Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Taste of Earth: Scene 6

This is the sixth scene from A Taste of Earth,
a science fiction short story in ten scenes.
I will post the entire story one scene at a time each Friday.
I hope you enjoy A Taste of Earth, and I would love to hear from you.

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Lab 14, Edwards Air Force Base, California

Dipesh held a cup of coffee, feeling the stress of this situation translate into exhaustion in his bones. Through a double-pane window, he watched technicians load Hachiman onto an examination table. It looked the same as it had on the beach, but the harsh lab lights cast a more sterile, ominous feel. The murmur of a couple dozen scientists, politicians, and some of the NEO team filled the viewing area behind him. John had flown in with him; David and Irene arrived just in time for the first debriefing, which buzzed with excited speculation.

Brigadier General Jensen, an African-American man with graying temples and a keen look in his eye, asked everyone to take their seats. He introduced himself and explained the government’s plan to, “observe the object at first, but if we don’t discover something helpful within the next three hours … well then, we’ll take more aggressive methods of examination.”

Several hands rose for questions.

The general nodded to a woman in the front row. She stood up and introduced herself. “Chelsea Newman from Homeland Security. General, what do you mean by more aggressive methods?”

“It means we take it apart by whatever means necessary. We view the object as the source of the agents that are altering our environment.”

More hands shot up and a man rose just in front of Dipesh. He spoke with a British accent. “Donald Norton from the Space Guard Foundation. Brigadier General Jensen, is it possible that we can get into the lab to see the Hachiman meteorite?”

The general shook his head. “That’s just not possible given our time constraints. I want to make it clear that you are all here as valued consultants, and we appreciate your time.”

Dipesh chuckled and whispered to John, “Like anyone would pass up this opportunity.”

“But the viewing area,” the general said, “is equipped with overhead monitors showing the same readouts that the lab technicians see.”

Dipesh looked up at the monitor closest to him. Hachiman still looked dead. It showed no more evidence of performing the sunflower trick that it had done earlier. He watched as all tests gave no clue to interior or even exterior composition. Broad-spectrum scans, including radio, X-ray, infrared, and ultra-sound, showed Hachiman as an inert, homogeneous, black object. Surface exams for microbes yielded negative results; it was completely sterile even of terrestrial bacteria. The observing consultants made several suggestions, and though Dipesh found some to be insightful, their negative results only added to Hachiman’s mystery. At one point, one of the lab scientists glanced up at the clock, and Dipesh could see the frustrated passion in her eyes.

Hachiman’s creators, the Fascil, had given all their biosphere-altering probes the ability to learn and adapt with changing situations. As the millennia passed, Hachiman had searched in vain for the ideal dual-planet system with the ideal local asteroids, and as its adaptability broadened, it had developed an embryonic personality. Over its long journey, this seedling personality had grown and blossomed. Unfortunately for Hachiman, its creators had also given it a sense of time. Boredom set in, and, like a flower without water, the fledgling personality withered. It had searched for more varied input and hungered for companionship in vain as its programming directed it to an outer arm of the galaxy, the rural outskirts of the Milky Way, where it had spent most of its time traveling the voids between solar systems.

Now, after achieving its goal, it still hadn’t heard a message from the home world. Did the Fascil forget Hachiman and develop beyond this form of tachyon communication? No, Hachiman didn’t think so. A delayed response could only mean one thing: no one was home. It didn’t really surprise Hachiman. From the transmissions it had received at the beginning of its voyage, it knew that the Fascilic empires were nearing self-annihilation. A greater level of technology and cultural awareness didn’t ensure that forty-three trillion Fascil would not kill themselves. The creator had offered an alternative to the Fascil, but few had listened. Besides, Hachiman left its home world over five hundred sixty-nine million years ago. Some things were bound to change.

If the Fascil did annihilate themselves, would this species do the same? Did the creator offer them an alternative like the Fascil? This question struck at the root of Hachiman’s programming. If the creator did not, then all the principles, even the value of life itself, would have lost their foundation. Hachiman had to know. If it learned nothing else in its vast travels of the galaxy, it had learned the value of life. It was so rare, especially supra-sapient life.

Hachiman watched the indigenous life forms with increased fascination.

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<< Beginning     < Scene 3     < Scene 4     < Scene 5     Scene 7>

The entire text is currently discounted: Free.
If you would like the entire story as a PDF, click here: A Taste of Earth – Justin Tyme.
For ebook format Amazon, visit: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kubo, Smashwords, and others.
 
Copyright © 2011 Justin Tyme
 

A Taste of Earth: Scene 5

This is the fifth scene from A Taste of Earth,
a science fiction short story in ten scenes.
I will post the entire story one scene at a time each Friday.
I hope you enjoy A Taste of Earth, and I would love to hear from you.

_________________________________

Santa Monica Beach, California, USA

The biosphere-altering probe observed the indigenous life forms with indifference. It concentrated on the taste of earth. If the indigenous life forms interfered with its task, it would take a taste of them as well.

Ah, yes. The soil was mostly quartz, with organisms including traces of methanogenic bacteria. It relayed its findings back to its home world by means of a quantum entanglement, and added the message, “Solar system found having two planets within specified parameters. The second planet from the star is ideal, no altering necessary. The third is of sufficient mass and element rich, but needs massive alterations. Phase one altering initiated. Phase two not necessary.” It waited for a response.

Nothing.

It waited for the allotted period before time out.

Silence.

It should have heard a response, if not from its creators, then at least a confirmation signal from a relay station.

The indigenous life forms were approaching Hachiman with primitive sensing equipment. Hachiman withdrew its soil sampler and the indigenous life forms retreated. It extended its directional antenna, and they retreated further, making audible noises.

Still no return message from home.

It sent the message again several times, and waited for four times the allotted time out period after communication silence. In the mean time, it processed the actions that the indigenous life forms made in conjunction with their skin temperature and the hormones they expressed, as was the customary form of communication on its home world. Since it had a long wait, slightly more than three seconds, it tried to learn their language.

Hachiman found it difficult smelling their communication in this thin, wind-blown atmosphere. It was much easier at home where the fluid of the corporeal biosphere allowed them to transfer hormones and mRNA-based messenger packets, but here such packages would fly away too easily. When Hachiman first came ashore, it did sense a simple hormone communication from the indigenous life forms. They seemed to be engaged in a mating ritual, but they quickly dispersed. They returned later in airtight garments. Why did they isolate themselves? Were they shy? How could they conduct these complicated, cooperative efforts without scent exchange? They must be using an alternate form of communication, but why? So much information could be transferred on encoded molecules.

The life form it encountered at close hand, the hairy one that walked on four legs, seemed to be a better communicator. It at least asked for a response by sniffing. When Hachiman returned the gesture, the creature ran away. Perhaps it was a messenger vehicle.

The waiting period expired without a return signal from home. According to its preprogrammed rules, its self-learning and adaptive brain was now free to respond on its own initiatives.

“No, they’re loading it now,” Dipesh explained to Irene. He shielded his eyes from the array of halogen lights set up around Hachiman. Night had fallen. The bomb squad’s forklift was loading it into an insulated metal box. “We got permission to go with it to Edwards Air Force Base. It has the closest biohazard lab with the security they’ll need.”

“Good,” Irene said. “David and I will meet you there.”

A white flutter caught his eye. Seagulls, in violation of the police line, flew in to peck at rubbish in the sand. He wondered, if Hachiman succeeded in altering the earth’s climate, would these ubiquitous birds survive long after humans had succumbed? Not likely. It would be the cockroaches. But he couldn’t get the image out of his mind, the image of evolved seagulls combing the surface of a superheated wasteland, pecking at rubbish. The thought gave him a shiver.

 

Hachiman scanned its database for an appropriate response when the indigenous life forms lifted it from the sand. It decided to take a passive posture and continue to observe the beach-dwelling life forms. This was the most entertainment Hachiman had since the close encounter with the singularity.

Then it had an idea. When it had scanned the electro-magnetic frequencies for possible signals from home, it found modulated signals in the lower frequencies. It guessed by the signal characteristics and strength, that the signals were locally generated and possibly a means of communication. It decoded them by cross-referencing them with the ambient sound, what it had previously thought were “junk” noises. The refining process took less than four milliseconds. Yes, the indigenous life forms used audio communication. It formulated thirteen different grammar-syntax-vocabulary combinations that would fit the small sample size. It also processed the actions that the life forms made in conjunction with this sonic communication, and concluded that their movements were a part of their language.

When the life forms loaded Hachiman into a box, it did not resist. Hachiman could still send and receive tachyon signals. Moments later, it felt a change in altitude. Air transportation didn’t concern it, as long as it remained within the gravity well of this planet.

Hachiman recalled how the life forms interacted with each other, and determined that they employed a hierarchical form of social organization. Just as it had done with their communication, it formulated several different social structures that would fit its observations.

Perhaps they showed signs of intelligence after all, primitive intelligence, but just enough to be on the waking edge of sentience.

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<< Beginning     < Scene 2     < Scene 3     < Scene 4     Scene 6 >

The entire text is currently discounted: Free.
If you would like the entire story as a PDF, click here: A Taste of Earth – Justin Tyme.
For ebook format Amazon, visit: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kubo, Smashwords, and others.
 
Copyright © 2011 Justin Tyme
 

A Taste of Earth: Scene 4

This is the fourth scene from A Taste of Earth,
a science fiction short story in ten scenes.
I will post the entire story one scene at a time each Friday.
I hope you enjoy A Taste of Earth, and I would love to hear from you.

_________________________________

Santa Monica Beach, California, USA

“Alright,” John said. “Somebody’s playing games. Someone in that crowd has a remote.”

Dipesh watched the object with fascination. “No, John. The spot where that tentacle came out is flush with the rest of the body. See? Look. The base of the tentacle is smooth like it grew out of it.”

John took a cautious step forward, almost forgetting to record video.

“The base material liquefied and formed into that … tentacle,” Dipesh continued. “We don’t have that technology. No one on earth does.”

Almost imperceptibly the tentacle’s surface changed from smooth and ridged to molten. It slid – not retracted – back into the main body. Was this first contact with an alien race? How did it get here? Did it piggyback on the meteor, or was it a victim of circumstance, stuck to the meteor by accident? Would it be grateful for being rescued, or was it the first step in an invasion? Dipesh edged closer to the object until his curiosity and fear reached equilibrium.

John gasped, “Irene, the object is Hachiman, and it’s not just a meteor. It’s a probe.”

Dipesh pointed his infrared thermometer gun at it, but froze when a thought seized him. The IR thermometer looks like a gun. What if the object can see and thinks the thermometer is a weapon? He brushed the thought aside as a childish fear, and took readings from several angles.

“The entire surface temperature reads five degrees C above ambient,” he reported to Irene. So there must be some …”

John cut him off. “Some sort of internal exothermic reaction… or maybe a mechanism maintaining a constant temperature.”

“Like body temperature,” Dipesh said.

“More likely,” John said, “the material has a high thermal capacitance that hasn’t reached equilibrium with ambient. It’s a probe, like Spirit or Opportunity.” He glanced at one of the DHS crew who was listening to him and added, “You know, NASA’s probes to Mars?”

The man just stared back.

“What do you guys do,” John asked, “just watch football all day?”

Dipesh shook his head, a meaningless gesture in a hazmat suit. “We don’t know for sure that it even is a probe. It could be alive.”

“It’s a probe. Why else would it take a soil sample. You think it’s a tourist?”

“It could have been eating.”

“Seriously?”

A technician walked over and said, “Initial air and soil samples show that the object is not contaminating the environment.”

“I don’t know if you heard yet,” John told the firefighter, “but the other fragments have polluted the environment with what appears to be silicon microbes. No offense, but I don’t think your devices are rigged for that.”

“Do you think,” Dipesh asked, “that releasing the contamination is a programmed function of the probe, or a byproduct of its time in space?”

“You mean, it’s just something it caught on the drive over here?” John considered it. “No, I think it …”

Shouts from the crowd cut him off.

They turned and saw a dog running towards them, its leash dangling. It headed for the object. A national guardsman in camouflaged hazmat gear lunged at it, but the dog dodged him and the guardsman landed in the sand, floundering to get up like a turtle turned on its back. The dog ran up to the object and circled it. It barked at it and capered around as if Hachiman were a large Frisbee. With its head cocked to one side, it sniffed at it. A bulge formed on Hachiman’s surface. John raised his phone, fumbling for the video button in his clumsy gloves. From the bulge on the object grew a stalk like a fast-growing sunflower, the head of the sunflower turning towards the dog. The dog yelped and darted back to the crowd. The sunflower receded back into Hachiman and it showed no further signs of movement.

Everyone had taken several steps back, except for two DHS specialists who ran after the dog. Need to take him in for questioning, Dipesh thought.

“Dipesh, this thing is acting like a probe,” John said. “Given what we’ve heard from the other impact sites, it is my educated analysis, that meteorite Hachiman intends to terraform earth.”

“You mean,” Dipesh said, “it intends to alien-form earth.”

_________________________________

<< Beginning     < Scene 2     < Scene 3     Scene 5>

The entire text is currently discounted: Free.
If you would like the entire story as a PDF, click here: A Taste of Earth – Justin Tyme.
For ebook format Amazon, visit: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kubo, Smashwords, and others.
 
Copyright © 2011 Justin Tyme
 

A Taste of Earth: Scene 3

This is the third scene from A Taste of Earth,
a science fiction short story in ten scenes.
I will post the entire story one scene at a time each Friday.
I hope you enjoy A Taste of Earth, and I would love to hear from you.

_________________________________

Santa Monica Beach, California, USA

Heavy traffic and barely controlled mayhem greeted Dipesh and John three miles from Santa Monica. The Los Angeles Police Department was redirecting traffic away from the beach and Pacific Coast Highway. With the help of several phone calls, they successfully negotiated a police escort to the Hot Zone, an evacuated gas station, where they donned hazardous materials protection gear, called hazmat suits, in case the fragment carried a biological agent. The officer in charge said that if they waited until they got to the beach to put them on, it would be too late, and he gave them terse instructions on how to operate them. It was Dipesh’s first time wearing the airtight apparatus, and he was sure someone had given him a size too large. The air tank felt heavy on his back until the officer in charge helped him adjust the straps.

When Dipesh tried to engage him in light conversation, the officer said, “You might want to hurry. We just got word that the meteor’s come ashore.”

Dipesh glared at the officer and felt his face flush. “What? You got to be kidding me.” His words slipped into a heavier Indian accent and rushed out. “Who gave them the authority to bring it ashore?”

“No one …”

“Exactly. And now you are telling me that they tampered with material that can not only cause their death but has the potential of telling us what is going on with our environment? The agency …”

The officer put his hand up. “No. It came ashore by itself.”

John asked, “How can a rock wash ashore?”

The officer shrugged. “Listen, I’m only relaying information.”

While Dipesh’s anger melted into curiosity mingled with shame for losing his temper so easily, the officer gave them final instructions on their hazmat suits. “You will be able to communicate with each other via voice activated microphones. Just talk, and those within range will pick you up. Also you can maintain contact with your people if you give the phone number to our dispatch operator.”

A transport truck that looked like a large ambulance took them to the beach with three other hazmat crew members. The large letters DHS were silkscreened on their backs. John asked them what that stood for, and one of them answered with a weary stare, “Department Homeland Security.” No one said anything for the rest of the trip. They arrived behind another police line escorted by the National Guard in camouflaged hazmat gear. As Dipesh emerged, he saw a crowd of spectators mainly on the pier. He wondered how someone would be stupid enough to sneak into the Hot Zone unprotected. He shook his head. Then he realized that they must have been there before the impact, maybe partying for what they thought would be their last day on earth, which might be true if Hachiman were contaminated. He saw a line of the spectators being directed to what looked like a decontamination center. Showers and disinfecting tubs had been set up. Grown men were standing nervously with arms folded and several children were crying hysterically as they followed through the lines.

A tug on his arm from John showed him where the real action was. They walked with the DHS crew as fast as their suits would allow towards a spot on the shore. The DHS crew walked ahead of them towards the receding waves with sensing equipment extended. Through the suit’s thick lining, Dipesh heard the sand shifting beneath his feet. The respirator seal chafed against his cheeks and a bead of sweat trickled down the bridge of his nose, causing  an itch that was screamed for relief.  but he was powerless scratch it. He took a deep breath. He wished he could smell the salt air, but instead inhaled the pasty, sanitized air from the heavy tank strapped to his back. This is as close as I get to a walk on the moon. A circle of security tape on stakes, sensing gear, cameras on tripods, and over a dozen hazmat-suited workers surrounded a spot at the water’s edge. Enough letters in bold print were silkscreened on the back of each suit to almost complete the entire Latin alphabet: NTSB, DHS, LAFD, NMFS, NAVY, and others. Dipesh thought he recognized a few, but at this point he didn’t care who they were as long as they let him see his rock. The glare from the sun off the waves kept him from seeing the meteor fragment at first, but when he did, he called dispatch for JPL.

“Irene, we’re here. It’s on the shore. It appears to be a smooth, metallic object about a meter in diameter.”

Dipesh edged closer to it. The sun glinted off its surface and warmed the visor of his hazardous materials protection suit.

“It doesn’t look like a typical meteorite. It is entirely symmetric about a central axis. John, log in and post the video.”

John shook his head. “I have no service.”

“You should have four bars here. Interference?”

“No. Network overload. Too many people texting and crap.” John started taking video as the hazmat crew took water and soil samples near the object. “I’ll send it when I get service,” he said.

Dipesh relayed the message and edged closer to the object wondering if the designers of his suit considered insulation from alien microbes. He glanced up and noted the spectators who stared at him behind a thin police line, giving the scene a circus atmosphere.

“Go on,” Irene demanded. “What does it look like?”

“It almost looks like a large horseshoe crab with two tails coming out the sides. The bulk of the mass is shaped like a bloated disk … an ellipsoid. The tails are like long cones jutting out from either side and pointing back out towards the ocean. The cones at the ends intersect spheres the size of softballs. The color is … it’s hard to tell. Appears to be a mottled copper and brass color.”

“That can’t be a meteorite fragment,” John said. “That’s something else, some junk, an old washed up boogie board or something. The real fragment has to be out at sea.”

Suddenly the object sprouted a tentacle on the edge closest to them. The hazmat crew jumped back and John almost tripped over Dipesh. The tentacle drilled into the ground.

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<< Beginning     < Scene 2     Scene 4 (in next week’s blog)

The entire text is currently discounted: Free.
If you would like the entire story as a PDF, click here: A Taste of Earth – Justin Tyme.
For ebook format Amazon, visit: AmazonBarnes & Noble, Kubo, Smashwords, and others.
 
Copyright © 2011 Justin Tyme