A Dispatch from an Otherwise Unremarkable Planet

An essay by Scout 1188-A, as provided by S. R. Algernon
Art by Dawn Vogel


This is Scout 1188-A, operating under the auspices of the distal arm division of the Consortium Exploration Group. I am checking in to report a finding of minor interest on a planet currently orbiting a red giant in the periphery of my sector. The salvage team has discovered a granite slab at the center of what seems to have been a city. It has no monetary or cultural value to speak of, particularly since the red giant will swallow up the planet before too long anyway. I see no need for a follow-up visit. However, the inscription may be of some use to the Consortium Archivist since there is apparently already a file on this civilization. I am sending it to the Core for processing and proceeding to the next system on my list.

[Translation algorithms engaged. Commencing holographic projection feed.]

The golden disk landed with such force that it knocked the local farmers to the ground. The few who had, by chance, looked up in the moment before impact reported seeing a sphere of fire that collapsed and disintegrated as it fell.

After some discussion and a few whispered prayers, they agreed that this was a job best left for the scholars. They sent a runner out the next morning to the old city. Even the most provincial of the locals knew that strange things could be found in the cities. Learned men and women there had catalogued the ruins; some of them made a bit of money on the side by carting their wonders from town to town and letting the townsfolk see them in exchange for food, cloth, or coins.

The scholars had never seen such an artifact before, but they declared it to resemble a wheel, albeit with grooves etched into the side. They knew of wheels and gears and mills, but they did not spend much time studying them. This is a job for the engineers, they said. They carted the disk to a laboratory in a depleted quarry on the outskirts of the city.

The engineers deduced that wheels were meant to spin and, upon mounting the wheel onto a platform, they found that a needle placed within the grooves of the disk would produce sound. The sounds were faint at first but, with practice and judicious use of an animal horn, the engineers amplified them until they revealed themselves to be, without question, a voice. The engineers knew little of languages, so they carted the wheel, the needle, and the horn back to the scholars.

The voice was human, the scholars surmised. The locals who paid for a chance to listen reached the same conclusion, but the voice babbled nonsense. Could it be the voice of the gods?

A Dispatch from an Otherwise Unremarkable Planet


To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Winter 2014 collection.


Scout 1188-A explores the slushy wastes of the galactic periphery and is always on the look out for intelligent life. Scout 1188-A hopes to retire once the backlog of first contact applications has been sorted out, or at the heat death of the universe, whichever comes first.


S. R. Algernon studied fiction writing and biology, among other things, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His writing interests include sociological science fiction, Japanese science fiction, alternate histories and puzzle stories like Asimov used to write. He currently resides in Singapore.


Dawn Vogel has been published as a short fiction author and an editor of both fiction and non-fiction. Although art is not her strongest suit, she’s happy to contribute occasional art to Mad Scientist Journal. By day, she edits reports for and manages an office of historians and archaeologists. In her alleged spare time, she runs a craft business and tries to find time for writing. She lives in Seattle with her awesome husband (and fellow author), Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats. For more of Dawn’s work visit http://historythatneverwas.com/

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