It was too late in the day to safely continue the expedition without fear of storm, whether solar or otherwise, but the captain’s curiosity had gotten the better of him, as it had a tendency to do. Today marked exactly one year to the day that the astronauts had descended on the planet in search of a sign of beings that could’ve come before, and the captain wanted something ceremonious for everyone back home.
The captain’s men could do with a good recharging and were nearly mutinous, but they were inextricably bound by their command line. They all marched obediently behind their captain, protective helmets secured over their heads as they left the comfort and safety of home base.
The dead world’s air was choked with red dust, almost stagnant as it seemed to hang in the air. A gust of it picked up, the grains abrasive enough to leave scratch marks on the captain’s helmet. They marched on over increasingly rocky terrain, fearless as they set out to chase the setting sun.
The captain’s mind wandered as they trekked on. Naturally, it went to the place it always had a tendency to gravitate toward whenever he considered the ever-elusive Find. How would it change belief back home? Would having concrete proof that they had once existed change anything? Would his name be in the history blogs for years to come, as he so wished it would?
Just as this thought crossed the captain’s mind, a tremor beneath the ground opened up a massive sinkhole that immediately swallowed up one of the astronaut archaeologists. He didn’t even have time to let out a yell before plummeting into the abyss of the dead planet’s interior.
The captain turned back, the look on his face a cross between mild interest and annoyance. This was the third man he’d lost so far. The others paused to look down into the sinkhole, more out of curiosity than empathy. The captain waved them on, impatient.
“We’ll just have to find a replacement when we get back. Come on.”
And so they all marched on without another look back toward their fallen comrade. The sun was nearly set on the horizon, and the captain knew they had much ground to cover before he’d let them all retire for the night.
And then he saw it. Peeking out from the detritus and dirt of untold centuries was what seemed to be the frame of a building. Standing out against this otherwise barren landscape was something that clearly had to be the work of intelligent hands.
Spurred on by this discovery, the captain took off his helmet to get a better look. The abrasive sand storm had since died down, and the scratches on his helmet just wouldn’t do as far as visibility went. The other astronauts followed suit, all of them approaching the ancient building without their helmets. Asphyxiation claimed none of them.
The captain entered first, relieving the building’s door of its nearly disintegrated hinges. Shelves stood out in sharp relief within the place, but there was too much dust on everything to make out what might be shelved here.
The captain stopped in his tracks, eyes locked ahead with laser precision. There at the front of the building was the unmistakable form of a cash register. He approached it with deference, eyes watering as he came closer. As the other astronauts gathered around, the captain placed his trembling hand upon the keyboard.
“A257, get the panel open. It’s here.”
The man this strange name apparently belonged to obeyed at once, removing the back panel of the cash register and exposing its electronic guts. The captain removed one of the computer chips and reached a hand to his face. He pulled at the skin around his neck. It flipped upward like rubber, revealing a complex skeleton made of chips and wires as opposed to flesh and bone. He held the register’s chip up to the exposed chips of his own face, the similarity striking.
“This is all the proof they’ll ever need. No one will be able to doubt that they made our ancestors here before creating us in their own image.”
“But sir, why would they simply vanish? Where could they have gone?”
The captain pondered this question for a moment before picking up the cash register and inspecting its every nook and cranny. Finally, he found a marking on the bottom. He wiped his hand across to relieve it of dust. Emblazoned across the bottom was, “MADE IN CHINA.” The captain pointed at the words.
“Perhaps here is where our answers lie.”
And so the astronaut androids set off with their find, elated at the prospect of finding the human gods who created and abandoned them long ago.