Jessica Marie Baumgartner's sci-fi vignette about aliens discovering a disturbing artefact from human mythology.
Alien curiosity matched that of the former humans' own. The well trained individuals removed blocks carefully, brushed away layers. Beneath them were revealed passageways that led to unimaginable cultural treasures, relics that had intrigued, empowered, and instigated.
These were expected. But when the glazed eyes of the creature were looked upon, everyone present felt a rush of fear. The head was terrifying. Emerging from the follicles of pale skin protecting the skull were the flaccid forms of multiple serpents.
"Enough for today," Wirale announced from her post. As commanding officer, she'd grown weary of traveling to distant reaches and collecting the once loved items of unknown species. It gave her no peace. She wasn't a scholar like most of her companions, but a hired hand armed to protect. Instead of taking pride in her many exploits, she compared herself to a thief stealing memories from dying planets.
No one questioned her. All of the Qutami were experiencing senses they had never known. Something in the unearthed dead face captured them. It wouldn't let go.
"What about the head?" the site manager, Refumu, asked in a tongue the air of this world had never carried.
"I'll take it." She grasped the strange dead remnants and shoved it in a bag dangling from her belt.
"Thank you Wirale."
She nodded at Refemu. He held more honor than just heading the excavation. Wirale trusted him after years of employment.
As they cautiously moved out of the underground network to regain the crust of the planet, a shifting breeze spoke secrets incomprehensible as dust struck their faces. They trudged along to reach the shelter, and entered their craft in silence.
Wirale watched as the workers retired. No rest would she allot herself. She gripped the bag at her side with protective instinct. It called to her, captured her will. The urge gripped her and it took all of her strength to keep her hands at her sides. The grey skin of her three digit limb ending twitched with want. A force called out from the artifact.
Refemu captured her attention before she could lose all will. "Do you believe it's dangerous?" He eyed the bag.
"Yes." She regained control.
"Do you remember the 'Hand of God' as we called it?" She smirked angrily through her sharp overbite.
"That thing cost us many lives."
"And somehow I believe this is worse. It holds a different kind of power, one that reaches beyond death."
"Have you ever heard of such a thing?"
"No. But there's nothing worse than death is there?"
Refemu grunted in agreement.
She patted his arm and stalked away to consult her thoughts. Not even the deep confines of the familiar craft could quell her desired to learn the secrets of the burden in her possession. Her mind filled aflame with want.
Unable to ignore it, she made her way down the many passages of the dark craft and turned into her quarters. Her bunk remained untouched; she had no intention of sleeping while guarding the dangerous find in her possession. Walking straight to the shelves on the wall she opened the casing and pulled out more of her best weapons. Just to be sure. She quietly readied herself, strapping them onto her harness.
With a pounding rhythm, she marched along the grating back out into the hall and on to a side door. It was meant for escape access only, but she knew the code to open the hatch and climbed out onto the workman's ladder with ease. No need to engage any others. Her thoughts were muddled between convincing herself that she was doing her duty, and pretending that the head attached at her hip held no power over her.
She jumped down to the hard earth and stood to stare at the dig site. In a moment she grew conscious of the energy pushing her along, but it was too late. Her body began to sink under its control. She strode with the unsightly artifact attached to her belt, and her hand slid into the bag. The hardened skin and its rubbery follicles chilled her.
Upon reaching the site, she gazed into the enveloping corridors below. The darkness surrounding her meant nothing. She had glowing eyes that penetrated the blackest depths. She jumped down to land in a crouch, and stared into the blackness with a smirk.
Retracing her earlier steps, she wandered along to where the head had been found. If only I can find the body. Something in her needed to find it, could not go on without it. She sniffed the musty stillness and touched piles of dirt.
Stumbling along, her mind went blank, as an empty vessel. Her cold body warmed. She dug her long exposed teeth into her chin until they cut her and blood dripped out.
A drop met the ground and pulled her to it. From beneath something called. Without professional tools for digging, she blasted her way through the surface, attacking the rocky bowels of the planet without reserve. The rhythm of her effort only halted just before reaching a body, the body.
The head began to hum a single note from inside the bag. She pulled it out and stared at it. No amount of reserve could compel her arms to drop it, to turn and leave the thing where it lay. Her fingers clasped the shriveled face and brought it down to the body. In an instant she placed it on the neck and watched as it reattached itself.
Her full faculties were returned to her with just enough time for her to catch one glimpse of the creature. Then her body hardened and the only remaining senses left were her thoughts. Trapped, unable to move, but not dead, she was hard as stone.
The revived gorgon left her without any way to warn her people.