Far Beneath the Distant Stars

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Chapter II

3rd January 2163

It appears my wish has been granted! At 0300 this morning (still daylight on Lyrae 438b, on account of the planet’s orbit), one of the re-con teams reported in with strange geological findings in the side of a cliff-face to the North of the landing site. The feed from their helmet’s showed an opening in the sheer rock, approximately 20ft high and 40ft wide. We couldn’t get a good look at the cave due to wireless interference, but according to Sebastian Lake - the team’s leader - the walls inside are perfectly smooth and with evenly spaced grooves running along the length of it. I’m intrigued to investigate this further.

We’re already starting preparations to head out to the site now. The rover has been primed and is ready to set off, and most of the geological crew are already suiting up. We set off first thing tomorrow.


4th January 2163

I’m still trying to understand what I’ve seen today. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to truly make sense of it, although I’m hoping the scans tomorrow will yield some further insight…

We arrived at the mouth of the cave shortly after 0630 to be greeted by Lake’s team. They’d established a sort of base camp just within the entrance to the cave, rigging up basic lighting to illuminate the first several yards of the dark, imposing tunnel.

That was the first thing that struck me about seeing the cave in person. It was vast, it’s mouth high and wide, and inside was as black as night, shielded from the sun’s light and darker still from the black stone walls. The lights glittered and gleamed off of the smooth walls, flecked and dotted with glass and quartz fragments, even in the folds of the grooves. These grooves were by far the most fascinating thing about the cave; they were exactly 21inches in width, running like concentric bands around the circumference of the cave for as far as the eye could see, deeper and deeper into the dark tunnel. I am far from being an expert in the geological formations of this planet, but this tunnel (dubbed “The Dark Maw” by the team who discovered it) does not show any signs of weathering, or that is was formed by lava flows… Something about its structure was all too precise.

Myself and Harrison, with two security personnel as escorts, ventured deeper into the cave, following it down into its depths. It extended quite a way back into the rock face, all of the grooves still perfectly recurring, before it started to curve downwards. The path ahead of us grew steeper and steeper, downwards into the unknown, and soon the light from the mouth of the cave was no longer at our backs. We were in darkness, our way ahead lit only by our torches.

Nothing could have prepared any of us for what we were about to discover.

Shining in the torchlight immediately ahead of us was an opening, and if my suspicions that this cave was not naturally formed were initially only flights of fancy, they no longer were. For the opening was cast in a smooth, flat wall at the end of the tunnel, and it was perfectly pentagonal - like a doorway, some 20ft high and 10ft wide - and framed by two tall, polished obsidian pillars. As we drew closer, strange symbols could clearly be seen, carved into the obsidian. They were unlike anything I’d ever seen, and resembled no known Earth-bound scripture. These symbols were unique; completely and entirely alien.

Harrison approached the pillars with trepidation, his torch outstretched and head craning forwards to take a closer look. Our security detail was attempting to contact the remaining crew members outside of the entrance to the Dark Maw, but something was interfering with the signal within the cave walls. I ventured forward as well, shortly behind Harrison, and I caught a glimpse of the unimaginable and the inexplicable just through the doorway.

The obsidian doorway lead on to a vast, underground chamber, stretching for as are as the eye could see. The ceiling arched high above us, I couldn’t estimate how high but it had to be at least 100ft, maybe all the way to the highest heights of the mountainous rock formation this place was carved into. And I do mean carved, as the size of the chamber was not the most staggering thing about it. On the other side of the doorway was a flat outcropping, almost like a naturally formed balcony, and either side of it ran large, curving staircases, leading down to the ground below. As we took a number of careful steps through the doorway and into the chamber, Harrison and I both gasped in astonishment.

Before us lay what can only be described as a city; a matrix of tall quartz spires and obsidian pyramids and ziggurats. Their designs were irregular and alien. The pyramids and ziggurats, built from cyclopean blocks of obsidian, were peculiarly five-sided constructs with pentagonal bases, jarring with my concept of a more conventional, four-sided pyramid. The crystalline spires seemed to glow softly in the dark of the cavern, and they all appeared to be heptagonally based, with seven sides to their tall, quartzite structures, only adding to the curious and angular nature of this place. Each of the buildings was enormous and imposing in appearance, the intimidating architecture dwarfed only by the tall, forbidding spires piercing up from the floor some 50ft below us, stretching all the way to the very pinnacle of the chamber. This unearthly sight spanned the extent of the vast cavern, the unusual structures of irregular architecture filling the entirety of the space. And yet there was no sign of any life in this place.

There was no source of light to be found in this expansive chamber, no openings in ceiling to allow for natural light from Lyrae 438b’s sun, nor any other clear light, yet we could see what lay before us perfectly clear. The tall quartz spires gave off a slight glow, and a subtle mist - not unlike that of a cold winter’s morning on Earth - hung over the cityscape, faintly luminescent and radiating a gentle blue light, allowing us to glimpse this dark and mysterious world. If anything, the light blue mist winding like ghostly waters between the obsidian constructs made this place feel all the more ethereal.

A cold wind blew through the chamber, whistling among the structures. To my ears, it sounded as if the city was singing a sad and haunting song.

It is like a city of nightmares, cast out of the dark corners of the imagination with abstract forms and the sounds of eerie, hollow notes. It was, and still is, beyond all description. Beyond all understanding. The angular and uneven forms of the city are discentering and unsettling; so unrecognisably alien, so incomprehensible to the human mind. And yet the image of it shall forever be burnt into my mind.

First thing tomorrow I’ll start running the scans to gather some readings on the planet, as well as maybe acquire some more information on this most unusual discovery. I have no doubt that the crew will be mounting a full expedition for this place soon, and I hope to join them in exploring it. Despite the horrible and strange atmosphere about the place, that city fills me with an insatiable intrigue…


6th January 2163

I dreamt of the city last night, of its tall quartz spires and obsidian pyramids. I explored the streets - if you can call them streets - between the angular structures, peering around corners of the alien architecture. I stroked the impossibly smooth surfaces of the obsidian blocks and seamless quartzite spires. The place felt cold and empty, even in my mind, and when the cold wind came blowing it whistled the same sad note as it had done in reality. But in my dream, I could hear something else carrying in the wind. Not a whistle, but a voice. I could not hear it properly, but I knew it was summoning me, calling out to me from the depths of the chamber. And then I awoke.

I set about calibrating the Endeavour’s scanning array this morning, still with the haunting memories of my dream in my mind. After several hours of tinkering, I was able to start scanning the planet. I had to wait for several more hours to pass for the results to be ready, so I returned to my quarters and re-watched the vids from back home. How I couldn’t wait to share the story of what we’d found with them all...

My communicator beeped as soon as the scans were ready for review, and I raced for the labs. Analysis revealed that the planet's crust is comprised primarily of aluminium silicates, with intrusions of magnesium silicate which is manifested on the surface as basalt, rhyolite and microgranite lava flows. Despite evidence of past volcanic activity, the surface of Lyrae 438b currently exhibits no discernible volcanism or tectonic activity. With substantial investment and hard work, this planet would be suitable for being terraforming to one day support human habitation.

There are also large deposits of obsidian just beneath the planet's surface, localised within isolated pockets, however these are not naturally occurring, and reveal something remarkable. These obsidian pockets aren't naturally formed and are not part of this planet's base geology; they are artificial constructs. Buildings, cities, civilisations.

3D imaging scans show that the city beneath the mountain covers at least 10km of ground, and it’s not the only one of its kind. There are other caverns and chambers beneath the surface, mostly smaller than the one we stumbled upon, scattered about the nearby area. Whether they are connected below the surface or not is unknown, although I feel it’s safe to assume that there are other such structures all across this planet.

I’m eager to return to the city and start exploring the alien world we’ve unwittingly discovered. I’ll take some images to share with everyone when we return home. There are already teams out there, charting the terrain and exploring the “under-world.” My team is scheduled to join them in the next two days. I’m not sure I can wait though; I can’t shake the image of that unearthly place from my mind.


7th January 2163

We conducted our first exploration of the city today and... I don't know where to begin! Words cannot do this world justice. The place is like a dark wonderland, a realm of inexplicable and unearthly majesty and I fear my meagre words will never be able to convey the sensation of being in such a place. All of the constructs are dizzyingly large, colossal feats of alien architecture towering over us like long-lost sentinels of a forgotten world. We are but mere mortals stepping among the temples of the gods, and it is awe-inspiring to be in this lost world. It makes our place in the universe seem so small, which is both humbling and horrifying.

We had set out for the Dark Maw in the early hours of the morning cycle, a full expedition with crew from all divisions on board the Endeavour. Command dispatched a security and reconnaissance team as our escort, while the rest of us scientists excitedly debated our respective fields. Exobiologists and botanists wondered if any life may reside in this city, and if it did how had it adapted to survive in this environment. We geologists enthused about the minerals and stones we may find, while others considered just how this cyclopean architecture had first been built. The biggest question on everyone's minds, though, was how long had this extraterrestrial world been around? That, at least, is one question that can be answered through quantum dating.

Harrison and I were thrilled to be returning to this place so soon. He came to my quarters last night, and we talked at length about the new world into which we were about to cross the threshold. It's strange to think how all those years ago at the academy we dreamed of such a discovery, and dismissed it as a mere fantasy; now here we were, having just seen an alien world, a long lost civilisation, with our own eyes. And we were about to venture deeper into this place – a prospect which filled us both with excitement, and dread. This world may be magnificent to behold, but there is an eerie atmosphere about it which can unsettle even the most stalwart of explorers.

It was with this trepidation that we stepped through the triangular obsidian doorway at the end of the cave. No amount of intrigue or excitement could take the edge off of the uneasiness of setting foot in this dark world. Security personnel had taken point, securing the route ahead for us, but we were still stepping into the unknown. Heart-rate monitors raced as we drew closer to this city, and I'm sure we all skipped a beat when we beheld the full extent of it. We stood on a large flat surface, like a balcony, overlooking this titanic place, and stretching out before us lay the sprawling expanse of the city. Black obsidian pyramids and ziggurats littered the landscape, vast and irregular in design, and the tall quartz spires spiked upwards and towered far above every other construct, and the sight spanned for as far as the eye could see.

Two curving staircases ran down from the balcony, carved out of the chamber's rock-face. Each step was approximately 21inches wide, and some 21inches high. The beings who had carved these steps must have had a larger gait than the average man, but thankfully due to the reduced gravity of Lyrae 438b, traversing the staircase was not difficult. It took us almost ten minutes, but before we knew it we were on the “street-level” of the city. If the constructs seemed enormous beforehand, they now seemed gigantic beyond all measure from the ground level.

We wandered along the paths which criss-crossed throughout the city, among the colossal buildings which made us feel like ants. It was like setting foot into a realm of myth and legend, but no Earth-born mythology could ever have conceived of such an eerily outlandish place. Although all of the buildings seem to conform to pentagonal and septagonal designs, their forms are irregular, unevenly angular and aesthetically displeasing. One could not look at any of the architecture without feeling like its dimensions had been conceived by entirely alien minds.

To walk among these vast buildings, built from obsidian as black as a starless night, our way lit only by the light of our torches and the soft glow of the luminescent mist… It really is a place of ethereal mystery.

Our expedition ventured eastwards through the city, between quartzite spires and obsidian pyramids, beneath the black stone causeways which linked several of the buildings’ upper levels, following the pathway and charting our progress. Before long we could see an opening in the distance, a space not entirely closed in by the imposing cyclopean architecture, and we made our way towards it. As we drew closer to the clearing, it became clear it was more than just an open space. It was a chasm.

The chasm stretched out ahead of us, some fifty feet across, its edges jagged and crumbling. Debris and ruins marked the edge of the abyss, as whatever tectonic event which had taken place here had wrought havoc on the nearby buildings. With caution, we slowly approached the edge of the precipice. Fragments crumbled away as we crawled up to the very edge, peering over into the abyss below, the light from our torches lost to the impenetrable blackness. The chasm was darker than the depths of night, completely devoid of light and so deep we could not hope to see the bottom. However, somewhere in that seemingly infinite blackness, gleamed gentle pinpricks of light, like stars in the night sky. At first we suspected them to be gleaming fragments of glass or quartz reflecting our torchlight, but even with our lights off these pinpricks still glimmered in the depths.

A team has remained behind to establish a secure position at the edge of the chasm, and are currently awaiting clearance from the Captain, Addison Ward, to begin exploring the chasm. It may seem risky, but those dark depths may yield more knowledge of this ancient and forgotten world.

I have acquired a small sample of the rock surrounding the edge of the chasm. Its composition is not all that dissimilar to igneous formations found on Earth, and while wholly unremarkable from a geological perspective, it is significant to me. I’ll be taking it back home, as a memento from this alien world, far beneath the distant stars.


9th January 2163

The reconnaissance team in the subterranean city failed to report in at the designated check-in time, having started their exploration of the chasm yesterday. Captain Ward has been trying to contact them for the past four hours, but has had very little success. Could just be the interference. My team will be joining the search party soon, to carry out research on the composition and build of the city, as well as to keep an eye out for the missing crew. This time we have a more substantial security detail assigned to us, to carry out “threat assessment.”


10th January 2163

We arrived at the entrance to the Dark Maw in the early hours of the morning. There was no security posted outside to greet us, only the lighting gear and an unmanned rover. Our security detail took point, entering the Maw first, placing lights down to illuminate the way ahead, and my team were not far behind. We started heading down the staircase that had been carved out of the cave’s wall, down to the ground level of the city.

The city was no less awe-inspiring and staggering the second time around. The structures were dizzyingly large, and their unusual angles seemed even more alien than before. Down here on the ground, at the same level as those who may have lived here once walked, I felt infinitesimally small; an ant in comparison to these gargantuan monuments of a by-gone civilisation, and a mere child compared to the intellect of the ones who built this place. Nevertheless, it is amazing being in amongst the architecture of this great city.

Almost all of the buildings adhere to a common, five-or-seven angled design, all pentagonal and heptagonal, and going by the size of the doorways and structures the people who built this place must have been at least twice the size of a man. My imagination ran riot with me as I walked the streets of this ancient and forgotten world. Were they like us, human in appearance, but significantly larger? Were they something entirely alien, a product of a different planet’s evolution? Did they breathe this atmosphere, which we ourselves can not?

I had, and still have, so many questions about those who came before. These architects of great subterranean cities and irregular cyclopean structures…

I rounded a corner, between a seven-sided quartz spire and one of the pentagonal obsidian pyramids, and realised that not only had I wandered away from the team while deep in thought, but I was also now lost. And yet I was not lost, because as I stood there trying to get my bearings, thoughts and memories and images suddenly slot into place. I did know where I was, in a sense; I was in the same spot I was in my dream the other night. And then I heard the whistling sound blowing between the alien buildings.

I followed the call of the ethereal whistle through winding streets and alleyways, between towering spires and mountainous pyramids. It sounded deep and airy, like blowing across the lip of a bottle, and one could easily mistake it for being the natural sound of wind through the cavern. But in the soft sound of the wind, I could hear different notes and tones, almost playing a tune. For the briefest of moments, I told myself it was the builders of this extraordinary city communicating with me.

“Harrison’s down.” With those words crackling through the comms, I snapped out of my almost trance-like state. I’d wandered far from the main group, following the will and whim of that ethereal and alluring whistle, and began to trace my way back. I couldn’t quite recall the route I’d taken, and so many of these alien corners looked alike, but I started back towards the grand staircases, still visible from my position. From there, I hoped I would be able to spy the group.

It transpired that I needn’t walk that far. I rounded a corner to see members of the security team crouched around a body. I took several steps closer, and could see that the body was Harrison’s. His helmet was nowhere to be seen. His face was bluish-grey, his eyes wide open and mouth twisted into an unsettling grin. It seemed for all intents and purposes that he’d died in sheer euphoria, breathing in the inert atmosphere of this remote and forbidding planet.

They quickly bagged up his body and returned him to the surface. I remained with the team still exploring the subterranean city for a short while before returning to the ship, in shock and sorrow over the sudden loss of my friend. It’s only now looking back that I truly feel the weight of his loss, and it had made me and all of the others feel on edge. Why would a man such as Harrison think it sensible to remove his helmet, depriving himself of oxygen in an atmosphere so inhospitable to humans?


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