Author : Beck Dacus

Six feet from the cave entrance, we all turned on our flashlights and moved toward the mouth. The only way to get down was a steep flight of natural rock stairs, giving us footholds while also threatening to impale us. The only way I could tell that I had my team with me was their little circles of milky light illuminating the few square feet in front of them.

“Now’s the time to put on your masks,” Commander Devina announced. “We don’t have a canary, and I don’t think anyone wants to die choking in a cave on some moon no one’s ever heard of.”

Devina didn’t want a response. We all slung the little breathers off our belts, pulled the straps behind our heads, and moved on without sparing a thought. Though we were protected, I could barely see Aster holding his air sampler in his hand, ready to tell us if the atmosphere became toxic. Never knew what could seep out of cracks and fissures in rocks on an alien world, where geology had gone completely differently.

“Rachen,” Devina said. “Is your Geiger clicking?”

“You’d be hearing it if it was, Commander,” he said irritably.

Our walk continued, Aster monitoring gas, Rachen keeping an eye out for radioactivity, and Seled scanning the walkway in infrared in case there were any geothermal surprises. Or lifeforms.

It was boring. We tried to look around, find interesting things on the walls and ceilings, but the floor was riddled with jagged stones, so we needed to keep our lights on our feet most of the time. Rihayla learned that the hard way once, taking a nasty fall and bruising her thigh. There was a lot less sightseeing after that.

“Whoa!” I said, stopping the group. My flashlight had wandered away from the path, and was now fixed on what looked like an eight-foot-cubed marble run. I instinctively pulled out my spectrometer and quickly ran the beam over the part closest to me. “The readout is showing a lot of carbon, calcium, water, stuff like that. This thing’s organic.”

Everyone had moved closer, all out flashlights focusing on the… whatever it was. Small orbs rolled around on rails, skipping over ramps, whipping around curves, and passing through tunnels. The balls moved cyclically, doing the same routine again and again. We watched for around five minutes straight, trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Then Rihayla had an epiphany.

“Oh my God. It’s a perpetual motion machine.”

Aster looked at her in disbelief. The rest of us just stared, clueless. “What?” Devina asked.

“It’s a machine that can move forever without any addition of energy. Humans have tried to do it for centuries, and we thought we succeeded multiple times, but we never could. It’s supposed to violate, like, every law of thermodynamics. This is insane! Who built this?”

Aster looked thoughtful for a moment, then looked up. “Gaelen. You said it’s organic, right?”


“I… I think it’s an organism. I think it’s a creature that *evolved* perpetual motion.”

“It makes sense now,” Seled said in amazement. “It had millions or billions of years to figure out how to do it. Oh, we should have known that if it was possible, nature would have found out how, somewhere. This will change everything.”

They all heard a clicking noise, and turned to see me with my flashlight under my armpit, holding two guns.

“Yes it will. Thanks to me.”

I had plenty of bullets to go around.