A Curious Artifact
John Laneri
I nudged the controls and leveled my hovercraft over a strange cone shaped object in an attempt to get a better look. From what I could see, it appeared to be leaning to the side with its blackened base partially buried in the soft sand common throughout the southern reaches of Planet Betty.

As usual, I again wondered if I had come upon viable evidence of a prior civilization. Most likely, the thing represented another piece of space junk that had survived a fiery plunge through Betty's atmosphere.

As an investigator for the Bureau of Antiquities, my duty was to review all artifacts. So far, our finding have indicated that we are the first and only human inhabitants of this small but comfortable planet in the S-489 Sector of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Once on the ground, I stopped to study vague markings on its side and noticed a single character that stood out just enough to suggest the Latin symbol M.

Intrigued, I moved to the opposite side and identified what appeared to be a hatch. Pushing the sand away, I began cutting through the opening using a laser knife.

Carefully lifting the door away, I identified a humanoid skeleton clothed in a tattered space suit that bore a shoulder patch vaguely reminiscent of a flag.

Further examination revealed a well-preserved, identity tag that indicated the bones belonged to a Major James O'Keeffe, USAF – a title that led me to wonder if the man had been associated with one of the early space programs on Earth.

But why here on Planet Betty?

After searching historical data for more information regarding those programs, I was still unable to grasp the significance of my discovery largely because the facts did not correlate with the reported history.

A thorough inspection of the cabin, however, did produce more information. A logbook stored to the side indicated that his date of launch had been October 21,1959, which was two years prior to the first reportedly successful Mercury Project space launch with humans in the earth year 1961.

With that last bit of information to consider, I spend many minutes staring into the man's empty eyes, my thoughts jumping from one contradiction to another.

In the end, I concluded that Major O'Keeffe had probably been an original Mercury astronaut whose mishap had been quietly hidden from the public in those early days of the American space program. His coming to rest on Betty, in my opinion, had undoubtedly been pure chance.

Later, as I returned to base, I began to wonder if others of his generation were still drifting through space, their sacrifices buried in the silence of secret government files.

First published: November, 2014
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