Fri 17 August 2012

Terran Chronicles - Pythos

Posted by. James Jackson This article was posted in Free Online eBook - Pythos (Terran Chronicles - Short Stories)
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Pythos By James Jackson

Copyright © 2012 James Jackson.

www.TerranChronicles.com

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. 'Pythos' may not be re-sold or given away to other people.
This short story is available to those that have purchased book two, 'Discovery', of the Terran Chronicles saga.
All rights reserved.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to my wife Jairis for listening to my never ending ranting as the Terran Chronicles saga continues on. Another person I can't thank enough is my great friend Jason, of www.jointplan.co.uk. He not only designed the outstanding website, but also provided vital feedback on 'Pythos' as it developed. A special thanks goes to Shannon and Amy, who suffered the inglorious task of editing. To my mate, Doug the fireman, I would like to thank him for his continuous encouragement. To Leonard, Jeffrey, Owen, Darren, and the many others that have followed the development of this story, I thank you all for your constant support.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

In memory of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Gene Roddenberry, visionaries all.

Editors Notes

"Excellent short story. Exciting reading. Kudos James." - Amy

Preface

Welcome to 'Pythos', the second short story of the 'Terran Chronicles' saga.
This is a work of fiction, or is this our ultimate destiny?
I hope you, the reader, enjoy this as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
James Jackson

This is the second bonus story attached to the 'Terran Chronicles' saga. This short story is intended to be read between book two, 'Discovery', and book three, 'Colony'. In this story we revisit the planet Pythos, and follow the four brave men that are returning home from their long voyage. Arriving in orbit, they witness a spectacular space battle, and are shocked beyond belief at what follows next. Their home has changed in ways unimaginable.

"Not all changes lead to progress. But progress is impossible without changes." - Unknown

"All great changes are preceded by chaos." - Deepak Chopra

Introduction

The intrepid crew of Artemis One is returning home, to Pythos, after a three year mission to their nearest planet, Harthos. Their mission to search for life is a failure, Harthos is a barren world. During their long trek home, the communications array aboard the ship stops receiving transmissions. Though this bothers the crew, there is nothing they can do about the situation.

Unbeknownst to them, the Gamin have annexed their planet and have begun collecting resources. For many months, the alien race peacefully occupies Pythos. Spacecraft of immense size land on various parts of the planet, and collect tribute. The visitors build a massive construction facility in a remote desert area. In a few short months, the Gamin assemble two massive spaceships, one after the other. They do not start to build a third ship, but instead depart, leaving behind the empty construction facility.

The Gamin have left, but their satellites still orbit the planet. The first rocket that is launched gets destroyed, along with its expensive cargo. The second, then third, fare no better. It becomes clear to the people of Pythos, that they are not going to be able to continue their space program. Almost a year after the Gamin first arrived, another spacecraft is observed entering orbit. This one is different, and does not send out any messages.

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Prologue

The massive cigar shaped spacecraft orbits Pythos slowly. It hovers in space for almost a week, doing nothing. Ground observers watch and wonder what the alien spaceship is waiting for. Alarmingly, it disgorges hundreds of smaller craft. Much to the relief of those watching they don't leave orbit, but instead they also wait in space.

The ground observers watch as the Gamin fleet returns to Pythos. One ship approaches first, then another, as they appear in staggered groups of a few ships at a time. The incoming fleet is met by the waiting, smaller craft and they are not friendly. The crew of Artemis One arrives home, smack in the midst of an epic space battle between these rivals. A sheet of metal peels away from one of the massive ships, leaving a barely noticeable scar on the ship itself. This fragment drifts past Artemis One, dwarfing her, its size putting into perspective just how large the incoming ships are. First one, then another, of the massive spacecraft succumbs to the lasers fired by the hundreds upon hundreds of smaller craft. The remaining larger ships return fire, taking a heavy toll on the attackers. The enormous ships eventually turn, then retreat away from Pythos, heading back into the vastness of space from whence they came. The last of the behemoths fails to escape, but instead explodes violently. The ensuing blast wave catches Artemis One, tossing the four men about like rag dolls. Fortunately their ship is only slightly damaged, but it's thrown off its plotted course.

Brett burns up almost every drop of fuel keeping them out of the planet's atmosphere, then engages the ship's solar panels. Dave and Tom stare transfixed at a broken window, a thin sheet of metal is all that protects them from the vacuum of space. Larry, along with the other three, turns to stare out through the single viewport. With relief, they can see that Pythos appears to be just the same. They look closer and notice that the communication satellites, indeed every satellite that was in orbit, is gone. In their place is a debris field that encircles the planet. Floating farther out in space is a lot of wreckage, remnants of the daunting battle.

Larry licks his lips, then once again flips a switch on his panel.

"Ground control, Artemis One here, say again."

They all wait with bated breath for a response, any response.

chapter One - Home Sweet Home

terran chronicles universe pythos darkThe four men do not have to wait long. The speakers aboard Artemis One audibly click. The voice from Pythos sounds extremely apprehensive.

"Did you find them on Harthos?"

 

Larry turns to his crew, confused.

"Find who?" he replies, quite perplexed.

"Who?" the voice sounds quite vexed now, "the bloody tall, green, aliens! That's who."

"Ohh. No, we just got here," Larry replies innocently.

A number of strange muffled noises come through the speakers, then a different voice responds.

"Artemis One, how about you prepare for splash down? Be better if we all talked face to face."

Larry gazes at his colleagues, getting nods of assent, he replies, "sure, will do."

Brett, their leader, shrugs his shoulders.

"Don't know why they thought we met 'em."

The others are just as baffled. Dave pulls out a booklet, then begins reading. Tom stares at him in disbelief, then looks over his shoulder. He steps back in horror, stammering, unable to say anything coherent. His mouth moves wordlessly, while he gasp for air. Dave looks up from the instruction manual, puzzled by his reaction.

"What," he says indignantly, "it's not like I ever did this before."

Tom begins to hyperventilate, then aided by Larry, leaves the command module. Brett looks at Tom as he departs, then shrugs his shoulders again, clearly not concerned. Brett grins, than badgers his friend playfully.

"Maybe the light reflecting off your head bothered him?"

Dave raises his eyebrows, then quips back.

"Well, I have to make up for the rest of you!"

Brett chuckles as he plays at offering Dave some of his long brown hair.

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"I am sure that if you prefer black, Larry would help you, he has plenty."

Dave shakes his bald head, then gets back to reading. Artemis One orbits Pythos four times before Dave is satisfied with his review of the procedure he is to follow. He wanders about the ship opening dozens of wall panels. Inside each is a lever, he struggles but manages to move them all downward. A resounding clunk can be heard each and every time.

Brett , with nothing to do, walks to the open viewport and gazes outside. Seeing the blue skies of Pythos, with its smattering of white clouds, makes him smile. Crossing the terminator into night, he leans closer to the glass, then relaxes. The glow of lights from the cities below look just like they did when they left. Something catches his attention, he lifts his gaze to look out into space. A massive piece of debris tumbles nearby. Wow, and that chunk is just a fragment of the spaceship it came from. He stares at the wreckage, watching as it slowly tumbles away from Pythos.

The light from the distant sun reflecting off its dull surface.

Dave arrives back at the command module, grinning.

"Almost done, just need to seal the doors, then unlock the last four latches to release us."

Brett nods, satisfied. He walks back to his controls, then flips a switch on his panel.

"Larry, Tom, get up here, we drop on the next pass."

The four men manually seal the doorways leading to the rest of the spaceship, then strap themselves securely into their chairs. Once ready, each of them reaches upward and opens a small panel. Dave, being the pilot, gives the order to release.

"Three... Two... One... NOW!"

As one, the four men swing their levers downward. Four clunks resonate throughout the command module. Brett smiles, then gives the next order with enthusiasm.

"Fire the breakaway rocket."

Dave grins as he flips open a small cover on his panel. Inside is a bright red button with a number one painted on it. Without even hesitating he presses it.

At the same time the rocket ignites, pushing the command module clear of the rest of Artemis One, the speakers click.

"Artemis One, abort, I repeat ABORT!" The voice is frantic.

Tom sinks in his chair and groans. Larry glances at Brett then flips a switch on his panel.

"Ground control, we have already disconnected from the command module."

The four men sit in silence for a few minutes, the separated module slowly moving away from the rest of Artemis one. Larry makes eye contact with each of them, then contacts ground control again.

"I repeat, we have already disconnected. There is nothing we can do, we're committed."

Finally they get a response.

"Something enormous splashed into the ocean, near where you're to come down."

Larry pauses, then feeling confused replies slowly, "and that means what?"

"Oh my," the ground controller is getting flustered now, "there are massive waves radiating out in all directions. Some have already hit the closer islands, including the one where your recovery ships were."
Larry runs a hand through his hair.

"Were?" He says becoming alarmed.

"Yes, WERE! The tidal wave was so powerful it destroyed the dock and every ship in it, including your recovery ship."

Dave licks his dry lips, then flips a few switches on his panel. He rubs his smooth head as he ponders their dilemma. Brett watches his pilot with curiosity, then notices Tom is hyperventilating again. Larry remains quiet as well. The only other sound in the command module comes from the little fans that circulate the air. Dave turns to look at Brett.

"We could use our breaking thrusters to put us back into orbit. But, I don't know what good that would do us."

Brett frowns as he considers the idea.

"Nah, let's just keep going, I would rather splash down and have a chance, than end up floating in space waiting to be rescued."

Dave taps one of his panel's indicators. He does not have the heart to tell the crew they burned up most of their fuel earlier, keeping Artemis One in orbit. He gulps, then begins his calculations.

The command module enters the atmosphere, a soft red glow begins to radiate through the open porthole. Dave flips a switch on his panel, a sheet of metal slides into place, closing off their only view of the outside.

Larry contacts ground control once again.

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"We're coming in, hopefully you guys can send a ship to pick us up."

Dave sits in his chair debating their options. If I fire the breaking thrusters on time, they will run out of fuel early, and be too high to open the parachutes. If I hit them late we might burn up, oh the parachutes. If their cover plates melt, the explosive blots might not..." He gulps, his thoughts trailing off. There really is no choice. He offers a thin smile to his colleagues, then monitors his controls.

The command module freefalls through the atmosphere, heating up. It begins to vibrate and shake as it falls. It's heat-shield, custom built and experimental, remains intact. The small fans inside the module increase in intensity while they try to cool the cabin. All four men are bathed in sweat as they rocket downward. Dave hollers over the noise their descent is generating.

"Breaking thrusters in ten, brace yourselves."

Dave licks his lips as he opens a second small panel. Another bright red button stares back at him, it's white number two seems to glow. He presses it firmly. Nothing happens! He stares at the button, blinking. Just as he is about to panic the half dozen small rockets ignite. They burn through the remaining fuel quickly, while noticeably slowing down their decent. Dave grins as his speed indicator drops down from its orange warning band to the safe white zone. His grin locks on his face when the fuel runs out far too early. Almost immediately the indicator swings back toward the orange zone. If it hits the red zone, the chutes might break off when I deploy them. If I open the chutes too early they could burn up.

Brett shouts out of the din.

"We're doin' great!"

Tom stares at him, his large blue eyes open very wide in fear. He actually seems to be enjoying this. He is mad. What on Pythos made us think that the orange ball of dirt might have life on it anyway, hostile life at that. I will never know. Harthos is a chunk of useless rock. He closes his eyes as the module begins to shake even harder. He really is frightened, but it is not death he fears, it's because he has no control over the situation.

Brett flips open the last of the small panels. He slams his hand onto the red button, covering its bright number three with his palm. A group of popping sounds come from outside, they almost sound like muffled gun shots.

Small panels blow off the outside of the command module. Packing like material immediately spills from the openings. Thousands of small objects fill the air, their heat dissipating task complete. Seconds later, the module's chutes deploy, having been safely protected. One large main chute billows out first, followed quickly by five smaller chutes below that fill with air. The command module swings and sways as the wind grabs the craft.

Dave gulps, then glances at Brett . He has deployed the chutes very early, but his gamble has paid off, so far. The command module passes its designated splash down area, still high in the sky. The safety of the ocean below, gives away to land, as strong winds push the craft farther and farther off course.

Brett gives Dave a thumbs up in excitement. No one on board has any idea that they are now over land. Far below a young couple are walking along a hillside pathway, holding hands. Looking up at the sky they stop, then cover their mouths in astonishment. The sight of the command module swinging downward on its parachutes, totally unexpected. The couple runs to the top of the small hill, to see where the module will land. The young man pumps his fist into the air.

"Ohh YES! Go... Go... Go..." he cheers excitedly.

Going along with his enthusiasm, the girl follows his gaze, then smiles.

"Think they'll make it?" she asks curiously, her eyes dart from the module to a nearby lake.

"Dunno, but hope so," he replies, then adds almost absent mindedly. "Pretty sure that's the Artemis crew."

The couple squeeze their hands tightly together as the craft gets closer to the ground, and the lake.

SPLASH!

The couple cheers as the module splashes into the water. It bobs up and down while the parachutes land all around it. They look like giant lily pads to the young couple. The four men inside are jolted by the hard landing, but grin excitedly none the less. Brett unclasps his belts, releasing himself from his chair. He turns to his crew, and issues one last order.

"Let's get outta here."

The couple runs down the hill toward the bobbing space module. Even before they reach the bottom, they spot a number of ground vehicles approaching the lakeside. The vehicles are those used by disaster responders. Lights of every color splash about while sirens wail out. As each vehicle arrives, it parks, then disgorges a handful of people. Some use special tape to mark where any spectators should stop. Others inflate small watercraft, then swiftly paddle out to the floating module.

Brett holds onto the back of his chair for balance, watching the others unclasp themselves, then stand up. He is grinning like a fool.

"Great work men, we made it."

Larry stares at Tom, who is looking quite pale. How on Harthos he passed the medical tests, I will never know.

"C'mon Tom, let's get out of here."

Dave stares at his controls, then it dawns on him.

"We have to blow the hatch to get out, but when we do I think we might start to sink."

Brett frowns, then tilts his head, thinking.

"Well, let's wait till we know someone is outside."

"Hey, open up the view ports!"

Without thinking Larry leans over and opens them all. Air rushes in through the broken window as the pressure equalizes. Everyone shakes their heads, ears popping at the sudden change. The module lurches suddenly, almost knocking them all off their feet.

CLANG... CLANG...

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The sound of hammering reverberates through the tiny cabin.

Larry holds his ears and shouts.

"Alright, we hear you, coming out."

Dave hesitates for a few seconds, looks around, then gets a nod from Brett. He flips a series of switches. Popping sounds come in through the broken window, followed quickly by the sounds of cheering. A large panel blows away from the module, then splashes into the lake. Brett steps to the opening and smiles at the sight of the blue waters. The unexpected sight of the nearby hill causes him to frown.

"Hey, I think we missed the ocean, and landed in a lake instead."

Tom faints, this last piece of news just too much for him to cope with. Larry shakes his head in disappointment. The three men manage to carry Tom out through the hatchway, and onto a waiting boat.

Their euphoria of arriving home quickly fades as they are whisked away in government vehicles. The four men are transported separately in the back of windowless vans. Unbeknownst to them, they all arrive at the same facility.

Dave stares at the white walls, and grey floor before him. A nearby man silently beckons for him to step out. Dave follows the man into a large room, the desk and chairs all evidence of the upcoming debriefing. His escort has not said a word, and now silently points to a doorway. Dave walks to the room indicated then grins excitedly.

"Ohh my. A shower, and fresh clothes. Harthos be!"

Larry, Brett, and Tom, are also relishing their first proper shower in over three years. The body wipes used during their mission were a poor substitute. Each of the men also enjoy a light meal, intended to let their bodies adjust from the semi-liquid proteins consumed during the voyage.

Dave is led to the table by another silent escort. Two well dressed men sit in chairs, an array of equipment spread out among them. One of the men indicates for Dave to sit in a similar chair opposite them. he does so, then looks at each of the men in turn.

"OK. Why am I here? Where are the others?"

The two men look up, one flips a switch on a large box that rests next to him. He gives the other man a nod. The second man suddenly speaks, his voice has a soft soothing tone to it.

"My name is Charles, this is Sam," he says motioning to the man next to him. "You are being debriefed separately, as part of our normal procedure. Now, we have a lot of questions for you."

Dave sighs. Government types.

The questions go on and on, as do the hours. Finally Charles leans down, he takes something out of a case. He then puts a large picture on the table.

"Tell us what you know of them?"

Dave stares at the picture, his eyes boggling. The alien towers over the supreme ruler of Pythos, standing at least twice his height. The pair stands side by side, suggesting a peaceful intent. The creature's skin is a variety of shades of green, its yellow eyes with a vertical iris add to the chilling effect. The creature's mouth juts outward, sharp teeth clearly evident. The bony spines on its forearms adding to the macabre appearance. Dave stares at the picture for long seconds then stands up and backs away from the table.

"What's going on here?" he says fearfully.

"Just tell us what you know?" Charles repeats.

"All I know is that after three years in space I come home to a space battle. Now you show me a picture of our leader with an alien, and you want me to tell you what I know? I will tell you what I know. Harthos is a barren rock, the trip a complete waste, there is no life there."

The two men stare dispassionately at Dave, Sam adds to his written notes, while Charles merely continues to stare. Dave stares back, gulps, then sits back down. Silence fills the room, till finally Dave can't stand it anymore. He points at the picture and asks.

"Is this why you stopped transmitting a year ago?"

The two men whisper quietly to each other, then Charles turns to Dave. He shakes his head and sighs.

"Just like the others, he has no idea." He slumps a little in his chair, clearly disappointed. He sighs again, then continues, his tone softer.

"About a year ago, Pythos was struck by a massive meteor shower. We lost every satellite, the orbital platform that was tracking your ship, and all eight ground stations designated to send and receive communications."

Charles glances at Sam, then continues.

"The aliens call themselves Gamin, they arrived after the impacts, transmitting messages of peace. We don't have any powerful weapons anyway, so we accepted the peace offer. Like we really had a choice," he scoffs. "The Gamin took a lot of minerals and some food. In exchange they gave us some technology." Charles pauses for a moment, then shares his thoughts. "They really didn't take much food, perhaps it wasn't to their liking?"
Sam stands up, then speaks quietly into a small transmitter. Dave watches with interest as he quietly converses with an unseen person. Charles also waits for Sam, his curiosity quite piqued. Sam stops listening, then, while nodding to Charles motions for Dave to get up.

"Follow me."

Dave follows the pair, and is lead into a spacious area with plenty of comfortable looking chairs. A central table stands out, it is covered in food. He grins, Larry, Brett, and Tom, are already piling up their plates with a variety of delicious looking pastries.

Charles smiles, then points to the table.

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"Don't eat too much, but everything has been cooked with your needs in mind. It will take your bodies time to adjust back."

Dave walks to the table, glancing at movement near a pair of doors almost causes him drop his plate. The supreme ruler of Pythos casually walks into the room. Dave gulps as the planet's ruler strolls toward the table. He quickly puts his plate down then stands with his hands behind his back. Everyone else in room gets to their feet and also places their hands behind their backs in respect.

The revered man stops, then lifts both of his hands outward.

"Welcome home brave men. Welcome to a new world."

Dave racks his brain trying to recall his name, he never had much time for politics. With no one else saying anything he steps forward, bows his head, then answers.

"Sir, was our duty and honor to go on the Harthos mission."

"Yes, yes," replies the man, almost dismissively, "but now we have a new frontier."

Dave frowns in confusion. The venerated man puts a hand on Dave's shoulder, then continues speaking. The supreme ruler is touching me, oh my.

"We are going to collect all of that wreckage that's floating in space. I am sure we will find things we can use."

Dave grins, then suddenly realizes what's going on. With an inward groan he looks over at his three ship mates. We're going back into space.

chapter Two - Oh No, Not Again

Luckily for Dave and his three compatriots, the reality of returning to space is a long way from the plan. They spend the next few days answering questions about their adventure. There are interviews, then media talk shows, as the four become global celebrities. Everyone wants to know about the space battle, few seem concerned with the actual three year mission. The days begin to blend together. The initial excitement of being sought after soon fades as the questions remain the same.

The four men return to their government assigned quarters after an easy day to be met by a pair of suit wearing men. Dave frowns, then grins. He greets the pair quite excitedly.

"Sam, Charles, almost didn't recognize you."

Sam nods, while Charles motions for the four men to follow him. He can't help but offer a thin smile himself.

"This way men, there is something else for you to see, and try."

Dave is perplexed. See and try? But he, like the others, obediently follows the government men. The group of six walks a long way, until finally coming to a checkpoint where armed guards stand vigilant. Once past the guards, they enter an elevator which takes them deep underground. Dave frowns at this, there were no guards when the supreme ruler came to see them. What could be more important than their leader?

Arriving at their stop, they exit the elevator and walk onward. A few minutes later the group arrives at massive doorway, with even more guards. Dave has never in his life noticed so many armed guards. Pythos is a planet united, there were no wars, no enemies. Well I suppose, there are always the outlaws, he thinks.

The doorway swings open on its massive hinges, revealing a large room filled with scientific types wearing fancy laboratory shirts. Dave looks at his colleagues in curiosity, then walks into the room. His jaw drops at the sight. Seven body sized, metallic-looking suits rest against the far wall.

Each looks like peeled fruit, with their open front sections resting on metallic legs. A clipboard carrying scientist walks up to the four men, then leads them toward the alien looking gadgets. Another of the scientists sets up a camera, then with a friendly smile points toward the far wall.

"Each of you will step backward into an augmenter."

None of the four move. Brett licks his lips nervously, then looks around.

"Uh, why us?" He says pointedly.

The scientist with the clipboard frowns, as though the answer were obvious.

"With these alien made body-suits you will be able to disassemble and assemble all kinds of things. They are full body construction suits. We call them augmenters because you will have enhanced abilities," he pauses, then adds, "if you're compatible."

Dave tilts his head as the last words ring out. Tom looks around frantically, his breaths coming in shallow gasps.

"You can't make me," he stammers," backing away.

Brett shakes his head then sighs. I am their commander, better set an example.

"Well, there is nothing to it, right? Just step into one of those things?"

When all he gets from the pair of scientists are silent nods, he shrugs his shoulders then walks boldly to the nearest suit. He gulps, turns around, then steps backward into it. Dave watches in alarm as the alien contraption closes, encasing their commander. Seconds later the suit opens,

Dave tumbles out, falls to his hands and knees. He suddenly and violently throws up all over the floor. The scientists shake their heads, then one makes a note on his clipboard. He points to Dave with his pen.

"Your turn."

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Dave feels a chill crawl down his spine, then with one more glance at Brett, walks over to the alien suits. He steers well clear of the mess on the floor. Stopping before a different alien suit he turns around, then steps backward into the it. The chest area closes around him, as do the legs, then arms. Finally, a helmet swings down obscuring his vision. An array of colors bombard his senses, yet they do not seem to come from the visor. A tingling sensation crawls across his scalp, the colors change, become less random and more coherent. Dave takes a deep breath, then closes his eyes. A mild nauseous feeling starts in his stomach, but with his eyes closed and by breathing regularly, the ill feeling passes quickly.

A third scientist stands nearby, a stop watch ticking in his hands. He lifts a hand up, then after two minutes gives an excited wave.

"He has passed the critical point, just a little longer and he will have control of the suit."

Dave opens his eyes, the scientist's words coming to him clearly through some unseen speakers. He lifts his arm, then tries to see the results through the opaque visor. Much to Dave's delight, the visor goes transparent, allowing him to see clearly. He stares at the stubby end to the arm puzzled, there are no hands, or anything, just a blunt end. Wonder what else I can do in this thing? He ponders curiously.

Larry and Tom stare in disbelief as Dave begins to walk around the room, the metallic suit fully encasing him. Scientists follow Dave around the room, recording everything. Charles stares in disbelief as well, then shares his thoughts.

"Those aliens tried thousands upon thousands of people with little to no success. I think it's funny that one of the few compatible people was off world when they were here."

Larry, not wanting to be shown up, walks over to another of the alien made suits. Tom reluctantly follows, selecting one for himself. With a quick glance at each other they step backward into their respective suits. Both men exit very quickly, sick to their stomachs. Larry staggers around, while Tom falls to the floor, retching.

Dave stops his random walking, the suit opens up, then he steps out.

"Oh my. That thing is awesome!"

Noticing Larry and Tom, his enthusiasm wanes. Turning to a group of scientists he asks.

"Why does it work for me, and not the rest?" He glances back at the alien suit, perplexed. He is conscious of his bald head, as he stares at the others.

The scientist with the clipboard is busy making notes, he looks up at the question, his mind occupied.

"We don't know why," he goes back to his notes, then stops. Looking over toward the suits he continues, "we do know the suits use a neurological connection. This direct stimulation of the brain is too much for most. Less than one in a thousand are able to even tolerate the suits, even fewer can walk around. Creating objects is a task that fewer than one in ten thousand have mastered."

Dave walks back over to the suit he was using, he runs his hands over the metallic surface.

"Why would the aliens just leave these behind?"

The scientist scratches his head, "that is another question we don't have the answer to. We found these at the alien construction platform, just sitting there."

Dave chuckles, "sounds like the aliens wanted us to test 'em out."

The scientist stares at Dave, "that would save them a lot of time, wouldn't it. Leave some laying around, we find people that can use them. They come back and..." his voice trails off. He frowns, it can't be that simple. He scratches his head again, could it?

The next few days are a whirlwind of activity as Dave learns how to use the alien contraption. He returns to his quarters very excited this particular afternoon. Finding his crew mates he blurts out his latest achievement.

"I was able to make a tool, that absorbs things."

He stares at the blank expressions from Brett, Larry, and Tom, then tries to describe what he did.

"I was in the suit, and I thought about making stuff. This tool suddenly appeared at the end of the suit's right arm. I was able to," he pauses trying to find the right word, "absorb things."

The three men simply nod, though not with any real enthusiasm. Brett sighs, then steps to Dave. Putting a hand around his shoulder he talks quietly, his voice subdued.

"We would be thrilled for you, but today we found out that we're going back into space."

Dave frowns, "That's old news, we have known that for a while."

Brett gives Larry and Tom a respectful nod, "we launch in two days."

Dave's expression locks on his face. "two days!"

Brett stares at Dave, his voice stern. "Our task is to retrieve alien technology. Your task is to absorb the remainder."

Dave's jaw drops, "oh, that's why I have been getting trained on how to absorb things!"

Larry glances around the room, then flinches as he comes to a decision. Walking over to Dave he whispers quietly into his ear.

"I am certain we are being monitored, so I will make this brief. I bet the government already has people that can make things using the alien body suits, but we are the only ones that have been to space." His face gains a dour expression, "the mission objective is the recovery of alien artifacts, and YOUR safe return. All other considerations are secondary. We three are expendable! Now, laugh as though I told you a private joke."

Larry steps away, his face beams in a wide smile. Dave blinks in surprise, then manages to offer a light chuckle. My friends expendable? I don't think so! A small tear runs down his cheek, he tries to laugh harder as though it's some funny story making him cry.

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