Dr. Lenz thought that he would never again want to set foot on an alien world but he was wrong. The Danu was a large ship, but he still found it somewhat claustrophobic. He missed the company of other scientists too. There were few of his intellect to converse with on the ship, a life of loneliness appeared to await him. It had never crossed his mind that he would feel this way in his fifth century.
He spent his free time in the holo-decks, virtually visiting cities that no longer existed admiring their magnificence. Sometimes, he would pass Candace on the corridor. She was always sweaty, perhaps using the facilities for combat training. Occasionally, she would give him a warm smile. She was beautiful and he would think of holding her dark body in his hands. A thought that probably never crossed her mind. It had been many years since his last relationship, he had immersed himself in his work and casual sex had only ever been a few clicks away. Now, he longed for human connection.
Two time cycles ago, the Captain had told him that the latest planet with negativum had been located. The doctor had been trying to gather as much evidence about the system on long range systems. The Captain didn’t want any more surprises but supplies were running low. At first, there didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary. Then, he realized they would once again be going to a planet in the habitable zone of a star. The odds of this being a random occurrence were quite remote. But things were to get far stranger once they entered the star system. It was a planet very similar to Earth, with just slightly more gravity and an oxygen rich atmosphere. They would find it easier to breathe here than on the former polluted Earth itself. Then, as The Danu entered orbit, it became clear that it was a world of ruined cities on a planet that had healed itself from civilization, an alien civilization. This would have been first contact had they survived.
There was no time for sentimentality and the doctor once more found himself on one of six landers heading to the planet with Candace and what was now considered her squadron. There was little of the boisterous chatter of the previous occasion.
“So what can we expect to see this time Doctor?
“I have no idea.”
There was no other conversation, only nervous jitters.
The lander landed with a thud and they quickly exited.
The doctor had never seen anything quite like it. They were surrounded by collapsed buildings, with vegetation now taking over and slowly engulfing them. The sky had a beautiful purple colour. It was hot and humid. The squadron had immediately staked out a defensive perimeter. The negativum they were tasked with collecting was close by. Candace led the way and Doctor Lenz instinctively followed her.
Only a few minutes passed, before there were reports of other squadrons coming under attack. Not from aliens but from machines.
Dr. Lenz’s heart filled with dread. The reports confirmed his darkest fear. This civilization had been destroyed by its own creation. Something similar had almost befell humanity just a few centuries previously. Something that he still had vivid memories of.
Candace was waving him and the rest of the squadron on. She knew there was little time to spare but Dr. Lenz grew wary when he saw that she was leading them down an alleyway between two decrepit and overgrown buildings.
He barely heard the “incoming” warning before being blown off his feet.
Lying on the ground for the first few seconds afterwards, he was unsure where he was as he tried to open his eyes. His head was pounding. The first thing that he noticed was that his protective visor had been activated. It was programmed to do so if there was a threat to life. There was a repugnant smell of burning flesh. He looked up and could see that Candace wasn’t moving. From some deep well inside, he found the strength to get to his feet and surveyed his surroundings. There was a small crater behind him. His communications units back online. The only other person from his squadron with life signs was Candace.
The other squadrons were either in full retreat under orbital cover fire from the Danu or had been obliterated.
In the distance, he could see large metallic monsters approaching. They looked almost exactly like the dreadnoughts that had once plagued humanity. Instinctively, he ran and picked her up over his shoulder and ran.
Soon, he could here the sound of fire being him. He knew that he didn’t have much time left and stopped to see if there was a place of safety. Much to his surprise, there was a perfectly preserved building to his right. With little other options, he ran straight towards it. Just before, he reach it, he had a strange feeling pass through his body. Instinctively he knew that it was a force-field. The door to the building was taller and slimmer than what he was used to. Nevertheless, he got through and collapsed on the floor after closing the door.
He was unsure how long he spent there passed. When he regained consciousness, he found himself in a large cavernous room with a statue at the other end. Candace was still on the floor beside him. Her visor had been damaged and was only partially functioning. Carefully, he took it off and slowly rubbed a bit of blood away.
Her eyes opened and still dazed, asked “Where am I?”
“You’re on a mission for Negativum, remember?”
Her blank response said it all. She was badly concussed.
He managed to get her to her feet and they stepped forward into the unknown.
A holographic display suddenly activated in front of them. A tall android with peculiar large eyes and equine nose appeared and began to speak in an unintelligible language before different options arose on a screen.
“They look so weird,” mused Candace.
“Well, they were probably made in the image of their alien makers,” Herbert replied.
There was too little time for the AI on his helmet to decipher this new language. They were close to the Negativum so he pressed onwards.
Every few steps, a new holographic display appeared in front of them. They were in some sort of virtual museum. The first few displays showed the beginnings of civilization. The aliens did indeed look like the android. It showed them hunting majestic creatures in groups. Then it showed the rapid growth of cities. But there was nothing about space exploration. It appeared that a fascination with androids and artificial intelligence became the sole focus of the series. The final display showed huge explosions and aliens scattering in fear while their own droids hunted them down.
“We’re close to the Negativum,” Candace whispered who by now had fully recovered from the nanobots coursing through her body.
She was correct but there appeared to be a wall in their way.
Herbert began to feel up and down the wall.
“What are you doing?”
Then suddenly a passage way opened before them.
Instinctively they entered and it closed behind them. Now they were in a small room full of skeletons, with the negativum centre stage and hooked up to some sort of device.
“This must have been their last refuge Herbert”
“Yes, I think so. And I’m pretty sure it was the Negativum that was protecting them and us now.”
They slowly encircled the chamber from opposite direction trying to crush as few alien skeletal bones as possible. It was Candace who came across the stairs to a lower level.
“Come here, there is a lower level.”
The stairway was steep, and there was a large gap in between each step.
“The aliens had large large legs. We’d be better off climbing down backwards.”
Candace nodded in agreement.
With that, they climbed downward into the unknown. They found themselves in a dimly lit cavern with three passageways. In the centre on a pedastal, was the Negativum.
Candace immediately went to take it and put it in her backpack.
“Wait, if you remove it our protection will be gone!”
“What should we do then? Stay and starve like the dead ones above? The Danu won’t wait for us much longer, if they still are at all.”
“Okay, but what then?”
“We’ll take that passageway in the middle and go as fast as possible. When we get to ground level, we’ll request assistance.”
“Well, that sounds as good as anything I can think of.”
With that Candace activated her storage device and gathered the prize.
A few seconds later they were in total darkness until lights activated on their suits and they immediately began to run.
Soon the ground beneath their feet began to shake as the building above them was obliterated. After ten minutes of intense running they reached the exit. Hesitantly, they walked out and surveyed their surroundings from behind a boulder.
They were shocked by what they saw.
A multitude of droids and large dreadnoughts dotted and swarmed the land while drones dotted the sky.
“Danu, can you read me?” Candace whispered.
“Danu here, what is your situation?”
“Only two survivors. We have the Negativum. Need emergency evacuation.”
“On way. Take immediate precautions as Danu will have to provide cover fire.”
They took cover behind a boulder, still their survival would depend as much on their suits, which shielded them from the great heat. They looked down at the ground. Suddenly, they could hear the roar of the Danu’s powerful laser beam as it thrashed and obliterated any droid or dreadnought in the in the vicinity.
When the ground finally stopped vibrating they peered over the boulder at a thoroughly devastated moonscape with clouds of ash rising up through the air. They looked at each other relieved as they saw a lander flying in their direction. It’s hatch opened to roars for them to get inside.
They were already on their way when Herbert stopped in astonishment. Missiles were being launched in the distance, not at them but into space ostensibly towards the Danu.
“How?” he heard Candace ask.
“I fear this civilization was more advanced than what we had envisaged. We better go.”
There was a crew of three with the lander and they gave the duo a heroes welcome.
“You were the only ones to retrieve any Negativum. You have saved us,” the pilot explained.
The lander engine ignited and they hurtled towards the upper atmosphere.
Soon they were receiving reports of the Danu sustaining heavy damage and they were informed that they would be hyper traveling upon docking.
Herbert took one last look at the world below and wondered if this would be last they’d see of this civilization.