The Relic

Commander Ghin stood on a pile of rubble and surveyed what was left of the city. At one time this city had been a mighty metropolis, the people of this planet filling the streets, the tall buildings that reached toward the sky humming with activity; but that had been ten thousand years ago. The city was quiet now, except for the hiss of dust from an errant breeze sweeping down the rubble-strewn street. Ghin tried to imagine what it would have been like if the aliens hadn’t died off so suddenly, but all he could see were the gray piles of rubble, the blind, gaping windows leering with broken-glass teeth, and the crumbling, time-ravished buildings.

He had hoped that they would encounter some aliens still living on this planet, but he realized now that it was a dead world, filled with advanced technological artifacts that, in the end, could not save them from destruction. There might be a ghost or two in the moaning of the wind, but of the living, there were none.

“Commander Ghin,” called Dr. Zorn slowly pushing his large body up the pile of poured stone and metal where Ghin stood. “I found something!”

“What is it Doctor?” Ghin asked. Zorn was the Mission Archeologist and was in his element on this dead world. While Ghin preferred the living, Zorn relished the dead and loved nothing more than to dig through tombs and buried cities, looking for the secrets that had been buried with the dead.

“An interesting artifact, Commander, a truly interesting artifact!” Zorn said, puffing. “Come, let me show you.”

Zorn followed the archeologist into what looked like a cave and into the bright light of a portable lantern. The inside of the cave was a dwelling that had somehow survived the pile of rubble that had been flung on top of it. Technicians were carefully cataloging and dismantling what was left of the furnishings to take back to the Science Museum.

“It’s back here, in this room,” Zorn said. “This dwelling is in amazing condition, due in part to the debris mound covering the building and its sturdy construction.”

Ghin stopped at the door that Zorn held open. “What is this Doctor?” Ghin asked, pointing to a placard on the door.

“A notice of some sort, I believe. It’s what led me to this room in the first place. This must have been an important room in the house.”

“What does it say?” Ghin asked.

“We are still trying to translate the language. Notice the symbols: ‘Jenny’s Room’. The symbols obviously denote words, but we haven’t determined their meaning yet.”

“And your discovery?”

“Right here,” Zorn said proudly. On the wall was an image, framed in metal.

“What is it?” Ghin asked looking at the ancient artifact.

“Ah, that is the question, indeed,” Zorn said. “The scanners indicate that it is various chemical pigments on a cloth backing. Notice how the pigments are combined to make a picture. Absolutely remarkable, a unique find. This is something we never thought of and this is why our exploration is so important. Making pictures using chemical pigments. Amazing.”

Ghin smiled at the scientist’s enthusiasm. “And what does the picture represent, Doctor?”

Zorn sighed. “I wish I knew. Maybe a local deity, an official dignitary or ruler? At this point I am not sure. It is obviously a picture of some importance, given its position on the wall and the message on the door.”

Zorn carefully removed the framed image from the wall and turned it over.

“I sprayed it with molecular fixative so it is safe to handle,” Zorn said. “Notice that there is the same writing on the back that is on the door. Hopefully, this will provide insight into the purpose of the image and the culture of the aliens. I really feel that we have made an important discovery here and I can’t wait to get back to Zardon and discuss this with the Science Council.”

Ghin gingerly grasped the picture and slowly traced the writing with his index tentacle.

‘Paint By Number Set #23. The Mona Lisa.’