The Universe Game
by Simon John Cox
They discovered the first one in 2091, during the seismic lunar surveys. It was communicated to the lab at Mare Anguis 4, in that self-consciously ambiguous way that scientists have, as an ‘anomaly’ — an unexpected spike on the graph, an unusually sinuous line within the oscilloscope, a decimal place lurking too far to the left — a word designed solely to mask their embarrassment at the real issue, which was simply that they had got their predictions wrong.
A second survey was carried out, but the results were the same — anomalous — and so an excavation unit was dispatched. Three weeks and several metres of basalt later, a message chirped through the satcom to Mare Anguis 4:
“Littrow? Are you there?”
“Go ahead, EX2.”
“You’re not going to believe this.”
“What have you found?”
“It’s... well, it’s a bell. A giant golden bell.”
The bell, some thirty metres tall and lurking like a boil deep beneath the epidermis of the moon turned out to be made not of gold but of a material greatly resembling it, but more than this little could be gleaned.
Science scanned and centrifuged and resonated and imaged and oscillated, but no conclusion could be drawn from the find other than that no human hands had cast, sounded or sunk it, and so it remained a curiosity, a tourist attraction. Until, that was, the seismic surveys of Mars in 2118.
The western slope of Olympus Mons provided the site of the Martian finding. They’d learned from the last time; this time they called it an ‘Anomaly,’ capitalised officiously to provide a veneer of plausibility, as though the unexpected really had been expected.
Excavation crews were soon on the scene, and Littrow was contacted the instant that the scientists at Olympus Station received the call to inform them that what seemed like an enormous bell, thirty metres high and made of gold, had been found buried beneath the surface of the red planet.
Naturally, Littrow boarded the next available shuttle and was there in hours. But again, protracted scientific endeavour revealed nothing more conclusive than that this bell was not of human origin either, and over the years it too fell into folklore.
Then, in 2130, deep beneath the howling clouds, seismic surveyors on the surface of Venus were alarmed to see the glowing, pulsating blip on their hand-held screens as they logged the surface of Ishtar Terra. Checks and double checks led to the deployment of the excavation units, and Littrow, long retired, could scarcely breathe when he was contacted a few weeks later by his old friend Juralle from the Lakshmi Scientific Outpost.
“I thought you’d want to know,” he said.
“Another bell?” said Littrow.
“No... that would have been fine. That was almost what we were expecting... as much as you can expect anything when something like this happens.”
“It was a pair of cherries.”
“A huge representation of them, thirty metres high. Carved deep into the planet’s crust. Bright red.”
“But wait, there’s more... next to it there was a message inscribed into the bedrock in letters ten metres high. Can you imagine?”
“What? What did it say?”
“Well, that was the funny thing... it said ‘Three matches required for jackpot. Better luck next time’.”
Copyright © 2006 by Simon John Cox,
a.k.a. Ecks Ridgehead