When the colony on Cortez 3 failed to file two consecutive quarterly reports, and demonstrated a steep drop off in radio signals, the Homeworld government saw cause for concern. Not knowing what to expect, world leaders launched a rescue ship from Tranquility Base large enough to hold a battalion of Earth’s finest space-hardened soldiers.
Regardless, what the crew found when it arrived was enough to make the burliest soldier weep. Stretched out in front of them were decaying ruins, completely devoid of human life. Whether along the city streets, or out in the agricultural sectors, the only inhabitants the soldiers met were members of a distinctly alien bovine species.
But the most disturbing aspect of these strangely elongated beasts was the undeniable sadness in their widely spaced blue eyes.
“Gives me the creeps,” an enlisted man was heard to say, “It’s like they’re gonna start talking any minute.”
Soon after, the rescue team’s Science Officer, Lieutenant Delaney Dubai, issued startling news. The ship’s AI had detected a complex airborne pathogen. And though she ordered the entire crew into hazmat suits, the air was now also filled with a dark dread that it was too late.
“Someone has dispersed a fog of nanobots into the atmosphere,” she told the Captain.
Captain “Jet Topeka blinked at his Science Officer through his glassy visor.
“You mean those nanobots did this?” he asked. “Holy and we’re next?”
“Depends on the gestation period of the mutagens they released, Sir,” said Delaney. “But we don’t dare return home until we know whether the effect is contagious.”
“OK, Lieutenant,” said Topeka, “off the record. “You think the Tellurians are behind this?”
Delaney’s mind filled with the history vids she’d seen of the Tellurian invasion back in school. Though concluded centuries before, the Tellurian war still stood out like a deep scar on the human psyche.
“The technology is not inconsistent with she said.
“Off the record,” the Captain repeated.
“Totally the Tellurians, Sir,” said Delaney. “Down to the nanoscopic serial numbers on the airborne contaminant.”
“We never had this conversation,” said Topeka. “You get me?”
Delaney saluted and shuffled back to her onboard workstation. Topeka stared down at the hazmat suit that might or might not protect him from a terrifying fate.
“Time to contact The Setrillren,” he muttered into his helmet. Not for the first time, he was relieved to know that, owing to his seniority, he was empowered to do so without prior authorization.
Officially, the Entity known as The Setrillren didn’t exist. Scattered throughout Earth’s exhaustive metadigital archives, all anyone could hope to find were oblique references to “an independent adviser.”
Yet the silence on the topic was only partly the product of official secrecy. After an encounter with the Entity, even the deepest human intellects failed to recall, with certainty, what had transpired. To those who’d dealt with The Setrillren, it seemed as timeless as the sea. It was easy to imagine that the Entity’s influence extended far back into human history. Or was it, rather, that since the arrival of the Setrillren, human history itself had been altered?
For the Setrillren had a way of changing things. If the humans made a request and the Entity believed their cause was just, it would act. From there, they had to hope the Setrillren’s solution wouldn’t pose new problems. But faced with the prospect of ending up like the inhabitants of Cortez 3, Captain Topeka’s decision needed no deliberation.
“Revered Entity,” he whispered, “we require your assistance.”
Now the muscular former test pilot trembled, as the air to his left took on a sickly yellow hue. Soon after, a kind of a-dimensional mumbling emerged, which quickly settled down into the audible spectrum.
“Yes, Fragile One,” it seemed to say. “A bit of trouble. Nasty work. Utterly out of alignment, too. If you require it, we can make an adjustment. But, as you know, every intervention has consequences.”
Jet Topeka nodded and his hoarse voice scratched out a shaky reply.
“The nanobots have consequences,” he said.
The hue of the air to the Captain’s left shifted through light pink, to lavender, to crimson, to a pumpkin orange before fading to yellow again.
“A distressing state of affairs,” it said. “We will see to it.”
Seconds later, Captain Topeka noticed the air to his left had cleared. The tension drained from his body and he fell to the ground in a deep sleep. If he’d remained conscious just a little longer, he’d have seen his entire crew had also hit the ground where they stood.
“Let Us begin,” said a whispery, composite voice.
(To be continued)
#science_fiction, #scifi, #space_time, #nanobots. #aliens
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