They discovered the first one in 2091, during the seismic lunar surveys. It was communicated to the lab at Mare Anguis 4, in that self-consciously ambiguous way that scientists have, as an ‘anomaly’ – an unexpected spike on the graph, an unusually sinuous line within the oscilloscope, a decimal place lurking too far to the left – which meant that they had got their predictions wrong. A second survey was ordered, but the results were the same – anomalous – and so an excavation unit was dispatched. Three weeks and several metres of basalt later, a message chirped through the satcom to Mare Anguis 4:
“Littrow? Are you there?”
“Go ahead, EX2.”
“You’re not going to believe this.”
“What have you found?”
“It’s–well, it’s a bell. A giant golden bell.”
The bell, some thirty metres tall and sunk like a boil deep into the epidermis of the moon turned out to be made not of gold but of a material greatly resembling it. They scanned and centrifuged and resonated and imaged and oscillated, but no conclusion could be drawn from the find other than that it was of non-human origin, and it remained no more than a curiosity, a tourist attraction, until the seismic surveys of Mars in 2118.
The Martian anomaly was discovered on the western slope of Olympus Mons. Excavation crews were soon on the scene, and Littrow was contacted immediately when the scientists at Olympus Station received the call to inform them that what seemed like an enormous sunken bell, thirty metres high and made of what appeared to be gold, had been found beneath the surface of Mars. Littrow boarded the next available shuttle and was there in hours. But again, weeks of scientific endeavour gleaned nothing more than that the bell was not of human making, and it too fell into folklore.
Then, in 2130, deep beneath the rushing clouds, seismic surveyors on the surface of Venus were alarmed to notice a glowing blip on their hand-held screens as they logged the surface of Ishtar Terra. Checks and double checks led to the deployment of the excavation units, and Littrow, long retired, could scarcely breathe when he was contacted by his old friend Juralle at the Lakshmi outpost.
“I thought you’d want to know,” he said.
“Another bell?” said Littrow.
“No–that would have been fine. That was almost what we were expecting.”
“It was a pair of cherries.”
“A huge representation of them. Thirty metres high at least. Carved deep into the earth, coloured bright red.”
“Wait, there’s more. Next to it there was a message etched into the bedrock. Each letter was ten metres tall. Can you imagine?”
“What did it say, man? What on earth did it say?”
“That was the funny thing. It said ‘Unlucky! Three matches required for jackpot. Better luck next time.’”
My apologies to anyone who started reading this and expected it to continue as a serious sci-fi flash fiction piece. I just liked the idea that the entire universe was set up as one massive lottery scratch card.