It rises ten meters above an unnaturally ashen desert; an anthro-insectoid figure in a ceremonial pose. Cast of indestructible ceramic alloy, it has four unmatched arms. One pair grasps a staff and the other hold out obsidian orbs. Woven around it is a cat's cradle of gravimetric fields so complex that a halo of black crystalline shards is held perpetually aloft and rotates counter-clockwise.
Is it a god? A leader?
Why is it 80 kilometers from the nearest structure?
And, of course, who crafted it?
This statue is a mute witness to a legacy turned to dust, to the rise and fall of a civilization, to the story of Xenolympus.
The stars whisper its name. Its own ghost tumbles down the eons. Virtually all starfaring cultures hold legends of a powerful race that rose to its zenith and then vanished before most others had discovered fire, bright ancient beings that ruled the stars long ago. These legends have many names. The Urm-Jadeer called them the First Empire, and believed that they dreamed themselves out of existence. The F'brixi tell of the Unseen who watch the cosmos invisibly. It was the Humani, with their playful penchant for language, who called them the Xenolympians, and theorized that they seeded life throughout the galaxy. The solipsistic Kjad, of course, have no such myths.
But if legends are the cloak of a civilization, then relics form the notions. Fragments of Xenolympian culture have been found on no less than five dozen worlds; bits of machinery, jewelry, metal works, the detritus of lost gods unaffected by time, wielding secrets but never yielding them. Some are museum pieces; some are sacred icons, all shed little light on the mystery.
Several years ago the Explorer Guild took on the task of hunting down that mystery. Bringing together scientists from many races, the Guild mounted a concerted effort using a fleet of ships and a vast cache of resources. Tales of the search became a staple throughout space, an epic in the present tense. Guildships found themselves in unwelcome parts of the galaxy, one vessel dodged weaponfire near the War of Rimway, another narrowly escaped the nova of Thalita Yeres, and one group of explorers fought off a cadre of Vlaxine pirates to protect relics needed in the quest. Yet somehow all that sweeping romance did not matter when, three years ago, Xenolympus was found
It orbited the blue-green star Cjhi Taavis o8j, a star that had been indexed by many races. The planet was wrapped in a distortion field that made scanning difficult. The Guildships converged on Xenolympus and made planetfall. When they landed on the fabled world the myth was gone, replaced by scientific measurements. It was a milestone in history. The ensuing exploration, however, asked far more questions than it answered. Xenolympus proved not to be a neatly laid out system of easy-to-gather information. It bore layer after layer of cryptic evidence that the Explorers were not prepared for.
Firstly, the Xenolympians were not a single race. Cities and relics indicate no less than twenty separate cultures as varied in species as they were in language and architecture. To this date it is not known whether they existed concurrently or in sequence due to the steadfast integrity of Xenolympian materials: decay and corrosion seldom occur. Most structures have stood unchanged since their construction.
Secondly, the fate of those races is still unknown. No record of their history is apparent. It is clear that they traveled space long ago, but there is nothing to explain why this world was abandoned. It is not even known what they looked like. No skeletal remains have been found. The only clue to their appearance is, perhaps, the existing wildlife. The flora and fauna of Xenolympus is staggering in its diversity and scope. There are disturbing predators, enigmatic herd animals, and creatures that seem to have no purpose other than being beautiful. Are these the distant phylogenic cousins of the Xenolympians? The mystery breeds more mysteries, and no one has left the world without feeling a little smaller in the eyes of the cosmos.
Our anthro-insectoid friend, like his world, is an orphan of mythology. His status as a legend abandoned him as soon as the Explorers landed. The stuff of dreams is translated into quantifiable facts with the mere presence of scientists. Since the discovery there have been countless studies published on Xenolympian meteorology, geothermics, ecology, atmospheric chemistry, biology, and every other subject worth investigating. Amidst the scientific fervor it is good to remember the sense of wonder that this world once stood for. The images in this pictorial were chosen for their beauty and strangeness. They are designed to recapture the majesty of a legend that is older than any of us.