They were sent out ahead of us, in the thousands, little starry eyed sprites meant to search and explore and signal. My ship followed them, one of only a hundred. We were all tasked with a simple mission – find ab antiquo, the ancient – the origin.
The first dozen or so places I landed were duds, carrying only traces of civilizations loosely related to our own. Some held plant life the colours of which I’d never seen before, and knew not the name of. Others were stark and desolate, dust or snow or ash filling the air and forcing me to traverse inside a suit meant for zero gravity flight.
My mood was grim when I came upon the Earth, settled neatly in orbit but a little worse for wear. Debris fields cluttered the system, causing me no end of hassle. Landing wasn’t a simple thing, the shocks sent me flying through the pilot interface straight into the viewing screen. When I emerged I was bruised and bleeding.
It found me in less than a day, a rusted thing with nothing inside to speak of except a crudely repaired sensor device. It approached me slowly, large metal head bowed low. I mended what I could with the tools I could spare, and it sat and hummed softly into the night as the silent planet grew dark and then light again around us.
Each shell was given a solar year lifespan once contact with a potential planet had been made. This one was coming to the end of its projected cycle, the creak of its limbs persisted even with lubricant and laser division at the joints. I patted it on the head, not caring if it would understand the emotion in the gesture.
It led me toward the ruins of a city, broken and overgrown. I set up markers by what I found of interest, but there wasn’t much to see anymore. I set a viewer to scan and replicate, but the images it displayed seemed cheap and false. People walking and running and stepping on and off of massive four-wheeled vehicles.
It watched as I lowered the viewer and returned it to my pack, then wandered off by itself apparently having decided upon a new objective. I let it go, trudging back to the ship to record my findings and send a report. Communications were sparse but reliable, I received instructions within the week.
I heard its slow footfalls against the dirt and leaves an hour before I scheduled take off. It had fixed two large, black buttons to its face. It looked up at me through them. I paused, then stood aside to let it board. It had made a discovery, one which would be remembered. And I would be glad of the company, for the journey home.
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