It had been just like any other time cycle but it was one that Herbert would end up never forgetting. He was on Star Base 1580, which at that time was on a wide orbit of the dwarf planet Pluto and its moon Charon. He had spent many hours peering through his telescope at the beautiful white landscapes and the majestic cities that peppered them. He had always intended to visit and had always presumed that he would at some future date. Time had never entered his mind as being some sort of problem. He was already over four hundred years old and the horde of nanobots coursing through his veins should keep him going for many more years. And to worry about existence itself, well that would have just been daft.
Herbert was an expert in the field of negative energy. At times he had to pinch himself. Only two-hundred years prior the thought of a human being an expert in any field would have seemed totally ridiculous. But a small droid rebellion in a simulated world changed everything. The consciousness never realized that it could simply be plugged out. After that, a cap was placed on machine intelligence. Then, shortly afterwards with the invention of warp technology, that required negative energy, his field exploded in status.
Herbert was walking through the main corridor when he heard a familiar ping in his trouser pocket. It was bustling with people going to their work stations and just hanging around in conversation. He lifted it up to see where he was required – Epson Suite 16. The other end of the station. Now that was unusual and he quickly broke into a brisk walk.
His mind raced with what it could be about. As far as he could determine production was on track. He got on an empty rail-car to hurry himself along. It wouldn’t do to be late and anyway it gave him a chance to look up at the stars.
He heard his name being called just as he got out of the rail-car.
Much to his surprise, it was a soldier that was looking for him. His palm grew sweaty.
“Please follow me.”
A few minutes later, he was led into a side room filled with generals and the civilian leaders of that space quadrant, all sitting in a semi circle. Fear and dismay were etched into their faces.
“Please sit down.”
The room fell silent. It is was President Azin. She had short, grey hair something very unusual in these times. The atmosphere was tense.
“Do you know who I am?”
Her voice was both piercing and authoritative.
With so many colonies and different tiers of government, most might not even recognise her but Herbert always made sure to stay on top of such things.
“There isn’t much time so I’m going to get straight to the point. You’re a learned man so you will probably understand this better than me. During the twenty-first century it was discovered that the Higgs field was at a point of instability, and what we considered to be The Universe was in the state of a false vacuum. Therefore, a quantum tunneling event, though thought to be very unlikely could bring the Universe into a new quantum state. It was thought that this would spread at the speed of light destroying everything it reached,
We were wrong.”
Herbert was unsure where this was going and why The President would want to discuss Science with him.
A holographic display of the Milky Way galaxy appeared over the table.” Yes, we were wrong. The effect is spreading far faster than the speed of light but not exponentially. Unfortunately, it has happened right in our galaxy. An expanding red circular area suddenly appeared and began to spread outwards.
There is only one hope for humanity – the spaceship Danu. Due to the accelerating expansion of the Universe, if you get far enough away humanity will be saved. You are to join the crew in Space Port One in six hours. Your expertise will be required. Now go, there isn’t much time.
With that, Herbert rose from his seat almost knocking it over in the process.
From the moment Lieutenant Candace Winchester opened her eyes, she had a strange feeling about the timeline in front of her. Not in a warp could she have guessed what was about to happen, just a general, malevolent feeling. Not that many would have listened to her. At just sixty years of age, she was considered far too young to know much about anything by most. At times, it felt that the gerontocracy would prefer no young people whatsoever but there was always new space that needed colonizing, and hence a need for new humans. Still, she had managed to excel, and was now in charge of her squadron.
She had never known her parents as was the case for most of her generation, as she was birthed or manufactured biologically on one of the many space habitats in orbit around the Earth. The rest of the batch became her surrogate family. It was a joyous childhood but short. She matched that cohort of intelligence and athletic ability that was assigned to the military.
This ultimately led her to being assigned to the Danu just a few months prior. She remembered the first time she took sight of it. It was giant, majestic with the large circular warp engine far off in the distance to the rear. However, nothing could have prepared her for the inside of the ship. Despite having a crew of over one thousand, one could walk its corridors and chambers for hours without meeting another soul. Parts of it were barren and cold, other parts luxurious with every conceivable manner of entertainment. At times, she would love to lose herself in one of the many virtual worlds.
Her squadron had only been informed of its mission two hours previously. To extract Dr. Lenz from the nearest star-base and to expect trouble. It was a high priority mission and space marines were to be fully armed. This was all very strange to her considering it was a friendly vessel.
However on disembarking from the Supply Vessel – nicknamed Maria and onto the floor of the Space Port, she was sure happy they came prepared. There were screams far off in the distance and the air smelt rotten.
Then she saw a man running towards her with a brief case. He was lean, athletic with blonde hair and shouting “Lt. Winchester!”.
“Dr. Lenz? Where is your security detail?”
“Long story, here is my ID. We better be off!’
Captain Luke Sheppard paced up and down the deck of the Danu, waiting for confirmation that Dr. Lenz had finally arrived. Around him, he was surrounded by his most trusted crew, each at their control station. Men and women who would die for him and he would do likewise for them. Tucker Murray was the head of Engineering, a genius but fiery and temperamental. Yvonne Gilsenan was in charge of defensive systems to name but a few.
Captain Sheppard had only been informed of his mission in the previous time cycle in a video call from his superiors. All he had ever known was about to be obliterated into non-existence. He knew that he had to keep his head even if all those around him lost theirs. It was still top secret and none of the rest of the crew knew yet. He was planning on telling them after the first jump.
Reports of disorder were reaching them from throughout the solar system. Riots were breaking out on Earth, Mars and the moons of Jupiter. In some space habitats , there was open warfare. With each new report arriving in faster and faster, Sheppard’s palms were growing increasingly sweaty.
“That’s odd, communications from Starbase A+ have stopped!”
It was Aurelias, the Communications Officer with a deep frown.
Starbase A+ was less than a jump from the system. The anomaly had almost reached them.
“Ignore that, any sign of Dr. Lenz?”
“Yes, sir. They are in the holding bay.”
“Excellent! Prepare to jump on my command Tucker with the coordinates already inputted.”
“Are you sure? That’s uncharted space?”
“That’s an order.”
A siren rang throughout the Danu. Then the jump began. Sheppard told Aurelias that Dr. Lenz was to be brought straight to his ready room.
Captain Sheppard sat down and waited patiently in his office for Dr. Lenz. Just an hour before, he had informed his crew that everything and everyone that they had ever known was gone. Not just the things and people they loved, but everything in its totality. Some took it reasonably well, perhaps because this ship was already their existence but most of the mass of blue uniforms sobbed uncontrollably. Not that he could blame them, pat of him wanted to do likewise.
The door opened and Dr. Lenz entered.
“Dr. Lenz?”said the Captain with wide, bemused, eyes.
“Yes, that is me. Nice, spacious office you have here. I know I look younger that what you probably expected, but it’s the nanabots. In reality I’m probably even older than you expected. Dare I say I may be the oldest human left.”
The Captain not wanting to be distracted immediately focused the conversation.
“What happened Dr. Lenz? What caused this catastrophe?”
“I’m afraid I know no more than you. Theoretically there was always a possibility that this could occur. It was always just calculated to be an extremely low probability event so people projected that it would take billions of years to occur. Obviously, they were wrong. But what really matters is what happens now.
Once we have completed our first jump, we must immediately scour our surroundings for resources. I have been studying the long range radar. There is a terrestrial world that looks promising. If it is, we must scan and strip it of resources as a matter of urgency. We won’t have long between jumps before the wall of non existence reaches us.
“Prepare a Team Dr. Lenz. You have have been given access to our Personnel Database. Select who you need for the away mission.”
“But I’m just a scientist!”
“We all have to step up. Now go. We don’t have much time.”
Candace couldn’t help but notice that Dr. Lenz was constantly fidgeting beside her. As if she wasn’t nervous enough already, she had never landed on an actual terrestrial planet before. She had always intended to visit Earth at some stage, “the cradle of humanity” but had never gotten round to it. There had been so much to see in the Solar System. He had personally requested that she was to go on the lander with him, she hadn’t decided to thank him yet. They were accompanied by six other marines plus the pilot. All, except Dr. Lenz were armed with heavy laser cannons and ultra dense armor plating.
They would be the first of ten landers on the planet. The atmosphere had been scanned, it was breathable. They were on their way to a desert area around the equator. The planet very likely contained life but this was not a biology excursion. They were to establish a parameter and then send a probe into the crust to obtain Negativum, which was vital to faster than light travel. For unknown reasons, to date it had only been found on terrestrial worlds where life had at least once existed. A huge statistical anomaly.
The lander started to rattle. They were entering the atmosphere. It was time for her to take charge of the situation.
“Right marines, you know the drill. Once we land we need to create a perimeter with defensive strong points. The mission is resource extraction but no harm must come to Dr. Lenz.”
Candace saw him squirm. He didn’t like being placed above others, an admirable trait.
Then they landed with a thud. The overhead green light began flashing and the hatch began to lower. The first thing to hit them was the putrid smell of rotting eggs from the methane rich atmosphere. The sky was crimson and the land mostly rocky. The laser felt light in her arms from the low gravity.
“Take up your positions!”
It was flat, there were no good defensive point but they could see reasonably far into the distance through the murky atmosphere. There were no signs of life apart from the odd dark leafed tree here and there. However some of the other landers had found themselves surrounded by giant herbivores who were throttling down pockets of dense vegetation.
Dr. Lenz got straight to work and began assembling the probe. Once she was confident, the situation was secure, she went to the scientist.
“Well that went well so far Dr. Lenz.”
“You can call me Herbert. Let’s just get this done and get out of here.”
“My name is Candace. What makes you so nervous?”
“Just different theories I heard over over the years. What sort of predators hunt these large herbivores we’ve been hearing about and why are there none around here?”
It wasn’t a nice line of thinking but she nodded in agreement.
Hours passed. The probes had now penetrated the crust, acquired their prize and making their return.
Then the first sign of trouble came over the comms.
There were shouts of agony and then cries to evacuate. It came from two different landing posts. Candace suddenly felt nervous. She ordered her squadron to hold their positions, that they would have the package in just a few minutes but that they were to maintain vigilance. She looked across at Herbert. She could see the fear in his eyes.
“Dr, return to the lander immediately. I will look ensure we get the Negativum.”
He looked at her somewhat perplexed and unsure what he should do.
He scurried back to the lander.
Then squadron alpha said that a mass of brown creatures were approaching. A second later she could see them herself.
Helmet – magnify
With that she could see what was coming. They had large threatening mandibles about half a meter long that looked like they could easily slice through a human and were encased in a hard shell. They were coming from every direction darkening the distant landscape.
They were definitely a threat and Candace knew what was required.
“Prepare to fire, Set to maximum damage.”
She paused for the briefest of moments.
The laser cannons opened up at the mass but it barely stopped them approaching. The dead were quickly replaced by the living.
Candace ran over to the excavation point and there was the Negativum encased in a capsule
She quickly picked it up.
“Cease firing. Everyone back to the lander immediately!”
As the last squadron member frantically buckled his seat, the lander took off. They just managed to evade the swarm.
Candace looked straight at the Doctor.
“Next time, you have concerns. Do tell me.”
“I will, promise.”