The Experiment

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
I may be showing my age, but I've always been a fan of the late Rod Serling's works. As a result, this short story tends to follow the same format.

Submitted: October 07, 2016

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Submitted: October 07, 2016

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The Experiment

John Dwyer had spent many a lonesome hour in his ship. Surveying new star systems was a tedious, time-consuming, and monotonous job. However, without the survey, there would be no colonization. If there were no colonization, he would not get paid. It always came down to compensation. Of course, he took pride in the fact that he was the best in the business. He seemed to have a knack for instinctively knowing which planets were suitable for colonization. His surveys had always met or exceeded the minimum requirements established by Earth’s Colonization Standards Board. Dwyer was now in his tenth year as a planet surveyor. He once had an opportunity to advance to Chief of Surveyors, a desk assignment, but turned it down because he knew he would be better compensated doing what he does best. Besides, he preferred to be free to, as he remembered from an antiquated video he had once seen, “Go where no man has gone before”. He thought of himself as a pathfinder, the name given to rugged frontiersmen of old during the time when the Earth’s North American Continent was being opened to colonization by such men as Daniel Boone and Jim Bridger. Reading tales about ancient history was one of Dwyer’s passions. However, unlike Boone and Bridger, Dwyer never had to leave the comfort of his ship. Everything he needed to do his job was at his fingertips. His instruments would automatically read-out information provided by remote sensors, which Dwyer would launch from the ship to the surface of the planet. The sensors would provide information such as gravity, atmospheric properties, soil content, temperature range, weather patterns, tectonic stability, and more. It would normally take four complete orbits about a planet, traversing all four quadrants, in order to cover a planet completely. In a way, he wished his job were more daring. As far as he was concerned, the hardest part of his job was contending with the boredom. Now, if he were to come across another intelligent life form, that would make it all worthwhile. Of all the planets he had surveyed, which were in excess of two-hundred, none showed signs of intelligent life. There was abundant animal life on many of them. However, Dwyer was disappointed that in all his travels to more than two dozen star systems, he had never come across intelligent life. He was beginning to think that maybe man was alone in the universe. The planet he was currently surveying did not seem to possess intelligent life, either. However, based on the data he was receiving, he was surprised at how closely the flora and fauna mimicked life on Earth. In fact, in many respects, it was superior to Earth. It had a climate that remained constant throughout the planet, and had no seasonal changes. He was starting a final pass over the planet when, suddenly, he began receiving an unknown signal from below. The signal was different from that of any of the remote sensors. It had not registered on previous passes, which indicated that its range was limited. Dwyer decided to go down to get a better look. He saw nothing out of the ordinary, as he broke through the low cloud cover, however, the signal continued to grow stronger. He followed the contour of the land for some distance, tracking the signal as he went. After flying over a rise in the land, his tracking device registered that the signal was directly below. He circled the area slowly. There was nothing but thick vegetation. Whatever it is, he thought, it must be beneath the canopy. He knew this was not part of his job description. He realized he must be out of his mind for wanting to go down there. But, something deep within him compelled him to continue the quest. He nosed the craft down and began making preparations to land. After landing in a nearby clearing, Dwyer left his craft and traveled the remainder of the way on foot. He carried with him a small receiver/transmitter tuned to the same frequency as the mysterious beacon. He also brought along a laser-blade used to clear away foliage along with various other items. He estimated he was no more than a half mile from the transmission. He wasn’t concerned about running into any large predators, as the remote sensors indicated that the fauna on the planet consisted of small birds and plant-eating mammals. He walked on, admiring his surroundings. The trees were tall and full of foliage. It reminded him of old pictures of what the great Amazon rain forest once looked like back on Earth. Only, the climate, here, was much milder. There were smaller trees with an abundance of fruit growing wild on them. There were birds with plumage as colorful and beautiful as any he had ever seen on Earth or anywhere else. There were streams of crystal clear water. Dwyer tested a sample and found it to be pure. Another thing he noticed was that there were no annoying insects to contend with. This planet would make an excellent addition to Earth’s colonization program, he thought to himself. What seemed a shame to Dwyer was how the planets now occupied by man since the colonization program began have been treated by their uninvited guests. Many of the earlier planets that man had first colonized over one-hundred years ago were now polluted to the point that their natural eco-systems were damaged beyond repair. Even some he had surveyed in the last ten years were beginning to show damage due to man’s indifference and greed. Dwyer felt a twinge of remorse that the same thing would most likely happen to this planet. However, what could only one man do about it, he would rationalize to himself. But, his feelings of remorse were much stronger for this planet. For some reason, which he did not quite understand, he felt a familiarity with this place. It was more instinctive than cognitive. Perhaps, he thought to himself, they don’t need to know about this one. Presently, he had come upon it, according to his R/T. However, it was still hidden from view. He figured it must be covered by vegetation. After a few minutes of clearing away brush, he was still no closer to finding the beacon than when he first started. Out of breath and frustrated, he sat down on a large stone he had just cleared to rest. As he sat, he happened to notice that the stone beneath him was quite smooth and that the edge was quite straight. He stepped back to get a better look. He then noticed that the stone’s edge formed a perfect angle. He realized that the stone would have to be precisely cut to have such perfect dimensions. He looked above the stone at what he first thought was just a rock outcropping. He saw it, now, under the multitudinous layers of decaying leaves and protruding brush. That was not an outcropping. It was a large pyramidal structure. Dwyer could only make out part of it. Its summit was hidden by the canopy. But, it was a pyramid, all right. He had seen an exact replica, once, while visiting in Mexico. He had to know what was up there. However, it would be dark, soon. He decided to return to his ship and wait until morning. Besides, he would need to report-in regarding his progress for the day. He decided his report would make no mention regarding this planet. Early the next morning, having packed a little food and some necessary equipment, he was back at the site, anxious to begin his climb. He fancied himself as a fair rock climber, having scaled various rocky peaks throughout the world. For this climb, he didn’t require very much gear. The design of the pyramid was such that the stones used in its construction could be used as stepping-stones all the way to the top. Thus, he began. Dwyer was making good time, when he first started up. However, as he continued up, he was impeded by the density of the foliage from nearby trees that had long ago shrouded the structure. The laser blade was up to the task of clearing a path. The problem was that he had difficulty keeping his balance, as he cleared away branches. Once, he slipped while taking a swing at a branch. Reacting quickly, he managed to grab a nearby branch to help break his fall. He landed some twenty feet below with a thump. The close call made him wonder if it was really worth the effort. After taking a few minutes to compose himself, he continued upward. Dwyer reached the summit by mid-afternoon. He spent another half-hour clearing away branches and throwing them over the side so that he might be able to inspect the area more closely. Upon completion, he scanned the area. The top was a flat, square shape. Dwyer estimated its area to be about sixty-four square feet. Tired and hungry from the climb up, Dwyer decided to take a few minutes to rest and refresh. The wildlife that lived in the canopy seemed to take exception to his presence in their domain. The noise they made was deafening. He just assumed he hadn’t noticed it as much, before, being too preoccupied with making his way up. After he had finished eating, he continued his search. He had set the R/T’s control to act as a homing device, comparable to a metal detector. The R/T would let out a high-pitched squeal, when he was right on top of the signal. He started by walking along the perimeter, all the while, slowly circling inward. The stones at the top were no different from the others he spent half the day climbing. He continued to slowly spiral inward. After circling two-thirds of the way in, the R/T began its shrill squeal indicating the signal was directly beneath him. There was no discernible entryway. He would now have to clear away a layer of sediment that had formed obscuring the stone beneath it. He designed a makeshift broom out of one of the severed branches, which made the task much easier. After clearing the area of interest sufficiently, he bent down on his hands and knees for a closer look. As he scrutinized the area, he came across some indentations in one of the stones. Upon clearing away more dust, he was amazed to see the imprint of a man’s right hand. He placed his right hand onto the imprint. Suddenly, all was silent. Dwyer thought for a moment that perhaps he had gone deaf. Next, he heard a grinding noise, as rock moved against rock. He felt a vibration beneath him, as the center stone suddenly gave way. Dwyer walked over and peered down into the opening. He found a well-lit stone stairway spiraling down into the bowels of the structure. Well, I’ve come this far, he thought to himself as he summoned up the courage to venture down the stairs. Before going down, however, Dwyer decided to set the R/T to transmit a homing signal of its own. He figured that if he never got out of this alive, surely, someone would come looking for him. He also left a message on the device, in the event of his death. He hoped that no one would ever need to hear the message. He placed the R/T next to the opening and proceeded down the stairs. It was a long way down. After fifteen minutes of walking at a slow and steady pace, Dwyer estimated he had descended some three-hundred feet. This was one-hundred feet more than he had climbed to get to the top of the pyramid. However, the bottom of the stairs was, still, nowhere in sight. He would occasionally look up to see if he still had a means of escape. He was always relieved when he could still see the opening at the top. It bothered him, though, that it continued to grow smaller, the deeper he descended. He never thought of himself as being claustrophobic, particularly considering how much time he had spent in the cramped quarters of his ship. Yet, the feeling was there. He would be glad when he was out of here. Some thirty-five minutes from when he first started his descent, he finally reached the bottom. He estimated he had to be over six-hundred feet from the entrance, and at least four-hundred feet beneath the surface of the planet. He looked around to see nothing but rock walls surrounding him. Upon closer examination, however, he found another imprint of a right hand etched onto one of the walls. He placed his right hand over the imprint. Immediately, a vibration could be felt and the sound of stone grinding against stone could be heard as the wall gave way to a much larger room. He stepped over the threshold and into the room. As he did so, the room became luminous. He looked around to see a single standing stone in the middle of the room about three feet high. Its surface was flat and square, in shape. It looked like a small altar. Dwyer walked towards it, instinctively placing his hands on its surface. Immediately, he began to hear a voice in his head. The words he heard were in a language unknown to him. Yet, he understood them, or, at least, that’s what his mind was telling him. He listened closely, as the message began. Congratulations, my children. You have come far, since you were first conceived. You have finally made your way back home. It was over two-hundred millennia, ago, when we first planted the seed that has since blossomed into such an intrepid species. Your forebears knew us well. During your species’ formative years, we appeared to them in the guise of various deities. You, no doubt, are experiencing a deep feeling of familiarity concerning this planet. It is a race memory. This is where your species was first conceived. In your folklore and legends, you’ve given this place various names. Some have referred to it as Paradise, others as the Garden of Eden. A more accurate description of it would be an incubator for your fledgling species. We fully expected that one day, you would return to us. Now that you have, the experiment can now be successfully terminated. You will live out the remainder of your lives, here. Our only regret is that not all of your kind will be able to take part in this joyous homecoming. However, the termination of the experiment must be carried out. This must be done so that a new type of species may take your place on the planet you once called home. The Earth was merely a proving ground, a stepping stone, to prepare your species for its next level of advancement. It was never meant to be your permanent home. The end will come just as your forebears had envisioned and prophesied about the end of days. Be not morose, for it is a new beginning. You shall, again, be fruitful and multiply.


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