In Stars and Stones

The first thing that the astronomers of the Mauna Key Observatory made clear to the public was that our solar system is in constant movement through the galaxy. Some of the general populace would already be aware of this, but the scientific community had long since learned to speak to the lowest common denominator when presenting new scientific discoveries. And so they explained that just as how our moon orbits the earth and it in turn orbits the sun, so also the sun orbits the center of the Milky Way Galaxy and it in turn orbits the far off center of the Virgo Supercluster. It was that last statement was the part that was a discovery, for all prior research had suggested that our galaxy orbited no central mass, only that it ever drew nearer to its neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy.

For the time being they had no explanation as to why this inter-galactic movement had never before been noticed, but cheerfully assured they would keep the public updated on this most fascinating of developments. The public, as a whole, were mildly entertained by the news but little further thought was given to the revelation.

Coincidentally, in that same year another discovery came to light which made far more of an impact on modern culture. In the midst of the ongoing Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, some seismic shifts had collapsed a large portion of their borehole and then filled it with a number of archaeological artifacts such as had never before been seen. What was most notable, though, was that these items featured unmistakable signs of synthetic materials, suggesting a community that possessed a technology which belied the age to which they must have belonged.

*

Seven years had passed since the first reports on the galaxy’s movement towards the center of the Virgo Supercluster, and each of the major astronomical observatories had confirmed the findings of the Mauna Key Obervatory. As each establishment published the results of their research, though, each claimed that the rate of the galaxy’s movement was slightly greater than that which had been measured by any of the preceding publications. By this pattern it soon became evident that the movement was accelerating, and doing so at a rate of that was greater than anticipated.

The full implications of this could not be fully extrapolated though. It was becoming abundantly evident that the scientific community possessed neither sophisticated enough models nor detailed enough data to predict future outcomes with any degree of confidence. The distances were simply too large and the rate of motion too great. Thus it was that mathematicians and physicists committed themselves to providing more robust systems for analyzing these extremes.

Meanwhile the archaeologists were facing steep obstacles in the case of the ancient relics uncovered by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. The first hurdle had to do with the fact that the IODP’s mission statement was solely to bore a hole to the earth’s mantle, a massive undertaking in and of itself. The research of ancient civilizations was simply not on the agenda. That did not mean that the program’s board was disinterested, but that all of their specialized drilling equipment was funded by a great number of investors whose personal needs had to be represented in their operational decisions.

The program did, at least, agree to halt all further drilling efforts for three months, while a conference was held for all interested parties to come to an agreeable resolution. The outcome of these proceedings was that the financial institutions behind the IODP agreed to a seven-year loan of their project, to any party conducting research into the ancient civilization, providing said party could raise sufficient funds. The exact quantity of those sufficient funds was never publicly disclosed, but it was public knowledge that several leading governments contributed significantly to securing the contract for a coalition of top archaeological institutions. All of the resources available to the IODP, including their drilling ship, the Chikyu, and all of its equipment and manpower were assigned to this new outfit.

The second challenge that the archaeological community faced was in identifying an approach for ultra-deep excavation. Securing pieces and drawing them up to the surface would destroy all by the sturdiest of the relics, and it was a physical impossibility to dig a large enough channel down to such an immense depth, thus ruling out more traditional excavation techniques.

*

Four years later all astronomers were in agreement that the momentum of our galaxy was accelerating at an alarming rate. It had even reached the point where backyard hobbyists were noticing their night skies changing by the slightest of degrees. Again, some acceleration had always been expected, but this large of a change was unprecedented. All projected trajectories and timelines for this orbit were updated, and the natural conclusion was that the orbit was not shaped like the wide, circular path of a planet around the sun. Instead it was more akin to the long, drawn out ellipsoid of a comet.

Under this theory it stood to reason that until just recently the galaxy had been in the most outer limits of that orbit. At that point its movement would have been so slow that it was virtually imperceptible, and thus had never been noted until this time. Of course the implication of this theory was that this orbit passed even nearer to the Virgo Supercluster’s core than originally anticipated. Indeed the proximity would be so near that its effects on the planet would be devastating.

It was determined not to share these speculations with the general public, given that they truly were speculations. Yet, as mentioned, even hobbyists were starting to see the rapid changes and it was not be long before they began to draw the same conclusions for themselves.

The tension in the astronomer circles was in stark contrast to the excitement in rippling through the archaeological community. At long last they were able to develop a process by which slices of deep earth could be flooded and then siphoned upwards to the surface for testing. What was extracted by this process would be greatly fragmented and somewhat homogenized, but not to such a degree that the separate elements’ composition could not be evaluated. In addition, the safe retrieval of some small and individual relics could be accomplished through the use of durable tunneling robots, which were to be lowered to specific areas of interest through specially drilled boreholes.

The flooding and siphoning process was completed first, and every component was passed through triage into categories of cultural, structural, and natural origin. A barrage of tests was then conducted on each category and the carbon dating estimates cast the entire project into deeper intrigue. Every sample, regardless of which category of it had been drawn from, dated to the same point of time several hundreds of millions of years ago. More than three hundred million at least, and quite possibly more than six.

This alarming result left the scientific community unable to resolve this ancient culture with any of the existing historical timelines of the earth. Either an inexplicably ancient and intelligent civilization truly did exist many millions of years before even the dinosaurs walked the earth, or else all of the scientifically approved methods for dating elements were fundamentally flawed and the entire prehistoric record would be called into question.

Added to these perplexities was the further analysis conducted on the synthetic materials which had been extracted. It was determined that the necessary methods for producing these composites was of such a sophistication as to put it on par with modern steel and titanium. This was irrefutable evidence that these ancient beings possessed a degree of intelligence and technology that rivalled even our own. A civilization much like ours on an earth so ancient that our evolutionary ancestors had not yet crawled out the ponds.

*

Another five years and the acceleration of the world had reached such magnitude that it was visible in the night sky. The appearances of “shooting stars” were constant, as another million tons of passing space debris burned in the atmosphere every second. A few degrees off of the equator a comet-like tail extended far out into space, formed by all of the evaporated moisture, each day growing ever longer and brighter.

Every estimate of the galaxy’s movement was outdated by the time it was published, and astronomers grappled with the fundamental problem of not being able to chart distant celestial bodies before they had already been passed by. This became known as the “train outrunning its own light conundrum” and the so the world flew blindly on.

Simulations were only capable enough to illustrate the “general” trajectory of this orbit, and there was a great deal of concern about what exactly would happen when the world reached proximity to the center of the Virgo Supercluster. This point now had been given a name: the Pericore. Similarly the point furthest from the cluster was now referred to as the Apocore. The general consensus was that as the earth approached this Pericore it would be subjected to unimaginable forces of acceleration, heat, and gravitational pull, but the specifics of how these would manifest was mostly speculation.

World governments tried to quell the ensuing panics, calling for order as they initiated construction of deep, underground bunkers. Though they promised that the best minds would find a way to preserve humanity, those same best minds knew that there was no possible hope. The most likely outcome was that the entire planet would to be scorched from its peaks to its core for centuries. The atmosphere would be disintegrated, all life would be destroyed, and the earth would be left as dry and empty as the moon.

Immediately before the astronomers broke their silence on the doom they saw ahead, the archaeologists claimed their ultimate prize in the form of ancient writing from the prehistoric civilization. The figures had been deeply engraved into a hyper-compressed cube of some glass-like material. It was too large to retrieve up to the surface, but after digging a series of additional bore-holes and flushing away the surrounding sediment, they succeeded in reaching the artifact with a team of robots. These were manipulated to rotate and photograph the entirety of the artifact for further analysis.

Linguistic experts and cryptographers alike were called on to collectively decipher the characters’ meaning, and soon a rough translation emerged. This accomplishment was greatly helped by the fact that this record had been designed for interpretation, as evidenced by how the piece was structured.

On the first face of the glass cube gave a sequence of numerical quantities, with corresponding representative symbols beside them. There then followed basic operations on those quantities to establish a shorthand for mathematics. These mathematical expressions included binary operations for ideas such as “and,” “not”, “all,” and “exists.”

The second face of the cube featured a series of pictures filled with geometric shapes. Though each of these was different in style from one another, it was realized they were all varied representation of the same concepts: those of planets, solar systems, and other celestial bodies.

With the foundation of those first two faces, the third could now be properly understood. This one defined a core vocabulary, by first defining objects and then operations and states that pertained to them. For example the scale of the planet defined on the second face was paired with a small fraction defined on the first face to give the dimensions of a much smaller entity, one which answered roughly to that of a humanoid. These entities were combined with the symbols established for mathematical addition and subtraction to communicate ideas such as birth, growth, and death, and again all of these combined ideas were then associated with a single symbol for the word that represented this.

On the fourth face the cube finally began to deliver its message in earnest. It described many people at great distance from each other spread all across the planet. It suggested that a portion of these people spent their time measuring the stars that passed by.

The fifth face described a galaxy shown to be moving along a massive, elongated orbit. It gave figures for the distance of that orbit and the time it took for the galaxy to transition through it. The record drew special attention to the point of the orbit where the galaxy grew nearest to a cluster of other stars.

The sixth face used depictions for many different forms of death. The death of “all” was specifically emphasized. After this mass destruction it illustrated the galaxy continuing along its orbit back away from the star cluster. At one point it passed through a cloud of some sort, the meaning of which was not explicitly defined. After passing through that cloud, though, there came many of the symbols representing the ideas of “birth” or “life.”

The general consensus was that the cube’s authors had spied a fertile cloud of elements and gas which stood in the latter half of the galaxy’s orbit. This cloud would be able to replenish the earth back to a state of supporting life, and that life would perhaps evolve and become an intelligent society. And by their intelligence that society could one day find this ancient record, the record of those that had been before. A record written moments before they were all blended into the ground with fervent heat in a burning that was destined to rise again.