Xenoarchaeology is a risky endeavor under just about any circumstance. In the field, researchers face hostile wildlife, fascinating new diseases and parasites, and the ever-present danger that a billion-year-old artifact might be carrying a quantum black hole facing a critical failure on the insulation of its containment vessel. Those back in academia usually envy the field researchers, as Aurigan blood shivers is a blessed relief compared to peer review. Very rarely do both of these streams cross in such a spectacular manner, but professors trying to impress humility upon their students tell stories of the Great Vestibule on Elbein Outer as an object lesson of not getting too carried away with speculation.
For the most part, Elbein Outer was a typical rocky planet with a life-sustaining atmosphere and a water-rich surface, with its only companion around its star being Elbein Inner, a gas giant a few million years from becoming part of that star’s hydrogen reserve. Elbein Inner and its former brethren left the system remarkably cleaned before they either crashed starside or were flung into interstellar space. Very few asteroids or comets, no comparable Kuiper Belt or Oort Cloud, and not so much as a moon. The planet’s surface underwent plate tectonics encouraged by solar tides and a radioactive-rich core, but compared to the cosmic sword dances faced by Earth or Gent, Elbein Outer was practically serene. Even its indigenous animal and plant life were mellow by comparison.
That’s why, ten years after its discovery, everyone was surprised to discover traces of an extensive and highly advanced civilization on Elbein Outer’s northernmost continent. The pieces and fragments had been there long enough that they had disintegrated into dust and mud, but as seemed to be the case with enigmatic artifacts, one nearly complete structure remained, still peeking out from the cover of a nearly completely eroded mountain. Not only was this structure nearly complete, but it seemed to be completely functional as well after approximately 600 million years. Whatever it was supporting was even odder: behind a gate or sphincter lay a small chamber, detectable via cosmic ray and neutrino emitters, that reflected both and more besides. As to what was inside the chamber, nobody had a clue.
Most field researchers welcome a challenge, and expeditions came and went around what writers and influencers called “The Great Vestibule.” Everybody had an idea of what might be out there, and the most speculative and the most unsupported by facts and logic got the furthest reach. The Great Vestibule stored, preserved in special stasis fields, its creators’ archives and histories. The Great Vestibule contained a direct hyperspace gate to its creators’ home world. The Great Vestibule contained a sample spacecraft of previously unknown design that could cut crossing a light-year of space from 23 hours to 23 seconds. The Great Vestibule, when shaken, would drop the universe’s most attractive, acidic, and addictive candy until shaken again. The planet was quiet and the skies clear of anything but stars at night, and a lot of chroniclers couldn’t tell the difference between tall tales and confirmed scientific knowledge.
Finally, the Vestibule released its secrets. A three-species team, led by the esteemed xenoarcheologist Gortyyn Lidefit, learned that the original control interface that opened the Vestibule had been deliberately removed before its builders left, and their genius reverse-engineered a working control substitute. Reporters and storytellers and the irredeemably curious from across four galaxies converged on Elbein Outer, all wanting to be the first in 600 million years to see the contents so carefully hidden away across time and space.
A truism in science is that one researcher’s crushing disappointment is another’s prize-winning paper, and that definitely happened multiple times after the Great Orifice finally disgorged its contents. Yes, it contained a hyperspace gate. Yes, it contained previously unknown stasis technology that kept the Orifice’s contents in perfect condition as the universe whirled around it. But as its contents flowed across the surface of Elbein Outer, drowning researcher and rubbernecker alike in a tsunami that covered the entire planet to a depth of 3000 meters, those observing the situation from orbit learned that the Lidefit team had discovered the largest portable toilet in the known universe. Worse, it wasn’t the first one one discovered, hacked, and emptied, and it definitely wasn’t the last.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)
Plant: Nepenthes maxima
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.
Shirt Price: $200US