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Teeth of the Sky

"Of course it was a warning."

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Competition Entry: Myths And Monsters

“Pyramids on the moon. Trippy. Looks like an album cover. Like, you know, Pink Floyd or something.”

While Grizz looked out on the horizon contemplating mid-70s prog-rock album art, Jonesy got to work. “Lex, report, are you okay? LOIS, I need a situational status.”

LOIS’s unsettlingly human-like voice responded first. “Officer Jones, we have a collapse, directly ahead of you. The collapse of a large underground cavity has resulted in the disturbance of approximately eighteen square hectares of lunar surface, revealing these structures, near the far edge of Mare Cognitum.

“The Sea of Becoming Known….” Jonesy whispered, more to herself than anyone else. LOIS picked up her voice through the mic in her helmet.

Correct,” answered LOIS. “Mare Cognitum translates roughly to ‘The Sea of Becoming Known’ in English. A more nuanced translation might be…

“Unimportant, LOIS. What is the extent of the disruption? What was the cause? What are our best next steps?”

It took a moment longer than usual for LOIS—Lexicographic Organic Information System—to generate an answer. Jonesy noted the pause.        

“Seismic sensors indicate a localized moon-quake.

“There’s no such thing as a moon-quake.”

Correction, Officer Jones. No moon-quakes have been reported in reputable scientific journals during the sixty years we’ve been able to detect them. That does not indicate that…

“Can it, LOIS.” LOIS immediately stopped talking, and Jonesy felt relieved that she didn’t need to apologize for being rude to a computer. “Cause of the moon-quake?”

Another pause. “72% probability that quake was caused by human activity, specifically excavation of precious metals by Acorn Mining from the regolith near Kepler crater.

That had been Jonesy’s assumption as well. Frikkin Acorn. Her employer. Always after the bottom dollar. “Any injuries or fatalities?”

None reported.”   

“Any damage?”

None reported.

Lex was back on the rover they’d driven out here on, but he was still a long way from them. “Lex! Report.”

She heard Lex’s voice through a shower of static. “I’m fine, Jonesy. About a quarter kilometer away. I’m on my way, but I’m going to be driving in slow.”

“Slow and steady wins the race, Lex. Be safe, we’ll see you when we see you.”

With no injuries, fatalities or physical damage reported, Jonesy took the time to take in what was in front of her.

A magnificent circle of gigantic pyramids had thrust up through the dust and regolith of the lunar surface, so large they dwarfed the mining equipment and living modules of Kepler base, out on the horizon. A heady mix of fear and awe tumbled through Jonsey’s veins. She turned to Grizz, who’d yet to take his eyes off them.

“You okay, Grizz?”

His grin was so wide she could see it through the visor of his space suit. “Dude, hell yeah. This rocks!”

Jonesy had to admit to the thrill of the sight. Once she’d established no one had been hurt or killed, she allowed pure wonder to flood her senses. A grouping of fifteen to twenty pyramids stood directly in front of them. They all protruded from the lunar surface at roughly the same angle. The Egyptian pyramids, her only frame of reference, looked strikingly different from what she looked at now. These structures were larger, and the sides of them were sharp and barbed, not from erosion, but seemingly by design. They seemed designed to look foreboding.  “What do you think we’re looking at?”

“Well, they look like the pyramids back home, sure, but that’s not what they remind me of.”

Jonesy may have been in charge, but she trusted Grizz’s judgement. It’s why she made him second in command. He’d been out here on these harsh grey plains of the moon much longer than she.

“Nuclear waste dumps.”

“Excuse me?”

Grizz took his time before answering. “Back in the day, when we were using nuclear reactors for power on Earth, everyone was trying to find some way of burying the waste.”

Jonesy remembered a little of this from her history tutors. “Continue.”

“So, nuclear waste lasts like 100,000 years, right? You can’t destroy it, you can only bury it. And scientists decided they needed to find some way of warning future generations of the danger of the nuclear waste dump site, tens of thousands of years later.  You can’t use words, languages won’t last that long. Cultures either. It’s gotta be something really big, to survive through the centuries and remain intact. It’s gotta be scary looking. You’ve got to create, like, a myth.”

“And?” asked Jonesy, already knowing the answer.

“And the result looked kinda like this.” Grizz took a few steps toward it, trying to get a clearer picture. “A landscape of thorns.”

“So are you saying this is an ancient nuclear waste dump site?”

“No,” he said slowly, shaking his head. “I don’t think this is human. But I think whoever built this might have had the same idea as those brainiacs back on Earth. It’s probably not a warning about nuclear waste. But it is a warning.”

“What’s it warning us about?”

“I have no idea. But I think these pyramids were put here to say. ‘Something dangerous is buried here. Keep out.’”

“LOIS, conform.” LOIS, Jonsey knew, was always listening.

Mr. Griswold is correct. Sandia National Laboratory suggested in 1993 that a grid of irregularly sized spikes be used to warn people away from the area. A landscape of menacing thorns, they called it. Other ideas, including an atomic priesthood, or the breeding of a special breed of cat, called Radiation Cats, or Ray Cats, could be used…

“Enough, LOIS.” She never knew when to stop. “So what do you think we should do, Grizz?”

“Are you asking me if it’s dangerous? Of course it’s dangerous.” His laugh sounded tinny from the headset speaker. “We are the first humans to ever see these pyramids. They’ve been hidden in the dust longer than mankind has been on Earth. If you order me back to the rover, I’ll go. But if it’s up to me, I say we proceed. This isn’t for humankind, like in the old days. We work for a mining company, and they pay us poorly, and they treat us like cattle.”

“Agreed.”

“So, this isn’t about loyalty to the species. This is about loyalty to a faceless corporation. Alien pyramids on the moon? Shit like this is the reason I signed onto this adventure!”          

Jonesy appreciated his attitude. She knew that LOIS would recommend returning to the rover, so she didn’t ask. “LOIS, Lex, we’re proceeding forward on foot. Lex, keep that rover pointed toward us, and get here as quickly as you can safely manage. We might need to make a fast getaway.”

“Understood.” Lex signed off. Jonesy and Grizz set off toward the pyramids, though after LOIS had mentioned it, she thought “landscape of thorns” a more apt description. It looked almost as if they were growing out of the grey sterile soil of the moon. That was impossible, of course.

Under normal circumstances, Jonesy had no time during moonwalks to contemplate the landscape. Her duties as lead scientist for Acorn Mining were too overwhelming. Too many lives were at stake, and too much money and expensive equipment at stake as well. The rover alone cost millions of dollars.  During the trudge toward the pyramids, she allowed herself to take in the stark beauty of the lunar surface. The monochromatic lava plains of the Mare Cognitum surrounded her. Tiny craters littered the surface, their bright lines of ejecta spreading out like fingers over the older and darker basalt. Occasional glints of reflected light flashed in sunlight, bits of glass from crater impacts. Overhead, stars tumbled in darkness, crowding the sky with impossible numbers, the infinite sprawling excess of the universe.

Rising in front of her, a circle of sharp imposing shapes. As they got closer, Jonesy could see they clearly were not pyramids. The structures were flatter and more two-dimensional than the pyramids, and reached to the sky with violent purpose; sharp, stabbing forms that reminded her of talons, knives, claws. Teeth.

They looked like teeth.

Of course this was a warning.

Despite the controlled conditions inside her spacesuit, the hair rose on the back of her neck.              

They reached the periphery of the circle of pyramids.  Lex spoke up through the rover’s comm system.

“Hey, Jonesy, Kepler Station says to hold your position. Acorn wants to send out some experts to assess the situation. They’re sending another rover, and your orders are to wait for them to arrive. It might be dangerous.”

She heard Grizz laugh disdainfully. She switched to a private channel to talk to him, and motioned for him to do the same.

“Jonesy, you know Acorn is gonna swoop in and take all the credit.”

She sighed. “I know.”

“This is the second piece of direct evidence for an alien civilization in the history of mankind. This is the kind of stuff I signed up for in the first place. Maybe it’s dangerous. I don’t care. I signed up for danger.”

“So you’re saying we should ignore orders and walk into the circle of pyramids.”

“Damn straight.”

“Even though you yourself said those things out there are a warning?”

Grizz pointed to the landscape of thorns. “A warning that we are about to see something no human has ever laid eyes on before. Jonesy, I understand you are lead scientist here, and you may feel some allegiance to the higher-ups at Acorn Mining. I get that. But I’m a grunt. Minimum wage. I risk my life every time I walk out onto the lunar surface. I risk my life every day I wake up on this cold dead rock.”

“I understand.” She really did.

“So you can stay or you can go. But I’m going in.”

She gave him a thumbs-up, not sure if she was going to follow him in. He returned the gesture, and even through the tempered glass of the helmet she could see his charismatic, infectious smile.

He turned back toward the lunar regolith and strode forward. He crossed the threshold of the area, passing underneath one of the enormous thorns.

He lifted his arms in celebration of the moment. “In the name of planet Earth, I hereby name thee the Sea of Grizz!” He laughed.

Jonesy laughed too, and she heard Lex laughing on the comm, right up to the time the ground fell away from under Grizz and he disappeared from view.

“What the fu—”

Grizz vanished silently, behind a spew of lunar dust. Jonesy watched, not comprehending, trying to make sense of the rapidly deteriorating situation.  In front of her, in the spot where Grizz had been standing, the lunar surface churned with chaos. Seemingly solid ground gave way to black subterranean shadows, awash in dust.      

“Grizz!” she cried.

The most disorienting aspect of the tumult was that it was nearly silent. Huge boulders rose out of the dusty regolith, then broke apart, pulverized into sand, and it all happened directly in front of her, in near total silence. All she could hear was Grizz’s grunts and moans as he fell into the chasm that had opened underneath him, and the incongruently soft swish of the fabric of Grizz’s spacesuit, brushing against his skin.  

She didn’t know whether to chase after him or wait for the rover to help rescue him. She switched back to a public channel and provided Lex and LOIS with an urgent update, minimizing Grizz’s private display of mutiny. She didn’t ask if she had permission to go in to rescue her friend. She told them.

Lex tried his best to convince her to wait; his rover would reach them in fifteen minutes.

LOIS agreed that time was of the essence.

Jonesy chose to trust in LOIS. “LOIS, If you can give me any overhead scans of the area to help me navigate, I’d appreciate it.”

Dr. Jones, we should have a satellite overhead in eight minutes. I suggest a direct path forward, toward the spot Mr. Griswold disappeared. Current data indicates a large cavern underneath.

“So I just, like, jump in?”

Essentially yes. Walk forward until you see the chasm, and see if you can find a path down. Your spacesuits are rugged, and there is a good chance Mr. Griswold survived his fall, but you need to find him quickly. If the suit is punctured, he only has minutes.

“Grizz, I’m coming,” she yelled, and launched herself forward. Immediately the murky dust still hanging in the space in front of her robbed her of her sight. Before she could switch to radar the ground dropped away from underneath her, and she half-ran, half-fell all the way down into the giant subterranean cavern.

Grizz lay half-buried in the debris on the floor of the space. She ran to him and knelt. “Grizz, are you okay?”

“I don’t know,” he groaned. “Maybe. I’m not dead. I don’t think.”

“LOIS. How’s his spacesuit? What’s his medical condition?”

No leaks or malfunctions in life support systems of either of your suits. Elevated heart rate and respiration, which, given the context, is understandable. No broken skin, no broken bones.

As Jonesy reached out to help Grizz up, she noted the floor of the cavern they found themselves in was flat and level. She concluded that this was not a naturally occurring structure.  She aimed her helmet-mounted headlights across the room. It was massive. Three walls, nearly as long as football fields, formed a triangular room, with a dais at the center. Writing of some kind showed on the walls, but too much dust still hung in the chamber to see much of anything.

“LOIS? Report. What is this room?”

“Unknown.”

“LOIS, who built this room?”

“Unknown.”

“You’re a lot of help, LOIS,” said Lex over the comm array.

“Let’s take a look around,” said Jonesy. Jonesy and Grizz both adjusted the floodlights on their suits, so that the entire underground chamber was filled with beams of light, sharply defined in the floating dust. Three walls showed, a large round dais at the center. Barbed triangular shapes lined the periphery of the entire room, smaller figures about least three meters tall, and similar to the triangles on the lunar surface. Another warning?     

A light came up on the dais.

“LOIS? What is the origin of the lighting on the central structure?”

“Light does not originate from your spacesuits, but from devices contained within the structure.”

“Purpose of the light, LOIS?”

“To attract your attention. Since the light was triggered by your presence in the chamber, my best supposition is that the light is meant to draw you toward the structure. To get you to approach it.”

“What do you think we should do, LOIS?” asked Grizz, though it was not his duty to interact with the AI.

“I think you should approach it.” The slight disdain in LOIS’s voice was deniable but unmistakable.

“Lex, we’re walking over to the central structure.  Please monitor the immediate area for anomalies.”

Lex laughed. “The whole God damned site is an anomaly, Jonesy.”

“You know what I mean.”

Grizz looked at her. “Ready?” he asked.

“Let’s do this.”

They crossed the room to the circular dais, and then stepped into the cone of light that illuminated the structure. Immediately a brighter light focused on a round plate with several indentations, at its center.

Grizz held his hand over the plate. “The lights are leading us. First to the dais, then to this plate at the center.”

“LOIS? Further analysis.”

“The three walls indicate creatures with three limbs, or multiples of three. Biologically, the number three appear to be a biological organizing principle, not unlike the human biological organizing principles of two and ten. My supposition is of creatures with three legs, three arms, three eyes, three fingers. Further evidence is provided by the circular plate.”

“Explain, LOIS.”

“The three indentations on the plate seem to be designed for the placement of three fingers.”

“Recommendation for next steps, LOIS?”

“Let me guess,” interjected Grizz. “Place our fingers into the indentations?”

“Yes. Possibility of physical harm less than one tenth of one percent.”

“Easy for her to say,” Grizz mumbled.

“Can you please quit arguing with the computer? Do you actually think you’ll win?”

“I’d feel better if she was sticking her own fingers into the thing.”

“She doesn’t have any fingers.”

“My point exactly,” said Grizz. “Here, I’ll do it.”

“No.” She brushed his hand away. “I’m in charge. Lead Scientist. This is my duty.” She knew she’d been ordered to wait by Acorn Mining. She also knew whoever first examined the structure would end up in history books. No one remembered the names of those who stood aside, passively following orders.  

Ignoring every existing safety protocol, she slapped his gloved hand down onto the plate, and positioned her fingers so that one of her fingertips was in each indentation.

She felt a slight rumbling underneath her. A light appeared on the left-most of the three walls.

Jonesy didn’t bother to ask LOIS about what was happening. Clearly, the room, or those who designed the room, wanted to draw her attention to the first wall. The room was telling them a story. A myth.

Grizz and Jonesy approached the first wall.  Looming over them was a mural. While the colors of the image were in the muted tones of the rest of the moon—shadings of grey, bled of color—the shapes on the mural pulsed with energy. Jonesy tried to make sense of them. 

Two large spirals dominated the wall, one at the upper left, one at the lower right. A group of nested triangles hung between the two spirals.

Jonesy gasped with understanding. “Grizz, what do these look like to you?”

“Galaxies, dude. Two galaxies, with a bunch of connected triangles between them.”

“Yep. Like, the triangles are moving from one to the other. LOIS?”

Your supposition seems likely. Note the differences in the arms of the spirals. These spirals appear to represent our own Milky Way galaxy in the lower right, and Andromeda in the upper left.

“And the group of triangles?”

“Unknown.”

The chamber, seeming to understand what LOIS had just said, lowered the lights on the first wall. The lights rose on the middle wall. Three panels appeared.

“Grizz look. The upper right corner. Nine dots, in a series of concentric circles. The middle dot is the biggest. This must be the solar system. The middle circle is the sun.”

“I see.” Grizz pointed excitedly. “Next panel to the right, look! It’s, like, a closeup. The middle dot, and the first three circles. Orbits! The orbits of Mercury, Venus and Earth….”

Now Jonesy was getting caught up in Grizz’s excitement. “And the little circle and dot around the third orbit is the moon. There’s showing us where we are.”

“The third panel, over at the bottom right. What’s that?”

The panel showed a circle with a small circle and the group of nested triangles inside it. It took a moment for the sight to register.  “It’s a map of the moon!” Jonesy cried. The small circle is Kepler crater. The group of triangles corresponds to our exact position on the moon. They’re, like, buried here or something. LOIS, confirm.”

LOIS took a moment to reply. “Essentially correct. The panels, read left to right, are a schematic of the solar system, a schematic of the Earth-Moon system, and finally a crude map marking the location of this chamber. The nested triangles appear to have been transported from a location in Andromeda, and deposited here.

“LOIS, why were they deposited here?”

Unknown.

The lights lowered on the second wall, and bloomed on the far-right one.     

Pictures of sharp, menacing triangles lined the four edges of the wall. They looked like those that lined the room, and those that towered over the lunar surface. Inside the frame of triangles on the wall, a mass of squiggly and straight lines.

“What do we have here, LOIS?”

“Unknown.”

“Bullshit.” Grizz stepped closer to the wall. “The little triangles on the edges? They’re a warning, just like the ones on the surface. Just like the ones circling the room.”

“But those lines inside?” noted Jonesy. “LOIS, isn’t that writing of some kind? Ideographs or something?”

“Unknown.”

It was Jonesy’s turn to say, “Bullshit.” She walked closer to the lines on the wall. “These look familiar. LOIS, look up Europa Clipper mission, 2037. The underwater cave drawings.” Jonesy had done her graduate thesis on the Europa Clipper mission. She gave LOIS a few seconds to catch up. “Don’t the lines from the Europa cave paintings bear a striking similarity to these lines, LOIS?”

“You are correct, these lines appear to be ideographs. A precursor to an alphabet and written language. 82% probability that the Europa ideographs and these were created the same culture.”

“And with two sets of data points, is any translation possible? Do we know what these ideographs are saying?”       

 LOIS took a moment. “Impossible to say with complete accuracy. “ Jonesy saw that Grizz was about to argue with LOIS again. Perhaps even LOIS noticed, because she continued speaking. “I do note some ideographs have a 52% chance of accurate translation.

“Hit me, LOIS.”

Four characters here yield to further investigation. The two squiggly lines, paired, seem to be a character that means “fly” or “travel.” The three dots appear to refer to the plate Mr. Griswold touched. The x-like figure means “stop,” or perhaps “beware.” That one’s pretty universal.”  

“You said four characters, LOIS. What’s the last one?”

Another uncharacteristic pause. “The triangles. The ones in the ideograph match the ones standing along the edge of the room, as well as the giant ones overhead. I have a 98% match.

“What’s it mean?”

It’s a warning, as Mr. Griswold suggested.

“Continue, LOIS.” An uneasy feeling began to form in her gut.

“It’s a myth. A story. Millions of years old, based on my visual dating of the materials. ‘You flew here. So did we. Stop. Return home. Beware of the danger teeth.’ Something like that.”

“Danger teeth? LOIS, are you sure you got the translation right?”

“Exact translation is impossible. The danger appears to involve teeth in some way. Monsters with teeth. Monsters that ARE teeth.”

“Is this a real thing? Or is it just an ancient alien myth?”

“Unknown.”

“Can anything be done to stop it?”

“Unknown. Unlikely. The process appears to have begun when Mr. Griswold touched the plate.”

“Fine,” said Grizz. “Dock my pay.”

“LOIS. I’m asking for supposition. Why did they want us to touch the plate? What’s the purpose of all of this?”

“Supposition: it’s a trigger. A way to confirm that humankind has achieved space travel and landed on the moon. Touching the plate confirms to whoever built it that there is a technologically advanced civilization on Earth.”   

They felt a deep rumbling in the three walls surrounding them. Dusty debris began to fall from the walls. Small holes appeared behind the debris.

Grizz said, "I think we just told them that mankind is all grown up."

“This doesn’t look good,” said Jonesy.

“Agreed,” replied Grizz, but he was wide-eyed, transfixed by the sight. Jonesy felt oddly excited as well.

The first of the creatures landed on the floor of the cavern and growled silently. All Jonesy could see was a blur of teeth and fur. It launched itself at Grizz, teeth first, body following. Grizz caught the thing in his fist.

Jonesy tried not to laugh.

The creature was mostly made teeth and hair. It had three mouths, one in front and one on either side, slashing at the air furiously with needle teeth, an airless howl contorting the features of its three-eyed face.  

It was also about two inches tall. It looked like a baby Muppet.

“What a cute little guy,” said Grizz. He petted the fur of the thing with his free hand. “LOIS was right! Three eyes, three mouths, nine legs. Multiple of three.” The thing reared its head up and then clamped down on Grizz’s thumb. Grizz’s face grew alarmed, but quickly changed to amusement. “His teeth can’t get through the suit. It tickles.” He kept petting the thing on the head as it gnawed on his thumb.

Several more creatures dropped on the chamber floor from their holes in the walls. They all skittered across the floor toward Jonesy and Grizz. Most of them were easily kicked away, though a few were able to grab onto the material of their spacesuits and climb up. Their claws and teeth caused no spacesuit damage. It was all faintly ridiculous. 

Jonesy “LOIS, so, that’s the myth on the wall? Monsters with teeth? These are the monsters that will kill us if we enter this chamber? This is the great danger?”

“Unknown.”

Jonesy said, “Maybe it’s just of matter of scale. Whoever wrote those words must have seen these little toothy guys as terrifying monsters. Maybe the aliens who wrote these words were the size of insects. Or smaller.”

Grizz was still playing with the creature on his thumb. “Maybe. I just have one question.”

“Yeah?” Jonesy picked up one of the furry little creatures. “What is it?”

“If the aliens were the size of insects, who built this room? It’s huge! And the, um, teeth out on the lunar surface? Even bigger. If the architects were so small, why did they build everything so big?”

“I don’t know.” The creature that Jonsey held gave up trying to bite through the suit, and began nuzzling her hand. There was no sound in the room, but the little thing appeared to be purring. Jonesy suppressed an “aw,” and asked LOIS, “LOIS, supposition as to the size of the aliens? Based on analysis of the size of the monsters?”

Another pause. “The myth on the wall refers to a monster, singular, not monsters, plural.

“Meaning?”

“Meaning, the alien creatures you are holding are likely not the monster referred to in the mural.”

“LOIS, did these creatures build the room we are standing in? Or the structures on the surface?”              

“Unlikely, based on their size and their mental prowess.” The creature Jonesy was holding fell asleep in her hand, all three mouths snoring.  

“Then what are they?’

“Unknown.”

“Supposition?”

“They might be pets. Or perhaps they are babies of a much larger creature.”

“Babies?” asked Jonesy.

“Babies?” Grizz repeated.

“If these are the babies, that what—”

She never got the chance to ask her question, interrupted by the ground cracking sharply underneath her. She looked down to see the floor break apart along an unnaturally straight line, mere feet to the left of her.

“Grizz!” she cried, but he’d already noticed and jumped back from the developing crack in the floor. They watched as the crack travelled along its ruler-straight path, a trail lunar dust spitting out in its wake. Suddenly, it turned at a ninety-degree angle, and continued to crack across the length of the room.

The crack turned again, travelled, and turned back, creating a zig-zag pattern across the floor until the entire room split in two. Jonesy watched Grizz disappear into the darkness in silent slow motion, and felt the ground splinter away under her.

She followed him down into the chaos, surrounded by the churning chaos of the regolith, dust and rock and the slightest glimpse of churning gears beneath the surface, an impossibly large mechanism creaking back to life after hundreds of millions of years, its operators hidden in the dark interior, their intent unknown.

What Jonesy could not see was the surface of the moon from the eyes of the Earth. As every telescope on the planet turned to watch, an enormous crack spread across the surface of the moon, twisting first in one direction and then back again, forming what looked like an enormous toothy grin across the dead rock. Teeth of rock smiled down on the Earth like a Halloween pumpkin as the orbit of its only satellite, the moon, began to decay, and monstrous amounts of rocky debris began to rain upon the Earth. Cities burned. Oceans boiled. A cloud of furry babies floated down onto the ruined plains of the planet like dandelion seeds, ravenous and needy, a new generation of monsters, impatient to assume the world.

Published 
Written by verbal
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