— What’s wrong, Maria?
— You forgot, Alex.
The rocks floated. Clouds were slowly walking between them and the surface of the sleeping planet. The rock was covered with vegetation — something like moss, fern, strange flowers. Under the greenery there were signs left by a long-deceased civilization.
Here and there, iridium shone with blue iridescent streams. It was iridium that made the rocks soar. Earthquakes were becoming too frequent. And after each one, another rock rose above the clouds. Rich deposits of the rare material brought the leading scientific group of the Ellydium Corporation led by Alex here. Now the senior researcher was sitting on the edge of a small pond, lowering his bare feet into it. He looked at the surface of the clear water, unable to realize what had happened.
— We wanted to know what it was… Iridium. Fuel for hyper-speed travel, the basis of all modern technology, weapons — his quiet whisper disappeared in the abyss around. — What connects it to the Signal, that once launched humanity into the space age and led to a conflict that shook the stars themselves. Iridium fed Crystallids, the Aliens that so fiercely fought for it during the Invasion. And we wanted to know what it really was.
— You already know the answer.
— But I can’t remember. Iridium was found on planets and in asteroid fields. Everyone believed that it was a natural material that remained since the inception of the universe. And near each major deposit, we found the remains of ancient races. Cemeteries.
— You know who they were, Alex.
— The planet itself gave us all the answers. But…
— You can’t remember.
— There’s more and more iridium. This is why the planet shakes. This is why it’s dying.
— It’s not.
Alex tried to look into the eyes of his beloved, but never found the strength. Something flashed in the grass on the edge of his vision. A shadow, a silhouette. Alex jumped to his feet. He was about to reach for the gun, but realized that he was already clutching his hilt.
— We are not alone.
He holstered the weapon and headed to the base’s central unit. Laboratories, bio-domes, mining rigs scattered over flying islands, connected by shuttles and all-terrain vehicle routes. Only recently, Alex descended from the ramp of one of such shuttles. He returned from the flight to the Iridium Sea, which lay beneath the surface of the planet. Then everything changed.
— What happened down there? — He asked, stepping along the empty corridors.
The light in the dining room was still on. There were still food trays on the tables.
— You’re hungry.
He sat down at the table and opened the first ration he found. Apple jelly.
— The ones who are now in the cemeteries. A bygone civilization. Were they the masters of this planet? Or its slaves?
— You know the answer!
— I can’t remember!
— Where did the iridium come from!?
— I can’t remember!
— You have to remember!
With a clang, a heavy metal table hit the far wall of the dining room. Crumpled like foil, it got stuck in the resulting gap. Alex took another pack of apple jelly.
— Iridium comes from the Signal, — he continued his reasoning — that much we understood while working with Crystallids. Strange as it may sound: Iridium is concentrated Signal. Assumptions that it’s some ancient machine in the depths of the planet, like Leviathan, transforming it, also did not work out. We scanned the planet. There’s no machine. Besides, the gone civilization did not even have tools of labour, clothing, jewellery. Nothing. Their lives had no technology.
— Then how did they manage to settle all over the galaxy?
Rumbling noises came from the living deck, then a series of quick steps. Alex stormed out. Soon he was in front of one of the cabins. The door was wide open, but there was not a soul inside.
— Someone’s here, Alex. It’s alive.
— I know.
— You have to remember. It’s alive.
— I was down there. I saw him.
— The ocean. It’s is alive.
— Organic. Iridium is…
— It’s alive.
Something clicked in Alex’s head, as if a dislocated limb was fixed into place.
— Of course… they created it. The gone. They did not have technology in our understanding, only the ability to manipulate living matter, given by the Signal. They revitalized the planet to study the universe, to travel.
— But like all living things… it needed something to eat…
Through the silence that reigned in the station block, the sound of the engine was clearly heard. The survivor.
— He’s breaking through to the shuttles.
— We have to stop him, Alex.
Alex finally found the strength to look at his lover.
— You’re dead, Maria. You’ve been dead for fourteen years.
— So you’re beginning to remember.