The Sharp Giants (part 9)

by Gaston Prereth

 

“The detail is incredible, there is almost no wear at all.” Said Dancer as she studied the belly of the first Giant. There were three statues in the cavern all depicting the same strange creature, but none of them were identical and each had its own idiosyncrasies in construction. They all faced in one direction, but were not arranged in any discernible pattern. In fact their positions looked casual, almost transient in their placement as if they were in the process of being moved.

Dancer was on her back underneath the largest of the three sculptures, the first one that Portillo had seen. While from a distance the body of the creature had appeared to be as smooth as polished marble, up close she could see thousands of tiny etched lines. Hundreds and hundreds of tiny shield-shaped scales covering the whole of the body. She stroked her gloved hand along the stone stomach. The scales were so small and delicate that she could not feel them through her gloves. She longed to take them off and touch her skin to the stone. She wanted to feel its texture, its temperature, everything about it. “What do you think it is? A sea monster, some sort of lizard, or one of them? Could this really be what Martians looked like?”

“I don’t imagine so.” called back Portillo from somewhere in the cave. He was a reformed man since they had dropped down into the underground lair of the Sharp Giants. All worries of their situation outside and Hibbard’s mental condition seemed to have vanished from his mind. He was focused on examining the statues and cataloguing everything about them. Dancer felt like a weight had been lifted. She no longer felt like she had to be constantly watching Portillo, waiting for that inevitable breakdown. She could relax and enjoy the monumental discovery before them.

“Their hands seem too clumsy,” continued Portillo, “even if this isn’t their actual size, I can’t see how these three-fingered claws could hold the tools to carve these statues. The detail, the fine delicate work; I think we’d even struggle. It would be like us creating a statue of a Human with every hair follicle and dimple on the skin. This can’t be an image of them. Maybe it’s not a creature at all, but one of their Gods? This could have been a temple or something?”

“I guess you’re right, but why here?” said Dancer, sliding out from under the statue and joining Portillo as he looked up at one of the large outstretched claws. The arms were about a metre above their heads, and it was impossible to see all the detail at that distance, but Dancer could just make out the serrated edges of the middle finger, making it look like the claws had teeth. A tremor of apprehension spread down her back.

She took a step backwards and looked around the cavern. It was too big for their headlamps to illuminate it all, they would need to get some portable lights down here tomorrow before they took their photographs. The three giants stared back at her, their black eyes questioning why she was here, why they had been disturbed from their multi-million year sleep.

“Why would you put statues deep under a mountain? This place would have been flooded with water when life existed on the planet. Why build statues underwater?” She said, turning back to Portillo, who had moved his attention onto one of the legs. It looked like he was taking an etching of the feet.

“Maybe Martian’s were aquatic? I’ll be able to tell us more once I take a sample. I should be able to tell if these were submerged for any length of time.”

“A sample? you’re not going to break them are you?”

“Just a small piece, I’ll take it from the back of an ankle or something. Somewhere where it wont be visible, but I need to do some tests and I don’t think Control would be happy if we didn’t bring them back anything to analyse.”

Dancer smiled. Whatever happened to ‘we’re never getting off this planet.’

“I’m sure they’ll be happy to see us, regardless of what we bring back. The photographs alone are going to rock the world.”

They spent another three hours examining each statue. The one in the middle was about two-thirds smaller than the others and seemed to be out of proportion, it’s claws and head being bigger compared to its body. However, its smaller size allowed them to take a closer look at its arms and torso. Just as with every other part they could see on the other statues, the level of detail was incredible. There were even what looked like tensed muscle fibres bulging out against the insides of its elbows and Portillo was convinced the underside of its arms and belly were a lighter shade of blue than the rest of it, although they could not be sure of that until they got more lights installed. There also appeared to be no joints or seams. They looked as if they had each been carved out of one huge rock.

Once they had examined all they could take in in one day, Portillo pulled out his small chisel and scurried under the first of the statues. The feet were like obese chicken’s feet, but with only three toes, two splayed forward, one sticking out backwards. It was just above this backward toe that Portillo took his sample. The chisel slipped with each punch of his hammer and Dancer could hear mutterings over the intercom about the properties of the rock that she did not understand.

“There, got it.” Said Portillo, pulling out a bag and slipping a small shard about the same size as a bottle cap into it. He stuffed the bag with his other samples, but stayed kneeling at the base of the statue’s leg. “That’s weird.”

“What?” said Dancer, who was struggling to think of anything that could make the situation more weird than it already was.

“There’s some sort of moisture coming out of the rock.”

“What?” repeated Dancer, but much louder this time. She knelt down next to Portillo and squinted at the statue’s ankle. She could see the small disc shaped hole in the stonework with a few scratches around it from Portillo’s administrations. Sure enough, as she watched, a thick liquid was building up in the gap. It looked a little like pitch, but more fluid. There was only a tiny amount at first, like the little condensation bubbles that form inside old double glazing windows, but as they watched the volume of the liquid swelled. “Take a Sample of that too Portillo. Then we’ll have to go. I want Bertha on hand before we cause any more weird things to happen.”

They had left the rope they had used to descend to the cavern floor in place, but as they had explored the cave they had found a tunnel at the back of the cavern, behind the three Giants. A quick exploration had shown them that it was the end of the tunnel they had used to get under the mountain and must have been the true entrance to the cave, before the rock fall had taken out the side wall.

“Why face the statues with their backs to the entrance?” said Portillo as they walked side by side up the slow incline, once again using their arms to steady themselves and to stop them banging their heads against the low ceiling. “These Martian’s really did do things in strange ways. Do you think we’ll ever be able to understand these statues? We struggle enough as it is understanding our own species’ distant past.”

“I’m sure we’ll answer the questions in the same way. Expect to hear ‘Religious significance’ a lot. I don’t know if I can cope with those questions yet though. A day ago we were wondering if complex life had ever existed on this planet, and now we’re wondering what sort of society and culture it had. That’s too big a jump for my brain at the moment.”

They made good progress as they headed back along the long passageway. Whether it was because it was easier to move up the incline than down, or simply because they had more energy and bounce in their legs Dancer was not sure, but before long she could see the crisp glow of the Martian sun around the mouth of the tunnel.

Their radio crackled as they got closer. Dancer glanced at her wrist-pad, it was a communication from Midas. As they neared the exit of the tunnel, the crackling started to dissolve into Kendrick’s voice.

“Dancer, do you read me? This is Midas, do you read me?”

“Kendrick. It’s incredible, you won’t believe…”

“Dancer, I’ve got some bad news. Hibbard passed away while you were gone. I’m not sure what happened, his body just seemed to give up the fight. I think his brain won and he forced himself to leave this planet by the only method he had left. There was nothing I could do.”

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