Archaeologists have a lot to answer for.
“Legate Alburn? I’m deeply sorry to interrupt you whilst you’re strategising, but something has emerged.”
Alburn, a bushy-eyebrowed man of advanced experience, was used to such intrusions; he had, in the past, taken to reducing their frequency through shooting the messenger and sending their heads back as a warning to be specific, timely, and crucial. He looked over the rim of his glasses with barely a movement to his head. “Go on, son?”
“We have found something buried. Stone, metal, old. Beneath the Edge Desert.”
He raised an eyebrow, remaining perfectly silent.
The youth, on a deputation drawn by short straw, began to sweat.
The eyebrow was unperturbed, the lips unparted, the breath unmoved.
“Legate, sir, the Druids are investigating as we speak, but they think it is over a thousand years old.”
The eyebrow was met by its brother, and the green pools beneath them hollowed the air.
“As many as a thousand. Imagine. Why have they sent you to disturb me with this, though, son? Those glorified archaeologists are aware of the importance of my remaining undisturbed unless called for.”
The silence was pierced by the sound of a nervous gulp.
“They said to say something to you so that you knew it was important. They said to say ‘Columbia’. I don’t know why.”
A few tense moments passed.
“Message received. You had better go now. Quickly.”
“Yes, sir, Legate.” The boy ran out of the gilt doors so quickly that his grey sandals almost spontaneously combusted.
Legate Alburn sat, his fingers forming an arch just beneath his nose, whilst his elbows rested in the dips that years at this desk had carved. After a few moments, he balled the fist of one hand and reached with the other to pull a hidden drawer from the lip of the desk. In it was a single, aged document, printed on its yellowing pages with images of a sphere, greying words outlining a public announcement protocol, and at its mast, a single word, printed in deep red: ‘Earth’. He sighed; he’d hoped another Legate would be installed before this day. All Legates were told about the planet’s past, but the species thrived on not knowing that they were the second sentient species to live here; they didn’t know they’d arrived here in ships which had sailed the stars; they didn’t know their ancestors had eradicated the indigenous population to make way for their survival.
They’d managed to avoid this day for over one hundred and twenty Legates.
He read the document one more time, then dropped it into the receptacle aside his desk. He pressed a button; a small flame appeared and eradicated the page. He reflected that this could wait until tomorrow.
He could always simply have everybody who had seen the relic eradicated too – that would give him plenty of time to pass on the baton.
For the first time in a long time, Legate Alburn smiled.
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