Turbulence isn’t much of a factor as our ship enters what used to be the planet’s atmosphere, much to the surprise of everyone on board. Early readings pointed to atmospheric inactivity, but you can never be too certain. The water planet has an eerie stillness to it, and I can see as much as I watch our approach through the window. An orb of blue for as far as the eye can see, the water absolutely still since the planet it finds itself on has long since died.
It’s a routine stop: harvest what resources we can for the ship, take some readings and mappings for data purposes, and maybe see if we can’t dig up a few things for the boys over in Archaeology.
Today is the sixth day of the sixth month. The year is 3944 AC. I don’t mention to the others that today marks the three thousand nine hundred forty-fourth anniversary of the collapse of our planet, as that’d be unnecessary. For nomadic castaways like us, the fact that we have no world to call our own has been embedded in our DNA as intrinsically as our physical makeup.
Being as I’m the lead researcher, I get the dubious honor of first dibs on a wet suit. The things are all the same, and since they’re composed of nanomachines that can reorganize and mend themselves as necessary, it’s not like my choice will matter much. I pick the first one I find and instruct the suit that I’d prefer it to change its color to azure. I’ve always been a blue guy. The nanomachines comply at once.
The perfluorocarbon liquid in my suit’s helmet goes down my lungs easy, a result of a task that’s been repeated ad nauseum. It’s a neat trick, this breathing water–lets you dive down as far as you want since the liquid’s pressure is pretty comparable to water, as opposed to the plain old oxygen our divers used to use centuries ago. There’s no risk of the bends, either, which is a nice bonus. Progress.
I send the drone out before I drop in. If it doesn’t go haywire (as the stupid thing has a tendency to do), then it should collect up a decent supply of water for our reservoirs while us humans swim below in search of artifacts.
I set my torch on as I begin my descent, long-submerged bits of matter stir around in a cloud and flutter past my vision in the same way dust will when light comes in through a window. Whatever this stuff is, it hasn’t been stirred around in God knows how long, and I almost feel guilty as I rouse it from its weightless slumber.
It’s kind of hard for living beings to exist on a dead planet (go figure), but I keep my eyes peeled anyway. We’ve been wrong before, and while I have to die someday, I’d prefer my last moments to not be spent in the jaws of some aquatic alien monster.
A shape begins to appear below me, faintly visible in my torch’s light. It isn’t moving, though, and it looks fairly geometric in shape. I adjust my suit’s fins so I can drop right beside the thing, whatever the hell it is. The other researchers follow my cue and head toward it too.
I can’t believe my eyes. I’ve seen a lot of weird shit over the years; rock formations on igneous planets that had to be the work of intelligent hands, mountains made entirely of diamond, I’ve even seen alien microorganisms under the microscope. But never in all my years have I seen this.
It’s an alien city of impeccable design and ingenious craftsmanship–spires and towers stretch up toward the ocean’s surface like snorkels that have since been submerged, strange looking roadways snake and twist around like capillaries which must’ve once carried alien travellers as if they were macrocosmic blood cells. And all of it is as pristine as it must’ve been when this planet used to be dry, each construction frozen in time as if the whole thing is some sort of photograph.
All of our readings told us that this planet’s been long dead, if it ever lived at all. Nothing in the data pointed to the possibility of an advanced alien civilization once living here. But like I said, we’ve been wrong before.
I continue my descent, my pulse audible and carrying loudly in this liquid medium of the perfluorocarbon in my helmet. I make my way for one of those snaking roadways down below.
When I touch down, a cloud of silt kicks up that refuses to clear for several minutes, as if the planet itself wants to hide its secrets. But it finally clears and allows me a view of where I stand.
Right there in front of me a sign is erected, rusted in parts but still visible thanks to my torch’s light. There’s a message on it. My heart stops as I realize I can read it. It’s written in an ancient language. A dead language from a dead planet. My planet. And the language is English. This is what it says:
WELCOME TO CHICAGO!