Home > Unearthed (Unearthed #1)

Unearthed (Unearthed #1)
Author: Amie Kaufman

We are the last of our kind.

We will not fade into the dark. We will tell our story to the stars and in this way we will never die—we will be Undying. Perhaps only the stars will hear us until we are nothing more than a memory. But someday a race will find the power we left behind—and they will be tested, for some things are better left unknown. Some stories left untold. Some words left unsaid.

Some powers left alone.

Ours is a story of greed and destruction, of a people not ready for the treasure they guarded. Our end came not from the stars but from within, from war and chaos. We were not, and never had been, worthy of what had been given to us.

Within the mathematical cipher of this message lies a key to build a door into the aether. Beyond the door, beyond the aether, you will face your trial. The worthy, the chosen, will find the power we died to protect, and rise into the stars.

Know that the journey is unending. Know that the dangers ahead will be many. Know that unlocking the door may lead to salvation or doom. So choose. Choose the stars or the void; choose hope or despair; choose light or the undying dark of space.

Choose—and travel onward, if you dare.



—Excerpt from The Undying Broadcast (orig. “Unidentified Signal Alpha 312”) decoded and transliterated by Dr. Elliott Addison, University of Oxford



THIS IS REALLY, REALLY NOT going the way I’d planned.

The two scavengers below are talking to each other in Spanish, laughing and joking about something I can’t understand. Lying facedown against the rock, I wriggle forward just enough to see the tops of their heads over the edge of the overhang. One of them is taller, bulky in the shoulders. He’s around thirty or thirty-five, and easily twice my size. The other one’s smaller, a woman, I’m guessing, by the way she stands—but even she’d have the edge on me if they knew I was here.

You were right, Mink, I should’ve taken that gun. At the time, it felt good to surprise the Contractor—to make her eyebrows shoot up underneath her bangs and stay there. “I don’t need a gun,” I’d scoffed, not bothering to add that I wouldn’t know what to do with one anyway. “No one will ever even see me down there.” Because if I were home, if I were scavenging a city on Earth, that would be true.

But studying the topographic surveys and satellite images of Gaia’s surface didn’t prepare me for just how barren this landscape is. This isn’t like the ruins of Chicago, full of sewer tunnels and half-collapsed skyscrapers, with infinite places to hide and move around unseen. There aren’t even any plants on this barren world—nothing but some microscopic bacteria in the oceans, and that’s on the other side of the planet. Not surprising, given that something about Gaia’s two suns gives off a flare every generation like clockwork and nukes the whole world. There’s just open desert on either side of the canyon, and I’m screwed.

I’m screwed.

The raiders are filling up their canteens at the little spring under the overhang, the same spring marked on our pirated maps, which drew me to this spot. Though I can’t understand their language, I don’t need to know the words to tell that they’re grumbling about the dusty, sandy quality of the water in the pool. Like they don’t get how lucky they are that there’s water on this planet in the first place. That there’s air we can breathe—sort of—and the right temperature and gravity, though the solar flares dashed all hope of a permanent colony here.

It’s still the closest thing we’ve ever found to a habitable planet, besides Earth and Centaurus. And one of those is rapidly dying, the other far beyond the reach of our technology.

We only found Gaia because we followed the instructions left by ancient creatures long dead. There’s no telling when we’ll find another world like it, unless we find more coordinates in the ruins left by the Undying. Ironic that the aliens called themselves that in the very broadcast describing the way they wiped themselves out.

I hold my breath, hoping that the scavengers don’t look around while crouching to replenish their water. My pack isn’t exactly well hidden, since I wasn’t expecting company, but they haven’t noticed it yet. Idiots. But I’m an even bigger idiot, because I broke my cardinal rule—I let go of my stuff. I put it down because I wanted to see what was over this ridge. The desert is marked by groupings of immense rock formations stretching up toward the sky, swept into shape by the wind, and by water that’s long gone now. I’m going to end up marooned a billion light-years from home with no supplies because I wanted to admire the damned scenery. Just a few chunks of red-gray rock stand between the raiding duo and my only hope at survival in this terrain.

Not only does the pack contain my food rations, my climbing gear, my water, my sleeping mat, and everything else I need to live out here—it contains my breather. The atmosphere here’s got just a little more nitrogen than Earth’s. Eight hours a day or so, you need to strap on a breather and suck in oxygen-enriched air, or you stop being able to think straight, and then your body shuts down. And my breather—my lifeline—is in the bag a meter or two from a pair of raiders.

The man lifts his head and I jerk back, rolling over and gazing up at the empty blue sky. The light of the binary suns is harsh on my face even through the protection of the kerchief, but I don’t move. If I don’t get my stuff back, I’m dead. I won’t even be alive when they come to get me in three weeks, much less carrying enough loot from the temples to pay my exit fee.

My mind scrambles for a solution. I could call Mink—except my sat-phone is in my pack, and the comms satellite won’t be over this part of the planet for another six hours anyway. And even if I did find a way to signal her, she made it clear when she dropped me on this rock that I was only getting a ride back off the ground again if I had something to make it worth her while. It costs big to smuggle scavengers back and forth on official supply shuttles through the portal to Gaia, a shimmering gateway in space patrolled and guarded by International Alliance ships. She’s not going to bother getting me back through to Earth unless I can pay.

I have to get that pack.

“Tengo que hacer pis,” says the man, making his partner groan and walk off a few steps.

I hear the sound of a zipper and then a grunt, and then—after half a second—the sound of something trickling into the spring water.

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