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Ascension: Brave New Earth
Brett awoke to the sound of panicky, whispered and frightened voices.
“Wake your father up. Quickly.”
He felt the nudge on his shoulder and fearful voice close to his ear. “Dad! Dad!” Another nudge, more forceful and then a loud cracking sound brought him to full alert, his military instincts kicking in. He was up, blaster drawn and searching for danger.
“What?” He hissed.
“It’s the walls, something’s drilling holes in the walls. Our air is escaping into the atmosphere.”
In the dark, half-light, of the terra-forming habitat module’s night mode setting, he met his daughter’s eyes, fear was there, but tempered with steel. Hard resolve. She was only twenty but he had trained her well.
“Over here as well,” his son was calling out to him. “All along the seams… it seems. Forgive the pun,” he said, smiling ruefully.
Another good soldier in the making, Brett thought.
“Be quite! Whisper it for heaven’s sake.”
The unmistakable fear in that voice, the trembling and weakness told Brett it was his wife.
Coming to this alien world was all your idea, and now you are fearful of what your actions may cost you. Pitiful.
Brett’s thoughts were his own, but it didn’t matter, everyone knew he had nothing but contempt for the leader of this expedition.
He let out an involuntary snort of derision and his wife’s fearful stare caught his steady gaze.
Yes, I’ll get you out of this… again, Maggs.
Brett checked the outer-hull vid-feed and at first saw nothing. His son, now standing to his left saw it first.
“Who the hell is that?”
Brett followed Ryan’s gaze to the top left quadrant of the big display and saw it too. A figure in black combat gear, obviously designed for hostile environments, seemingly made of a hazy, shiny material he didn’t recognize. “What the hell…”
“That’s personal shielding, isn’t it, dad?” Michelle, Mitch to her friends and family, seemed in awe… and rightly so.
“Yeah,” Brett said slowly. “Looks like… but, tha…”
“That’s impossible, isn’t it, dad?” Ryan’s voiced had an urgency to it, Brett recognized. He realised, as Brett did, this was not human technology they were witnessing. This figure was… alien.
“Do something. Do something!”
Father, daughter and son all turned as one to look at Maggs. Her hands covered her mouth realising she had nearly screamed in hysterics at the situation. A situation no human had ever encountered before. Not only seemingly alien contact, but hostile alien contact. From the vid-feed it was obvious the alien figure was tampering with the habitat’s protective hull, allowing their precious air to bleed out into the alien atmosphere. This alien’s idea of first contact was not as humanity had hoped since man moved out to the stars, expecting this first contact at every new planet they found. Now, that moment had come and it had arrived on the Madison family’s watch and it was to be a deadly affair.
“Switch the view to the entire camp, Mitch,” Brett said, ignoring his wife’s pleading eyes and turning back to the vid-feed.
“Yes dad,” Mitch said, matter-of-factly. She looked down at the feed’s display and pressed twice on the holo-display. She heard the gasp from behind and looked up, her face turning from impassive to outright fear. “Two hab’s collapsed and the place is swarming with them. Dad?”
All eyes were on Brett. Though the mission commander was his wife, he knew this was his baby now. His mission speciality was maintaining the habs on this alien world, but also as security for the base. None of Earth’s terraforming missions had ever needed security before, until now.
“First time for everything,” Brett muttered. ”Two habs down and we must assume the people in there are dead.” Brett looked at Mitch, knew she was thinking of Ben James in hab two, but not showing it. She would find time enough to grieve later, if he could find a way through this.
“Okay, we need a…” Another sharp crack behind them made them all whirl round. The loud squeal of escaping air brought reality back to the group. “Suit up. Now! Ryan.”
“Essential survival supplies. We have minutes left before a collapse of the habitat.”
“I’m on supplies,” Mitch shouted.
Brett looked at his wife. She nodded, sobbing, and began gathering essential medical supplies. Brett took stock and then suited up himself. They would have no chance getting to the Rovers, he noted, looking at the outer hull vid-feed. The black combat-suited aliens meant business and intended no-one to survive this encounter.
Okay, my alien friends. All bets off. This is war.
Brett busied himself gathering comms gear and weapons and at the same time formulated a plan of escape.
“Comms check,” Brett said as he sealed his helmet in place. “Brett, okay.”
“Check,” Mitch said.
“Okay,” Maggs’ voice sobbed, loud and clear, over the comms.
“Okay, luckily we are still on the private channel from yesterday. They can’t hear us, but equally no-one else can hear us… if there is anyone else left. Line astern, behind me and do as I do. Follow the training, we have practiced this…”
They all recognised the amusement, despite the situation, in Ryan’s voice.
“Then no excuses. You all know the drill. Rear escape port. Follow me.”
Survival habitats are essentially a ball cut in half. The half-circle sat on top of soil, a ten metre circumference, each inner segment was divided into quarters and colour coded. Red for rear escape section in case of air-loss and imminent collapse. It made it easier for the human mind to understand their environment and react immediately in times of crisis.
Brett turned and watched his family line up behind him through the helmet’s HUD (Heads Up Display) and quickly moved to the rear. He pressed the emergency decompression button and waited for the air to cycle out of the hab. Collapse had been averted, just in time, but now they had to avoid being seen by the aliens roaming the compound. That was going to be a lot harder. As he waited for the depressurisation cycle to complete, Brett noticed that the seal around the emergency exit was crumbling. Now he realised the aliens had introduced a fast working bio-agent into the very fabric of the hull. The bio-agent was eating the hull, very quickly.
At that moment here was a whoosh of mass escaping air has the bio-agent, coupled with the hab’s own attempt to remove the air conspired to cause the collapse of the crumbled hull. The hull simply vaporised in a colourless cloud of degraded plastic and carbon.
Brett and his family were exposed to the alien’s and there was nowhere to hide.
It was never inevitable that humanity would reach for the stars. A more likely scenario for humanity was war between nations due to limited resources on Earth and this would lead to the destruction of humanity. Nuclear war followed by a nuclear winter followed by the demise of the human race was more than inevitable to most professional observers.
But that was not the way it turned out. Yes, war was inevitable and prolific due to limited resources, but then two remarkable discoveries made all the difference. Cold fusion that actually worked finally came into being in December 2033. But not before war had laid waste to the middle east as the oil finally ran out. It was a close run thing but it wasn’t long before the world changed. And with that change came the second industrial revolution and humanity finally had the chance to reach for the stars. The Holk-Lieber Drive became the mechanism that opened up the galaxy. Better know now as the Warp-Drive, German scientist Reinhard Holk and Britain’s Bill Liebersmith demonstrated the drives capabilities in the summer of 2041 and the first field test, a two-day trip to Jupiter was a sensation. Now, twenty years later, humanity was reaching the stars closest to our own solar system on a regular basis and discovering planets so Earth like it was breath-taking. Terraformers we sent out where there was the need to alter atmospheres. More controversially biological tinkering was performed and a few Brave New Earth scientists wanted to go the whole hog and attempt to change a planets geology and atmosphere where they could. Brave New Earth became a mantra to planetary scientists the world over and new and cutting edge technologies were developed to re-create planets in Earth’s likeness.
Ascension was chosen in the third phase and needed extensive atmospheric shaping to make it possible for humans to live there. Up until then, no evidence of any alien life beyond the microscopic had ever been found. And then it happened, when least expected and not looked for. Aliens who, it was assumed, considered Ascension their world, came calling on the Terraforming team of Dr. Maggs Camorra and they were not bearing gifts.
It was hours before dawn was due. When mankind first discovered Ascension, it was decided the planet was an ideal candidate for a terraforming program. But before that, in the very early days of exploring the planet, before an Earth-like atmosphere began replacing Ascension’s native atmosphere, those explorers were amazed at Ascension’s gloriously star filled night sky. A sky of such magnificence that those who were born and who died on Earth could never have imagined it.
They could also never have imagined the terror in the heart of Maggs Camorra as the hab unit she cowered in simply disappeared before her eyes and left her and her family exposed to alien soldiers, intent on killing every human on Ascension, maybe even all humanity. But for now, Maggs was simply terrified and her thoughts could go no further than her own, imminent, and dramatic demise at the hands of black suited aliens she had never even seen, face to face. She handled the situation by forming her body into as tight a ball as possible, head between her knees, rocking on her feet and whimpering. Her husband and children were made of stronger stuff and were instantly ready for combat. But none was offered, the camp area was deserted.
“It disintegrated,” Mitch whispered, as she tentatively stood. Her suits passive scans showed no sign of life except for her family. “They’ve gone. Job done. No need to hang around, nobody would survive this environment without a hab unit.” Mitch turned full circle and wondered what the aliens had used on the hab units to destroy them so quickly and so utterly.
“Some sort of bio agent,” her father said, as if he had read his daughter’s mind.
“I’ll check the other habs,” Ryan said.
Mitch turned to her brother. “Be careful, we don’t know if they have left for good. There may be booby traps.”
Inside his suit helmet, Ryan smiled at his sister’s concern. “I’ll be careful, little sister.” Ryan could almost see the crinkled nose his sister was making after his comment. You’re so predictable, sis. But I love you for it.
“Survival is the first order of the day.”
“Copy that,” Mitch said still whispering. “I’ll take a look round and see what we can salvage, air, some sort of cover for a habitat? Shit! It’s not going to happen, dad. There is nothing left of the habs and…”
“Doesn’t hurt to look, Mitch. Let’s just get the big picture first and then we can assess where we stand.”
“Up the creek without a paddle,” Ryan said with a grunt, as he turned over a storage locker and found a body. “Oh Lord! She didn’t stand a chance when this hab blew.”
Brett walked up and put his hand on his son’s shoulder and looked down at the face of death, death from Carbon Dioxide poisoning. “We all knew the risks.”
“Yeah, but from the planet. Not some alien killer rampage. She didn’t stand a chance.”
“It was quick. Wasn’t it?” Mitch’s voice held a slight tremble as she came up and put her gloved hand on her brother’s other shoulder.
“Yeah… it was quick,” Brett said, knowing full well from the horrific grimace on the face of Jane Barrett that it was anything but quick.
“Oh Jane,” Mitch murmured, to nobody in particular.
A distant rumble made the trio look toward the noise, left, in the distant hills now visible as dawn rapidly approached. An obviously alien craft rose, slowly at first, from just beyond the hillside. Large, shining black armour, menacing and obviously military in its deadly purpose. Quickly it gained height and with a roar, heard even through the trio’s space suits, the alien vessel shot straight up into the approaching dawn sky.
“Bye. Thanks for visiting,” Ryan said with bitterness.
Copyright © Tom Kane 2019
If you like science fiction, take a peek here at my collection of short stories.