The Tales of Future Past Short Story Contest!
Second Prize: George L. Sulea
G. L. Sulea
As Zbendi maneuvered the old icon into place, he felt no sense of majesty, just revulsion at its shoddy construction.
“Careful, we want it to settle in, just so.” Morg was always so protective of the crumbling structures; he had an intense love of the past that even Zbendi could not fathom.
With his two right hands, Zbendi finished the adjustments to the ancient building’s foundation, settling it next to another of the alien monuments, a skeletal tower made of rusting steel that came to a point. He made a few quick moves, here and there using the tractor beams, then set the skimmer upright on its standard plane and retracted the manipulators. The metal tentacles slid back into their ducts and the ship settled into standby mode. Zbendi sat his long face on his steepled upper arms, while he scratched his sides with the other two his eyes trailing off into nothingness.
Morg turned from his workstation, giving his protégé’ a small poke of concern. “What ails you, youngling?”
Zbendi shook his head, his large ears flapping. “I still don’t understand, Guidemaster; why must we haul these crumbling relics around, they seem next to useless and,” before his next words, Zbendi felt a stinging slap at the back of his head. He shriveled, and then peered out from between his many sets of fingers to see Morg’s melting stare, both orange-yellow eyes squinting.
Morg waggled all four sets of fingers at him. “Those relics, Young follower, are pieces of our past and full of grand memories of when our people were nothing but mere bipedal beasts!” Morg said, his arms flowing in a long sweep. “Now, we are grand creators of vast empires, but remember,” Morg drew himself up to his full four feet, drawing breath with his usual drama. “He who does not learn from the past is doomed to repeat it!”
He shriveled from Morg’s stare, and as the Guidemaster sat back down to peruse more data on the planet below, Zbendi silently went back to his work, adjusting the angle of the climb of the skimmer. Inside, he chafed. He realized that being picked for this assignment was a great honor, but the enshrinement of the old buildings on the sterile, burned out planet’s moon was such tedium. Part of him longed to be exploring the edges of the outworlds with his brothers in the Science Corps, or even learning the warrior ways like his father and uncles had. He steeled himself, and glanced over at Morg. “Where to next, Guidemaster?”
Morg looked up from his data, and then tapped a few numbers into his interface pad. “Here will do, and youngling, you may find this interesting.”
Zbendi doubted it. He dipped the skimmer back toward the bluish-brown orb below.
The crumbling ruins of the old city had a smell, like the clay flats of his home world after a storm. In the distance, dirty clouds rolled across the skies as Zbendi and Morg walked over the debris of time that lay all around.
Morg kept waving his upper arms at Zbendi, a silent signal to follow, and as they turned a corner, Zbendi stopped dead, nearly skidding on a piece of broken stone. The alleyway they had taken opened up into a vast plaza. At its center, a huge statue, worn with time and etched by the acidic rains, stood raising a fist to the sky.
Zbendi shivered. “Guidemaster, what, what is that?” he said, pointing a shaky arm at the monument.
“That, youngling, is what we used to be.” Morgs hands settled into a thoughtful pose, the bottom set crossed, and the upper pair rubbing the bluish white stubble on his long chin.
Zbendi moved closer, circling the colossus. The face was different, shorter, and the structure seemed so...wrong, not to mention the lack of secondary arms. The giant being held what appeared to be a head covering of some kind, and its countenance, although well worn, seemed to look toward the sky with serenity.
“Youngling, come here.” Morg motioned to him, and pointed to something.
Zbendi came back around, and spied it then: ancient writing.
“Do you remember the ancient dialects?” said Morg.
Zbendi nodded, the words forming in his throat and sliding over his thin, bluish lips. “We risk all, knowing that our children will rest among the stars. For them, our lives are nothing but stepping-stones to the greater future. For them, we do this with love...”
“Now do you see, youngling,” Morg placed a hand on Zbendi’s shoulder. “ If not for these great beings, our ancestors thousands of lifetimes ago, we would be nothing, and if we forget them, then we are not worthy of these hopes so long ago left.”
Zbendi said nothing, but felt a mix of shame...and a stirring of pride.
Zbendi felt the mass of it, pulling at his controls, but with the help of the other two ships, the trio set the huge statue in place at the center of the vast tribute. He made a few final, minute adjustments, then settled back. The old guardian looked almost happy there, amongst the past.