|Ralph and Chuck looked down on the remains of Venus with their
high-powered digitally enhanced Ultra-Magno (tm) telescopes. The gaseous atmosphere had
burnt away, and what was now visible was something of a surprise. A massive and
spectacular, but undeniably dead, city covered the surface of Venus.
It looked a bit like an architect's model of a yet-to-be-built city. The buildings were all there, impressive though a bit dull and grey. But nothing moved. It was like a country town on a long weekend during an Opera Festival. There were no signs of life at all. Of course, this was to be expected given that billions of tonnes of poisonous gas had blanketed the planet for probably centuries.
Ralph, Chuck, the people at NASA, the numerous support staff, and the majority of the human race who had their eyes figuratively glued to their televisions, felt their mouths drop to the floor, and their eyebrows raise further and further as the pictures of the remains of an obviously advanced Venusian civilisation were beamed back into their livingrooms.
Except the sceptics and conspiracy theorists of course. They were busy developing wild new theories concerning the government having built model alien cities for the cameras - or even perhaps faking the whole mission.
Ralph and Chuck knew they only had limited fuel and supplies, and couldn't afford to both explore the new face of Venus and make it home alive, so they decided to move fast to study what they could of the surface before they had to head back to Earth.
They couldn't land again, but they had more cameras than a busload of tourists at Puffing Billy, as well as a plethora of other assorted instruments.
It really did look like this gigantic Venusian city covered most of the planet's surface. There were gaps, where evidently there might have once been oceans. But other than that, there were streets and buildings almost everywhere.
After the inferno that burnt all the gas away, of course, everything down there was burnt. But most of it was recognisable. Ralph and Chuck's instruments had the kind of precision that would allow you to find a sock dropped on the floor of a Laundromat up to eight hundred thousand kilometres away.
Most of the buildings appeared to have been hastily sealed up, as if in some kind of attempt to block out whatever was in the atmosphere. And sure enough, on many street corners were big green boxes resembling the suspected rubbish bin that Ralph had tripped over on the surface.
But what had happened? How had an apparently (at least by Earth standards) highly intelligent and civilised society died out? Despite the short time they had, Ralph and Chuck tried their best to find out.
Actually, the computer found it for them. It had scanned across the planet's newly found surface and found a huge building, bigger than any of the others. So big they really should have spotted it for themselves. At first they thought it was a seat of government. But it looked far too classy. Perhaps it was a shrine. It didn't really matter.
What did matter was that there was a kind of courtyard thingy in the building. And in the very centre of the courtyard was a massive stone, into which was carved several paragraphs of what the experts were now calling Venusian Script.
Ralph and Chuck were really running out of time now, so they grabbed images of the carvings and started up the engines to return to Earth.
- The Year 2031
Copyrightę1998 Daniel Bowen