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.
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.”
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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