Gamma Event T plus ten minutes
John Barrington stared at the viewing chamber. The view had been taken out to encompass the debris field. He rested his hand on Carrie’s shoulder. Tyrell was hunched over a console, punching in various commands. Watching the ever-expanding flotsam of rock as it floated serenely outwards into the black of space, held a strange meditative quality to it. The orbiting arrays, satellites and space stations had been obliterated in the blast. The shockwave had carved a chunk out of the orbiting moon and it was left alone without its owner like a wounded and abandoned pet. Carrie had not spoken since her father had arrived at the observatory. She seemed unable to take her gaze from the viewing chamber.
“I don’t understand, Father, it was right there. I was watching it all night. It was so alive. Am I dreaming?” The commander lowered himself to meet her eye level and glanced back at the floating rock, still grasping at his own straws and in awe of the devastation.
“I don’t know, Dice,” he said, calling her by her childhood nickname. “Why don’t you go back to the habitat ring and try to get some sleep. Doctor Tyrell and I have a lot of work to do before the rest of the colony wakes up and finds out what has happened.”
Carrie was quick to respond, “I cannot, Father. I have to stay here with you. Please, I have to stay with you.”
He turned his gaze back to the viewing chamber. “Okay, Dice. I could use your help anyway. I need to talk to Tyrell for a moment. Do me a favour and contact Lieutenant Chavel on comms. Tell him to come to the observatory immediately, for a briefing. Don’t tell him what has happened here until we figure this thing out, okay? I also need you to get a hold of Doctors Meridian and McDonnell. Tell them all to get here quickly, but do it calmly, Dice.”
Carrie’s face blushed slightly at the mention of the lieutenant’s name. Her father knew that response well, but he did not have time to get into it with her.
“Yes, Father.” She paused. “I’ll get on it.” She stood from her perched observer chair, went to a nearby workstation and sat behind one of the computers. He watched her. John, I love you, save Carrie.
“John?” Tyrell’s voice said from behind him. “We should really think about where we are at. Take stock of the next steps. There are decisions to be made.”
The commander acknowledged the doctor with a small nod and made his way over to meet him at his workstation. He took a seat next to Tyrell, while keeping an ear tuned into his daughter’s voice as she tried to reach the others. He addressed Tyrell in his soft monotone.
“Talk to me, Tyrone, what the hell happened here tonight? Why wasn’t there any warning?” Tyrell closed his console down and addressed the commander directly.
“Commander, we were just attacked. It was unprovoked. There was no warning. The signal changed without provocation and without the slightest indication of any new or unusual cosmic events. We have been tracking this thing for over a hundred years and, for whatever reason, the species that created the signal and the structure on Phobos have unilaterally decided that today is the day to end our race. Other than the data collected from our array and the obvious change in the signal to a concentrated Gamma burst, I have no other information to give you at present. Right now we need to focus on one thing and that is to find out who, if anyone, has survived.”
Barrington looked back at his daughter and tried to compose his thoughts. “Jesus Christ,” he said to himself. “Okay, Doctor, continue to liaise with Tosh. I am going to try to raise Jerome Young and see what we can do from here. I need you get a visual on The Agathon, to see if there is any damage or effect from the Gamma pulse on any of the ship’s systems or personnel currently on the vessel, or on an EVA.”
He turned to one of the consoles and tapped in a few commands.
“Computer, initiate comms with Charly Boyett on The Agathon.”
Flight Officer Charly Boyett’s voice came over the comms, “This is Boyett.” Her strong tone sounded well beyond her thirty-one years and held an assuredness that Barrington took great comfort in.
“Charly, status report,” Barrington said.
“I’m currently on the flight deck, knee deep in fibre optic cable, sir. The number two plasmonic field generator just won’t play ball with us up here. It keeps generating random ion field formations around the secondary wave guide conduits. We have to nail it down or it could cause the FTL to cascade during our first flight, and we really don’t want that, sir. How’s everything down there?” The sounds of plasma torches could be heard in the background as she spoke.
“Charly, we have a situation down here.” He stopped for a moment to gather his thoughts. “Have you got the main sensors active yet on the flight deck?”
“No, sir, not yet. It’s a real mess up here at the moment to be honest,” she said.
“Okay, Charly, I need you brace yourself for this. The Earth has just exploded in space. It’s gone.” There was silence.
“Sir, can you repeat, please? It’s quite loud up here and it sounded like you just said the Earth had exploded.”
“Charly, that’s confirmed. I need you do a full systems and hull integrity check. Get the forward array up and running and link it up. Start monitoring. I need you focused, Lieutenant, there are going to be a lot of frightened people up there and down here when this breaks. I know what you left behind and I know what it took for you to come here, but find strength and use it.”
The commander’s voice was locked into the steady elevated rhythm of a trained leader and he made sure to leave no room for hesitation or doubt in his voice. In a catastrophic event, the mind needed direction to stop it from breaking down. Sometimes a strong voice was all it took.
There was silence on the comms then Charly’s voice piped up above the noise. “Silence on the deck, everybody shut up!” The ambient noise ceased immediately. Charly continued, “John, is this some sort of joke, a drill or something? Because if it is, it’s not that funny, sir.”
The commander couldn’t help but admire her candid nature. He had taken a shine to her early on when they had first met and allowed a certain level of informality among those under his command, up to a point. He found that it had strengthened loyalty. He took a moment and softened his voice.
“Charly, this is not a drill. Listen to me. All we know down here is that there was a change in the signal some time ago, which fired a Gamma ray burst into the Earth’s core. We’re picking up the pieces down here. I wish I could tell you more but I don’t have it right now. You are in command up there, I need you to listen and act. I’ll be in touch shortly but right now, we’re at Colonial Emergency level 1. Just keep your team in check and focus.”
There was a moment of pause and then a clear response.
“Yes, sir.” He could hear her voice beginning to tremble but closed off the comms.
“Barrington out.” The screen went blank and Barrington was left looking at a sombre reflection. He looked up and saw David Cheval standing in the doorway.
Carrie hadn’t mentioned anything to the young lieutenant on the comms, but she had made herself very clear that he was needed to be there quickly. Now standing in the doorway he acknowledged both the commander and Tyrell, who hadn’t noticed that he had arrived. He then glanced at Carrie and gave an involuntary smile. She had grown used to the wave of feeling that filled her mind when he was in close proximity. It was a feeling of attraction she encountered amongst most men, but it was particularly strong with this one. She reciprocated his gesture with a small wave and turned her attention back to her console. The magnitude of what had just occurred was too confusing to combine with the urges of a clearly passionate attraction from a young officer, even if he was a handsome one. Her obvious blush responses were not lost on Chavel, as he made his way over to her father.
She observed him as they shook hands and spoke. She began to sense the changes in the officer’s mind as the news was being broken. Grief and panic were old friends to Carrie and she didn’t need to sense emotions to recognise them but once her mind was open, it was hard to not to let them in from others. Chavel held himself with composure and strength, but inside his mind was in turmoil. The warm feelings she had sensed moments ago were gone. Shock released the floodgates of every feeling all at once and Carrie’s sensitivity to them was increasing on a daily basis. She had begun exercises in segmenting her thoughts from others, out of fear of having her own mind washed away in other people’s thoughts. It had become a terrifying thought that somehow her own consciousness could be washed away by thoughts of the other colonists. It was her father who had given her the idea.
“Build a home for your thoughts,” he had told her one night when she couldn’t sleep. “Somewhere they can be safe. Build a house in your mind with impregnable walls. It will be your own fortress. That is where you go when others flood your thoughts. Don’t open the door, Carrie. Not to anyone. Not to anyone!” The fortress she had constructed in her mind had begun as a steel cube structure a thousand feet high, with a door ten feet thick, only accessible via a thin rope bridge over a bottomless ravine a mile wide. It had been a rather extreme version of what her father had been talking about, but it served its purpose well. The rope bridge could be retracted at will, leaving enemy thoughts no chance of getting across. She had even added weapons to the exterior. Large plasma cannons, each with their own compartment, scattered themselves along the walls of the cube. She had even test-fired them one night. It had been a spectacular show of force, as they tore through the fabric of her mind with power and ferocity. She had found it empowering and had been impressed at her ability to create such a devastating show of force, albeit an imaginary one. The years had changed her fortress, as she grew surer of what it had represented. The steel cube had been replaced with an ancient Earth castle, complete with moat and drawbridge.
Her father and Chavel were deep in conversation. The lieutenant’s attention was focused on one of the screens, as her father gave instructions. She turned her attention back to her task.
“Open comm to Doctor Meridian, please.” She spoke to the computer which responded in kind.
“One moment, please.” There was a long pause, then a sleepy female voice answered.
“Yeah… go ahead, hello?”
“Doctor Meridian, this is Carrie. I apologise if I woke you.” A yawn.
“Not at all, kiddo, how are you. What’s up? You discover the meaning of life yet?” Carrie smiled. She was very fond of the doctor and she of her.
“Not yet, Chase. I think that just got a little harder, to be honest. Are you able to come to the observatory, please? Something has happened. My father and Doctor Tyrell are already here and it is important that you come right away.”
Meridian didn’t hesitate in her response. “Of course, I’ll be there shortly. Let me just get dressed, sweetie. See you in a mo. Meridian out.”
Carrie stood and walked over to the stations where her father and Chavel were talking. An air of urgency was beginning to fill the room. The kind that follows an accident or emergency, where the fight or flight responses kick in. Her senses were heightened as she approached the trio. She knew what the two officers were thinking, but Tyrell was different. She paused for a moment as their eyes briefly met. While his expression was one of sincere acknowledgement, she still couldn’t read him. All she saw was a void behind his eyes and something else. Something dark.
“You okay, Dice? Did you get hold of the others?”
“Yes, Father, they’re on their way now.” She turned to Chavel.
“Hello, Lieutenant,” she said, nodding to Chavel.
He gave her a warm smile.
“Hello, Carrie. You doing okay?” he said.
“I don’t really know what to do, to be honest,” she replied looking back at the viewing chamber.
“I know what you mean,” he said.
There was a moment of silence between the two. Carrie felt a warm feeling from Chavel. A comforting attraction from the lieutenant.
There was a chime behind them and a motion activated door slid open. Doctor Meridian entered with a smile and a slightly dishevelled look. She approached the group near the console that the commander was seated at and placed a hand on Carrie’s shoulder.
“Morning, boys and girls, what’s all the hubbub about? The world better be coming to an end because I was in the middle of a beautiful dream.”
Gamma Event T plus two hours twelve minutes
While the others were huddled discussing the evening’s events, Tyrell had returned to his personal lab to the rear of the observatory and had been trying to raise Tosh on comms. The signal was blocking transmissions from the base on Phobos, so he had given up for the time being and was busy looking at the expanding debris field on one of the viewing chamber feed displays. The flotsam of rock, ice and molecular dust formations was beautiful. It had been so fluid, like an expanding cloud of bubbles in a deep ocean. Each handful of the once dense and richly developed planet now drifted outwards in a perfect sphere, bound for the great unknown. There was no discernible outline of any of the once vast cities or technology. The heat of the explosion had seemingly vaporised all evidence of any human existence on the surface.
I wonder what it felt like, he thought, gently stroking the side of his face. He tried to imagine what the melding of flesh, bone and rock in a nanosecond would have felt like. Finally becoming one with the creator. All energies combined into a cataclysmic fusion of life and matter. You lucky little insects. I wonder what you know!
The sensors were busy targeting various debris formations and trying to catalogue and count the larger chunks of planetary fragments. Tyrell was tracking several of the larger fragments and had begun a grid search for vessels in the area that may have been disabled, but that could have possibly survived the explosion. He looked over at the large cylindrical holding tank in the corner of his lab. A sample of The Black sat quietly inside. The tank had a variety of tubes and cables spouting out of its top and bottom. Tyrell tended to keep his lab several degrees cooler than the main colonial habitat ring. The Black reacted more positively to it and he had gotten used to the cold, after spending so much time with it. His own analysis of the deadly alien substance had not been particularly fruitful. He knew it liquefied organic material on contact. And that occasionally it would alter its shape in the tank for no reason and then return to a gelatinous state. He had lost count of the amount of small rodents he had placed in the tank for experiments.
“It is this world’s cockroach,” he had told an unimpressed Barrington. He knew Barrington just wanted it destroyed, but he had held him off to try and learn what he could about it. He turned his attention back to the display.
The orbiting space station had been completely obliterated but there were several Jycorp ships scheduled for cargo and personnel runs to and from the moons of Mars and the colony itself. If their outer shields had been able to protect against the ionising radiation, there could still be survivors. Although less concerned with this area of the event than the reason for the change in the signal, Tyrell thought it would be prudent to at least examine this possibility. He entered a new algorithm into the search parameters, to detect energy signatures emitted from spacefaring craft, and let it run. He instructed the computer to begin filtering out background radiation, to try and lock onto signals being sent from both Phobos and any other ships in the vicinity. The computer began to process the data while Tyrell turned his attention to the expanding mass of rock.
“Computer, what is the status of the signal?” Tyrell said, while making his observations.
“Signal has reverted to previously established patterns, Doctor,” came the familiar female voice.
“They hit us hard and went to sleep?” he said out loud.
“Please repeat request,” the computer said.
“Never mind,” he said. Then something occurred to him. “Computer, can you scan the debris field and begin a trajectory plot for the debris fragments? Then begin a collision threat analysis.”
“Of course, Doctor, beginning now,” she said calmly.
“Doctor, I have found something which falls into the parameters, as outlined by your request. Could you please direct your attention to coordinates indicated on the screen?” He tapped some commands into the panel.
“Can you give me a visual?” he asked
“Of course, Doctor, one moment.” The screen lit up. An enormous black shadow filled the visual, almost completely blocking out the surrounding star field. At first Tyrell thought there had been a malfunction in the display, until he adjusted the visual contrast manually. The unmistakable contours of rock and ice formed on the screen. The surface of the rock was molten and had begun to glow with an eerie electric crimson. The surrounding edges left a trail of ice and companion debris fragments.
“Computer, size and course of object?” he asked.
“Object is approximately 1100 miles in diameter and is on a direct course for impact with planet Mars.”
Tyrell looked at the continent of rock, as it appeared motionless. A strange fear began to embrace him. It was a curious sensation. An odd urgency began to take hold. Perhaps the insects had not been so lucky after all. He glanced over at the sample of The Black and stood from his chair. He took a breath and made his way out of the lab and back towards the others. He caught the eye of Barrington, who immediately knew something was wrong. Walking over to the group, he called to Carrie.
“Carrie, I need you to input a new set of coordinates into the viewing chamber.” Carrie frowned with curiosity, but obeyed Tyrell’s request. She made her way over to the chamber and took her seat. As she tapped in the information sent to her control panel from Tyrell’s station, the viewing chamber came to life. The enormous piece of rock floated casually in the glass cube.
“What am I looking at, Tyrone?” Barrington said. There was silence in the group. Tyrell sighed.
“The apocalypse, John.”