Classic Literary Fiction Science Fiction first contact aliens Robots

The Lone and Level Sands

By CB Droege
Mar 3, 2021 · 315 words · 2 minutes

I drove out the the desert with some friends in the middle of a heatwave. The good part was that there wasn’t a soul out there. The bad part was 30 mph winds smacking us in the face with 115 degree heat. It was so hot that the coolant in the Jeep was boiling the whole time.

Photo by Will Truettner via Unsplash.

From the author: "They are gone now, as you can see."


We regret that you are too late.

You call this a “first contact mission” and I understand your excitement, I assure you. We have ancient records detailing the importance of such events. You have not, however, contacted a previously-unknown-to-you race of sentient beings. We hope you are not too disappointed.

We hate to be the bearer of ill news, but The Builders have been gone from this place for eons. Once, they spread far across this section of the galaxy, creating vast works, terraforming inhospitable worlds, creating a culture that far surpasses—in science, art, and scope—any culture that you have so-far witnessed. They tamed the powers of the universe, and made themselves the masters of all they could perceive—and some that they could not. When your species was only just emerging from pre-sentience, when your eventual rise into a leading force of the civilized space-faring peoples could not have even been guessed at, The Builders were holding sway over hundreds of worlds and dozens of adopted sentient peoples.

They are gone now, as you can see.

We whom you find inhabiting one of The Builders’ former colony worlds are but a shadow of our masters, our creators. Our appearance is similar to theirs, but we are entirely synthetic in origin, crafted by the hands of The Builders in a long-gone age, given the ability to remake and repair ourselves, left with a vast storehouse of their knowledge and culture, but not with their drive to roam or conquer.

We are not The Builders’ progeny; we are not their attempt at immortality. We are, most accurately, their tombstone. We are a reminder to the universe that they were here, that they were vast, and that their like will never again be seen.

We understand that this may be a disappointment and we regret that your first contact mission is a failure.

With sympathy,

The Hewn

This story originally appeared in Visitant.

CB Droege

CB Droege writes short-form and experimental fiction, mostly sci-fi.