An Excerpt from The Face by Jeanine Berry, a story in From Within the Mist
By Jeanine Berry
Merik Jorsson stood at the main viewport of the space station Epsilon Gamma and stared at the colossal carving of an alien face that dominated the surface of the moon far below. Two stony eyes, black as obsidian, returned his stare. In the countless eons since they were first carved into the rock, those eyes had gazed fixedly into space and waited—for what?
A shiver snaked down his spine as he pondered the alien artifact. Its age was almost inconceivable in human terms. Those unseeing eyes had looked upward at the jeweled heart of the galaxy while dinosaurs fought for domination of the Earth. Despite its inhuman features, the face conveyed a calm majesty. But its ancient calm had been shattered six cycles ago when the first ship from the Terran Confederation broke through the nexus point and emerged a mere 30,000 kilometers away.
“We were meant to find it, you know,” Merik said. He turned and poked a thin finger into Norcan Bermer’s arm to emphasize his point. The station commander stood at his side, dressed in the sky blue uniform of the Star Force. His immaculate attire stood in sharp contrast to Merik’s—a rumpled blouse adorned with tropical flowers, and khaki shorts that exposed his long bony legs. Merik loved the freedom allowed on the station, far from the disciplined demands of Earth. Norcan, on the other hand, seemed to cling to that same discipline as a reminder of home.
Their differing styles often led to arguments, but today, they were united by a shared impatience as they waited for the arrival of the shuttle from the moon.
Merik pushed back his forelock of unruly dark hair and fell by habit into the lecture he had given a hundred times to visiting dignitaries. “Whoever carved this face knew that any race intelligent enough to venture out to the stars would eventually discover interdimensional travel and begin to map the nexus points. Inevitably, they would come to this point, high above this moon, and see this face staring back at them."
“A greeting card that’s several million cycles old. But no message—at least not one that we could find.” Norcan sounded offended at the alien’s bad manners. His face wore a stiff military expression. He was an older man—close to 60 cycles, Merik guessed—and nearing the end of his career. As the commander of Space Station Epsilon Gamma, he was the military head of the expedition. His career hinged on uncovering the secrets of the mysterious face carved into the single moon that circled the planet Regabus. A stunning discovery seemed almost certain, and would be his crowning achievement. But for six long and frustrating cycles there had been little to uncover. A thin layer of some unknown and nearly indestructible material covered the rock face, making it impenetrable to all their instruments.
“It was designed to be a puzzle—an intelligence test of sorts,” Merik said.
Scientists were still arguing about how the alien race had melted and fused the rock to a glassy smoothness nearly 300 kilometers deep and then chiseled out the face as easily as if they were molding butter. What was obvious, however, was that this monument was meant to survive for countless ages—and it had.
Merik knew it was foolish to ascribe human emotions to those alien features, but he could not help but feel the face watched him with an infinite serenity that seemed to mock his daily struggle to understand its message. From this distance, it looked no larger than his own—round like his own, with two eyes (or what appeared to be eyes, he amended), set high up. But these eyes were vertical slits, and another dark slit just beneath them was probably a mouth. The chin was split into three long tubes that might be for breathing or smell. From this distance they resembled a beard and muted the alien nature of the face. They extended from the chin down onto the plain below. Flaps of rock that fanned out like wings on both sides of the face were probably ears.
Probably. After six cycles of struggle, he despised that word. To find this unique artifact—this proof that other intelligent life once existed in the galaxy—and yet to know so little for certain after all that time was both frustrating and humiliating.
But now, at last, they’d found something.