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Chapter 31: Archaeology
December 1, 2016, 22:18
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: ,

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The next morning we met at the Zeppelin moorings and headed for the mountains. The round trip would take us three days. By the time we got back I’d have an idea of the best route and the equipment we’d need. We took Doctor Llewellin Jenkins of the Cartography Corps to record our observations on the map. After several months on the ground it felt good to be in the air again and the mountains are spectacular in summer. No matter how carefully you select your seeds for a new planet there’s always something that gets carried away with itself. The supposedly non-invasive rhododendrons we’d introduced were romping across the foothills in a riot of colour. Eva – who had seized the opportunity of the expedition to assess the progress of the mountain planting – was heard complaining several times that “they weren’t supposed to do that”, but do that they did. She was very excited to discover a new climbing rhododendron. My biggest concern was that the abundance of plant growth would make travel on foot hard work.

When we reached the valley I had to admit the structures looked as if they were build by design rather than nature. It would have been good to have been able to land in the valley but the wind currents were unpredictable with savage cross currents and eddies so we had to maintain a height that made examination of the structures impossible. The good thing was that we found a suitable landing place in a neighbouring valley. It’s strange how a difference in shape and alignment can make such a difference to atmospheric conditions in the hills. In the windy valley, we noticed the vegetation was much more sparse than elsewhere in the mountains at that altitude. Having found a place to land we camped there for the night. Having spent the previous night in the air it was nice to have the opportunity to walk on firm ground.

The next morning after another overflight of the structures we started back to Obamapolis. Because by nightfall we were back over the lowland plains we could have moored and camped, but I preferred just to keep going and so we arrived back at base in the early hours. The next couple of weeks were spent in preparation for the expedition. I began to be anxious that one Zeppelin wouldn’t be enough to carry all the equipment the various corps wanted to carry. The geologists and botanists wanted to take sample cases. The cartographers and archaeologists wanted surveying equipment. They all wanted photographic equipment. I insisted on a squad of marines. Then there was camping equipment, food and medical supplies. As well as all this a number of pack mules. What had began as a small archaeological trip had become an interdisciplinary expedition which made it easier to get approval, but provided many more head aches for those of us responsible for its success. I managed to cut down on some weight by having the different groups share equipment wherever possible, but I found myself thinking thinking I should have insisted people take only what they were prepared to carry.

At last the day of departure came and hundreds came to see us off. It’s easy to forget in an older community just how hard life is in the early days of a colony and how little there is to provide relief from the daily grind. Opportunities for travel are few and knowledge of your planet limited so the departure of the expedition was a source of excitement. We would be sending back daily illustrated bulletins which would go to all the settlements and fill the daily broadcasts supplemented by hours of analysis by experts. Prominent among the experts would be Professor Friedland who wanted to go on the expedition, but was by then far too old to travel. The watching crowds were as excited as the expeditionaries themselves. The atmosphere was like a school trip to the seaside as the Zep lifted off to the cheering of the crowd. The solar panels on the top surface of the bag allowed the cameramen to send a live feed of the journey and the cartographers took it in turns to provide a commentary on what the viewers were seeing. Later when we were on foot they’d have to be more selective in their filming, but for now they could treat the audience to a view of the planet beyond the settlements.

With the Zeppelin so heavily laden it took us a full two days to reach the landing site in the mountains. The first night we camped on the plain before we entered the hills. The next night we were tied up at the mountain anchorage. As we couldn’t offload our supplies and equipment until daylight the cameramen spent the hours before bed filming interviews with anyone willing to talk while they still had access to the airship’s power supply.

Most of the next day was spent in winching supplies and equipment to the ground. We lost one of the mules. It panicked as it was lowered from the Zeppelin and somehow slipped out of the sling, fell head first to the ground and broke its neck. Had it not been for the wind conditions we might have been able to parachute most of the supplies straight to the site instead of carrying them. Now with a mule short there was more carrying to do than anticipated. It was late afternoon before we completed unloading the ship and so we didn’t start walking until after breakfast the next day.

“It’s gone!” One of the young botanists came running back into the camp where we were just finishing loading the mules.

“What’s gone?” I asked.

“The mule, the dead mule. Something’s taken it!”

“Okay, calm down and breathe.” I turned to the Captain of Marines, “Can you take a couple of men and take a look?”

“Sir!” He saluted and went off into the jungle with three men.

Half an hour later they returned having followed the drag marks until the suddenly vanished. There had been what appeared to be tracks, but they had disappeared with the drag marks. The zoologists had no idea what it was, but suggested that just as the ‘dragons’ were merely mutated chickens it might be an undocumented mutation. However none of the zoologists wanted to remain behind to investigate while the expedition proceeded without them so we set off for the structures. It was a slow journey as the marines had to cut a path for us, but the pace favoured the botanists who could take samples without delaying us at all. Later that day we camped in a clearing by a waterfall. After the incident of the missing mule we set up an electrified perimeter fence and the marines mounted guard in shifts, but the night was uneventful as was the next. We reached the structures in the evening of the third day of walking. It was obvious immediately that they were not natural as the regular stones were covered with pictograms. I refused the archaeologists permission to start investigating that night as we were all tired from the three days of walking. I don’t think anyone slept as well as they’d have liked, as well as the excitement of the discovery the winds blew through the structures which caused an eerie moaning.

The next morning we were up early the caterers had set up a field kitchen and they provided a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs. Muesli for the vegetarians – centuries of space travel hadn’t changed the reality that there’s always more on the menu for meat eaters then vegetarians – or a omelette if they wanted. Washed down with hot tea and coffee the breakfast set us up well for a busy day.

What became quickly apparent was that the ruins were more extensive than we had realised as the structures extended back into the mountain which had been excavated. The archaeologists reckoned that much of the building stone was from the excavation. It was also discovered that the hillocks around the valley were not natural, but rather spoil heaps from the evacuations. The spoil heaps extended far down the valley until they were swallowed up by the tree line. The scientists immediately set about taking samples to explain the lack of vegetation in the area there was an amount of moss and some fungus. Had not initial microscopic examination revealed it bore no structural resemblance to the D-4 fungus I might have ended the expedition there and then, but I didn’t.

The first couple of days were spent by the archaeologists and cartographers mapping the external structures. As they did so the photographers took photos as directed by the archaeologists. They were excited to find some symbols reminiscent of carvings found in the Egyptian tombs as well as other Earth cultures. However despite the recurrent images they were unable to decipher the underlying language, if there was one. One benefit of the delay in entering the structures was that we could use our solar panels to ensure all our equipment was charged before we entered on the third day.

It was agreed that the ruins should be investigated one door at a time. Personally I didn’t think they looked like ruins, more like buildings left empty while their owners were elsewhere. I didn’t feel any need to share that opinion after another night of the strange, wind made noises. One thing we discovered was that there were many apertures cut like the mouthpieces of whistles so the eerie noises were deliberate. The marine sergeant suggested that it might be to keep people away. The question that raised in my mind was ‘who and what happened to them?’. The archaeologists speculated that it may well have had the function of inspiring religious awe in those approaching the place. One obvious feature of the outer rooms was their lack of furniture apart from a low stone bench or shelf around the walls. One of the marines sat down on the bench and the seat immediately lowered slightly, there was a noise as if of grinding gears and one of the stones in the wall moved a little. The marine sprang up and dived away from the bench, but nothing further happened.

“No one touch anything until the boffins have had a look!” Ordered the Captain of Marines, “Oh and tread carefully.” I suppose it’s fortunate that none of the party had ever seen an Indiana Jones film or – like me – they might have preferred to get out and go home. However they knew no better than to carry on. As we went further into the structure we marked out our way manually in case we lost the signal to the succession of beacons we left as we went. We numbered each doorway as we passed in sequence, it occurred to me that I was the only one in the party who had seen The Labyrinth, again I thought it best to say nothing. As we progressed into the mountain the doors became smaller and the ceilings lower until suddenly everything opened into a large chamber with a higher ceiling. The technicians set up the big lights.

“Now this room is obviously some sort of temple!” Declared the chief of the archaeological team. Towards the back of the room was a large statue of a seated, bearded figure, on his head like a headdress a snake, its head protruding in an ‘S’ shape from his right temple the tail similarly from the left. In his right hand he held two chains, at their ends were collared a man and a woman. His left hand pointed down to three cauldrons from the left hand one emerged a Shoggoth, from the right a man and from the centre another man who had both arms and the tentacles of the Shoggoth emerging from various points on his body.

“Aha,” exclaimed the archaeologist, “This is obviously a creation myth showing God making both Man and Shoggoth”

“Why are they called Shoggoths,” asked one of the marines, “How does anyone know that’s their name?”

“It’s borrowed from Lovecraft,” I informed him. “Just as Dilithium is borrowed from Star Trek. During our tracels when we find something that reminds is of something we’ve just borrowed names. HP Lovecraft wrote about the Shoggoths which were not quite like ours, but they shared the main features and so ours became Shoggoths.”

I turned to the archaeologist and asked him, “Might it not be, Doctor, that rather than religious myth this might actually reflect symbolically what actually happened?”

He laughed and replied, “It’s unlikely. However the theme of creatures emerging from pots seems to occur frequently around the frieze. Look that looks like a man and woman standing on a planet, no one is that big.”

I objected “Can’t actual events be represented symbolically?”

“Of course they can. I wonder if this is the starting point for a visit to Earth, that could be Earth if the continents weren’t wrong.” He mused.

“Perhaps they had already been to Earth and stopped here on their way home.” I countered when a shout came from nearer the statue.

“Bloody hell, this looks just like Colonel Cain!”

“Stow the language, Sergeant!” Snapped the Captain before adding, “Bloody hell, you’re right…actually they both look like Cain!”

I took a look and said, “They are obviously human faces, but I certainly don’t have tentacles nor do any of my family, I might have noticed a thing like that” I laughed and remarked, “I am sure Doctor Tenzing here will tell you these are nothing more than symbolic representations.”

The archaeologist was looking from the statues to my face and back, his mouth open and his eyes wide in astonishment.

“They could be a portrait!” He exclaimed.

“Except logically they couldn’t.” I reminded him, “We have only just arrived so the sculptor could never have seen me.”

“Unless they saw you on Earth and made this after they left, but that’s impossible.” He said smiling as he gathered his composure again. He thought for a moment before saying, “I seem to remember there is a myth about a man from the dawn of time doomed to wonder the Earth for eternity…”

“But it’s just a myth.” I concluded firmly before adding “I wonder what this is in front of the statues?”

Everyone’s attention turned to the large stone block in front of the statues. The block was unmarked except for four symbols, two the same, separated by a cross. A line around the block suggested the edge of a close fitting lid. As it was getting late we agreed to return the next day with lifting gear to examine the block, box or whatever it was. By the time we got back to the tents it was dark, we had somewhat lost track of time. One of the guards called out and the fence was turned off so we could enter the camp. Eva – leading the botanists and zoologists – remarked that they had been wondering whether to send a search party. When one of the marines said,“We found a statue of Cain.”. Eva decided she’d come with us the next day.

I explained to Eva that the statue did look a little like me, but that it was very ancient and probably was just a generic humanoid form. She gave me one of those funny looks that only women can, usually when you arrive late with an elaborate excuse. She continued to look at me.

“I mean how could it possibly be me? Besides there’s two of them and one’s got tentacles!” I protested.

Still she said nothing for what seemed like hours. At last she said, “Don’t forget I’ve seen your sealed files and they don’t tell more than a fraction of your story!” She smiled and added, “I might learn a little more about you tomorrow.”

“You know more than enough.”

Eva seized the last word, “Never, I am, in this at least, a stereotypical woman.”

I managed not to reply with ‘like my mother!’

Most of next morning while the techies were transporting the lifting gear into the ‘temple’ as the archeologists were calling it Eva and I examined the various carvings in the company of some archaeologists. She and they were pleased when she identified several of the plants in the carvings. She stopped at one and asked the archaeologists what they thought.

“It appears to be a humanoid with flames or light coming from his mouth” Said one of them. Eva turned to me and said,

“Could this be what caused the evacuation of B-4?”

I shuddered, but as I looked closer it occurred to me that the ‘flames’ might well be the fungus from B-4. I said as much. The archaeologists looked excited,

“If that image Tenzing pointed out yesterday was in fact, Earth and this is B-4, it’s possible the whole frieze is an account of the journey of whoever built this temple!” one exclaimed.

Just then the techies announced that they were ready to lift the lid of the box. I chose to walk around the frieze before coming to the end of the story which the box seemed to represent. The last image was the bearded man sitting in what appeared to be a bath. I wondered id perhaps it was the box. I pointed out the image and suggested the box may be a coffin, a coffin over fifteen feet long.

“So this may be a tomb.” Said Doctor Tenzing, “Let’s find out!” He indicated that the lifting should start.

As the lid came up we could see a dull blue glow coming from the inside of the box. The techies swung the lid off to one side so that we could look inside. The vapour that came off didn’t concern us as we were wearing respirators as per procedure. As the mist cleared we found ourselves looking into what appeared to be a block of ice and in it a figure. Suddenly I understood why the statue looked familiar. I was looking into the sleeping face of my Grandfather.

“Get that lid back on now!” I ordered. “It’s not a tomb, it’s a stasis pod!”

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