A Piece of “First Contact”

 

USNS Odyssey, stationary above Mars’ first moon, Phobos

August 22nd, 2532

Zander and I were walking down the hallway to reach the shuttle that would take us back to the surface. We needed to talk with Alpha about the incomplete cores, and if there was any way to obtain a completed code.

“Do you think he’ll actually give the code to us?” Zander asked me. A group of soldiers went sprinting by, pushing us to the wall. Zander was surprised, but I was starting to get angry.

“That’s the third group that’s gone running past!” I shouted, watching them continue towards the shuttles. “Where could they all be off to in such a hurry?”

“Got me. Maybe it’s a drill.”

“Wouldn’t the rest of the ship have been notified? It’d be a bit safer.” We continued walking. “And as for the code, he may. It’s certainly worth asking.” We reached the shuttle bay a few minutes later, after two more groups had gone by us. I asked the operator in the bay, but he didn’t know either. I shrugged, and walked with Zander to the shuttle that we had been using to get to the surface.

Shuttles were small, with a capacity of fifteen to seventeen people. We were the only two on this one, though.

“You guys aren’t going down armed?” The pilot asked, and we found this strange.

“No, why would we be armed going into the ruins?” I answered. Had something happened on Phobos, and that’s where all the soldiers had been running?

“Dunno. A few of the other pilots have shuttled down a platoon of infantry grunts for something going on inside the ruins. We don’t know much besides that.” I looked to Zander, worried.

“We need to get down there.”

The shuttle lurched out of the bay it rested in and into the empty expanse of space. After a minor course correction, it shot towards the surface. The ride didn’t take long, maybe three minutes from start to finish, but even that wasn’t fast enough for me. I could only imagine what was going on inside the base that would require an entire platoon of infantrymen. The pilot gave us the green light, opened the doors, and I rushed out. Before I could make it to the door that led inside the base, a soldier grabbed me by the collar of my uniform, dragging me around a corner.

“Hey!” I yelped, falling. I had been so wrapped up in my own thoughts, that I didn’t notice the entire platoon standing on either side of the base’s entrance. The soldier helped me up, and apologized for being so rough. Zander caught up a few moments later.

“What’s going on?” The local channel clicked on with his question. I was busy dusting myself off.

“I was just about to ask the same question.” I turned to look at the soldier who’d pulled me down. He shouldered his rifle, and explained that the AI running the base had gone insane, starting to attack any USN soldier who entered. I was confused. That didn’t sound like the Alpha that we’d been studying with over the past few months.

“Are you sure it’s the same AI, and not a defense system?” I questioned. He was. “And do you have any idea what caused the sudden shift?” He didn’t. The platoon had been sent down after a distress signal from a squadron that was patrolling the base.

“My ass that’s all they were doing…” I muttered to myself, keeping the comm channels closed. I looked up at the Odyssey. What had Captain Rhodes ordered? “Well, what’s the plan, then?” I pointed the question to the soldier, opening the channel again. They were supposed to try and get inside and shut down the AI. “Any idea how to do that?” I asked. He shook his head no. “Thought so.” I walked over to the door, and the soldier reached for me again.

“He’ll be fine, sir.” Zander told the soldier. I held my breath as I stepped out in front of the doors. I certainly hoped he was right. I waited a few moments, exhaling heavily when I realized I was still holding my breath. Nothing happened.

“Next step…” I breathed, keying in the codes to enter the base. The door slid open with a hiss as the airlock chamber depressurized. I stepped inside, and Zander stumbled in quickly behind me. “Risking it with me?” I asked him, opening a private channel.

“Of course. He wouldn’t hurt us.”

“Are you so sure? Remember, he runs on processes and directives, not on feelings.” I hated to admit it after we’d become such good friends, but in the end he was still just a machine. Zander nodded.

“I guess that’s a risk we’ll have to take. We need to know what happened.” I nodded, and keyed in the second code to enter the base. The doors closed heavily behind us, and the chamber began to fill with air. After a few more moments, the second set of doors opened with another hiss as the chamber pressurized to the interior. I stepped cautiously out of the airlock, and looked down the hall. The base felt deserted without seeing Alpha there to greet us.

Perhaps I spoke too soon, because a few seconds later a cloud erupted from the walls and two machines came clanking down the hallway with incredible speed. The cloud brought itself together to reveal Alpha. The two machines halted on either side of him. They were each a silvery sphere supported by four legs. Alpha folded his arms across his chest, and stood looking at us.

“Uh… Hey Alpha. What’s going on?” I questioned him as I removed my helmet, tucking it under my right arm. Zander did the same, and stood beside me. For a long second, I thought he might actually open fire on us.

“I am defending this base as protocol dictates. I must ask you and Zander to please leave, as I cannot be responsible for aliens remaining in this facility.” That didn’t sound like him. Some new directive had kicked in.

“What did those USN soldiers that you killed try to do?” I asked, remaining where I was. He mimicked a grin.

“They attempted to enter the production floor of this facility. They continued despite my protests. I had no other alternatives.” Of course. The one thing Alpha couldn’t give us is the one thing that the UEC had ordered Captain Rhodes to try and get. Seven men were dead somewhere in the facility now because of it.

“Alright, Alpha.” I sounded insane. Here I was trying to reason with a machine. “So what now?”

“I must ask that you all leave. You have all that I can provide from this base. There is no further reason for your presence here.” It was true, but it stung a bit. Zander and I had gotten used to spending long hours with Alpha in the depths of this base, researching and learning from him. I looked to Zander now, and he nodded, shrugging. Alpha moved slightly, and I turned to look at the airlock. The infantrymen were standing just outside now. They were going to try and breach the base. I yelled for Zander to put his helmet back on, and dive for the floor. I don’t know why I thought it, but I imagined that Alpha wouldn’t hurt either of us.

The next few seconds felt like an eternity. I heard shouting over the public channel of the comm, and a thud as the soldiers drove a Jammer through the airlock. It was a device meant to pry open doors. Someone drove it like a wedge through the point that the doors met, and then it slowly opened, prying the doors open. Air began to escape the base, and I had to look for something to grab a hold of. The infantry snapped the doors off the hinges, and the gunfire sounded for the last few seconds that oxygen still existed in the environment. After that, it was just the flashes from the barrel. The two ‘spiders’ split open down the center of the spheres to reveal three barrels of their own, and Alpha retreated behind them. Zander and I lay covering our heads, caught in the crossfire of our soldiers and the machines. The soldiers’ weapons tore through the metal, and the two spiders collapsed on the ground. They rushed past us, into the base, only to be met by a wave of spiders. I stood slowly, pushing off the ground and grabbing hold of Zander. I dragged him to his feet, and made for the exit of the base. We had to stumble over the bodies of several infantrymen to do it, but we eventually fell into the dust of the moon outside the base. I didn’t look back, and we lay there for a few moments before Zander said something.

“Jormand, do you feel that?” I looked at Zander as though he were speaking a different language. The last few moments were a complete blur of gunfire, destruction and death. I really had no idea what was going on. A few seconds passed, and he shouted at me. “Jormand! Feel the ground!” I finally snapped out of my stupor and looked to the ground. It was shaking. We stood up and ran for the shuttle that we’d been brought down on. He had already begun the take-off sequence, and we jumped into the airlock.

“You two alright!?” He shouted. Once the airlock was closed and pressurized, I tore off my helmet.

“Get off this moon, now!” I shouted back, and I felt the shuttle lurch off the ground. I helped Zander to his feet after getting my own, and we went to the cockpit, watching the moon from one of the external cameras. It was getting covered in a fine mist, caused by the dust getting thrown due to the vibrations. Alpha had done something to the base. That platoon wasn’t getting out alive. Suddenly, as if my thoughts were the trigger, a light shone from the base, slowly intensifying to a blinding glow. Seconds later, the entirety of Phobos was vaporized in an explosion. The shockwave rocked the shuttle as small pieces of rock pelted it from behind. I sat back in the chair at the console and just stared. It was gone, all of it. A vast library of research, lost. Alpha had turned it all into dust because the UEC had wanted what it couldn’t have. Those men had all died for the UEC’s greed. I was shaking. I didn’t fault the USN, they were just doing what they were told, but the UEC had wanted the technology the Narehlen had, and Alpha couldn’t let them take it. I punched the console and Zander jumped. He placed his hand on my shoulder, and the rest of the ride back to the Odyssey was in silence.

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