Humanity Lost: The Cost of Survival
Computer, begin recording.
July 28th, 3178. We’ll finally be arriving at Kepler 22b tomorrow. This will be the first time humans will walk the surface of a habitable planet in nearly a thousand years. The hope is that this becomes a permanent base of operations. The potential for long term colonisation and resource development looks strong. So far sensors have picked up only primitive life on the surface. Samtek and I will be leading the expedition.
Captain Dallas James was a little nervous about going to the surface, though he’d never let his crew see it. He often fantasized about what life must have been like before his ancestors decided to abandon Earth.
Kepler 22b represented an opportunity for the fleet, which surpassed one hundred thousand citizens just last week, to finally get off their ships; or at the very least replenish dwindling supplies.
All of the current vessels, including the Horizon that Captain James commanded, were built in space. Their maintenance is predicated on the crew finding the raw materials necessary to keep them running at optimal levels.
“Sir, everything is good to go. Units 2 and 3 report ready for launch.” said Samtek, the Chief Science Officer.
“Good. Let’s hope our assumptions are right about what we’ll find.”
Captain James closes the airlock door and gives a nod to the launch operator through the window. With a release of air pressure, the three exopods launch and begin their 4 minute descent into the planet’s atmosphere.
“Captain, what if we find something… unexpected?” asked Samtek.
“Are you concerned, Sam? Don’t be. We’ll make sure your fancy lab coat doesn’t get wet.”
The other soldiers exploded with laughter.
As they enter the lower atmosphere, the landscape comes into view. Vast oceans stretch far enough to make the entire surface look like a dark, teal blanket. The few land masses that are visible look to be only a few kilometres wide.
Once the deceleration began, the crew started checking their gear.
“Everyone, make sure weapons are at maximum, suit air pressure is optimal, and coms are functional.”
The first expopod comes to a full stop with a small thud. The other two soon followed. With a gust of air the hatch slowly slides open to the Captain’s right and the sun lights up the ship with a golden-red glow.
Samtek rushes to be the first one out. He sets his right foot down on the soil.
“What was it again… A giant step for mankind?” he says with the excitement and anticipation of a child on the morning of his birthday.
The soldiers slowly step out of the three exopods, which have landed about 50 metres from one another.
The temperature on the Captain’s wristband reads 19 degrees Celsius, atmosphere composed of 79% nitrogen, 21% oxygen.
“It feels great to breathe real air, doesn’t it?” says Samtek after taking a deep breath, having already removed his helmet.
“Don’t you think it’s a little soon to assume the air is safe, Sam?”
“Captain!…” one of the soldiers yells with urgency. “You need to see this.”
Captain James and Samtek look over and see the soldier holding what looks like a human skull. They notice several dozen had washed up on the shore of the small island.
“Fascinating. Where do you suppose those came from?” says Samtek with a nervous, yet curious tone.
“I don’t know, but everyone stay alert. Obviously someone’s been here before and it did not end well for the-”
“What the hell is that!?” yells another soldier, pointing to the horizon on the Captain’s left.
Something was coming out of the water. Something big.
“James to Horizon. Are you picking up anything approximately 2 kilometres north-west of our location?”
“No Captain, nothing here. What’s going on?”
“Stand by… Samtek, you stay here with unit 2. The rest of you are with me.”
They run to one of the exopods and take off, speeding toward the large object slowly emerging.
“Sir, scans are not reading anything. It’s as if it’s not even there!”
Captain James has a look of concern on his face as he prepares for the worst. The Academy had taught him not to take any chances.
“Lieutenant Nicholls, activate weapons. Target that thing, whatever it is.”
The Lieutenant suddenly vanished in a puff of smoke. The other two soldiers soon followed.
Captain James had a look of disbelief.
Smoke began building in his field of vision and before he knew it, he was falling two metres to the floor.
The three soldiers were all there with him, in a bright room. As they help James to his feet, several bright green lights start flickering on and off.
After a few seconds, the crew was quickly surrounded by smoke and reappeared on the beach where Samtek and the others were.
“What the… Captain?! Is that you? What happened out there? Where did you come from?”
“I’m not sure, but it’s clear we’re not safe. James to Horizon. Do you have my suit’s geo-logs?”
“Good. Full power to the array. Fire at my location from 26 seconds ago.”
The Horizon, being the flagship of the fleet, is outfitted with an array of energy weapons. Each is designed to operate at a different frequency to make it more effective against a variety of targets.
87 beams of different colours lit up from the ship’s forward weapons array and formed a single, larger beam. It only took seconds for it to come through the clouds and land on the large object in the distance.
The object explodes, creating a mushroom cloud bigger than the island they were on. Debris started raining down on the landing site, but the crew expected as much. They had already taken shelter in the two remaining exopods.
Suddenly, Samtek notices something strange about the debris.
“Sir. Look, among the falling debris. Is that…”
Pieces of metal rain down on the beach — but also everal skulls that are similar to the ones they found earlier. The crew is flabbergasted.
With the downpour of debris slowing down, the Captain steps out of the exopod. He hears a crunch as he puts his foot down, having crushed one of the skulls that had fallen from the sky.
A high-pitched whistling sound can be heard in the distance. It gets closer.
The crew can see what looks like a much smaller version of the object hurling toward the beach. It passes over their heads and crashes a few hundred metres from their location.
“Unit 2, take a flanking position. The rest of you, on me.” commanded the Captain.
They approach what they can now see is a ship of some sort. They hear something-or someone- inside.
“The exterior of the ship seems bio-technological.” said Samtek. “This is surreal. You see those cable-looking tubes snaking in and out of the body? Look closely. You’ll see them expanding and contracting, almost as if-”
The ship begins to make a noise that sounds like a blend of a groan and a can of compressed air. The surface of the ship peels away in layered quadrants.
After six layers fold behind the ship, a silhouette appears. It staggers forward, appearing disoriented. The arms and legs share a joint on either side of a very short torso, making it clear that this is not a human being.
“Stop right there!” yells Captain James, holding the scope of his weapon up to face.
To the crew’s surprise, the being stops moving. It lifts one arm and touches the back of it’s head. Like the ship, layered quadrants begin to peel away from the front of its head.
Captain James lets his weapon drop slightly. He has a look of disbelief. After a few seconds of silence, he aims his weapon and says with authority:
“Why do you have my father’s face? Is this some kind of sick joke?!”
The being responds: “I selected a form from I thought would facilitate interaction. Clearly I was mistaken. My designation is too complex to convey in your language. You can refer to me as Patri-”
James shoots the being in the left knee.
“Patrick was my father’s name. Let’s try this again.”
“Your aggression is unwarranted. I had hoped you were more civilized than the last visitors.”
James looks confused.
“Would you have us believe your kind lives here? I don’t buy it. Our scanners didn’t detect any heat signatures on this planet when we arrived. You must be here for the same reason we are: the cobalt, zinc, copper… the minerals. The gold perhaps. And on the subject of things I don’t believe, how do you speak English?”
The burn hole begins to close as the being slowly stands, holding his arms up as if to show he is not a threat.
“You did not detect us because we are not warm-blooded. Therefore, there are no heat signatures to scan. Many have tried to mine our planet. It is curious, because if asked we would gladly offer our resources. They are virtually limitless given our small population relative to the planet’s size. As for the language, our brains have the ability to scan sound waves and calculate their patterns. That is essentially what your method of communication is.”
James cannot believe what he’s hearing.
“You mean to tell me you’d just give us resources for free? That doesn’t make any sense. Everyone wants something. Everyone has a price. What’s yours?”
The being sits on the ground, cross-legged. His answer confuses James even more.
“All we want is an alliance.”
James assumes the being means military support in some conflict with another species.
“Look, whatever war you’re fighting is none of our-” the being cuts off the Captain.
“Pardon the interruption, but it seems you misunderstand. We do not want a military alliance. We want an educational one. We would like to study your species; learn your customs, your history, your belief systems. Because we find that understanding and knowledge are the keys to finding harmony in the universe.”
James grabs Samtek by the arm and pulls him aside.
“Do you believe this nonsense, Sam?”
“As a scientist, I must accept that every possibility, however improbable, has merit until proven otherwise. As a human being? My gut says we can’t trust him and that giving him knowledge will only make us vulnerable.”
James makes his way back to the being.
“Look, the reality is that your technology and your resources would be of great use to us. We would be willing to allow you to come join our fleet, but just you. No others of your kind. And you’ll be under constant supervision.”
The being is intrigued by the opportunity. He is among the youngest of his kind so the opportunity to study a new species up close proved tempting.
“Please allow me to let my people know. I will make arrangements to transfer whatever quantities you desire of whatever resources you need. Also, perhaps a more suitable designation would be, Kepler?”
“Kepler. Samtek will help you make the arrangements.” said James. “Sam, give him the list of what we came here for. And since they have so damn much of everything, triple it.”
Kepler goes back to his ship and taps a few panels inside, referencing Samtek’s list after every tap.
“Horizon to Captain James. Come in Captain.”
“What is it?”
“Uh, I’m not really sure how to explain this sir. The cargo hold. It’s filling with containers. I’m not sure how but-”
James interrupts: “Yea, yea. We’ve made a new friend. We’ll be up shortly. Begin preparations for the Terragon protocol.”
The crew gather their gear, board the exopods and make their way back to the Horizon.
Once the exopods dock, the doors open and Captain James tells one of the guards to escort their guest to the proper quarters. “Thanks… Kepler. I just have something to take care of and I’ll come by to see you. In the meantime, Enseign Farhad will show you where you’ll be staying.”
Once on the bridge, Captain James verifies if the Terragon protocol is ready to begin.
“All systems ready, Captain.”
James assumes his position on the bridge and checks on Kepler.
“Bridge to Farhad. Is our guest comfortable?”
At that moment, Ensign Farhad was showing Kepler into a room. Once inside, Farhad presses the keypad to activate a forcefield around the entrance way.
“Is this for my protection?” Kepler asks.
He notices a window behind him from which he can see his planet.
“I wonder if I’ll ever see her again.”
As Captain James orders the Terragon protocol to begin, Kepler sees a beam of energy emanating from the Horizon. It makes contact with the planet surface and all of Kepler 22b begins to go dark. It’s being covered by what looks like a dark mist.
“I do not understand. Captain James?”
“I’m sorry Kepler, but my orders are clear: to ensure the human race’s survival, no matter the cost. We simply couldn’t risk your people collecting on our debt. The safety of our fleet has to be my first priority.”
Kepler pauses to consider what had just happened. He gave them everything they wanted. He accepted all their conditions without resistance. He did not harm them, even though he could have.
“Over one thousand years since the destruction of your planet and you still do not understand. You still see differences where there are but superficial ones. You are still an infant species.”
Smoke begins to build in the room where Kepler is being held. Enseign Farhad quickly opens the door and enters the room. He’s gone. Vanished.
“Sir? Uh, he’s gone. I’m not sure how, but he’s gone.”
Captain James jumps out of his chair and races to the science station of the bridge.
“Sam, all sensors. Anything out there? A ship?”
Samtek looks around at his monitors, seeming confused.
“No ship, Captain. But there is this strange energy signature. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”
Captain James slowly walks back to his chair and falls into it.
“What have we done. Are we no better than them?”
The navigator asks for a course to plot, to which James replies, “The next target on the list. And Sam, keep following that energy signature. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Kepler. You have the bridge.”
Captain James heads for his office. He turns on his com screen and punches in a connection code.
The Presidential seal appears before connecting to the President Mason James’ office.
“Captain, I have been following your progress. It’s a shame we lost the full planetary resources from Kepler 22b.”
“Yes sir. But we couldn’t risk a full-scale attack against its inhabitants. They outnumbered and out-gunned us. I felt the safest course of action was…” the Captain paused.
“Captain? Something on your mind?”
“Well sir, forgive me if it’s not my place, but we just doomed an entire planet by blocking out their sun. What makes us any different than the invaders who forced us from our home?”
The President looks annoyed. Captain James isn’t certain if it’s because his most decorated commander is having second thoughts, or if it’s because his son is.
“Captain… Dallas. Listen, you did what you had to do to keep us safe. That’s all any of us can do. The first time an alien threat visited Earth, they destroyed it. We were lucky a select few made it off that rock. Our number one goal is survival. We’re fighting to preserve our way of life.”
“I understand all that dad, but what good is preserving our way of life if it leads to the extinction of another? I mean for all we know we’ve left billions to die. “
The President responds, his voice sounding firm and cold: “Captain, take a few days off if you need them. But I expect you to perform your duties and keep this fleet safe at all costs. That’s your job. That’s the oath you swore. Is that clear?”
“Crystal. James out.”
Captain James lays back and closes his eyes, envisioning an entire planet engulfed in darkness. “Earth, or Kepler 22b?” he asks himself. “Is there really a difference?”
Originally published on sensorscans.com