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By Todd Maternowski

Copyright 2016 Todd Maternowski

Shakespir Edition

Discover other titles by Todd Maternowski at Shakespir.com:

Cultic – http://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/68616

Exmortus I: Towers of Dawn – [+ https://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/77747+]

Exmortus II: Temples Diabolic – https://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/241250

Exmortus III: Tombs in Chorus – https://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/463587

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  It was the greatest political debate of our age: do we welcome them as heroes, or blow them out of the sky?  The debate had raged for centuries in the universities, but had, for obvious reasons, dominated general political discussion on the planet over the last fifty years. Parties aligned, and even re-defined themselves, based on this question.   It was a much simpler decision 75,000 years ago. These astronauts were, after all, the originals. They'd volunteered to go, to come here all the way from Earth, abandoning all they had accumulated over hundreds of years and boarding a one-way ship towards the unknown. They, more than any of us, knew and understood the risks, and still they went.   The collective sigh of relief on Earth must've been palpable. They don't mention it in the history records, but you know it to be true.  Two seemingly disparate problems, one ingenius solution. Of course, there were unknown variables: what if the calculations were off? What happens when they leave our communications range?   What happens to them when they run out of blood?  The algae-based, solar-grown, artificial blood was a prototype, after all. Tested, but only on near-Earth conditions, cultivated in computer simulations and gravity-free labs in what was once Texas. But could it survive the rigors and radioactivity of deep space? What would it evolve into after 75,000 years?   For some, the algae —or what the algae would become— was an even greater threat than the astronauts themselves. And there's a certain wisdom to that. No doubt.  But single-celled organisms don't capture the human imagination, don't result in sleepness nights for an entire planet's children, don't insert themselves into thousands of facets of popular culture. Even here, where we've had our fair share of extinction-level epidemics. Of course we're all aware of this: but, despite our greatest implant advancements and chemical transmutations, human memory is a flawed biomechanic.   Our most primal, reptilian fears? Much stronger. You could say our entire political dynamic is based off of how you, as an individual, respond to perceived threats.  The craft sent here 75,000 years ago was loaded with precautions and safeguards; but even the best thinkers of the 22nd century could not have foreseen the development of the pulse drive, or the circular electron displacement engine, or any of the other giant leaps forward in interstellar travel since that first craft launched.   Our first scout satellites arrived here an unfathomably long time ago, followed by the different waves: unmanned orbital spacecraft, landing robots, those poor, doomed, first construction crews, and so on and so forth until we built, re-built, and re-re-built the thriving civilization we have to-day.   And to put that all at risk, over two-dozen... monsters? Heroes?   Me? I tried to stay away from all the arguments, but when the riots started popping up, they called us in. I did not enjoy what I did, but it had to be done: it was twenty years before the craft would even enter our atmosphere, why were they blowing up bridges and torching childcare pods?  It made no sense to me then. Now, though...  I suppose they picked me, picked us, for our spotless and exemplary record. I can't blame them. It's an honor, the highest you can receive as a common soldier. Though it's hard to really know what the rest of this group is thinking. No one talks about it. We joke about the usual stuff: but we all feel the cloud hanging over us. We're there to perform a job, to make sure things go smoothly, the way we've been planning it for centuries.   It needs to go smoothly. It simply has to.  I won't even be carrying a weapon. My entire job is to use the key, perfected by over a three hundred years of reverse engineering, and unlock the door after the craft has been retrieved. Make no mistake: I still have my small arms. But I'm relying on my squad to have my back, if the astronauts prove to be problematic.
  If they prove to be hungry.  We've been waiting at the landing site for three weeks now, and are used to the rocking and swaying of the watercraft. Warships, outside of our range of vision, surround us in a tight circle several miles deep in all directions. This is both for containment, and to protect the astronauts from those who would slay their civilization's heroes. Our first heroes, though they are very, very late to the party. What if we had never developed the pulse drive, or if the breakthrough had come 30,000 years later? Would we still have come here, knowing who awaited us? Would we have trusted our heroes enough, with those first, fragile, waves of colonists and engineers?  It's a moot point, of course, but one that can get people excited over a shell of beers. This is no late-night shouting match in the barracks, however. The craft is due, six minutes behind schedule according to our calculations, but on track to land precisely where it needs to.  What's been going on inside that aluminum capsule for 75,000 years?   History says we lost communication with the craft way back when it left Earth's solar system. Communications satellites sent near the craft had not been able to get any signals. Even now, with the craft entering orbit, it's automated response systems are totally silent. Functional, as our readings indicate, but unresponsive.   Some blame the primitive hardware in those old ships. Others claim the monsters are lying in wait.  Still others claim we'll find an empty ship with zero traces of life aboard. That the astronauts derived their singular immortality from some unknown, invisible force on Earth, and that the creatures would have weakened and even died after exiting the solar system. That the only organic material we'll find is dust, or, at best, an uncontrolled explosion of mutated and radioactive algae covering the insides of the ship. We're in very, very expensive protective suits, if that turns out to be the case.  It could be, by now, that the creatures themselves have evolved, have mutated into something different, less reliant on human blood. History has shown that space travel has strange and unpredictable effects. The ship has entered the atmosphere now; time to clear our heads.   I bark my orders, the squad falls into position. This much, we are ready for.  The craft lands less than a minute later, hitting the water just as it was supposed to. Our craft rocks a little more, but we are ready for that. The air escorts hover above the capsule, providing us more than enough emergency firepower if things turn sour. We're approaching the craft before we even realize it.  My job is the simplest of all; a benefit of my experience, my exemplary test results, and my higher clearance. When we reach the craft, it seems so strange, so much smaller than I'd expected. Of course, technology was so much more primitive then, but still...   We make one last attempt to initiate communication. As expected, we get nothing. I put my hands on the craft, feeling for a pulse. Energy detected, the hull is humming, just as it should be. That speaks volumes. The engines are mostly, but not entirely, autonomous. They have been well-maintained during their long journey.  The hatch is where it should be, slightly smaller than expected, considering all the stories we'd heard growing up about the size and bloodthirst of these monsters. The hull of the craft is strangely, almost embarassingly phallic; why the primitive scientists insisted on building their craft like this is beyond me, though it would explain a lot of what happened on Earth afterwards.  I put my hand on the door, and feel a shudder go through the translator standing behind me. I glance to both sides to make sure my squad is ready: of course they are. You won't find a better-trained group of soldiers than these anywhere on the planet. We've proven that before, and we'll do it again now.  The moment has come. The pacifists and patriots have won already, in a way: we had the chance to destroy it, to shoot this craft out of the sky, long before it passed our moon and entered our atmosphere. The ship was not built with any of our standard defenses, no offensive weaponry, and no escape pods. It would've been the quickest, easiest shot in history, a shot which would've put to rest centuries of scholarly, military, and religious debate. So sudden, so quick, so harmless.  Yet here we are. These are heroes, now; perhaps not to all, but to enough. And now my men and I are at the verge, the tipping point of history. I certainly never expected this when I enlisted. I might have gone into some other branch of the citizenry if I'd known... or maybe not. But we're here now, we're soldiers, and we've got our own, individual, simple tasks to perform. Mine is the easiest. I just open the door.  Before inserting the key, I have one last fleeting thought, about the ring of warships, out of visual range, that surround us. All it would take is one rogue captain...  I quickly put it out of my head. Just as we were selected, so too were these captains. Hand-picked commanders, their loyalty and ability to obey proven beyond question. If the order comes, so too will the ordnance, taking myself and my crew out, along with the monsters. We've already accepted that. In fact, if it came to that, we'd in all liklihood already be dead. Or monsters ourselves.  I insert the key; it slides in effortlessly. The security codes match instantly, and a fissure in the side of the craft appears. I turn the key clockwise, as I was trained to do; the fissure becomes an opening, roughly five-by-five foot.   We wait. I find that I am holding my breath, and force my lungs to breathe. The translator and four gunmen behind me do not make a sound.   Nothing. No movement within the cabin. No sound.  No... wait.  Oh no—

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  • ISBN: 9781370648238
  • Author: Todd Maternowski
  • Published: 2016-09-16 05:50:07
  • Words: 1817
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