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He hit the exposed hexagon with his boot, as much in frustration as in desire to uncover a few more centimeters. It had been knocked down by the winds again. Her voice sounded breathless from excitement or exertion.

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But something in the way Enry-o called to him made him race to her. The short run left him breathless. Hugh long ago got used to the lesser gravity, but low oxygen was more problematic. The protocol was never to run. She continued to dig, making a kind of swimming motion with her gloved fingers, clearing a protruding rock. Hugh bent down to take a better look. The top of the rock was uneven and weathered, but the part that was until just now buried by the sand was a perfectly polished regular six-sided column.


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This was not the work of randomly blowing dust; it had been made, created for a purpose. Hugh just stared, forgetting to breathe. It was too precious for such rough treatment. But Enry-o kept brushing and digging, and after the initial shock, Hugh saw what she had seen — an inscription. It was a spectacular engraving. The thin lines curved and spiraled around each other, twisting over and under, each depth suggesting a different plane in three dimensions. It was vaguely reminiscent of calligraphy, Hugh thought.

By the time they got a camera and took the shot, the lines might not even be visible in the low light.

It was tempting to document the find, but they could do so tomorrow. Enry-o did the same a few meters farther out. Hugh was slow and methodical. Enry-o raced impatiently, trying to cover as much ground as possible before the light was gone. Hugh could hear her heavy breathing through the comm. The sound stopped transmitting almost immediately after the scream. Hugh turned to where his partner had been just a moment ago, but there was nothing there, just the same bland rust-colored sand. But everything was coming up blank.

There was no connection to Enry-o. He walked towards the last place he saw her. The sun was very low now.

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The rescue procedures drilled into his head took over, the panic pushed back to be processed at a later date. All of his senses were focused on locating Enry-o. It seemed like forever, but it was only a few meters before the ground gave way, and Hugh felt himself drop below the shifting sand. With ample quantities of the metal retrieved and locked below the deck, he was getting ready to return home. He could take off from his planet, wander for more than a billion parsecs, and yet still be able to return to his original time dimension, unaffected by time dilation.

This feature allowed prospectors to travel far backward or forward in time, collect resources and touch base at the current time, on the home planet. However, for the system to work, time on the home planet could not be changed, and it always had a present state. Archisanium, a name derived billions of parsecs before Intergalactic Time IG Archisanium, atomic number , was the source of white light, and just a few atoms could power planets and life.

Even so, the metal had a negative property. If corrupted, it would give black light, which ended life, something that Shiva worried about. Shiva continued to watch. Waiting for the right moment. Weather on this world was very hostile and decimating.

The planet moved erratically on its highly elliptical orbit around a white dwarf. As it neared the apogee, it would slow down, reverse gravity across the poles, almost inducing weightlessness. When it crossed the apogee, and headed towards the perigee, it would accelerate, like a comet on a celestial slingshot, inducing cataclysmic changes in the weather.

Intense gravitational forces battered the surface, and burning methane and sulfur fumes rushed out in jets from underground magma, spreading through the environment with flames that reached degrees centigrade. Incendiary silica and powdered volcanic ash flashed across the surface in a wave, lit by lightning from the methane gas clouds, crushing and atomizing everything in their path. The planet rotated on its axis twice diurnally, and night temperatures dropped to degrees centigrade, when all molecules and atoms stopped, a time when the volatile Archisanium could be mined and capped.

These unstable isotopes quickly vanished and settled into stable metals. One unstable isotope was formed when a few electrons were knocked off from the d, p, f, and g shells and replaced by electrons from silica electron, creating the elusive metal Archisanium. Conditions for Archisanium were impossible to replicate in labs, and the metal had to be prospected in hostile environments, under deep low temperatures, quickly capped and transported in environment neutral containers.

Shiva banked the pod and briefly hovered, to logic the next action. The present time was Each life form had been coded with a designated task such as builder, doctor, prospector, and each life form grown in the lab had been infused with the required light circuits embedded with a few atoms of Archisanium to help it perform its work. Was Shiva alive? Could it feel emotions, pleasure, display affection, and care? Shiva was embedded with light neural networks that mapped emotions and thought processes of the long extinct humans.

On his home planet were only lab grown beings. Animals, plants, birds, and more, were incubated and grown in labs. The universe however had strange and unknown life forms that evolved, mutated, and were deadly. Some of the known life forms were carbon, non-carbon, arsenic, methanogens or methane based xeno-nucleic acid — many unknown mimetic life forms that could adapt to the environment in which they were placed. Even after billions of parsecs had been explored, much of the universe remained unknown.

No one had ever seen them. His concern came from the huge wall of sand that hovered over the horizons, propped up from front, underneath and behind by massive opposing gravi waves, forming a thick envelope like a canopy. Lightning shattered the dune, striking sand, setting them on fire, sending out huge waves of energy that rocked his prospecting pod. Many of these polemic advertisements were all over the intergalactic broadcasting system. And as with most issues, it was always paramount to avoid, or at least appear to avoid, what might be perceived as a dereliction that would finally lead to an admonishment of terms for the compact.

Ah yes, the compact, or the OTRC, as it was abbreviated, was specifically geared towards the recycle, reuse and repurpose policy that has otherwise made its message not only obligatory but also sensible.

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Fiction by Linda Nagata

For without the standards provided within the compact, the natural beauty of space and all things comprised within it, there would be malevolent consequences to the ebb and flow of space, time and physics. That was the practical aspect. The realistic aspect was that it affected everything else, and ways to deal with it had to be addressed by all. As it affected all weather patterns, storms, and nebula energy existing in the galaxies, the organized effort to manage it was all the more important. Now come this one, one without much to return to in the name of a home, but one nevertheless.

His name was Tavid. He was of the nation of the Trunktoparishies from the white star called Angora, or what would be dubbed other places as WASPb. Located roughly in the beautiful Andromeda area of the universe, Angora had long past its habitation abilities due to its immediate proximity to its sun. The average orbit took twenty-nine point five hours, with a surface temperature of two thousand three hundred degrees Celsius. And with its super-heated matter, even the Trunktoparishies who were a subterranean nation could not exist upon its continually elongated body which had become more and more almond-shaped as the planet inched closer to its own sun.

In fact, the matter from Angor was quickly dissipating into its sun at a rate that was considered phenomenal about the galaxies—it was infamous for that reason alone. Which left the Trunktoparishies without a homeland, and most of them had been taken in by the OTRC as workers towards the goal of galaxy keeping.

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Tavid was no exception. He had remembered his homeland with much honor and pride as it was once beautiful and lush, much like the Andromeda Galaxy itself.