Posted by: Matt Y | 09/02/2015

Short Story

I wrote a short story for a contest for Amazing Stories magazine but didn’t make it as a finalist.  Bad news for me but it also means I can put it up on here now.

Not Alone

As a guard on a Sentry station on the border of human occupied space I have a lot of time to think, and I spend much of that time looking off into space.  I wonder if I have a child what I’ll tell them about the stars.

My grandfather told me when he was a child he and the rest of the world watched the first manned deep space mission blast off of the launch pad.  Ever since Mars had been terraformed the public interest in space had increased tenfold. When he looked up into the stars he saw nothing but endless possibilities.  His generation experienced the first contact with an alien race when the second of the deep space ships encountered a damaged vessel floating in the vacuum.

Though the alien vessel had been damaged and the crew aboard it dead it was a monumental moment in human history.  We were not alone in the universe.

The technology and information derived from that vessel made a huge leap in our understanding of the universe and was a small step towards our ability to colonize more planets.  Not to mention all the practical application of the discovered technology for everyday use.  Grandpa used to say that it was those first aliens that finally fulfilled the promise of flying cars that were found in older Sci-Fi books.

They used the new technology to reach even further into space where a startling discovery was made.  Those astronauts found the planet where the aliens of the damaged vessel originated.  They experienced the horror of those that found the alien ship on a larger scale as they discovered only the deceased remains of that species.  Bodies of the aliens were everywhere in various states of decomposition, some mummified by conditions and time, others only exotic skeletons.  Regardless of the decomposition the cause of death in nearly every case was a violent one against an enemy that left no evidence of what it was behind.

While it was terrifying to imagine what could have done such violence, in other ways it turned out to be a boon.  With the only intelligent species on the planet dead there was no need to request permission from anyone to take what had been left behind.  Technology, resources, art, all was up for grabs.

That information caused another leap in scientific advancement.  We suddenly had the ability to travel to far reaches of the galaxy.  Those later explorers suffered the same fate as the earlier ones. Every planet with an intelligent species had been sundered; quickly, violently, and completely.  It was genocide on a galactic scale that was impossible to comprehend. The species were cut down like wheat before a scythe and yet nearly all the buildings and structures left behind were intact.

My father was born in this era of exploration.  As a child the concept of death on such a scale was beyond him.  He grew up with a generation of people on Earth and expanding colonies who benefitted from each new civilization that humanity scrounged the leftovers from.  That plunder brought was back and had opened entire new fields of science and medicine.  New elements were found, along with powerful sources of nearly unlimited energy and ways of growing crops so that hunger was no longer an issue. There was no need to fight over resources or land anymore.  Diseases were conquered and new avenues of extending life were found. Old companies folded or evolved as they met new demands from colonists and those who remained on earth.

My father describes it as a golden age. He told me that when he looked up at the stars as a child he saw a map to untold treasures. That there was a pioneer spirit that filled him and others with a sense of longing for adventure and to be the person who uncovered the next big thing among the ruins of alien worlds to benefit the human species. He and my grandpa used to fight about it as my grandfather, prior to his passing, said that finding alien cultures may have given us many amazing things but it had turned our species into intergalactic grave robbers who no longer felt the need to innovate like we used to back in his day, because we could just take the ideas of aliens and pass them off as our own.

At first my father would say that Grandpa was just angry that things were different and that he was ignoring all of the positive advancements that we learned from other cultures. As the years passed another alien species was discovered. All dead by the same means. Then another. And another. The body count continued to grow with every year that passed.

Growing up I was taught about these other civilizations. As part of my job I was required to review the data of the people who first set down on each of the other the worlds to know first-hand the danger. I’ve reviewed the sensory video of the dead and know the first victims on that initial damaged vessel looked like salamanders if they grew to be the size of bears. I’ve seen the pictures of beings that were beautiful and fragile in appearance that had been torn apart like paper mache. Some species were giants compared to our own and had bones that xenobiologists climbed through to study. Others were microscopic, or whose physiology was so strange that it hurt to look at for too long.

My father, like many of his generation as they grew older, started to change their minds about the risk versus the rewards they were receiving. While my father would never admit that Grandpa had a point he and majority of others decided that continued expansion and exploration was dangerous and that humanity needed to pull back and start thinking defensively. It was after the 27th species was discovered extinct.

Twenty seven different alien races. It didn’t matter what level of technology they reached, the races that managed to travel the stars to the ones who had barely learned to use tools. It didn’t matter how they lived or what systems of government they chose. The violence of the attacks remained consistent, the same attacker or attackers managed to take them all down. Concerns rose that the more we explored the more we potentially made whatever killed off all of the other aliens aware of us.

Borders were made. Stations were set up to monitor the space outside of those borders. Fallback positions were designated so that if the threat came we would be forewarned and could hopefully find a way to prevent what happened to all of the other species happen to us. What was once a revitalization of the pioneer spirit quickly became a retreat. Ships are still sent out, however they’re supposed to make contact frequently and only make trips to known planets.

I am not my grandfather or my father. I am a guard at one of the Sentry stations on the edge of what has been designated safe space. I live in a self-sufficient orb that is similar to the tens of thousands of others that define the borders of mankind. As such my job is mostly to wait, watch, and listen for those who explore beyond the border as they check in. If the threat comes my role is not to fight against whatever it might be, my role is to survive long enough to try and warn the rest of the threat with as much information as I can.

If I survive and have children I don’t know if I will tell them what I see when I look into space. Because unlike my father and grandfather before me I see a crime scene that expands far beyond what my eye can see. Past generations wondered if we were alone in the universe, I know we are not alone. We share the universe with the dead. We share the universe with an entity or entities that one day might find us and add humans to its long list of victims.

I think if I have a child I’ll spare these thoughts from them for as long as possible and let them look up into the sky and be filled with wonder and curiosity.   I worry though that I might not have that chance. The most recent ship past my station missed checking in twice. I wait and watch the stars and hope that it means nothing more than an equipment malfunction.

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