Chapter One: A Curious Discovery

Sloane was tired.  The enormous plasticanvas helmet made him feel like a condemned Lego tower.   He remembered that as a kid he used to stack his entire barrel of Legos one on top of the other until the plastic skyscraper was inches from the ceiling.  He would begin with the rectangles.  When he ran out of those, he would move to squares, but inevitably he would run out of those at the same height (give or take a few squares) at the same height each time.  He would reach into the yellow barrel and notice that only the awkward shapes remained.  Tires, wheels, windows and such were not much good to his climbing towers, but he was desperate to reach the ceiling.  So he would begin to stack these larger pieces on the already teetering squares.  He remembered that it was always the same small perfect blonde-haired, blue dressed female Lego that would ultimately doom the structure. It would sever in key places and collapse in a heap.  “What a mess you’ve made, Sloane,” his provider would calmly observe.

Anyway, in what Sloane considered an ironic stretch, he felt like a Lego tower on the verge of becoming a mess.  The transparent faceguard was beginning to fog up, and the scarred, uneven terrain was beginning to take its toll on his anklebones.  Slowly, very slowly, so as not to lose his balance and fall head first, he lowered himself onto a charred, crystallized mound of earth.

Sloane stared into an eerie violet forever.  Rust brown dunes swelled and dipped at times obscuring the view of the rocky hills that defined the horizon.  He amused himself by counting the layers of sediment in the plateaus to the left.  The edges crumbled to eye level and descended into the canyons below.  He had trouble counting past ten because the shades of red and brown were so similar as to be indecipherable. Occasionally, a splash of bright yellow darted its way down the diving crevice before oozing back into the vermillion cliffs.  If there were answers, perhaps they lied buried somewhere, maybe miles into the frozen tablelands of the exterior.

Of course, Sloane was not really one for asking the right questions, or any questions at all for that  matter.  Sure, at times he felt a vague sense of curiosity, a sense that there was a cause or a reason…but on most days he was just killing time, playing his part, making his contribution as he knew everyone must.  Anyway, he had never even been granted a vehicle permit, never even applied.  So only  this tiny stretch of dust was his, to cultivate as he saw fit.

“Break’s over,” Sloane muttered to himself.  He wearily rose to his feet trying to balance the enormous weight of his headpiece in the center of his shoulders.  Despite a rather small head, twelve years on the job had built the muscles of his neck to Minotaurian proportions.  He always suspected that he looked like a golf ball in a birdbath.  The dual tanks slung over his shoulders contributed very little to his collective equilibrium.  Still, each accessory was a necessity.  Obviously, the helmet, in fact the entire cartoonish ensemble, shielded him from the icy death that doubled for air out here.  Tank number one nurtured him with the same recycled oxygen that he had been breathing for the past seven hours, while tank number two provided the vacuum needed to erode the caked soil that concealed any potentially valuable artifacts.  Since Sloane worked on commission, the second was as valuable as the first.

Sloane plodded away in search of some irregularity in the surface that might suggest buried treasure.  He attacked the first piece of yellowing earth he encountered.  The sterile sand eddied inches above the ground before shooting up the nozzle on the inside of his glove.  As it dropped worthlessly out of the discharge tube at the base of Sloane’s leg, he suddenly felt something which did not match the consistency of the barren earth.  It twitched and trembled for a moment, then darted up the nozzle, only to be thwarted by the filter and drop again to the ground below.

With his other hand, Sloane grabbed the small object, wiped it on his thigh, and examined it.  It appeared to be some sort of capsule; it resembled a pill but Sloane had no immediate desire to consume it.  Not that he was not hungry; it just didn’t look edible.  Rather, it seemed to be made of some sort of primitive metal.  He stared at it for a minute, pondering its use, but his mind drew a blank.  Sloane tossed it into the small pocket at his belly and moved on.  As he disappeared into the eternal darkness, he looked like some oversized, crippled, plastic kangaroo.

– Mr. Matthew Green, The Haverford School, Faculty & Staff

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