The Strangest Cross


(700 words)

Settlers followed pioneers, who followed scientists, who followed robots. Now, biodomes dotted the frozen red desert that stretched to the pink horizon. The settlers found the soil to be good and plants to grow quickly. Wells bored deep into the surface found aquifers to nourish the plants.
Soon – despite warnings – children were born. Children who grew imperially tall and thin, with brown skin, knowing smiles and, shining from green eyes, intelligence beyond their years. And strangest of all, many of them were born with an extra finger on the right hand.
As they grew, they proved to be natural leaders, forming committees and making decisions for the adults, who mostly bowed to their intelligence and wisdom. Excavations were begun, under their direction, now teenagers and young adults, and finally, after several months of digging under brilliant floodlights, a huge arena had been excavated, and at the bottom they hit ‘pay dirt.’ The very top of an ancient stone building, millions of years old.
“It’s like they knew it was there all along,” said Edmund Silverstein.
His wife Valorie looked up at her husband’s remark, her blonde ponytail bobbing. “I swear Saul can read my mind. He seems to know what I’m going to say before I say it.”
“He’s a clever one alright. The directive was to focus on terraforming, not excavations. Somehow, he and his pals convinced the high-ups back on Earth to send the gear, and here we are.”
“But aren’t you excited that our son – our son – discovered the first Martian city?”
“We don’t know it’s a city, it could be a random pile of rocks.”
“What, buildings with rooms and windows!”
“We don’t know that yet.” He turned to a computer and began scrolling through columns of data. “Look, I think we should rent a new biodome. What d’you think?”
“Now you’re just being plain stupid!” Valorie put her hands upon Edmund’s shoulders and began to massage them. “Look, I know you don’t like the way things are going, these kids so intelligent, maybe even telepathic, taking charge, making us look like children, but it’s the way things are. We can’t change that.”
Edmund grunted.
She continued. “We came out to colonise this place. We didn’t know what to expect. What better way than by discovering some history?”
“Maybe by letting sleeping dogs lie ….”
They heard a sound like steam escaping, and a door slid open.
“Hello mum, hello dad.” Saul strode towards them. His brown face stretched into a smile. “We found something.”
Valorie wondered at her son, so tall and slim. It was like he’d grown six inches in the last week. She smiled at her imagination. “What is it, sweetheart?”
“Close your eyes and hold your hand out.”
Valorie felt something cool and metallic placed into her palm. Something brushed against her wrist. She opened her eyes and gasped. “Wow.” She turned the trinket over and over. It was of a metal she didn’t recognise, dull and heavy, showing little sign of wear, despite its ancient appearance. “How old?”
“They’re still working on it. Over a million years.”
It was reminiscent of a Celtic cross. An asymmetric cross – the lower arm longer than the other three, equal, lengths – superimposed upon a small circle. Each arm had a design engraved on it, like intertwined ropes in a complex pattern. At the junction of the cross was a small disc, and in it, a pair of hands held a heart shape. A fine chain was attached to the apex of the cross.
“Where did you find it?”
Saul smiled. “In the soil excavated from the first building. It was just on its own, but now we think there might be other artefacts we’re going to request more gear from Earth, to speed up the excavating.”
“Well, what do you think of this?” Valorie asked Edmund.
He gave the cross a cursory glance. “How do we know it wasn’t dropped by someone from Earth – one of the pioneers?”
Without a word, Saul held the cross up in front of his father and pointed to the hands holding the heart. On what would have been the right hand, the fine detail clearly showed a thumb and five fingers.

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