Author: Rick Tobin

“It’s amazing how easily we accessed this vault, considering how long these buildings were subjected to seawater.” He ran his three fingers over the outside of the corroded steel doors, five inches thick, but still smooth and glistening on the inside under the dull red starlight. “This species may have transmitted those partially garbled messages. We have no idea about this species’ origins.” Zolonko slid over the marble floors, peering down the murky corridors beyond the star’s meager glow.

“It’s a first, Zolonko,” replied his celestial historian assistant, Cabu Bot. She stood three feet above him as his squat form’s slime trail kept pace toward the vault’s recesses. They pressed their forearms, activating personal bioluminescence, exposing their path forward, revealing any wreckage to avoid. “We might find some remnants of their likeness…even language to guide further understanding of their messages from this fabled race. We still have some partial radio recordings onboard.”

“It appears there are several immediate offshoots to visit. Should we stay together or explore separately?” Zolonko rubbed his single, yellow eye, pushing aside his nictitating membrane overreacting to the structure’s cloying atmosphere.

“Together, I think. This air could be treacherous. If one of us starts to fail the other can retrieve the power sled for extraction to safety before serious damage occurs.”

“Mmmmmmm,” Zolonko responded in a low, repeating hum. “Always the smart play. Ah, here are the first remains we can evaluate for collection. What’s the material look like at your level?” Zolonko waited but there was a delay from his usually talkative companion. “Is there a problem?” he probed.

“This is not what we expected. No…not at all. If these are what the master race looked like, then nothing we know of in our travels correlates. Let me send you a view.” She put her arm near the high wall, made a flash of light, and then looked intently at her partner.

“Revolting, Cabu…beyond horrifying! I’m erasing the memory of it! That is an abomination of the natural order for great cultures on all known worlds. How could they have?” He rested, looking about, trembling.

“I can’t imagine,” Cabu whispered, also with fear in her voice. “If they took this form, and this vessel survived, then these things could still be lurking back in the darkness. We are not armed or prepared to deal with mutant races like these. I’ll capture the script under the presentation to see if our system can decipher it. There seems to be a unity in the format.” Another flash came from her arm before she and Zolonko made careful progress to exit the void.

Once secure in their ship, their computer indicated it had decoded the captured symbols.

“Play it, Cabu. Maybe it will explain the mystery of these aliens.”

Cabu rubbed her webbed digits over the flat, blue wall, under the glaring interior green lights as a refreshing mist of their home world’s swamp fog covered their scales. A gurgling voice emerged from a small cube below them.

“It may mean Picasso Nude and Still Life.”

“What can that be, Cabu? Is it a myth or legend?”

“I cannot say, dear one. But it may mean that this is what they looked like as their race declined. They must have mutated to the point they could no longer maintain anything. It could be a caution for anyone staying on this lifeless planet before the star completely fails. Depart immediately. That container is a warning buoy.”