chapter Four


JONES, head of exoarchaeology at Bradbury Heights University, stood
and watched as a second laser-mapper drone swooped through the
confines of the dome to join the one already hovering over the end
of the trench. Deep in thought, his left hand idly flipped his
trowel like a one-handed juggler, leaving his right free to idly
scratch his stubbly chin and push up the rim of his battered
wide-brimmed hat. The heat beneath the low-roofed dome was
stifling, he had not taken a shower all week due to water
rationing, their last supply trip brought rats to the site and
outside there was nothing but desolate desert as far as the eye
could see, but none of that mattered. Today was a good day to be an

“Hestia!” he called,
addressing the pink-haired stocky student who knelt with her back
to him in the nearby pit. She was doing her best to brush away the
layer of fine red sand that seemed to come back as soon as it was
cleared. “That’s enough for now.”

The girl turned and
nodded at the sound of his sing-song tones. Abandoning her task,
she made for the ladder at the edge of the trench, raising a fresh
cloud of dust with her feet. The original five-metre square pit had
this morning been lengthened another couple of metres towards the
northern edge of the dome. The desert sand was so fine it had to be
kept at bay by an ugly system of poles, wires and plastic panels.
Hestia had done well to tidy the mess left by the automatic
excavators and Govannon regarded the trench with a keen eye.

In the centre of the
three-metre deep pit was the dark, mysterious feature recorded in
the site report simply as ‘the arch’, a name that barely did it
justice. The graceful curving structure stood at the end of two
parallel walls, the latter a metre and a half apart and sloping up
from the south, all made of the same neat bricks of volcanic-like
glass. To the shabbily-dressed archaeologist it was the stuff of
dreams, for this wall was twelve light years from Wales and
considerably older than the legacy King Offa had left behind to
tantalise him as a child. Thermoluminescence dating across the site
confirmed the same thing; whatever it was that had created the
strange silicon bricks had done so a hundred thousand years before
humans had even considered stepping foot on Falsafah.

The latest extension
to the trench only served to reveal another layer of mystery to the
enigma. As Govannon returned to scratching his chin, he looked not
at the arch but beyond. Careful excavation had uncovered an
adjoining triangular-topped mass, corresponding exactly to the
ghostly desert shadows of an earlier survey. It was the
southernmost spur of a perfectly-symmetrical six-pointed star,
built of the same bricks seen elsewhere, one that the geophysical
study showed extended northwards beneath the sand maybe sixty
metres or more.

“What do you think it
is, Doctor Jones?” asked Hestia, coming to his side. Her choppy
hairstyle was now streaked with blue, transformed by bioelectric
fibre-optic extensions woven into her own mousy tresses. “The
entrance to an alien temple?”

“There’s no such thing
as aliens!” muttered Govannon, irritably.

“The Dhusarian Church
uses a six-pointed star as its symbol,” Hestia pointed out.

“So does Judaism. The
work of alien rabbis, is it?”

“It must be alien!”
she protested. “You said it was too old to be built by humans.”

“It could be a natural
phenomenon,” he suggested weakly. “An outcrop of volcanic magma.
One that somehow crystallised into a regular shape, see?”

“With a door?”

Govannon looked to
where Hestia pointed. The arch was sealed by a recessed wall of
silicon blocks, which at a glance could be taken for bricked-up
door into the triangular spur. Despite the early discovery of a
strange script carved on the nearby wall, Govannon stoically
maintained that the arch was nothing more than the remains of an
unusually-regular volcanic vent, yet the hard evidence of what had
already been coined the ‘star chamber’ severely shook his resolve.
He had spent his academic life exposing the sensationalists of the
archaeological world who saw evidence of aliens in almost every
ancient ruin, for he had long ago become convinced that humankind
was alone in the universe. Here in the Arallu Wastes he had found
enough evidence to destroy a lifetime of arguments. With a sigh, he
turned his gaze towards the waiting laser-mapper machines.

scan,” he instructed. “Full spectrum analysis.”

The drones began their
methodical plotting of the trench. The expedition was able to work
on the inhospitable planet without survival suits thanks to three
inflatable-walled domes, forty metres in diameter with airtight
doors every ninety degrees for interconnectivity, each kept in
place by desert rocks heaped into external perimeter troughs.
Govannon heard the soft thump of boots upon sand and turned to see
a figure approaching from the connecting tunnel to the neighbouring

He was still not sure
what to make of Professor Cadmus. The burly English academic was
supremely qualified and an alumnus of both Oxford University and
the renowned Institute of Archaeology, University College London.
Govannon’s assumption that his colleague would share his views on
the non-existence of ancient aliens was rocked when Cadmus revealed
he was on Falsafah as chairman of the recently-established Que Qiao
Alien Encounters Board. Govannon, having visited Daode in Epsilon
Eridani, remembered with affection how the local Que Qiao
government were quick to discredit all sightings of the legendary
alien greys. That the corporation had such thing as an Alien
Encounters Board was puzzling.

“Doctor Jones!” called
Professor Cadmus. He waved to Govannon with the touch-screen slate
in his hand. The brown jacket and trousers he wore made him look
every bit the academic, an image reinforced by a grey square-cut
beard in a style most agreed had never been in fashion. “I need you
to sign off the site report. I trust your records are up to

“All but the context
scans for this one,” Govannon told him, raising his voice against
the buzz of the mapper robots. Using the tip of his trowel, he
pointed to the tiny rotor-driven machines whizzing up and down
above the new extension to the trench. “I’ve only just got the
drones back from your lot on trench fifteen.”

Professor Cadmus had
barely kept away from Govannon’s work at the arch over the last
fortnight. He went to the edge of the pit and peered at the
triangular edifice, singularly unconcerned that his presence would
be captured by the scanning equipment and recorded for posterity.
Govannon was more worried about the panels and wires reinforcing
the trench, which were visibly buckling under the strain of keeping
the weighty professor away from the business end of a minor
landslide. Hestia retreated to a safe vantage point behind
Govannon, having caused an embarrassing trench collapse the day

“Impressive,” Cadmus
remarked. “Did you find time to take samples of the glass?”

“Bagged and logged,”
confirmed Govannon. “I had a quick look under the microscope and it
has the same weird cellular structure we saw before, like a silicon
version of fossilised wood. I’m guessing the main outcrop is of the
same origin as the vent, see?”

“You mean the tomb and
the doorway?”

“We still have no
proof that this is an artificial structure!”

“Of course it is!”
snapped Cadmus. “Does any of this look natural? Here we are,
standing on the eve of the greatest discovery of all time and still
you deny what is laid plain before your eyes. Be serious, man!”

“Standing on the eve,
is it?” retorted Govannon. He leaned wearily against a convenient
wheelbarrow. “It’s you on the edge of that trench I’m worried

Cadmus smiled and
stepped back from the pit. “Why do you still doubt? Are you not as
keen as I to prise open that door and see what wonders are waiting

“Door, is it? All my
eyes see is...”

“You need to look
beyond what you can see! Can you not open your heart and mind to
the possibility of what we may have discovered here?”

“I am not prising
anything open until we get clearance, see!”

“Don’t be so
officious! The past belongs to all.”

“Since when has our
dear sponsor been so magnanimous?” retorted Govannon. It had
recently come to light that funding for the excavation had come
from the Alien Encounters Board and thus the Que Qiao Corporation,
for reasons not yet made clear.

“The Dhusarians think
we’re desecrating a holy site,” added Hestia.

“And no doubt that
idiot Dagan will take great pleasure in reminding us of that if
he’s still hanging around the depot,” said Govannon. A young Arab
man and self-proclaimed defender of the Dhusarian faith had made
his presence known during their previous visits to meet their ship.
“I’m sure it was he who sabotaged the ’risor so it wouldn’t serve

“I’m in charge here on
Falsafah!” declared Cadmus. “We are archaeologists, scientists,
seekers of the truth! What happened to the thrill you felt barely
two weeks ago when the desert revealed what lay beneath? Both you
and that student helping you could hardly contain yourselves! What
was her name?”

“Ravana,” said
Govannon. “She was a good kid. It was a shame she had to

“She had no doubts
about what we’ve found here. Why have you?”

Govannon opened his
mouth to reply, wondering whether the professor was aware he had
caught Ravana trying to compare the carvings with the very odd
version of the Dhusarian
on her slate, then

“Tell him what you
found,” prompted Hestia. “The oxygen tank.”

“I still need to make
sure it’s not one of ours!” hissed Govannon.

“What’s that?” asked
Cadmus. “A tank?”

Govannon nodded. “It
was just below the surface, barely a metre away from the vent. I
mean the arch,” he corrected, seeing the professor’s steely glare.
“It’s a small cylinder from a survival suit, though an old design.
But the stratification is very muddled. We discovered overlapping
areas of infill, see? It’s almost as if the site has been excavated

Cadmus raised a
surprised eyebrow. “Can you put any dates to that?”

“Optical dating in the
south of the trench falls within a similar range to the rest of the
site,” Govannon told him. Quartz within the glass, bleached by
ancient sunlight, once buried had slowly baked in the background
radiation of Falsafah’s desert sands. Optical dating, or
optically-stimulated luminescence, was a way of using the resulting
atomic changes in the quartz to estimate how long the mysterious
structure had lain undisturbed beneath the sand. “The dates suggest
the desert encroached within a thousand years or so after it
formed. We’re talking about events a hundred thousand years old, so
it’s hard to be accurate.”

“After it formed?”
asked Cadmus. “After it was built, you mean.”

Govannon ignored the
interruption. “However, there was a disturbed area to the north
above your so-called arch, see?” he continued. “Optical dating
suggests it was exposed to sunlight a mere twelve thousand years
ago. It’s curious, but the infill was localised and cuts through
two metres of sand. There’s also signs of more recent

Cadmus’ eyes narrowed.
“The cylinder you mentioned?”

Govannon shrugged. “It
may have been buried by one of the students as a lark.”

“I understand you even
accused Xuthus of carving those symbols,” said Cadmus, shaking his
head sadly. “I think you know your students better than that!”

“You have your
theories,” Govannon replied softly. “I have mine.”

“Yet we have but one
site report to compile,” the professor replied. “Which, as I said,
needs to be updated before we meet the ship. Hopefully, my
superiors have had time to chew over the last instalment and are
ready to give us permission to open that door.”

“Volcanic vent!”

“Whatever,” sighed
Cadmus wearily. “Just write your damn report.”


* * *


Xuthus shifted
uncomfortably upon his kneeling pad, which did little to ease the
throbbing pain in his back that had been building all morning. He
had scraped away at a section of wall for what seemed like hours
and the screech of trowel against glass that so annoyed fellow
student Urania was no longer funny. His overalls were crumpled, his
pale skin was streaked with dirt and sweat, his hair felt
disgusting and his knees hurt almost as bad as his back. He tried
to tell himself he was fortunate to live in Bradbury Heights, where
the city’s academy allowed sixteen-year-olds with the right
aptitude to start university two years early, but archaeology was
not as fun as he had hoped.

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