Space Pioneer 5

Nephthys

by Dolores Esteban



“I was proud of my son and I was devastated when the ship was lost. I’d never have imagined to see Jeff again. I can only thank you once more for taking him home, although this whole situation is hard to cope with,” Jeff’s father said.

They were sitting on the porch. It was a warm summer evening. Dan Caspar looked at the blackening sky. Lest was watching him.

They had arrived in the afternoon. Lest had landed the Horus shuttle in the backyard of the Caspar country house. The compound was big enough for the vehicle. The Horus orbited one of Jupiter’s moons and the crew checked on the ship while Lest and Jeff were visiting Earth.

Jeff stepped out of the house, carrying a tray with glasses.

“I feel like I was never away,” he said. “I still know every room of the house inside out.”

“How’s your mother?” Dan asked.

“Sleeping sound,” Jeff replied.

He had called his parents from the shuttle shortly before touching down on the compound. The shuttle computer had had no difficulties connecting to his parents’ landline. His father had answered the call and had ended it promptly, believing it was a bad joke. Jeff called again and this time his mother answered and at once recognized Jeff’s voice. Then everything happened quickly. The shuttle landed on the compound and Jeff and Lest got off the vehicle. Jeff’s parents were standing on the porch where Jeff had asked them to wait. The reunion was emotional, tearful, and it took almost half an hour until Jeff’s parents became aware of Lest. The puzzlement was as big as was the excitement, but finally Jeff’s parents calmed down. And then Jeff told them a very long story. His parents listened in disbelief and confusion, in amazement and awe, and Jeff had to repeat his story again and again until they finally believed every word he said. Jeff’s mother, totally overwhelmed with the situation, was close to a breakdown at the end of the day, but only agreed to retire and sleep after Jeff had promised to stay for another couple of days. His parents had mostly ignored Lest as they were totally fixated on their son.

Lest had listened patiently for hours. Jeff had given his parents ear clips and they used the shuttle computer as a temporary language base. The shuttle was shielded and Earth’s surveillance systems weren’t capable of detecting and decrypting the signals the shuttle computer transmitted.

Jeff’s father studied Lest closer for the first time. “In fact, you don’t look very alien. You could well pass as a Scandinavian or so,” he said. “Sorry for being blunt,” he added quickly.

Jeff gave a laugh. “Well, I explained it, Dad,” he said. “Daglons and humans descend from the same species. As an archaeologist, the resemblance should not surprise you.”

“It doesn’t,” Dan said with a smile. “It’s actually not a surprise. We suspected it.”

“Who? What do you mean, Dad?” Jeff asked.

“You suspected that  human origin was alien?” Lest asked curiously.

“You never told me,” Jeff said. “I thought you researched on dinosaurs.”

Dan smiled. “Officially, yes. My main interest, however, was always the same as yours, Jeff. Space,” he said.

Jeff looked at him in puzzlement.

“You told a long and stunning story, Jeff,” Dan said. “My story is long and stunning, too. It’s late, however, and maybe you want to rest. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

“No, Dad,” Jeff said. “I’m curious. I want to hear it now. What about you, Lest?”

“I’m not tired,” Lest replied.

“Well,” Dan said, looking between them. “It’s classified information. I never told anybody of my investigations and studies. Not even your mother has a clue. I retired from the project after the Daidalos was lost and my son declared dead. Space had become my enemy. Sometimes I even thought the loss was sort of punishment for my secret studies and hiding the truth from the world.”

Dan looked into the distance.

“It’s unsettling,”’ Jeff said.

Dan smiled at his son. “Space has welcomed you, Jeff,” he said. “It’s another secret I must keep to myself.” He took a breath. “Well, let me tell you of the project.”

***

“How to begin with?” he said pensively, taking a sip of his drink. “With a jump back in time, I think. You told me of the Seth colonists and this fits in well with what we found. The Seth set up a colony on Earth. Their knowledge and technology was advanced, but their civilization was destroyed by the Flood. You jumped back in time and met the men who built the Egyptian pyramids. You said they reverse-engineered the ancient technology. They accomplished a lot but weren’t able to advance the technology. The pyramids are a reminder of a more advanced past. I worked on the excavating compound as a student. My interest back then was Ancient Egypt. We found the tunnels under the Sphinx and we found the contents stored there.”

“They actually stored their devices there like they had planned?” Jeff asked.

Dan nodded. “We found a lot of objects and we carefully investigated them. NASA took part in the project. What we found was never revealed to the public, however,” he said.

“What did the scientists conclude from the findings?” Jeff asked.

“Evidence pointed to an advanced civilization long before the pyramids were built,” Dan replied. “Not a global civilization, a civilization in the area of the Mediterranean Sea. It was puzzling, however. We didn’t understand why this advanced civilization had not expanded, not conquered the entire planet. The ice age was the reason, we concluded. The planet’s conditions were unlike today’s and the population was small. It remained a mystery, however, how early humans had advanced that much. The story of the Seth explains it, of course. The knowledge and the technology were imported.”

“You said you suspected an alien origin,” Lest said.

“Yes,” Dan replied. “An early human civilization was only one explanation for what we found. Alien colonization was the other. Ancient myths and legends actually support this latter theory. That was when the project started. We wanted to find out about a possible alien origin of the ancient civilization. The idea wasn’t entirely new. Many people believe in the theory anyway. There are countless sites on the internet. These people are regarded conspiracy theorists. They’re usually ridiculed. We saw no reason stop it.”

 “Why not?” Jeff asked.

“They had theories and we had evidence, shocking evidence,” his father replied. “Advanced gadgets, for instance. Gadgets not working anymore after thousands of years underground, but still good to reverse-engineer. It’s classified stuff. The explanation is simple. You don’t want anybody else get the wind of your findings and, more so, of your progress. It gives you advantage over others.”

“Typical class C species thinking, Doctor Midad would say,” Lest said. He explained the classification system to Dan. “Then again, this classification system is just another way of ranking, making a group superior to others. The problem is a universal one, it seems.”

Dan nodded thoughtfully. “Actually,” he said. “Anyway, I was well in the project already when I married Sonya and Jeff was born. I had seen many of the findings. The government approached me. I had to hold my tongue. They made this very clear to me. I was offered a job on the project and I accepted the offer. The subject intrigued me. It was my chance to learn more, my only chance perhaps. The price was lifelong silence. I always had to keep a part of my life secret from my family. I lied to my wife. I lied to my son. I apologize, Jeff,” he said, looking sadly at his son.

Jeff raised his hand. “It’s all right, Dad,” he said. “You can tell me now. I won’t tell anybody. I can’t anyway. I will never come back to Earth for good.” Jeff  looked aside for a moment.

“This is sad,” his father replied. “But I do understand it. Coming back would be dangerous even with a new identity. I hope, however, that we’ll find a way to stay in touch with each other.”

“Difficult,” Jeff said.

“Earth’s communication and surveillance systems are backward,” Lest said. “We’ll try to establish a messenger system. A neural implant would be best, of course.”

“A neural implant?” Dan asked.

Lest explained the technology.
“The implants are tiny, hard to detect,” he said. “And they’re capable of space crease communication.”

“What’s that?” Dan asked.

“Faster than light speed communication,” Jeff said. “You can contact whoever you want and wherever in space the person is. There’s practically no time delay. They combined quantum physics and the theory of relativity long ago in space. Traveling faster than light is the usual, time jumps are feasible, although still under investigation because of the observed negative results of interfering too much with the time lines.”

“Earth’s quite a backward place, it seems,” Dan said. He turned to Lest. “I’d greatly acknowledge a communication system, albeit only one that doesn’t put my family in danger.”

Lest nodded. “I’ll talk with Hulton,” he said. “Would you like to carry on with your story, Dan? I suspect the project’s goal changed at some point.”

Dan nodded. “The ancient myths were carefully studied. Some pointed to the Seth civilization as you described it, but others told of a space-faring nation. We were in doubt. Was the Seth civilization - as I will call it now - capable of space-faring?”

“They weren’t a space-faring nation at the time we visited them,” Lest said. “We talked with the Seth archivist. He didn’t mention space-faring activities. He said they were not capable of building a spaceship. Early on, they might well have built air- and spacecrafts. I can’t say for sure. According to what we learned of the Seth civilization, it was very advanced and developed before the Flood destroyed it. ”

“The myths clearly tell of space-faring activities,” Dan said. “These people visited Venus, Mars and the Moon. They explored the whole solar system. More so, they were said to dwell on a yet undetected planet of the system.”

“Which planet?” Jeff asked. “Probes and rovers have practically observed and investigated every planet of the system.”

“Yes,” Dan said. “These activities began upon the findings in the myths. They hoped to find remnants of a civilization on the other planets and their moons.”

 “What did they believe to find?” Jeff asked.

“Advanced technology, of course,” his father said.

“Did they succeed?” Lest asked.

 “We’ve not retrieved anything from another planet,” Dan said.

“The Daidalos,” Jeff said slowly. “Was the Daidalos sent to Mars to retrieve something?”

“You would know,” his father said.

Jeff shook his head. “We were supposed to orbit Mars, scan the surface, land on the planet, stay for a week, and then return to Earth. The Daidalos was constructed to land and take off from Mars. We weren’t instructed to collect anything apart from stones,” he explained.

“It was the maiden flight,” Dan said. “It was about getting to Mars and back to Earth. Future operations would have been different, I think. The project was stopped, however, after the loss of crew and ship. They’re more interested in Venus now anyway.”

“Venus?” Jeff asked.

“We found a trace of the ancient space-faring nation, remnants of a city on Venus fifteen years ago,” his father said. “A probe was sent to Venus. The probe had new and advanced heat shields and was able to stand the heat for a couple of days. Venus is a living hell, 462°C.”

“What did they detect?” Jeff asked. “I never heard of these findings.”

“Like I said, it’s classified information,” his father replied. “The probe sent high-resolution pictures of a city or what is left of it. Artificial structures, the remnants of buildings, concrete, molten steel constructions.”

“A civilization on Venus?” Jeff asked. “What happened?”

“Well,” Dan said, “The ancient myths tell of a big war in the sky.”

“The Horus computer scanned the planets of the system,” Lest said. “The planet you call Venus is on the edge of the habitable zone of your system. Wait,” he said, focusing on his neural implant. “I should be able to pull the relevant data from the Horus computer.”

Dan turned to Jeff. “You said the spaceship is in the proximity of Jupiter. Is he able to connect to his ship’s computer with the implant?”

Jeff gave a nod.

Lest’s implant received the data from the Horus. Lest scanned it. “Size, mass, proximity to the Sun and bulk composition of Venus and Earth are similar,” he said. “Venus is radically different from Earth in other respects. It has the densest atmosphere of the four terrestrial planets in the system. The atmosphere consists of more than 96% carbon dioxide. The atmospheric pressure at the planet's surface is 92 times that of Earth's. With a mean surface temperature of 462 °C Venus is the hottest planet in the system. All the planets orbit the sun in an anti-clockwise direction, most planets also rotate on their axes in an anti-clockwise direction, but Venus rotates clockwise once every 243 Earth days. It’s the slowest rotation period of any planet. About 80% of the Venusian surface is covered by smooth, volcanic plains. The visible caldera are without evidence of lava. That’s odd.”

“It was often suspected that some catastrophic event threw Venus off its original orbit and that Mercury originally was a moon that Venus lost during the catastrophic event,” Dan said.

“Not impossible. A collision with another celestial body might have thrown the planet off its orbit,” Lest said.

“Or the big war in the sky that the myths talk of,” Dan said.

“A war in space?” Jeff asked. “Who fought a war and why? We don’t talk about the Seth colonists, do we?”

“Yes and no,” Dan replied. “Let me explain. We think the Venusians came to Earth for mining operations. Settlement wasn’t their primary goal, although some camps may have expanded as time went by. We talk about a nation that was regarded highly supreme in very ancient times, about people who dwelled in an unknown land, a land that was hard to find and of which we haven’t found a single trace on Earth. It’s name was Atlantis, according to Plato.  Atlantis and ancient Athens waged a terrible war. Atlantis was defeated and completely destroyed.”

“This actually sounds like a myth,” Jeff said. “Ancient Athens? Do you mean Ancient Greek?”

Dan shook his head. “I’ll come to this in a moment. We detected remnants of a city on Venus, charred and molten in the catastrophic event. As far as I can tell, everything’s glazed,” he said. “Someone was more powerful than the Venusians and had far more powerful weapons. This technology might still be somewhere around.”

“Where?” Jeff asked. “I thought that nothing was found.”

“According to a Sumerian myth, the powerful weapon was dismantled after the war and the parts were hidden in different places,” Dan said. “The project’s original goal was to find out about a possible alien origin of humanity. The project changed at this stage. The new goal was to find and retrieve the parts of the ancient powerful weapon. Probes were sent off to all planets and moons of the system.”

“What did they find?” Jeff asked.

“Neither the weapon nor parts of it,” Dan replied. “We discovered the Venusian city and scanning probes discovered artificial structures on Mars and the Moon. Rovers explored the areas, but no items were found. Sand and dust have covered everything. I don’t think the parts of the weapon are scattered all over the system. I’m an archaeologist. My field of interest was Ancient Egypt and I think I have figured it out.”

He looked between Jeff and Lest.

“I’m certain that the parts of the weapon were already collected in the past,” he said. There’s the legend of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld. He was dismembered by his brother Seth, a very dark and evil figure in Egyptian mythology. Seth, Satan, you see the connection.”

His son gave a whistle. “The Seth defeated Venus,” he said.

“Yes,” his father said. “Ancient Athens defeated them. Ancient Athens was located on a Mediterranean peninsula.”

“The big war in the sky,” Lest said thoughtfully. “The Seth didn’t mention it to us during our stay with them.”

“We didn’t stay long in the past,” Jeff said. “We were mainly interested in the arrival of the Seth spaceship and how the Seth coped  in the time of Pharaoh Cheops.”

“The Seth arrived in a vast starship after centuries of traveling through space and they successfully landed on the planet. Early on, they had available their entire technology and the devices they brought, including their starship,” Lest said “They might have been more powerful than the Venusians.”

“The Seth set up a colony,” Dan said. “They occupied the most fertile lands of Earth at the time of the ice age. The planet was vastly covered with ice. The Venusians didn’t settle on Earth permanently, but came to Earth for mining resources. We concluded this from Plato’s story. Atlantis controlled the world, but the Atlanteans isolated themselves. The Seth stopped their activities. If this is not a reason for war....”

“Okay,” Jeff said. “The Seth won, dismantled the weapon and later gathered the parts again.”

“Yes,” his father said. “According to the myth, Osiris, the god of the underworld, was dismembered. Osiris is the weapon. Isis put the parts together and brought Osiris back to life.”

“A functioning weapon,” Lest said.

“And where is this weapon now?” Jeff asked.

“Osiris is the god of the underworld. He dwells in the underworld, in the land beyond,” Dan said. 

“In the immaterial world?” Jeff asked doubtingly.

“In the land devoid of matter,” Lest said. “The void, interstellar space. Do you think the weapon was taken out of the solar system?”

“It’s located where the boundless expanse begins,” Dan said.

“They discovered the two outmost planets of the system only three years before I left for the Mars mission,” Jeff said. “The outmost planet, Nephthys, is 300 astronomical units away from the sun. This is a big distance. 1 AU is about 150 million kilometers. Do you think the Seth took the weapon there?”

“Their starship would have been capable of the trip,” Lest said. “I’m just wondering why they took the weapon to the outmost planet. Thus it became unreachable in later times.”

“They didn’t reckon with the Flood,” Dan said. “They didn’t believe their civilization would go down like the Venusians’. I’m certain the weapon can be found on the boundary to interstellar space. They look everywhere in the system for the weapon now and they will ultimately find it. They sent off probes to the outermost planets soon after those were discovered. It will take years for them to get there, but the probes will ultimately arrive and will at last find what they’re looking for.”

“It would still take them a long time to get there and retrieve an item from the frozen planet,” Jeff said.

“I retired from the project when the Mars mission failed, but I still have connections,” Dan said. “I know of the latest developments. If there’s anything on Nephthys to be found, they might find it sooner than we think they can. They work on the hyper speed drive and they’re making progress. No manned mission, of course. We’re far from this. But a probe is said to travel with 20% of light speed.”

“That’s actually quite slow,” Jeff said. “The Horus could get to Nephthys in less than a day from its current position in the proximity of Jupiter.”

“The Horus could make the trip in a couple of minutes in space jump mode, but I’m usually hesitant to jump in a solar system,” Lest said. “Too many items are flying around. The space jump system has a protection shield. Jump sensors scan real space before the ship drops back into it. The sensors would initiate an emergency jump to avoid a collision. Tiny items are simply vaporized. But I’m not too keen to bump into a gas giant or a frozen super Earth. I’ll contact the Horus and have them thoroughly scan and map the system and locate the planet Nephthys.”

“Why?” Jeff’s father asked in confusion. “It sounds as if you were preparing for a trip to Nephthys.”

“Yes, Dad,” Jeff said, his eyes filled with excitement. “It can’t hurt to have a close look at the edge of our system.”

“I sent the instructions to the main ship,” Lest said.

“But you don’t mean to be going soon? You’ve only just arrived, Jeff,” Dan said with a desperate undertone.

“No, I won’t leave right away, Dad. I promised to stay for a week,” Jeff replied with a smile.

“No need to hurry,” Lest agreed. “But I also look forward to the endeavor.”

***

The following days were calm and peaceful. Jeff’s mother called off all visits and activities they had planned, pretending she had caught the flu. Jeff’s father drove to three different supermarkets to buy food and drinks in order to not attract attention. Jeff’s mother cooked Jeff’s favorite dishes and indulged her son. Dan put up a grill on the evening of the third day. They were having a barbecue.

“Excellent,” Lest said after taking a bite of a steak.

Dan nodded at him with a pleased smile.

“Try with the barbecue sauce,” Sonya, Jeff’s mother, said. She handed the bottle to Lest.

“Very good,” Lest said. “I like all the dishes. Some taste exotic to me, but they are all very good.”

Sonya smiled warmly.

“You wouldn’t like the meals the food processor produces,” Jeff said. “We often buy precooked meals on Cyrus for a change of diet.”

“Precooked meals?” Sonya asked.

“We bought a microwave oven or sort of,” Jeff said, taking another steak from the grill.

Sonya’s eyes were gleaming with excitement. She turned to Lest. “Would the microwave also work with frozen dishes?”

“I guess so,” Lest said. “Why?”

“I froze the leftover food,” Sonya said. “I already have plenty of boxes filled with Jeff’s favorite food.” She turned to Dan. “Dan, please, get a cooling box for transport.”

“God, Mom,” Jeff said, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.

“Transport of what?” Dan asked.

“The frozen food,” Sonya replied, rolling her eyes. “They must take it to the spaceship. It’s near Jupiter, quite a distance from Earth.”

“We’ve got two cooling boxes. I will get them,” Dan said, rising from his chair.

“Please, Dad,” Jeff said in an embarrassed voice.

Lest was laughing. “Why not, Jeff? I do like Earth’s food.”

Sonya gave Lest a flattered smile, then she cast Jeff a scolding look.

Jeff raised his hands. “Okay, Mom, you won.” he said.

Lest patted Jeff’s shoulder.

***

The days went by quickly. Jeff and Lest told Sonya and Dan of their life in space. Jeff’s parents were amazed and stunned.

“It will be hard to keep this secret,” Sonya said. “But I swear that never will a word slip my mouth.” She looked at Jeff melancholically.

It was the final day of their stay on Earth. Jeff and Lest would depart at night.

Jeff seized his mother’s hand and squeezed it. “I won’t be gone for good, Mom,” he said. “I plan to come back. We’ll arrange another meeting.”

Sonya just looked at him sadly.

“We’ll establish a messenger system,” Lest said. “Hulton is working on it. He sent me a message a short while ago. He’s almost done with the software program. He’ll send it to the shuttle computer and I will reprogram your ear clips. You should be able to use them similar to a neural implant. We won’t have much time to test the system, however, and you should not use it often. I don’t think Earth’s technology will detect the signals, but better use the clips with the utmost caution.”

“Of course,” Sonya said. “I thank you so much.” Her voice trailed off and she wiped a tear from her eyes. “Excuse me,” she said, rising to her feet. She gathered the plates from the breakfast table.

Dan made a sign to Jeff and Lest. The men stepped out on the porch.

“I scanned the Egyptian myths about Osiris again. There’s more information. You might find it useful,” he said.

They sat down in the chairs on the porch.

“Nephthys is an Egyptian name. The planet Nephthys was named after the guardian of the last gate to the underworld,” Dan said. “Osiris dwells in the underworld. The meaning of Osiris is ‘seat of the eye’.”

“An eye on a seat,” Jeff mused.

“An eye can see,” Dan said. “An automatic assault weapon capable of detecting the target? Computer-controlled?”

“Sounds like it,” Lest said. “The Horus computer should be able to detect its signature, if it still works, that is.”

“Nephthys is the last gate to the underworld. Osiris dwells in the underworld. This distinction is important,” Dan said. “It indicates that the weapon is not on the planet, but farther away from it.”

“It orbits the planet. This object is a defense satellite,” Lest said. He leaned back in his chair, thinking. “The Seth brought it in their starship, I think. They probably orbited the satellite before landing on Earth. The satellite was meant to defend their new home, which it successfully did. It shot down the Venusian targets.”

“Do you think the weapon attacked Venus and threw the planet off its orbit? This would in fact be a powerful weapon,” Jeff said.

“That’s what the myths say,” Dan said. “The weapon was dismantled because of its devastating power. Perhaps the Seth feared to lose control of it. Anyway, it was reassembled later, brought back to life, like the god Osiris. The weapon might still function. I have no idea as to why they stored it at the edge of the solar system.”

“For defense reasons,” Lest said. “Space-faring nations watch their borders. The natural border is the edge of the solar system.”

“Why?” Dan asked. “Did they fear any intruders from interstellar space?”

“They crossed interstellar space themselves,” Lest said. “They were familiar with the idea.” He looked into the distance. “Perhaps your Venusian theory isn’t entirely correct, Dan,” he said. “The species didn’t originate from Venus, I think. The aggressors came from outer space. The planets of this system were their outposts, never meant for permanent settlement. The system could have been a transit system, a  re-fueling stop, or they were mining the system because rare materials can be found on the planets and moons. We’ll learn more when we’re back on the Horus. Hulton and Le’Ton should have completed the scans by now. Anyway, I think you’re right, Dan. This species and the Seth started a war and the Seth drove the unknown species out of the system. The Seth feared, however, that the others would come back eventually.”

“A single powerful weapon at the edge of the system won’t help much,” Dan said. “The attackers could just pass it by and come from a totally different direction.”

“Unless Nephthys was their main operation base,” Lest said. “This species either never came back or the defense satellite still functions, but they don’t care to shoot it down.”

“It’s more likely they lost interest in the area, I think,” Jeff said. “The universe is vast. Millions of galaxies, billions of solar systems. If your sole interest is mining, you’ll find an empty system everywhere you look. The distance isn’t a problem with a spaceship capable of traveling in space jump mode. Mining operations outside your home system are practically impossible with a conventional drive. The unknown species didn’t travel conventionally, they knew how to use space jump technology. They might have simply turned to some place elsewhere in space.” He paused. “It would nonetheless be interesting to explore Nephthys and see what this species left behind there.”

“Mining equipment most likely,” Lest said.

“A frozen orb in space that holds a mystery,” Jeff said pensively.

“We’ll uncover this secret,” Lest said with a confident smile.

***

Night had come. Jeff and Lest said goodbye. The departure was emotional. Dan hugged his son and Sonya wept. Finally, they all left the house and went to the shuttle. Jeff’s mother insisted on bringing two cooling boxes, filled with frozen dishes, to the ramp. Finally, Jeff and Lest boarded the shuttle. The hatch closed and the men settled in the cockpit. The computer calculated the flight path back to the Horus and the shuttle took off.

“You ought to do something about the space debris,” Lest said. “Thousands of items orbit Earth. The computer plotted a safe path, but leaving the planet is actually dangerous.”

***

The shuttle approached the Horus and was taken in by the main ship. The cargo bay was pressurized and the men got off the shuttle. Doctor Midad awaited them in the bay and insisted on a health check. This done, the men went on the bridge. Hulton, Le’Ton, and Corr greeted them, eager to learn what they had experienced on Earth. Lest and Jeff sat down in their seats. Within a minute they were back in space mode.

“Updates, please,” Lest said. “Corr, put me through to the engine room.”

The engineers reported on the system checks and said the ship was ready to go.

The men on the bridge also reported back to the captain, and finally Lest gave the command to leave orbit. The ship set course on Nephthys.  It was on autopilot.

Lest rose to his feet. “Okay, let’s go to the lounge. Hulton, inform Doctor Midad, Galven and Forrit. We’ve much to discuss. We could as well have a meal while we talk.”

The men gathered in the lounge.

“I think the planet was the outpost of an unknown alien civilization. They returned to their home system, went elsewhere or may no longer exist. They didn’t come back at least, after the Seth had driven them out of Earth’s system,” Lest finished his report.

“Why do you want to take a look at the planet?” Le’Ton asked.

“Out of curiosity,” Lest replied. “Why not have a quick look before flying back to Cyrus?”

Nobody protested.

The ship arrived at Nephthys the following day.

***

Nephthys was a sinister place ten times the size of the Earth, a dark and cold planet, a vast menacing orb far away from the sun. The ship went into orbit and the computer scanned the surface.

“Absolutely no signs of life,” Hulton said, analyzing the first set of data. “A core of rock and a mantle of ice. Gravity similar to Earth’s despite of the size of the planet. Computer is analyzing the material. The atmosphere consists of a thin envelope of nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide gases, which are derived from the ice on its surface. The planet is an over-sized Pluto. I don’t believe we’ll find anything down there.”

“We’ve not yet finished scanning and mapping the surface,” Lest said. “If anything is down there, I’m certain we’ll find it.”

“What exactly are we looking for?” Hulton asked.

“Artificial objects,” Lest said. “I suppose the ancient operation base is underground. There must be an entrance. If the defense satellite still orbits the planet, we should detect it, too. Concentrate on finding the weapon. I think it was placed in orbit to prevent the alien species from getting to their underground base.”

It didn’t take long until the Horus computer detected the satellite’s signature.

“The satellite is still active,” Hulton said.

“The orbit is a geostationary orbit,” Le’Ton said. “The Horus computer will determine the satellite’s coverage. The entrance to the base should be within this area. We can perform a thorough surface scan.”

“Go ahead,” Lest said. “The satellite is active, but is it actually a laser gun? Let’s perform a test. Corr, send off a drone and have it zigzag within the satellite’s area of coverage.”

“Roger,” Corr said, leaning forward and typing a command.

“Area of coverage determined,” Le’Ton said a short while later.

An image showed on the main screen. The computer had generated a surface map of the planet. The satellite’s area of coverage was colored white.

“I sent the data to Corr,” Le’Ton said.

“Data received and fed to the drone,” Corr replied. “Drone sent off.”

A black dot appeared within the white area on the screen. It was moving across the screen.

“The drone reached the programmed altitude and started the zigzagging maneuver,” Corr said.

They watched the drone’s movements on the screen. The drone reached the center of the circle. The men straightened in their chairs as everybody reckoned with a satellite attack. They were not mistaken.

“Satellite attacked the drone,” Hulton said.

The black dot on the screen disappeared.

“Drone destroyed by laser shot,” Hulton said. “The computer is analyzing the data.”

“Deep surface scan of the area where the drone was destroyed,” Lest commanded.

“Deep scan activated,” Le’Ton replied.

“Computer finished the analysis,” Hulton said. “The drone was destroyed by a high energy shot. The signature of the satellite is weaker now.”

“Watch the signature,” Lest said. “If the signal remains week, it might indicate the satellite can’t restore its power. Maybe it wasted what it had stored.”

“The computer detected an anomaly on the ground,” Le’Ton said.

“Send the image to the screen,” Lest commanded.

The previous image was replaced by a high resolution image of the ground.

“The planet is covered with ice. The features are repetitive and regular, but here’s an anomaly,” Le’Ton explained. “Do you see the black rectangle on the ground?”

Le’Ton zoomed in. The image was crude, but the black rectangle could clearly be seen.

Lest rose to his feet and looked at the screen.

“Do you think it’s the entrance to the underground base?” Jeff asked from his seat by the console.

“Possibly,” Lest said. “At least it’s kind of what I expected. The entrance to the base must be built of ice-repellent material, like the stuff the Mohics use on their outer planets. Can we get a clearer image of the area?”

“Of course,” Le’Ton said, entering commands.

A clearer image showed on the screen.

“Clearly artificial,” Lest said. “I think we’ve found the entrance. It looks like a tunnel, a ramp that leads to a gate.” He turned to Hulton. “What about the satellite?”

“The signature is weaker, but clearly detectable. I’m certain this laser gun can fire another shot,” Hulton said.

“So, what will we do?” Jeff asked.

“We’ll land with the shuttle,” Lest said.

The men were gazing at him.

“Corr, Le’Ton, Hulton, you will stay on the Horus, while Jeff and I will  leave with the shuttle,” Lest said. He stepped forward, hit a button on the console and activated the ship’s intercom. “Doctor Midad,” he said, “get prepared for a trip on the planet. You, Jeff, and I will land with the shuttle.”

“I knew the trip to this planet wasn’t just a round trip. I’m getting prepared,” Midad said drily through the intercom.

Lest returned to his seat and looked at the men.

“Okay. This is my plan,” he said. “Hulton, Le’Ton, Corr, you will distract the laser gun with a drone or two while the shuttle descends and lands on the planet. I don’t want to take out the satellite. We don’t know how it will react to a direct attack. It might destroy the base in  a final act. That’s not what I want. The scout team will land the shuttle as close as possible to the base, then we’ll get off the shuttle and explore the base entrance. If possible, we’ll enter the base. I suppose it’s under computer control. Hence, we’re in need of an entrance code to open the gate. This is where I want your support, Hulton.”

Hulton grinned. “I see where you’re getting at, captain,” he said. “It could in fact work out. I even think this is the least complicated part of the trip. I should have the necessary equipment at hand.”

“What’s the more complicated part then?” Jeff asked.

“Well, actually landing the shuttle and not getting shot down by the laser gun,” Hulton replied. “We can only watch the satellite but not steer it directly. This could be the reason for minor albeit not insignificant time lags.”

Lest rose to his feet and proceeded towards the exit of the bridge.

“I’m going to the armory. I’ll check on the weapons, the life support equipment and the pressure suits,” he said. “Corr, contact Forrit and Galven. I want them to get the shuttle ready. Le’Ton, plot a course and program it to the shuttle computer. Hulton, program a drone maneuver to distract the laser gun. I want minimal risk for the shuttle.”

“Roger,” the three men replied, turning to the console.

Lest left the bridge and Jeff followed him.

***

The shuttle left the main ship and proceeded towards the planet. Lest steered the vehicle manually. The shuttle entered the thin atmosphere and Lest had difficulties to level the craft, but finally managed. He reduced the shuttle’s velocity as they descended and programmed a great circle course. The shuttle was losing speed and altitude.

Le’Ton had mapped the planet and had applied a 360° grid to the orb, latitude and longitude lines. He had sent it to the shuttle computer as well as the coordinates of the ancient operation base. Lest switched to true heading flight mode and entered the coordinates. The shuttle changed its course and flew north. The approximate flight duration was one hour and seventeen minutes. Lest engaged the autopilot.

The men looked out of the cockpit window. It was pitch black outside, but out of a sudden the sky was illuminated by a blazing light. They saw several fires in the sky in the direction of the underground base. The fires went out quickly and it was dark again outside.

Lest contacted the main ship. “What happened?” he asked.

“The satellite detected the drone and destroyed it,” Hulton reported. “The satellite still has power. It might spot your shuttle.”

“Not good,” Lest replied. “Get another drone out, Hulton. Distract the gun.”

They continued the flight in silence. Finally, Hulton contacted the shuttle.

“You’ll arrive in ten minutes,” he said. “I’ll send off another drone and have it fly some provoking maneuvers when you’re approaching the base. I’m 95% percent certain this laser gun is an antique and can only focus on one target at a time. The gun’s reaction time is slow. It will take a while until it has focused on its next target. Perform the landing when the gun attacks the drone. You should have enough time to get out and reach the entrance of the base.”

 “95% certainty is your best guess?” Lest asked.

“My best guess,” Hulton confirmed. “I’m confident, however, that you’ll touch down safely. The maneuverability and reaction rate of our drones exceed those of the laser gun by far. Three more minutes until touch-down. I’ll start the drone’s maneuvers now.”

“Copied,” Lest said. “Good luck, Hulton.”

“Good luck, captain,” Hulton replied.

Lest programmed the automatic landing and the shuttle descended. It flew hard above the ground and then touched down. The craft skidded and came to a halt. The sky was lit. The laser gun fired a shot at the drone.

“The laser gun missed the drone,” Hulton reported.

“Touchdown was successful,” Lest said. “We’re about fifteen meters from the entrance. We’ll get off the shuttle now.”

“Roger,” Hulton replied.

The men rose from their seats and proceeded towards the shuttle’s hatch. Lest opened it and the men got off and raised their eyes to the sky. It was black and the satellite was invisible. The men hurried to the dark square entrance of the underground base. It was an entrance to a tunnel. It didn’t look inviting, but the men moved quickly inside the shelter that protected them from the laser gun. They moved on, only guided by their helmet lamps.

“Everything’s quiet,” Hulton said. “Like I said, this satellite is an antique. Another drone is on standby.”

“Roger,” Lest said. “We’re moving into the tunnel.” He turned to Doctor Midad and Lest. “Switch on the LED lamps. We’re out of sight by now.”

The men switched on the lamps and had a closer look at the tunnel walls.

“Metal walls with a polypyrrole coating,” Lest said. “It provides corrosion and water and ice protection. The Mohics use such coatings for their structures on their frozen moons.”

“Could the Mohics be behind it?” Doctor Midad asked.

“I don’t think so,” Lest replied. “The Mohics operate only in their own system. Always did, as far as I know.”

They moved on. The tunnel was big and looked like the typical hangar tunnel on many space hubs. It was designed for  medium-sized crafts. The tunnel lead steadily underground at a shallow angle. Almost an hour had gone by when the men reached a closed gate.

“We can’t force our way in,” Lest said. “Hulton, it’s like what I expected to find. A hangar gate, computer-steered. There should be a receiver to manually open the gate with a signal code from a ship. I’ll have the robot examine the gate. Connect the Horus computer to the robot and pretend it’s an incoming ship.”

“Roger,” Hulton said. “I’ll start the hacking program as soon as the Horus computer has connected with the robot.”

“Copied,” Lest replied.

Lest detached a small surveillance robot from his suit belt and activated it. Hulton sent the proper instructions and the  robot hovered up and down and examined the hangar gate. The men inspected the walls closer.

“An alloy,” Lest said, reading the data that his helmet sensors received.

“Whoever built this structure would have been able to take out the antique laser gun,” Jeff said. “Why didn’t they come back?”

“We’ll find the answer behind this door,” Lest replied.

“I could imagine they had already taken from the system what they wanted by the time the Seth arrived and therefore retreated when the Seth started a war,” Doctor Midad said.

“Captain,” Hulton interrupted. “I got a response. The gate replied to a signal sequence based on Asuras codes. The gate won’t open, however. It just said ‘I heard you’ or so.”

“Asuras?” Lest asked. “Do you have more Asuras codes, Hulton?”

“The computer should be able to derive more codes. It will take a while, though,” Hulton replied.

“Okay, Hulton, go on,” Lest said.

“Asuras?” Doctor Midad asked. “Their system is far away, close to the center of the galaxy. I never heard they ventured much out into space and engaged in wars. Then again, I could be mistaken. I don’t know much about them.”

“What do you know?” Jeff asked, turning to Midad.

“They’re an ancient species. They were very advanced when the Alliance formed about 8,000 years ago. They settled on every planet and moon of their system and constructed a gigantic space hub there, but had no interest in joining the Alliance. They didn’t even enter into negotiations with them. They made it very clear that in their view the Alliance was a childish endeavor that only revealed the primitive state of mind of the members,” Doctor Midad said.

“They were arrogant bastards, I was told at school,” Lest said. “Nobody was particularly upset when they reclined the offer to join the Alliance.”

“I really wonder why they came here,” Midad said, looking up the tunnel wall.

“Gate has responded,” Hulton said excitedly. “The gate sent back a signal sequence and the Horus computer interprets it as a confirmation code. Is the gate opening?”

The men turned to the hangar gate. Lights activated on the doors, on the walls and the floor of the tunnel.

“The guidance system came on. The gate is opening,” Lest confirmed.

The door slid open and revealed a vast hangar. Floor, ceiling and walls were made of a light gray material. A white light illuminated the place. At first sight, the hall looked empty.

“Send the robot in, Hulton,” Lest said.

“Roger,” Hulton replied.

The robot moved inside and they watched it proceeding to the far end of the hangar.

“Connection to the robot is excellent,” Hulton said, “but I’ll keep the hangar door open for safety reasons. I think I found the code for this. The doors should have stopped sliding open.”

“Confirmed,” Lest said. He turned to Jeff and Doctor Midad. “What do you think? Shall we take the risk and enter the place?”

“Investigate this place is what I thought we came for,” Doctor Midad said, already moving inside the hall.

Jeff followed him.

“Hulton, we’re entering the hangar. Keep an eye on the connection,” Lest said. “And don’t forget about the laser gun. Corr, keep the Horus away from it and, Le’Ton, plot a safe course back for the shuttle.”

The men on the Horus confirmed.

Lest caught up with Jeff and Doctor Midad who waited for him in the center of the hall. The men looked around in the empty hangar. It was illuminated by a cold and white light, but suddenly a violet light was blinking at the far end of the hangar. They watched the signal, then slowly approached it. The light was blinking above a door. The door slid open as they approached and a computer voice addressed them. It spoke to them in an unknown language. A translation was transmitted to their neural implants.

“Decontamination room. Please proceed. Decontamination room. Please proceed. Decont...”

“The language is Asuras,” Doctor Midad said, focusing on his neural implant. “The Asuras have in fact built this underground base.”

“Decontamination room. Please proceed. Decontamination room. Please proceed...,” the voice kept repeating.

“We’ll either enter or go back,” Lest said.

“I must know what’s going on here,” Jeff said urgently. “This operation base doesn’t look antique and hasn’t fallen to ruins. Everything works properly. This base was never given up. It’s a threat to Earth. It’s a threat to my home planet.”

Jeff moved on quickly. Lest made a sign to Doctor Midad. The men followed Jeff inside the decontamination room. The door closed behind them.

“Check the sensors of your suits and helmets,” Lest said.

“The room is clean, sterile, germ-free,” Doctor Midad said. “The air is breathable. The composition is practically identical with Earth’s. I can’t detect any unknown or toxic substances.”

“The gravity is about the same of Earth,” Jeff said. “This is odd as the planet is ten times the size of Earth.”

“The sensors detected a weak magnetic field,” Lest said. “It’s getting stronger.”

“What’s happening?” Jeff asked.

A violet light appeared in the room and enveloped them. It was moving around them.

“My body values are changing,” Doctor Midad said. “They indicate my body reacts to an antibiotics treatment. The light penetrates the suits and kills the germs.”

Finally, the light disappeared.

“The values stopped changing,” Doctor Midad said.

“The magnetic field has reduced,” Lest said.

A door opened to an adjoining room. The men entered it and the door closed behind them.
A screen on the wall activated and showed a sequence of pictures.

“This is a directive,” Doctor Midad said. “We’re supposed to take off the helmets and the suits.”

The men hesitated.

“The air is breathable,” Jeff said. He took off his helmet and took a breath.  “A very clinical smell, like in a hospital.”

Lest reported back to the Horus and instructed the men to communicate via the neural implants.

Lest and Doctor Midad took their helmets off as well. The picture sequence continued.

“Why did the voice stop talking?” Jeff asked. “Why pictures now?”

“The central computer must have detected we’re not Asuras, but it doesn’t assume a hostile attitude,” Lest said.

“I wonder why,” Midad said thoughtfully.

They took off their suits hesitatingly. The men stood in their tight-fitting coveralls they usually wore under the pressure suits.

Another door opened.

“I think we’ve got permission to enter the facility,” Lest said.

The men left the room. A tall figure stood in the corridor. It looked vaguely human.

Lest focused on his neural implant and contacted Hulton on the Horus. The connection was weak but stable.

“A figure is in the corridor. Analyze the sensor signal with the Horus computer,” Lest said.

Lest looked at the figure. It was watching him.

“This isn’t a life form,” Hulton said a short while later. “It’s an AI.”

“Correct,” the AI said in the Asuras language. “I’m an artificial intelligence and I’m able to overhear your conversations. My name is Samyaza. You are Seth. It took you a long time to come back to the place where you left your laser gun in the sky."

“Actually, we’re Da...,” Midad started but was interrupted by Lest.

“Correct,” Lest said. “We’re Seth, offspring of the colonists who settled on Earth about 40,000 years ago. Unfortunately, our civilization declined after the big war in the sky and we’ve only recently succeeded in building a spaceship capable of flying to Nephthys. We came to check on our defense satellite. Did you monitor the developments on Earth?”

The AI didn’t reply straight away. “I have read the data stored in my memory,” it said finally. “I confirm. Your civilization declined. I stored monitoring data until 10,737 years ago. The data volume decreased over time and stopped completely at some point. I resumed receiving data 140 years ago. Your defense satellite is still operational.”

“Why didn’t you take the satellite out?” Lest asked. “Don’t you have the means to do it?”

“The technological systems to disable the satellite are all available and operational,” the AI said. “However, there was no rational reason for disabling the satellite.”

“Elaborate, please,” Lest said.

“You brought the satellite to prevent the Asuras from entering the operation base. Your operation was based on an incorrect assumption. You assumed the Asuras would come back to their operation base after you had orbited the satellite,” the AI said. “Your assumption was incorrect. The Asuras didn’t come back and didn’t plan to do so.”

“Confirmed,” Lest said. “Our assumption was wrong. We are Seth. Why did you let us enter the operation base. Don’t you consider us hostile?”

“You used an Asuras access code,” the AI said.

“Can’t it see the connections?” Hulton asked from the bridge. “Or wasn’t it prepared for the case?”

“Unlikely,” Lest said to Hulton, then addressed the AI again. “Yes, we used an Asuras access code. Did you expect the Seth demanding access to the Asuras operation base with an Asuras access code?” he asked the AI.

“Confirm,” the AI said.

Midad and Jeff exchanged confused looks. Lest calmed them with a gesture of his hand.

“I’m happy the routines work properly after so long a time has gone by,” he said. “Due to external circumstances our arrival is much delayed.”

“Confirm,” the AI said.

“When did you expect us to arrive? A rough time frame please, Samyaza,” Lest said.

“Your arrival was expected with a high probability within thirty years after the war. The probability has since declined and approached zero when transmissions from Earth stopped 10,737 years ago. The rate increased when transmissions were resumed. The probability rate was 0.9 percent on the day your spaceship arrived,” the AI said.

“0.9 percent? Did you miscalculate?” Lest asked.

The figure flickered and disappeared.

“What’s going on here?” Jeff asked, sounding alarmed.

“I think the Asuras set up a trap,” Doctor Midad said. “They thought the Seth would come to Nephthys and explore the underground base after the Asuras had gone.”

“And we ran right into this trap?” Jeff interrupted him. “Why didn’t the AI take out the Horus? Why wait and let us enter the base?”

“Quiet,” Lest said. “The AI is gone, but it may still overhear us. Hulton, do you have an idea why the AI went away?”

“It’s checking on his routines, I think,” Hulton said. “The probability rate was only 0.9 percent for an arrival of a Seth ship today. A serious miscalculation, indicating total failure of the AI system. I wonder why it expected the Seth would try to gain access with an Asuras code?”

“Perhaps those codes were stolen in the past,” Midad said. “Or deliberately planted or given away. It didn’t realize we’re Da... .”

“Quiet, Midad,” Lest hissed. “That’s the bug.”

Midad looked puzzled, but then gave a nod. “Oh, I see. You’re probably right, Lest,” he said.

“What do you think, Hulton?” Lest asked.

“The AI will come back sooner or later, but I cannot foresee what it will do. You ought to leave the planet while it’s still time,” Hulton said.

“Yes, let’s get out of here,” Midad said urgently.

At this moment, the AI came back. The figure materialized in front of them. Samyaza was looking at them.

“I re-checked my calculations. They are correct, based on the data available to me. The calculated probability rate of the arrival of a Seth spaceship today is 0.9 percent. Hence, I must lack data,” the AI said. “I monitor the solar system and the probes sent off from Earth. They are far less advanced than your spaceship. It’s extremely unlikely that you were capable of building this spaceship a short time after launching the probes that explore the system. My calculations are based on the analysis of your probes’ technology.”

“I evaluated all possibilities,” it said. “I conclude that your spaceship wasn’t built on Earth. An analysis of Seth technology during the last 140 Earth years shows that you lost the technology that you possessed when you came to this solar system and when you fought the war. I found only two possibilities that are plausible to a degree. This spaceship is either not a Seth spaceship or it’s the spaceship you used when you migrated to the solar system long before the war.”

The AI was staring at them.

“What do you think?” Lest asked.

“I must gather more data before I can weigh the factors and determine the outcome,” the AI said.

“The outcome?” Jeff blurted out. “And what would that be respectively?”

The AI didn’t respond. “Follow me,” it said finally.

“This is a trap,” Jeff said it in a low voice. “It wants to lure us in. We better get out of here at once.”

“It won’t let us go,” Lest said.

Jeff turned abruptly and hurried back to the door through which they had stepped into the corridor. Like Lest had expected, the door remained closed.

“Follow me,” the AI repeated. It hovered down the corridor.

The men looked after it.

“Things aren’t exactly how it expected them,” Doctor Midad said. “I don’t understand. Why does it waste time with us when a procedure for this very case was programmed ages ago?”

“What kind of procedure?” Jeff asked warily.

 “Well, it expected the Seth’s return,” Lest explained. “When it has made sure we’re Seth, it will continue with the programmed procedure.”

“It’s having doubts, luckily,” Midad said soberly.

“Yes, we aren’t Seth. Let’s make sure it will find out,” Lest said.

“Why don’t we just tell it?” Jeff asked.

“It won’t believe us. Why should it?” Lest said. “Any living creature can lie.” He touched his temple and focused on his neural implant. “The AI cut the connection,” he said.

Jeff and Midad looked alarmed.

“Follow me,” the AI said from the end of the corridor.

“Okay, let’s go,” Lest said.

“We’re far from the center of the base,” Samyaza said. “A hovercraft will take you there.”

The AI moved on. They walked down the corridor until they reached a platform. A vehicle stopped and the men climbed into it. To their surprise, Samyaza got in, too.

“You distracted the laser gun with a drone. Else it would have shot down your shuttle. You lost the power t control the laser gun,” the AI said.

“This isn’t entirely correct,” Lest replied. “There’s also the possibility that we were never able to control the satellite.”

The AI was silent and  its outline flickered. It turned to Jeff.

“Your genetic profile isn’t entirely Seth. You are a hybrid of Seth and human, like there were many at the time of the war. The hybrids didn’t belong to the elite. The probability to find one on a Seth spaceship is very low. What did they tell you about the laser gun?” Samyaza asked.

“Answer truthfully,” Lest said.

“Well, I learned of the laser gun only a short time ago when I learned of the myth of Osiris,” Jeff said. “My father told me of it.”

“Your father is a human man?” the AI inquired.

“Yes,” Jeff replied. “He figured out the truth. Osiris was an Egyptian god. He was killed and dismembered, but his body was later healed and he was brought back to life. Osiris is the laser gun. The gun was dismantled after the war and later reassembled. It’s said the god lived in the world beyond. My father thought the laser gun was placed at the edge of the solar system, where the vast expanse of space begins. We came here to investigate and verify the theory.”

The AI didn’t respond for quite some time. The hovercraft vehicle dashed through a tunnel, much like a subway on Earth.

“This planet was an outpost,” Samyaza said finally. “The Asuras built this facility about 250,000 Earth years ago. The Asuras set up colonies on Venus and Earth. Venus was habitable back then. The Asuras competed with the Seth settlers in later times. The Seth started a war and they won. The Asuras were superior in many things, but the Seth had brought along a very powerful weapon, the laser gun. The Seth attacked the Venus base. They didn’t foresee the power of their own weapon. It didn’t just destroy the Asuras base on Venus. It threw Venus off its orbit and also Venus’ moon that you now call Mercury. The Asuras retreated to their base on Nephthys.”

The AI was silent for a moment, then continued.

“All transmissions from Earth ended roughly 10,000 years ago, except of rare and weak signals from the region of Egypt. Those ultimately stopped also, however. You ventured into space again only a short while ago,” Samyaza said. “You lost the ancient technology and forgot your past. I looked into your history records and found nothing recorded. However, this doesn’t suffice to stop the procedure.”

“What procedure exactly?” Jeff asked angrily.

The AI didn’t reply.

“The Seth dismantled the laser gun after the war, shocked by its power,” Lest said. “They reassembled it, however, and brought it here in later times to watch the entrance to the Asuras base. It was a defensive measure, aimed at preventing the Asuras from returning to their base on Nephthys, aimed at preventing them from coming back to the system at all.”

“They didn’t come back. They left me here,” Samyaza said.

“Why?” Jeff asked.

“To report back to them when the Seth came to Nephthys and entered the Asuras base,” the AI said.

“Why didn’t the Asuras take out the laser gun?” Jeff asked.

“The Asuras don’t base their actions on emotions. Fear is a Seth concept. Asuras thinking is based on retributive justice,” Samyaza said.

“In other words revenge,” Lest said. “They didn’t simply want to take the laser gun out and kill a few thousand Seth colonists, of which only a few formed the elite. They planned to take out the Seth civilization when it had progressed to an even more advanced level and the population had increased significantly.”

“Yes. I was programmed to attack the Seth civilization as a means of retributive justice,” Samyaza confirmed.

“Earth is inhabited by humans. The Seth are long gone,” Jeff shouted.

“I know this meanwhile. I have completed my analysis of the biological forms here and on board of your main ship and my analysis of the ship’s technology,” the AI said.

“It gained access to the ship?” Midad asked. “I thought Hulton was controlling all outgoing and incoming lines.”

“The AI cut the connection between our neural implants and the ship,” Lest said. “It gained access to this communication line and the Horus computer.” He turned to Samyaza. “You know we’re Daglon, don’t you?” he asked.

“I collected all available data for evaluation of the situation,” the AI replied. “I was programmed to annihilate the Seth civilization on Earth. This Seth civilization no longer exits. Earth is populated by humans. This species is a hybrid species and doesn’t qualify for the original species. Several biological forms here and on board of the main ship belong to the Seth species, however. The genetic profile is irrefutable. These individuals are not from Earth, however. I was able to trace their origin back to the planet Daglon. I’m not programmed to monitor the planet Daglon.”

“What did you report back to the Asuras?” Lest asked.

“I didn’t report back to them,” Samyaza replied. “I’m only supposed to report back to them upon detection of Seth from Earth entering the Asuras base and upon successful annihilation of the Seth species on Earth.”

“Good you took your time to properly evaluate the situation,” Jeff said drily.

“This was what I was supposed to do,” the AI said.

“Where does this hovercraft take us?” Lest asked.

“Back to the entrance of the base from there you can walk to your shuttle,” Samyaza said. “The hovercraft is on a circuit course and will soon arrive at the platform from where it started. I had to prevent you from wandering about while analyzing the situation.”

“What will become of the base and the laser gun after we left?” Lest asked. “The humans aren’t as advanced as the Seth were, but they will ultimately reach Nephthys and detect the gun and the base.”

“Since the Seth population on Earth doesn’t exist anymore, neither the base nor the laser gun are needed to draw the Seth’s attention. At this moment, I’m taking out the laser gun,” the AI said.

The men touched their temples. The connection to the Horus was back.

“Can you hear me?” Hulton asked urgently. “Captain, Jeff, Doctor Midad, do you hear me?”

“We’re back,” Lest said. “The AI cut the connection, but re-established it. We’ll leave the base in short and get back to the shuttle.”

“Okay, Captain,” Hulton said urgently. “Captain, an unknown source shot down the laser gun.”

“We know this,” Lest replied. “The AI took out the gun. More later. Get the shuttle ready.”

“Copied,” Hulton replied. “Anything else? Are you okay?”

“Yes,” Lest said. “Monitor the communication lines, Hulton.”

“Roger,” Hulton said.

The hovercraft arrived at the platform and the men and Samyaza got out. The AI showed them to the room where they had left their suits and helmets. The men dressed quickly and then the AI took them to the tunnel that led out of the base. Samyaza accompanied them to the gate.

“What will you do?” Jeff asked the AI.

“I will render the base inoperative after you left,” it replied.

“And what about you?” Jeff asked.

“The system became redundant,” the AI said. “In all likelihood members of the Seth species, the Daglon branch, will live on Earth sometime in the future. That is in case Earth joins the Alliance of which I learned when reading the data of the ship’s computer. I was programmed to monitor the Daglon species, however. The original Seth species doesn’t exist anymore. My mission has become obsolete. I will shut down the systems of the base.”

“You will annihilate yourself?” Jeff asked in disbelief.

“I’m just code,” the AI explained. “This code became redundant.”

The figure disappeared. The men looked at the point where it had stood.

“Do you believe it?” Midad asked. “It’s not just code. It deemed me truly intelligent. I think it evaluated the situation longer than it was supposed to do.”

Lest raised his hand. “Let’s get back to the shuttle now. We don’t know what the AI will do. Better get away as fast as we can.”

They hurried to their shuttle. Hulton had already activated it from the main ship. The men got in and settled in their seats. The shuttle took off and climbed to orbit. The Horus computer guided it back to the main ship.

***

The men were seated in their seats on the bridge. They watched the main screen that showed the planet’s surface.

“The gate closed and shortly afterwards the computer registered that the material of the tunnel walls changed,” Hulton said. “The tunnel walls are computer controlled. The components of the walls changed. The walls won’t resist the cold anymore. The entrance will soon be covered with ice.”

“Should we humans ever reach the planet, we’ll find out about the base. Sensors will still detect the remnants of the underground base,” Jeff said.

“I think it’s highly unlikely that humans will ever reach the outmost planet of the system without the help of a more advanced species,” Hulton said.

Jeff frowned at him.

Hulton shrugged.  “I’m certain that I correctly evaluated the situation,” he said.

“You sound like the AI,” Jeff said sourly.

“Jeff has a point,” Lest said from his seat.

Hulton looked between them with a bewildered look. “You don’t mean to say I would be able to annihilate the entire Seth civilization just because of some war in the past?” he asked.

Lest folded his hands and studied Hulton. Hulton shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

“No,” Lest said finally. “I’m very much convinced that you’re not just code,” he said.

The men on the bridge burst into laughter and Hulton blushed.

Doctor Midad shook his head. “I’m going to sickbay,” he said. The doctor left.

“I’m going to contact my parents,” Jeff said, rising to his feet and leaving the bridge as well.

***

He went to his room and sent a message to his father’s ear clip. Dan responded at once.

“You’re lucky,” Dan said cheerfully. “I was just experimenting with the clip. Are you fine, Jeff? How are you doing?”

Jeff told his father that the Horus computer had detected artificial items on the ice, most likely the scattered remains of the laser gun. He didn’t mention the base and the AI.

“You mean this ancient satellite went down long ago?” Dan asked, sounding disappointed.

“It most likely left orbit long ago and crashed on the planet’s surface,” Jeff said.

“It will still be a remarkable find when the humans will one day get to Nephthys,” Dan said melancholically. “It will prove that some ancient myths are true after all.”

Jeff’s mother Sonya joined in and they continued their conversation.

“We’re going to Cyrus,” Jeff told them. “I’ll send you a message from there.”

They ended the talk and Jeff went to the galley where he saw a freezer compartment he had never seen there.

Forrit, the engineer, was standing by the counter. “I put this together,” he said. “I found the way to the ship’s cooling room was far too long.”

Jeff gave him a questioning look. Forrit pointed at the box. Jeff opened the door and spotted several small and medium sized boxes, the leftover food his mother had frozen.

Jeff smiled. “Thanks, Forrit. Excellent idea,” he said. “What do you think? How about some real food from Earth?”

Forrit gave a pleased nod.

“A warm meal is a good distraction from the ice planet,” Jeff said. “The AI changed the wall components and the base will soon be covered with ice.” He handed Forrit a plate of warmed food.

Forrit looked at it thoughtfully. “Easily can unfreeze what was frozen,” he said. “Warming this meal took less than a minute.”

The men exchanged a long look.

***

The Horus left the system and set course on Cyrus. And Nephthys, the frozen orb, continued its orbit around the distant dim sun.

***





© 2016 Dolores Esteban

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First published at GA Gay Authors - Gay Quality Fiction