The device had been discovered in a small, unimportant, backwoods location on an obscure world in one of the galaxies of the most recent cluster to join the Universal Coalition. It wasn't merely the most significant archaeological discovery ever made, it was the most significant possible discovery. Period. And yet it had not been lost or hidden. Unknown, certainly, even to the inhabitants of this world, and even of the small town near which the device had been discovered; unknown, but not hidden. It didn't need to be unearthed, for it sat in plain sight, if one simply happened to look in the right spot, right out on the surface, within a small clearing in the middle of the woods. Not even a forest, just a few acres of wild trees, pine mostly. The woods were mostly tangled with undergrowth and fallen trees. No one ever much bothered to go into the woods, as uninteresting as they were. A few locals might spend a few hours one day each spring stumbling around in the outskirts of the woods, picking fern fronds they called "fiddleheads," which they said were good to eat, though only one of at least three fern varieties that grew in the woods was edible, and then only for the few days or so they were in their frond stage. ...No one had ever seen any reason to venture far enough into the woods to find the clearing wherein lay the device.
It might well never have been discovered at all, except for a fluke. An archaeological party sent by the Scientific Council of the UC was exploring random locations on this little planet. Purely routine, less likely to find anything than even the notoriously uneventful audits of the UC's Internal Economic Council. In fact, the Scientific Council's archaeology branch rarely discovered anything, they mostly just acquired knowledge from local archaeological departments of the individual worlds of the UC. Still, these little exploratory expeditions were a good way to keep the skills fresh, or to break in new recruits....
And it was one of those new recruits who spotted it, while his party randomly stumbled through the randomly chosen woods. At first he was just happy to reach the clearing, small as it was. The terrain wasn't exactly difficult, but he'd been getting some tired of it. He sat down against a tree, breathed a little sigh of pleasure at the momentary cessation of his walking, then took a drink from his canteen. That done, he sighed again, closed his eyes, and tilted his head back against the tree. After a few minutes, he sighed again, this time in resigned determination to get back to his walking. He stood, took a quick walk around the clearing before heading back into the woods proper, but stopped. There was something on the ground in front of one of the trees at the opposite edge of the clearing from where he'd sat. At first it just looked like a flat stone lying on the ground, and from a few feet away he couldn't tell if its shape was natural or if it had been carved. Getting closer, he saw that the material itself was more than simple stone, it appeared manufactured. It was perfectly even and smooth, though he didn't know a name to call the shape except a sort of ovular polygon. It was large enough for perhaps two people to stand on, and it looked like the sort of thing that was probably meant to be stood on, or perhaps walked upon, as a stone in a path. So he stood on it. And the moment his boot touched it, he knew what it was.
In the years of research that would follow, many people would stand upon it, and they each instantly knew what it was, in a way that told them they would have known even if they hadn't already read the reports. But no amount of research could ever tell them how they knew. And despite knowing what the device was for, no one could ever figure out how it was meant to perform its function. And of course, such was its function that it could not possibly be tested for a very long time to come. Nor could the device be moved. The earth around it on every side could be dug up quite naturally, but though it looked perfectly normal, nothing could breach the wall of earth that existed below the device. In fact, an attempt was made to dig on the exact opposite side of the planet, and it was found that a patch of earth existed in the exact shape of the device, which was impervious to any tool. And so it was finally determined that knowledge of the device would be sealed away in the Scientific Council's database, and a notice would be flagged to remind future scientists of this knowledge eons later. Until then, it was classified, and no one on any world in the UC could know of the device's existence....
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