I've decided it's time for a longer story.
The drill broke through another layer of granite. They had been working away at the side of the old structure for the better part of the evening. Gears ground together and engines whined as the machine halted. Its top slid off and the crew began to exit it. Calum stepped off of the digger first and looked at the hole they made. A long hallway stretched into deep shadow. A faraway light shone through and illuminated a dark point in the distance.
From the colony, their destination looked like a mountain, but the closer they got to it the more they made out its features. The ridges on its sides were far too level. Deep indentations once suggested caves, but the theory was dashed when the edges of each had perfect angles. In addition, no mountain was layered in quite the way that this one was. It was a building, a tall and proud ziggurat and possible evidence that intelligent life once resided on this ruined world.
Calum Grady led a small team to investigate the base of the tower. He did not need as many people as his supervisor proposed. Two assistants would suffice, he told them. He never needed more than that. It saved the Department of History a significant amount of money.
He looked back at his team. Lithe and young with his hair tussled by alien winds, Andrew Carter followed him. He was fairly new to exoplanetary archaeology; Calum could tell. Every step he took was calculated, like he was walking on egg-shells. In spite of that, the boy had his use. Behind the control panel of the digger, Joan Holliday checked the read-outs one more time. He had worked with her before; seasoned and cool, her relaxed attitude served as both a boon and a burden.
“What do you make of that?” Calum asked, pointing down the hallway to the lighted spot.
“It’s, um,” mumbled Andrew, looking to the lighted spot, “It’s certainly over there, sir.”
“Oh for gods’ sakes, calm down,” Joan hissed, reading one of the screens in the digger, “We did a thermal scan earlier today. Nothing’s alive in here.”
Andrew shot a look her way, “That doesn’t mean the place is safe. Remember the ruins on Juno?”
“A fluke,” she said, bluntly, “Just because a meteor hit a starliner doesn’t mean every starliner is meteor-bait.”
“Whatever the case, we should stay on our guard,” Calum stated, entering the hallway, “If this place has a security system, it could still be operational, and I’d rather not return to my wife in a box.”
Joan’s mouth formed an o-shape, “I didn’t know you were married.”
“Few do,” he admitted, laying out his equipment.
“What’s your wife like?” Joan asked. It seemed so mundane, but she asked the question like it meant so much to her.
Calum shrugged lightly, producing a scanner from his belt, “Normal, I suppose.”
She sighed, “Okay, wrong question. Is she a girl, a woman, or a bitch?”
The commander shuddered, “What?”
Joan rested on the control panel, “Honestly. Is she a girl, a woman, or a bitch? You know the difference, right?”
“Is this really the time?” Calum muttered, running the device over the walls.
“I’m curious,” said Andrew, folding his arms. The topic seemed to put him at ease, “What’s the difference?”
“It’s easy,” Joan mentioned, sliding out of her seat and onto the ground, “Women are stable, decent and honest who want reliable friends with good men with good hearts. Girls are too concerned with getting ideal homes, ideal guys, and ideal friends to comprehend reality. Bitches treat their men like banks and their friends like accessories.”
Andrew folded his arms thoughtfully. “Huh,” he huffed, “Never thought of it like that.”
“Nobody does,” she said, as Calum calculated readings on his scanner, “Most guys tend to throw a blanket over that half the species and label them all as batshit. Knowing the subtle differences will save you. So, chief, is your wife –”
“Whatever my wife is, she is inconsequential to us finding out what this place is,” snapped Calum, grabbing a chisel from his belt, “Carter, lend me your carbon-dater.”
“Y-yes sir,” stuttered the young man, shuffling next to his boss. He produced a long cylinder with an opened end and a box with a display panel on its bottom. Gingerly, Andrew Carter passed it to him.
Calum took it readily, stabbing his chisel against a flat part of the wall. He looked up at it. The flat surface was as wide as him, and impressively tall, vanishing into the darkness above. In his mind, he guessed it to be a pillar, one of the support structures for the building.
He set the carbon-dater underneath the chisel and stabbed again. Little rocks fell into the cylinder. The leader set his chisel away and pressed some buttons on the display panel. A series of numbers and symbols spun past. Six settled on the screen and blinked off and on into the face of the commander.
“A hundred thousand,” he said aloud, pulling back, “This place is over a hundred thousand years old.”
“Okay, wow,” Joan admitted, looking up at the ceiling. “So where do you think the owners went?”
“Entombed in the upper levels, perhaps?” Calum proposed, putting the carbon-dater on his belt. He walked ahead a few steps, taking in his surroundings, “We should try and map out this place. Holliday, radio the Department and –”
The ground gave way.
Calum’s foot went through part of the floor. Stone plates crumpled beneath him and the earth loosened. He lost balance. Joan and Andrew called out to him. He felt fingers brush uselessly against his arm in a desperate attempt to seize him. Screaming, Calum Grady fell alone into the darkness.
To be continued!
See you next time,