Out of Mind

Welcome to the eleventh of twelve!

For those who don’t know, my New Year’s resolution this year was to write a short story each month and post it to the blog on the last Wednesday of each month.  So without further ado, I present to you “Out of Mind”.

(Warning: some graphic descriptions of violence follow.  Viewer discretion is advised.

Also swearing.  But if you’ve been reading my stories thus far, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise.)

 

“Dropping out in three…two…one…”

Everything jolted and shuddered as the large cargo vessel exited faster-than-light travel. The terminals on the bridge uttered a chorus of chirps and beeps as the crew checked the ship’s status. It was a large, rounded room with clean, gray walls. Different crew stations, each with large control panels and holographic projections, lined the outer wall of the room.

“Location,” the captain asked.

Up in front, Sidney Lehmann scanned his hazel eyes over the blue-tinted hologram hovering before his eyes. It depicted a complicated star chart.

“Right where we should be sir,” he said.

“Excellent.”

Sidney let out a quiet sigh and brushed back his light brown hair. Despite the fact that it was just a routine faster-than-light jump, he had still felt uneasy. But then again, such was his natural state. Beneath the kind, shy smile was a man beset by unease over the smallest of things. Occasionally, it could blossom into full-blown panic attacks, although he had learned how to mitigate them as best he could.

At a mere twenty-five years of age, Sidney was particularly young for being the navigator of an entire starship. But his natural talent for piloting boosted him through the ranks.

Despite the fact that he knew everything was running smoothly, Sidney was still anxious. It had started when the captain received orders to divert course into a nearby asteroid field for an unscheduled mining trip. In his head, he knew such diversions were common. Cargo ships could become amateur miners in a pinch, especially when the amount of resources wasn’t enough to justify sending out a full-fledged mining vessel.

Sidney knew all this. And yet, he couldn’t rid himself of the feeling of anxiety.

That feeling was only exacerbated when the ship’s alarm suddenly started shrieking.

“What the hell happened,” the captain asked, rocketing up from his chair.

“Sir we’ve detected an impact on the ship’s hull, near the cargo bays,” another officer reported.

“Damage?”

“Checking…there doesn’t appear to be any discernible impact to the hull’s integrity.”

“Then shut that alarm off,” the captain ordered. The shrieking ceased a moment later. “Damn thing’s too sensitive,” he muttered. He sat back down and pressed a button on the armrest. “Maintenance, report,” his voice echoed over the intercom.

“Here cap’n,” a voice responded.

“How are things looking down there?’

“Just had a lil’ bump off the hull. Nothin’ to make a fuss over. Might have a ding or two but that’ll be all.”

“Good. Keep me posted if anything changes.” The captain stole a glance at Sidney. “I thought this area was supposed to be clear of debris?”

“It’s not his fault captain,” the officer chimed in. “What struck us was too small to be picked up on long-range scanners.”

The captain let out a small chuckle. “The hazards of space travel huh? Expect the unexpected.” He stood up and stretched. “Well…it’s getting late. I’ll be down in my quarters if anyone needs me.” He made his way toward the lift. As Sidney watched, the captain froze mid-stride, one foot hovering in the air. Glancing around the room, he found the same thing everywhere: people frozen in time, trails of white computer code streaming off of their bodies.

“Is something wrong,” he asked aloud.

An unseen voice spoke in his right ear.

“Everything’s going fine. We’re just going to jump forward a bit,” it said.

“Okay. What do you need me to do?”

“Just relax and focus. What happened next?”

Sidney took a deep breath.

“Well,” he began, “after the captain left I stayed on the bridge for another…hour I want to say. I was double checking the sensors to ensure that no other debris was in danger of colliding with the ship.”

The world shuddered. Suddenly, there was a hand on Sidney’s shoulder. He looked up.

“Eventually, someone tapped me on the back and told me to go get some sleep. They said they could take care of things on the bridge for the night.”

“And so you went to your quarters?”

“Not right away,” he replied. The bridge shifted and warped. Sidney was now standing in the lift: a cylindrical shaped elevator that took people to the different decks of the ship. “First, I made my way down to the cargo area.”

“Why?”

“I have a friend who works the night shift,” Sidney explained. “I went to meet up with him, just for a little bit.”

The walls of the lift faded away into darkness. Lights clicked on in the distance and slowly, a massive room filled with red storage containers and drab, metal walls came into view. Sidney’s eyes roamed the room until they landed on a figure standing near a small, gray crate. The man caught Sidney’s gaze and waved. He had short black hair, blue eyes, and dirt under his eyes.

“That’s Cecil,” Sidney explained. “We’ve known each other for a long time. By chance, we wound up on the Celeste together.”

“What did the two of you talk about?”

“Nothing much. He was trying to get me to watch a movie.”

“Can you remember which one?”

“No…it was some ancient science-fiction film. He was gushing about it most of the time we were talking.”

“I take it you’re not a movie person,” the voice asked.

“No sir…I prefer to read books,” Sidney replied.

There was a pause.

“You don’t need to call me ‘sir’ all the time you know…it’s not like I outrank you.”

“Sorry si-I mean…sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. So after your conversation with Cecil, where did you go next?”

“To my quarters. I pretty much went straight to sleep after I got there.”

The room warbled around him, shifting from an expansive cargo bay to a dimly lit bedroom. Now dressed in sleeping clothes, Sidney climbed into his bed and pulled the gray blankets over him. After laying his head down on the pillow, he closed his eyes.

“I can’t say for sure how long I slept…but I remember being awoken by a chirping noise.”

Sidney’s eyes snapped open. He lifted his head and noticed a panel in the wall with a flashing green light. He got up out of bed, walked over and pushed a button.

“Who is it,” he asked.

“Hey Sidney,” the captain’s voice said. “Sorry to wake you, but can you meet me in my quarters? There’s something I need to talk to you about.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Sidney replied, then released the button. The scene flickered and changed. Sidney was now walking down a brightly lit hallway. Gray walls lined each side, with small signs every now and then that pointed to important destinations on the deck. A short time later, Sidney found himself outside a set of gray doors. He reached over and pushed a button on a nearby panel.

“Who is it,” the captain’s voice asked.

“It’s Sidney sir. You wanted to see me?”

“Ah yes…please, do come in.”

The doors slid open and Sidney stepped inside.

The captain’s quarters always struck him as more refined than most. An elegant carpet lined the floor between the door and the gray desk the captain sat at. A framed picture of the captain and a woman Sidney assumed was his wife sat on the corner of the desk. The captain himself was seated in his chair, hunched over a homemade model of an ancient naval galleon with a brush in his hands. Upon Sidney’s entrance, he looked up.

“Good to see you Sid. Once again, I apologize for waking you up,” he said.

“Oh it’s no trouble sir,” Sidney replied.

The captain was an older man, with dark blue eyes and wispy, graying hair. At first glance, he seemed like the type of man who would be all business and no pleasure. An old scar marred his cheek, traces of an ancient battle he fought when he was in the military. And yet, despite his looks, he was a friendly and easygoing person.

The captain set his brush down, leaned back, and admired his handiwork with a smile.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Sidney nodded. “If you ask me,” the captain continued, “everyone needs a hobby. What’s yours?”

“I read, sir.”

“No need to be so formal,” he said with a laugh. “What do you read?”

“Books mostly.”

“Non-fiction?”

“Fiction sir.”

“Ah…very good…nothing gets the mind going like a little imagination,” the captain said…his smile growing wider and wider.

Sidney stared. The smile never faltered, never wavered. It was frozen, wide and full…

“Hmm…your adrenaline is spiking. Sidney, are you okay,” the voice asked.

Thump thump…thump thump…thump thump…

His heart pounded in his ears. His hands shook. His eyes began to quake and his whole body was quivering like a leaf. Meanwhile, the captain stared straight at him, eyes never blinking, smile never fading.

“Sidney? What’s wrong? Talk to me.”

Sidney closed his eyes and tried to focus…tried to wish it away. But it wasn’t working.

Not here, he thought. Not now…

The sweat drizzled down his forehead, dripping into his eyes. His breathing was heavy and quick. His hands began to shake, and he clenched them into fists as his heart beat faster and faster. His entire body felt like it was on the verge of-

The hardened base of the model ship made a sickening squelch as it connected with the captain’s skull. The man’s eyes stared straight ahead, dull and lifeless. Crimson blood caked the desk, dripping down onto the floor. Sidney’s expression never wavered, and he brought the base of the model crashing down again. A small chunk of bone splintered off and fell to the floor, skidding into a darkened corner.

“-again! Sidney, stop!”

Crunch…squelch…

The sound of splintering bone and squishing brain matter reached his ears from an impossible distance. Sidney raised the model ship above his head once more, varnished wood stained with the blood of its creator. Everything seemed to move in slow-motion as he brought it down, smashing it against the captain’s head once aga-

He pleaded for his life as Sidney gazed down the sight of the gun. The fear was obvious in the man’s twitching eyes. He pulled the trigger. The rifle kicked back against his shoulder like a roaring beast as bullets met flesh. Fountains of blood sprayed out of the man’s chest, splattering the walls like a piece of demented art.

Some of the spray caught Sidney in the eyes. He didn’t blink.

The gun clicked empty, but Sidney never released the trigger. He watched the life drain out of the man’s eyes…all with the rifle click click clicking in his-

Rivers of red streamed down the man’s kneecaps as he howled in pain. Sidney set the pistol down on a nearby crate and snatched up a plasma torch, a nasty looking cylindrical wand. He approached the man and grabbed his head, holding it back. One click later, and a fierce blue flame came flaring out at the end. Slowly, he brought the fire closer and closer to the man’s eye as he struggled and screamed. It wasn’t long before the stench of burning flesh filled the air.

“Pull him out,” the voice in his ear shouted. But it was distant…an echo bouncing off the walls of a long, dark tunnel…

Sidney buried the wand deeper and deeper into the eye socket, the man’s anguished howls filling his ears. The eye had turned into a sickening mush of scorching black and red flesh, but Sidney’s face was plastered into a stoic expression.

“Are you even listening to me?! Pull. Him. Out.”

He brought the torch out, a caked mass of burnt flesh and blood where the eye used to be. He calmly shifted it over toward the other eye and began anew. The tip of the wand disappeared as Sidney pushed it deep into the soft pupil.

The screaming…it kept going. It wouldn’t stop…

Pull him out right fucking now!!

 

A low, descending whine filled the room as Russell Moss stormed in.

“What the hell happened,” he asked, his emerald eyes twitching with frustration and anger. “Why did it take you people so goddamn long to shut it down?!”

Tense silence filled the air. The three lab techs: two male, one female…all exchanged glances.

“We were ordered to keep going, no matter what,” one of them spoke up.

“I didn’t give you those orders. Who did?” But before the tech could reply, Moss’ eyes lit up with understanding. “It was Impav, wasn’t it?” One of the techs nodded sheepishly.

“You weren’t told,” another asked.

“No…of course I wasn’t,” Moss replied. “Goddamn blue bastard thinks he knows better than everyone else.”

There was another moment of silence in the room.

“Get him out of that thing and begin regression,” Moss ordered. “We’ll have to try again in a couple days time. Computer?” A brief chirp was his response. “Mark this down…session thirty-seven was another failure!”

“Complying,” a computerized female voice responded. But Moss was already gone from the room.

 

He brushed the medium-length reddish hair of out his eyes as he leaned against the railing and let out a sigh.

Out through the window of the space station, Moss could see the forlorn gray husk of the Celeste. At over two kilometers in length and nearly half a kilometer in height, it was the largest cargo ship ever built.

And now it was nothing more than a ghost ship.

When the Celeste had unexpectedly returned to orbit without warning and numerous hails went unanswered, a military reconnaissance team was dispatched. Upon boarding the ship, they were confronted with something straight out of a horror movie. The crew was all dead, murdered in various ways. Some had been shot, others bludgeoned to death, and others looked like they had their guts ripped straight out of their chests.

There was only one survivor: Sidney Lehmann. They found him curled up in the corner of his quarters, gibbering nonsense and rocking back and forth. He was covered in blood. Later analysis would conclude that it belonged to numerous members of his fellow crew.

The story practically wrote itself: Sidney had been in space too long and snapped, going on a vicious killing spree. But after reading Sidney’s file and going over the forensic evidence collected, Moss had some serious doubts. Sidney Lehmann didn’t strike him as the type of person who could murder that many people. He didn’t even strike him as someone who could overpower them physically. He was a scrawny, shy fellow.

And then there was the lack of any defensive wounds on his body. If he really murdered the crew in that brutal of a fashion, there should have been at least some sign that they fought back.

But in the end, the only one who knew the real truth…was Sidney. Knowing he had a deep background in neurological technology, the government recruited Moss in an attempt to recover Sidney’s memories and uncover the truth behind what happened on that ship.

Moss shook his head. Or rather, he thought to himself, they wanted evidence that he killed them. They’ve already drawn their conclusion. They just want things neat and tidy for the file.

He let out a long yawn. It was late…and he was tired. Moss turned away from the window and began walking down the hallway toward his temporary quarters.

Tomorrow would bring another meeting with Impav. Moss was not looking forward to that…

 

The next morning, Moss found Impav standing alone in the Commons Area of the station. He looked as he always did: tall, blue, wearing a diluted white outfit with golden fringes similar to a robe. The Commons Area was a large open space with rows of tables and chairs. It was used as a greeting area for new arrivals and guests. Not that the station got any these days.

The blue alien turned as Moss approached, fixing him in his large, pupil-less black eyes. Even his wide mouth seemed to exude arrogance.

“Ah, Mr. Moss…it is a pleasure to see-“

“What in the goddamn hell do you think you’re doing?”

The alien’s mouth curled upward, making Moss hate him all the more.

“I do not believe I know of what you are speaking,” he said.

Moss had never been a fan of the Eon. Despite being a peaceful, advanced race, the Eon always seemed to hold an air of superiority about them. They reminded him of pseudo-intellectuals who rattled off meaningless facts as a way to prove how smart they were.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” he shot back. “You went behind my back and gave my team orders.”

“Your task has taken too much time,” Impav responded. “Steps must be taken to expedite the process.”

“By turning our only witness into a vegetable?!”

“There is no evidence that such an outcome is inevitable.”

“Oh I’m sorry…did you become an expert in human neurology when I wasn’t looking?”

The mouth curl again.

“Need I remind you that I have studied the intricacies of memory extensively,” Impav asked.

Moss scoffed.

“And I haven’t?”

Impav’s expression remained unflinching.

“I did not intend to question your expertise, Mr. Moss.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” Moss replied, barely attempting to hide his sarcasm.

“However, I question your ability to achieve the desired result.”

Moss’ eyes narrowed, glowing with fiery fury.

“Excuse me?”

“We have undertaken thirty-seven individual memory recovery sessions, and we are still no closer to finding answers.”

“Oh I see…and uh…what are your thoughts what occurred during our last session.” Impav’s mouth began to open but Moss cut him off. “Oh yeah,” he said, “I forgot…you weren’t there. They tell me you’re here to oversee the investigation, but you barely ever bother to show your damn face! So do not sit there and tell me my ability to do the job is flawed when you hardly even do yours.”

Moss often wondered why Impav didn’t just use his species natural ability to calm people down. The Eon were capable of releasing chemicals into the air that would instantaneously lull all nearby into a peaceful trance. Maybe he figures it’s beneath him, Moss thought to himself.

Impav straightened himself up.

“Mr. Moss…I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that the United Earth Government is anxious for answers as to what happened on board that vessel. They are growing more and more impatient with the lack of results. If you do not provide them with a satisfactory outcome, then they will find someone who will. With that in mind, you are to begin a new session today.”

Moss stared at him, incredulous.

What? We’ve barely just completed memory regression. We need to give him a couple of days to rest before we try again.”

“What we need are answers, Mr. Moss. That is what you are being paid for.”

Moss took a step forward, glaring straight into Impav’s face. The alien stood over two meters tall, meaning Moss only came up to about his neck. And yet, he wasn’t intimidated in the slightest.

“You know what,” he said, his voice low. “You go tell those jackoffs to put down their wine glasses, crawl out of their mansions, and fly up here to see for themselves. And if they still question my ability to produce results, then they can fire me all they want. But until then? This is still my show. The…intricacies of the human brain are my area of expertise. Understood?”

And with that, he turned and stormed out the door.

“Where are you going, Mr. Moss,” Impav called after him.

“To do my goddamn job!”

 

Through the slim windows of the sliding doors, Moss could see the young man was sitting awake in his hospital bed. He sighed quietly.

God I hate this conversation…

Steeling himself and taking a deep breath, Moss stepped inside the room.

“Sidney Lehmann?”

“Yes?”

“I’m Russell Moss. It’s nice to meet you.”

The two shook hands. Sidney looked altogether fragile in his blue hospital gown.

“Sidney,” Moss began, “I know this whole thing seems strange to you, but I need to ask you a question: what’s the last thing you remember?”

Sidney rubbed his forehead.

“Not much,” he replied. “I remember being on the Celeste. We got diverted to an asteroid field to mine some resources. But after that it’s all just…blank. The next thing I know, I’m sitting in this hospital bed.”

Moss clasped his hands together.

“Okay, let’s start small: you’re on the space station Orion, in orbit around Earth.”

“I’m back at Earth?”

“Yes. There was an incident aboard the Celeste…and you were brought here afterwards.”

“Incident? What incident?”

“We don’t exactly know. All we know is that the ship returned to Earth under autopilot.”

Sidney’s face went pale.

“The crew? Are they…” He trailed off.

Moss sighed.

“You were the only survivor kid…I’m sorry.”

There was a long period of silence as the news sunk in for Sidney. He looked down at his hands and twiddled his thumbs sadly. Moss waited patiently.

“What…what happened to me,” Sidney finally asked, looking back up.

“We don’t know for sure. You were discovered in your quarters, sitting in the corner. You were out of sorts, muttering to yourself.”

No point in mentioning the blood, Moss thought to himself. It wouldn’t do much good anyways…

“Why am I here,” Sidney asked.

“We think you can tell us what happened on board that ship,” Moss explained.

“But…how? I don’t remember anything.”

“That’s the thing: you actually do. The memories are still there. They’re just…locked away. Our best guess is that you repressed them due to the experience being traumatic. Have you ever heard of a Limbic Stimulator?”

“I think so…it was built to help people with memory problems…those with dementia, Alzheimer’s, that sort of thing.”

“Very good. Well…that’s what we’re planning on using for you. Hopefully we can guide you through the memories and you’ll be able to tell us exactly what happened.”

Sidney gazed down at his hands again for a moment. When he looked back up, he had a strangely vacant look in his eyes.

“We’ve had this conversation before…haven’t we?”

Moss averted his eyes. Unable to help himself, he sigh aloud. Every time…

“Yes,” he said finally.

Sidney turned to him, distant look still in his eyes.

“I’ve asked that question before, haven’t I?”

“Yes…yes you have.”

Sidney paused for a moment.

“How…long have I been here,” he asked.

“Well,” Moss began, “if I have my days correct, it’ll be three months tomorrow.”

“Three months?”

“Yeah…”

In the silence that followed, the only sound was the natural hum of the space station. Moss felt bad for Sidney. He seemed like a nice kid. He didn’t deserve what happened to him. He didn’t deserve to be held here like a lab rat or a prisoner. But the government wanted answers, and they were going to get them by any means possible.

“So…when do we start,” Sidney asked.

“Well…we can start in the next couple of hours. But that’s entirely up to you. If you want to rest, that’s fine. There’s no need to push yourself too-“

“Let’s do it.”

“You sure kid?”

The two locked eyes. The seriousness in Sidney’s gaze was obvious.

“I want to know what happened to me.”

“Well all right then…I’ll go inform the others and we can get everything set up. I’ll be back for you in a couple of hours.”

Moss stood up and began to leave.

“Hey…Mr. Moss?”

Moss paused and turned around.

“Yeah?”

“Can I ask one more question?”

“Certainly.”

“After all this time…you must be really tired of having this conversation huh?”

And, for the first time in what felt like ages, Moss laughed.

 

“Systems powering up…connections stable…” The female lab tech turned to him. “You may proceed when ready.”

“Excellent.” Moss pressed a button that activated his microphone. “How are you feeling Sidney?”

“I’m okay I guess,” came the response. “This feels weird.”

“You’ll get used to it, trust me. Computer?” There was a brief chirp. “Begin audio and video recording. Note the date and time. File name ‘Session thirty-eight’.”

“Complying,” a computerized female voice replied. “Audio and video recording initiated.”

Moss gazed through the glass window into the hospital room, eyes focused on the still form of Sidney. A dark gray metal device was in place over his eyes, a series of three green lights on top blinking in rhythmic succession. Sidney himself seemed calm, lying nearly motionless in his white hospital bed. But Moss knew appearances could be deceiving.

Thirty-eighth time’s the charm, Moss told himself. He just wished he actually believed that.

“All right Sidney, you ready?”

“I think so.”

“Okay…we’re going to put you under now. Just let the Stimulator do its job. It’ll feel like you’re peacefully falling asleep.”

 

The ship’s alarm shrieked.

“What the hell happened,” the captain asked, bolting up out of his chair.

“Sir we’ve detected an impact on the ship’s hull,” another officer reported.

“Damage?”

“Checking…there doesn’t appear to be any discernible impact to the hull’s integrity.”

“Then shut that alarm off,” the captain ordered. A moment later, the shrieking ceased. “Damn thing’s too sensitive,” he muttered. He began reaching for a button on his armrest, but abruptly froze in place.

“All right Sidney,” the voice of Moss said in his ear, “we’re going to speed things along here.”

“You’ve seen all this before,” he asked.

“Yes,” Moss’ voice replied. “As far as we can tell, there’s nothing of value in this memory. So please, continue.”

 

“First, I went down to the cargo bay,” Sidney recalled.

“Why?”

“I have a friend who works the night shift down there. I went to meet up with him, just to have a quick chat.”

The walls of the lift faded away and were replaced by a massive gray-walled room filled with red storage containers. A man with short black hair, blue eyes, and dirt on his face looked over from his position behind a small, gray storage crate. He smiled and waved.

“That’s Cecil. We talked for a little while.”

“What about?”

“Some science-fiction movie he wanted me to watch. I didn’t really pay much attention to it.”

“I take it you’re not a movie person?”

“No…I prefer to read.”

There was a pause.

“I’ve told you all this before…haven’t I,” Sidney asked.

“Yes…but don’t worry about it,” Moss’ voice said. “We need you to take us through this linearly. It’s the best approach we have to reawakening your repressed memories.”

“Anything else you need me to do here?”

“Not really…your conversation with Cecil seems to have little impact on future events.” Another pause. “Unless…there’s something new you remember.”

Sidney pondered for a moment.

“Actually…there is.”

 

“-really great old movie,” Cecil was saying. “It’s about this crew of a cargo ship. They come out of stasis because the ship picks up this distress call coming from a nearby planet. When they go down there they find this crashed alien vessel that’s been there for god knows how long.”

“I see,” Sidney said, barely paying attention.

“It’s really good,” Cecil continued. “It was revolutionary for the time because of its strong, female protagonist. You should give it a watch sometime.”

“Eh,” Sidney replied. “You know me Cecil…I’m not much into movies.”

“Come on man…you never know until you-“

He was cut off by a sudden, distant bang that echoed through the cargo bay. Sidney jumped at the noise and Cecil whirled around in its direction. The echo faded away and all was silent again. There was a short period where nothing was said. Then, Cecil chuckled.

“Ah…it was nothing,” he said, turning around. His expression grew concerned. “Sid…you okay?”

Sidney was hyperventilating, his fingers twitching and his face clammy. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Gradually, the oppressive feeling of panic floated away.

“I’m fine,” he said finally.

“You sure about that bud,” Cecil asked. “You didn’t look fine.”

“I’m fine,” Sidney insisted.

Cecil shot him a disbelieving look.

“Okay then…look just get some rest at least. For me?”

“Sure,” Sidney said. “I’ll see you later.”

“Later man.”

 

“Hmmm,” the voice of Moss mumbled in his ear.

“I never told you that before,” Sidney asked.

“No.”

“I wonder why.”

“You probably just forgot. Memory is a tricky thing after all. Let’s continue.”

Sidney had lied. He didn’t wonder why he never mentioned it. He knew exactly why. His…condition…the propensity for panic attacks…it made him feel weak. It made him feel like a burden to everyone around him. How are people supposed to trust him when, in the most crucial of moments, he could end up frozen with fear?

It had been that way since he was a child. Every now and then, something would trigger it. He had felt lucky that he could bring it under control so easily that time.

The walls of the cargo bay slipped away and Sidney found himself in his quarters, staring at his bed.

 

“What do you make of that sir,” the female lab tech was asking.

“His panic attack? I’m not sure,” Moss said. “Initially we thought that his condition might have been a factor in whatever happened, but never uncovered any proof of it. In fact, I doubt it’s related at all to whatever happened on the Celeste. But…I suppose every little bit helps. Computer?” Chirp “Make a note on the recording and time stamp the moment of Sidney’s panic attack in the cargo bay.”

“Complying…time stamp recorded.”

“Excellent.”

“So what next,” the lab tech asked.

“We keep going,” Moss replied. “Simple as that.”

 

“No need to be so formal,” the captain said with a laugh. “What do you read?”

“Books mostly.”

“Non-fiction?”

“Fiction sir.”

“Ah good…nothing gets the mind going like a little imagination,” the captain said…his smile growing wider and wider.

The smile refused to waver. Sidney could hear each palpitation of his heart. His hands began to sweat, and his breathing grew shallow and rapid.

“Sir…his adrenaline is spiking,” a voice said in the distance

“Damn it…okay…Sidney? Listen to me,” the voice of Moss said. “Take a deep breath…just like you did in the cargo bay. You can do this Sid…I believe in you.”

Sidney closed his eyes, trying not to be overwhelmed by the darkness behind them. He breathed in…and out.

In…and out.

Miraculously, it worked. His heart no longer sounded like it was lodged in his ear and his body stopped shaking in short order. He opened his eyes.

The captain was moving again, typing away on his keyboard.

“In fact…I could use someone with a little imagination right now,” he said.

“What is it sir,” Sidney asked.

“You remember that piece of debris that struck the ship when we dropped out of FTL?”

Sidney’s heart jumped.

“Yes…”

“Well apparently it or some piece of it still remains lodged in our hull.”

“How did a piece of rock get stuck on our hull?”

The captain turned away from the screen.

“That’s the thing Sidney…it’s not a rock.”

Sidney’s eyes went wide.

“Wha-what do you mean?”

“What I mean is that the object is metallic and most likely artificial in nature.”

“As in…it was created?”

“Exactly.”

“But then…who made it?”

“That’s the real question, isn’t it?” He turned, pressed a button, and brought something up on the holographic projection. “Take a look at this.”

Sidney leaned in close and squinted. After a moment, he stood back up and shrugged.

“I don’t get it sir,” he said. “I can tell it’s sensor data…but there’s nothing there.”

“Exactly.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I. But apparently, whenever we scan that section of the hull…it’s as if the object isn’t there at all.”

“So it’s invisible to sensors?”

“Well not so much invisible as our sensors register…nothing. Like it’s just a void of…nonexistence. But it gets even stranger than that. I got a call from maintenance shortly after I left the bridge earlier this evening. I didn’t really understand what they were talking about until I got down there and saw it for myself.” The captain paused, struggling for words. “It’s as if…you can hardly see it with the naked eye.”

Sidney gave the captain a vacant stare. He was dumbfounded.

“What…what do you mean?”

“Well it’s like…ugh I can’t explain it very well…but when you’re looking at it…it’s like your eyes can’t see it…or rather, they don’t want to see it. Every time I look away from the thing I can’t recall any particulars about it at all…just the vaguest sense of an egg-like shape and metallic construction. I think it’s black in color…but who really knows.”

“H-how would something like that affect our minds? It’s just a hunk of metal,” Sidney stammered.

“I don’t know. I was hoping you might have an idea.”

“Sorry captain…I can’t say I’ve ever heard of anything like it.”

“Don’t worry about it Sidney. I don’t think anyone has.”

The captain pondered for a moment.

“Here’s the thing though: the small size and shape of the thing got me thinking: maybe it’ssssssssssss aaaaaaaaaaaan escaaaaaaaaaa-“

The captain’s voice abruptly stop as he froze in place. The scene before Sidney shimmered, faint white trails of code streaming out of everything: the walls, the desk, the captain, all of it. He backed away and raised his head toward the ceiling.

“Moss?! What’s going on,” he shouted.

There was no response. The world began to quake, the walls of the captain’s office bending and shimmering like ocean waves. Sidney could feel the sweat on his brow, the cold dampness that chilled his entire being.

“Is anybody there,” he yelled at the top of his lungs.

“I’m here Sidney,” Moss’ voice said. “Take a deep breath. Calm yourself.”

In…and out, he thought. In……and out.

“What happened,” Sidney managed to ask. “Why did everything stop?”

“We don’t know,” Moss admitted. “It’s strange…but it’s almost like your memories are fighting us.”

“What? How is that possible?”

“I have no idea. I’ve never seen anything like this before Sidney. I wish I had answers for you. Can you focus and push past it like before?”

“I’ll try.”

Sidney closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing. He could feel the world pulsing around him, beating to the tune of his heart. He visualized it as best as he could. The captain’s mouth moving again…the walls retaking their former, solid shape…

But a moment later, he opened his eyes and let out a sigh.

“Nothing,” he said aloud. “I…I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault Sidney,” Moss’ voice assured him. “You can’t help it.”

Sidney turned his eyes on the frozen image of the captain. He was hunched over the keyboard, his fingers frozen in mid-stroke. What were you going to show me, he wondered. What happened to you…what happened to the rest of the crew?

“Sidney?”

“Yes?”

“We’re going to try something,” Moss explained. “It’s a little dangerous, but as far as we can tell there’s no other option.”

That didn’t sound good.

“What’s your plan,” he asked hesitantly.

“Direct electrical stimulation of your brain. We know the memories are still there. They’re just dormant. Hopefully, the stimulation will release the block on those memories and allow you to continue forward.”

There was a moment of silence.

“Okay Sidney, get ready…in three…”

Sidney took a deep breath.

“Two…”

His hands twitched.

“One.”

He brought the base of the model ship down on the captain’s skull

                                                                                                               skull

                                                                                                               skull

                                                                                                                         sending chunks of flesh and brain matter raining down onto the desk. His expression never

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     never

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                wavered. Blood splattered into his eyes, but Sidney never blinked. He raised the model high above his head and-

The man screamed as the bullets tore

                                                             tore

                                                                     through his flesh. The assault rifle kicked back against Sidney’s shoulder. His eyes never left their target, his fingers firmly holding down the trigger until the rifle went click

                   click

                   click

                             telling him the gun was empty. He thumbed a button, letting the ammo magazine fall to the ground and calmly loaded in another, taking aim and-

The stench of sizzling flesh

                                        flesh

                                        flesh

                                        flesh

                                                  filled his nostrils as the torch burned a hole in his victim’s eye socket. A swirling mass of blood and charred skin fused together as the man screamed in anguish. Sidney pushed the torch deeper and deeper, feeling the burning flesh dripping onto his wrist.

The screams

       screams

       screams

       screams

                      and the smell of charred flesh echoed endlessly through his mind, a swirling nightmare that never ceased assaulting him. Images of murder and torture flashed by faster and faster, as if someone had their finger jammed down on fast-forward.

Eventually, Sidney realized that the screams were his own.

 

“The hell is going on,” Moss shouted, shooting up from his chair.

“I don’t know sir,” the female tech said. “We just finished stimulating his brain and-” She trailed off, staring through the glass into the hospital room.

Sidney was screaming, his voice a terrifying shriek and his body thrashing back and forth. The two technicians in the room were trying to hold him down, but to no avail. The bed rocked back and forth under his spastic convulsions. Moss was surprised it hadn’t broken yet.

“What do we do sir,” the female tech asked.

Moss didn’t have an answer. He looked down at the video playback screen. This was worse than anything they had seen before. The ghastly images swirled around over and over again, sometimes so fast that he could barely comprehend them.

“It’s like he’s stuck in a loop,” he said. “I keep seeing the same few things over and over again.”

Suddenly, he noticed the technician standing next to him was staring at her own hologram.

“What? What is it,” he asked.

“You’re right sir…you are seeing the same images over and over again. And according to my readings, he is experiencing multiple sets of memories at once.”

Ice filled Moss’ veins.

“How many?”

“Excuse me sir?”

“How many sets of memories is he experiencing,” Moss asked.

The technician hit a few buttons, stopped, and turned to him with a face drained of color.

“If my calculations are correct…thirty-eight individual sets.”

The two of them stared at each other for a moment. Then Moss slammed his hand down on the intercom button.

“Sedate him and shut it down!”

“But sir-” one of the techs began.

“Shut the goddamn thing down now and put him under! That’s an order!”

 

“Mr. Moss? What happened in there?”

Moss remained silent and sat staring at his hands.

“Mr. Moss…I must insist that you be forthcoming with me.”

“I think,” Moss began, “we released the block on his memories.”

“Would that not be considered a success,” Impav asked.

“No you don’t understand,” he said, looking up. “We released the block on all of them. He was remembering every single one of his previous sessions. Instead of being flooded with one set of deranged nightmares he had over three dozen of them playing out at in his head at the same time. If we hadn’t stopped when we did…I don’t think there would have been anything left of Sidney.”

During the silence that followed, Moss glanced across the Commons Area at a new arrival, another white-robed alien seated at a table across from them. In reality, he wasn’t actually new…Moss had seen him at some of their previous exchanges. The alien never said anything. He just…observed. It made Moss uncomfortable, but he saw it as just another thing he had to put up with.

“Another failure,” Impav said with a sigh. He turned away and gazed out the window into space. “Thirty-eight sessions…and no results. Sounds like things are going to have to-”

“You do realize this is probably your fault, right,” Moss blurted out.

Impav turned back around, a look of what could be construed as hostility on his face.

“I regret the turn events have taken with this recent endeavor,” he said after a moment. “But it is not I that chose to stimulate Mr. Lehmann’s dormant brain matter. If I remember correctly, it was you who made that decision.”

“Oh cut the shit already,” Moss shot back. “You forced my hand. If you hadn’t insisted we undertake another session so quickly, Sidney would have had time to rest and the memory block we put on him would have been stronger. It’s you and the rest of those politicians down on Earth who think they can just push things to get what they want.”

“Mr. Moss-”

“No…I’m done listening to you. You never take part in the sessions. You only watch them afterwards.”

Moss saw the look on Impav’s face and his jaw dropped.

“My god,” he said, standing up slowly. “You don’t even watch the recordings, do you?”

Impav averted his gaze in an almost embarrassed manner.

“I…peruse them when I have the time.”

“You…peruse them? What the hell does that even mean?”

The look of shame on the alien’s face vanished quickly, replaced by his familiar expression of haughty indignation.

“Mr. Moss, I am far too occupied with other tasks to be constantly focused on you and your team.”

“That’s a load of shit if I’ve ever heard one.”

“Excuse me?”

“The only thing you seem occupied with is giving orders behind my back!”

In the midst of everything, Moss noticed that his words got the attention of the other Eon. The alien sat up with a look of intense contemplation.

“Mr. Moss,” Impav said, standing up as straight as he could, “I am growing weary of your constant petulance.”

“If you’re trying to intimidate me, it won’t work,” Moss replied.

“I am not using intimidation. Such tactics are-”

“Beneath you? You really are a prick, you know that?”

The alien squinted.

“I do not understand what that means.”

“It means ‘fuck you’, that’s what it means.”

In all his life, Moss couldn’t say he had ever seen an Eon get mad. But Impav’s expression in that moment was the closest he figured any of them could get. The alien’s mouth curled into a grimace so sour that Moss almost believed he would resort to violence right then and there.

“Is it true?”

Both of their gazes turned to the still-seated Eon. The alien lifted his head and gazed directly into Impav’s eyes.

“Is…what true,” Impav asked, taken off guard by the sudden interruption.

“Is it true what he said,” the Eon asked, pointing toward Moss. “Did you give orders without consulting him?”

Another brief silence.

“If you are referring to my order to allow Mr. Lehmann’s dormant memories to surface…then yes.”

“We don’t even know for sure that they’re his real memories,” Moss spoke up.

“Mr. Moss-”

“Enough,” the second Eon interrupted. “Both of you.” He stood up from the table he was seated at. Moss noted that he was a little taller than Impav. He felt like a child watching adults fighting.

“However…Mr. Moss is correct,” the Eon said. “There is no reliable evidence that those…visions Mr. Lehmann experiences are representative of what actually transpired.”

“This is preposterous,” Impav objected. “I have studied the intricacies-”

“-of memory extensively,” the Eon finished. “Yes yes…we have all heard your speech before.”

Moss couldn’t believe it, but he was actually enjoying himself. All he was missing was a bucket of popcorn.

“And what business is it of yours,” Impav was saying. “You are here as an observer and a recorder. You have no power over this investigation.”

The other Eon said nothing. He simply rolled up the sleeve on his robe, revealing a symbol branded onto the back of his right hand in thick black ink. It looked like a pair of parentheses enclosing a small black dot in the center. Moss had no idea what it meant, but he could see the impact it had on Impav.

“You are-” Impav froze for a moment, clearly in shock. “You are a member of the Council?”

Then, in what had to be the most satisfying moment of the whole thing, Moss saw an honest-to-god smile crawl across the other Eon’s face.

“I am Ardan,” he announced, “arbitrator, observer, and member of the Eon High Council of Science. You are relieved of your duties here Impav. A shuttle will be along to collect you during the next Earth day.”

“But…but I-” Impav began to object, but Ardan held up a hand to stop him.

“The Council has spoken,” Ardan said. Then he turned and walked through a nearby entryway, leaving Impav and Moss alone. Impav turned to him, his expression one of utter disbelief. Moss flashed him a smile.

“The Council has spoken,” he said. Then he too got up from his seat and exited the room, leaving Impav standing alone with a downcast expression on his face.

 

Moss spent a long time staring through the giant viewing window at the empty hospital bed. It felt like he had spent years in this room. But it had only been three months since he first arrived on the station.

Two days had passed since Impav was removed from his position. Moss wasn’t sorry to see him go, but wasn’t too keen on having a new master either. He hadn’t seen much of Ardan since he walked out of the Commons Area those couple of days ago, so he wasn’t sure what to think of him. Moss’ initial impression was that he seemed more levelheaded than Impav was, or at least less self-important. But even so, he wasn’t ready to trust him.

And now today was the start of another session. In just a few hours they would wake Sidney up and Moss would have to have the same conversation. He wasn’t looking forward to it, but he knew it had to be done. They had to get to the bottom of things. And to do that, they had to force Sidney to relive it all over again.

The sound of the automatic door opening reached his ears.

“Hello, Mr. Moss.”

Moss spun around in his chair to find the Eon Ardan standing in the doorway, holding a holographic computer tablet in his hands.

“I was wondering if you had a moment to discuss-”

Moss held up a hand to stop him.

“Look, I’m glad you sided with me over Impav, but let’s get something straight here: this is my team, this is my operation. If you think you’re going to just sit back and tell me what to do, you’re mistaken.”

“On the contrary Mr. Moss,” Ardan replied, “I have no intention of being lax in my duties the way my predecessor was. In fact, I had a theory about how best to bring forth Mr. Lehmann’s memories.”

“Let’s hear it.”

“Well, in my review of the previous session recordings, it appears that your last one was the only one that showed any significant progress in quite some time.”

Moss sighed.

“We were so close…so close. But it all went to hell again. And then…” Moss paused for a second. “And then I made the worst decision I ever could have.”

“I must disagree.”

Moss looked up in surprise.

“What?”

“While the result was not at all what we wanted, your decision was the only logical one to make at the time. Since Mr. Lehmann appeared incapable of moving the memories forward of his own volition, you chose to take action. I must commend that.”

Moss was dumbfounded. “I…” he stuttered. “Thank you?”

Ardan chuckled.

“I see you are not used to such forthcoming discussion.”

Moss had to smile a little.

“I guess I’m not.”

“In any case, I believe it was you that helped Mr. Lehmann move forward, even if only for a brief time.”

“Me?”

“Precisely,” Ardan replied. “You used your words to calm him, to direct him away from his feelings of panic. Which is why I believe some changes in our next session will yield better results. But before we begin, I have something else I wish to discuss with you. I would like you to take a look at this.”

Ardan handed Moss the holographic tablet. Moss stared at the screen for a short time. It was clearly a graph of some kind. A sharp green line showed a downward trend. Notations on the side indicated an amount of some kind and notations on the bottom indicated time.

After a minute, Moss shrugged and handed the tablet back.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “What does it mean?”

“It is the inventory log for the Celeste‘s food stores over the last three months.”

Moss’ eyes went wide.

“Wait a minute…you mean the food has been disappearing? As in…being eaten?

“That is precisely what I mean.”

His brain went into overdrive.

“The strange object…the captain’s description of it being artificial…the banging in the cargo bay…oh my god.” He looked up at Ardan. “You think the Celeste had a stowaway, don’t you?”

“Has…Mr. Moss. I don’t believe whoever or whatever boarded that ship ever left.”

Moss got up from his seat.

“We need to send a team aboard that ship! Whatever is still on board might hold the key to understanding what happened!”

“Calm yourself Mr. Moss…we have already sent a team aboard the ship. However, they were unable to uncover the hiding place of any creature that may still be aboard the Celeste. To that end, Mr. Lehmann remains our best and only hope at finding the truth.”

Moss sighed.

“I’ll go get him up to speed,” he said, then walked out of the room.

 

I really hope this is the last time I have to do this, Moss thought to himself. He could see Sidney through the window, sitting up in his bed. For both our sakes…

“Sidney Lehmann,” he asked as he entered.

“That’s me.”

“I’m Russell Moss. It’s nice to meet you.”

They shook hands.

“Look Sidney,” Moss began, “I know this is all strange for you, but I need to ask you something: what’s the last thing you remember?”

“Not much,” Sidney admitted. “I remember being on the Celeste. We were diverted to an asteroid field to mine resources. But after that it’s just…blank. The next thing I know I’m sitting here in this hospital bed.”

“Okay…let’s start small: you’re on the space station Orion, in orbit around Earth.”

“I’m back at Earth?”

“Yes you are…there was an incident…and…Sidney? Are you okay?”

Sidney had a vacant look on his face.

“I’ve had this conversation before, haven’t I?”

 

When Moss and Ardan stepped into the Stimulator room, there were now three beds instead of just one.

“So run me through this again,” Moss said. “How is this going to work?”

“It is quite simple,” Ardan replied. “We use secondary connections to the Stimulator to allow two extra individuals to connect with and accompany Mr. Lehmann on his explorations of his memories.”

“And those two individuals will be…?”

“Why, you and I of course.”

“Sir.” Moss turned to see one of the lab technicians motioning him toward the bed. “Please lay down.”

Moss complied, sitting down on the bed and swinging his legs up. Sidney was already in his bed, the metal face plate of the Stimulator covering his eyes. Moss laid his head back and got comfortable. A technician appeared above him and began placing electrodes on his forehead. They chilled his skin.

“Hey Sid,” Moss said.

“Yeah,” came the reply.

“This is going to be a stressful ride. Are you ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be, sir. I just want to find out what happened.”

Me too bud, he thought. Me too…

Several minutes later, the technicians finished their job. Moss heard the automatic door opening and closing. Then, the three of them were alone.

“Okay,” a voice said over the intercom a minute later. “Is everyone ready?”

Moss gave the window a thumbs up.

“Good. We’ll start synchronizing the connections in a moment.”

Moss took a deep breath. He had never done anything like this before. He had never even thought of doing something like this before. But it was too late to start having reservations now.

“Synchronization in three…two…”

 

“One.”

Moss gasped. He looked around. There was nothing but an endless sea of blackness.

“Did it work,” he asked aloud.

“Yes…it appears so.”

Out of the inky blackness a swirling figure formed. It shaped itself into Ardan, white robe and all.

“Mr. Lehmann,” Ardan asked. “Are you ready to begin?”

“Yes,” came the reply.

Moss turned around to find Sidney standing directly behind him.

“Very good,” Ardan said. “Let us get started.”

 

“I thought this area was supposed to be clear of debris?”

“It’s not his fault captain,” an officer chimed in. “What struck us was too small to be picked up on long-range scanners.”

The captain let out a small chuckle. “The hazards of space travel huh? Expect the unexpected.” He stood up and stretched. “Well it’s getting late. I’ll be down in my quarters if anyone needs me.” He made his way toward the lift.

Sidney watched him go and then stared straight ahead. His hands were shaking, his palms sweaty.

“Sidney,” a voice called to him. He turned to find Moss standing over him. “Don’t blame yourself for what happened. There’s no way you could have known.”

“I know,” Sidney said. “But it’s so hard not to.”

“I get it Sid,” Moss said. “I really do. When I was younger I had a friend who suffered from anxiety attacks. It’s not easy…I know. Just focus on your breathing and you’ll be fine.”

Sidney focused, taking several deep breaths. In…and out. In…and out. In……and out.

“Okay,” he said finally, turning to face Moss. “What next?”

 

From there, it was just going through the motions.

They went down to the cargo bay, watched Sidney have his conversation with Cecil, and then heard the unexplained clanging Sidney mentioned in a previous session. Ardan noted that the sound was definitely metallic in nature.

It was all familiar: Sidney going to bed, being woken up by the captain’s call, then making his way to the captain’s quarters.

As the three of them strolled in, Moss felt like there was a giant boulder in his stomach. After having seen the abominable images Sidney’s mind threw up every time they got to this point, he wasn’t really looking forward to experiencing it firsthand.

But they had to push through. They had to know.

“H-how would something like that affect our minds? It’s just a hunk of metal,” Sidney was saying.

“I don’t know. I was hoping you might have an idea.”

“Sorry captain…I can’t say I’ve ever heard of anything like it.”

“Don’t worry about it Sidney. I don’t think anyone has.”

The captain pondered for a moment.

“Here’s the thing though: the small size and shape of the thing got me thinking. Maybe it’ssssssssssss aaaaaaaaaaaan escaaaaaaaaaa-“

Just like last time, the captain slowed to a stop and the room began to flicker. Moss looked over at Sidney and saw his hands start to shake.

“Heart rate increasing…adrenaline spiking,” a voice said in his ear.

“Sidney,” Moss said gently, taking a step forward, “focus on me.”

Sidney turned to him, his eyes wild with fear.

“You can do this Sidney…you know you can.”

Moss wasn’t so sure…but hid his doubts as best he could. Sidney stared at him, his eyes twitching. Sweat began to drizzle down his brow.

“Mr. Lehmann,” Ardan said. “Listen to him. Focus. Clear your mind.”

“Sid…focus on breathing. Nothing else…just focus on-”

The world snapped. The next thing Moss knew, Sidney was pummeling the back of the captain’s head with the model ship.

“Oh god damn it,” he exclaimed aloud. “Sidney…stop!” He rushed forward to try and pry the ship from Sidney’s hand. But suddenly, everything rushed away from him into darkness. Gray walls shot in from all directions. Moss found himself standing in a hallway, watching as Sidney strolled past with an assault rifle in his hands. He raised the gun and pointed it at a nearby crew member. The man screamed as bullets went flying.

“Sidney! Listen to me,” Moss shouted. He made an effort to tear the gun from Sidney’s hands, but froze in shock after his fingers went right through Sidney, as if he was nothing more than a ghost.

The world changed again. This time, they were in a dimly lit room with crates strewn about. Moss watched as Sidney set down a pistol and grabbed a plasma torch. He advanced on a cowering crew member who had gaping holes in his knees.

“Sid!” But he showed no response. He grabbed the person’s hair and forced his head backward.

“Not again…Sidney!

A click. A flickering blue flame. Sidney’s expression remained impassive as he brought the flame closer to his victim’s eye.

SIDNEY,” Moss screamed as loud as he could.

Then suddenly, everything froze. Moss found himself overwhelmed by a comforting feeling of peace.

“Mr. Lehmann,” a voice said. “Look at me.”

Sidney dropped the plasma torch on the ground, a harsh clanging noise echoing through the chamber. He turned around, an expression of calm plastered on his face.

And suddenly Ardan was there, standing beside him. A strange, bright purple aura emanated from his eyes and his entire body. Moss wasn’t sure if it was real or just another hallucination. But he knew exactly what had happened: Ardan had used his species natural ability, and now their brains were being flooded by feel-good chemicals.

“Mr. Lehmann, are you okay,” Ardan asked.

“Yes,” Sidney replied calmly. “I’m good.”

“Excellent…now, I want you to look at this person.”

Sidney turned and locked his eyes on the man frozen in a state of terror.

“Do you recognize him?”

Sidney squinted.

“No,” he replied.

“That’s because he never existed.”

“What do you mean,” Moss chimed in. Ardan turned to him, his body still alight in a purple haze.

“You were correct in your assertion that these memories were false, Mr. Moss,” the alien said. “These…people were never people at all, but mere amalgamations of those on board the Celeste. They were…constructions which made it appear as though Sidney murdered them.”

“How do you know this,” Moss asked. His body was still tingling.

“I attempted to cross-reference the images of the people Sidney was seen murdering with those of the crew. It never resulted in a match.”

“But…I killed them,” Sidney insisted. “I know I did. I just saw it!”

“What you are seeing never happened, Mr. Lehmann. And I can prove it to you. Take us back to the captain.”

Sidney closed his eyes. In an instant, the walls of the cargo bay disappeared and the captain’s office rushed toward them.

“Look him over and tell me if something seems wrong,” Ardan said.

Sidney opened his eyes and walked back and forth in front of the captain for what felt like minutes. Suddenly, he leaned over and stared directly into the captain’s eyes. His mouth opened.

“His eyes,” Sidney muttered. “They’re…green. I thought they were blue.”

“They are blue, Mr. Lehmann.”

Sidney was shocked.

“You mean…this isn’t the captain at all? It’s just another…’construction’?”

“Yes…and his hair is not an exact match either. This version of the captain and the others you thought you saw yourself murder are nothing but falsehoods to blind you from seeing the truth.”

“But how do we get to the truth,” Sidney asked, standing back up.

“That is something only you can do. Focus, Mr. Lehmann. Focus…and show us what happened on board that ship.”

Sidney closed his eyes…

 

“Here’s the thing though: the small size and shape of the thing got me thinking. Maybe it’s an escape pod.”

“Escape pod? You mean like…from another ship?”

“Exactly.”

“But…what ship?”

“I have no idea Sidney,” the captain said. “But this thing was obviously built by intelligent hands. There’s just no way it’s a natural occurrence.”

“So…you think whoever…or whatever occupied this pod might be…on board?”

“No need to whisper Sidney. And yes…I do. But the question is how to find it? No one reported anything unusual.”

Sidney remembered.

“Actually sir, I did hear a strange clanging noise in the cargo bay earlier tonight.”

“Cargo bay?” The captain was confused. “Why were you down there?”

“Visiting a friend sir. I thought little of it at the time…but now…”

“Now you’re thinking it might indicate where our mysterious stowaway is hiding, if there is one. Good work Sid.” The captain got up from his desk. “But that still doesn’t solve the matter of how we actually find it. If the creature holds technology similar to what hides its escape pod, then we’ll just be stumbling around in the dark.”

A light bulb went on in Sidney’s head.

“Maybe you don’t search for it at all.”

The captain turned to him.

“What do you mean,” he asked.

“Maybe you search for what isn’t there.”

“I’m not following…”

“You showed me the sensor data right? It picked up an empty void where you knew the object was,” Sidney explained. “Well…maybe whatever was in that pod works in much the same way.”

The captain’s eyes lit up.

“Ah…you’re thinking it cloaks itself from detection by making it appear as if there is nothing there. So instead of searching for the creature…we search for the void. That’s…brilliant Sidney! Truly inspired thinking.”

“Thank you sir.” Sidney was afraid he would start blushing.

“We’ll have to modify some handheld scanners to search for that specifically. I’ll grab some of the crew and get to work.”

“I’ll go with,” Sidney volunteered.

“No that’s okay Sid,” the captain shook his head. “You’re young…you don’t have any combat experience. And if something goes terribly wrong…we may need someone to pilot the ship back home.”

Sidney wanted to argue, but the look on the captain’s face told him no good would come from it.

“Yes sir,” he said, then turned to walk away. When he was halfway out the door, he paused. He turned around to face the captain again.

“Good luck sir,” he said.

“Thanks Sid,” the captain replied. “I imagine we’re going to need it.”

 

“I…I remember.”

Ardan and Moss were standing in the hallway, watching as Sidney made his way toward the lift. A moment later, they were standing in the lift with him.

“After my conversation with the captain, I went back to my quarters and tried to sleep. But I kept tossing and turning in my bed. I couldn’t stop thinking about what the captain had said. And the idea of an unknown creature on board scared the hell out of me.”

“So what did you do,” Moss asked.

“I got up and went back down to the cargo bay. I wanted to see Cecil.”

The scene shifted. Cecil was standing next to a crate, frozen in the motion of talking.

“I convinced him to come with me and see if we could find the source of that strange noise from before,” Sidney’s voice said. The scene shifted again and they were standing over a twisted metal grate. “We found one of the covers to the air vents twisted and broken off,” Sidney explained. Then he paused…a look of intense fear in his eyes.

“Take us through this,” Moss urged. “We need to see it all.”

 

“What could have torn it off like that?”

“I don’t know Sid. I really don’t. God this is bizarre. I keep thinking of that movie…”

“This isn’t a movie Cecil…this is serious!”

“Calm down! There’s probably a good explanation for this.”

Cecil turned to Sidney. When he saw the fear in Sidney’s eyes, he gave him a look.

“Wait a second…you know something I don’t, don’t you? What is it?”

“I…I don’t want to alarm you…”

“Sid please…if something is amiss, I need to know.”

“Well-”

A loud scream abruptly cut them off. An unmistakable burst of gunfire followed. Then, the cargo bay was plunged into deafening silence.

“What the hell was that,” Cecil said. He ran off in the direction of the noise, Sidney at his heels. When they got around the corner, Cecil stopped so abruptly that Sidney almost ran into him.

“Cecil…what is it,” Sidney asked.

Cecil couldn’t respond. Instead, he pointed a shaky finger in the direction he was looking. Sidney followed his gaze. His eyes went wide.

“Ca…captain? Wha…what are you doing,” he stammered.

The captain was standing over the body of a maintenance worker, smoking assault rifle still in his hands. Sidney couldn’t believe it, didn’t want to believe it. But the evidence was too hard to deny.

The captain turned, bringing the assault rifle to bear on the two of them. The look in his eyes was empty…soulless…devoid of any feeling or emotion. A second later, the barrel of the gun was pointed directly at them. Sidney froze in place. He could only wait for the inevitable crack of gunfire…for the searing pain that would rip through his body.

“Sid, run!” Sidney felt a pair of hands shove him out of the line of fire. He bumped into a crate and began falling on his back.

Everything seemed to move in slow-motion. As he fell, he heard the gun go off. Cecil’s body jerked and twisted as it was peppered by bullets. A fine red mist sprayed out of his body as he stumbled backwards. A terrible silence followed, during which the figure of his friend rocked back and forth precariously

Then, Cecil began falling backward. When Sidney caught that dull, vacant look in his eyes, he knew Cecil was gone. He crumpled to the ground and lay there, forever still.

“No no no fuck fuck fuck,” he cursed under his breath.

Sidney found it hard to breathe. But he didn’t have long to think.

The sound of heavy boot steps reached his ears, full of determination and demented purpose.

Sidney scrambled to his feet and bolted for the lift. He had barely rounded the corner when he heard the unmistakable sound of gunfire. Bullets hit the wall above his head, sending sparks flying down. Instinctively, Sidney held his hands above his head with a yell as he continued to run. He made his way into the lift and mashed the button to go to another deck.

The moment before the door closed, he saw the captain stroll around the corner, that same empty look in his eyes. The gun turned in his direction, ready to fire.

The door slammed shut and the lift began to ascend.

Sidney was breathing heavily, his hands sweating. What the hell is going on, he thought to himself. Why would the captain kill one of the maintenance workers? Why would he kill Cecil? Why would he try to kill ME? None of it made any sense. This must be a dream, he thought. Any moment now, I’ll wake up in my bed to find that none of this ever happened.

Just then, the door opened.

Sidney only had a fraction of a second to glimpse the blurred gray outline of something coming at his face before he ducked out of the way. A loud clanging noise echoed through the lift. Sidney scrambled out into the hallway and spun back around.

He recognized the crew member that had tapped him on the shoulder and relieved him from the bridge earlier in the evening. He also recognized the look in the man’s eyes…that dark, empty look…

The crewman began to advance on him, swinging a large metal wrench menancingly.

“Look…it’s me, Sidney! I’m not your enemy.”

A second later, the man raised the wrench into the air and dove at him. Sidney barely managed to dodge out of the way, scrambling backward and falling to the ground. He quickly picked himself up just in time to see the crew member advancing again.

I have to do something…he’ll kill me if I don’t.

Thinking quickly, Sidney rushed forward before the man could react, tackling him back into the lift. He got to his feet as quick as he could, pressing one of the buttons and rushing out the door. The lift closed and began to ascend.

Sidney panted, out of breath. He didn’t have much time before the lift would most likely come back down. There was no way he could shut them off either. He needed command authorization to do that.

There was only one option: hide.

Sidney turned and darted down the hallway, making his way toward the crew quarters. It felt like he was running a marathon. His legs burned with the effort, but adrenaline kept him moving. In a situation like that, it was do or die. And despite his penchant for freezing up at the worst of times, he wasn’t inclined to just stand in place and for his death.

Sidney sprinted around the corner.

And tripped.

Ow,” he yelled out as he hit the ground. He groaned aloud. His hands were slimy and wet. He began to pick himself up and then froze. Dead eyes of hazel gazed back at him. He looked down at his hands and saw that they were covered in blood.

He stood up sharply, taking in the scene for the first time.

“Oh god,” he said aloud.

There must have been at least fifteen different crew members, all lying in various mangled positions along the hallway. Expressions of pain and agony were forever etched onto the faces, a glimpse into their final, dying moments. Sidney glanced down at his uniform. It was stained red with their blood.

“Oh god…oh my god…oh…god,” he mumbled to himself.

He took a step…and fell to the floor again, landing face first in another crimson pool. Sidney jerked his head up, coughing and sputtering. The urge to puke was overwhelming, but somehow he managed to force it back down. He tried to get to his feet and continue down the hallway, but kept slipping and falling on the bloody floor. It was like some kind of horrible slapstick comedy routine. By the time he managed to make it to the end of the hallway, he was covered head to toe in his crewmates’ blood.

Sidney turned around, his wide eyes quivering as he examined the hallway he had just trudged through. He couldn’t say how long he stood there. It could have been seconds. It could have been minutes. Time ceased to have any real meaning for him.

But while he was there, he noticed things. Some of the bodies had obvious signs of being beaten, probably with a large blunt object. A flash of blurred gray metal flickered into his mind, aimed directly for his face. Sidney shook his head, washing away the image. He ran his eyes over more of the bodies. While some had clearly suffered blunt force trauma, others were riddled with bullet holes. It wasn’t until his eyes landed on the gleaming black finish of a pistol clutched in one of their dead hands that the horrible truth revealed itself to him.

They had all killed each other…

With that knowledge, Sidney finally managed to command his legs move again and dashed around the corner, his hand leaving a bloody smear on the wall as he gripped it to steady himself. He kept running until he found himself at his quarters, the door sliding open upon his approach. It had barely closed before Sidney was at the nearby panel, setting it into lockdown mode. The only person that could open that door now…would be him.

Sidney backed away slowly, hitting the wall and sliding down onto the floor. He brought his knees up to his chin and curled into a ball, eyes fastened on the ominous gray door.

Now there was nothing to do but wait…

 

Gunshots rang out in the hallway some minutes after he got to his quarters. Someone screamed. He heard frantic thumps on the door to this room. But Sidney didn’t dare move.

Eventually it all fell silent. And then…he was alone.

Several times he thought about leaving his room…getting to an escape pod. But what good would that do him? He’d be left floating in space, an easy target if the murderous members of the crew decided to turn the ship’s meager weapons on him.

What the hell had happened to them? It was as if they had lost their minds..gone completely insane. There was no way the captain Sidney knew would so willingly turn against his crew and murder them all in cold blood. Was it an imposter? Some kind of visual trick? There was no way to know, and Sidney didn’t feel like leaving the room to find out.

There had to be a way out. There had to be an escape route he could take. Maybe one of the cargo shuttles…

Suddenly, his breath caught in his throat. He strained his ears. Slow, plodding steps made themselves known in the hallway. They didn’t belong to the captain. They didn’t belong to any member of the crew as far as Sidney could tell. They were far too soft for that.

Closer and closer they came as Sidney held his breath, praying that whatever it was would move on.

But it didn’t. The steps reached his door and abruptly stopped.

Sidney waited with bated breath…waited for the death blow to come. He waited for his life to reach its untimely end.

But it didn’t. Seconds ticked by…and nothing happened.

Then…very faintly, he heard something scratching on the other side of the doorway.

Go away, he thought. Go…away!

Suddenly, his vision blurred and his head pouned. He groaned, leaning forward with his hands pressed against his temple. He rocked back and forth, in the grips of some kind of pain he could barely describe. It felt like something was drilling into his skull.

“Make it stop…make it stop,” he screamed aloud.

Then, in one fluid motion, the door was forced open.

Sidney stared.

The last thing he knew was an inky blackness taking over his entire world…

 

“Really,” Moss asked. “That’s all you can remember? You didn’t catch a glimpse of the creature?”

“No I…I think I did…but I couldn’t tell you what it looked like. Not really anyways…” Sidney hung his head and sighed. “God…I’m such a coward.”

“Believe me Mr. Lehmann,” Ardan assured him, “that is far from the truth.”

“But I am, aren’t I? I just left everyone else to die.”

“You had no way of knowing which of your crew were in their right minds or not. For all you knew, everyone else had turned on each other.”

Sidney didn’t look too reassured by that.

“It’s true Sidney,” Moss said, stepping forward. “In the moment, all you can do is run.”

“Mr. Moss is correct,” Ardan agreed. “The natural inclination of an intelligent being is that of self-preservation. You did as your instincts commanded you to. There is no blame to be assigned for that.”

“But…but I-”

“Sid look,” Moss chimed in. “There’s no way you could have known what would happen.” He put a hand on Sidney’s shoulder. “What happened was a tragedy, but there’s no sense in burying yourself with regret.”

“I…” Sidney sighed. “I suppose you’re right.”

“Good,” Moss said. “Now…we need to-”

A drop of blood appeared on Sidney’s shoulder. Moss stared at it for a second, perplexed. Then he reached up and wiped under his nose. His sleeve came back with a dark red smear.

“What the,” he mumbled.

Sidney groaned aloud. Moss looked over and saw blood dripping from his nose as well. He turned toward Ardan.

“What the hell is-”

Suddenly, all three of them grabbed their heads.

Oh god,” Moss screamed aloud. His head pounded like a jackhammer. His knees buckled under him and he fell to the ground.

“What is this,” Sidney cried out.

Neither Moss nor Ardan could answer. They were both on the ground, clutching their heads and groaning.

Make it stop make it stop make it stop,” Sidney started screaming.

Moss felt like something was sitting on his neck, making each breath a strained gasp. His head pulsated, as though it were swelling up to three times its normal size. The world began to tumble and swim away from him. The darkness grew so absolute that-

 

Moss blinked.

“It is quite simple,” Ardan was saying. “We use secondary connections to the Stimulator to allow two extra individuals to connect with and accompany Mr. Lehmann on his explorations of…Mr. Moss, what is it?”

Moss glanced around the room, utterly confused.

“Where…is everyone?”

Ardan’s large, black eyes flicked around the room.

“Hmmm,” he muttered. “Curious…I was certain there were technicians in this room just a moment ago.”

Moss’ eyes lit up with horror.

“We’ve done this before,” he said.

Ardan turned to him.

“What?”

“We’ve done this before…we’ve done this before,” Moss said, his voice growing frantic.

“What do you mean Mr. Moss,” Ardan asked.

“We already had this conversation. This already happened!

A flicker of understanding crossed the blue alien’s face.

“You mean…our memories have been altered?”

“Yes altered…erased…whatever. That thing? It was here. It was here and-” Moss finally noticed the empty bed in the center of the room. “Oh no…Sidney.” He spun around and bolted for the door.

 

Sidney groaned as he came to. The air was dank and musty. What is that, he thought to himself. Smells like…rusted iron. Finally managing to open his eyes, he found himself face first with a large gray chair. Squinting, he noticed there was a small red stain on the side…

Blood. It was blood

He gasped. Bolting to his feet, Sidney found himself standing on the darkened bridge of the Celeste.

“No,” he moaned. “Not here. Not again.”

He immediately dashed for the lift but skidded to a stop when he heard a low growl. Something was standing behind one of the control stations…hidden in the darkness. Or was it darkness? It was like a cloud of blackness that shimmered and moved toward-

He stood alone on the beach, sun shining high in the sky. The smell of the ocean filled his nostrils, and the sound of the waves crashing against the shoreline brought him peace…

Sidney blinked.

“What the-”

The forest was dark…a small campfire providing warmth and light. He was on his back, eyes focused on the sky. Then…the lights began to appear…tendrils of green color snaking their way across the horizon…

Then Sidney saw it…the thing that had haunted his memories. It approached him slowly, like a hunter eyeing its prey. Even now…he could barely grasp its form. It was like looking through a foggy window. He could tell it had three legs…or so he thought. It was also shorter than him…barely over half his height.

He caught its eyes…if it had any. They kept changing color…a kaleidoscope mirage of pupils.

Sidney backed away, his eyes darting around the bridge. There were two lifts, but they were in the back areas of the room. If he tried to run, it would catch him. There would be no escape this time. It had him cornered, and-

Crickets chirped. The cool breeze of the spring night ruffled his hair. He could see tiny blips of light hovering in the air as the fireflies danced the night away…

Sidney stopped and stared at the shifting shadowy creature that kept approaching him. He had been wrong. It wasn’t a hunter cornering its next meal. It was more like a timid child…unsure of itself.

It hit him all at once.

“These visions…is…is that your way of communicating,” he asked.

A woman. Her lips moved slowly…forming the words…

“It is…isn’t it? That’s how you communicate…through images…through……memory,” Sidney said, feeling a strange kind of excitement. “You didn’t want this to happen, did you?”

A shake of the head…

“You never wanted to hurt them. You never wanted to hurt me. But…when you tried to reach out…the captain and the crew, their minds couldn’t take it. Am I right?”

A nod…

“Why…why did this all happen?”

He dashed through a darkened hallway with no end. A presence nipped at his heels, growing closer and closer until it was certain to devour him…

Sidney understood.

“You were afraid…you were afraid and you didn’t understand what you were doing. You just wanted to tell them you meant no harm but…you had no idea how to control yourself. You just wanted someone to help you, but in your fear you destroyed their minds, drove them to insanity.”

He stood alone in the darkness…he tried screaming for somebody…anybody. But there was no response but his own echo in the inky blackness…

“You’re alone…alone and scared.”

Sidney held out his hand.

“Come on,” he coaxed. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

The shadowy, ever-shifting creature approached…its eyes flitting between colors every passing second. An inky hand with what might have been claws reached out, tepidly at first, but eventually grasping his. Sidney gasped. Its…skin…if it even had any, felt cold to the touch.

They were face to face for what felt like an eternity. Sidney staring into the creature’s color-shifting eyes, and the creature staring back. Even this close, he could barely tell what it looked like. His mind had a vague impression of an over-sized, oblong head. But all that could have been an illusion…an illusion put forth by a creature that was terrified of itself.

Sidney saw something of himself in the creature. For so long, he had dealt with his anxiety, with his fear of failing himself and others. He had tried to control it, but sometimes it still rendered him helpless. Every day was filled with thinking about past wrongs, about slight missteps in conversations and actions, about little things he could have done differently. It was foolish, but Sidney had no way of helping it.

And now, as he and the creature locked eyes…he realized that he understood this alien being better than he understood those among his own kind.

“It’s okay,” he assured it. “It’s going to be okay.”

A smile…she wrapped her arms around him…

“You took me here, right?”

A nod…

“That must mean you want something from me. What is it?”

A large white house stood in the shade of giant trees. It had two stories. A screened porch looked out over the front lawn and driveway. Yellow and red leaves littered the ground, the signs of approaching winter.

He knew this place.

He loved this place…

Sidney understood.

“I can take you there…”

 

Moss sprinted down the hallways, heading toward the Celeste‘s docking point. Ardan was close on his heels.

“What makes you think Mr. Lehmann is there,” the alien shouted after him.

“A hunch,” Moss shouted back.

Just then, an alarm sounded throughout the station.

“Unscheduled docking separation. Please contact station administrator,” the station’s computer announced.

Moss picked up speed, sliding around the corner. He turned just in time to see the Celeste slipping away from the station.

“Stop that ship,” he shouted at a nearby military officer.

“I can’t,” the officer replied. “I’ve been locked out of the controls. Our only choice is to shoot it down.”

“I would not advise that,” Ardan said, finally catching up to them. “We believe Sidney Lehmann is on board. Any attempts to shoot the ship down would likely result in his death.”

“Then what do we do,” the officer asked.

Ardan gave him a grim look.

“I’m afraid there is nothing we can do.”

The three of them watched helplessly as the ship flew farther and farther away. Eventually, the engines gave a bright glare and the ship seemed to stretch out of proportion as it made the jump to faster-than-light speed.

And then it was gone.

There was a long moment of silence as they stared at the place where the Celeste used to be. Then Ardan and the officer walked away, leaving Moss alone. He stared out the window for a long time. Eventually, he laid his palm flat against the glass, leaned his head against it, and closed his eyes.

“Sidney…” he muttered.

 

Two weeks passed.

Moss was sitting in his quarters on the space station, working at his computer. He had gone over the recording of the last session every single day since the Celeste vanished, hoping to find some inkling of what the creature abducted Sidney for. But there was nothing he could find.

He remembered a conversation he had with Ardan just a few days after the ship vanished.

“I do not understand how you reached this conclusion, Mr. Moss.”

“Think about it…if the creature really wanted to kill the crew, it could have done so the moment it came aboard. Why did it wait for hours to do anything if that was its true intention?”

“I will admit that there is not a sufficient explanation for everything that happened, but it is impossible to surmise what the creature’s intentions may have been.”

“That is true,” Moss admitted. “But it left Sidney alive, didn’t it? It had the chance to kill him, but it didn’t.”

“If we assume that what you are saying is correct, then how do you explain the memories?”

Moss thought for a moment.

“Maybe that was never intentional either. You’ve read Sidney’s file. You know his propensity for self-guilt. What if, somehow, the creature touching his mind generated these images out of his own sense of failure?”

“You mean…his guilt over the crew’s death? But he had no part in it.”

“That doesn’t matter…someone like Sidney doesn’t need a logical reason to feel guilty. They just do. And so every time we tried to make him remember what happened, what he remembered was the guilt…and the guilt drove him to insanity.”

“It is an interesting hypothesis Mr. Moss, but it still leaves one thing unanswered: why did the creature return to kidnap Mr. Lehmann? What possible reason could it have?”

Moss shrugged.

“Maybe it wanted to go home.”

A brief chime from the panel on his desk brought Moss out of his reverie. He pressed a button.

“What is it,” he asked.

“Mr. Moss…sir…the Eon Ardan requests your presence,” the voice on the other end said.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“It’s the Celeste sir…she’s back.”

 

Sidney opened his eyes to find a throng of people standing around him. He tilted his head slowly from side to side, groggy and uncertain.

“What,” he mumbled. Then he noticed the hospital gown and the bed. “What am I doing here,” he asked. “What happened?”

“Sidney?” A man stepped forward. He was older, with bright-green eyes and a pleasant enough face. “Do you remember me?”

Sidney squinted.

“No,” he said. “Should I?”

The man and the others in the room exchanged glances for a moment.

“My name is Russell Moss,” the man explained. “I’m working here on the station. Tell me…what’s the last thing you remember?”

Sidney thought for a moment.

“I was on the Celeste…we had just picked up a cargo shipment. We…we were routed to an asteroid field to do some mining. And then…everything’s just blank.”

“Mr. Lehmann?” Sidney turned his head to find a tall blue alien in a white robe standing nearby. “My name is Ardan. I’m…I guess you could call me a sort of adviser here on board the station. Are you sure you can remember nothing at all?”

Sidney shrugged.

“I’m trying to sir…but it’s like there’s nothing there.”

There was a brief silence as the people around him once again exchanged looks. Sidney felt his heart jump.

“What happened? Where’s the rest of the crew,” he asked.

No one responded for a moment. Then, the blue alien known as Ardan spoke up.

“I am deeply sorry that I have to be the one to tell you this…but you are the only survivor, Mr. Lehmann.”

Sidney sat up and stared at his hands, utterly devastated. There were over sixty people on board that ship. How could they all be dead? Cecil…the captain…all of them. It was so surreal that he couldn’t believe it was true.

“How,” he finally asked. “How did it happen?”

No one said anything for a moment. Sidney saw the blue alien straighten up, as if he was going to provide an explanation.

“Contaminated cargo,” Moss suddenly blurted out. Sidney noticed the Eon cast a sideways glance at him. “Something the ship picked up from one of your stops. The crew came down with an infectious disease. We tried to save them…but it just didn’t work out. Luckily, you seemed to be able to beat it. Unfortunately, it would seem that the memory loss is one of the side effects.”

“Oh,” was all Sidney managed to say. In the brief silence that followed, a nurse walked next to Moss and whispered something in his ear. Sidney couldn’t hear what it was, but he saw a look of shock flicker across Moss’ face. But a moment later, it disappeared.

“Look,” Moss said, “I’m sure you’ll want to get some rest. We’ll let you have the room, and then we can talk more later.”

“Sure thing sir,” Sidney said. Moss left the room, followed closely by the blue alien. Moments later, the other attendants left the room as well. There was so much to take in…so much he wanted to know. But at the moment, Sidney was just too exhausted to care. All he wanted to do was go to sleep.

He lowered his head onto the pillow, closed his eyes, and drifted away…

 

Moss walked into the Commons Area, aware that Ardan was following him. After seeing that no one else was around, he turned to face the blue alien. He could tell Ardan was upset.

“You lied to him,” Ardan said.

“Yes,” Moss stated. “I did.”

“Why,” the alien demanded.

“What possible good could it do, letting him know exactly what happened on board that ship. What good could it do, letting him know that he’s basically been a prisoner here for the last three months? What good could it do, telling him that his memory was wiped again and again because he couldn’t remember the truth?”

“You should not have lied.”

“Why does it matter? That’s the story the government is going with anyways, isn’t it? Contaminated cargo?”

“What the Earth government decides as the official story is of no consequence here. You should have told him the truth. Mr. Lehmann deserves that.”

Moss shook his head.

“No…he deserves to finally have a bit of peace. Every time I told him that we had been through the same conversation, the same sessions over and over again, I saw the look on his face. I saw the guilt in his eyes. If you ask me, that thing did Sidney a favor. It’s a mercy he’ll never have to live through it again.”

Ardan squinted at him.

“What do you mean,” he asked.

“The nurse told me something just before we left. They couldn’t find any trace of the memories within his brain. They’ve been completely wiped away.”

“So Mr. Lehmann will never remember the events on board the Celeste. He’ll never remember where he was these past two weeks.”

“No…and I’m thinking that’s the best outcome we could have hoped for. Sidney has been through so much pain…so much sorrow over these past three months. Over and over again he had to relive the same damn thing. Even though we wiped his memory every time…it’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. So maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe we don’t need to know.”

Moss turned and stared out the window, stared at the black expanse of space that stretched out for an incomprehensible distance.

“Maybe…some things are better left forgotten.”

 

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By the Victors

Welcome to the eighth of twelve.  For those not in the know, my New Year’s resolution this year was to write twelve short stories, one for each month.  On the final Wednesday of each month, I will be posting the short story I worked on that month.

This month’s story is “By the Victors”.

 

The speaker’s voice echoed through the room in a language that was not human.

“And that concludes our meeting. We will reconvene at the beginning of the next human week to discuss and vote on the measure for mining within the continent called ‘Africa’. I stress that this measure is vitally important, not just for us but the humans as well.”

None of those in attendance were human either. Seated all throughout the large chamber were brown-skinned alien beings with teal eyes, four fingers, and three toes on something like a cat’s paw. They wore large, formal gowns of purple with flecks of orange and brown at the fringes. They sat in silence, their milky gazes directed on the speaker standing in the center of the room.

Despite the non-human assembly, the design of the building was certainly human. Brick clad in white marble lined the entirety of the outside. The inner chamber featured flags denoting various human nations that had agreed to the alliance with the Molkai, the alien race that had arrived on their planet a little over a decade earlier. The speaker’s audience sat at wooden desks arranged in a gargantuan semi-circle around the room.

Now, I understand things have been trying for us lately. The humans have not always appreciated our choices. But in the end, they will come to understand that it is for the greater good of both our species. They will come to understand that we are only doing what needs to be done,” the speaker said. “So I implore you, take that into consideration when you cast your vote next week.”

In human time, the day was a Friday, and this was the final meeting of the Molkai Congress before they adjourned for the weekend. The vote would come on Tuesday.

That is all I wished to say to you today, my fellows. May the stars bless your passing.”

May the stars bless your passing,” the entire room repeated back.

As the alien congress emerged from the front of the building, they were greeted by a loud chorus of jeers. A large crowd of humans, carrying signs that said things like “don’t rock the cradle of life” and “stop destroying our home”, had assembled outside the building to protest the measure. Molkaian security personnel quickly surrounded the members of the congress, directing them to the backside of the building. A couple of Molkaians from the congress cast a forlorn gaze at the statue that graced the entrance courtyard. It depicted a human and a Molkaian standing face to face with their hands in each others palms…a gesture of companionship. These days, it seemed like an artifact of a long forgotten past.

As the group walked around the side of the building and exited through the rear gate, one of them spoke, more to himself than anyone else.

I cannot believe how things have changed so much. When did they start hating us so?”

Another Molkaian, an older one as evidenced by the dryness of his skin, turned around and uttered a derisive snort.

They are dumb, primitive creatures,” he said. “What do you expect?”

 

Arden Jefferson watched the news on the large flat-screen in his office.

“It would be the most unprecedented withdrawal of human land since the Molkai began their mining campaign six years ago,” a blonde haired reporter said, the Molkai Congress building framed behind her. Aside from the reporter, the street were empty. The protesters from earlier in the day had left, leaving behind abandoned signs and scraps of trash.

“If the measure is passed, tens of millions of people could find themselves displaced,” she continued. “I had the chance to speak with a few protesters earlier today, and their feelings are clear. One of them said, quote, ‘the Molkai won’t stop until they’ve ripped this planet bare’.”

Arden shook his head. He wanted to believe that wasn’t true, but with each passing day it became harder to deny the Molkai’s actions. Being a member of the human congress that worked alongside them, he had been privy to many a debate between the two delegations. To him, as the days went by, it seemed the Molkai grew more and more selfish.

He reached up with a hand and loosened the blue striped tie around his neck that complimented his gray suit and pants. Arden had never really cared much for formal attire. The tie felt like a noose around his neck. He brushed strands of dark brown hair out of his green eyes and continued watching the television screen.

“The Molkai congressional leader released a statement earlier today. He expressed sadness for the reaction to the measure, saying quote ‘I wish we could have come to a better agreement. I hope time will bring with it the realization that sacrifices will have to be made for the sake of progress’.”

Wouldn’t want you to sacrifice too much, Arden thought with bitter sarcasm.

His office was surprisingly large. There was a big wooden desk situated in the center of the room, facing the doorway. A long, gray couch sat nearby with a dark brown coffee table in front of it. The floor around the desk was lined with a patterned red carpet. Most of the walls were made of varnished wood, except the one furthest from the door. It was all glass, a giant row of windows looking out over the city.

“The vote is scheduled for Tuesday morning,” the news reporter continued. “It is tough to gauge what the reaction to it will be like, but judging by the atmosphere at the protest this afternoon, extreme action may not be out of the question.”

God…I can’t listen to this crap anymore, Arden thought as he picked the remote up from his desk and switched off the television. They always refuse to call it what it is: pure and simple exploitation.

A moment later, he heard his office door open. Turning, he found a Molkai ambassador entering the room. It was Kraye, the only Molkai Arden had ever really considered a friend. He could tell it was him by the jade pendant around his neck, cut to resemble a five-pointed star intertwined with a crescent moon. Some Molkaians, particularly ambassadors that worked alongside humans, would wear these individualized pendants to help differentiate between them.

“I assume you’ve heard the news,” Kraye asked.

“I have,” Arden said.

There was a moment of tense silence between the two of them.

“What happens if it passes,” Arden asked.

“If it passes, we would begin preparations for the relocation process,” Kraye replied. “If all goes well, we would hope to get things moving a couple of weeks after the vote.”

“A couple of weeks? Christ…”

Kraye sighed. “I was afraid you were going to have a problem with this,” he said.

“Of course I’m going to have a problem with this,” Arden shot back. “Some of those people have been living there their entire lives. And you’re going to kick them out of their homes so you can dig up some minerals.”

“Come on,” Kraye insisted. “You know this will be good for both our kinds. The technology we can create with those minerals is far more advanced than anything you’ve seen yet.”

“That’s what they said when they took Australia.”

“Arden…”

Arden looked Kraye over. Despite how infuriated he was, he couldn’t work up much hate for him. Kraye was one of the few Molkai he had ever truly liked. His heart was in the right place. He was just naive.

He didn’t want to take out his anger on Kraye, so he took a moment to calm himself.

“Two years Kraye,” Arden finally said. “Two years have passed since you mined that continent and we haven’t seen anything from it.”

“It takes time to process these things,” Kraye argued.

“It takes time? Or did you just get tired of sharing with inferior beings?”

He could tell that struck deep. Kraye averted his gaze, staring down at the floor for a moment. Arden sighed.

“I’m sorry Kraye,” he said. “I didn’t mean that. It’s just been a hard week.”

Kraye looked up at him and managed a smile.

“I know it has,” he said. “I just wish we could see eye to eye more these days.”

Arden had always had tremendous respect for Kraye. He was one of the few Molkai that spent time immersing themselves in human language and culture. As such, he was one of the only ones who understood the idea of contractions. Most Molkai spoke in an overly formal version of human language. Kraye, on the other hand, would seem like any other human if it wasn’t for his appearance.

Just then, a quiet chime came from Arden’s desk.

“That’s my phone,” Arden muttered. He walked around the desk and picked up the small, black phone that had been lying on it.

“What is it,” Kraye asked, seeing the expression on Arden’s face shift.

“A reminder. We have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow.” Arden’s eyes drifted to the framed photo on the desk. He lost himself in the woman’s blue eyes and golden hair.

“God damn it,” he cursed under his breath, sitting down in his chair and rubbing his eyes.

“The cancer’s getting worse, isn’t it?”

“Yeah…”

Arden rested his chin in his hands.

“Any word from the waiting list,” Kraye asked.

“Of course not,” Arden snarled. “Every time I call they just give me the runaround.” He groaned, shaking his head. “Can’t you do something? You have sway with people don’t you?”

Kraye averted his gaze.

“I do,” he said. “It’s just…” He trailed off.

“It’s just what,” Arden asked. He tried to bite his tongue to stop the anger, but it did little good.

“Arden, please don’t do this.”

“It’s my god damn wife we’re talking about!”

Kraye summoned up his courage and faced Arden.

“It’s not like I haven’t asked around. It’s not like I haven’t tried to convince people. But if I push it any further, they might see it as an abuse of power.”

“So what am I supposed to tell her? ‘Sorry honey, but you’re not important enough to live’? Am I just supposed to fucking sit here while your Molkai friends withhold the technology that could save her life?!”

Silence reigned over the room again. Then, the anger in Arden evaporated. He buried his head in his hands and groaned once again.

“Ugh…it’s just the same shit day after day,” he said, his voice muffled.

“It’ll get better,” Kraye assured him. “I’m sure of it.”

“That’s what I keep telling Laura, and I believe it less each time I say it.”

Arden rubbed his face in his hands, then stood up.

“I need to get going and check on her,” he said.

“Is it that bad?”

“We hit a rough patch this last month. She had an IV in for the past week and just got it removed yesterday. We’re still playing wait and see at this point.”

“I’m so sorry Arden…I didn’t know,” Kraye said.

“It’s not your fault Kraye,” Arden replied. “Look,” he continued as he stepped around the desk and toward the door, “I really should be going.”

“Okay. May the stars bless your passing.”

“Yeah,” Arden replied without looking back. The door closed and Kraye heard his footsteps receding down the hall. He wanted to do something, anything, to help his friend. But he didn’t know what. Every time he had an idea, all he saw were all the possible ways it could fail. No matter what came up with, he was held in place by crippling indecision.

As Kraye stood there like a statue, the sun disappeared behind the clouds, drenching the office in cold shadow…

 

A blast of cool air hit Arden’s face as he opened the fridge. He scanned his eyes over the contents and selected a can of cheap beer. He popped the top and took a sip. Bitter and bland, but he didn’t mind.

“You okay honey,” a voice asked from the other room. “You seem distant.”

Arden sighed.

“I’m fine. It’s just…it’s been a long week.”

“How’s Kraye?”

“Same as always,” Arden said as he took another sip. “Refuses to see what’s in front of him. I wish I could make him understand, but I don’t think I can keep fighting him every single day.”

“He’ll come around…I’m sure of it.”

“Fortunately, it shouldn’t matter,” Arden said. “Even if the Molkai vote for it, the human delegation would have to vote for it to. And from what I’ve seen, that isn’t happening.”

Arden turned toward the living room. Seated on the brown couch, face lit by the faint blue glow of the television screen, was his wife Laura. Her once golden hair had withered and dulled, her bright blue eyes losing their twinkle as the constant battle with cancer took its toll.

Arden remembered how she used to love the outdoors. Now she barely got outside at all.

“You’ve been working so hard lately,” Laura said. “I’m worried about you.”

Arden had to chuckle. “I’m not the one you should be worried about. What’s tomorrow’s appointment for again?”

“Oh…it’s just a checkup, to see how I’m doing.”

“And how are you doing?”

“Great actually. I haven’t felt so good in weeks.”

She was lying. That much he could tell. There was a deep tiredness in her eyes and she kept itching the part of her arm where the IV had been. When Arden had come home, she was sleeping on the couch.

She sleeps a lot these days, he thought.

“Well I’m gonna start making some supper. I hope you like reheated meatloaf.”

“My favorite,” she said with a hoarse laugh.

Arden pulled the leftovers out of the fridge and began dishing them up onto two plates. He was just about to place one in the microwave when the sound of an explosion reached his ears.

“What the hell was that?”

He turned. Laura wasn’t facing him. She had her eyes glued on the television screen.

“Laura…what’s wrong,” he asked. No response.

Arden set the plates down and walked into the living room. Laura turned, and he noticed tears forming in her eyes.

“Laura…honey…what is it?”

He heard shouting. It was only then that he realized the sounds were coming from the television. When he turned to look, a dramatic sight greeted him.

Hundreds of people marching through the streets of the city, holding signs high and chanting at the top of their lungs. As he watched, some people threw bottles of alcohol with burning rags in them through building windows, causing brief explosions of flame. A small red banner in the top-left corner of the screen read “live”.

It didn’t take long for it to dawn on him: the people were rioting. They had grown so fed up with the Molkai Congress that they were now resorting to violent action to get their voices heard.

Arden crossed his arms.

“Hmph…took them long enough.”

 

Kraye watched the riots on television, eyes filled with sadness.

“From what we’ve been able to establish, the rioting began just over half an hour ago,” a blonde human female reported. “It started on fourth street and has been slowly moving toward the center of the city. Police have been mobilized as well as Molkaian security forces.”

Why does it always have to be this way, Kraye asked himself.

“We’ve heard that the crowd has been gaining numbers as it moves throughout the city. It is reported that as many as five thousand people are-“

The reporter stopped mid-sentence, ducking as a flaming bottle of alcohol flew over her head. There was a brief explosion in the background along with the sound of shattering glass. The reporter took a moment to gather her wits. The camera shuddered as the person behind it evidently picked it up.

“We…we’re going to try and get some distance from the riot…uh…back to you Zach!”

“Thanks Beth…you stay safe out there,” a male voice said in response.

Kraye watched the news for a little while longer. They showed footage from earlier in the riot. When the group was smaller, they ran into a small contingent of Molkaian security near the Congressional building. When they refused to disperse, the security turned their weapons on them, utilizing rods capable of administering an incapacitating shock in a short cone radius in front of them.

At first, it seemed to work. But Kraye noticed that one of the weapons accidentally struck a small human child who was standing on the sidewalk. She let out a tiny cry before falling to the ground.

The camera focused on her as she lay motionless on the sidewalk. No one moved to help.

She had nothing to do with it, Kraye thought. And yet, she suffered…

It wasn’t long before the rioters got their revenge. They managed to disarm one of the security officers and threw him to the ground. He disappeared under a mass of angry figures punching and kicking. From there the rioters moved out, traveling along the main roads and recruiting more angry people to their cause.

After that, Kraye turned off the television. He didn’t want to see any more.

Reaching forward, he picked up a small purple bottle sitting on the coffee table. It was filled with a strange, dark green liquid sloshing around. The closest human equivalent, as far as Kraye could tell, would be alcohol. But Molkaians couldn’t drink it. Something about the composition made them violently ill. And in rare cases, it was even fatal.

Just another way we’re incompatible, he thought sadly.

Kraye popped the top off his bottle and took a deep gulp of it. He was tired…of the violence…of the hate…of the anger. But even he couldn’t deny that the strained relationship between the species was owed at least in some part to the attitudes of his fellow Molkai. So many of them looked down on humans as inferior. He didn’t have to go further than his front door to see the truth in that.

Kraye lived in a gated community of Molkaians protected by a private security force. He looked around him: at the marble counter in the kitchen, at the gargantuan high quality television he had been watching, at how sleek and clean everything was. And he compared it to what he knew of other human dwellings, most specifically Arden’s. Arden wasn’t poor by any means, but his house was old and in need of maintenance. Kraye remembered the last time he had been there Arden was having issues with the plumbing. “Third time in as many months,” Arden had grumbled while his wife looked on from the living room.

We spend all this time pampering ourselves and policing them…no wonder they’ve started to resent us so much, Kraye thought. He stood up and walked over to the kitchen window, taking another drink. The community was up on a hill, with a good view over the city.

He still believed in the Africa measure. The resources they could gain from that continent would be a great boon for human and Molkai alike. So why were the humans so against it?

Because they’re incapable of making sound decisions for themselves, a voice in his head argued. They’re too emotional…like Arden. Always getting angry and outraged over nothing. They need a guiding hand…otherwise they would probably just end up destroying themselves in one way or another.

Then another voice in his head spoke up:

They were doing fine until we showed up. Are we really so much better than them?

Kraye silenced the voices. He wasn’t in the mood to listen to them.

Later that night, as he trudged up the stairs to go to sleep, he stole one last glance at the television. He wondered where it had all gone wrong. Kraye remembered when he had first come here, among the first Molkaians to ever live on Earth. It had seemed like such a perfect dream, an opportunity to share cultures and explore the intricacies of existence together.

But that’s all it had been…a dream. Reality was a harsh world…lit easily by hate and fire.

 

Arden looked more glum than usual when Kraye entered his office on Monday. He was sitting at his desk, his eyes downcast and a grimace stretched across his face.

“Arden, what’s-” Kraye’s eyes flicked to the half-empty bottle sitting on the desk. “Oh no…don’t tell me you’ve started drinking again.”

“Why not,” Arden replied, barely audible. “They’ve taken away my voice. I have nothing left.”

“What do you mean?”

“The vote, Kraye. Through some legalistic scheming they boosted the size of the Molkaian congress without us knowing. So it doesn’t matter if the human delegation unanimously votes it down…the Africa measure can still pass even if all but three Molkaians vote for it.”

Kraye averted his gaze, timidly itching his arm. Arden squinted at him for a moment.

Then, his jaw dropped.

“Oh my god…you knew about this?” Arden slowly stood up from his desk. “You knew…and you let it happen?!

“Arden, please…I don’t want to-“

“No, I wanna know! I deserve to know why you thought it was okay to rip away the last vestige of power we had over anything!

Kraye stood staring at the ground.

“Well? Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

Kraye didn’t move or respond.

“…You don’t even know, do you?” Arden threw up his hands. “Great…just fucking great! You sold us out! You sold me out and you can’t even tell me why.”

“Oh please, don’t be so stupid,” Kraye blurted out, lifting his eyes from the ground. Arden turned toward him, eyes blazing like emerald fire.

Excuse me,” he asked, incredulous.

“You know exactly why we did it! Don’t fool yourselves into thinking it was anything but your fault!”

“Oh please Kraye, enlighten me. Why have your glorious people seen fit to stomp all over us?”

“Because you can’t think for yourselves! You don’t do anything besides complain, complain, complain! All you know how to do is destroy. Just look at the riots over the weekend and tell me I’m wrong!”

Arden scoffed.

“Well of course they’re rioting in the streets…no one’s listening to them anymore! You sit up there in your little gated communities, looking down your noses at us. When’s the last time any of you actually bothered to listen? Those people out there…they don’t know what else to do! Any complaint they make is greeted with nothing more than disdain and condescension! It’s bullshit and you know it!”

Kraye’s hands began to shake.

“You people…you just…”

“What? Come on…tell me. I want to know what you really think.”

Kraye locked eyes with him.

“You’re nothing but a bunch of stupid, primitive mammals,” he shouted.

His words echoed through the room, followed by a momentous silence. The fire in Arden’s eyes simmered to a dull glaze. He was unable to speak for a moment, his lip quivering lightly.

“Re-really…that’s what you think of us?”

“Oh please Arden, I can smell the alcohol on your breath from here. You drink and drink, complain and complain…but you never actually get anything done.” Kraye glared at him. “We should have boosted our congress a long time ago. Then we could have actually gotten things done.”

“Oh? And what about the human vote?”

Kraye scoffed.

“Good riddance to that,” he said. “You people were too stupid to use it properly anyways.”

Arden slowly walked toward Kraye until he stood at his side, his expression still one of disbelief.

“So that’s how it is huh,” he said.

Kraye turned toward him and narrowed his eyes.

“It’s impressive, really, how pathetic you are Arden. For all your rage, you really are nothing but a useless ape.”

That did it. That was the final straw. Arden’s face stiffened and he regarded Kraye with a look he had never seen before…a distant and cold stare. It was as if he saw him as nothing more than a stranger. The anger in Kraye’s blood cooled, and the realization of what he had done began to settle in on him.

“You know what Kraye,” Arden said, his voice flat and emotionless. “At least I didn’t evolve from a disgusting slug.”

Then he turned and walked out the door.

“Wait…Arden,” Kraye croaked. But it was too late. The door slammed shut and Kraye was forced to watch as Arden stormed off down the hallway. Soon enough he disappeared, and Kraye was left alone.

It was the most horrible silence he had ever felt or heard in his life. He couldn’t think or move for a very long time. The scene kept playing back in his head like a broken record.

You really are nothing but a useless ape…

useless ape…

useless ape…

useless……

He stepped over to the window, a process that seemed to take whole minutes to do. He laid his hand against the glass and stood looking out over the city. It gleamed under the bright yellow light of the sun…buildings shimmering like jewels.

Kraye leaned his head against the glass, closed his eyes, and fought the urge to cry…

 

“It was truly a decisive vote. If you’re just joining us, the Africa measure has passed the Molkai Congress by a landslide, with only two Molkaians voting “no”. Despite the fact that the human delegation voted against it unanimously, the new Molkai majority means that the measure will now fall into place. It remains to be seen how soon relocation measures will begin for people of the African continent. We now go live to Beth, who is standing outside the Molkai Congress building. What have you got for us Beth?”

“Well Zach, as you said the measure passed due to the Molkaian majority. No word on relocation measures yet, but we did receive a statement from the Molkaian Congressional leader saying, in part ‘I hope our two species can move past our troubles and set our sights on a brighter future for all of us’.”

 

His head pounded. His hands shook.

Arden stared at the bottle filled with clear liquid on his desk. It seemed to shift in and out of focus. It was hard to think anymore. The world pulsed around him.

It had been only mere hours since the results of the vote were handed down like a judge’s verdict. Now the people living in Africa were subject to relocation at the whims of the Molkai. And they wouldn’t wait. They’d get things moving as quickly as they could. That was how they operated.

It made him sick. But he was powerless to stop it. They had seen to that.

From what felt like an incredible distance, he heard the office door opening and closing. Looking up, he saw Kraye eyeing him with an expression of concern.

“What do you want,” he asked, his tone spiteful and bitter.

“Arden…are you…what are you drinking?”

“Vodka,” he responded with a slight burp. “Far more potent than that cheap piece of crap whiskey I had yesterday. Tastes gross, that’s for sure.”

“Why do you do this to yourself?”

“Why do you care,” he shot back.

“Arden…please…that’s not…” Kraye stammered, then fell silent.

“Not what? Not fair? Guess what Kraye? Life’s not fair. But what would I know? I’m just a big useless ape,” Arden replied.

Part of him could see the pain in his friend’s face, that he was trying desperately to apologize for what he had done the day before. Part of him felt terrible for the words he was saying. But most of him was so glazed over that he didn’t care.

He glanced down at the bottle before him. Only a quarter left.

“How…how much did you drink,” Kraye finally summoned up the courage to ask.

“Well,” Arden began with a slight hiccup, “it was full when I got here.”

“Please Arden, put it away. I don’t want to see you do this to yourself.”

Arden looked up at Kraye, then back down at the bottle. A moment later, he buried his head in his hands.

“Oh what’s the point,” he groaned. “You were right. I’m a pathetic mess.”

“Arden…no…I-“

“I can’t do anything aside from drink myself stupid.”

“That’s not true Arden, you still have the power to change things.”

Arden’s head snapped up suddenly, with such a wild look in his eyes that Kraye involuntarily took a step back.

Bullshit,” he screamed, grabbing the bottle and slamming it down on the desk. The sound of shattering glass echoed through the office. Glittering shards littered the carpet between him and Kraye. Clear liquid oozed over the front of the desk, dripping off and staining the carpet.

“I can’t even…I can’t…I-,” Arden babbled, then stopped. Tears formed in his eyes and he hung his head in his hands again. It took a long time before he could speak

“I can’t even help my wife,” he said, choking up. “The only thing I can do is help alleviate her pain and I can barely fucking do that. It doesn’t matter. None of it fucking matters.”

“Arden…” Kraye began, but found himself unable to speak yet again.

Arden began standing up from the desk. “Every single day I come in here,” he said as he took a step, “and nothing changes. I-” Suddenly he stumbled and began to fall to the ground. But Kraye moved with lightning speed, catching him before he hit the floor and holding him up.

“Come on,” Kraye grunted as he supported his friend. “Over here.”

Kraye maneuvered the two of them over to the couch, and a moment later they were sitting. Arden’s head bobbled back and forth as he sat there, deep in the throes of a drunken stupor.

A long time passed in silence. Then, Kraye closed his eyes and leaned his head in close to Arden’s, so close that he was nuzzling his face. At first, Arden tensed up in surprise, but then he brought his arm around Kraye and rested his hand on his shoulder.

“Arden,” Kraye began after what felt like minutes, “I’m sorry for what I said. I was angry. I didn’t really mean all those things about you. My frustration got the better of me and I took it out on you.”

“It’s okay,” Arden replied. “I was being a dick anyways. I deserved it.”

“No you didn’t. I was unfair to you. You’ve been going through a lot lately. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that you’d get angry so easily.”

“Look, can we just agree that we both screwed up,” Arden asked. “This is getting a little too corny for my taste.”

Kraye opened his eyes and had to chuckle.

“Okay. I can agree to that,” he said.

“Good.”

Silence passed between them for a moment.

“Kraye…have you ever been to the history museum on the other side of town,” Arden asked.

“No…I haven’t. I never had much interest in it. Besides, Molkai don’t frequent that part of town. It’s predominantly human, and right now humans aren’t exactly fond of us.”
“Well you should. Sometime this week in fact. It’s not like the Congress is going to meet again. They’re in a recess for the next few days.”

“Arden…” Kraye began to protest.

“Please…for me? I think it would help you understand where I’m coming from…why I’m so against these relocation efforts. I’ve been thinking about history these days. Our history in particular.”

Kraye didn’t really understand what Arden meant by that, but it didn’t matter.

“Okay…I’ll go see it tomorrow,” he agreed. He was still reluctant, but he wanted to do something to make his friend feel better.

“Thank you Kraye,” Arden said.

Kraye got up from the couch.

“You going to be okay,” he asked as he turned to face Arden.

“I’ll be fine. I just need to rest here a while and get my head back into place. If anyone asks, just tell them I’m feeling a little sick.”

“Of course.”

“You’re too good to me Kraye,” Arden said with a smile.

Then his face grew serious. “I’m not pregnant am I?”

Kraye stared at him, baffled.

“What…I…why would you be?”

“Well I’ve heard that Molkai only nuzzle those they want to be their mates,” Arden said, a sly smile crossing his face.

If it was at all possible for Molkai to blush, Kraye’s cheeks would have turned a bright, crimson red.

“Wha…I…I don’t…uh…” he stammered. Arden just laughed.

“I’m only teasing Kraye,” he said. “I’m flattered…really. After the last few days I was certain you hated me.”

The two of them looked at each other for a long time, both feeling the warmth of the past returning to their hearts. Kraye enjoyed it for all it was worth. He remembered the times when he first met Arden. Arden had been so happy back then…so enthused about the idea of working side by side with an alien race.

Maybe there was a chance to reclaim that feeling…maybe…

“I’ll be your voice Arden,” Kraye declared. Arden began to open his mouth, but Kraye stopped him. “No no…I won’t accept any objections. If they won’t let you have your voice, then I’ll just have to do it for you.”

Arden smiled.

“Thank you Kraye. Well I suppose you should be going then. Do try to visit that museum tomorrow will you?”

“Of course Arden.”

Kraye turned around and began to leave.

“Kraye, wait.”

He stopped and turned back around.

“What is it Arden?”

Arden was quiet for a moment. He had a look on his face that said he was trying to decide if what he was about to do was a bad idea or not. He took a deep breath.

May the stars bless your passing,” he finally said, using the Molkai’s native tongue.

It was rough. And he butchered some of the words. But Kraye couldn’t help but be touched by the effort.

May the stars bless your passing,” he said in response. Then he walked out of the office.

 

The sun was shining bright on the old museum the next day. The marble outside glowed a bright white in the light of day. The inside was no less impressive, with giant pillars that rose up from the first floor into the second and all the way to the ceiling. Kraye found himself struck by their size when he first entered the museum. He could feel the stares of the humans around him, but he ignored them. At any rate, no one bothered him.

And so, despite his reluctance, he began making his way through the exhibits. None of it really grabbed him. The museum was primarily focused on human inventions, tools of creation as well as weapons of destruction. To a Molkaian eye, none of them were particularly impressive. Kraye scanned over the exhibits, trying to understand why Arden had insisted he come here. But an hour passed with no revelations. Then another. He was beginning to think that it was all a waste of time.

But then, as he came around a corner, he stopped dead in his tracks. He was confronted by the stare of a plastic mannequin figure. It was that of a human, wearing clothes made out of animal hide and fur. He was carrying a sack on his back and was hunched over. More than anything, it was the sadness in his eyes that drew Kraye’s attention. There were others behind him as well: another male, a female, and a small child. They shared the man’s look of exhaustion and despair as they trudged through a muddy landscape.

He lowered his eyes to the plaque in front of the exhibit.

“The Trail of Tears,” he mumbled aloud.

“Find something interesting?”

Kraye turned to find a human female standing next to him. She had short red hair, bright brown eyes, and looked fairly young. If Arden was there, he would probably say she was “college age”, whatever that meant. She was wearing a uniform given to her by the museum, colored blue and yellow after its logo. A piece of paper stuck to her chest informed him that her name was “Jennifer”.

“I don’t see many of you around here these days. Sad really…I’ve always wondered what our history must look like to an alien eye,” she said.

After a moment, Kraye decided she seemed pleasant enough.

“Honestly I…I couldn’t really tell you what it looks like,” he replied with an awkward laugh. “I’ve never had much interest in history.”

“That’s a shame,” Jennifer replied.

The two of them stood staring at the mannequins for a moment.

“What’s this exhibit about,” Kraye asked finally.

The smile faded from Jennifer’s face. At first, Kraye was afraid he had done something offensive. But then she ran her eyes over the mannequin man and he realized it was something else.

“It’s such an ugly story…the Trail of Tears…”

“They look so sad,” Kraye observed.

“Because they were forced out of their homes. Back then, the government passed something known as the Indian Removal Act, which forced Native Americans to migrate. They had to walk over hundreds of miles of rough terrain.”

“But why,” Kraye asked.

“People wanted the land…for resources, homes, expansion, and so on. It didn’t matter that there were already people living there. Supply and demand…it’s one of the oldest rules we live by. They wanted the land, so they got the land.”

“But why the name ‘Trail of Tears’? Sounds so horrible…”

“Because it was. The trek was long and hard. Thousands of Native Americans died during the process of relocation from exhaustion, disease, famine…you name it. Men…women…children…no one was spared its wrath.”

“That’s…that’s terrible,” Kraye said, aghast.

He stood in silence for a long time, staring into the plastic mannequin’s eyes. He was feeling something…a ghostly pain welling up from an ancient past. His stomach seemed to tighten of its own accord, making Kraye uncomfortable.

“And no one thought to stop this,” he asked. “No one thought it was…wrong?”

Jennifer pondered for a moment.

“I can’t say for sure,” she finally replied, “but I think there were a few dissenters back in the day. It didn’t matter in the end. Progress always wins. And it doesn’t care who it leaves behind in the dirt.”

“But that’s not progress that’s…that’s genocide! They may as well have shot those people themselves! At least then it would have been a painless death.”

“Out of sight, out of mind I suppose.”

Kraye looked over the exhibit for a long time.

“It’s so similar,” he began. “It-” He bit his lip. “It’s like…like Af…Afri-” He couldn’t finish. Kraye could only hang his head in despair.

Jennifer seemed to sense that he wanted some time alone.

“I’ll be in the reception area if you have any questions,” she said. Then she was gone.

Kraye raised his head and stared into the gaze of the mannequin man for what seemed like an eternity. But he couldn’t see the plastic figure anymore. No…all he could see was Arden.

Arden…marching through the muck and wilderness of a long distant time.

Arden…beating himself up over his inability to help his wife.

Arden…destroying a bottle of his only solace.

Arden…tripping and falling to the floor.

The pain was intense. It stung deep. But it all made sense. He understood why Arden had been so against these measures from the start. Because he knew. He knew how it always played out. It was so selfish…and Kraye saw that now.

Time passed. The sun lazily dipped below the horizon, covering the land in a dark orange glaze. Dogs barked off in the distance. Humans left their places of work, returning home and settling down on the couch after a long day. Lonely animals wandered the street, looking for scraps of food no one was willing to give.

And the Molkai? They returned to their cushy houses, sealed behind their fierce metal gates manned by unfeeling security personnel.

Out of sight…out of mind…

All the while, Kraye sat there staring into the mannequin’s eyes, unable to tear himself away. It was only when the museum intercom announced they were closing in five minutes that he managed to make his feet move.

As he emerged from the building, a cloud of darkness began sweeping over the land…complementing his grim mood…

 

And so the years marched on…

Nearly two centuries later, new museum was opening in the heart of the human city. This one was of Molkai design, and devoted to humanity. Inside a large, ornate room decked with marble pillars and a high ceiling, a large crowd of Molkaians gathered. A single, female Molkai stepped up to a wooden podium with a microphone and motioned for everyone to be seated and silent.

“We are gathered here today to dedicate this museum to the human race,” she began, speaking the human tongue flawlessly. “To all of those gathered here, I urge you to never forget your history…never forget the things we did in the service of ourselves.”

The audience applauded. A few even cheered. The speaker motioned for quiet once again.

“But I could talk forever on the subject, and my word would still not be enough. That’s why I’m glad to introduce someone who is working side by side with us to ensure that the history will be remembered. I would like to welcome Johnathan Walker to the stage!”

The audience stood up and clapped their hands as an old human male, sat in a wheelchair, made his way to the podium. He had a small oxygen tank on the back of his chair, with tubes that fed into his nose. His eyes were a deep blue, and what remained of his hair was a wiry gray. A couple of Molkaians lowered the microphone so he could speak into it.

“Greetings,” he began, then broke off in a brief fit of coughing. “I’m fine,” he said to the female Molkai, who was about to step in to assist. The old man turned back to the microphone. “You’ll have to excuse me…it’s been a long time since I’ve spoken before such a large crowd.”

He took a deep breath.

“There’s so much I could tell you…but there’s one story in particular I remember…one story I can never forget. I was a child…twelve years old in fact. They came to our city, fed up with the dissent. My family was lucky. We had chosen to be neutral, so we were ignored. But our neighbors weren’t so lucky. They were outspoken critics of the Molkaian regime. A handful of Molkai security busted down their door in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. I remember it well because I was playing in the yard. I could hear the yelling, the screaming…the begging. My mother rushed outside and tried to drag me into the house. But it was too late. I heard the sound of a Molkai weapon discharging. It echoed through the street…which sunk into a deathly silence afterward. The silence was broken by a loud wailing…coming from the house.”

A tear formed in the man’s eyes and he looked away for a second. After collecting himself, he continued.

“Our neighbors had a little girl…about my age. They shot her because she wouldn’t stop crying. Then they dragged the family away. We never saw them again after that. Their house remained empty for years…condemned to waste away into nothing.”

The audience appeared to be hooked on his every word. They never interrupted or made noise, even when he paused. They stayed silent, patiently waiting for him to continue.

“But it wasn’t long before we were forced to move. Buried deep beneath our city was an undiscovered vein of minerals that the Molkai saw fit to take. The vote passed easily and so we had to leave our house behind. The day we left, there were huge protests in the street. It wasn’t until later I discovered that the Molkai didn’t even bother trying to pacify them. They just blew them all into oblivion from orbit.”

He paused again, in the throes of another coughing fit.

“It just…goes to show you…hatred…only brings…despair…”

It was obvious he could no longer continue. The female Molkai speaker came to him and crouched down while another Molkai held his hand over the microphone. There was a brief, indistinct chattering from the podium. Then the old man was wheeled away while the female stepped up to the microphone.

“We do apologize for that. You have to understand, Jonathan is very old and has a hard time speaking. But please, do not let his words go unheeded. It is plain for all to see the damage we have wrought against humanity.”

There was a chorus of murmured agreement from the crowd.

“Now, food will be served shortly in the reception hall. But for now, feel free to browse the exhibits.”

And with that, the crowd dispersed and began meandering around the room. One young Molkai in particular let his eyes run up and down the different exhibits. He examined the arrowheads, pottery, and moved forward through time. He had just finished reading about something called the “atomic bomb” when his eyes caught sight of something strange.

It was a Molkai elder, standing apart from the crowd. He had his arms crossed over his chest and was obviously displeased with his surroundings. Although he knew it was impolite to intrude on the business of an elder, the young Molkaian could not help himself.

He was only within a few feet when the elder finally noticed his approach.

Excuse me,” the young Molkai began in his native language, “but-” He stopped mid-sentence. His eyes were drawn to something around the elder’s neck. It was a faded jade pendant, cut to resemble a five-pointed star intertwined with a crescent moon.

Are you an ambassador,” he asked excitedly, a smile on his face.

The elder looked down at him.

“You speak human,” he asked.

The young Molkai’s smile faded.

“Yes,” he said. “But-“

“Then use it. I have no interest in Molkai anymore.”

“Why not,” the young one asked.

The elder seemed to ignore his question, Instead, he turned his gaze on the wandering patrons. He scoffed. “Look at them…all walking around and paying respects to a race they cared nothing about not that long ago. They’re blind. They can’t even see this museum for what it is: fake. Empty. It’s a lot of pretty words and nothing else.”

“Why do you say that?”

The elder pointed in the direction of the female Molkai that had spoken at the podium.

“You see her?”

The young Molkai nodded.

“Yeah…I think she did a good job speaking.”

The elder let out a small croak of a laugh.

“She’s good at using her words, that’s true. But she’s lying to herself..”

“What do you mean,” the young one asked.

“I bet you didn’t know she used to be an ambassador as well.”

“Really?”

“Do you see a pendant around her neck?”

The young one squinted.

“N-no,” he replied. “Where is it?”

“If I had to guess,” the elder said, “she probably threw it away.”

“But…but why?”

“I remember when she came here…fifty years ago in human time. She was just like the others…always voted yes on the measures. Always voted to further the Molkai cause without stopping and thinking about what it might mean for the human race. She’s pretending…pretending it never happened. She wants to sweep it all under the rug and not take accountability.”

“But what about you,” the young one argued. “What about what you did? It’s not fair of you to judge her like that.”

“Guess what? Life’s not fair. Was it fair that my friend had to watch as his wife slowly died from cancer? Was it fair that our people had the technology that could have saved her life, but refused to use it? Was it fair that I had to watch as he drank himself stupid after her death? At least I know I screwed up. I have no illusions on that front. If you really think it’s not fair of me to judge her, then you’re just as ignorant as the rest of them.”

A long silence passed between the two of them.

“What happened to him,” the young Molkai asked.

“Who?”

“Your friend.”

“To be honest…I don’t know. One day he was there, and the next he was gone. He just packed up and left the city. I never saw him again. He’s dead now for sure. Humans don’t live even half as long as we do, after all.”

The young Molkai looked away from the elder and ran his eyes over the museum.

“I am learning about the hostilities period right now with my class.”

“Oh? And what do you think?”

“After seeing all these weapons the humans built…do they really deserve our respect? They seem so violent and primitive.”

The elder scoffed.

“Have you ever been to the Uninhabitable Zones?” The young one shook his head. “Well if you can go there…if you can see the pollution and devastation we caused…if you can witness all that and then tell me they deserved it? Then maybe you’re right.”

The elder averted his gaze and ran his eyes over some of the exhibits.

“They were once over seven billion strong…and now there’s barely a hundred thousand humans left.”

“Really?” The young Molkai was stunned.

“They didn’t teach you that in school, did they?”

“No…what happened?”

The elder Molkai fixed him with a harsh stare.

“Don’t you know? We happened, kid. We came in and swept the humans aside so we could dig up the ground beneath them. We polluted and destroyed the land with our mining. We kicked them out of their homes and corralled them into makeshift communities while we took what we wanted. And those that didn’t die from easily preventable diseases killed each other over what little food and possessions they were left with.”

The elder let out a long sigh.

“Oh, we pretended like we were doing it for the benefit of both of us, but we were living a lie. In reality, the humans were just an obstacle…an inconvenience standing in the way of us getting what we wanted.”

The elder looked down at the young one.

“History is written by the victors kid. You’d do well to remember that.”

“Why,” the young one asked.

“Because then you might not make the same mistakes we did…the same ones I did.”

And with that, he turned around and strolled out the museum entrance. The young one stood alone in the center of the atrium, watching him go. Eventually, the old Molkai disappeared into the darkness of the night…never to be seen again.

 

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Back to normal next week.

Alien Emotions

Welcome to the fifth of twelve.  For my New Year’s resolution I decided to write twelve short stories this year (one per month) and post them to my blog on the last Wednesday of each month.  This month’s story is called “Alien Emotions”.  Enjoy!

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 1

Ship experienced a catastrophic engine malfunction. I was forced to set down on an uncharted planet.

Landing was rough, so I had the ship perform a scan of my body. Everything seems to be in order. No bones have been broken and my antennae are undamaged. My wings and back are experiencing some soreness, but that should pass.

The climate here is humid and hot. While it is not what my kind are used to, I do not imagine I will have to adapt to it. Repairs should only take a matter of a few cycles.

It is just as well. Orbital scans told me there is nothing of interest here.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 2

It appears my conclusions on this planet’s value may have been made in haste.

As I was conducting my repairs this cycle, I heard a distant rumbling noise. The star had nearly fallen below the horizon, but I decided to go investigate.

I stepped through the trees past my ship and came to a large beach. And there, a little ways offshore, was a series of islands floating in the air. Even from a distance it was clear they were not a natural phenomenon.

I do not know what the rumbling was. It ceased before I was able to determine its location.

Further research is warranted.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 3

Repairs to the shuttle are progressing as expected. The ship should be fully functional within a couple of cycles.

The floating islands, however, are a perplexing enigma. I set the ship to run geological scans while I worked. They appear to have small ecosystems of their own, with cave systems and plant life. There are six different landmasses in total, five smaller ones surrounding one large, central island. And it appears that they are connected by small, metallic walkways.

But there is something far more interesting about them, something I already suspected.

The ship’s scans have revealed a strong energy signature coming from the central landmass. I imagine it powers some type of anti-gravity well that holds the islands aloft. However, the geological scans were unable to penetrate the rock of the central island, leaving me with no clear idea of what the device looks like or what its power source is.

A thought occurred to me during meditation: my orbital scans prior to the ship’s engine failure revealed nothing of this nature. This leads me to conclude that the device is shielded in some way.

Perhaps it was hidden to deter investigation. I should proceed with caution…

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 4

The islands are inhabited.

With the ship’s geological scans proving fruitless, I decided that perhaps it would be best to inspect the central island myself. My theory was that whatever shielding surrounds the device grows weaker as one gets closer to it, which would explain its invisibility when scanning from orbit.

The water around the beach and the islands was shallow, not even making it up to my knees.

I ran my hands along the rock and used the machines embedded in my fingertips to commence a close-range scan. It would appear that the device has a cylindrical shape, and I have detected the unmistakable presence of an anti-matter power source.

It was not long before I noticed I was being watched.

There were only a couple of them: tiny, blue creatures that wore brown cloth around their waists. They stood on two legs and were barely larger than my finger. I paid them little attention as I worked.

Still, I observed that they seemed to show no fear. Curious…but irrelevant all the same.

 

Log Addendum

I have uncovered the source of the rumbling: periodic earthquakes that rack the floating islands. I cannot be certain of the cause, but the ship’s scans have determined that during the quakes the energy signature within the central island fluctuates. My theory is that the device powering the anti-gravity well is starting to fail.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 5

I have had to halt ship repairs for the time being. Evidently one of the native animals took interest in my vessel as I slept and began clawing at the panel where I was working. It managed to remove a power cell and ran off with it. I will have to create a substitute.

My scans of the islands have proven to be more revealing. Near the large cylindrical device there is a rectangular recess with some type of device behind it. I have theorized that it is an access point or panel, but could not find a way to reveal it.

I can only imagine it requires some sort of code.

More of the little blue creatures showed up. There were six of them this time, and it is clear that they are indeed sentient beings. However, clearly they are not the ones who created the device, as they are far too primitive. They seem to inhabit one of the smaller islands, living in small straw huts bound together with some kind of strong, green fiber.

I took more notice of them this time. As I observed before, they stand on two legs. Each foot has three toes, compared to my two, and their hands have six fingers compared to my three. Their eyes are a combination of green and orange, and are considerably large for their body size.

They are unimportant to my work. Still, they should be cataloged.

Perhaps I will collect one of them for examination during the next cycle.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 6

Even now, as I write this, I am unable to explain what happened.

I was continuing my examination of the central floating island when I spotted one of the little island beings. He appeared to be by himself…a perfect opportunity to obtain a specimen for research. I waited until the right moment then grabbed him before he could get away. I turned around, meaning to carry the little creature back to my ship.

Then I realized that was exactly what I intended to do. And I stopped.

There was nothing wrong with my body. My feet were, without doubt, capable of movement and my legs were undamaged. There was no physical explanation for what happened to me. But regardless, as I stared at the wriggling creature trapped between my fingers, I found myself unable to carry him away. It was only when I set him back down that I was able to return to my ship.

I meditated, but even with clarity of mind I could still not explain my sudden inability to act. Even as I emerged from the meditation machine, I found myself in a troubled state of mind. I am concerned that my time on this planet may be affecting my brain somehow.

 

Log Addendum

The ship’s scanner revealed no problems in my cranial structure.

 

Log Addendum #2

I saw something while I slept.

Bolts of electricity shot across the sky and water drowned the world. There was a terrible, thunderous roar. A pair of blazing orange orbs appeared high above me in the gloom.

Then, a colossal hand of gray reached down from above.

I woke up, feeling a tightness in my stomach and a desire to get as far away from some unseen danger as I could.

Was it a dream? Why was I having a dream? Our species have no time for such things. They are useless flights of fancy that stand in the way of logical thinking. We are taught to push them out of our minds from a very early age.

But still…I dreamed.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 7

In between working on repairs to the ship, I meditated on the recent incident.

I still cannot explain what happened, why I was suddenly overcome with the compulsion to let the little island creature go. The logic of the situation dictated that I would take him back to my ship and catalog his species for the database.

But I just could not do it.

And then I realized…it was not that I could not do it, but that I did not want to do it. In that moment as I held the creature in my fingers, I felt something. It was like pain, but not actual pain. It did not have any discernible, physical origin.

The word “emotion” floated into my mind, which makes my body involuntarily shudder.

But maybe that is the only explanation for what happened. Maybe I was afflicted by an emotion.

I should delete this log. If the High Council ever sees it, that will be the end of me.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 8

I decided to forgo my work and called up the ship’s database entry on The Outcasts.

We, the Faloss, rejected emotions as trivial and primitive many revolutions ago. They were detrimental to logical progress and held us back. Even as youth, we are separated from our birthers before too long to prevent us from becoming attached to them.

This is what we believe. The Outcasts do not.

They rejected tradition and left our home planet behind long ago. It is unknown where they went, but it is presumed that they have created their own colony planet where they would be free to pursue their interest in the blasphemy of emotions. Numerous attempts to track them down have all ended in failure.

This is not something I have ever written about in this log before, but a long time ago when I was scanning a dead planet, I came across a ruined Faloss ship. There were no survivors, but I did discover a data cube left behind by the crew. I retrieved it and took it aboard my ship, connecting it to the main database. I immediately recognized the mark of The Outcasts and quarantined the cube, placing it in a container that cut off all remote access going in or out.

But I ask myself something now: why did I never report it to the High Council?

That is the procedure. “Anything you find on an Outcast vessel must be turned in to the Council for examination.” And yet, I never did this. Did I forget about it? Or was there another reason?

When darkness fell this cycle, I pulled the cube out of quarantine storage and set it down next to the database access terminal. It was almost as though it was taunting me, corrupting me with its mere presence. I could almost see a pure aura of blackness emanating from the hideous thing.

No…I must not get lost in falsehoods. I am an observer and a recorder, not a dreamer…

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 9

Repairs to the ship have been completed. I managed to create a substitute power cell to replace the one that was lost. I entertained the idea of searching for it, but even if I found the cell it would likely be too damaged to be of any use.

After I completed the repairs, I found I still had time for more research on the floating islands. I carried a scanning device out to the central island and placed it on top of the spot I determined to be the access point. Despite it being an advanced device, it appeared to have no more luck than I did determining how to trigger the panel.

None of the little creatures showed up this time. I imagine they are rather wary of me now…

But I digress. As I was waiting for my scanner to give me results, I examined the central island and saw something I had not seen before.

A bronze statue, depicting a kind of being I have never encountered.

The creature is shown as being rather muscular, with four fingers on each hand. Instead of toes, its legs (of which it has two) each end in one large appendage, almost like a set of tree stumps. On its head, there are two glittering blue jewels that likely represent the being’s eyes. The statue is painted a deep black, giving it an imposing visage.

But the most curious thing was not the creature himself, but what he was holding.

A representation of the floating islands sat in the statue’s hands. As I took a closer look, I was impressed by the accuracy of the rendering. The shape of the islands, down to the little peaks and valleys, were recreated in surprising detail. I could even see the railings on the metal paths that connected each island. The statue itself was depicted as staring down at the islands, examining them with care.

I can only surmise that the being shown was credited with the creation of the islands, although for what purpose I have no theories as of yet.

But something about the statue troubles me as well. According to the scale, the islands fit easily in the being’s palms, which would make him as tall as a mountain. I cannot comprehend a being that massive in size. It seems like an impossibility.

Perhaps the statue is merely figurative, offering thanks to a deity of some kind.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 10

The little creatures showed themselves again.

It is clear they are not as trusting as before. The three that appeared kept a good distance away from the cliff. I also noticed that they kept themselves within quick reach of a cave entrance on the central island, an obvious avenue of escape should they need it.

My research has been without luck. The scanner fed all manner of data and numbers to the panel, but received no discernible reaction.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 14

I have decided to name the planet Vitellius, after the ancient water god of the Faloss. It seemed fitting, considering the planet is roughly eighty-five percent water.

I have alternated my days between exploring the continent I landed on and studying the islands. The periodic earthquakes appear to have gotten more frequent since I began my observations. And every time, it coincides with a dip in the energy signature. I am now certain that the two are linked.

The anti-gravity mechanism is failing, which means that eventually the islands will fall back into the ocean, taking the creatures that dwell there with them.

But why does this trouble me so? The state of the islands has no impact on me. And yet, I am affected by this knowledge. Is it simply because of the potential scientific information that could be lost?

No. There is more to it. I must meditate.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 15

My terminal tells me that empathy is a forbidden word which is defined as “a false assumption that one can share and even understand the feelings of other beings, even lesser ones.”

I think I am beginning to understand what happened to me that cycle…

Nevertheless, I went to work on the access panel again. This time, only two of the little creatures were watching me. However, they appeared to be less afraid than before, as they had returned to their former spot on the cliff.

This time I brought a powerful laser to try and drill into the rock, to see if I could unearth the panel through more forceful means. I set it up on its three legs, aimed it in the direction of the access panel, and switched it on. For a brief time, it seemed like the laser was having some effect on the rocks. But then, another earthquake struck the island, this one more powerful than any I had yet experienced. My ship later confirmed that it was indeed the strongest one it had recorded thus far.

I cannot help but wonder if my laser was somehow the cause.

The earthquake only lasted a few seconds, but I lost my footing and fell to my knees. As I was getting back to my feet, I saw something that gave me pause.

The quake had caused one of the two little creatures watching to fall over the edge. The being managed to grab a small handhold and was hanging on, but it was clear he was going to lose his grip. The other one was trying to help, but could not reach far enough.

He was terrified, furiously scrabbling at the rocky cliff to find another handhold, but to no avail. The creature kept slipping lower and lower down the cliff. Eventually, he was going to fall.

I cannot say what compelled me to do it. But I did it all the same.

I stepped toward the two of them and, as gently as I could, placed my finger under the struggling creature. Using it as leverage, he managed to push himself back up onto solid ground. After a moment he got back to his feet, turned around, and stared at me.

But I did not pay him any attention, as I saw that my laser had fallen off its tripod and was damaged. I picked it up and made my way back to the ship.

It was only later that it started to trouble me. I meditated until the planet’s star had sunk below the horizon, but I still had no answer for it. Why did I bother helping the creature? What possessed me to do so? They are of little to no consequence.

And yet, I felt some kind of…connection with the little thing. I understood his fear.

These logs are dangerous. Perhaps I should start encrypting them.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 18

More of the creatures have been showing up each time I go over to the islands. It appears that their curiosity has grown since I helped one of them.

No progress on the access point yet. It appears to be as stubborn as I am.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 22

I have been writing in my log less and less. I tell myself it is because of my work, but I know that is not the only reason…

I have finally made some progress with the access point, although entirely by accident. I was removing the scanner from the rock wall when it slipped from my hand. I let out a short gasp of surprise and managed to catch it before it fell into the water. When I looked back up, I saw that a rectangular portion of the rock wall was sliding away, and a red and gray panel was emerging. A green hologram spat out of it, displaying a blue symbol.

However, a moment later, the symbol flashed red and vanished.

It took me a little time to connect my utterance to the reveal of the access panel. I had initially concluded that my scanner had managed to find the correct sequence to reveal it. But when I reattached it, nothing else happened.

Then I understood. The mechanism isn’t activated by numbers or data, but by vocalizations.

This presents another problem: I have no idea the pattern, frequency, or period of these vocalizations. It could be multiple separate tones or one extended, oscillating frequency that I need. Nevertheless, the prospect of making progress is a good one.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 26

Normally, when we Faloss meditate, we do so with the aid of a sensory deprivation machine, which blocks out all unnecessary distractions. But lately, I have been attempting to do so by simply sitting down on the beach near my ship.

I enjoy the feel of the wind on my skin and the sound of the water hitting the shore.

But…why? Why do I enjoy these things? Are they inextricably linked to emotions? Do emotions make these things feel good? I am frustrated because I cannot come up with an answer due to my conditioning as a youth.

Conditioning? I have never called it that before…it sounds terrible and wrong…

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 29

During my meditation, I heard a splashing noise. I opened my eyes and saw that one of the sea creatures had poked its head above the surface a little ways off the beach. It was an ugly fish, with sickly brown-yellow skin and hideous eyes of yellow and black. Its mouth held razor-sharp teeth that it likely used to gorge on prey larger than itself.

But it had its eyes fixed on the islands, as if waiting for something.

Moments later another quake struck, shaking the islands and creating a distant rumble. The fish seemed to grow excited at the prospect of the earthquake, swimming closer to the islands until it was almost under them. The earthquake ended moments later and the fish swam around for a little while. But eventually, its head dipped back below the surface, evidently disappointed.

I had a revelation moments later: it was looking for food.

The fish considered the little blue creatures living on those islands to be prey. It was waiting to see if one of them would fall off. No wonder the creature holding on to the cliff had looked so utterly terrified.

I began to wonder: the statue…the being that I assume created the floating landmasses…did he do it specifically for them? Did he feel some desire to help the little creatures, to safeguard them from their predators? It is the most likely conclusion, because otherwise they would likely never have survived as long as they have, existing in a world where so many things consider them to be prey.

Sympathy…empathy…these words hang on my mind.

As I write this, the Outcast data cube sits next to my terminal. I once again pulled it out of the quarantine storage area.

What does it have to tell me? Should I listen?

Or should I just toss it into the nearest star and forget it ever existed?

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 31

Work is slow. I cannot focus with everything that is on my mind.

I have spent the last two cycles wandering the island. I have found that it helps to ease my troubled mind. It has been fruitful too. During my walk I came across a massive crater in the ground. I can only assume that this was either the result of a meteorite impact (which I doubt, due to the lack of surrounding damage) or it was a chunk of land removed for the creation of the floating islands.

For some odd reason my mind conjured up the image of a gargantuan black hand reaching down and scooping the land out from under itself…

Thoughts like that have been a constant for some cycles now.

That reminds me. Against my better judgment, I installed the Outcast data cube and began reading it.

“We are the Outcasts,” it began. “This is our text, our story, our history.

After the purging of emotions so long ago, much of the Faloss race have reached the conclusion they were nothing but a detriment. We represent the few who do not believe this. We have experienced the power of these emotions…how they can drive us and inform our actions.

When we travel the stars and happen to look down at the worlds in our path, a decision must be made. Do we ignore them and continue on our way? Or do we expend time to learn about them?

Some of these worlds may also be inhabited, populated by creatures that might be less advanced than us. How we act toward them can have serious repercussions on their development. Many of us have read distressing accounts of Faloss scientists who, without hesitation, drastically altered a planet’s climate in a simple attempt to gather data or resources.”

I stopped reading there. There was a pain in my chest I could not explain.

My mind was drawn back to one of my last expeditions…I encountered a planet rich in minerals that were essential to our ship drives. So I landed, set up equipment, and began mining. I took far more than I needed, but I figured the abundance would please the High Council.

The planet was inhabited as well…some type of primitive reptilian people. But, as protocol dictated, I did not pay them any attention or interact with them in any way.

It is only now, looking back, that I realize what I had done. The process of retrieving those minerals had a detrimental effect on the world, drastically altering the climate. The cycle I left, I noticed some extreme weather on the horizon. I did not think much of it at the time, but it was more severe than anything I had seen since I landed there.

Did I devastate that planet simply to get what I wanted?

Did I doom an entire species to extinction for my own selfish reasons?

It is impossible to say…but I must cease writing here. I have no desire to continue…

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 32

I killed a fish. I crushed its skull.

I found myself sitting on a rocky outcrop with my feet dangling over the water, meditating on what I had read on the Outcast’s cube. My eyes were wandering near the floating islands when I spotted something: a brownish fin circling the same spot over and over again.

I squinted, unsure of what was happening at first. But then I saw it.

It was difficult to discern, but one of the little creatures from the islands had fallen into the ocean, likely due a recent earthquake. I remembered how I had seen the sea creature poke its head up, its eyes watching the floating land to see if any food was going to fall down for it.

This time, it got what it wanted.

It is difficult for me to describe what happened next. It was as if I had become consumed by something…a powerful sensation that flooded my entire body. I felt like I was burning up inside, even though my body temperature was well within its normal range.

My hands started to twitch. My mind was filled with the image of the fish gorging itself on the little blue creature.

And then, I acted.

I dropped off the cliff into the water and made my way toward the spot where the fish was circling. It did not take long for the fish to notice my approach. It attempted to swim away, but I was too fast, snatching the creature out of the water and holding it aloft by its tail. It wriggled and squirmed, swinging its head around in an attempt to escape my clutch. When that failed, it switched tactics and attempted to sink its fangs into my thigh.

I took my other hand and clamped its mouth shut as hard as I could. It was not until I heard the cracking of bone that I realized what I had done.

As impossible as it was, time itself seemed to slow down. The fish had ceased moving and hung limply from my hand. I could not help but stare at it, acutely aware of what I had done. The burning sensation gave away to a thick heaviness that weighed me down.

I cannot say how long I stood there, but it felt like eternity.

My eyes drifted away from the dead thing in my hand and down to the water. I could see the little island creature swimming toward me. I doubted he had any idea what I was going through at that moment. Rather, I think he was just in awe of me.

I tossed the fish aside, letting it fall into the water and float away. Then, I bent over and scooped the little being up into the palm of my hand.

It was clear the creature was terrified. He was shivering and wet.

I carried him back to the islands. Time had scarcely passed after I set him down before he took off, running as fast as he could back to his village.

I pitied the creature. That was a certainty. But that was not the only thing that drove me to act.

That burning feeling…I had never felt anything like that in all my existence. I was starting to understand sympathy and empathy. I had learned long ago that fear was something all creatures experience. But this…this was the strongest thing I had felt yet. It had stripped me of all control.

I must meditate some more. There is an answer somewhere…I just need to find it.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 33

Anger. They called it anger.

Once again, despite all the reasons I should not, I read more of the Outcast’s scripture. Much of it was of little interest to me, just a treatise on the Faloss’ history with emotions. Growing weary of it, I started to skim through the text at random. There is an impressive amount of written work stored on the cube, so much so that I would have to spend many cycles just to read through all of it.

However, one particular part caught my eye. It was essentially a catalog of common emotions.

And there was the entry on anger.

“Anger”, it said, “a feeling of displeasure or hostility. Anger is usually directed towards a particular target. This target can be an idea or a location, but is more commonly focused on an individual entity like a living creature (such as another Faloss).”

That was what I felt. I felt a sense of hostility toward the fish because it was trying to harm a creature that could not defend itself against it.

Anger is powerful.

But anger is dangerous as well…

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 34

“Nature does not make mistakes. Nature selects. Nature breeds the qualities that are necessary for survival.

The Faloss lived with emotions for most of their existence. So why do we now believe that they are dangerous? How did we come to the conclusion that they were useless trinkets to be cast off and forgotten?

Nature is variable. Nature is always changing. Nature is cruel.

But nature does not make mistakes.”

This passage from the Outcast text was on my mind as I wandered the continent, the wind blowing through the trees and prickling my flesh. For my entire life, I had believed as all other Faloss believed: that emotions were unnecessary. I still thought this, even as I left my home world to explore the stars.

But now? Now I am not certain. Is it not possible that we made a mistake? Is it not possible that we suffered a lapse in judgment? These “emotions”…they do not feel wrong to me. They feel natural…like they were meant to be a part of my being.

I have decided to name the tiny island beings “Tekkets”, a word from the old Faloss language that roughly translates to “little dweller”.

I have not been back to the islands yet. I feel like they would be too afraid of me now.

Or maybe I am too afraid of myself…

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 35

In an attempt to further my understanding of empathy, I tried to imagine myself in the mind of a Tekket as I meditated. This brought me back to the dream I had after I nearly walked off with one of them between my fingers. I remembered the monstrous, cruel hand that came down for me, a distorted reflection of myself.

Was that how they saw me then, as a monster? Was I some hideous alien tormenting them for my own gain?

But now…what do they think of me now? Surely the circumstances have changed?

There is only one way to find out…

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 36

I finally returned to the islands this cycle. As I approached, my eyes caught sight of a single, lone Tekket standing near the cliff. He spotted me approaching and reacted with what I can only describe as excitement. He began to run toward me.

In fact, he almost ran right off the cliff. Instinctively, I found myself reaching out with my hand to stop him.

But what happened next amazed me. The little creature grabbed my finger without fear and started nuzzling it. So I picked him up. He was unfazed, his curious eyes watching me as he rested his head against my thumb.

He only became nervous when I brought my other hand closer and the micro-sensors embedded in my fingertips began to shoot out tiny blue lights that swept across his body. He started to quiver and closed his eyes. And, out of some kind of compulsion, I whispered to him. I told him not to be afraid. I assured him that I would never hurt him.

There was no way for him to understand what I was saying. But…it worked. He calmed down and stopped shaking.

After my scan was complete I set the little creature back down and went to check on the progress with the central island’s access panel. My sensor device had made some decent headway in the last few cycles. I now know that to unlock the power source, the panel needs five distinct vocalizations. The device has discovered two of them so far, both in a low-frequency range.

I could attempt another way of accessing the panel again, but the risk seems too high. I still cannot be certain if my laser triggered an earthquake or if it was just ill timing on my part, but discovering the access code seems the safest way to proceed.

And I do not want to even think about what would happen to the islands, much less the Tekkets who live on them, if another method failed catastrophically.

The little one watched me all day, sitting cross-legged on the cliff. I cannot understand why he has taken such a fancy to me. The others who came to watch were almost impassive by comparison.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 38

The little one has met me every cycle and I have continued to scan him. I am interested to know more about their development.

It is clear that he is a child in their species, as the data indicates he is undergoing rapid growth and change. My scans have also revealed an interesting facet of their bodies as well: a pair of vestigial gills. It would seem that Tekkets were an amphibious species at one point in their evolution and that aspect of them gradually atrophied as they spent their lives on the islands.

I am beginning to think that the little one is the same Tekket I saved from the fish. It is impossible to say for certain, but it would explain his implicit trust in me.

No more progress on the vocalizations yet. But I suspect it is just a matter of time…

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 39

I carried him on my shoulder.

After I finished my scans of the little one, I had another moment of indecision. There was a pain in my chest. It was as if my past self was rearing up before me, reminding me that these creatures were only to be used for data gathering purposes.

But I was determined that I would never be that same Faloss again. And, almost as if to prove it to myself, I set the little one down on my shoulder.

There was no reason to stay with the scanner, as it would work on its own accord. Therefore, I took another walk around the continent. The little one was clearly pleased to come along. He curled up close to my neck and stayed there for much of the time. I have to admit…I am filled with pleasant sensations just reminiscing about it. The closest emotion I can find to it in the Outcast scripture is “happiness”. Is that what we have been missing for so long? Yes, anger was powerful and terrifying…but happiness? Happiness is nothing of the sort.

This feeling led me to a profound, yet obvious, realization: I saved his life. He would not be here if I had not interfered. He would not be here if I had not heeded the call of my emotions.

Then, a more chilling thought struck me…if I had been the same person on that day as I was when I landed…what would I have done? I ask myself: would I have acted? Of course, I already knew the answer to that.

I would have watched.

I would have observed.

I would have sat there and gathered data while the little one was eaten…

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 43

I am starting to slip in my work. I need to regain focus.

I had forgotten to check on my scanner for the past few cycles and when I returned I found that it had lost all power. After setting the little one down on my shoulder I grabbed the scanner and returned to the ship to charge.

I wonder what he thinks of all these things…my ship, the scanner…this world he lives in. I wonder what he thinks of me…the gray-skinned giant who looks down at him with solid, orange eyes. The little one’s gaze constantly wanders. He reaches out and touches things whenever he can. Just this previous cycle, I found him fiddling with my wings, running his fingers over them. But it does not bother me. I let him do these things, because I understand being curious. Curiosity was what kept me here. Curiosity stopped me from leaving the moment I had completed the repairs on my ship.

Is curiosity an emotion? If it is…then that means I was always broken, even before my “awakening”, as I’ve come to call it.

No…I am not broken. What nonsense is that? I am me.

Water is falling from the sky. I can hear it pelting the outside of my ship. I hope the little one is safe and warm. I had to end our expedition early today because of the arrival of the dark clouds. I did not want him to be caught out in the open when the storm began. I could have sheltered him in my ship, but I believed he would prefer to be among his own people.

I am me…what a strange choice of words.

We Faloss are not a hive mind species. But the concept of being an individual is not often talked about. Everything we have done, will do, and will continue to do is always thought of in terms of what is best for the species as a whole. When Faloss like me go out and observe planets and cosmic phenomenon, we do so with the intent of furthering our collective knowledge.

But this…what I have done here on Vitellius…that was for me. That was for me alone.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 45

It appears that the little one has things to teach me, even if he does not realize it.

I moved my ship over to the beach this cycle, as a way to consolidate my efforts. When I brought the little one over, I set him down as I worked. I tuned the ship in to the sensor device’s frequency so I could observe the results it found in real-time, as well as how much power it had.

After that was done, I began reading more of the Outcasts scripture. It had not seemed like much time had passed, but when I looked in the little one’s direction, I saw something that amazed me. He was picking up clumps of sand from the beach and sticking them together. Fascinated by this almost ritualistic act, I left what I was doing behind and sat on the beach watching him.

He was creating a representation of some rectangular structure with high towers. He shaped it so that it appeared like it sat on top of a high cliff. It did not take him long to notice me watching, which seemed only to encourage him to work even harder.

I wondered why he was doing this. Was it out of some kind of longing? Did he hear tales of the old cities the Tekkets used to live in? Was that what he was doing, creating a remembrance of history? After a moment of thought, I did not believe this to be so. He did not appear forlorn while creating it. Rather, he was enjoying himself. It was a pleasurable activity for him.

There is a word for this…but I cannot remember it at present. I will have to consult the Outcast scripture once again.

It was not long before I felt compelled to imitate his action. I picked up clumps of wet sand and started to create. It was a strange feeling, as though I was being totally consumed by the task. I took more and more sand, building my construct higher and higher still. I felt immense pleasure, almost as though this simple act of sticking wet sand together was enough to trigger the emotion of happiness.

The star was falling below the horizon, signaling the approach of darkness, when I finally finished.

The structure I created was a model of the Faloss Council Tower, an immensely tall structure that stands in the center of our capital city. It is an imposing building, ending in a sharp spire at the very top. In reality, the tower dwarfs the height of an average Faloss by many dozens of times, although the one I had created only reached up to about my waist. I reached out and ran my finger along the spire at the top. The real tower would feel cold and metallic, but the one I had created was soft and malleable, specks of sand tumbling off and falling to the ground as I rubbed it.

The little Tekket was impressed with my work as well. I reached down and scooped him up into the palm of my hand. I brought him close to the side of the tower and he reached out to touch it. His eyes lit up, like little green and orange jewels. He pointed at the top of the tower, then looked at me.

I lifted him up between my fingers and set him down on top of the tower, next to the spire.

The two of us spent the remainder of the cycle watching Vitellius’ star slide below the horizon. I stood on the beach while the little one leaned back against the sandy spire. His little size meant that he could walk around on top without fear of the tower breaking away underneath him.

He looked at me. I looked at him. We were happy.

The sky was nearly black, the white dots of the stars shining down, when I finally carried him back to the islands.

 

Log Addendum

The scripture called it “fun”. The word was an adjective describing something that is pleasurable or entertaining.

It’s like there are pieces of me missing that I am trying to put back into place…

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 47

Four of five vocalizations now. I believe the scanner will finish its task within the next few cycles.

I must go. The little one is waiting for me.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 48

I was not watching. I made a mistake and…he almost died.

I was distracted by my own creation. The sand model of the Council tower managed to withstand the weather of the last few cycles. I was reshaping it, adding little recesses in the side to represent the windows the Council would use to look out over the city.

After a while I wondered what the little one thought of my work. But when I turned around he was not there.

In that moment I felt a sense of panic and fear. My eyes went back and forth across the beach in a frantic fashion, but I could not see him. I turned my gaze to the ground, hoping to see some trace of where he had gone.

I had scarcely began looking when I heard a loud roar.

I raised my head and turned in its direction. And there, barely visible, was the little Tekket. He was sprinting out of the forest beyond the beach, terrified by something. Loud, crashing steps followed along behind him. Soon enough, the creature they belonged to emerged from the trees.

It was some big, quadrupedal thing with an elongated mouth. It had dark, grayish skin and was nearly as tall as me. A long tail swished back and forth as it walked, eyeing the tiny creature attempting to run away. It did not seem at all concerned that its prey would escape, as its head was bent over, sniffing the little Tekket with its flat snout. The creature rose up and licked its mouth, savoring the moment. Rows of gnashing teeth opened up as it went it for the kill.

I snatched up a rock as fast as I could and threw it directly at the creature’s eye. Fortunately my aim was true and the rock dazed it just long enough for me to close the gap. I tackled it to the ground and held it there. It thrashed back and forth, its tail tossing up sprays of sand.

I grabbed another nearby rock and raised it above my head, intent on bashing the creature’s skull in.

But as I watched its reptilian eyes dart back and forth in fear, I hesitated.

This creature was not any more evil than the fish was. It was a simple-minded being looking for food. It was not its fault that the little Tekket looked so appetizing. It was born that way, conditioned by nature to regard the tiny creature as sustenance.

Much like I had been conditioned to regard emotions as useless. Only in my case, there was nothing natural about it…

So I dropped the rock and stood back up, letting the creature roll back onto its feet. But before it could do anything else, I gave it a swift kick to the chest, sending the creature scurrying back into the forest.

I spent the rest of the cycle sitting on the beach, holding the Tekket between my fingers. He kept shivering, his eyes darting back and forth like he was afraid the monstrous creature would show itself again it any moment. I nuzzled him in an attempt to calm him down. but it did not work. His body continued to quiver with fear.

When I finally returned him to the islands, he ran off without even looking behind him…

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 49

I feel…empty…like I have been drained of all feeling.

I realize now that I was a fool. I was being selfish. The little Tekket made me happy, so I kept him with me because I wanted to continue being happy.

I knew how dangerous this world was for them. But I ignored it.

Maybe this is why our people cast off emotions long ago, because they knew that it led to bad decisions. Maybe I should never have interfered with them.

Maybe I just made things worse…

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 50

Fifty cycles. I have been here for fifty cycles.

It is hard for me to fathom that right now. The planet clearly has nothing more of interest for me aside from the device that powers the floating island. And yet, I am still here.

I have calculated that this planet’s revolution around its star lasts roughly two hundred of its cycles. Interesting, considering that my home planet’s cycles are longer and it takes nearly four hundred of them before a revolution is complete.

It is not an important distinction, but it distracts me.

It keeps away the dark thoughts that otherwise plague my mind…

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 51

My carelessness could doom their entire species.

Even with real-time monitoring, I slipped and allowed the scanner to run out of power again. It has been without power since the cycle my little friend was nearly eaten. I am charging it even now.

The earthquakes are worse now, more frequent and more powerful.

I have to get back to work. I have already interfered, so I might as well finish my task.

I owe the Tekkets that much at least…

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 52

The scanner is back in place, doing its job.

The little one hasn’t shown up ever since that incident. I cannot blame him. He must be terrified of stepping foot outside his home now.

And it is my fault. I failed in my responsibility to keep him safe.

This is the most potent sadness I have felt yet. It weighs on me cycle after cycle. It is strong and pervasive. And it never seems to end.

Is this how I am going to feel for the rest of my existence?

I cannot deal with this.

I cannot live like this.

Perhaps I should forget these emotions while I still can.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 53

I was meditating on the beach when it finally happened.

The scanner found the last frequency for the access panel and the device revealed itself. The first indication of something happening was a distant rumbling. At first, I believed it was just another earthquake. But when I opened my eyes I saw that the central island was splitting open like an egg, revealing a bizarre orange and gray contraption shaped like a massive drill.

And in the center was a clear cylinder full of glowing light.

I was correct. The device was indeed powered by anti-matter. This was good news, as it should be easy for me to replicate another power cell for it. The bad news is that I have no idea how to switch them out without the device losing power completely and sending the islands crashing into the ocean.

But I am tired and I must sleep. I will work on this issue in the coming cycle.

 

Log Addendum

I am shaken by the dream I just had. In the dream there was a loud rumble and a thunderous crash. I ran out of my ship and found that the islands were gone. They had fallen into the ocean and were swallowed whole by the hungry water.

In their place stood a mountainous creature.

The one who created the islands.

The one the Tekkets venerated with their statue. He had smooth, obsidian skin and eyes of blazing blue fire. He gazed down at me with intense authority.

He was judging me.

He was judging me because I had failed.

I woke then, in the fit of fear, shaking and cold with the rain drumming against the metal hull of my ship.

Failure is not an option. I must succeed, even if just for the sake of my own mind.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 54

They were…waiting for me.

I went back to the islands today to investigate the device and determine how I could re-fuel it without powering down the entire mechanism. The Tekkets were standing on the cliff. There were at least a couple dozen of them. They waved as I approached. They were happy to see me.

But that was not the most stunning development.

As I was examining the device, my attention was drawn back toward the statue. And it was there that I saw it:

Another statue…but of me.

Just like the other statue, their depiction was very accurate. They had large orange jewels for my eyes. They gave me three fingers for each hand and two toes for each foot. They even captured the pattern on my wings, veins like those you find on tree leaves. It was not fully complete, as it still had the metallic brown color of bronze. I imagine they are going to begin painting it soon enough.

But, like before, the most fascinating thing about the statue wasn’t its accuracy.

In one of my hands, I was holding a fish by its head and my eyes were turned toward it. And, kneeling at my feet, was a representation of the quadrupedal beast that had nearly devoured the little one. Its reptilian eyes were turned up toward me in a gesture of submission.

They were venerating me with this statue, just as they did the island creator. I did not know if I was comfortable being thought of as a deity.

But maybe that was not the case. In all my observations, I have never noticed the Tekkets treating the statues like objects of worship. Maybe it signifies a kind of respect. Maybe they are thanking me for the things I have done.

However, the fact remains that my work is not yet finished.

My investigations revealed no backup power source for the device. This means that I will have to rig up some kind of secondary power supply and patch it in to the device to keep it powered while I work.

If I had not arrived here when I did…I do not want to think what might have happened to them.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 55

I have created a second cell. I siphoned some of the anti-matter from my ship. As it turns out, I did not need as much of it as I had originally thought. The anti-gravity device is very efficient. One cell should be enough to power it for several hundred revolutions.

This makes me wonder…is the island creator still alive? Does he know what I am doing? Or did he pass long ago, never knowing what became of the little ones he had saved?

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 56

I now have a backup power source. I created one using my sensor device and the laser that had once attempted to cut through the rocks. However, I am concerned, as it is an unwieldy combination and could be highly unstable.

The next cycle will be the moment of truth. Will I succeed in my aims? Or will I just make things worse? My hands twitch and my breath is shaky whenever I think about it.

But regardless, I must continue. This is not a time for hesitation.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 57

I did it…by the stars, I did it.

I was afraid I would not succeed at first. Having an audience of Tekkets only made matters worse. They showed up in far greater numbers than they had the cycle previous.

They knew something big was happening.

The moment I hooked up the backup power source it emitted a horrible droning sound. I knew it wouldn’t last long so I immediately removed the anti-matter power source from the device. The moment I did, the islands began to quake, worse than they ever had before.

It was as if everything was falling apart around me, like I had failed before I had even begun.

But gradually, things calmed down. The backup power source worked. I could not help but sigh with relief.

I retrieved the new anti-matter cell from my ship and placed it inside the device. Initially, it refused to work. I tried activating it several times, but to no avail. I could feel my heart beating fast. My hands twitched and I found it hard to focus. I had believed that anger was by far the most powerful emotion…but it seems I still have a lot to learn.

After attempting to re-insert the cell several times over I had an idea. I went to my scanner that was still attached to the rocks and had it replay the sequence of sounds that revealed the device.

There was a moment of silence after it had finished.

Then…it started to work.

The anti-matter cell began to glow brightly, and a loud clicking told me it was now locked into place. There was a loud pulsing drone that indicated the device was fully functional again. I disconnected the backup power source just as the rocks began to slide back together. As I did so, a strange sound reached me. It was a whole chorus of little voices.

They were cheering. They were cheering for me.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 60

Everything appears to be well with my re-infusion of anti-matter into the device. There have been no more signs of degradation or earthquakes. Nevertheless, I must stay here for a little while longer to ensure that everything is fine.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 62

My ship has not recorded a single earthquake. It is done. They are safe.

 

Komir’s Log, Cycle 64

I am leaving soon.

I spent the last couple of cycles with my little friend. He seems to have recovered from his encounter with the predator and is once again happy.

It rained. We sat together in my ship and watched the water fall on the beach. He was on my shoulder, once again curled up against my neck. For the first time since I came here, I felt truly at peace.

I have made my decision. When I leave this planet, I am going to seek out the Outcasts. I want to learn more about the history we have lost.

But before I leave, I am going to place a device on the center island that will enable me to monitor the power of the anti-gravity device, even when I am light-years away from here. I do not know if the island creator will ever return. But in the event that he does not, I will keep a watchful eye on the Tekkets for him.

And if I pass on…someone else will have to take my place.

Saying goodbye to Vitellius is going to be one of the hardest things I have ever done. I am certain I will return from time to time, simply to pay the Tekkets a visit. But I can never return to my home world. If they discover what I am now…they will surely execute me.

Maybe time will change their minds. Maybe it will not. I am strangely indifferent about it.

When the star rises…it will be the last I see of it for quite some time…

 

Log Addendum

As I slept, I saw the island creator again. He was happy.

 

Thanks for reading.  Let me know what you thought in the comments below!

As always, check back next Wednesday for another post, and have a wonderful week!

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When the World Looked Up

Welcome to the fourth of twelve.  For those who don’t know, I’m writing twelve short stories this year, one each month.  On the last Wednesday of each month, instead of my regular blog post I will be posting the short story from that month.  Enjoy and let me know what you think in the comments!

 

“Wait…you’re saying it’s going out over the air?”

“Yes. I’ve been getting calls about it all morning…hang on there’s another one. Hello? Yes ma’am, we’re aware of the interference…yes we’re trying to fix it ma’am…I…wow. She hung up on me.”

“How is that possible?”

“I have no idea. Look I’m trying my best here, but I gotta get back to work. I barely have enough time in between all the phone calls. I’ll let you know if anything changes.”

The producer leaned back in her chair and rubbed her eyes with a combination of tiredness and frustration. Working the morning shift was not an easy one. The hours were odd and sleep was a luxury most days. The strange interference wasn’t helping matters. It was a constant pulsing noise that came in through their headsets as well as the speakers. There were five people including her in the production booth and they could all hear it.

It started without any warning. She had been sitting back in the newsroom writing the script for the show when the master control operator, Keith, called the phone at her desk. He seemed hurried and didn’t say much…but she could tell he hadn’t dealt with anything like it before.

That was almost two hours ago.

“Didn’t sleep well?”

The producer turned her head and gave the director a smile.

“Yeah…just one of those nights I guess.”

“Gotta say, I don’t envy you. I have enough trouble trying to be here by five in the morning, much less one-thirty.”

The producer laughed.

“Well you haven’t missed a day yet Martin, so I’d say you’re doing fine.”

The two of them looked up at the giant clock. It read “5:45:23” in big red numbers. Fifteen minutes, she thought to herself. If we can’t get this problem fixed…do I call off the show?

“What do you think? Do we go on as usual,” the director asked, almost as if he could read her mind.

The producer shook her head.

“I don’t know…”

“I’ll say this…if the interference is already going out over the air I don’t really see any point to canceling the show. Might as well report on it.”

“But it’s been going on for almost two hours. How do we know it’ll stop?”

“We don’t,” the director said. He cracked his knuckles. “In the end it’s up to you Sarah. This is your show after all.”

The producer glanced at the clock again. Fourteen minutes to go…

“Hey Sarah,” a voice buzzed in her headset.

“Yeah Keith?”

“It’s not just our station.”

The producer sat up straight.

“What?”

“I just got off the phone with the local CBS affiliate. They’re getting the same interference. Apparently it’s affecting all of the local stations.”

“What…how?”

The master control operator opened his mouth to answer but was cut off by the phone ringing.

“Hang on a minute,” he said. Through the window she saw him set his headset down and grab the phone.

“You know I’ve been here about six or seven years…and I gotta say I’ve never seen anything like this,” the director said. “I mean there’s interference in our headsets every once in a while from the radio stations, but something that can actually transmit itself over the air? It would have to be one hell of a signal.”

“I don’t even understand how-”

“Hey Sarah?”

“What’s up Keith?”

“I’m on the phone with the main ABC station down south. They’re getting it too.”

The producer stared at him, incredulous. “Wait…are you saying that it’s affecting the entire state?”

“It might be…I don’t know. I need to-”

He wasn’t able to finish. Everyone looked up in shock as the droning noise suddenly stopped and was replaced by a new sound. It was no longer a hum, but a pattern of beeping noises that repeated itself every few seconds.

“What the hell…” the director muttered.

But the producer didn’t hear him. Her eyes narrowed as she listened to the pattern. “Dot dot dot…dash dash-” Then it hit her. “Oh my god, that’s an SOS signal!”

The director stared at her.

“What?! You’re kidding!”

“No I’m serious,” the producer insisted. “Three short, three long, three short,” she said. “It’s Morse Code!”

“But who the hell is sending it,” the director asked.

The producer lifted her eyes and stared at the speakers, a chill falling over the room.

“I have no idea…”

 

“Welcome to the Morning Show on channels five and ten! Now here’s your host, Olivia Redding!”

“Good morning, I’m Olivia Redding. Normally we would go right into weather with Devin, but this is not a normal morning. For just over two hours now, a signal has been going out over our airwaves. It started as a pulsating drone, but then about ten minutes before we went on the air it changed. You are hearing that signal now.”

The anchor paused to let the audience listen.

“It may be familiar to some of you…it is an SOS signal in Morse Code. Morse Code was first invented back in the 1830s and was used to send text information as a series of tones, lights, or clicks. The international Morse Code signal for an SOS or distress call is three short, three long, three short. At the moment we have no idea where the signal is coming from, but we do know it is affecting television stations all across the state.”

She paused, holding a hand to her ear.

“I’ve just been informed by our producer, Sarah, that we are turning you over to Good Morning America for a special report. We now go live to Christopher Emerson in New York.”

 

All across the nation, television screens were filled with the image of a man sitting behind a glass desk. He had dark black hair, brown eyes, and wore a black suit and tie. The expression on his face was one of utter seriousness.

“Good morning America, I’m Christopher Emerson with this special report. Approximately two hours ago, a signal was picked up going over television and radio airwaves, a signal you are hearing presently. It has been determined that it is a Morse Code SOS, a distress call first adopted by the German government over a hundred years ago. The signal has affected over two hundred different television and radio stations across the nation. And we have just recently learned that it is not isolated to our shores. Several major television networks over in Europe have confirmed that they are picking up the signal as well. We are expecting more confirmations to come in from our country and beyond as the morning continues.”

The television cut to a new camera shot, showing a balding, middle-aged man sitting across from Emerson. He was wearing a white lab coat and a gray laptop was sitting in front of him.

“We turn you now to Bradley Anderson, a scientist for the CERN institute in Switzerland. We were very lucky to have Bradley on site this morning, as he was originally scheduled to talk to us about an exciting new experiment CERN was undertaking. Brad, thank you for joining us,” Emerson said as he turned toward him.

“Thank you for having me Chris.”

“Now, tell us what we know so far.”

“As you said, a little over two hours ago the signal began interfering with television and radio transmissions all over the United States as well as other countries. At approximately six-fifty eastern time here in New York, the ‘pulsing’ ceased and was replaced by a series of tones which we have identified as the Morse Code SOS.”

“Now, some people on GMA’s social media pages have been speculating that this might be some kind of attack by Russia or North Korea…an attempt to disable our communications. Could there be any truth to this?”

“It’s extremely unlikely Chris. If this was really an attack, then it failed.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if it was an attempt to disable our communications, then it didn’t work because we’re still talking to each other just fine.”

“Then where is the signal coming from,” Emerson asked.

“That’s what we’ve been trying to figure out. I’ve been in contact with some of my colleagues at CERN and they’ve been in conference calls with scientists all over the world. They’re getting very close to determining the signal’s origin. It’s been difficult because of all the interference, but we should have an answer within the next few minutes.”

“Good to hear. Now, before we went live the two of us were discussing this phenomenon. You said that the pulsing was a…’data burst’ of some kind?”

“Precisely. The noise we heard before the SOS signal was a transmission of encoded data that repeated itself every couple of minutes. It’s incredibly complex and our people at CERN are trying to decipher that as well. But it might be days before we even have an idea of what we’re looking-”

The laptop in front of Anderson started beeping.

“Well it appears we have our answer,” he said.

Anderson clicked a button and it stopped. He opened his mouth to say something else, but stopped. His eyes went wide and his mouth hung open in shock.

“Brad? What is it,” Emerson asked. “What’s wrong?”

“The signal,” Anderson finally said, “it’s not from here.”

“What do you mean?”

He turned the computer around. And as viewers all over the nation watched, Emerson’s traditionally calm demeanor twitched. Something between awe and fear registered on his face. His eyes went wide and he was unable to speak.

“If this is correct,” Anderson explained, “the signal is coming from somewhere beyond the moon.”

The two of them were silent for a moment. On the computer screen was an image of Earth and a blinking green dot past the moon. Then, Emerson managed to collect himself. He turned away from Anderson and the television switched to a straight-on camera shot of him.

“That was Bradley Anderson, a scientist with the CERN institute. It is uncertain what this latest development will mean, not just for us here in the United States, but for the world at large. We are still waiting to hear an official statement from the White House. For that, we go live to our official White House Correspondent…Tricia, what do you have for us?”

“Not much Chris. The president still has not signaled when she plans to release a statement to the press. As we know, Congress was expected to vote on the president’s budget proposal this morning. They are currently in the second hour of a massive filibuster…”

 

President Amelia Garland ran a hand through her long red hair, her shiny green eyes staring out the Oval Office window. Her bright red blazer and black pants looked faded and dull in the gloomy reflection. It was a rainy day in Washington. The sun hadn’t shown its face since the early morning.

They always said you should be prepared for anything, she thought to herself. Well I doubt they had this in mind.

Tiring of the cloudy view, President Garland turned away from the window. Her eyes fell on a small flat screen television an aide had wheeled in for her. On screen was a shot of the Senate floor. An older man was speaking at a podium. He had wiry gray hair and brown eyes. The camera bore down from above on his thin rimmed glasses and stuffy gray suit.

“This budget proposal is a preposterous measure,” he was saying. The graphic underneath identified him as Senator Scott Connelly. “These massive cuts to defense spending will not stand,” he continued. “We must protect our own. Our enemies know that the best time to strike is when we are at our weakest.”

Garland sighed. Connelly had been a staple from back when she was a senator. She never cared for him. His face reminded her too much of a smug toad.

She heard a knock at the door.

“Come in.” she called.

In stepped John Hayes, her Secretary of State. He had blue eyes, black hair, and wore a traditional ensemble: gray suit, blue tie, and gray pants. He was the spitting image of a stuffy politician, but his heart was in the right place.

“You’re still watching this,” he asked, pointing to the TV. “Who’s on the floor now?”

“Our old friend.”

“Still? He’s been at it for over an hour.”

“One hour, fifteen minutes.”

Hayes gave her a look.

“I like to keep track,” she said with a shrug.

“And now,” Connelly said on the TV, “we have this new matter of the signal from outer space. We must be prepared for any and every contingency. To that end, we must continue to fund our military to ensure that they are able to protect us from any outside threats. I remember when I was a little boy in grade school…”

“I thought he hated filibusters,” Hayes said.

“When he’s not the minority leader he does,” Garland replied.

Hayes looked at the TV and shook his head. “What a piece of work.”

“Did you have something for me John,” Garland asked.

“Yes,” the Secretary of State replied, turning his attention back to the President. “I wanted to give you an update on decoding the data burst.”

“Didn’t CERN say it would take them days, maybe even weeks?”

“Not anymore.” Hayes stepped forward and handed her a sheet of paper. “Take a look at this.”

Garland ran her eyes over it. The writing made no sense to her, although she could tell it was some kind of repeating pattern of numbers and letters.

“What is it,” she asked.

“A decryption key, embedded at the beginning of the signal transmission. CERN informed us that with this key, they should be able to decode the data in a matter of hours, not days.”

“Incredible…”

“What’s our next move,” Hayes asked.

“We don’t have one.” Garland looked back up at the Secretary. “Not yet at least. We can only wait and see what they come up with. Then we decide how to proceed from there.”

“What about Congress? Hell, what about Connelly,” Hayes ask, nodding at the screen. “He’ll never go for anything you put forth. He’s consistent about that at the very least.”

Garland laid her eyes on the television.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

 

Deep in an industrial laboratory heads were scratched over and over again as minds tried to wrap themselves around massive amounts of data. The discovery of the decryption key was a great boon, as it sped up the process. But even so, the decoding was tedious at best.

No one could deny that the scientists at CERN were hard at work. Suddenly, one of them burst into the large conference room, having just made the breakthrough they needed.

“I did it,” the scientist exclaimed. “I know what it’s for!”

The other scientists gathered around him as he slapped a printout onto the white board.

“It’s anti-matter,” he said. “It’s a formula for creating anti-matter!”

“But…that’s insane,” one of them exclaimed. “How could synthesizing anti-matter be this easy?”

“Their grasp of science far outclasses ours,” the first scientist explained. “It stands to reason that at some point during their technological advancement they would figure out some shortcuts.”

“But why would they send this to us? Unless…”

The speaker trailed off and the room was silent. It hit them all at once.

“They lost power,” someone said.

“And now they have no way of getting home,” said another.

“Forget getting home,” the first scientist said. “If they’re running out of power, then a more crucial concern for them would be life-support. The air they breathe, if it even is air, is probably running out.”

They looked over the fantastical blueprints taped to the board in front of them. When they first decrypted a large segment of the data they found instructions for building some kind of containment device. It was clear that they would have to substitute materials for its creation, as the specifications called for things humanity had never heard of. But they got it done.

It was decoding what the device was supposed to contain that took some time. The translations offered by the alien signal were only partial, indicating that some words were impossible to replicate in human language. One of those turned out to be the alien name for “anti-matter”.

“How long do you think they have,” someone asked.

“I have no idea…we can’t even say for certain that they need air or that there’s even a crew aboard that ship. For all we know, it’s an automated vessel.”

The scientist responsible for the recent discovery turned his eyes away from the whiteboard. He walked over to the large wooden conference table and ran his hands along it.

“What are you thinking?”

“We can create the device and synthesize the anti-matter in a matter of a few days,” he explained. “With these blueprints it’ll be surprisingly easy. But getting it out to them is another matter. The only space shuttle scheduled to leave Earth in the near future is the Atlas, and that wasn’t supposed to happen for another four weeks.”

“Then we’ll get President Garland to move up the schedule.”

“There’s another problem,” the scientist said, still tracing the patterns on the table with his finger.

“What’s that?”

“This information…we can’t keep it a secret. If we deliver it to the United States and the United States alone…it’ll cause a massive international incident.”

“You’re not seriously suggesting we broadcast it worldwide?”

“What other choice do we have? Right now we do not need to be fighting with each other.”

“But how do we know the information will be used wisely? Someone could take it for themselves and try to build a weapon.”

The scientist stood up straight and turned his eyes on his colleagues.

“We don’t. But the alternative is a mass outrage the world can’t afford.”

“Well someone needs to relay this information. Who’s it going to be?”

“I’ll do it,” the first scientist volunteered. His eyes wandered to the printout he had taped to the board. “It was my idea after all.”

 

Hours passed. Back in Washington, President Garland still had her eyes glued on the television.

“You don’t hand a child a potential weapon,” Connelly said. “Whoever these creatures are, they have handed us something that could easily be turned into a tool of mass destruction. It doesn’t make sense…unless they have some kind of ulterior motive…unless they want us to destroy ourselves.”

“Yeah he’s been going on like that since the news broke,” Hayes said as he walked in.

“Hardly surprising,” she responded.

“We should not devote our time and energy to the creation of such a device,” Connelly continued. “It would play right into their hands.”

Hayes clicked the TV off.

“I think that’s enough of that,” he said.

The phone rang. Garland put it on speaker.

“Yes?”

“Madam President, Zachary Ross is here.”

“Send him in,” she said, then hung up.

“You invited the head of NASA?”

“I did.”

“Even with Congress blocking your every move?”

“There are ways around them,” Garland replied in a cryptic manner.

The door opened. An African-American man in his mid-thirties entered the Oval Office. He had blue eyes and short brown. His face was clean-shaven and youthful in appearance. He was wearing a black dress shirt with dark gray pants, noticeably less formal than Garland or her Secretary of State.

There was a twinkle in Ross’ eyes when he spotted Garland.

“Madam President,” he said with a smile.

“Please Zach, just call me Amy. We’ve known each other for far too long.”

Garland took her seat and motioned for the other two to sit as well.

“What’s our situation,” Garland asked.

“Moving the Atlas’ launch date up shouldn’t be a problem,” Ross said as he took his seat. “But there are other complications.”

“Go on,” Hayes said.

“The problem is fuel efficiency. Atlas‘ mission was to rendezvous with the International Space Station on a simple supply run. We can add more fuel to the shuttle and help it get past the moon, but the engine we’re using is out of date. That means we could get the shuttle out there, but it wouldn’t have enough fuel to get back.”

“I see…” Garland said. Hayes gave her a sharp look.

“Tell me you’re not considering this,” he said.

“Of course not,” she replied. “It would be a suicide mission. I could never authorize that in good conscience.”

“There are other options,” Ross continued. “We’ve tossed around the idea of adding miniature rocket boosters to the Atlas life pod which could be used when the main engines run out of fuel. But such a process is delicate. If the boosters aren’t secured in the right way, the resulting heat could leak into the cabin and kill the astronauts, not to mention all the logistical issues with-”

The phone ringing cut him off. Garland picked it up.

“This is the President.”

“Ma’am,” an aide said over the phone, “I have a…General Garrett from the eastern seaboard on the line. He says it’s important.”

“Patch him through…hello? General?”

“Madam President, we have a situation,” a gruff voice said. “A Chinese cargo plane is about to violate U.S. airspace.”

“What?!”

“We estimate they will enter our airspace in less than a minute…hold on a second ma’am…yes? What is it…what? Can you confirm that? Hmm…all right…madam President?”

“Yes General?”

“We just received a message from the plane. Ma’am…they say they’re carrying a new type of rocket booster on board…a gift for the Atlas that should boost its fuel efficiency.”

“Is there any way to confirm they’re telling the truth?”

“Our initial scans show no suspicious heat signatures, but without visually inspecting the cargo it’s impossible to be certain. They’ve relayed a message from the Chinese president, but the plane will be within our airspace long before we can confirm its authenticity. We need a plan of action ma’am.”

Time never moved as slow for Amelia Garland as it did during the next twenty seconds. She leaned back in her chair and rubbed her temple with her free hand. These were the decisions that could make or break a president. She had no way of knowing is this was some kind of trick…an attempt at sabotage.

But if it was true…if they were really willing to collaborate…it would be just what they needed. Any help from other countries was more than welcome.

Garland felt the eyes of Ross and her Secretary of State on her. But they had no idea about the dilemma she was facing. If she let them in and something went wrong, people like Connelly would hold it over her for the rest of her term in office. Hell…she’d hold it over herself for the rest of her life.

But if she didn’t do it…

Garland sat up straight. Her decision was made.

“Bring them in,” she ordered.

“Yes ma’am,” the General replied.

“But have them land at an isolated airfield. At the very least, if it is some kind of ploy, they’ll be isolated. Bring them in, quarantine the situation until you can verify the cargo, then report back to me. And General? Take every precaution you need.”

“Affirmative ma’am.” Then he was gone.

“What was that all about,” Hayes asked.

“Apparently the Chinese have a gift for us,” Garland said as she hung up the phone. “Some new type of rocket booster for the Atlas that would boost our fuel efficiency.”

“No…it couldn’t be,” Ross said, more to himself than anyone.

“What is it Zach?”

“Have you ever heard of the Divine Hammer?”

“No,” Garland said. “What is it?”

“Supposedly it’s the most advanced rocket booster ever constructed, one that exponentially increases fuel efficiency. If that’s what they’re willing to give us…”

“It would break all sorts of precedents, that’s for sure,” Garland replied. “If it all checks out, would you be willing to allow them access to the Atlas?”

“I don’t see much choice in the matter. It’s either that or we go it alone.”

“What are we going to do about Congress,” Hayes asked. “That filibuster will stop anything we try and do.”

Garland stared into the black void of the television screen for a moment.

“Then we go over their heads,” she said. “Hayes, grab an aide and begin drafting an executive order.”

“Connelly and his friends aren’t going to like this,” Hayes said as he got up from his chair.

“They’ve made a point of disliking everything I do,” Garland replied. “Just get it done.”

“Yes madam president.”

 

There were six of them on board the plane: four engineers, one astronaut, and the pilot. They were quickly escorted off when it landed and men in green uniforms armed with assault rifles moved onto the plane. They swept their rifle-mounted flashlights all over the interior, dots of white light crawling across the walls like lightning bugs.

They paused before a massive blue tarp.

“Sir, we found something underneath a tarp,” reported one of the men. “Should we wait?”

“Pull it off immediately,” came the order. “We need to be certain what we’re dealing with.”

“Yes General. Help me with this,” he ordered his comrades.

Four of them removed the bungee straps and pulled the tarp off. When they saw the giant hunk of black metal, they knew. It hadn’t been a lie. It hadn’t been a trick. It was real. They had been telling the truth.

Standing before them was the Divine Hammer, the most powerful rocket booster ever created…

 

“Yes. Thank you General. Please, see to it that they arrive at the Atlas launch site in good time.”

With that. Garland hung up the phone. Not long ago she had been on the line with the Chinese president. He had one condition: if the U.S. was to use the Divine Hammer, one of their astronauts would be sent up into space with it. Garland saw no reason to argue. The possible implications of what was happening were too great. This was no time for artificial lines in the sand.

And yet, it wasn’t all in the spirit of their common humanity. The Chinese president knew that the Atlas was the only shuttle that could get out there in time. He also knew that whatever technology might be on board that ship would be centuries beyond anything humanity had as of yet. Whoever had access to such technology would have a great advantage. In the end, Garland knew he was being pragmatic.

The phone rang again. It was one of her aides.

“Ma’am, I have the Russian government on the line. Apparently they’ve found out about the Chinese cargo plane and are demanding a place at the table.”

Garland’s mouth curled into a half smile.

“Tell them to pull up a chair.”

 

It was the fastest the world governments had moved in recent history.

Connelly and his allies, predictably, railed against Garland’s executive order. They called it a “flagrant abuse of power”. They said it showed “terrible decision making”. They condemned it in as many ways as they could. In the end, it didn’t matter. The mission moved forward despite their objections.

A little over a week later, the Atlas was ready for launch. It had only taken a few days to get the new booster installed, thanks to the help of the Chinese engineers. The Russians didn’t come empty handed either. They provided extra fuel, so much so that the Atlas could make the trip twice over.

But still, Zachary Ross had qualms about the mission.

They were certain the shuttle would make it off the ground, but after that things were less clear. Would the shuttle make it there in one piece? Would the new booster function as advertised? No one could say.

And yet, they all knew how important this was.

“Five minutes to launch”, a voice said over the intercom.

After the first couple of days, the alien signal ceased. He wondered if they knew what humanity was doing, if they knew help was on the way. It was a crucial moment in history. What happened here could determine all of mankind’s future interactions with extra-terrestrial beings.

If we ignore this cry for help, what kind of message does that send, he asked himself.

Ross was standing square in the middle of the mission’s command center. All around him were computers and control panels manned by NASA personnel. Dominating the room was a gigantic, green-tinted screen that would show the progress of the Atlas.

“Four minutes to launch.”

Ross turned his attention to the main screen. He couldn’t help but feel anxious about the situation. The lack of proper safety checks…the rushed schedule…it was asking for trouble. But there was no choice. The aliens had sent their signal over a week ago. They could be dead by now for all they knew.

But they had to try. Contact was so close…

 

“Two minutes to launch.”

Three astronauts were sitting inside the Atlas. One was an American, one was Chinese, and the other was Russian. It was part of an international accord between the countries, so that none of them could gain a technological foothold over the others by using what they might find.

“We should get going already,” said the Russian.

“Would you rather we blow up on the landing pad,” asked the American.

“Beats just sitting here.”

The Chinese astronaut, on the other hand, sat still in his seat without a word. The other two had to admit that they found his silence a little disconcerting. Nevertheless, they knew they had to trust each other.

“One minute to launch.”

Out through the main window, the sky was bright and blue without a cloud in sight. The launch conditions had been perfect. No wind or other weather to hamper the landing pad. It was an auspicious start.

“Thirty seconds.”

The three of them adjusted their straps, ensuring they were in good condition.

“Twenty.”

“Here we go boys,” the Russian shouted with excitement.

The other two said nothing. They stared straight ahead and braced themselves.

“Ten…nine…eight…seven…six…”

 

“Five…four…three…two…one…we have ignition!”

Zachary Ross watched as clouds of thick smoke and fire enveloped the Atlas on the main screen. Soon enough, it was soaring off into the sky.

“Everything looks good,” a man sitting at a nearby control panel informed him. He nodded and continued watching. The blinking green dot that represented the shuttle climbed higher and higher, ascending through the clouds and breaking the bonds of gravity. It took only a matter of minutes before they hit the atmosphere.

“And…they’re through! Detaching Stage 2 rockets.”

So far…so good, Ross thought to himself.

 

The launch had been a little rougher than the astronauts anticipated. But when they passed through the atmosphere, things smoothed out. Once the rockets had detached and the Divine Hammer started its work, the three of them were able to relax. As the minutes ticked by the American found his eyes drifting from the instruments to the endless void outside. He stared into it for a long time, unable to fight the crippling sensation of smallness he felt.

“Amazing…isn’t it?”

The American turned to find the Russian staring off into the blackness as well.

“For all we know about space,” the Russian mused, “our minds still can’t comprehend how vast it is. We’re so focused on our different countries, but the distance between us is nothing compared to the distance between planets.”

“You know, I never would have pegged you as a philosophical type,” the American admitted.

“Would it be better if I had a bottle of vodka in my hand?”

“Well no, I wasn’t saying-” But the Russian laughed, cutting him off.

“Lighten up my friend. We’re hurtling through a vacuum in a hunk of metal that’s been stitched together by fire. The only thing between us and certain death is mere inches,” he said, reaching out and running his hand along the wall.

“Well, when you put it that way, I feel so much better.”

The Russian laughed again.

“I think you and I will get along just fine.”

 

For Zachary Ross, life slowed to a crawl. Hour after hour passed with agonizing slowness. It took over half a day, but eventually Atlas left the moon in its rear-view mirror.

He spent most of the time sitting in the break room, watching the news. Ross couldn’t help but shake his head any time Senator Connelly or his cohorts were brought up. They had spent the entire week criticizing the president for her decision to approve the mission.

That’s how it always is isn’t it, he asked himself. They talk and talk, but nothing gets done.

Ross had never been a big fan of politics. There was too much money tied up in it. How could you count on an elected official to actually represent you when a corporation could essentially buy their opinion?

After a while he got up and made his way back to the command center.

“Report,” he said as he walked in.

“Everything’s going smoothly sir. All systems check out.”

Ross watched as the small blinking dot crept farther and farther away from Earth. No one had any idea what the three astronauts would find out there. Preliminary sensor scans had revealed that the ship most likely had a pentagonal shape. An odd choice to be sure, but maybe it had some kind of religious significance to them.

Then he wondered. Do they even have religion? Or did they cast it off centuries ago?

It didn’t matter in the end. Religion or no religion, spirituality or no spirituality, living beings had called out for help. That wasn’t something he could ignore. That wasn’t something anyone should ignore.

What will they look like? Will we recognize them as life? Or will they be so far beyond us that we can’t even comprehend them?

He was jolted out of his thoughts by a sudden, shrieking alarm…

 

A loud bang echoed through the shuttle, followed by spinning red lights and a wailing siren.

B’lyad,” cursed the Russian. “What was that?!”

“I don’t know! Our instruments just went haywire! I-”

The American trailed off. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted something outside the window. It was some kind of viscous, dark liquid oozing out into space…

The realization hit him like a freight train.

“Oh shit,” he shouted. “We’re leaking fuel!”

“How?!”

“Some kind of fault we didn’t detect, some damage we took maybe…I have no idea! But if we don’t stop it soon, we’re screwed!

“I’ll take care of it,” the Chinese astronaut said. He clicked off his harness, grabbed a handle above him, and pulled himself toward the rear of the shuttle with the grace of a dancer. The Russian and the American watched him go. Once he had disappeared, the two stared at each other.

“Did you know he spoke English,” the Russian asked.

“No. I hadn’t heard a word out of him since he arrived.”

The American turned around and gazed at his instruments. Fuel was leaking at a rapid rate, and the alarm was constantly assaulting his ears. It felt like minutes had gone by, but in reality it hadn’t even been thirty seconds.

“Come on,” he muttered. “Come on…come on…” He banged his fist against the controls. “Come on you son of a bitch!

Almost like an answer to a prayer, the alarm stopped and the spinning lights turned off. Both of the astronauts let out a sigh of relief. A moment later, the radio crackled in their ears.

“I managed to clamp down the fuel valves,” the Chinese astronaut reported. “We should now have time to find and patch the leak.”

“That’s good,” the American said, “but it’s too late.”

“How much did we lose,” the Russian asked.

“Well…if these readings are correct, we no longer have enough fuel for the return trip home. Which means…once we get out there…”

“We’re stuck,” the Russian finished.

“Exactly.”

The two of them stared each other in the eyes. Nothing needed to be said. They could tell they were both thinking the same thing.

“We’ve come this far haven’t we,” the Russian asked.

“Yes we have,” the American replied.

“Might as well finish the job.”

“Might as well.”

The Chinese astronaut appeared from the rear of the shuttle, pulling himself along by the handles on the ceiling.

“What about you?” The American turned to him. “If you don’t want to do this, I understand.”

The Chinese astronaut turned and locked eyes with the American.

“I volunteered for this mission sir,” he said. “I will see it through to the end.”

 

“You’re going to what?!”

“We’ve patched the leak and we’re going to continue the mission.”

“But…you don’t have enough fuel to get back! You’ll die out there!”

“We’re all in agreement on this end mission control.”

“Yeah. What kind of hosts would we be if we bailed on the party now,” a heavily accented voice chimed in.

Zachary Ross leaned back in his chair. The headset he was wearing was like a vice threatening to squeeze his brains right out of his skull. He looked up at the main screen, at the blinking green dot that represented the Atlas. Over four hundred thousand kilometers separated them from their home…their friends…their families.

And I sent them out there, he thought.

That wasn’t completely true. All three of the men had voluntarily signed on to one of the most dangerous missions mankind had ever undertaken. They knew what they were getting themselves into, how unprecedented it was. But Ross blamed himself anyways. He couldn’t help it.

“Godspeed men…godspeed,” he said. Then he terminated the transmission and stared up at the cold, gray ceiling.

“Godspeed,” he mumbled.

 

That night, President Amelia Garland found herself staring out the Oval Office window, this time with a glass of wine in one hand and a bottle in the other. It had rained well into the evening. Even now she could hear the soft pattering of the rain drops as they hit the glass.

The news hit Earth hard. Vigils were held all over the world. News coverage of the events ran well into the night as any updates on the astronauts got eaten up by the public. Within the first hour of the news breaking, Senator Connelly issued a statement to the press. In it, he called the situation evidence of the new administration’s “lack of real leadership”.

He doesn’t actually care about them, she thought. They’re just an opportunity…a stepping stone…

Garland turned away from the window and stumbled. She looked at the bottle and her now-empty glass. Had she really drank that much? She couldn’t remember.

With an unsteady hand, she gripped her chair and pulled it out from behind the desk, taking a seat. She hadn’t bothered to turn on the lights, so the room was dark. The only illumination was a soft, yellow glow from the street lamps outside.

Garland set the bottle and the glass down on the desk. A moment later, she buried her head in her hands.

No one ever knew about the tears that fell from her eyes that night…

 

It was early morning in Washington when the astronauts finally made contact.

The scans had been correct. The ship was shaped like a pentagon. They almost didn’t even see it until they were right on top of it due to its dark color. There were no apparent windows on the vessel. It was just a solid shade of blue eerily floating through space.

There was no need to look for a docking point. The moment they got close enough, it was as if an invisible hand had taken hold and carried them in. A loud clunking sound indicated they had docked.

“Here we are,” the Russian said.

“Here we are,” the American agreed.

The three of them made their way to the airlock. As the depressurization sequence commenced, the three of them wondered what lay on the other side of the airlock door. What would they find in a vessel from beyond their solar system?

“Hopefully they appreciate us coming out all this way huh,” the Russian said with an awkward laugh. But the other two knew he was afraid. They knew because they all were.

In front of them sat the anti-matter containment device on a construction dolly. It was a large contraption, almost twice the height of a normal man. Cold, gray metal covered the exterior while an ethereal blue glow shined from inside.

Eventually, the airlock seal hissed and the door slid open. The room they stepped into had a hexagonal shape. And it was tall, at least five times their height. The floor was slick and their steps made a sloshing sound wherever they walked. The walls were a mottled blue, clear liquid dripping down the sides.

“Where should I put this,” the Chinese astronaut asked, wheeling in the anti-matter container.

“Just leave it in the middle I guess,” the American said, hardly paying attention. He was running his hand along the wall. “Feel this,” he told the others. “It’s soft. How is that possible?”

The three of them were silent for a long time, their eyes wandering around the room. A distant humming sound reached their ears, presumably the ship’s power system at work. As the American walked around he almost lost his footing on the slick floor, but managed to stay upright. Minutes passed by without incident.

“Is this it,” the Russian asked. He stepped up to the far wall and rapped his hand against it, the sound echoing through the cavernous room. “What a joke,” he shouted, ramming his fist into the wall. “We come all the way out here and-”

“Wait!” The American held up his hand. “Do you hear that?”

The Russian turned toward him and was about to speak when he froze. The sound was coming from beyond the wall. It was distant, but moving closer: a deep moan…like a whale in the depths of the ocean.

“What is-”

The Russian didn’t get to finish his question. There was a thunderous clunk and the wall behind him suddenly became transparent. The man flinched and jumped back, retreating away from the wall. The three astronauts stood next to each other and stared straight ahead.

The world beyond the wall was murky, dark, and distorted. It quivered and seemed to shimmer ever so slightly. It took the three of them a moment to realize what they were looking at.

“Water…” the American astronaut mumbled. “This entire ship must be underwater…”

A loud click caused them to flinch. The room around them was suddenly filled with glaring light.

The call again…this time much closer than before.

It was the American who spotted it first, a slinking shadow moving into view. Due to the intense light shining down on them it was impossible to get a clear look at the thing. His first impression of it was that it was some kind of giant squid. But then he noticed that it lacked any tentacles. Instead, it seemed to be one solid body, like a gigantic eel.

But it was the Chinese astronaut who described it best.

“Sea dragon,” he muttered.

From their estimation, it had to be at least ten meters long. Then, when it got close enough, the creature reared up before the window. The American squinted. He thought he caught a glimpse of fiery orange eyes staring back at him, but it was impossible to say for sure. The creature had four flipper-like appendages on each side of its body to help it move through the water. It also had what looked like a large fin on its head.

None of the astronauts could speak, spellbound by the figure before them.

Then, more shadows appeared in the murky depths beyond the wall. There were three. Then there were five. Then there were ten. By the time all of them had made their appearance, there were at least twenty of the creatures observing them.

“My god,” muttered the American.

The room around them started to quake. The light got brighter and brighter. A strange sense of weightlessness gripped the three of them as their feet left the ground. The world around them began to quiver and warp.

“What…what is happening,” the Russian shouted.

The light was blinding. None of them could see anything beyond the murky veil anymore. Before he blacked out, the American could have sworn he heard one of the creatures utter a soft call…one last goodbye…

 

“Anything?”

“They should have reached the ship by now. But their signal disappeared almost half an hour ago. There hasn’t been anything since.”

“Can’t you get a radio transmission out to them?”

“I’ve been trying sir. But there’s no response.”

Zachary Ross sighed. He turned his attention away from the main screen and leaned back against one of the control panels. Three men, he thought. We sent three men out there…never to return home.

“Wait! I’m picking up something.”

Ross was jolted out of his thoughts.

“What is it?”

“There’s a small object…approaching Earth fast…sir, the radio transponder confirms it. It’s the Atlas life pod!”

“What?! But that’s impossible! How did it get here so fast?”

“I don’t know. It just appeared and…I’m getting a transmission!”

“Patch it through. Atlas, this is ground control. Do you read?”

“Yes sir,” came the reply.

“What happened to you?”

“I don’t know. We delivered the device. We saw them and then-”

“Wait…you saw them?”

“Yes sir. We saw them and then…I don’t know. There was a blinding light and I felt my feet leaving the ground. I must have blacked out because the next thing I knew I was waking up in the life pod with Earth coming up fast.”

“Sir, we have a problem.”

“Hold on Atlas,” Ross said, then pressed a button to mute their side of the conversation. “What is it?”

“The trajectory they’re coming in at…it’s far too steep. The pod’s going to burn up on re-entry.”

“What?! No…there must be something we can do. Doesn’t the life pod have maneuvering thrusters?”

“Small ones yes…but they won’t be able to adjust course fast enough.”

“Well we have to try something!”

“Sir…it’s too late. They’ve already hit the atmosphere.”

“No…fuck! God damn it,” Ross cursed aloud, slamming his fist against the control panel. He lowered his head and closed his eyes. “They can’t have come this far just to die…I refuse to accept that!”

“Wait…no this…this is impossible,” the man at the control panel muttered. “Sir…take a look at this!”

Ross opened his eyes leaned over the man’s shoulder. At first, he couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing.

“What…how…how is that happening,” he stuttered.

“I don’t know sir. By my calculations, they should be burning up in there. But the temperature inside the cabin is…it’s at room temperature. It’s like something is shielding them from the heat.”

Ross was silent for a moment. Then, unable to help himself, he started laughing.

“What’s so funny sir,” the man asked.

“Of course,” Ross said. “Of course they’d be able to pull something like this off. We shouldn’t have doubted them. If they could send our life pod back here in record time, then they could protect them from atmospheric re-entry.”

“Ground control?” Atlas was calling. “Is there something we should know?”

Ross leaned forward and unmuted the call.

Atlas…you’re going to be just fine.”

 

They watched on televisions and computers. They listened on radios. They had their faces buried in smart phones, watching live streaming news coverage. In Times Square, thousands had their necks craned to the gigantic digital billboard with bated breath.

It was the day the world looked up.

Wishes were made, gods were appealed to, good thoughts pulsed out into the universe…all for the sake of three men. Three men from distant countries and different lives. Three men who came together and put aside politics when the world needed them most.

Seconds passed like minutes. Minutes felt like hours.

The international Coast Guard rushed to the spot where the life pod was projected to land. It slammed into the water like a missile, creating a large wave. The Coast Guard ships moved in slowly as the people watched, the water around the pod bubbling with the heat.

At first, nothing happened. Then the hatch slowly opened…

An American man in an astronaut suit stepped into view, followed closely by a Russian and a Chinese man. After a moment of expectant silence, the American raised his hand and waved.

The world erupted into cheers…

 

“You’re gonna be famous, you know,” the Russian whispered to the American, patting him on the shoulder.

“Yeah, maybe. What are you going to do after this,” the American asked him.

“Oh…I’ll probably return home, break open a bottle of celebratory vodka,” the Russian replied.

“I thought you didn’t drink vodka.”

“I never said I didn’t. You just assumed I didn’t,” the Russian said with a knowing smirk.

“Well in that case I’m going to make myself steak and french fries, then kick back on the couch and get caught up with the Kardashians.”

The Russian let out a hearty laugh.

“I knew there was a reason I liked you,” he said.

 

Unbeknownst to the earthlings a small white device, shaped like a spider, released its grip on the life pod. Its task done, it fell into the ocean with a slight sizzle and sank, never to be seen again by human eyes…

 

That night, President Garland shared celebratory champagne with Zachary Ross and her Secretary of State John Hayes.

“I have to hand it to you Zach, you really pulled through,” Garland said.

“I hardly did anything. Once Atlas left the launch pad, all we did was guide them to their target. No…we have them to thank for the safe return of our astronauts. I don’t think I’ll ever truly understand how they did what they did, but it hardly matters in the end.”

“To three men safe,” Garland said, raising her glass.

“To three men safe,” agreed Secretary Hayes as he raised his.

“Three men safe,” Ross chimed in. The three clinked their glasses together and took a drink.

“Well,” Hayes said, setting down his glass, “it appears Senator Connelly has yet to make a statement on the matter. In fact, I heard he outright refused to answer any questions on camera.”

“No doubt he’s searching for some way to spin this to his advantage,” Ross said.

“He’ll be hard-pressed to do that,” Garland chimed in.

“To sticking it to Connelly,” Ross said with a chuckle, raising his glass.

“Hell I’ll toast that,” Hayes said. The three of them laughed as they clinked their glasses together and took another drink. But then, one of Garland’s aides came running in carrying a radio.

“Madam President!” He was clearly out of breath. “We’re…we’re getting another signal!”

“What more could they want,” Hayes asked.

“I don’t think they’re asking for anything,” the aide said. “Just listen.” He set the radio down and turned it on.

Immediately the room was filled with the sound of music. And for a moment, Garland wasn’t in the Oval Office anymore. She was carried along by a wave of nostalgia, carried back in time. She saw the smiling faces of her mom and dad at the dinner table as they ate. She heard the smooth sound of classic rock pulsing through the speakers.

“Ooh you make me live,” crooned the male singer.

“What the…is that…Queen,” Hayes asked.

“Well…at least we know they have good taste,” Ross said with a chuckle

They fell silent again, letting the song fill the room.

“You’re my best friend…” the radio continued.

“So what, is this their idea of a joke,” Hayes asked.

But President Garland didn’t hear him. She was too busy laughing.

 

Once again, let me know what you think in the comments.  A regular post will be coming your way next Wednesday.

As always, you can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

They Are Here: Arrival Review

When it comes to science-fiction, I’ve always preferred Star Trek over Star Wars.  Now before you start burning me at the stake, let me explain.  They’re both great franchises, but Star Wars has always felt more like a fantasy movie to me, or at least more mystical than a normal science-fiction story would be.  As it stands, Star Trek sticks closer to the conventions of science-fiction than Star Wars does.  One of Star Trek‘s major aspects is the sense of wonder it elicits, the idea of exploring and pushing the boundaries of what we consider to be possible.

I was reminded of this as Jeremy Renner’s character ran his hand along the bottom of an alien spacecraft in Arrival, his face an expression of disbelief and awe.  This is something that, to me, science-fiction movies have been lacking recently.  Part of the reason I was drawn to science-fiction in the first place was because of this wonder, this awe.  It has the ability to make you question the way you perceive things, question your place in the world and the universe at large.  But modern science-fiction largely tries to be grounded, to adhere to strict, realistic rules in an attempt to create a story that could actually happen.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but in a way it is limiting to the genre.  Science-fiction should be free to explore the possibilities and even dream up new ones.

Let me put it this way: the man who invented the cell phone would never have done so if he hadn’t watched Star Trek.

But now, on to the main event.  Arrival is a science-fiction movie that centers around the appearance of twelve extra-terrestrial spacecraft at different points around the Earth.  No one knows why they’ve come or what their intentions are, so the world governments scramble to assemble teams and figure it out.  In the United States, the team includes linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who are our main characters for this movie.  Together with others, Ian and Louise enter into the alien spacecraft in an attempt to talk to the aliens and find out why they’ve come.

And this is what the entire movie is about: the implications of first contact.  What does it mean, how would humanity respond to it, and how would it affect the world at large.  For a while now, aliens in science-fiction movies have been relegated to the role of the invader, storming our planet in an attempt to plunder its resources and people.  In a post 9/11 world this made a certain kind of sense.  We here in the United States were shaken to our core.  We were afraid of the possibility of another attack coming from outside our borders, and it’s only natural that our movies would reflect that.  So in that sense it’s nice to see a movie about aliens where they don’t just want to kill us or harvest us or what have you.  It’s nice to see a science-fiction film that doesn’t just end up being a brain-dead action movie.

The movie stays on point throughout, keeping us centered on the aliens and humanity’s attempts to communicate with them.  Ultimately the central message at the core of the film is one about human unity.  Throughout the movie we see talks between the different landing sites around the world begin to break down.  Interspersed throughout the movie are snippets of the news showing people looting and causing havoc in various cities as the arrival of the alien visitors sends the world into a panic.  A recurring theme I saw throughout the movie was one of interpretation.  Every message they managed to decipher from the aliens was seen as either benign or threatening.  Louise followed the benign interpretation and the military/political leaders of course leaned toward the threatening one.  It creates an interesting back and forth that permeates the movie.  And while you are clearly intended to identify with Lousie, the other interpretation is at least understandable in some sense.

Now yes, there is a major twist that comes up near the end of the movie.  There were some out there who were saying that the twist comes out of left-field and was utterly unexpected.  I don’t necessarily agree with that.  The movie definitely engages in some subtle foreshadowing through the story, giving you small clues about what’s to come.  This isn’t to say that the twist should be obvious or something (I certainly didn’t see it coming), but at the very least once you know what it is you can see the seeds being sown earlier in the movie.

All in all, I felt that Arrival was a great movie.  One of the major criticisms I expect people to have about it relates to the characters.  I can see some people out there being upset that there isn’t a whole lot of character depth to the movie.  But I don’t think it was necessary.  The movie is about humanity as a whole, and spending too much time delving into one or two characters would have taken away from that I think.  That being said, I do wish Jeremy Renner’s character would have been fleshed out a bit more, as he is the co-star of the movie.

The only major critique I have of the movie is that I felt like certain things could have been handled better.  There’s a bit later on involving rogue soldiers that, while it impacts the way the rest of the movie plays out, isn’t addressed very well.  It just happens and then no one really talks much about it.  Along with that there are cutaway scenes involving Lousie’s daughter that don’t seem to have much purpose during the beginning half or so of the movie.  The movie starts with one of these, and it’s a very powerful opening, but after that it just crops up every now and then without much rhyme or reason to it until later on.

In the end, Arrival is a great treat for fans of science-fiction.  It tackles some big, looming questions in the wake of humanity’s first contact with an alien race and it forces us to confront the troubling aspect of the division among humans.  The message of unity certainly comes at an appropriate time considering the volatile nature of this past election cycle.  And the movie is smart.  It doesn’t treat you like an idiot or bash you over the head with its themes (even though they are clear-cut).  It might be a little slow-paced for some people, but true science-fiction isn’t just about guns and explosions.  It’s about human beings.  It’s about the possibilities of the future.

In a way, science-fiction is the story of us.

“It is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception and compassion and hope.” – Ursula K. Guin

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here.

Universal Perspective: The Implications of First Contact with Alien Life

Have you ever heard of KIC 8462852?  If you have, you’re probably a nerd.

 

 

Ah the ’90s…the days before being a nerd was cool.

But I digress.  KIC 8462852 is the official name given to an F-type main sequence star located in the Cygnus constellation, which is nearly 1,500 light-years away from Earth.  All of this is a bunch of science speak that means KIC 8462 is a fairly normal star.

Or at least, it should be.

KIC 8462 (also known as “Tabby’s Star”) was one of 150,000 stars observed by the Kepler space observatory, launched into orbit around Earth in 2009.  Kepler observed frequent dips in the star’s brightness that didn’t appear to be part of the star’s normal pattern of behavior.  Combine that with the fact that it was the only star out of all 150,000 that showed this abnormal behavior, and you have one interesting celestial object.  The conclusion scientists drew from the data they collected was that a cluster of objects were passing in front of the star, blocking some of its light from reaching us.  Theories as to what that could be included particles of dust or a cluster of comets.

But one of the more far-fetched explanations also happens to be the most intriguing.

 

 

Now if you didn’t bother watching the entire video I’ll sum it up for you.  Basically the theory is that a hyper-advanced alien civilization could be building a structure around the star to harness its energy in some way.  If that sounds really far out there in terms of credibility, that’s because it totally is.  The chances of it actually being an alien superstructure are very low.  But even so, the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) institute has devoted resources to monitoring the star for any signs of radio signals or other transmissions that might be evidence of an alien intelligence at work around the star.

So why am I talking about this again?  All of the information about this star broke last year, so why is it still important?  Well it’s almost a year later, and we still don’t know what is happening to it.  The star is dimming and we’re at a loss for why.  And despite how far-fetched it is, scientists still aren’t able to completely rule out aliens as the cause, even if they are pretty much at the bottom of the list.

But say that it does turn out to be aliens?  What would that actually mean for us?  Well, it could mean a lot.  Or it could mean nothing at all.

A couple of months ago, I discussed how religion might impact our first contact with extraterrestrial life.  And I said that it might force our religions to drastically re-analyze themselves and change to fit the new perspective we had, or it might not change them at all.  It’s something similar in this case, only now I’m not assuming that we actually meet the aliens face-to-face.

See, here’s the thing: an alien race capable of building a structure like this would logically be advanced, far more advanced than we are currently.  So it’s like the scientist in the news clip says, we would have nothing to offer them.  It is far more likely that even if they were aware of our existence, they’d likely treat it as little more than a trifling event and go about their business like we don’t matter.  Because, in their perspective, we wouldn’t.  The scientist uses the analogy of a human encountering an anthill, and while the metaphor is perhaps a little extreme in some ways, it is fitting.  They would have no practical reason to stoop over and say “hey what’s up?”

But even so, even if the aliens didn’t stop by to meet us, would the revelation that other life existed out there change things for us?  I’d like to think so.  We’ve been asking ourselves the question “are we alone” for a very, very long time.  Getting the answer to that question would be a historic event, so I can only imagine that at least some among us would find their worldviews shattered by the knowledge.  However, at the same time, even if we did know they exist we wouldn’t really be able to reach out to them, at least not in any way that would matter.  This mega-structure, if it exists, would be nearly 1,500 light-years away.  And since we currently know of no way to travel faster than the speed of light, that means it would probably take them thousands of years to even reach us.  And this doesn’t even take into account the fact that the light we are seeing here on Earth is literally over a thousand years old, since it had to travel so far to get to us.  That means that the theoretical civilization building this mega-structure could be long dead.

So in the end, we might treat it as “hey look we answered that question, but it still doesn’t change anything for us here on Earth.  We still have famine.  We still have disease.  We still have poverty.  The environment is still in trouble.  If we’re not going to meet them, then what’s the point?”

Of course, it is still possible that they would want to meet us.  Now, most would think it egotistical of us to assume that they would be benevolent and want to help, but I would argue that it’s just as egotistical to assume that they’d want to destroy us as well.  Both of these scenarios assume that they’d even care enough to give us any notice.  And honestly, to me, if a species is that advanced I would assume they are capable of higher, rational thought.  I think they would understand the fear of being wiped out, having likely faced their own fair share of hurdles in their history.  So, at the very least, I believe they would be empathetic towards us, if not entirely sympathetic.

But only time will tell, right?

 

Well that’s all I have for this post.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

Would They Believe? Religion and First Contact with Extraterrestrial Beings.

So a friend of mine from work read me this headline:

“NASA gives $1 million grant to a theological organization to study the religious implications of extraterrestrial life.”

And my reaction to this was along the lines of “oh no…”.  Because whenever religion and science get mixed up together, things have a habit of getting murky and confusing.  And then people get mad.

Now, the blog post I just linked you to isn’t a big fan of this idea.  The author believes it is a waste of money as well as a violation of the First Amendment, “for it is an unnecessary entanglement of church and state.”  On some level, I do agree with this.  However, I also think that the subject is worth discussing.

Humans have been fascinated with the idea of alien life for centuries.  Whether it is in literature, art, or conspiracy theories our ideas of what alien life could be range from the intimately familiar to the terrifyingly bizarre.  We can’t help but think of it.  The universe is so large that it seems unfathomable that it would just be empty and devoid of life aside from our little planet in our lonely corner of existence.

Have you ever heard of the Fermi Paradox?  The basic gist of it is that there are so many stars and so many planets that some of them would have to give arise to Earth-like conditions.  And these conditions would give rise to intelligent life that would eventually seek out a way to cross the interstellar void.  Enrico Fermi, one of the authors of the argument, came to the conclusion that Earth should have already been visited by intelligent extra-terrestrial life, leading him to ask “where is everybody” and give rise to the paradox in question.  The paradox has been answered in many different ways, but here are just a few: that evolutionary life is rare or non-existent, that other intelligent life lacks the advanced technology, that it is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself, or that Earth is specifically avoided or isolated (which reminds me of the story “They’re made out of meat” by Terry Bisson…it’s a very short read but a good one).

But say that one day humans did encounter intelligent life?  What would we do then?

First off, let’s backtrack a little.  A long time ago, someone posted a chart to my Facebook wall which proposed what you should do if you end up being the first human to interact with intelligent aliens.  I remember this specifically because at one point it suggests leaving religion out of the equation and choosing instead to show these creatures the concept of our evolutionary history.  Some of my more religious Facebook friends took issue with this, wondering “well why can’t we present them with religion?”

 

Here's the chart for your viewing pleasure.

Here’s the chart for your viewing pleasure.

 

The first problem that arises with presenting aliens with religion is the question “what religion do we start with” or “what religion do we present to them that best represents humanity?”  If we were to go on a cold, logical level, we would say Christianity.  According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2010 Christians are still the majority around the globe.  But by the time we make contact with alien life, things might be different.  Pew estimates that by 2050, the number of Muslims and Christians around the world will be nearly equal because Islam is the fastest growing global religion.  So even on a pure logical level things may get murky in a few decades.

But from my perspective, none of this matters.  I see two possible outcomes when aliens are presented with our religion or religions.

 

Outcome 1

The aliens have no religion anymore or never had any concept of religion in the first place, in which case they would find our steadfast belief in a creator being that we cannot see or even know for certain exists baffling and possibly primitive.

 

Outcome 2

The aliens already have their own religion, and so ours would be incorrect in their eyes.  They would likely brush off our beliefs the way modern Christians brush off the beliefs of, say, the ancient Egyptians.

 

Both of these circumstances hold the possibly for a violent outcome, whether due to our fault or theirs.  But then again, any first contact situation could result in this, regardless of the presence of religion.  But I stand by my point.  Our religions would likely be of no consequence to extraterrestrial beings.

Now, is it possible that these beings would find our concept of a god/creator so fascinating that they would want to learn more and maybe even be converted?  Yes, but I don’t see that really happening.  If their thinking process is anything at all like ours, they will hold steadfastly to their own system of beliefs and philosophies.  As it stands, the two outcomes I listed above are far more likely.  The third is based on this faulty assumption that the “truths” in religion are self-evident and would be immediately obvious to anyone intelligent enough (which is not to say that religious people aren’t intelligent…I know some people out there will take it that way even though that is not my intent at all).

But then, this isn’t the question the group NASA granted money to is looking to answer.  They’re more concerned with a question along the lines of “what impact would the revelation of other intelligent life in the universe have on US and OUR religions?”  Because humanity is sort of self-centered like that.

Again, the way I see it, there are two likely outcomes to this:

 

Outcome 1

Contact with other life leads to a drastic re-evaluation of religious texts in an effort to discover any meaning to the existence of alien life which either leads to the collapse of the current religions and the start of new ones or with the consolidation of current religions with the new knowledge.

 

Outcome 2

Religion will remain largely unchanged.

 

There will of course be other outcomes, like fringe sections of the religious community possibly associating the aliens with devils and demons.  But they would be a small voice in a large crowd, a tiny fraction and not representative of the entire human race.

Regardless, it’s an interesting thing to think about.  And it is indeed very difficult to say what would happen in the event of first contact.  It is possible that none of the outcomes I listed would even happen.  I could be entirely wrong in my assumptions.  To err is human, after all.

I’m sure others would have their own opinions on what might happen if and when we run into aliens out in the universe.  It is a part of our nature to theorize and hypothesize, analyze and criticize.  We’ve been doing it for thousands of years.  It is a part of our process.  It is how we adapt, how we change.  It is how we progress as a civilization, as a race.  Change is inevitable.  It may not always be good, but it will come.  There is no avoiding it.

So with that, let’s look to the future with bright eyes and curious minds.

 

That’s all I have for this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.