« on: 06-07-2005 15:18 »
« Last Edit on: 06-07-2005 15:18 »
I've been lurking around PEEL for about a year, and finally decided to register and post this. It's the prolouge to an (as yet unnamed) fanfic I've had on the back burner for some time.
Any comments/flames/feedback/etc would be most welcome.
March 9th, 2099, 0744hrs Secret military installation, Alaska.
The senior staff conference room of the space technology division, NSA, looked unremarkable. It was a grey-walled box with a video screen at one end, whose only decoration consisted of pipework and gantries which protruded from the ceiling. The walls bore the scars of many previous occupants. A series of marks and pits where the refitting teams had failed to fully mask the evidence of wall-mounted equipment from a dozen different projects were arranged sporadically around the room.
The table in the centre was laid with prefect precision, as if to counterpoint the room itself. Seven black leather seats were arrayed to face the screen. Each had a nondescript black portfolio in front of it, undisturbed.
Those assembled scarcely needed to read their own reports: everyone seated at the table was fully aware of the situation. After nearly 25 years of research, failed tests, exploding probes, collisions with debris and spacecraft going missing, three successive craft had arrived after mere minutes of travel in the system of our nearest neighbour, Alpha Centauri.
A small inset door, almost invisible beside the video screen, opened with a soft click. A black-suited man with grey hair walked to the head of the table and sat down, pausing to straighten his tie. “Good morning, everyone,”. Before anyone had a chance to reply he turned to the man on his left. “Colonel Mancheck, has there been any further progress with the satellite telemetry from last night?”
Lieutenant Colonel James Mancheck removed the remote control from the armrest of his chair and stood to face the screen. A grainy image of a disc-shaped object appeared in the centre, with various numbers and readings displayed around it.
He cleared his throat. “Well, the analysts have confirmed our initial suspicions; the movement profile of the saucer is that of a self-propelled spacecraft. As for the destruction of our probes, well, we have very little to go on, but less than a second before FarReach 304 was destroyed, these flashes were detected; we believe that this may indicate weapons fire from the nearby saucer.”
The image on the screen slowly advanced, and the flashes were clearly visible, then the image faded into static. Mancheck returned to his seat and replaced the remote in its slot. “There seems to be very little else of interest in any of the visual feeds, beyond what we have already discussed and much of the data stream was corrupted; nothing beyond a few snapshots of radiation data survived intact.”
The old man nodded, and then turned to a balding, grey-haired man in a pristine white lab coat. “Dr. Winters, has there been any success with the radiation analysis?”
Dr. Winters unfolded his arms and sat slightly forward in his chair, turning to face the old man. He spoke slowly; “Unfortunately, as the Colonel said, the data stream is somewhat inconsistent, the signature for the so-called “Dark Matter” reactors was detected being emitted from the saucers, but little else has been determined so far. I have a team attempting to repair the data stream.”
“Very well, keep me informed.”
The old man nodded. No-one was really expecting much from the radiation analysis; it was a very precise technique, requiring accurate readings to be of much use beyond identifying energy production systems.
Winters nodded slowly and tapped a key on the desk in front of him. “Of course, Mr Director.” He paused to pull a crease out of his lab coat before folding his arms and sitting back in his chair.
The Director turned to the next person on his list, seated at the far left of the table. “Major Jenkins, I would like you to schedule a secure video-conference with the President as soon as possible, to discuss possible courses action in light of confirmed alien contact.”
Major Jenkins, a tall, thin man in an army uniform, nodded an acknowledgement and made for the door, pulling a small device from his pocket as he left.
The Director then turned his attention to the portfolio in front of him and began to idly flick through its pages, pausing occasionally to place a bookmark in it. Eventually he spoke: “Now, I'd like to get a few housekeeping tasks out of the way before we return to...”
He was cut off in mid sentence by an ear splitting klaxon emitted from the PA system. Everyone in the room knew what it meant. The reaction was swift and practiced, the product of years of drills and planning. Within seconds all but two of them had left by the main double doors and run in various directions down the corridor. The two who remained rapidly disappeared through the recessed door, the Director pulling it closed behind them.
The control room was an enormous chamber that had been bored into solid rock deep below the conference room, and was arranged much like the antiquated NASA mission control stations. There were three rows of workstations facing a large wall covered in video screens. In the centre of the wall a large hologram showed the entire solar system in exquisite detail. Behind this array was a set of chairs similar to those seen on the bridge of starships from old science fiction TV shows. When Mancheck and the Director arrived, it was a maelstrom of activity, technicians were running between workstations exchanging notes and adjusting the terminals.
They approached the command chair at the rear of the room. The Director hailed its occupant: “Colonel Wells, report.”
The colonel stood and referred quickly to a notepad he was carrying. “We have just intercepted a report from the SDN base on Europa to the UNC headquarters in New York. The network is under attack by unknown contacts. Based on the data intercepted, the computer has determined that the hostiles are powered by Dark Matter engines, several manned SDN bases have already been destroyed.” He paused as his eyes ran over the data on a nearby terminal, a look of shock briefly crossing his face as he read. “They seem to be systematically dismantling it, Sir.”
“Do we have an inbound vector for the hostiles?”
Wells looked down to his console. “Initial estimates from SDN telemetry are consistent with an inbound vector from Alpha Centauri.”
The Director’s face twitched almost unnoticeably. “Has the UNC made any announcement yet?”
“No, though the Secretary General has been...”
A voice piped up from a nearby console: “Sir! There's something I think you need to see...”
Wells turned towards the voice and called out above the general clamour of the room: “Transfer it to the main screen.”
In the centre of the video wall the hologram of the solar system disappeared and a picture of the Secretary General of the United Nations and Colonies materialised, and with remarkable composure began to give a statement.
“People of the Sol system, I have an emergency announcement from the security division of the United Nations and Colonies. Approximately 5 minutes ago, the Sol Defence Network came under attack from unknown assailants. We believe this to be the beginnings of an alien invasion of our system. We know nothing of their motives for attacking, or their strength, save that their technology is extremely advanced. They have already destroyed several manned stations and craft. At present, the only advice we can give you is to remain in your homes, and stay tuned to the radio, television or Internet broadcast. With courage and perseverance we will prevail.”
The image of the Secretary General disappeared, and was replaced with an introduction to a pre-recorded broadcast. “This broadcast will outline how you can maximise the safety of your family and possessions whilst contributing to the effort of repulsing the invaders. Firstly…”
The Director waved his hand at the console operator and the image died. The hologram re-appeared, a large portion of the dots on it now flashing red. No-one needed to watch the UNC advice tapes again: many present had, after all, been involved in their creation.
He walked over to a console next to the command chair and nodded at his two senior officers who stood nearby. “OK, we have a job to do. Colonel Wells, Colonel Mancheck, we have a delta protocol situation here, do you concur?”
The room fell silent as the technicians turned to watch the ritual taking place on the raised platform.
Wells and Mancheck spoke almost in unison.
All three began to extract chains from around their necks and walked to three control panels fixed to the railings along the front of the platform.
“Gentlemen, insert your keys.”
In perfect unison, three black oblongs were inserted into their slots.
“On my count. Three, Two, One.”
Three simultaneous clicks.
The room lighting suddenly switched from a fluorescent white to a bright blue. Everything from this point was scripted to the highest level of precision. A chain of events had been set in motion that could not be undone.
As the PA system began playing its recorded announcements to the various sections of the base and the final radio signals were sent out to the sleeper cells and bases around the world, the Director allowed himself a smile. He walked down to the communication workstation and spoke to the operator. “Captain, begin contacting the field stations and confirm they have received the delta protocol orders. Start with the dark matter chain, New York first.”
“Yes, Sir.” replied the officer; he had not even looked up from his terminal.
The PA burst into life again. “All personnel, clear freight elevators 5 through 7 immediately. Reactor control room, shut-down Reactor B, take reactor A to 50 %. All flight crews to the staging area.”
The Director turned to leave. Mancheck took the key chain from his pocket and handed it to a man in a Major's uniform. The Major scurried off back to his workstation and the two men climbed into a waiting elevator at the back of the room.
Deep under the streets of New York City was a vast, dimly lit chamber. Over the quiet rolling of conveyors and the distant echoes of drill heads deep below, the noise of a great motor bursting into life rang out. Slowly at first, the gargantuan platform at the top of the chamber began its descent into the abyss, and as it descended through the bunker it brought with it the Dark Matter refinement plant, New York. On the streets above, the few people who had not made it home yet saw something most curious: a tower block disappearing into a barely-visible hole in the ground. The plan had been conceived of over half a century ago; its specifics calculated down to the smallest detail. Now it was coming to fruition.
To call the hangar enormous would be an understatement. The structure was not so much a hangar as it was a complete subterranean spacecraft launch site. It now played host to over 200 people running back and forth in a chaotic ballet, loading supplies onto the three black ships that were its principal occupants. From the control room some 200 meters above the base of the hangar, the Director watched the display in silence. He rolled a memory card over and over in his gloved hands, staring at its featureless surface.
A technician called out from a nearly console, breaking his concentration; “Fuel transfer complete. All ships showing maximum loads on-board.”
“Begin the final launch sequences,” he replied, carefully placing the memory card in his pocket.
The technician spoke into his microphone “Final launch sequence is now active: Eight minutes and counting. All flight personnel to your ships.”
Down below, the swarming mass of people began to file out of the archways scattered around the room. The Director turned to leave, but was interrupted by the intercom: “Mr Stewart, we have just received word from Europa, the hostiles have completely destroyed the base.”
He rubbed his eyes and pressed the Intercom button. “Very well, what about our outlying bases?”
“All bases have responded to delta protocol orders. They are locking down as we speak.”
“As soon as you receive final confirmation of a worldwide lockdown, I want full radio silence; there must be no chance of them finding this base.”
He paused for a moment and then pressed the intercom again. “Colonel Wells?”
Various scuffling noises could be heard over the intercom, and then Wells replied, “Yes sir?”
“Can you come down to the launch bay, please?”
“On my way,” replied Wells, somewhat taken aback.
The Director joined Mancheck on the elevator platform and began the descent to the bay floor. At the base of the shaft thirteen astronauts and a trio of buggies were waiting. They took up their places on the transports and made their way out to the waiting ships.
As the crews were climbing on board, a golf-cart screeched to a halt at the bottom of the ladder to the lead ship. Colonel Wells approached the Director slowly, stood to attention, and saluted.
The Director turned to face him.
“At ease, George.”
Wells was somewhat taken aback by the use of his first name; the Director was well known to be a serious man, all business whenever it was needed, which was almost always. He quickly disguised his surprise. “Yes, Sir?”
The Director’s voice had lost its usual emotionless cool. “You know as well as I do that the delta protocol is the longest of long shots. A million things could go wrong, we aren't even sure the ships will reach orbit, let along make it out system.”
Wells nodded grimly. “I know.”
The Director closed his eyes briefly and rubbed his forehead. “There’s something I need you to do.”
The Director reached into his pocket and withdrew the memory card. “I want you to have this.”
There was a pause as a confused look crossed Wells’s face. “A memory card?”
The Director sighed heavily and looked straight into the others eyes, “It's a time-locked message. If we don't make it back in 15 years, and you survive, it will unlock. It details a mission I want you to try. Right now, I need you to build another ship, as heavily armed as possible, for this mission. If we fail, the fate of the universe will depend on you.”
It was a laughable statement, and had it not been for the expression on his face, no-one would have believed him. An unnatural fire burned behind his eyes, and his voice had taken on a tone of absolute sincerity.
“I don't understand - ”
“You don't want to,” replied the Director, a hint of fear edging into his voice. He took another deep breath and looked down at the plastic rectangle. “The card is designed to be destroyed almost instantly by stomach acid. If the base is breached, you know what to do.”
Wells stared at the card for a moment. He knew that there was little else to be said. He took the card and slipped it into his pocket “Yes, Sir.”
The PA called the flight crews to their seats. The Director gave Wells a salute. “See you around”. And with that he disappeared into the hatch.
Wells stood for a moment in silence and then climbed back onto the golf cart and made for the control room: he arrived just as the technician announced one minute to launch. He sat back in the command chair at the rear of the room and watched the final launch procedure.
“50 seconds, activating terrain match lighting.” Massive floodlights were switched on to light the bay, making it appear brilliant white.
“40 seconds, retracting bay doors.” The launch doors above the ships began to creak open, revealing the snow covered mountains of Alaska outside.
“30 seconds, cable detach, 20 seconds, bay doors locked in place.” The landscape outside could now be seen it all its glory, spiralling peaks towering above a deep ravine.
“15 seconds, all tests report as safe, launch is a-go; ten seconds; 5, ignition sequence start; 3, 2, 1; ignition, launch jets are hot.” The ships lifted off in perfect unison, propelled into space by disposable boosters to conserve the dark matter supply for the long journey ahead.
Wells watched silently as the ships disappeared into the sky, and the bay doors were closed tight. He looked down and began to roll the memory card over in his hands.
And in New York, beneath the newly appeared empty lot, the fate of the universe slept.