On August 15 1977 Jerry R. Ehman detected a signal while working on the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) project. The transmission was a strong narrowband radio signal coming from the constellation Sagittarius. It was determined to be of non-Terrestrial and non-solar origin. It lasted for seventy-two seconds.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

September 3, 2339 – Mars Colony 1
Gamma Event T Minus Forty-Seven Minutes

 

Carrie Barrington stood at the edge of the lake of black liquid and watched her mother die.

“John! I love you. Save Carrie.” The black liquid covered her mother’s reddened eyes, as she clawed at the soil trying to escape. She gave one final muffled scream before the violent scene calmed and she relinquished control to the inevitable. “Goodbye, Carrie,” she whispered with her last breath.

Carrie opened her eyes and sat up in bed. She gripped her soaked t-shirt and held her hand against her chest. Her heart was beating so quickly that her breathing was laboured. Every night was the same dream but this one had been more intense. It seemed so real. The smell of burning in the room alerted her to look around to make sure nothing was on fire. She examined her sheets to find small burn holes scattered throughout them.

“Not again,” she sighed. She looked at the palm of her hands and saw how red the tips of her fingers were. She closed her eyes and clenched them.

She sat up and stared out through her blurry eyes at the lights of the colony laid out across the red Martian soil. She looked at the clock that read nine p.m. She was late. Again. In the distance a burst of blue light rose from one of the Atmo processors. It cast a momentary blanket of blue and silver shimmer over the living pods and curved domes of the main habitat. She swung her legs out from under the sheets and placed them gently onto the ground. The hard cold surface of the metallic floor sent a shiver up her legs as the residual images of the night’s memories lingered behind her eyes. Her voice echoed off the walls of her quarters, as she recited the mantra her mother had taught her as a child. The gentle hum of the life support duct overhead helped slow her speeding heart. She opened her eyes and stood up slowly from the bed. She made her way to the bathroom, removing her soaked shirt in the process, before stepping into the sonic shower. She placed her head against the wall and activated it.

The comm link chirped next to her. She paused the washing cycle and tapped the pad next to the mirror.

“This is Carrie,” she said.

“Ms Barrington, the data relay from the Jycorp orbital began twenty minutes ago,” a stern male voice said over the comm system.

“Sorry, Doctor Tyrell, I’m on my way. Five minutes.”

“Hmm,” he said gruffly as the comms clicked off. Carrie sighed and reactivated the shower. She looked at the palms of her hands again and turned them over. She thought that maybe the time had come to talk to Meridian about what had been happening to her. Before someone got hurt.

 

Main Observatory Mars Colony 1

Gamma Event -T minus Thirty-Three Minutes

 

“Computer initialise array diagnostic phase two. Authorisation Doctor Tyrone Tyrell, alpha one seven three,” Tyrell said into his console, as the main doors to the lab opened.

“Yes, Doctor Tyrell,” the computer’s female voice said. He raised his head and watched Carrie Barrington enter. He sighed quietly to himself.

“What was it this time?” he said, looking back at the console. He felt her sigh as she moved across the lab to the viewing chamber.

“My apologies, Doctor Tyrell. It will not happen again,” she said, tapping some commands into a console attached to a large transparent chamber that lay in the centre of the lab. “Imaging chamber is powering up,” she said.

“Hmm,” Tyrell grunted back, as he attended to his readings. “A good scientist is a punctual scientist, Ms Barrington,” he said. “Your father assured me you would be reliable.” He knew that arguing with John Barrington was futile and, in the end, he would have resented him for not taking his daughter on and that simply would not do. He kept his gaze fixed on the incoming data stream that was scrolling across the screen on his workstation. There was a moment of silence and when Tyrell raised his head he found Carrie standing next to his desk, looking intently at him. There was something in her striking blue eyes that unsettled him, but he made sure never to show it.

“Doctor Tyrell, I assure you it will not happen again. I have been having some difficulty sleeping lately, but Doctor Brubaker has given me some medication that is working a little too well. I will be seeing her later on tomorrow morning to discuss this. I apologise for my tardiness. Now would you like me to continue with my analysis or would you like to report me to my father who can have me reassigned?”

Tyrell cleared his throat.

“Please,” he said, motioning to the imaging chamber. She nodded politely and walked calmly back to the chamber. He was surprised at her tone. She hadn’t shown a hint of frustration with him in the six months that she had been his assistant. He would of course not be reporting her to her father.

“Any change in the signal data from the Monolith today?” Carrie asked, keeping her attention on her control panel.

“Same old, same old,” Tyrell replied. He was not winning any popularity contests with the rest of the colonists and as such kept a noted distance from them and almost never attended social gatherings. A point the commander had raised on more than one occasion with him, but he had always found a way of deflecting the conversation with some new discovery on some other Earth-like world light years away. His distance had been respected by most and even Meridian had given up, after a few weeks of calling the lab with idle threats of dragging him to some silly event or other aimed at improving the social bonds of the colonists.

He loved this time of night usually, when the colony was quiet, and the power output levels were low. There were months where he would go undisturbed, observing and cataloguing the cosmos. He felt connected with it somehow. On the edge of understanding yet knowing nothing. The signal from the structure on the small moon orbiting above refused to give up its secrets. He loved working at night. It had the added benefit of limiting his interaction with the rest of the colonists. At sixty-one years of age, he had availed himself of Jycorp augmentation therapies, which had given him the appearance of a man in his late thirties. He wore a well-trimmed silver beard and was classically handsome with dark brown eyes.

The lights of the imaging chamber caught his attention and he glanced up at Carrie, who was now sitting in one of the elevated chairs in front of it.

“Let me guess,” he said looking over at her. Carrie didn’t look back.

“Just taking some rotational readings, Doctor. It won’t take long,” she said. Tyrell raised his eyebrows. The chamber went black as it activated and seconds later its centre burst to life, with flickers of bright lights that reflected off the walls of the lab. The transparent chamber filled with the three-dimensional image of a spiral galaxy. Its leading edges touched the inside walls of the enclosed space. Carrie tapped some commands into a hovering panel just above her head. The stars raced towards the walls of the viewing chamber, as if it were travelling through the galaxy itself. It passed through planets and gas clouds and asteroid belts in a matter of seconds, before coming to a stop. In perfect holographic form, the Earth filled the room. The blue planet rotated slowly in front of them. Tyrell hated it.

“I really do not know why you waste so much time on that silly little planet. You weren’t even born there,” he said. Carrie looked around at him.

“I just like the colour blue,” she said, smiling. “Why have you such a dislike for it?” she asked. Tyrell did not know how to best answer her question. Was it Meretti? he thought to himself. Was it the fools at Berkley? He wanted to tell her that he thought the entire planet was a petri dish long past its sell by date, but decided to keep it to himself. Anyway he had the feeling she already knew the answer to his question.

Jycorp wanted “progressive thinkers” on the Phobos and colonial projects and so Tyrell had played along.

“There are over a million catalogued star systems, so far as we know, that have habitable worlds capable of supporting life. I just think our attention should be focused on the future of the human race, not its past, don’t you?” he finally said.

“That’s easy for you to say,” Carrie replied, turning her head back to the image. “You’ve been there.”

“You’re not missing much, Ms Barrington. Believe me.” There was a moment of silence as Tyrell turned his attention back to his readings.

“It looks so peaceful,” Carrie said.

“Well it isn’t,” Tyrell said. “Don’t be fooled, Carrie, much blood has been spilt on your little dream world. More than you can possibly imagine.” Carrie didn’t answer.

“By the way, I need you to run a containment diagnostic on the sample of The Black, when you’re done there. Your father needs it by the morning.” He knew that would bring her back to reality.

He knew that there was something different about this girl. The tragic loss of her mother to ‘The Black’ as it was now known, weighed heavy on all the inhabitants, but her father had been clear that she was to be given no special treatment. Tyrell had been a member of the scientific council that had begun its investigation into The Black following its gruesome discovery. Her aptitude for the sciences was off the scale, even by Tyrell’s standards. She consumed information and regurgitated it with creativity and a level of understanding that was unheard of for someone so young.

Tyrell watched her, as she stared at the slowly rotating ball. Fascinated that someone could be so interested in something so completely unimpressive and even repugnant, yet here she was, eyes unmoving and with a wonder and stillness that secretly he found soothing. Tyrell made his way across the lab. It was one of the largest structures at Colonial 1 and he was very protective over it. At the centre of the room stood the enormous viewing chamber. Like an empty glass box, it stood as his gateway into the universe. Jerome Young himself had designed and commissioned the impressive piece of technology and had cut the ribbon when it had been first activated in a ceremony six years earlier. The backdrop had been the very same image that Carrie had been watching a moment earlier, as the packed lab had ooo’d and aah’d at its capabilities and astonishing image resolution.

Tyrell remembered Chase Meridian cheering, “I can see my house,” to laughter and toasts.

He approached the young woman and stood by her side.

“Did you hear me?” he said. She jumped slightly.

“Sorry, Doctor, I didn’t hear you come over. Yes, I heard you, I will run the diagnostic.” Tyrell nodded.

Carrie’s gaze returned to the image as she raised a hand and tapped several commands into the free-floating control panel. The image in the viewing chamber began to expand outwards, past the outer boundaries. Landmasses began to reveal intricate detail of the continent she was focusing on. Tyrell always found the accuracy of the motion to be unsettling, especially now following a particularly heavy meal. The holographic image showed floating cities and thousands of vast tubular formations that connected to each landmass.

“The planetary connection grid is spectacular to see at this height,” Carrie said, as she paused the image and sat back. Across the viewing area was a sea of activity. Billions of humans travelling in glass pods like a luminescent bloodstream. Carrie smiled.

“At night the harmonic resonance of the charged particles inside the tubes makes each pod luminescent,” she said.

“Yes, I am familiar with the phenomenon,” said Tyrell. “I would have thought your focus would be on the prevailing Monolith signal. Why are you so fixated on a planet that is so backwards you refuse to look forward at the wondrous possibility of other sentience in the galaxy? Your father will not be happy about you spending this valuable time studying this planet. You know how important The Agathon project is to him, not to mention this colony.” He paused and looked Carrie in the eye.

“Doctor, why do you try and decode the signal?” she said, meeting his gaze.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“What do you hope to learn from it? You have been analysing the alien transmission for most of your life, have you not?”

Tyrell crossed his arms. “I have,” he replied.

“Why?” she said, looking at him with her almost glowing blue eyes. Tyrell had never seen anything like them and had concluded that they must have been a result of a chemical reaction with something in the Martian atmosphere, when she was born.

“Because whoever they are, they may know the answers to it all,” he finally said.

“You mean your answers to it all,” she said. He smiled.

“Perhaps.” He kept his eyes on her.

“By the way, the computer logged you into the containment chamber yesterday morning for two hours?”

She looked up at him. “Yes, Doctor, I thought I would get a head start on that diagnostic. I remembered it was due shortly. I was just taking atmospheric readings,” she said.

“I see,” he replied, not believing a word of it. “Carrie, you are not supposed to enter that room without my authorisation. Another thing your father was quite clear about. And you need not lie to me, Carrie. I know very well why you went in there.”

She lowered her head. “Yes, Doctor, I apologise. You are right. I went in to take some readings of The Black. I had a thought a few nights ago that it may react to barrionic particle saturation. I didn’t want to wake you.”

Tyrell sighed. All he needed was the commander’s daughter to be killed in some insane experiment on his watch. That wouldn’t do at all. And there was something different about this girl. Something that had intrigued him since she was a little girl. At colonial functions she had had a little party trick her father used to make her perform in front of other guests. She would be handed a pad and without any questions, draw perfect renderings of colonial family members back on Earth. All she did was look into the eyes of the person. It was a party trick that stopped after her mother’s death. He had seen her exchange glances with her father on numerous occasions, as if they were speaking to each other. But only briefly. He was sure she was telepathic on some level. He had never asked directly. Science was observation. So he quietly observed.

“It could have killed you,” he said quietly. She turned and looked at him with an unsettling gaze. She looked off into the distance.

“I have to know what it is,” she said.

“We all have to know what it is, Carrie, but that knowledge will not do either of us any good if that thing liquefies you in the middle of my lab,” he said, his voice raised.

“Can you imagine that conversation with your father?” She didn’t answer. “I’ve entered a code word clearance, only on the containment lab. You are not permitted back in again without my explicit permission,” he said, turning away from her and heading back to his main workstation. She turned back to the viewing chamber slowly.

“Yes, Doctor Tyrell, I understand,” she said.

“Now, if you wouldn’t mind, we don’t have that much time this evening, so if you could reposition the orbital array towards Phobos. I would like to get a visual on the Monolith quickly, on its next orbit.”

“Of course,” Carrie said, tapping some commands into her control panel. The image of the Earth regressed in the viewing chamber, as Carrie pulled back from the blue planet. The stars zipped by as the Earth vanished from sight. Seconds later the image filled with the familiar red planet. An oddly shaped orbiting ball of rock began to appear from behind the Martian haze. As the imaging chamber crept closer, the surface of the orbiting moon became more detailed. A computer voice confirmed the target lock of Phobos. Miles of fluorescent pipes spidered across its surface, crisscrossing at large cubical structures, making it look like a pebble trapped in a glowing spider’s web. Tyrell frowned. While his access to the Monolith structure and signal data had been unrestricted, he was never given permission for data from any other structures that Jycorp had attached to the base of it. Jycorp had been busy the last century, spending much of its resources on this mysterious little hunk of rock.

It was rumoured that over three quarters of Jycorp’s research and development division were now stationed here, along with entrenched military bases and orbited by two space stations, Phobos One and the Jycorp orbital platform, which was restricted to military personnel only. Observing the Jycorp station was restricted by the viewing chamber at the behest of the supreme chancellor and CEO of Jycorp, Jerome Young. The image of the moon filled the viewing chamber. As it reached the surface, both observers looked on at the focus of Carrie’s attention, which became the prominent feature in the chamber.

The two mile high, rectangular structure, stood ominously before them. Mirrored on all sides, it reflected the surrounding area and almost cloaked to the human eye, depending on what angle it was viewed from. One could be fooled as to its sheer mass, unless one was face to face on the surface. There it stood peacefully. A monument to an ancient civilisation. Surrounded by a hub of monitoring platforms and miles of duatronic cabling, which monitored every wavelength of energy emanating from the structure. Silently, it looked out into the universe and played its song over and over. Tyrell looked at the structure. More familiar with it than anything he knew. It had been his life’s work on Earth. Every inch of its surface plagued his dreams. The Monolith signal had been steady over the last hundred years and the human race was no closer to understanding what it meant. Not as far as Tyrell was concerned. The algorithm relayed Terabits of information every second on a carrier wave so strong it had been theorised that the only way it could have been compressed was through subspace. Tyrell knew one thing. The origin.

“Image locked, Doctor Tyrell, relaying data now,” said Carrie.

“Thank you, Carrie. Hold it there for now,” he said. Tyrell linked his console with the relay on the orbiting moon and began downloading the daily updates on the signal. He sat back and watched it, as it streamed past his screen. Thousands of symbols flooded his console. He rubbed his eyes and yawned. His latest set of algorithms had revealed no pattern to the random stream of data. Again. He was beginning to grow weary of the chase. He raised his eyes and watched as Carrie looked on at that rectangular structure being represented in the viewing chamber. He watched her closely.

Carrie stared on at the black rectangular Monolith and moved the viewer in for a closer look at its flat polished surface. A familiar gentle hum began to resonate in her mind. The sound felt strangely organic and it always stopped when she repositioned the array away from the moon. She likened it to a cat purring and, when mentioning the sound to Tyrell a few weeks back, she’d realised that she was the only person able to hear it. She had opened her mind to the structure on many occasions but had learned nothing from doing so. It just hummed gently in her mind. She actually found it relaxing.

“Carrie, reposition the array to the Aristaeus system, will you? Let’s say hello to our friends,” said Tyrell from behind her.

“Yes, Doctor,” she said, tapping in the commands for the target star system. Visiting the home world of the signal makers, or what was thought to be the home world of the signal makers, was a daily trip for Carrie.

“Quickly now, I would like to get a closer look at that large orbital we were locked into yesterday,” said Tyrell. Carrie took a breath. His tone was grinding her more than usual this evening and she had begun to find it irritating. His proximity lately had begun to send shivers down her arms. His mind had always been difficult to read. His thoughts were highly organised and she could tell he made great efforts to conceal information from her. It was more than secrecy. He had disciplined his mind to focus in such a specific way when he was near her and she could feel the strain it had on his concentration. He was hiding something from her mind. And so they played their little game of hide and seek.

“Inputting target coordinates now,” she said. The image pulled away from the surface of Phobos and past the red planet, before zipping through the stars. At six hundred light years away, the array was only able to show the system at a distance. After several minutes the viewing area slowed to a gentle halt, revealing a bright star.

“Aristaeus system locked,” came the soothing, female computer voice.

“Lock in Aristaeus Three,” Carrie said into her command panel. The viewing chamber flew past a small rocky planet and past another large gas giant, before settling on the target world. At this distance, Aristaeus III resembled Earth. It was a large blue oceanic world, with swirling cloud masses orbited by the two moons Hemera and Groma.

“Would you like to complete the gravity readings on Hemera, Doctor Tyrell?” she asked.

“Not today, Carrie, try and get us closer to object Delta,” he said. She tapped in target vectors and moved the array.

“Scanning,” she said.

“Object Delta cannot be located at this time,” said the female voice.

“Dammit!” said Tyrell.

“It probably burned up in the atmosphere. It was in very close orbit,” Carrie said.

“That doesn’t explain why it had a stable orbit yesterday, Carrie,” Tyrell retorted gruffly. Carrie bit her tongue. There was tension in the air.

“It couldn’t have been a meteor,” he said.

“Any impact on Hemera or Groma would have left residual debris and we would have seen any incoming projectile on the previous days’ scans of the system.” There was silence in the lab.

“Whatever it was, it’s not there anymore,” Carrie said passively. She could feel Tyrell approaching the viewing chamber and straightened her back. The tension between them began to increase when a low frequency alarm sounded, attracting Tyrell’s attention. A female voice came over the comms.

“Signal frequency change in aspect. Doctor Tyrell, please come to Astrometrics.” Tyrell stood beside Carrie and tapped the console on her chair.

“Tyrell here, I am on my way,” he said, looking sharply at Carrie.

“Keep looking; it may have been flung out into the star system by an asteroid impact or something,” he said, turning away from her.

“I may be a while, so if you still don’t find anything in the next half hour complete those soil samples for Doctor Meridian and place them in the refrigeration unit. The last thing I need today is her breathing down my neck,” he said.

“Yes, Doctor Tyrell,” she said, feeling at ease as he made his way to the lab exit. Tyrell took an instrument out of one of the lockers behind the workstation and left. The hiss of the door column left the room deathly quiet. The only sounds were the quiet chirps from the instrument panel above Carrie’s head. She was finally alone with the Universe at her fingertips. She tapped a few commands in the panel and redirected the array back towards Earth. She magnified the planet so that the equator filled the space in the viewing chamber and relaxed into her chair, watching it spin silently.

As the minutes drew past, she began to lose herself in Earth’s abundance of life and light. She began to feel her eyes close as she followed the continents. As she began to drift off to sleep, the rhythm of unconsciousness was interrupted by what looked like a bright beam of light. Her eyes felt too heavy to look at it any further. It began to brighten. As her mind drifted off to sleep, her mother’s voice began to echo in her mind.

 

Her eyes open as she feels her hand slip from the inside of a weathered cave wall, while she manoeuvres under a protruding rock face which lies directly ahead of her. The red soil is loose and, although untouched in millennia, it falls from underfoot with ease. She draws in a strong breath as she steadies herself and checks in with the team, who follow closely. She checks her suit for tears and does a visual on her oxygen levels. She catches a glimpse of her reflection in her arm display. She has long brown hair framing a soft and sallow complexion. She has an athletic physique and can feel the adrenalin flowing through her veins as she makes her way through the cave. Her husband is watching intently from miles away, while her daughter sleeps soundly under the watch of Doctor Chase Meridian.

“Easy, guys, it’s loose underfoot here,” she announces to her colleagues who follow closely behind. The cave is dark and she tells the team to activate their overhead lamps. Her two companions follow closely and light up their path with white light. One of them is a young cadet by the name of Charlie Weston. A rather serious twenty-seven-year-old who fills out his suit to bursting point. John had insisted on taking backup. Physical backup, should she run into trouble. While Charlie is pleasant company, he isn’t much of a talker and usually wears a stern and serious expression on his face as he prepares himself for combat at a moment’s notice. She had objected initially but finds him to be a comforting addition. Her other companion is a pretty Japanese mathematician by the name of Jin Li Chun. She has an intoxicating sense of humour and loves to cook little treats for her for their all night lab analysis sessions. As they continue their descent she begins to feel the ground beneath her soften.

“Romeo Two to Aquaria base,” she says.

“Aquaria base here. Go ahead, Jennifer.” Carrie hears her father’s voice coming through the comms. She feels her mother’s heart beat calmly at the sound of his voice.

“John, I’m taking Romeo team into the cavern now. There are high deposits of iron in the cave, so comms may be intermittent,” she says.

“Aquaria base acknowledges. Proceed with caution, Doctor. Aquaria base out.” Carrie’s mind leaves her mother’s and travels across the Martian desert. Through the blinding sand storm and towards the light of the colony. She sees her father standing at a curved window and enters his mind. Their thoughts begin to intertwine as a new set of emotions layer themselves onto her own. For a moment the floodgates of feelings overwhelm her, but it quickly dissipates and they become one. She feels her father’s anxious heartbeat.

“Fucking planet,” he whispers under his breath. He paces behind the monitoring station. “Weather report,” he says to one of the men at a control console.

“That dust storm is right on top of them, Commander. I would have them stay put for at least twenty-four hours,” he says.

“Perfect timing, Jennifer, as always,” he mutters under his breath. He strokes his unshaven cheeks. Carrie feels her father’s muscles tense. He is a fit forty-year-old man. He feels tired and is in need of a night’s sleep, but his mind is sharp.

“She’ll be fine, John. Jen’s a tough cookie. Tougher than you, I might add,” comes a female voice from the corner of the room. He turns to see Doctor Chase Meridian staring at him. She smiles. He notices the little smiles on his crew and walks over to her.

“I would appreciate you keeping comments like that to yourself, Chase,” he whispers. She puts her hands up in mock apology.

“Sorry, Commander, my bad, but that woman flew a very long way to an alien planet with you. Not to mention gave birth and recovered from nearly being blown up by some lunatic. So I think she can handle a little camping trip. She’s in her element John, she needs this,” she says. Carrie sees the look in Meridian’s eyes and feels comforted by it. She has a spark in her eyes, has tightly cropped blonde hair and has youth still carved into her cheeks. She has an air of authority that her father deeply respects. He nods and turns back.

“Aquaria Base, this is Romeo One. We have entered the canyon. Readings indicated something a hundred meters north of our current position and seventeen meters down. We are proceeding.” The commander’s brow furrows.

“Aquaria base acknowledges. Watch yourself, you didn’t bring your lucky dice.” He looks over at Meridian who meets his gaze. There is a pause on the comms system, as the unusual familiar tone that the commander uses is understood.

“Aquaria base, that is a negative. Romeo One has it firmly in her atmo suit,” she says. Meridian smiles.

“Aquaria base acknowledges,” he says, smiling.

Carrie’s mind shifts, leaving her father and floating across the red soil. It finds her mother’s mind and merges with it. She feels her hands grasping at the cave wall as she makes her way inside it. At first, she thinks the soil is giving way before she looks down and starts to see the rocks have started to become smooth and uniform. She stops in her tracks and turns to the others.

“You see this, Jin?” she says

“Yes, Doctor, very strange. Seems to get flatter the further we go down. Some sort of erosion from a lake or freshwater source?” Jennifer shakes her head without answering and continues on.

“The passageway opens up in twenty-two meters,” Jin chirps over comms. Their lights begin to disperse as they approach an opening slowly. The ground is dark. Black. They pause and take in their surroundings. Jennifer reaches over to the side of the cave wall and runs her fingers over the surface. It is smooth, like polished stone.

“Jin, are you getting any readings?” she asks.

“Mapping it now, Doctor. One moment,” she replies, as she points a long cigar-shaped instrument around the inside of the cave and along its floor. Charlie holds firm, directing his lighting array onto the cave floor.

“Why is the ground black?” he asks. Jennifer looks on.

“I really don’t know, Charlie, but it looks like some sort of ice formation,” she says. Jin finishes up with her scans and looks bewildered at the results on her pad.

“My God, it’s organic,” she says in awe.

“What?” Jennifer says, as she makes her way over to confirm.

“The cave floor,” Jin continues, “it’s not ice. It’s some sort of organic matter.” Charlie bends down and reaches a hand out. The two scientists do not see him do it. His fingers slip into the ground easily.

“It’s not solid, Doctor,” he says, immersing his whole arm beneath the surface.

“Charlie, step back,” Jennifer says. “We don’t know what we’re dealing with here.”

Charlie looks at Jennifer.

“Sorry, Doc, wasn’t thinking.” He does not move. Jennifer steps closer to the young man.

“Charlie, I said step back,” she repeats, annoyed that she has to tell him again.

“I am trying to, Doctor, but I appear to be stuck.” Charlie starts to jerk his arm backward to no avail.

Then the screaming starts. His mouth opens and his eyes turn red. Jennifer realises there is something very wrong. She moves quickly towards him and tries to pull him out. She cannot. Carrie feels panic begin to well inside her mother’s chest as her heartbeat begins to increase. Whatever has him has a firm grip and is pulling his arm in deeper. It looks like thick black liquid. He begins to flail widely, in agony, unable to speak. Jin grabs his other arm and jams her feet into the ground to get resistance. Charlie jerks forward and the momentum of the motion throws Jin straight into the black fluid. She gives a last shocked scream before disappearing from Jennifer’s view under the surface. Charlie begins to sink.

“Jin!” Jennifer shouts, while trying to keep a firm grip on the manic security officer. He looks at her as blood begins to flow from his eyes. She tries one last time to hold on as he is pulled under the surface. She lets him go and steps back to the edge of the blackness. She is out of breath and tears of shock begin to stream down her face.

“Jin!” she screams into the darkness. No answer. She stands up slowly and keeps quiet, trying to listen for voices. Nothing. She turns to pick up the scanner and loses concentration for an instant. She loses her footing on a smooth rock and slips into the dark fluid.

“Fuck,” she says. To her surprise, she is able to stand in it. Knee deep in what feels like warm mud. A tingling sensation begins to creep up her legs. Then the pain. It shoots through her legs like a high voltage shock. She cannot scream. The shock of it has knocked the air out of her lungs. Her feet go numb. Her mouth is wide and eyes bulge. She begins to sink into the black fluid. Her legs go numb. As if they are no longer there. Carrie feels the pain. She feels her mother’s panic. She feels her helplessness. Her thoughts begin to merge and blur. She can feel herself losing consciousness and grabs the comm panel on her arm. It activates. Now chest deep. No feeling in her torso. She has no muscle contraction in her lungs. She cannot breath. She finds the strength in one last breath and gives it to her husband who she desperately hopes can hear her.

“John,” she screams, her throat beginning to fill with blood. “I love you. Save Carrie!” As the black liquid covers her eyes and fills her lungs, she can only mouth the name of her daughter as the organism takes her.

 

What seemed like an eternity later, Carrie awoke screaming. Grasping at her chest. She looked into the viewing chamber. The Earth was gone. What looked like an asteroid field was now swirling through the chamber. Huge sections of rock and fire were floating past her slowly. She caught her breath and tried to clear the images from her recurring nightmare, as she righted herself in her seat. She closed her eyes and took in several deep breaths, before looking around at the empty lab. Tyrell was still out. She was alone.

“Computer, time,” she asked, feeling groggy.

“Time is zero three zero ten,” said the soft, female voice. She looked on at the asteroid field.

“Computer, realign array Earth,” she said.

“Alignment currently locked to those coordinates,” said the voice. Carrie looked at the rocks. She looked at the control panel above her and checked her readings. Twice. She felt confused. She tapped in the coordinates for Earth’s moon. The image in the viewing chamber shifted out to show the moon. It was definitely Earth’s moon.

“Aspect change to Earth, viewed from lunar surface,” Carrie said. The viewing chamber obeyed and took Carrie to the white powdery surface of the Earth’s moon. There, looking up from its surface, were masses of floating rock.

“Where is the Earth?” Carrie asked.

“Planetary body cannot be found. Gamma radiation detected,” said the calm, female computer voice.

“What?” Carrie said. “What do you mean, it cannot be found?” she asked. “Gamma radiation?” She reached up and tapped some commands into the control panel.

“Computer, show me the last thirty minutes of recorded data,” she said. The images in the viewing chamber froze and went black.

“Time index commencing at three seven,” said the soft, female computer voice, not sharing a hint of the anxiety Carrie was now feeling. The imager came to life, showing the blue rotating Earth.

“Okay,” said Carrie to herself. “There she is. Now what the hell happened?” She allowed the critical scientist voice to take over. “Has to be an array malfunction,” she said. “Computer, when was Gamma radiation detected?”

The viewing chamber began to speed the image up, then it stopped. The Earth’s rotation returned to its normal smooth self. Then a bright flash of light made Carrie place her hand over her eyes. After a few seconds she looked at the viewing chamber in time to see the Earth exploding from the inside out. Its atmosphere bleeding out into space as the detonation from its centre engulfed the entire globe in a hail of fire and light. It had happened so quickly. Chunks of rock floated outwards towards the edges of the viewing chamber. Carrie’s mouth remained wide open. Her lips were dry.

“My God!” she said. “Doctor Tyrell!” she screamed at the empty lab. No answer. The debris field filled the viewing chamber. She leapt from the seat and ran towards the door of the main lab. It hissed open and there stood Doctor Tyrell. He looked down at her. His eyes were red and crazed. He looked at Carrie and then up at the viewing chamber.

“Gamma Explosion detected,” repeated the female voice.

“Doctor!” she said, pointing to the viewing chamber.

“I know, Carrie,” he said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Remain calm,” Tyrell said with a firm and almost surreal tone to his voice. “Come with me.” He turned her back towards the diagnostic tables.

“Computer, pause viewer and discontinue alert,” he said assertively. The alarm stopped and all went silent. He turned to Carrie. “Sit down, Carrie,” he said gently. Carrie began to shake but obeyed him.

Tyrell turned and walked over to one of the diagnostic tables and started punching in commands. Carrie sensed something from him. It was faint, but the more she opened herself up to it the stronger it got. For a moment, she thought it was excitement. But she dismissed it as her imagination. His adrenalin was probably playing havoc with his emotional state. Something in Tyrell’s eyes didn’t sit right with her. She looked back at the now empty viewing chamber. The room was silent. Only the chirps of the computers filled the void. Tyrell sat down and looked over at Carrie.

“What just happened, Doctor Tyrell?” she asked. Tyrell looked at the empty viewing chamber.

“Too early to tell, but it looks like some sort of Gamma radiation. The entire planet has broken up.” He paused. “Your father is on his way here now. In the meantime I am going to conduct some more observations to see if I can ascertain what we’re dealing with.” He turned back to his diagnostics display and began sifting through the data being transmitted by the array. Carrie closed her eyes and, for a moment, she thought she could hear the faint sound of screams.

 

 

 

Phobos Orbit

Gamma Event T minus seventeen minutes

 

Jerome Young stopped the manoeuvring jets on his harness and positioned himself just over the equator of the small moon. There, he hung weightless in emptiness and stared down at the surface of Phobos. His EVA had lasted longer than he had scheduled but it had been a particularly beautiful view of The Agathon dry dock and he wanted to watch the construction for a while. Besides, it was the first moment he had had to himself in over two weeks. The only sound was his own breath inside the faceplate of his helmet.

“Young to orbital,” he said into his comms.

“Orbital here, go ahead, Mr. Young,” came the swift response of a young, male voice.

“Patch up the signal to my comms, will you?” he said.

“Patching now, sir,” the young voice said. The silence in his helmet was replaced by the steady rhythmic clicks and harmonies of the signal. He closed his eyes and listened. He allowed himself to drift in the emptiness, as the sound reverberated through his mind. Maybe this time he would crack it. After all, true inspiration came when one was totally isolated from distraction. His father had never cared for signals from other worlds. A ruthless and violent man, he had preached to Young that power was the only true constant in the Universe.

“One either has power or one is a slave. There is no in between.” Young had listened and had learned to appreciate what his father had meant, but had always looked to the signal.

The signal. What good was power when the Universe continued to perplex the mind? Power without knowledge haunted him. When his father died the plans for the orbital platform on Phobos went ahead with the full resources of the company. Protected by Jycorp Military personnel and its pitfalls. It was hard for Young to find privacy anymore. Even out here, floating above the surface of Phobos, he had a tracking detail of three security personnel a half a kilometre away in case he got into difficulty. He loved the view from this angle of the Monolith. Almost perfectly perpendicular to the top surface of the mirrored structure. He had often viewed that section as the antennae cluster, even though no real evidence existed to support it. He had thought that if he stood directly on top of it, then the signal would flow through his body and give him the means to decipher it. He stretched his arms out and closed his eyes to listen. His comms chirped.

“Mr. Young, we have an incoming transmission from the chancellor,” said a male voice. Young’s heart quickened. The title of chancellor wasn’t quite befitting the beauty of Sienna Clark, whom Young had appointed to the position less than a year earlier. As head of state to the planet, her elegance was matched only by her fierce intellect and legendary ruthlessness. Yet, her charm and humour was infectious. They had shared an evening of passion, unbeknownst to the world, after her inauguration dinner.

“Put it through up here, Lieutenant,” he replied. The comms chirped again

“Jerome, this is the chancellor, I hope I am not interrupting you?” said an assertive, female voice. Young smiled in his breathing plate.

“Not at all. I’m actually looking at you right now.” He flicked his eye up to Earth. “What can I do for you on this fine summer’s day?” He redirected his manoeuvring jets and began his descent onto the surface of Phobos.

“Well, I normally wouldn’t disturb you when you’re out ‘jogging’, but our listening post on the surface of Mars relayed a signal change from the Monolith a few moments ago. I have contacted Doctor Tyrell and also advised our listening posts here on planet to advise. Have you had the same readings?” The surface of the moon grew closer as Young slowed his descent towards the Monolith. He hadn’t heard anything from either orbital platforms, but that wasn’t surprising, as he had left strict instructions not to be disturbed.

“I haven’t checked in yet, Sienna, but I’ll do so now. I’m on my way to the surface as we speak. I’ll link up when I’m inside the main hangar bay in thirty minutes. Any idea what the change signifies?” His curiosity had made him lower his guard and his tone towards the chancellor had now become very familiar. She snapped him back to reality.

“Please do, Mr. Young. I will speak to you then.” The penny dropped.

“Of course, Chancellor. Young out.” His comm snapped closed and there was again silence.

A change in the frequency was something that had happened on only a handful of occasions. It usually signified a galactic event like a supernova or black hole that had interfered with the data stream. He watched the Monolith, as it grew closer. His escort followed his descent on the surface of the moon. It was a manoeuvre his detail had not been fond of. His atmo suit’s thrusters were automatically programmed to bring him to the surface with relative ease, but there was always a little nervousness in case they failed.

He had programmed them to bring his descent perpendicular to the edge of the Monolith, so that he could almost touch it on the way down. Few humans were able to get this close. The bases and power cables that surrounded the perimeter glowed neon blue. The light from the main hangar deck was now tracking him. As the Monolith passed him by, he gazed at the unmarked surface. His reflection gazed back as it watched him fall towards the surface. For a moment, he thought it had smiled at him. He dismissed the illusion and continued downward towards the base of the structure. His jets fired and he came into a soft and controlled landing. He faced the Monolith and reached out the palm of his hand, touching its smooth surface. His mirrored hand met its reflection. His comm chirped.

“Mr. Young, main hangar is prepped for your arrival. I will see you inside,” said a male voice, much older than his.

“Good to see you, Tosh, be two minutes. Young out.” His only true companion out here, Doctor Daniel Tosh, was a physicist in his early seventies. In need of genome treatment and paralysed from birth due to a severed spinal column, Tosh had been a pioneer in both FTL drive technology and interstellar communication systems technology. With a dry wit and love of fine dining, he was often the honoured guest at Young’s table. They would debate morality issues, democracy, and war, but above all else the alien life forms responsible for the signal and the Monolith.

Getting Tosh to Phobos had not been easy. He had failed all medical criteria and Young had to outfit the transport carrier with specialised medical equipment just for the trip. He needed him though. He had been instrumental in the analysis of ‘The Black’, which had proven lethal and elusive on the surface of Mars. He and Tyrell were alike, in that they both liked to work alone. He had always known that great minds always sought isolation. He made his way over the surface of the moon towards the large black structure to the north. He gave his jets a light tap, bringing his feet gently onto the surface of the moon. Behind him his security detail followed suit. As he approached the front of a large hangar, the main doors hissed open. He glanced back at his detail that was following close behind.

“Come on, fellas, last one in is a rotten egg.”

The two Marines quickened their step, which was not easy in this low gravity. They entered the hangar door and waited while it sealed slowly behind them. Atmosphere filled the entrance and they removed their breathers. Young revealed a thick head of greying hair and manicured but stubbled face. The inner door opened, revealing an overweight man in a floating wheelchair. A gift from Young that enabled its user to traverse any terrain with ease. The man in the chair wore a white faded shirt with the sleeves rolled almost up to his shoulder. A pair of glasses hung from a slightly torn breast pocket. His features were soft and he had an air of quiet confidence. He was holding a metal tool in one of his hands.

“Hello, Tosh, how ye been?” asked Young with a light slap on his shoulder. Tosh gave him a warm smile.

“I was doing just fine until this damn rock of yours went berserk a half hour ago.” They moved along a long white walled corridor, with many doors springing off to various labs. Tosh floated easily through the hall and kept pace with Young, who walked with purpose.

“What’s been happening?” he asked.

“Well, three minutes ago the subspace frequency went dead. Like totally dead. Kaput, for the first time in a century. We thought it was a wormhole or some other phenomenon, so we did what any good scientists do. We waited. Sure enough, it came back, but with a power and frequency we have never seen before. The signal is changing from transmission frequency to an energy pulse.” Young stopped in the hall and turned to Tosh.

“A what?” he said.

Tosh replied, “It’s an energy pulse. And it seems to be emitting Gamma radiation.” Young looked him in the eye and began walking quickly now.

“What is its focal point?” Young asked.

“It’s directed at Earth’s Pacific Ocean.”

Young moved quickly now down the hallway towards his destination. They reached another corridor and stepped onto a small gangway, which led to a lift. Young motioned to his security detail to remain behind. They stepped onto the gangway and began to descend. After several minutes the platform came to a stop, revealing an enormous array of machinery scattered throughout a technological sprawl of sensor arrays and holographic interfaced computers. Technicians were scurrying about and the floor area was buzzing with activity. Nobody seemed to notice the new arrivals. Young and Tosh headed over to one of the computer stations. A female technician was sifting through endless amounts of algorithmic code, which was spinning past her display.

“What’s the situation, Dana?” Tosh asked. The attractive girl turned her head and stood.

“Mr. Young, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.” Young held up his hand.

“Nice to see you, how are things with the signal?” They sat together at the desk and all looked at the code.

“It started about a half hour ago. The Monolith started resonating a photonic pulse, originating from the Aristaeus system. The pulse is being directed at a focal point in the Pacific Ocean. It seems to be causing some sort of quantum fusion effect within the Earth’s core.”

Young looked at the data then glanced at Tosh.

“What do you make of it, Tosh?”

“Looks like an attack,” Tosh replied.

 

Earth
Office of the Chancellor
New York City
Gamma event T minus nine minutes

 

Chancellor Sienna Clark’s day had begun as it usually did. She rose at five a.m. and went for her customary five K run around Central Park. It was a cold morning in New York. She had programmed the Holo-display for a brisk morning with the dew still fresh on the grass. She missed being able to run in the real outdoors, but being Chancellor had precluded such luxuries. The facsimile was impressive with the sounds of the morning metropolis emulated in almost perfect detail, from the smell of the freshly baked bread at the patisserie on East 60th Street to the sounds of the Holo-boards as they displayed Jycorp advertisements. She was a fit woman at forty-eight, with a strong frame and angular complexion. At five foot eleven, her presence was felt in a room long before she ever opened her mouth. Her confident and assured stride commanded social occasions with ease. Running was the only time she had to really process her thoughts. Tyrell had told her to wait while he analysed the data from the signal change that morning, which gave her a window to hit the bricks. It wasn’t to last as long as she had hoped, as a square viewer appeared overhead with her Chief of Staff, James Ryder, looking down at her. He never smiled and even though dressed impeccably he always looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks.

“Chancellor, sorry for disturbing you, I have Doctor Tyrell on the line,” he said, floating in mid-air.

“Put him through,” the out of breath chancellor replied. The image flickered and Tyrell appeared overhead.

“Hello, Chancellor. Thank you for being so patient. I have been running diagnostics and liaising with Doctor Tosh. There is a definite shift in the polarity and nature of the signal. Mr. Young is currently on an EVA. There is no definitive data as to the cause of the shift as of yet, but we do know that it is emitting Gamma radiation and that it is being directed at the Pacific Ocean.” She looked up at the doctor and tried to catch her breath.

“I will contact you when I have more.”

“Thank you, Doctor Tyrell. Keep me appraised.” The screen went blank. She turned and headed for the exit of the Holo-chamber. At one thousand meters tall the Jycorp headquarters was a formidable structure, modelled on the architecture of the Monolith with its mirrored surfaces reflecting the cityscape. The chancellor’s office was located on the top floor suite, with an impressive glass surround offering breath-taking views of the cityscape. She had positioned her white glass desk beside the east-facing wall to watch the sunrises. The spectacular bursts of light as they sliced through the skyscrapers in the morning were breath-taking. It made her feel almost godlike, watching the humbling beauty of the world.

She arrived at her office after a quick phone call to Young, who was out taking the views of Phobos. She sat at her desk and asked an aide to prepare her a cup of Jamaican coffee. Black with one sugar. She was often amused at how far human civilisation had come on the back of beans. It was a wonder that nature had not incorporated caffeine into the human genome through some sort of Darwinian adaptation. She sat at her desk and started looking through the communiqués of the morning. Her chief of staff was always her first call in the morning and he usually joined her when she arrived at the office. She was early today so took advantage of the quiet moment she had to catch up on the latest developments. The signal shift would probably take up a significant amount of time today, so she quickly sifted through the council’s manifest to see if there was anything she could bump until later in the day or tomorrow. She was scheduled to speak to Commander Barrington regarding The Agathon project later in the day. The FTL ship orbiting Mars was nearing its completion and was only twenty months away from its first test flight. A few minutes later, the door chimed. James Ryder entered and nodded to the chancellor a good morning.

“Quite the morning, eh, Jim?” she said with a grin.

“Yes, Chancellor,” he said sombrely. “I don’t like what I see on Phobos.”

The chancellor smiled. “Jim, the damn thing has been on there for a hundred years. I think if it was a hostile move they would have done it by now, no? Let’s just wait for Tosh to get to grips with it and take it from there.” Ryder’s usual furrowed brow and pit bull-like appearance told her otherwise.

“In the event of any hostile action, we need to consider the evacuation protocol. I suggest preparing a number of drills over the next twelve hours. As you know, your executive shuttle pod is manned twenty-four hours a day, but I would like to go over some scenarios with you so that we can cut our response times.”

The chancellor’s expression began to change to one of frustration. She hated this area of her position and she didn’t like to be handled, but her regard for Ryder won out and she nodded her head in reluctance.

“Okay, Jim, but let me finish my coffee first, all right?” Ryder acknowledged and handed her a briefing labelled ‘Agathon Project Code Black. Security Clearance Only’. The sun was streaming in through the window as one of the chancellor’s assistants laid a tray of steaming coffee on the table.

“Would you mind dimming the windows, Laura?” she asked.

“Of course, Sienna,” she replied. She caught Ryder’s disapproving eye as she did. Her chief of staff was not fond of aides using her first name, but it had been something the chancellor had insisted on when she was sworn in.

“People are less likely to betray a friend,” she had once told him. The windows darkened with a command from the aide.

“Is there anything else I can help you with, Chancellor?” said Laura.

Sienna shook her head and Laura turned quickly on her heels and made a discreet exit.

They read over the progress reports of The Agathon project and Ryder updated her on launch protocols and timeline reviews. When they were finished, they turned their attention back to the signal. The comms system chirped.

“Go ahead, Anna,” the chancellor said

“I have Jerome Young on the line.” The chancellor’s back straightened.

“Mr. Young, what news?” she said with as much officialdom as she could muster.

“Chancellor, I think you need to consider relocating to the Orbital platform.” His voice was different. She could tell when a sentence with very little information was intended to communicate more, and his tone of voice was rock solid. She wanted more. Ryder shot a glance at the chancellor.

“Mr. Young, I have a schedule which precludes me from leaving Earth right now. Can you elaborate?” She thought she felt a small vibration in the floor. She dismissed it as Young answered.

“Tosh and I have come to the conclusion that whatever the signal is doing, it seems to be affecting the core of the planet at a subatomic or quantum level. Deliberate or not, the calculations are becoming somewhat alarming, so I think we need to get you and your staff off surface for the time being, while we continue to observe. I don’t want to make this an order, Chancellor, but if needs be—”

The chancellor interrupted, “Jerome, you don’t think that sends poor signals to the populus? The chancellor abandoning her people every time Jycorp snaps its fingers? I honestly believe we need to think carefully about this and wait for more data on what the changes in the signal mean, without creating an unnecessary planet-wide panic. You appointed me to this position to lead by example, did you not? And you assured me that Jycorp would not overrule me. This was your first step in giving power back to the people of this planet, Jerome.” There was a moment’s pause and then a clear response.

“Okay, Sienna. If it’s okay with you, I would like to speak to James to go over evacuation protocols for a few minutes, in case things start to heat up. Please be available on comms at a moment’s notice.”

“Of course. Be my guest,” she replied. Ryder picked up the portable earpiece and placed it in his ear. He was silent while Young spoke. He gave brief answers.

“Yes, sir. Of course, sir. I understand, Ryder out.”

The chancellor frowned.

“That was quick.”

“Yes, he was just confirming that protocol black is still ready to go at a moment’s notice. He likes to cover all the bases.”

“Of course,” she replied. For the first time in their professional relationship, she knew that he had just lied to her. On the table, her coffee cup began to vibrate.

Young hung up the transmission and turned to Tosh. Tosh looked at him.

“She’s a full head of steam, eh?” he said.

“That she is,” he replied.

“You think Ryder got the message?”

“He got the message,” Young replied.

“How long do we have?” Tosh turned to the display.

“The uplink from the Earth orbiter is beginning to show tectonic activity. I think we need to talk to Tyrell.”

“Get him on the line,” said Young. The comms chirped and Tyrell’s face appeared.

“Dr Tyrell, I am afraid whatever is happening up here is not a friendly hello anymore. Do you concur?” said Young

“Mr. Young, I have been monitoring the changes in the signal and, from what I can gather, it is becoming evident that this is some sort of energy weapon being directed at Earth’s core. We have no current defence against a Gamma radiation of this magnitude. Judging by the intensity of the pulse, I would say we are looking at an extinction level event.” There was a silence.

“Jesus Christ, what can we do?” Young asked quietly, almost rhetorically.

Tyrell responded, “Save as many as you can and send them here. There isn’t much time. I’m going to speak to Barrington now. If you will excuse me, I think we need to get moving… fast. Tyrell out.” The transmission closed and Young and Tosh looked at the technicians who were now focused on them. Panic was starting to fill their eyes. A young Asian manning the communications station beside Tosh looked up.

“Sir, can’t we just blow up the Monolith?” he asked.

Young put a hand on his shoulder. “The station doesn’t have anything powerful enough to damage it. We tried every explosive and particle weapon we had five years ago, to try to get inside. Not a scratch.”

“Get me Ryder on the comms. Secure the channel.” Young placed an earpiece in his ear. After a few seconds he was connected.

“Ryder, this is Jerome Young. Olympus has fallen. This is not a drill. Acknowledge. Do it now.” The comms clicked. He looked at Tosh.

“I want to speak to John Barrington now.”

 

 

 

Main Observatory
– Astrometrics lab – T minus six minutes

 

“This is Tyrell,” he said, raising his voice but not taking his eyes of the holo-comp display.

“Tyrell, it’s Tosh here. You seeing what I’m seeing up here with the signal?” Tyrell was studying the data on his display carefully.

“Tyrell, you there?” Tosh said. An urgency in his voice piqued Tyrell’s interest. Tosh was not one for displaying emotion easily. Tyrell looked on for a minute, to see what he was on about.

“One second, Doctor, I have not been observing it as of yet.” There was no doubt there was an increase in the amount of data being transmitted, but there was something strange about the way the data was being organised. It had begun to pulse. The stream had never done that before, but there was something else. There was a definite energy signature now being emitted by the signal. Tyrell couldn’t believe it.

“Tosh, I’m seeing an energy pulse embedded in the stream and it seems to be increasing. You concur?”

“Yep, that’s what we’re seeing up here. I don’t like it Tyrell, our sensors are going berserk. It’s highly focused and directed towards the Earth. If it keeps going it’s going to cause destabilisation in the core. I’ve got Young coming in from an EVA now.” Tyrell took a moment to take in what Tosh was saying. He needed time.

“Inform the chancellor immediately, Doctor. I will monitor and contact you in ten minutes.”

“Okay, will do,” Tosh replied and the comms clicked off. He stared at the stream for a moment and then tapped some commands into the clear panel on the desk

“What is the nature in the change of signal?” he said to the computer. A few moments later, a soft, female voice responded.

“Signal composition increase by 7000%. Composition now 42% Gamma 13% photonic with unknown elemental variants being observed.”

Tyrell continued, “Speculate as to unknown elemental variations.”

There was silence, then the voice responded. “Standard analysis of the variants is not possible under current analytical conditions.” Tyrell looked at the data and tapped a few more commands into the panel.

“Begin a comparative analysis on the interaction with known particles and electromagnet field generation from a planetary body.”

The computer acknowledged, “Beginning analysis. Please stand by.”

Tyrell’s heart rate began to increase as he did some computations on his own palm computer. “It couldn’t be,” he whispered to himself, as he looked at the numbers.

The female voice clicked in. “Particle analysis complete. Gamma ray synthesis is possible in a planetary core, given the infusion of known particles.”

Tyrell’s eyes widened. “Speculate as to probable outcome of Gamma ray interaction with core of planetary body.”

The female voice responded coldly. “98% probability of annihilation of planetary body.” Tyrell sat and watched the signal as it flowed like a river across the holo-comp display. He wasn’t entirely sure why he felt so energised. Surely he should call Barrington. The end of the world was coming. Earth had been chosen. Its people could not respond to the signal and the creators had grown angry and frustrated with its ignorance. It was time. He had been chosen. To live. He had escaped. The universe knew that he needed to find the true nature of it all. And the meek shall inherit the Earth.

“And the meek will die,” said Tyrell. He hadn’t noticed the incoming transmission from Tosh. His eyes were still fixated on the signal. The comms continued to sound.

Tyrell finally answered, keeping his tone subdued. “Tosh? I’m seeing a Gamma burst being focused at the core. With that level of energy I think we’re looking at a cataclysmic explosion.”

Tosh replied, “Jesus fucking Christ, why would they blow the planet?”

“It seems they’ve run out of patience. I advise you to get who you can off the surface. There isn’t much time. I need to call Barrington and advise him. I’ll keep observing. Tyrell out.”

Tosh was in the middle of replying when the comms went dead.

 

Office of Commander Barrington

 

 

Commander John Barrington stared at the two colonists sitting across his large oak desk. His mind had been wandering for the last several minutes and he was having difficulty focusing after his thirty-six hour survey of the orbiting Agathon dry dock.

“Commander. Do you hear me?” Doctor Chase Meridian asked.

“Hmm?” he said, realising that he hadn’t.

“I said that we have now been waiting for three days for the transfer of the micron inhibitor and the good doctor here is refusing to give it back until he’s finished with his silly little analysis of the microbial—”

“Now hang on just a second,” interrupted a flustered young man sitting beside her. “You gave my department total discretionary use of the equipment for a period of three weeks, not two!” he said in a thick Scottish accent.

“Oh for God’s sake,” retorted Meridian. “Commander, Doctor Kyle McDonnell knows full well what my conditions were for relocating that machine, and the fact that we are sitting here…”

Barrington raised his hand. “Doctors, please…” he said, sighing. He leant on the table and placed his thumb and forefinger on the bridge of his nose.

“I am sorry, Commander, I realise you must be tired from the last few days. We can discuss this when you’ve had some rest,” said Meridian. Barrington could hear the concern in her voice and looked up, giving her a smile.

“Kyle, you have until the end of the week, then transport the inhibitor to the biology lab. Will that be satisfactory to you both?” he said wearily. They both nodded and stood to leave.

“Doctor Meridian, a moment if you will,” he said. She turned and nodded to McDonnell, who gave her a cheeky smile as he left. Barrington was in no doubt that there was something between those two, but had never confronted her about it. She sat and pulled her dark hair behind her ear. She was a plain woman in her early forties, with simple features and a well-kept physique. She was a disciplined and meticulous biologist with a dry wit.

“Drink?” he asked her, knowing the answer.

“Constantly,” she replied with a smile.

“How is she doing?” she asked.

Barrington fixed her a neat whisky and handed her the large-bottomed glass. He sat in a long lounger chair next to the wall and stared out the window. “At this rate, we’ll never get done. The damn hull plating is still absorbing way too much background radiation. It will just break apart the second we go into sub light. We have to find a way to make the polarising resin thicker or all this will be for nothing.” He swirled his drink around his glass.

“That is nice,” Meridian said. “But I was referring to your daughter.” He looked over at her and smiled.

“Oh right,” he said. “That’s even worse.”

“She still having nightmares?” she said. Barrington nodded. He looked out the window again.

“I wish Jennifer had let me take them both back to Earth. I never wanted to bring up a daughter on this hunk of rock. Let alone bring one up alone. I’m a military commander. What the hell do I know about raising a woman?” He took a thick gulp of his whisky and let it burn his throat, before he stood up to make himself another. Meridian laughed.

“What’s so funny?” he said.

“It’s the same as building a starship, John. One piece at a time. I think you’re doing okay,” she said, dropping ranks. “Jennifer knew the risks of doing what she did and she wouldn’t have married you if she didn’t think you were up to the job. When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep?” she said.

“Twenty one years?” he said, giving her a grin. He looked out at the networks of pods and connected walkways of Mars Colony 1. Off to the right he glanced at the main control centre of Aquaria Base. The thirty-storey pyramid structure was the focal point of the colony and shone a beacon of light into the night sky. A nice touch by the designers, keeping the inhabitants in touch with Earth.

“I miss her,” he said suddenly. There was a moment of silence before Meridian stood and walked over beside him. She placed a hand on his shoulder.

“We all do,” She said. “But you have something special in Carrie. We both know that. She is important, John. You have to turn to her now. You have to let Jen go.” Barrington didn’t answer. He had to restrain a sudden and unexpected flood of emotion that threatened to overcome him. It was probably tiredness.

“Any change in her telepathic abilities?” she asked. He shook his head.

“They are strong,” he said. “She’s hiding something from me. I thought it was just the usual secrets, but there is something else.” Meridian nodded.

“You might have better luck than I,” he said. She laughed.

“We may be close, John, but she still keeps me at arm’s length. Give her time,” she said. “She will have to say something eventually, John. There are already rumours.”

“Not yet,” he snapped back. “I will not have Carrie the subject of colony gossip. I have enough to worry about with Jycorp brass breathing down my neck every minute of the day, without having to deal with that.”

Meridian took a breath and looked away to break the tension.

“Where are you on the latest batch of results on The Black?” he asked under his breath.

“Nowhere,” she said, placing her empty glass on the table. “It is highly resistant to everything we throw at it.” He nodded. “Get some rest. If you want I’ll get Brubaker up here to give you a tranquilliser.” She paused. “Or something better.”

Barrington laughed. Brubaker’s romantic interest in him was no secret between them. “Don’t tempt me,” he said. She nodded and turned for the door.

“Let’s do dinner tomorrow. We can chat some more,” she said. Barrington gave her a thankful nod and she headed out into the hallway. The holo-comp on his desk came to life with a light flurry of activity, indicating an incoming call. Without shifting his gaze he answered.

“Barrington here.”

A young male voice answered, “Commander, it’s David. I am passing by, can I have a word about The Agathon?” Barrington sighed, wondering if he would ever get any sleep this evening.

“No problem, Lieutenant. Come on in,” he said.

Lieutenant David Chavel stood at the entrance to the commander’s office. The thirty-two-year-old pilot stepped in and gave a familiar salute to the commander, who reciprocated casually. They had spent so much time together over the last several months that protocol was starting to lapse. Barrington had reminded himself to keep an eye on that, but for the moment he couldn’t have cared less. Jycorp had increased the materials shipments in recent months and new personnel were coming in almost weekly. Chavel had been a key player in handling the logistics of the build. Barrington was fond of the young man. He had an enigmatic personality and took initiative well.

Chavel had come to his attention a few years earlier, following an accident in which he had earned the Daedalus Medal of Honour for bravery in the course of action. He had been a pilot at the helm of a transport ship bound for the Jycorp mining operations facility on the moon when it had been struck by a micro meteor shower. With the temperature of the command module falling and oxygen depleted, he had managed to seal the crew and passengers into an aft compartment and pilot the stricken vessel safely into orbit around the moon. When the rescue team had finally reached them he had been clinically dead. Chavel took a seat opposite Barrington and placed a display pad on the desk.

“Drink?” Barrington asked politely.

“No, thank you, sir. If I have a drink now, God only knows where some of these engine parts will end up.” Barrington smiled lightly. He could tell the young officer had been up for well over twenty-four hours and was operating on pure adrenalin at this stage.

“So how’s our baby doing?” asked Barrington. Chavel tapped some commands into the pad and with a smooth flicker of particles a three-dimensional image of a ship was born from the light. The two men looked on at the ship. A large disc-shaped object rotated slowly before them. Jycorp had completely redesigned their interstellar concept designs by removing all external fusion engines. The Alpha class vessels, which ferried supplies and personnel between planets, were extremely reliable and efficient but had been bulky in order to accommodate the drive sections of the ships. The Agathon had been built without the need for fusion drives, allowing its simplistic and streamlined design. The rim of the ship spun independently on its axis at varying speeds, creating an electromagnetic field. The FTL drive section was powered by a secondary spinning ring, encompassing the ship and was located perpendicular to the edge of the vessel. This ring was locked in place next to the rim of the fuselage while not in use. Windows and lights peppered the vessel, giving it a grand scale even while viewed at this size on Barrington’s holo display. The ship was clearly unfinished, with at least a quarter of the aft exposed to the vacuum of space. Corridors and quarters were visible like an open dolls’ house.

Barrington addressed the young lieutenant. “She’s a work of art, David,” he said.

“Yes, sir. She sure is. She needs a lick of paint, mind you, and we’ve got some issues with FTL ring deployment. The architecture of The Agathon was designed so that its symmetry facilitated the transition of the hull smoothly from normal space to faster than light speeds, with as little stress as possible to the outer hull.

“As you know, sir, the relatively large surface area of the ship was causing an odd mass variable during gravimetric simulations,” Chavel said. Barrington nodded.

“The problem is the radial alignment of the FTL ring when it reaches full rotation,” he continued. “It creates its own mass in the middle of the space time singularity, so we have to adjust the rotations per second by a millisecond or so to allow for the effect. Otherwise the stress on the hull might tear the ring clean off the ship.”

Barrington sat back in his seat. “A millisecond, huh?” he said, smiling. Chavel looked back up from the image of the rotating ship and reciprocated.

“Yes, sir,” he said.

“I think I can live with that, Lieutenant.”

Chavel nodded. “I thought you would, sir. We can’t get a full test done until we can lock up the hull on that aft section,” he said, pointing to the unfinished part of the craft.

“Where are we at on that?” asked Barrington. Chavel blew a sigh out.

“Eighteen to twenty-four months at least, at this rate. We are getting heat from Jycorp on our latest personnel request. Seems there’s politics in play on the flight crew allocation. Until we can get confirmation on the last batch, we’re gonna be waiting on the remainder of the hull alloys.” Barrington nodded and tapped a command into the display pad, and the ship sank back into digital oblivion. He sat back in his chair and addressed the young man.

“Been quite the year, hasn’t it?”

He smiled. “Yes sir, it has.”

“David, I realise you have been under tremendous stress and I want you to know that I am not in any way unsympathetic to the weight that has been thrust on your shoulders. I have been forced to improvise in order to build this little world of ours and also try and spearhead the greatest leap our civilisation has ever attempted. I am not sure I have ever thanked you properly for the sacrifices you have made, not only for me but for the colony.” He paused and looked at the surprised expression on the young man’s face

“I owe you a great debt, David. If Jennifer were here today she would agree with me. I just wanted to express that to you, as I thought it important.”

“It’s my honour, sir,” he replied, shifting somewhat uncomfortably in his seat.

“I am concerned about my daughter, David.” Chavel raised an eyebrow.

“How so? She seems to fit in very well, no?”

“You don’t have daughters, do you, Lieutenant?” Barrington returned with a light smile.

Chavel reciprocated, “No, sir. How can I help?”

“She is becoming increasingly isolated. Much like her mother used to be. Forgive me for being so blunt, but how well do you know her?”

Chavel shifted in his seat. “Not well, sir. She seems to shy away from conversation. We’ve talked. She’s bright and very capable. She seems guarded, but if she is having difficulty she seems to hide it well.”

The commander contemplated the young man’s words. “Thank you, Lieutenant. That will be all.” Chavel stood and collected the pad off the desk

“Anything I can do, sir,” he replied as he made his way to the door. It slid open with proximity and the young lieutenant made his way into the corridors. Barrington’s thoughts wandered as he leaned back in his chair, once again turning to face the exterior view of the glowing colony. His eyes drifted towards the observatory, as the peace of the moment weighed heavily on his eyes. He began to drift into unconsciousness.

 

The smell of freshly cut grass on a summer’s day fills his senses. It is Mars. But different. Alive with lush green landscape. He feels the soft ground beneath his feet and the sun’s warm rays on his face. He looks up and sees his wife across the field in her colonial jumpsuit, back to him.

            “Jennifer,” he shouts.

            The silence and bliss between the two of them is palpable, as they stare at each other across the open field. Scattered throughout the landscape are a variety of forests and streams now teeming with life. Overhead the skies are alight with broken cloud formations, splitting the Martian sunlight into beams of striking colours. The sounds of life on this new Earth drown the senses. They are separated by a quiet flowing river, which flows effortlessly over the uneven ground. Light breezes play with her hair, as the warm glow of the distant sun warms their faces. It is a happy moment. He never moves towards her. They glance at each other across an impassable terrain. She mouths something to him. Every time the same. He can’t quite make it out.

            It looks like, “I love you.” She repeats it in slow motion over and over, always smiling. He begins to hear the faintest sound of a woman’s voice being carried on the wind. Jennifer’s voice begins to echo in his ears. The words are not, “I love you.”

            She is softly saying, “I’m melting.” It is the moment right before she begins to sink. A pool of black oil like fluid forms beneath her feet.

            Barrington calls to her. “Run, Jennifer,” he cries. She looks on calmly, still gently smiling as she slowly begins to submerge into the black. Barrington screams to her to get out. She pays no heed. Her smile remains as her torso and upper body begin to submerge. “Please, Jennifer! Don’t go.” She closes her eyes calmly and accepts the black fluid into her mouth. Still smiling.

            Barrington howls, “No!”

 

He woke suddenly, looked around the room finding it empty and dark. As he wiped away a tear the holo-comp bleeped, indicating an incoming call.

“This is Barrington, go ahead.”

The voice on the other end was shaky and frantic, “John, this is Tyrell. We have an emergency. I think you should come to the observatory immediately.” Barrington’s heart jumped.

“What’s going on, Doctor, is Carrie all right?”

“Yes, John, she’s fine, but there is something happening to the signal. Please come down here. I am declaring a colonial emergency.”

 

Goodreads Link to The Agathon 

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