The story was written for @calluna's Tell A Story to Me contest. The prompt was simple: create a story that somehow involves the Golden Record. The record was placed on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. The disc was meant to be an introduction to earth, for aliens. An interstellar map was even provided so that aliens could find their way to our planet.
The Searchers descended upon the debris field in phalanx formation. Hunters took the lead. Along the sides and rear Defenders kept tight ranks. In the center huddled the Skoupidiápolists, technicians trained to identify and extract valuable space junk. Directing the expedition was Zititis, Senior Skoupidiápolist, certified Master of the Science.
Zititis was poised now to enter a vast crater.
"This pit must have formed in Early Days, before the Universal Dome was installed. Comets gouged craters like this regularly back then. Debris that pelted the earth often filled the craters, as seems to be the case here." There was excitement in her voice, because old piles like this sometimes yielded the richest hauls. The finds were raw, unsifted, untouched, and contained the earliest clues from space exploration. Engineers hoped to piece together these clues, along with other, less ancient finds, and get a working idea about space beyond the heliosphere. The goal was to construct a vessel that would carry voyagers to a more habitable planet, in a distant solar system.
"Hunters, hold your stations. Defenders, stay close, but be careful to place your feet only on bare ground." She regretted needing Defenders at her side, because there was a risk they would disturb the field unnecessarily. But she had seen a colleague attacked by a giant dung beetle once. By the time the Defender came to his rescue, the colleague had suffered fatal blows. So Zititis never ventured outside Domicile zones without a Defender at her side.
Their environment suits hampered mobility, but most on this crew were seasoned explorers and did not let the bulky outerwear, or globe headgear, diminish their effectiveness. Each team member believed in the importance of the mission. They had been groomed since late adolescence for this calling. It wasn't just training that gave them motivation. It was the landscape, the condition of the planet's surface. Flora was sparse, and peculiar adaptive vegetation had begun to appear. The world outside Domicile zones was increasingly bizarre and threatening.
Time was running out. Maybe it wouldn't run out in their lifetimes, but everyone understood that sustaining life artificially, under the Domes, could not be a permanent solution to the problem of a dying earth.
Zititis knelt on a bare patch of mottled soil. An oddly colored bit of metal was hidden under some vinyl tubing. She lifted the tube carefully, examined it for wear and noted that it was in relatively good condition. She deposited the find in one of her archive pouches. Then she leaned in closer to look at the glinting metal. Debris still covered part of that item. She cleared away those concealing fragments, and whistled.
"Well, I'll be."
She sat back on her heels, too stunned to lift the golden rectangle from the dirt.
"We've found it. Listen up, everyone. Get ready to go back. Now. We found it. The Golden Record."
Of course, there was no way to know for certain if the Record was inside the rectangular cover. But the package seemed to be undisturbed. And she'd been preparing for this moment her whole career. It was the Record.
She extracted the treasure with exquisite care, and didn't open it, or wipe off the surface dust. The find must be presented to Leadership exactly as she discovered it. Zititis wrapped the precious package in a soft cloth and placed it gently in an archive pouch.
"C'mon, guys. Carefully, let's get out of here. We're going home."
Defenders at the South Gate to Domicile Dome 473 had opened a portal in the electric shield that surrounded the community. The expeditionary team had sent a radio signal ahead so they could make a smooth entry. This was the most perilous part of the journey. An open gate was an opportunity for penetration by hostile elements.
The expeditionary team slipped into the transition chamber, and changed from their environment suits into civilian clothes. They were then taken directly to Central Administration. High priority classification had been granted so they could be cleared for immediate access.
Zititis entered the Inner Sanctum alone, while the other members of her team were separated for debriefing. She had never been allowed into this fortified bunker. The area was reserved for the elite, those who worked closely on transport development and community enhancement. It was the function of these Leaders to define the mission of the community and plan for its survival.
The small figure behind an over-sized silicon desk rose and lowered his head almost imperceptibly in respect. Zititis lowered hers further, in deference.
Zititis ordinarily would have been intimidated by such an austere personage, but the object she carried in her pouch dwarfed any social significance the Leader might have.
"I have it. The Golden Record! There can be no doubt. It's still in its cover. Everything seems intact. If we can trace the journey of the record from deep space, if there might be a message, perhaps..."
She realized she was out of line. All of these speculations were inappropriate. She had no way of truly assessing what the Record might mean. Not only did she have no way of assessing it, but she had no right to try. It was reserved for Leaders to contemplate and plan. She was merely a functionary, a tool they used to accumulate evidence and information. The slight scowl on Leader's face reflected her thoughts.
"I apologize, Sir. My eagerness has interfered with my professionalism. Here is the pouch with the Record."
He reached his pale hand across the narrow space that separated them. He made certain not to touch her. Touch was a luxury the community had long eschewed. There was danger in touch, in physical contact, the danger of contagion in a small community. That would be a potentially catastrophic development.
"Thank you, Zititis, for your service."
She realized that nothing more would pass between them. She bowed low and backed out of the room. Protocol required she remain facing him as she departed. She closed the large silicon door behind her and wondered if she'd ever learn what was on the record, if her discovery had advanced in any way the chance that earth's life forms would survive.
The Leader's scowl disappeared as soon as Zititis left. The display of displeasure had been for show, a sign that she had breached protocol. Personally, it bothered him not at all that she spoke up. It was likely her spunk had led to the discovery of the Record, if what he held in his hand was indeed the Golden Record.
This wasn't the first time someone had brought him 'the Record.' Never did these finds prove valid. Always they were counterfeits, either deliberately false, or novelty items that had been produced en masse to commemorate the original.
Whatever was in the pouch needed to be handled carefully. The item was likely covered with radioactive dust, so he had to control his enthusiasm until he was in a laboratory where structural precautions were in place.
He picked up the radio transmitter.
"Send an engineer and Leadership team, stat, to the priority lab."
When the group was assembled in the lab, each person wore protective gloves and respirators. As the item was removed from the pouch there was a collective gasp. Carefully, the engineer removed the cover and extracted the metal disc.
The disc seemed to be genuine. Silence fell upon the room as the engineer deployed the stylus. All waited to hear what might come from the artifact.
The voice emitted from the Golden Record was almost painful to the ears. It was commanding, contemptuous, and pitched somewhere above a high C.
"Greetings, people of earth. We address you in English, because it seems that your pattern of economic and military conquest has made this the dominant language on your planet. Heed the warning in the message. It is the only warning you will receive.
"Do not venture into space. Do not attempt to engage with an intelligence outside your solar system. All that awaits you there is grief. To us, you are too contemptible even for our consumption. You would be suitable for pet nutrition.
"Your primitive attempts to expand your horizon are misguided. Stay home. Protect your habitat. It is the only habitat you will ever occupy.
"A final word of caution. Do not send more missives. Especially, do not send maps. There are rogue entities, bandits, who would exploit this information and make short shrift of you.
"Remember, be modest in your ambition. Protect your home. We will not molest you if you respect your limitations."
The room was tomb-like as the last words echoed in the laboratory. Not one person sought the gaze of another. The significance of the Record's message was clear. There was no possibility of escape from earth. And yet, earth would not support life for much longer.
The human race was doomed.
The source of earth's demise had gradually become evident many centuries before. Geologists noticed a decline in tectonic activity. The frequency of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions decreased.
The truth, when it became clear, was grim. Earth's core had begun to cool. As the core cooled, it's electromagnetic energy diminished and the magnetosphere, the powerful barrier between earth and cosmic elements, was weakening.
Astronomers estimated that if the cooling trend continued, the planet might support life for another 300 years. But the last of those 300 years would be nightmarish.
The time line laid down by geologists and astronomers could be extended if drastic measures were taken. All peoples of the earth would have to unite in a single purpose. The path to survival for the human race, and for other forms of life on earth, would be accomplished in two stages, if scientists could work it out.
The first stage would be to construct a Universal Dome, over the entire planet. Sectors would be assigned to separate global authorities, and the sectors would be sewn together at Universal Junctures.
The Universal Dome would not suffice for long. Eventually, further degradation of the magnetosphere would require construction of smaller, Domicile Domes. These would house major population centers, and those individuals considered vital to the community's existence.
Scientists were in a race against time.
On an ever-cooling planet, even enclosures would not support life indefinitely. The only lasting, true solution would be escape. That's where the trash sifters came into the picture. They hunted old space debris for clues about the mysterious territory that lay beyond the earth's solar system.
What scientists really hoped for, was that the trash sifters would find a message, much like the one earthlings had sent on the Golden Record. It would be a communication from an alien intelligence that would provide an introduction, and a map to a place of refuge.
And now... earth had received its message. The long-awaited instructions for space travel had come on the Golden Record.
There was so much more to write in this story--enough for a book. The chapters are already taking shape in my imagination. I hope to publish them here as they are written. It was hard to stop at this point, but I recognize that people don't have the patience for long blogs. So...to be continued.