Hunter gave Jason an apologetic shrug, and jogged toward the voice.
Atop the great cover stone they had unearthed, in the very center, sat four smaller cover stones in a lowered groove. Together they formed a circle, and had writing on them in five languages.
“That one’s Ancient,” the archeologist pointed. “Those two we’ve never encountered, and that last one even I can read.”
Hunter nodded knowingly and read from the stones.
“Here lies the last standing Machello, may it never again see the light of day.”
“Is the Ancient the same?” the archeologist asked.
“Yes,” Hunter confirmed. “Almost identical. All right, get your people behind the perimeter while we finish checking this out.”
Jason, meanwhile, had caught up and was now bent over the stones.
“It’s Ancient, Standard, Old Kamian, and a form of M’KHaren I’ve never seen before,” he breathed. “A very old derivation, maybe even a root…”
“And that fifth one?” Jason pointed.
“Couldn’t tell ya,” Hunter huffed.
He took out his hand scanner and began making passes; with the proper equipment in his hand he could now confirm the readings that had made him call for re-enforcements.
“So it’s a Machello, whatever a Machello is,” Jason reasoned. “Seems like even more reason to leave it alone.”
“Jason,” Hunter said calmly, and showed him the scanner. “We’ve detected residual zero-point energy emanations.”
“Well that’s fascinating,” Jason muttered. “A ZPG powering something built by the first race to discover zero-point technology.”
“Jason,” Hunter said, still calm. “This is the first ZPG found on Alliance soil.”
“So?” Jason snapped. “Your scientists could study it for a thousand years and never figure out how to reproduce it—”
“But you or I could reproduce it in about five minutes,” Hunter grinned. “What counts is that it’s here, and that Alliance archeologists found it.”
Jason stared at the cover stones and took a deep breath.
“I’ve voiced my concerns,” he said simply. “Whatever happens next is on you.”
* * *
As the temperature peaked around midday, Hunter had finally seen fit to put a stop to the excavations. Nadel and his team, who had already been working the site for over five years, clearly had the right idea.
After some discussion, it was agreed to allow Nadel’s team to do the actual work of excavating the ruins. They were experienced archeologists, they knew how to dig. Hunter’s team of physicists, metallurgists, and dudes who built mechs were not quite as skilled at soil relocation engineering.
But the Alliance scientists were still standing by, watching eagerly as the work progressed.
“Well, we’re ready to start removing the cover-stones,” Nadel announced proudly. “We’d never have had the funding for this, without you.”
“Less thanking more craning,” Hunter waved, then gestured to the massive construction crane towering over the site. It had a huge span and sat on a complicated caterpillar track, allowing it to move back and forth and cover the whole area. A large, open space had been prepared on the other side, where the massive cover stones could be laid out in the same configuration as they now sat in the dust. They had all been marked ahead of time, the whole site very carefully catalogued.
With a signal from Nadel, the crane began to move. There were nineteen stones in all, forming a cross-shape over three hundred feet long. In the center was one stone bigger than all the others, an enormous, round thing that seemed to be like a plug, holding all the other stones down by their shape and orientation.
This was lifted first, and with floodlights and cameras on every angle, the excited onlookers waited to see what lay beneath.
The first hint was a gleam of metal. Polished, finely-tooled material. Though they had found no traces of technology here, this was obviously a machine of some complexity.
One by one, the stones were lifted up, and moved to the waiting field, where they would be re-assembled later. The design was such that no stone could be moved without first moving the largest stone, and to put them back meant moving that stone last.
The thing beneath it was bipedal, with arms and legs, but not shaped like a man. It almost looked like a dinosaur; but maybe closer to a cheap, B-movie monster. The legs were big, short, and stocky, giving it a low center of gravity. It looked as if it should stand up almost stra'ight, with only a slight hunch. But its arms were long, long enough to touch the ground while standing, and tipped with great, razor-sharp claws.
Its head looked more about function than appearance; a long, narrow, snake-like contraption that seemed little more than a mount-point for sensors. The tail, though, clearly contained some vicious weapons, it was currently stretched out between the machine’s legs, hanging down a short ways past them.
The whole thing was lying prone, they were only seeing it’s back half, and the arms were stretched out to the sides following the shape of the cover-stones, as if the whole thing were being crucified underground.
“It’s a mobile suit,” Hunter breathed. “We’ve discovered an ancient Eladamrian mobile suit. A new-type…”
“I don’t think it’s Ancient,” Jason corrected.
“What are you talking about? Of course it is,” Hunter snapped. “It’s been buried in the ground here at least twenty millennia—”
“I didn’t mean it’s not old,” Jason corrected. “I mean I don’t believe this item was built by the Ancients. I believe this one is Iname in design.”
“Based on?” Hunter asked.
“The fact that it’s a Machello, and the Eladamri didn’t build Machellos,” Jason stated reasonably.
“Good answer,” Hunter nodded.
“This is a profound historical find,” Nadel breathed.
“One which will not be published,” Hunter ordered. “Once the last stone is removed, my team will go to work removing the artifact. You may examine this pit all you want, but no mention of that artifact or the ‘strange readings’ you showed me earlier should be made.”
“But—” Nadel protested.
“This is important,” Hunter stated. “Very, very important.”
A loud scream suddenly issued from the dig site, and like rats fleeing a burning building, the archeologists scrambled away. The last cover stone had been removed, and the machine’s eyes had suddenly begun to glow.
“We… thought this thing was buried during the Roads War, right?” Hunter asked quietly.
“Yeah,” Jason nodded.
“So how is that ZPG still functioning?” Hunter asked.