The Expedition

return trip

After passing more gas giants
than he’d like to remember,
after stalling for days
at a failed brown dwarf,
a small, fastidious archeologist
from the exoplanet Tau Boötis Ab
landed on a smaller, bluer planet
that had been emitting faint
biological signatures
on its journey around
a tired star.

Curatorial by nature,
he searched for relics:

ceramic shards
a jaw bone
ceremonial attire
temples buried by the sands of time or
broken by vines and lichens
a dormant seed –
anything from the
holographic archives
of past digs.

What he found at the bottom
of a barren plain was a small
sticky label, stuck to a piece
of the hide of something,
mostly made of carbon,
black and mummified and
possibly preserved by
adhesives from a tiny tag
bearing the faded glyphs
‘84033 O-R-A-N-G-E.’

He found no other biologics anywhere.
His life-form detecting scanner
was suspiciously silent on the subject.

He checked his map
then scratched the little
silica strands on his bulbous
translucent skull where his dual
brains rose and sank
like blobs in a lava lamp.

The archaeologist,
fastidious and thorough,
cursed with tedious longevity,
spent the best light years
of his life searching impact craters
volcanic vents, suspect alluvium,
vast seabeds, long since evaporated
by a cataclysm the great makers
of the mystical sticky dot
didn’t see coming.

He analyzed every molecule
in the cylindrical sections
taken by the advanced
core drills of his tiny probe
until at last he packed up his tools,
slept the fifty-one light years
it took to return home empty-handed,
his reputation in ruins,
to his native Tau Boötis Ab
with nothing but a
hard luck story.

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