‘Ladies and Gentlemen,’ the professor began her address, beaming around at the expert team she had gathered around her. ‘It is with great excitement that we initiate this project!’
A big cheer went up.
‘Against huge competition we won the contract!’
Another big cheer went up. She was milking it now.
‘We will be the first group of archaeologists to set foot on planet Zeta,’ she continued in a more subdued tone. ‘As you know it is a tropical world. Nine tenths is water and every inch teems with life. But we are not here for that. We’ll leave that to the mere biologists,’ she added with a smile.
She then looked round at them with the most serious of expressions. ‘Health and safety comes first,’ she reminded them. ‘Bio-suits will be worn at all times when on the surface and full decontamination procedure followed. There are all manner of microbes that could prove deadly. I do not want anybody succumbing to some diabolical alien disease that could prove fatal and put the ship in quarantine.’
There was a general nodding.
‘Secondly,’ she pronounced severely. ‘I do not want any contraventions of the safety procedures. These jungles are full of the most fearsome creatures. They are all heavily armoured with great scales and equipped with enormous fangs, claws, spikes and venom.’ She gave a few of the younger members a piercing glare. ‘Protective perimeters are to be set up. We work within them and nobody…..’ she fixed one of the more adventurous young male colleagues with a prolonged stare, ‘but nobody, is ever to go off exploring outside that perimeter. Do I make myself clear?’
The young man squirmed and looked down at his feet and there were more nods from the others. When she was certain the message had been amply reinforced she went on with her address.
‘Our task is a simply one,’ she reminded them. ‘We have to find out what happened here. Millions of years ago this planet was home to a highly advanced civilisation. They were intelligent enough to have developed space travel and atomic energy. There are extensive remains of their cities all over the planet. Yet they suddenly disappeared.’ She raised her hands and eyebrows. ‘Our job is to find out why. If we achieve that we will received further funding and this planet will be ours to explore to our hearts content!’
‘No other intelligent life has been discovered anywhere in the galaxy,’ the professor continued. ‘It is almost unthinkable as to the immensity of the calamity that befell them. We have to find out what happened.’
‘I have split you into teams. Each one of you has your task. Now go out there and find out what happened all those millions of years ago!’
They were eager to get to it.
‘I wish I was going with you,’ the professor added with a sigh, ‘but I’m far too old for all that gallivanting around. I will stay here and coordinate the findings.’ She beamed at them. ‘So get out there and get to the bottom of it! Good luck everyone!’
They rushed off to their craft to start the adventure. The professor took up her position in the control room to await results. She had high hopes of solving this one quickly and was eager to gain the further funding that would really set them loose on Zeta.
‘Team 3 reporting,’ the first results came in from her competitive teams. ‘We have carried out a thorough survey of the whole planet. There is no evidence of a major asteroid impact and no prolonged period of impact induced winter.’
The rest of the reports came through in rapid succession.
‘Team 7 reporting, the fossil record shows that all other furry homeotherms were eradicated prior to the demise of the dominant intelligent species. The present fauna appear to have evolved from a tiny residual number of poikilothermic reptiles and fish.’
‘Team 1 reporting. The extensive obsidian plains were the result of nuclear explosion but there is nowhere near sufficient to create a nuclear winter that would have caused a global catastrophe.’
‘Team 2 reporting. This planet had extensive ice-caps. The sea levels were considerably lower and the land mass much more extensive. It seems the rise in sea level occurred prior to the demise of our predominant species though the evidence is that it is not this that wiped them out.’
‘Team 5 reporting. It appears that the planet housed a hundred billion plus Zetans at the time of the great demise. Their cities covered more of the globe and they had eradicated the natural ecosystems. All food was processed from bacteria.’
‘Team 6 reporting. The majority of the cities do not seem to have suffered any physical catastrophe. The Zetan remains display no extensive physical damage. They did not succumb to any violent act.’
‘Team 4 reporting. There has been no volcanic activity that would have resulted in a global catastrophe. There is no evidence of a volcanic winter.’
‘Team 8 reporting. It appears that these Zetans were extremely violent. We have uncovered great arsenals of explosive devices, weapons and missiles. There is extensive evidence of them having used these weapons against each other but not on a scale that would have caused their demise.’
‘Team 9 reporting. We have investigated this highly protected centre where the Zetans were seemingly experimenting with various microbes – though they do not seem to have been either developing either foods or medicines. We are not sure what they were doing here but there is evidence of some emergency at the centre. We’ll keep you informed.’
The professor sat back in dismay. This was not going well. She had hoped that it might be simple. The more they found out the stranger it became. How could a race as advanced as this still have been involved with weapons and violence? That was so stupid and primitive; it was unbelievable. How could they have allowed their numbers to get so out of control, the natural ecosystems to be destroyed or a series of nuclear disasters of such size? It simply did not make sense. What had caused that dramatic rise in sea levels and why had they not controlled it? Surely they had not deliberately used nuclear weapons or polluted the planet sufficient to cause global warming? No. That was too absurd. They were highly intelligent after all.
Yet there seemed no natural phenomenon had been responsible for the catastrophe. There had been no asteroid strike or major volcanic action and none of the events they had so far discovered should have proved fatal to a species of such intelligence and ingenuity.
The evidence was that this had been a majorly intelligent species with huge knowledge, resources and power and yet they had seemingly allowed catastrophe after catastrophe to assail them. How could any intelligent species allow that to happen? It was beyond all intelligent reasoning. How could an intelligent species have been so stupid?
What were they doing with those microbes in that laboratory that team nine had discovered?
The professor was flummoxed. What had killed the Zetans? It was a mystery. The more they discovered, the less they understood.