Hollowed out in the barren stone on this bleak planet was clearly an opening; not some craggy irregular sharp edged hole. Those who were comforted by solid close quarters were the first to step inside. Others among my crew just kept staring with blank faced looks, unable to accept their finding - a finding that contradicted every piece of information provided by our esteemed experts. This planet never supported even the rudimentary forms of life for it was just too sterile. These were at least the words from the esteemed ones but here before our eyes was evidence of just such life not expected to have existed on this dry expansive rocky surface.
Out here many light years from the last known inhabited planet much too far from the central core of the Milky Way galaxy situated on a wispy 'arm' of meek desolate stars was this desert planet, remote within the pure blackness of starless space.
Ours was a mission of exploration tinged with a more pressing task than leisurely scientific endeavors. We were military first, scientists second, and with an enemy breathing down the collective neck of the galaxy our instructions were very specific find an outer most planet capable of being transformed into an advance guard against attack. This world or another more suitable planet would be selected to support a military base for the most fearsome force the galaxy had ever known.
Having met all our criteria we were ready to leave when this opening was discovered. If it wasn't naturally occurring were the builders still the undisputed inhabitants of this rock? Maybe they were already still and dead like this planet - many years expunged from recognition - a quiet reminder of a lost past in a forgotten expanse of infinite vacuum. It was quite possible that our craft was the first in eons to rest on this hard rock surface. In all directions we'd spied a wasteland covered in a crust of solid rock, from our estimates reaching 2 miles deep.
Yet, before our very eyes on this spare barren globe something had lived or still lived. This scoured surface had to have been home to a thriving colony of indigenous creatures at one time. Those remaining unfortunates who had to leave their planet forever on a long journey in search of another suitable home undoubtedly were the same intelligent beings that carved out this cave - they'd either possessed spacecraft capable of interplanetary travel or perished from lack of food and water.
So the question on all my crewmate's minds: were they able to save themselves through the acquisition of the knowledge of space flight or did they cease to exist once they'd destroyed their planet's biosphere. There was always that tricky point in the evolutionary process of all species that we'd encountered (including our own) when ecological destruction on a planetary level would continue until the last breath was sucked from a hot and dying home. At this point in time if a species hadn't mastered space flight they would perish sometimes all alone with no one to hear their cries for help.
It seemed that what transpired here was not the continuation of a species but its extinction. For if they had survived there would be a thriving planetary home but instead we'd only found this carefully carved orifice that according to our instruments was 5 million years old.
Gingerly stepping through the opening we passed across an energy barrier set only to allow organic matter inside, for all of our non-organic instruments fell on the outside of the barrier - unfortunately this included our clothes. Inside the energy bubble was a pristine chamber lined with crystal shaped colored lights that seemed to vibrate with the oscillations in the artificial power being generated by a now soon to fail millions old energy source. After about a minute other crystalline lights immediately exposed a well-lit corridor, an all too familiar sign that what we had entered was a species extinction library.
None of us had ever seen one of these up close, our only exposure being from our training in "Directive 1" retrieval. If this was truly the extinction library of a dead race we were required by "Directive 1" to link up using our shipboard systems to upload all data from the library to our computer. In this case time was running out to make the retrieval before their power source failed.
After walking about 1 mile probably down thru the crust of the planet we entered a massive room with a concave ceiling. What exploded before our eyes were the most beautiful images of what must have been their lush green planet. There were blue oceans making up most of the surface, large canyons, mountains, lakes, cities towering towards the sky, tall green planets grouped together, and these ungainly skin covered creatures that were definitely not reptilian but of unknown origin. They characteristically included images of their families, and the ecological destruction leading up to the termination of their planet.
We'd been instructed that if we came upon an extinction library that it would leave an emotional scar on our psyches that would never heal. In fact, some 150 years later my recollection of this event still brings tears to my eyes in the solitude of my cabin. Having fought for my kingdom for some 500 years and now the supreme commander of all our forces I can assure you that this battle hardened general never gets teary eyed only on these wrenching trips back to that dead rock out towards the edge of our galaxy.
Never do I want to come upon another of these time capsules framed in a dreadful end.