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Denizens: 34 - Resurrection

...“What I will say is that, from the time this recording ends, you will have twelve hours to get at least fifty miles away from the ship. You cannot take it to the surface; it must remain where it is, but those who have found you must have a vehicle capable of taking you with them. Something truly awesome is about to occur. There is no way to stop it; even if you could, you would not want to, once you knew what it was.”...

After he longest, fastest journey through space and time - and a sleep of 2,000 years - the surviving crew of the spaceship Hermes are back on their home planet - there to be greeted by a monumental surprise.

Brian William Neal's mighty novel is sci-fi at its very best. On second thoughts, it is much more than that. It is imaginative fiction at its best. To read earlier chapters please click on Denizens in the menu on this page.

*

Part 7

Destiny

“If this be magic, let it be an art,
Lawful as eating.” - Winter’s Tale

The Mariana Trench
August, 2034

The face on the screen was saying something else, but Tom Stoddard wasn’t listening. He turned to the others in the control room, his eyes wide with excitement.

“Did you hear that? They’re still on the ship! They might even still be alive!” He grabbed Jennifer’s hand and pulled her to her feet. “Come on!” he said, as the others slowly rose, their joints stiff after sitting for so long.

Katzmeyer stood, rubbing his back. “Tom, what’s the rush? If they’re still alive after all this time, then they’ve waited two thousand years. Don’t you think they can wait just a little longer?”

Tom gave Arnold an exasperated look and began organizing the others into search teams. He sent Crafter, Jennifer, John Peel and Arnold down four of the corridors, taking the fifth himself.

He walked for a long time; the interior of the ship was vast, and he knew that the space-time warp was going to puzzle their scientists for a long time when they eventually raised the alien craft to the surface.

He searched for about fifteen minutes without success, then turned as he heard footsteps running up behind him.

“Tom, come on!” said Jennifer breathlessly. “We’ve found them!”

She took his hand, and together they ran back the way Tom had come. Jennifer led the way to Dennis Crafter’s search area; a short way in, there was a side aisle that led to a set of double doors. Through those, they found the others waiting beside the two tanks, which floated four feet off the ground.

Arnold was staring in fascination at the anti-gravity effect that caused the tanks to be suspended in mid-air. Tom crossed the room to the bank of machinery and stood before it. He studied it for a moment, then said, “The guy on the screen said that they simply deactivated the tanks after the experiment with the rat, but he didn’t say how.”

He looked at the controls for a few moments. “It would have to be something pretty simple for them not to even mention it. Trouble is, I can’t see anything that even remotely resembles an on/off switch. Or any other kind of switch, for that matter.” He reached out, then hesitated, his hands a few inches from the controls.

Immediately, the light from the tanks dimmed as the lights in the room brightened, and the tanks began to sink slowly to the floor. Tom stared in confusion, and Jennifer cried, “Tom, you did it! It’s deactivated!”

Tom, still puzzled, shook his head. “Did what? I didn’t even touch it.”

Arnold scrutinized the controls closely. “It must have been some kind of proximity switch. When you held your hands above the board, you evidently triggered it.”

They crossed the room to the tanks and examined them. The opaque surface was clearing, and inside each one they could make out a human form. They watched, fascinated, as the glass cleared and Tom knelt beside the tank containing the man. The top of the tank slid back, and he recognized the man as the one on the screen. Tom waited expectantly for some sign of life, but the figure within did not move. He looked at the other tank, but the woman was also unmoving. Perhaps, he thought uneasily, not even the alien technology could sustain such an extended cryosleep.

As they watched, unsure of what to do, the man’s eyelids began to flutter. Jennifer gasped, and gripped Tom’s arm. The man moved his head minutely, opened his eyes and tried to focus on the people bending over him. He moistened his lips, tried to speak, failed and tried again.

“Wh-what year is it?” he croaked. “The…the date?”

Tom grinned. “August 4th, 2034, Colonel. Welcome home.”

Then everyone was smiling, and Cal asked, “Is Karen all right?” Tom looked toward the other tank, where Karen was stirring, and Jennifer smiled and nodded. He turned back to Cal. “She’s fine. As far as we can tell, you’re both fine. Of course, you’ll need to recuperate before we can get you up and out of there, but…”

Cal smiled weakly. “That won’t be as long as you think.” Already, his voice was stronger, and the slight bluish tinge was rapidly fading from his skin as his deeper respiration increased his intake of oxygen. He gripped Tom’s arm and struggled into a sitting position. “I think I’d like to get out of this thing now, if you don’t mind. Two thousand years is long enough to lie in bed.”

Tom and John took Cal’s arms, the others helped Karen, and they lifted the two astronauts to their feet, where they stood swaying unsteadily on trembling legs. Cal closed his eyes and took several deep breaths, then remembered he was naked. “Can somebody get us some clothes? You’ll find some coveralls in the sleeping rooms.”

He indicated the way, and Dennis Crafter left to fetch them. Meanwhile, Jennifer gave Karen her short jacket to wear. “It doesn’t cover much,” she said with a smile, “but it’s better than nothing.”

Cal went to Karen and held her. “We did it kiddo,” he said. We’re home.” Then he looked at the others. “I think I need a shower.”

At this, the floodgates opened, and suddenly they were all laughing and weeping, embracing each other in celebration of the miraculous return of the survivors of the Hermes mission. After a minute or so, they walked slowly out of the room to wash away the grime of two millennia.

*

Arnold, John and Dennis were on the bridge when Cal and Karen, partly supported by Tom and Jennifer, returned. They were washed and scrubbed, and were dressed in one-piece coveralls, tee shirts and sneakers. There were proper introductions all round, then the two astronauts sank gratefully into the pilot and co-pilot positions. Cal breathed a sigh of relief, and said, “A man sleeps for two thousand years, and the first thing he wants to do when he gets up is sit down.”

He looked around the bridge that, from their point of view, they had left less than half an hour before, and for a few moments their gazes lingered on the science and engineering stations. Then Cal turned on the forward view screens, and saw the creatures still crowded around the ship, with more arriving all the time. He reached across and took Karen’s hand. “Look at them, sweetheart. They made it.”

Karen smiled. “Yes, they did. Aren’t they magnificent?”

Tom quickly filled them in on the reports and sightings of the creatures. “When the subs were first tested near the trench, they must have sensed the metal and come up from the bottom,” he said. “Then, when the subs were taken back to the institute, they wandered around for a while, searching. That must have been when they were spotted. Then, when we returned, they all came out in force.”

Cal looked at the giant beasts again, floating motionless in the water outside the ship, their silvery bodies reflecting the red glow. “What is going to become of them?” he mused. Then he turned to the others. “I’ll tell you one thing for sure. We must not allow them to be exploited for the treasure they carry. Your institute, Doctor Katzmeyer,” he said, turning to Arnold, “must see to that.”

Arnold nodded, and Cal winced, holding his back. “I feel like an old man,” he said, then glanced apologetically at Arnold. “No offense.”

The scientist smiled. “Given your age, that’s not entirely inappropriate.”

They all laughed, then Cal said, “Let’s have a bit of power. I want to see if everything is still functioning.” He passed his hands over the controls and, as the others crowded round, the alien ship began to come to life. The main lights flickered, then brightened, and the pilot’s console lit up. Then they all started as a voice, so familiar to two of those present, came from behind them.

“Greetings to you all. I do hope you have reached your destination.”

They all turned; there, in the middle of the bridge stood the slight, smiling figure of Professor Jonathan Edge.

*

While the others watched in mild confusion, Cal and Karen stared in shock. They rose from their seats and started towards the figure in the middle of the room. A few feet from it, realization dawned.

“It’s a hologram,” said Cal. “It’s not really him.” The figure regarded them for a moment, then began to speak.

“Hello, my friends. If you are watching this, then you’ve powered up the ship, which means you’ve reached your own time, or somewhere near it. I, er, I suppose I owe you both some sort of explanation.” Jonathan’s image shuffled his feet, hands behind his back, looking for all the world like an errant schoolboy up before the headmaster.

“ ’tau and I arranged this together, when he told me of the ultimate function of the ship and the true destiny of the creatures we dubbed the Denizens.” Cal and Karen looked at each other in bewilderment as ‘Jonathan’ continued.

“My friends, you have been unwitting partners in a grand scheme. The ship and the creatures that our alien friend called the Loti are not only what they seem, they are much, much more. ’Tau insisted on keeping the secret from you, and I went along; if you want to be mad at someone, choose me. But don’t blame that wonderful, selfless being we all came to know and respect so much.

“You see, I always meant to remain in the Holy Land, and I knew that, had you known that then, you might not have agreed to my plan for you to return to your own time. But who can say? Anything might have happened. The stakes involved were of the highest order, and nothing could be left to chance. Incidentally, if it’s not already, the ship should now be in water; knowing you, however, I suspect you worked that one out for yourselves. Somewhere deep, no doubt.”

He smiled the gentle smile they both remembered, and they smiled back, tears misting their eyes. Then the image spoke again.

“I won’t bore you with all that is going to happen. A lot of it is very technical, and far too involved to go into in any detail. But you can be assured that part of it is something our world desperately needs, and part is a gift from our alien friend to the people of earth, to assist us in entering the greater galaxy. I suppose you might as well be warned; it is something we may find a little…challenging, to say the least.

“I won’t spoil the surprise, but you might find a clue in recalling what I said when we first landed on that alien world, about the state of their atmosphere and its lack of pollutants. I didn’t understand at the time, but I do now; soon, so will you.

“What I will say is that, from the time this recording ends, you will have twelve hours to get at least fifty miles away from the ship. You cannot take it to the surface; it must remain where it is, but those who have found you must have a vehicle capable of taking you with them. Something truly awesome is about to occur. There is no way to stop it; even if you could, you would not want to, once you knew what it was.”

Jonathan smiled again, and the two surviving members of the Hermes Project stood with their arms around each other, tears flowing freely, watching the image of their friend, who had been dead for two thousand years. Then the image spoke again.

“Please do not grieve for me, or even for Bill. He got what he wanted in the end, as I believe I will, and just as I pray you will, too.” He raised a hand, in much the same gesture as the last time they had seen him, ten thousand miles away and two millennia (days?) ago, on the hills above the Galilee.

“Goodbye, my dear friends. Please do not waste time searching the data banks; the program is well hidden, irretrievable and quite irreversible. Take what you can from the ship; there are scientific treasures on board, as you know, that will be of great benefit to mankind. And if you get the chance, please try to deliver that message to my friend in Oxford.”

He smiled again. “Be well, and be happy. Remember, you have twelve hours. Farewell, and God be with you.”

Jonathan’s image remained standing in the middle of the bridge, one hand raised, then slowly faded from sight. There was a moment’s silence, then Cal said, “Well, you heard what the Professor said. We’ve got twelve hours. We’d better get moving.”

Arnold rubbed his chin. “ ‘Professor’”, he mused. “I thought I recognized him. That was Jonathan Edge, wasn’t it?”

Karen nodded, drying her eyes on her sleeve. “Yes, it was,” she said. Arnold looked at her speculatively, but she said no more, and neither did he. Instead, he rubbed his hands together briskly, and said, “Well, it seems that we must take Professor Edge’s advice. We have a little time to spare, so perhaps we can salvage something from this amazing craft.”

Quickly, he set Tom, John and Dennis to work dismantling the anti-grav and time-space devices. “If we can obtain even a rudimentary understanding of these, then that will more than cover the cost of both of our projects,” he said to Cal. The astronaut agreed, and together they returned to the cryosleep room and began loading the tanks on to the anti-grav carts, while Karen and Jennifer started stripping the ship of the smaller instruments.

They worked quickly; twelve hours was not, after all, very long, and they knew that they had to take Jonathan’s warning seriously, and be well away from this place before then.

*

Four hours later, they were ready to leave. The alien devices had been stowed in the submersibles, and they had found two of the anti-grav skimmers they had traveled on through the alien city. Cal and Karen were the last to leave. They stood in the center of the control room and took one final look around. They had come so far, in time and space, and it seemed that they had both gained and lost a great deal. Now, it was over, and they were home. After a final look, they turned and hurried down the corridor, short now without the space-time effect, to where the two subs were fused to the ship’s hull.

They entered sub number two, and Jennifer started the engines. Not knowing what else to do, she engaged reverse thrust and tried to ease away from the ship. Immediately, the magical hole began to close, shrinking from the edges inward at a uniform rate like an old-fashioned television set turning itself off in slow-motion. Smaller and smaller it became, finally closing completely, leaving no sign that there had ever been a hole there at all. Then Jennifer turned the sub around and headed away from the alien ship, along the abyssal grandeur of the Mariana Trench.

Through the wide view windows, they saw the other sub fall in beside and slightly behind them, while ahead, more of the creatures had begun to return to the alien ship. There had been many in evidence while the humans had been on board, but now the entire trench was becoming crowded with them, all seemingly bent on some single-minded pilgrimage.

As they watched, the sea around them filled with the titanic beasts, all streaming past their subs and heading back the way they had come. They were all around; above, below and on either side. The humans watched in awe and wonder, unable to even estimate how many of the creatures there were. The subs traveled down a tunnel through the mass of glowing, silvery beasts, away from the site of the alien ship’s landing.

When they reached the spot where they had arrived at the bottom of the trench, Challenger Deep did not seem to conjure up quite the same awesome images as it had before for Tom and Jennifer, not after all they had seen. With a last look back at the creatures, now all behind them, the two pilots put their crafts into matching power climbs and headed for the surface. After only a few minutes they cleared the top of the trench, and made for the lighter waters above, and the waiting Halsey.

With a roil of bubbles and a spume of spray, the two subs broke the surface just two hundred meters off the port bow of the research ship. Cal and Karen looked at the blue sky though the canopy and held each other, laughing and crying at the same time. The subs hove to alongside the ship and first one, then the other, was hoisted aboard. The hatches were opened, and the occupants stepped out, Cal and Karen being allowed to go first. Standing on the deck, Tom said, “Well Colonel, how does it feel to be home?”

Cal looked at the sea, the sky and the woman on his arm. “I half remember a line from a speech by Martin Luther King,” he said. “Something about ‘I have been to the mountain…

*

Twenty minutes later the scientists and the astronauts stood by the rail and watched the place they had left behind receding as the Halsey steamed away at its cruising speed of twelve knots. With seven hours still to go until Jonathan’s deadline, they would easily reach the safe distance of fifty miles before the time was up. None of them knew what was going to happen, but Cal and Karen knew that, if Jonathan used a word like ‘awesome’, then awesome it would be.

Four and a half hours later, when they were slightly more than fifty miles from the area, Arnold ordered the ship stopped. “Professor Edge said fifty miles,” he said, “and he struck me as a man who could be trusted to be accurate.” Cal and Karen smiled and nodded.

“Oh, yes.”

“You betcha.”

They watched the sea for a few minutes, then Cal stretched and yawned. “Well, we’ve got about two and a half hours until Jonathan’s deadline; if you folks don’t mind, I reckon we’ll get some rest. I know we’re not long out of bed, but that cryosleep sure takes it out of you.” He yawned again, and glanced at Karen, who was keeping a very straight face.

Cal turned to Arnold. “If you’ll just show us where we can bunk down, doctor, we’ll get out of your hair for a while.”

Arnold detailed Tom to show them to their cabins. When they reached the first, Cal said, “I think we’ll only need one, Tom. To save space, you understand.” Karen looked at the floor and said nothing as Cal went on. “And besides, we don’t want to put anyone out of a bed, you know?”

Tom nodded seriously. “Of course, Colonel. I understand.”

He left them, and they entered the cabin and locked the door. Karen stood by the bed, and when she saw Cal advancing on her, she gave a mock squeal and fell back on to it. Cal undid his coverall and stepped out of it, keeping his eyes fixed on Karen.

“I haven’t had a woman in two thousand years,” he said, kicking off his sneakers. “Girl, are you gonna get it.”

Laughing, the two lovers fell into each other’s arms.

“Think you’re big enough, do you?” said Karen playfully. Then she reached down his body, and said, “Mmmm, yes. Oh, you’re definitely big enough,” and pulled him on top of her.


***

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