Slowly the circular door curled in upon itself with an uncustomary scratching, grinding hiss. It forced Alex Brant to grimace, as he felt his teeth go numb in his mouth. Great he thought, as he added the door manifold to the ever growing list of secondary system’s that the corporate had yet to add as a priority. His narrow lips curled into a thin line of disdain and frustration as he entered the control centre. He knew he was already about fifteen minutes late, and that was fine by him.
He found it hard to see clearly in the huge, semi circular room; though the light from the corridor behind, allowed him to glance up to see the ships computer system. Two long semi circular lines of cubes held the circumference of the room. They hummed sickly, then shuddered and glistened with sweat in the half light, giving the appearance of wet leather, as they phased from purple to blue green, while a dark liquid -not unlike the colour of blood- he darkly mused, pulsed rhythmically from the walls of the ship through the cubes and then back into the ship once more. They were the latest phase of the computer technology revolution. It was an electronic machine to be sure, yet, also half living. Not so much built, than created from stem cells that were genetically altered into neurones. It was the growth of these neurones, which, in turn gave the machine a form of life, known only as the corporate. He shuddered visibly, as he could feel its presence detect him. He looked away and at the huge holographic projection in front of him.
It filled half the room; and even now still took his breath away... There were two images... one of the sun in all its’ golden magnificent glory; its’ brightness toned down, and, almost in a position for a total eclipse, their destination, the planet Venus.
Slowly, he made his way to the first available grav-chair and sat down. His thoughts full of dreams and desires, as he stared upon the darkening orb in front of him. How long have we been here now? He thought. Six weeks... six weeks six pointless weeks we’ve been at standby and still the payload has yet to be delivered... he looked with cruel savage disdain towards Mission commander Brent as he sat staring towards the holographic image... what’s keeping him from making the decision?
He was brought back into the room, by the scratching, grinding hiss of the opening door once more. He turned in his chair and then smiled, to see second lieutenant Emhart enter the control room. She slowly walked towards Alex, and smiled secretly at him. Her wide set, green eyes shining with the promise of deep sexual expectation; tension and release. Alex returned a smouldering stare, which shone from his dark brown eyes as the warmth of desire began to fill his heart; and as she passed, he could feel the steady growth in plumpness of the muscles in his penis; the acknowledgement of a very powerful erection.
He stroked the four day old stubble on his narrow, though not overly pointed chin; while he began making mental notes regarding the positions of the buttons of her protector straps; and then the side zipper of her -just a little too short to be regulation issue- coral blue uniform; that both sexually and very naturally -he added to himself- extenuated the gentle curve of her breasts’ her narrow waist and slender hips; as she slowly, sexually, and very deliberately; walked past his work station to make her way, through to the hexagonal mapping table, where the Commander sat impatiently. Brants’ face changed as he saw Derwent take the sheet from Emhart, then look down and study the thin sheet of almost clear polymer; his face glowing white from the light of the mapping table.
If he rubs his chin with his knuckles, then he’s not up for it. Brant thought dourly; for Alexander Brant knew his commanding officer inside out.
Brant hated Derwent with a passion. They were total opposites, in mode of approach, style and age. In times past, the difference could be put down to character. Derwent had the classical, intellectual temperament, which painfully involved study caution and debate... However Brant, being a military man, was more physical, and being a man of flesh, he simply wanted to “...crap on all the god-damned intellectualisation and get the job done!” as he had put it one day a little over a month ago; that comment had ended him with a stint in the brig; but he didn’t care... He had one job on this ship -the Alcestis 1- and that involved the delivery of the payload, anything else, as far as he was concerned was simply a total waste of time.
Brant seethed a flaming red inside, as the commander, whilst reading the report, abstractly rubbed his chin with the back of his knuckles, before he put it down.
‘So we postpone again!’ Brent said bitterly.
‘I don’t see that we have a choice.’ Derwent said gently.
‘That’s crap and you know it.’ Retorted Brent; his frustration was clear to see.
‘That’s enough!’ Derwent replied angrily.
‘No it’s not enough! I’m tired of the way you are handling this mission; Commander...’ Brant heard the bitterness in his voice as he sneered out the word Commander, and almost instantly felt regret. But he was determined to have his say, no matter what cost to himself. ‘...Need I remind you that we have a job to do?’
‘We need to be certain-‘ Argued Derwent; the anger in his voice rose to the surface, in a staggering stutter; as he brought his fist down upon the glass mapping table, with his own growing frustration, sending the polymer sheet up into the air; to sail, in a slow, gentle spin, down to the floor. His high thin scotch accent, usually hidden under the years of academia, suddenly burst from his mouth in exasperation; as his large, pale blue eyes, extended from his oval face, his body shook, his plump rounded full lips slavered and his wiry hair, after the four months spent in space ,weaved about; appearing unkempt.
Brent thought for a moment that he looked like a tired old clown or a wild eyed lunatic instead of- but Brent didn’t go there, as he thought that would only intensify his own anger; instead he centred on the problem at hand. Namely his commanding officer not having the guts or the foresight to see what needed to be done.
‘Well I don’t see what the problem is.’ Brent said caustically.
‘That’s because you’re not thinking.’ came the icy reply.
But he was thinking. Brent sighed deeply, and looked away from the reddening face of Derwent, towards the now slowly dissolving shadow of Venus.
Yes, he thought, Venus was definitely a she; as far back as the ancient Babylonians; who named the planet after their Goddess of fertility. After all, the Romans just stole what didn’t belong to them, made it their own, and called it civilisation...
He saw with wonder how she made her way out of the forced eclipse and back into the room once more. There was something about her that shone deeply into his soul. There was something in those grey white clouds that gave the planet its milky white shine; and the delicate green sheen beneath; that both chilled and at the same time exited him; Forcing him to think abstractly. Yes... there was something aged, virginal and mysterious about her. Untouchable, yet, at the same time, desperate for a good fuck; and that was his job. He was going to fuck this planet; and in turn become a God.
Brant knew that the planets’ atmosphere consisted mainly of carbon dioxide, as well as a small amount of nitrogen, and that the atmospheric mass was ninety three times that of Earth’s, which in turn equalled a surface pressure equivalent to that of nearly one kilometre under earths’ oceans. Walking on the surface would feel worse than wading through treacle, if an environment suit could be built to even stand the strain. But this mission had little to do with the surface, what interested the team and those involved with the project from its’ beginning nearly fifteen years ago, happened to be the clouds of sulphur dioxide, that gave the planet it’s milky appearance.
Since the beginning of the twenty first century, just over two hundred years ago, there had been an interest in what scientists’ had come to call the greenhouse effect. Over the last one hundred and fifty years, this had become the very real problem; add to this the increase of sulphur deposits in the air, and the consequences were clear for all to see. Earth was slowly becoming inhospitable. Millions of people were on the brink of extinction, so there needed to be a way to see if the cycle could be changed; and changed drastically.
Unfortunately, the solution was as painful as the problem; namely a quantum device, which would, essentially, absorb the carbon from the atmosphere like a sponge absorbing water; instantly terra-forming Venus, however, if the device became unstable, and then implode -which it could- there was a risk that this might cause greater damage to the already crippled Earth.
So, the united nations, in one final act before its dissolution; decided that there was only one way to deal with this problem. There had to be a manned trip to the one place where the greenhouse effect was seen as being out of control; and, essentially, put the device to the test. Even if a slight reduction of about fifteen percent was made, the experiment would be seen as a success. There was only one place where this was known; and that was Venus.
No, thought Brant, I understand only too well. People back on earth are dying. They are dying because technology in all its’ forms; has been a beast that mankind has embraced, even worshipped; but hadn’t really, fully, understood. And now we have to bow down to that monster for maybe the last time... we need to do this not because we want to, but because we have to. Jesus... I have no idea what will happen when the device is activated... no-one does... but we have to do something...doing nothing is not an option anymore.
Steven stared at Brant, and saw the pain in his face; and relaxed a little. His large blue eyes became mild and filled with compassion. In many ways, he envied Brant. He envied his age, and his natural good looks, and the fact that he had the youth and the confidence could more or less get any woman he desired into bed with him. There wasn’t female on board that he hadn’t tried, or succeeded with; and most came back again, again and again.
He also envied his passionate thinking. After all, despite his military background, the device was Brant’s brainchild; He had only worked on the math... So naturally Brant must be the person to initiate the device. But, in truth, no-one knew the effects of the LR44. What happened if it didn’t work? What would happen if the carbon it absorbed became critical and it exploded? The worlds’ first hydrogen carbon bomb would be a planet crusher. Especially upon a planet like Venus, whose magnetic field was so fine and whose core was so questionably delicate. It could send debris deep into space, or, worse, back to Earth... Then there was this...Derwent looked down and picked up the data sheet that had fallen to the floor. It was the data correlated from the clouds. In the last two weeks, the subspace transmissions from Earth had been breaking up. To start with, he had thought that it was due to solar activity, but when that had been ruled out; he had decided to get the transmissions themselves broken down, to see what was going on. It was Emhart who had found that it was a communication signal; to be precise a pattern of signals; which she had taken to her superior Clarke. Who had spent two tense filled weeks decoding it; now what he now held in his hands’ and read over and over again was the deciphered message in its entirety.
The revelation was startling, no, he corrected himself. It was terrifying. The conviction of it stabbed him in the heart; as he wrestled with his conscience. He looked down and re-read the message again; his mind racing, and doing stinging belly flops into pools of icy water; as he recalled his college days, and the books that he had read on micro-organisms. Now, everything that he had ever learnt was now thrown out of the window. He laughed to himself at the thought of throwing his books, all those precious tombs of learning; nothing other than guesswork and high-brow arguments, out into the black vacuum of his cabin widow, before the blood boiled in his veins.
He looked at Brent in the eye. ‘What... if I told you that there is a possible life form in the clouds?’ He asked Brant.
‘I’d say that you were probably right.’ Brent began. ‘On Earth we have micro-organisms that live in similar extreme conditions. If you’re suggesting that the micro-organisms are intelligent, then I’m afraid, that I’d have to call Earth and have you stripped of your command due to mental instability...’Brent stared at Derwent; slowly he raised one eyebrow. ‘...Are you suggesting that?’ He asked carefully.
‘I am not suggesting anything.’ Derwent replied, feeling hurt, but determined not to show it.
Derwent picked up the polymer sheet from the floor, looked down at the data once more; then he then passed it to Brent, who was slowly walking towards him. Brent then took hold of the sheet, and looked down at the data.
‘This is a prank, someone from logistics, or Human resources... That shit Watts from data retrieval, he’s winding you up.’ Brant said.
‘Emhart and Clarke have been working through the data for two weeks now. She has been handing me the reports as and when they arrive. Clarke is the head of linguistics. I have also been monitoring the communications too. There is no doubt that the signal is coming from the clouds...’
‘This is insane...’ Brant stammered awkwardly his voice rising in this throat; feeling threatened and annoyed that for the first time in weeks that he had been out-manoeuvred.
‘...Is it..?’ Derwent stared at Brent with steel in his eyes and iron in his voice. ‘How do we define intelligent life? By its’ ability to adapt... To communicate..?To feel..? To be self aware? And how many species on our planet -now extinct- had a civilisation of sorts? Recall the Ants...the Dolphin... the Whale..? Even certain tribes of monkeys... now all dead... and how many of those, do you recall, chose to kill each other for the percentage of a profit?’
He paused staring fixedly at Brent. ‘...None that I recall?’ Derwent said pointedly; as he continued.
‘For centuries, we have been looking into space, trying to find intelligent life and found nothing... and why...? I’ll tell; you why... We didn’t find any because we are the problem... our history has taught us that... Imagine -if you can- a species looking down at us, a species far older and more civilised than our own, a species that has all time to look observe, and study... what would it think as it sees us about our own little world... what would it think, as it stares at the Spanish Conquistadors, or the development of America in later years... Even the destruction of the aboriginal lands of Australia, as the British Empire offloaded it’s unwanted upon its shores? No...When we find new land, we develop it to suit our needs, and in doing so we destroy the land and the culture we inhabit. We are the disease, and if what is happening on earth is a sign of our destruction, perhaps... we should let it happen...’
‘-and sentence the human race to death?’
‘-Yes!’ Shouted Derwent savagely; ‘Why should we destroy another life form to justify our own existence. This species is attempting to communicate with us... what should we do...annihilate it to test to see -whether or not- our own species can survive upon our own planet which we have blatantly almost destroyed?’
‘But they-‘Interjected Brent.
‘–They, are a species unlike anything else I have experienced before; an intelligent alien life form that has communicated with us and that has the equal right to life as we do.’
Derwent, stared at Brent across the white light of the mapping table, his oval face a mask of hard gravelly lines which age and the pressure of command had over the past four months cut and rewritten. ‘In fact I don’t see any other way. We have to abort. We’ll have to contact command for advice. But I think, they’ll agree with me and try to find another way. Perhaps if we try to talk to communicate-’
But Brent wasn’t listening; he looked down then read and reread the message. It was clear enough, written on polymer and now were etched upon his heart. He then looked back at Brent and smiled coldly.
‘Do you know the hours I put into building the device? The effort it took not just me but our team? Our species is on the brink... The very brink of destruction... if we do nothing, then we are condemning ourselves, and our planet; and we are to blame... The decisions we make here and now will affect all of humanity. I...’ Brent shook his head. ‘...I am not sure I can live with your decision.’
A second passed, and in that second, Brant pulled a square box from his pocket and raised it in the air, before pressing a button. Suddenly there was a flash and the holstered around the room exploded, in a shower of fire and sparks; crippling four men and a woman. Brent then released his hand dropped the box and then flicked a switch on the side of his Mag-gun. The multiple barrelled weapon suddenly hummed into life.
‘Give me the key to the device’ Brent said coldly, his voice barely a whisper. ‘Give me the key or I swear I’ll fry every circuit on board.’
‘Derwent looked at Brent with compassion. ‘You know that I can’t do that. Brent...’ Derwent opened his arms. ‘...don’t do this...all life here...’ at that he pointed to the holographic image of the planet ‘...on Venus and on Earth, is at stake. ’
‘It’s Earth that I am thinking of.’ Spat Brent. ‘If I don’t try the entire human race will be lost. I am not having the death of humanity on my conscience.’
‘And what about the death of the Venusians?’ shouted Derwent. Slowly he made his way towards Brent as he spoke. The rest of the crew backed off into the shade. Brent saw the oncoming steps, and started walking backwards; keeping the distance between them equal. ‘...You’ll be seen as the greatest mass murderer in human history. You could end up destroying both us and them. We need to take a pause and think about what’s going on here. They are trying to communicate with us- ’
‘I’ll tell you what’s going on.’ Brant said icily. ‘I am going to take the shuttle into the cloud, arm the device and detonate it....And no-one. NO-ONE! Is going to fucking stop me! Not you, or Earth Control, or even you new found acid breathing friends!’ He fired the mag-gun directly at Derwent.
Derwent let out a howl of pain, as the laser beam pierced his chest, as he was thrown back five feet by the force of the impact. There was a gasp, and a scream from Emhart. But Brant had no interest now. He stared at the rest of the crew and kept them in his sight as he edged towards the bloody broken body upon the floor. Brant saw that Derwent’s breathing was faint, and that he was barely conscious as, but was pleased that he was alive as he grappled with the chain around his neck. The silver baubles of the chain were covered in thick strands of warm, red, sticky blood; as Brent pulled at the chain, removing it from his neck, with a dull heavy sounding click as he took the key off the bloody keychain, and then he slowly placed it in his tunic pocket; as he backed himself away around the room, towards the lift that would take him down to the shuttle-bay.
Within a few seconds, he was down to the circular shuttle bay entrance, and made his way to the spider-shaped shuttle craft. The door hissed open and he got in. Routine took over from here; as he connected the air supply, linked in the data to the flight computer and then called back up the command centre. He paused as he stared at the closed doors.
‘If you don’t open the bay doors, I’ll detonate the device here. You’ll all die.’
‘We don’t know that.’ Emhart said coldly into his ear phone.
‘Do you want to take the risk?’
The circular bay doors curved open leaving Brent to see the huge semi circle milky sheen of Venus powerful and resplendent. He gasped in awe as he engaged the thrusters on the pad in front of him. Slowly the ship lifted itself off the bay floor, to then speed out of the doors and into the eternal night to begin its’ descent.
At first there was the silence of vacuum; then Brant began to hear a distant humming, as the two man craft entered the upper atmosphere; he preset the flight controls to circle, in a wide one hundred and eighty degree turn, through the first cloud that the craft encountered; he then lifted himself from the pilot’s chair and stepped out of the hexagonal cabin, through the curling doors, and into the curved cargo bay of the little ship.
The device itself stood in the centre of the cargo bay, whose doors which -he noted by observing the almost hairline crack that ran along the floor- opened up beneath the ship. The device was a tall, thick tube of glass that contained an opaque purple liquid, which, seemed to twist and turn about in cycles of fifteen to twenty seconds.
The glass tube had a circular chrome lid and a chrome square base; where a black numeric keyboard and a led display extended. Either side of the keyboard rested two key holes. Brant slowly made his way to the centre of the room; suddenly he felt that the whole room was buffeted to the right, sending loose articles from the surrounding shelves to the floor with a clattering smash, forcing Brent to the floor. He slid with a frightening, uncontrollable speed towards -and then away from the device. He winced and silently hissed in pain, as his hands blistered as he skidded on the metal surface plate of the floor.
In the background, beyond the slow and steady increase in volume, he heard garbled messages coming from the Alcestis. Well you’re committed now. He thought to himself and he made his way to back to the firing console. But it was as he reached the device that he heard something both frightening and familiar.
It was the sound of his mother... his long dead mother... calling out to him.
Fear ripped through Brant, but he was determined not to give in to it. And refused to turn and see what was making the noise behind him.
‘Alex Darling... is that you?’ she called.
They aren’t real... Brant screamed inside his head ...none of this is real they are twisting your mind trying to get you to stop trying to prevent you from doing what needs to be done...
‘Alex darling... I can’t see you... Are you there? Its’ been so long, so long my love...’ her voice sounded as if it was coming from a dream, but he didn’t look, he didn’t dare; he felt terrified.
...No I will not listen... you can’t make me just can’t you see I’m better than you stronger than you I can beat you into submission beat you back to where you fucking belong you can’t hurt me you hear me you can’t hurt me!
He put one key into the device and turned it there was a hum then he inserted and then turned the second key.
‘...Darling it’s your mother, come and give your mother a hug,’
There was a step that sounded like a staggering heavy thump. But still he refused to look, he just sat there waiting for the countdown to end 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 as his mind raced; -just shut up just shut the fuck up you fucking lying dead old crone you’re dead your dead dead dead dead deaddeaddaeddeaddead- he yelled and cried and screamed inside; as he turned the key to the arming position. He looked at the walls about him and began to see tiny cracks begin to appear as the pressure began to increase.
‘...Darling let mother hug you and get warm...I am so cold... so very, very cold...’ Brant screamed as he felt a pair of cold burning arms made of aged cracked flesh slowly, and very tightly, wrap themselves about him; Brant stared down at the floor of the shuttle as cracks began to get larger. He screamed but it was cut short as the shuttle craft suddenly shook and then imploded; in a spectacular spherical burst of white light.
On board the Alcestis, a sudden groan was heard as the impact was seen. But nothing followed. The clouds didn’t disappear and the planet had the same milky sheen.
From the floor, Derwent who wasn’t in any position to see the images called out almost in a plea. ‘Did he..?’ as he was attended to by Emhart. She smiled down at him.
‘Sir... I honestly don’t know... the planet seems no different...’ She smiled down at him, as he was lifted into a hover bed, to be taken to the infirmary. But as he left, she turned once more and she stared at the planet. Something was starting to happen. From the milky sheen of the clouds of Venus, fine, spider-web like tendrils’ stretched out towards them. Then they passed the ship, beyond the view of the holographic projector, deep into the forever velvet night of space. She bit her lip nervously as decided to check both the speed and direction. The monitor replied with terrifying clarity.
They were heading towards earth.