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A Costly Truth

“Massive, ancient wreck located in previously uncharted territory in the Marianas Trench continues to be studied by a coalition of scientific communities.”

The evening news reported the official story. They mentioned NOA’s involvement. And the competition between governments contending for jurisdiction over the wreckage. They likewise spoke of a particular clandestine global agency often sourced for challenging and mysterious discoveries. This international agency had recently taken over the salvage efforts with a promise to release updates on a need-to-know basis.

However, Enyd knew the part of the story NOT reported, the part she'd been involved with before they'd forced her out.

It had been her first field job with the agency. No longer relegated to a dusty, basement research lab, they'd released her and her team on the project. They had first established the metal alloys of the wreck were not from Earth. Neither were they constructed of any known elements collected from nearby planets. An alien ship, having sat abandoned at the bottom of the ocean for centuries. Intriguing.

Then they determined that the wreck had to be transported up slowly, not wanting to jeopardize it with the hasty surfacing. It also had to be brought up in portions because of its massive size. It had taken the combined efforts of eight governments ordering the use of their experimental submersibles to cut the ship into small enough portions to hoist to the surface. They took each portion to a different secure location to be studied by different teams. They funneled their reports to the regional supervisors. The regional supervisors then passed on the reports with their own recommendations to the global directors. These directors then conferred on what exactly was needed to be known by the general public. So far, very little.

It was her team who had discovered the stasis chambers within their portion of the wreckage. Only three of the original four thousand were still operational. They speculated that the other chambers had either been damaged in the initial crash or, worse still, in their recovery process of the wreck. At first, they hadn’t recognized the pod-like rows to be stasis chambers because of their size. Once her team accessed them and activated the remaining three, it was shocking to realize what it was they were examining. Human arrogance dictated that beings who created an interstellar vessel must be of similar size and shape as a human. From what they could tell, these creatures were the size of a small child and had at least four arms. But they had yet to determine what they looked like beyond bipedal and short stature. They didn’t want to risk opening one of the chambers, not yet. However, that didn’t stop Enyd’s team from poking around the chambers in search of more information.

Only the two other members of Enyd’s team and the camera recordings on their helmets saw what happened next. How Enyd’s body was engulfed with a turquoise-tinted vapor, her eyes gleaming with the same hue. How her hair stood on end, and her body floated rigidly a few millimeters off the ground. Then Enyd communicated in a language, not her own, moments before her body slipped to the floor, and Enyd woke up to one of her colleagues fanning her. After examining the recording hours later, Enyd understood what had happened and what it was she’d spoken. Somehow, a telepathic connection had formed between Enyd and the creature within the stasis chamber she’d been examining. Through her, the creature appealed for death — swift, as a mercy for the three remaining creatures. It also warned of more deaths if the wreckage was not destroyed immediately, and without question.

Because of the telepathic link, Enyd now understood the glyphs on the many devices and monitors of the wreck. Having made this knowledge known to her superiors, all parties working on the project then utilized Enyd, transporting her to and from various study locations. At first, being thrust into the limelight of the project fed Enyd’s ego. She did not differ from any others who sought advancement within the agency. But after a time, and after the details of the telepathic link settled in Enyd’s mind, she grew hesitant.

Her hesitation came from the fact that Enyd now had memories not her own. It was as if the creature had embedded a part of itself inside her head from the 46.8 seconds of connection. Yet Enyd wasn’t certain why she kept mute on the memories when pressed for more details by her superiors. She was a scientist at heart, and this was a shocking discovery. She could see an alien planet populated by strange creatures so unlike what she’d imagined, and felt the emotions of her alien host as she observed the routine life it had lived there. The entirety of an alien culture was now known to her through the biased perspective of the creature in her mind. And there was assuredly something intimate about gaining another soul’s remembrances.

However, already under considerable scrutiny because of the telepathic link and her new ability to decipher the ancient language, Enyd was disinterested in bringing further regard to herself. Enyd assured herself she understood enough about the creature’s recollections to form such a judgment call. This ability to see its memories was a need-to-know thing, and so far, no one else needed to know.

Her medical and psych evaluations could not interpret why it was only Enyd who formed a link. Local representatives and even agency members from other international locations arrived and repeated the steps Enyd had taken the day the contact transpired. But no further links were established. The creature who contacted Enyd had gone silent ever since, and the two others still “alive” appeared disinclined to set up similar contact.

Despite what the creature had requested, and despite its warnings, the agency retrieved more of the wreckage. They continued to send Enyd to the various locations for examination. And with each passing day of neglecting the appeal made by the creature, Enyd felt more ill-ease stirring in her gut. The anxiety was eating away are her previous sense of satisfaction of having "arrived" in her place in the agency and left her on the precipice of a costly unknown.

The day they located the mechanism was when Enyd realized from where the ill-ease and hesitation had come. They brought her in to evaluate it, this smooth turquoise-colored object the size of a TV remote, but with the weight of a 10lbs piece of iron. There were no apparent markings to reveal what it was for, but Enyd recognized the mechanism at once, and it terrified her. Not merely for what the device could do, but what her superiors and competing governmental authorities would surely do if they understood the device the way she did through the creature. All the wars waged upon the Earth up to this very moment would be child’s play compared to what world powers would do to exploit the potential of this mechanism. Beyond that, seeing the device held so carelessly in ignorant hands, Enyd understood why it was the creature had petitioned for death and elimination of the wreck.

Without having to return to the stasis chamber, Enyd felt the creature move again in her mind. More through emotional imprints than words, the creature informed Enyd WHY the wreck was here. And why it must all be destroyed. Through her telepathic guide, Enyd witnessed the massacre this device wrought on other worlds. She could likewise see the creators of the device. Ruthless, combative, ambitious, resource-greedy, and self-justifying: the individuals who created this device were, in every sense, the same as humans. Only they’d harnessed the apocalypse within a device that could fit in the palm of your hand. They had used it to secure the rulership of a vicious partisan authority who conquered the homeworld of these creatures of the wreck and all the worlds of their solar system.

These four thousand souls on the ship had fled this subjugation. Populated by a collection of individuals from all paths of life, this group recognized this device could not remain on their homeworld. Or in the same solar system. They’d used their shared talents to obstruct the research and technology of their rivals before hijacking the ship and stealing the device. They took with them the research needed for duplicating the only known interstellar ship that could traverse the universe in seconds with an artificial wormhole engine. They likewise seized the world-killing device.

However, a weapon shot from the planet’s surface damaged the ship just before they penetrated the artificially generated wormhole, and this damage made reliable access into their target planet’s atmosphere impossible. It also ruined their ambitious aims of settling on a new world and establishing an advanced society based on harmony. Instead of landing on one of the newly formed continents of the moderately volatile but livable planet third from the central star of the new solar system, they’d plunged into the sea. Events transpired so rapidly that none of the crew could release their fellow creatures from the stasis chambers before they were flooded. Instead of attempting to survive, knowing that they’d failed to save the others, the crew went down with the ship. Their ideals were such that they preferred a watery grave to a lifetime of shame and self-condemnation.

The failure of their mission settled heavily on Enyd’s mind. But the lingering fear kept her mouth shut when asked if she knew what the device was or what it could do. From the brief contact with Enyd, the creature understood humans. It recognized the risk of passing on to them any further knowledge of their technology or research. Humans would use the same self-justification to mask their sins as they too destroyed each other and, soon enough, the neighboring worlds. Furthermore, within the remaining rubble was a homing beacon. If there were still descendants on their homeworld, their conquerors would learn of the ship’s location if activated. If they had developed to a similar achievement of technology even after the deliberate hindering, and if they had not evolved past their previous affection for carnage, these conquerors and destroyers would soon enough descend upon Earth. They would come in search of vengeance and in search of their lost device.

Enyd struggled to communicate the severity of the situation without providing too much information. She tried to warn her teammates and directors of the uncertainty of playing with technology they did not understand, reminding them they did not know of its origin or even WHY it ended up at the bottom of the ocean. Her supervisors hadn’t appreciated her raising fear levels within her team. Nor had they liked her questioning their methods and motives and then requesting answers they weren’t inclined to give. When she called attention to the fact there had not been adequate studies showing merit in examining tech not of this world without extra precaution, they required a meeting between Enyd and her regional director.

Instead of an answering explosion of contingency measures, because even with paranoia, Enyd had established valuable reasons for more precaution, they ordered an at-home medical leave until further notification. The report that lay on her coffee table buried beneath the remains of her takeout dinner showed the stress of her telepathic connection while on assignment as cause for her ordered leave.

“Miss Madsen, look at this from my perspective. You’ve been making provocative remarks about this research project.” Enyd remembered feeling a sharp stab of annoyance at her regional director’s comments. “Not only have YOUR colleagues protested, but news has also progressed to MY superiors. You realize they won’t tolerate this. While I value your expertise, I must safeguard your future.”

The only thing provocative about Enyd’s “remarks” was that they were fact. And the damned frustrating part was that Enyd had little means of telling the truth without giving away clues on the device. She knew many of her superiors would use that information without discretion and bring ruin to all of them.

If they demanded her isolation because she was pushing too hard and asking too many questions, Enyd would play along. She’d let them think she was complying when instead she would identify alternative means of communicating the truth. She couldn’t let them examine the wreck further; she couldn’t let them activate the beacon—unless they’d already done so, and she hadn’t been informed. Enyd had seen too much through the telepathic association to recognize what the impending result would be if they continued unchecked. Enyd knew her fellow humans were not of the same ilk as the noble creatures doomed to a watery grave. They could not be entrusted with such knowledge. Most humans, especially her superiors, were more like the “monsters” than the “saints” found at the bottom of the sea.

Staring at the black screen of her TV, Enyd continued to replay the conversation that had grounded her. When Enyd had reminded her manager, Kharon Denigers, that she had medical and psych clearance, Kharon hid behind grey excuses. “Enyd, please, go home. Distance yourself until things calm down.” Kharon then brought out the trump card with her off-handed remark. “I can’t imagine the struggle you must be experiencing now, without Javec.”

Enyd shook her head. Flipping off the kitchen light and double-checking the latch on her front door, she headed to the bedroom. Javec’s disappearance was not part of her current dilemma. With added gusto, Enyd fluffed her pillow then dropped into bed. It had been patronizing to hear the assumption thrown at her by Kharon, more so because while his disappearance wasn't the cause of her issues with the project, it had aggravated her growing sense of paranoia nonetheless.

Enyd glanced at his side and coiled her fingers into the sheets to abstain from reaching out to where he should be. She knew he hadn’t left her. Something had happened, that much was certain. Javec must not have had the time or ability to explain before going off-grid. The nature of his government work rarely gave him the freedom to share, but that had never come between them. They’d always kept their work separate from their love. Enyd sighed and stared absent mindedly into the corner of the master bedroom.

There had to be a way of conveying the truth of the device, or at least the gravity of the truth, without bringing attention to the power that quite literally could lay in the palm of one's hand. She could use Javec's off-grid associates not only to find a way to stop the agency from digging further into the wreck and condemning all of humanity but also to help find Javec as well.

Somewhere in-between recounting all the things she’d experienced through the telepathic link and running through the list of people to contact off-grid for help in finding Javec, Enyd homed in on the smoke detector. She realized instead of the steady red glow of the signal light, it was flickering. Enyd narrowed her eyes. She continued to scrutinize it until a sequence registered. Not the expected repetition of a malfunctioning light, but a more deliberate pattern similar to-

“Morse code.” Enyd sat up; her eyes fastened to the blinking light. She withdrew her journal and pen from the bedside table.

Javec had regularly left coded messages around the apartment for fun, something to keep the mystery of romance alive. Enyd concentrated on the fluttering light and recorded the sequence of dots and dashes. Maybe he’d left her a message telling her where to meet him so he could explain his sudden absence. She hoped Javec’s disappearance was a necessary subterfuge connected to HIS work and wasn’t associated with hers, as had been her building paranoia. Enyd’s breath quickened at the thought. Once Enyd noted her options in columns, she picked up her phone to look up the alphabet.

“G,” Enyd recognized the first letter. “E,” she tapped her pen against the journal’s pages. “T. G-E-T. Get.” She scanned the webpage before discovering the next letter. “O.” Enyd continued to examine the screen, her scribblings, and the smoke detector. She let her fingers write the final two letters before her mind caught up with them. “O-U-T. Out.” She dropped her pen. “Get out.”

Enyd surged to her feet. Because of the volatile quality of Javec’s work, he had urged them to keep “go bags” by their bed at all times. Enyd crammed her feet into shoes, not caring about the mismatch or that they were on the wrong feet. Clutching a “go bag” and her passport, she dashed out of the bedroom.

Sirens blared across the city. The power went out. In the distance, Enyd heard explosions and felt her building rock with the shockwaves. Close by, the confused shrieks of her neighbors came through the walls. Had they activated the beacon after all? Had the destroyers found them at last? She reached for the latch but stopped. Clutching the bag tight against her side, Enyd's entire body stiffened in preparation. Her heartbeat matched the pounding of coming footsteps. Then the front door splintered open.

FIN

 
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