This is the fifth short story in the Phoenix Universe that I've written. It takes place around five years before the beginning of The Phoenix Project.
“Scan Mister Eaves,” Geoff heard as a distant command in his reverie. He came back to reality on the bridge of the Amazon. Captain Anders looked directly at him and many other crewmembers abandoned their work at their appointed stations to watch.
“What?” Geoff Eaves asked in bewilderment. A large collection of smirks appeared across the bridge.
“What are the scan results for the fifth planet?” the Captain demanded again in a frustrated tone.
“Oh!” he exclaimed and checked the results on one of the embedded silver displays at his station. He typed in a few commands and brought up the results. “No life signs, no plant life, and no structures of alien origin.”
“Thank-you, Mister Eaves,” the Captain stated. “Helm, take us to the next planet for survey.”
The rest of the bridge crew returned to their work now that the show was over. The helmsman laid in a course and the small vessel glided on delicate grey wings towards the next planet to be surveyed.
“Mister Eaves, a word with you,” the Captain said.
The thin and tall Geoffrey Eaves stood up from his station and gathered his blond dreadlocks behind his back before he approached the center chair.
“Do you think this is a joke? What did you sign on for?” the Captain asked.
“Come on, sir. All we’re doing is looking for extraterrestrial intelligent life. Have we ever found any?” he asked and lit a tobaccoette cigarette.
“Not on the bridge Mister Eaves,” the Captain said. He took the tobaccoette from his mouth and put it out beneath his boot on the floor. “And no. But you never know.”
“Everyone knows that volunteering for these search missions is an easy five years of cataloguing giant rocks. It’s easy pay for easy work. Why don’t you just relax, Sir?”
“That’s all it is to you. Do you know have any idea how big an event first contact would be?” the Captain asked.
“Alright Captain, my Captain, I get it.”
“Pay attention and try not to get smashed tonight,” the Captain ordered.
“No promises,” Geoff said as he returned to his post.
“I revoked your bar tab at Jungles last night. Don’t bother,” the Captain said.
“Shit!” Geoff exclaimed under his breath as he sat down. “We’ve arrived at the fourth planet,” the helmsman reported from his curved console near the front of the bridge.
“Mister Eaves, begin your scans.”
Geoff complied with the order in his own time and reported after a minute of computations.
“No life signs. No plant life. Wait,” Geoff said and examined the results scrolling across the screen. “There’s a structure! Not of human origin either!”
“You’re sure?” the Captain inquired.
“Yeah, yeah! It’s alien, definitely alien!”
“Tell the launch to get a shuttle ready,” the man in his early sixties said. “Commander Reynolds will take a team of eight to investigate. Mister Eaves,”
“You’re going with them.”
“Captain, my Captain?” Geoff asked with a scrunched brow.
“It’s time for you to see what we’re out here for. One day you’ll thank me when you’re part of history.”
“I’d rather be part of Happy Hour,” Geoff said under his breath.
“What was that?”
“Nothing. Glad to help sir,” Geoff replied and got up from his seat.
“It’s minus twenty degrees Celsius down there. Dress appropriately, Mister Eaves.”
“Yes Sir,” Geoff replied in dismay. He exited the bridge for the shuttle bay with a stop at the supply department on the way. In ten minutes he appeared in the two storey hangar dressed in a heavy arctic coat and pants for the mission.
Seven similarly dressed people greeted him there. One particularly tall man with Commander’s rank insignia on each arm of his white winter coat stepped forward to greet him.
“Commander Ben Reynolds,” the man said. He was already wearing transparent goggles and a thick scarf to combat the coming cold, keeping Geoff from discerning much in the way of features. “I understand you’ve been assigned to my team. What is your field of expertise?”
“Scans I guess,” Geoff replied.
“Well that should come in handy,” Reynolds responded and turned to the group. “All aboard.”
They boarded a large grey shuttle some ten meters long that would carry them and all the supplies and equipment they would need to the surface. The shuttle left the bay and flew towards a planet that was the color of ice.
“It does have air doesn’t it?” Geoff asked Commander Reynolds in the pilot seat as the round world appeared in the cockpit’s large window.
“Yes, it’s cold but there’s air and the gravity is about point nine Gs if you’re wondering,” Ben Reynolds replied over his shoulder. The planet grew in size out the forward window.
“And I was going to go on a diet.”
The planet became clouds as they flew to the surface and then became a plateau of ice surrounded by cliffs on three sides with a sharp drop at the north end. The shuttle crew’s attention immediately focused in interest on the south cliff where a two storey structure made of silver alloy and glass marred its otherwise rocky surface.
“The inside of the structure reads at the same temperature as outside,” Reynolds said. “Minus twenty Celsius. Geoff, you’ll come with me to set up a base of operations in there.”
“You said you’re good at scanning.”
“I wouldn’t say,” he began.
“You’re the best we have. The others here are biologists, archeologists, and chemists. You’re on my detail. Bring a heating unit and a backpack,” Reynolds commanded.
The two disembarked from the shuttle once it landed to the body shock of numbing cold only worsened by a thin powder of snow blown by harsh winds across the plateau. They made their way as quickly as possible over the ice and found the dead air within the alien building more agreeable than the bone freezing winds outside.
Geoff and Ben activated the flashlights they carried with them having expected no illumination inside. What they saw in the limited light appeared to be some sort of lobby. Geoff could just make out a small fountain in the room.
“Light cube,” Ben ordered. Geoff produced a small cube from his backpack that was the size of a cue chalk and found a ledge to place it on that would light the room. With a few taps the cube became almost too bright to look at. Geoff removed his backpack and placed it in front of the light to act as a lampshade.
The room now revealed itself. Years of disuse and cold had created a thin layer of permafrost over everything and the grand fountain that once had bubbled with water was now cracked from the expansion of the ice that had frozen inside of it.
“No one’s been here in a while,” Geoff said.
“Quite a long while,” Ben commented. He tapped the ice frozen in a long stream from one of the spouts at the top of the concrete fountain. “Set up the heating unit. This room is our base of operations. We should get started right away.”
Geoff obliged and put the large coil shaped heater in one corner away from the fountain in order to prevent it from melting too quickly. He pressed a button on the top of the coil and in seconds he could feel the heat reaching out from its surface. Ben took off his scarf and goggles to reveal thin light brown hair and eyes.
To their mutual surprise, they heard movement from a room directly behind the main lobby. It was as black as night but they could discern the
sound of a delicate glass vase falling onto its side. They heard its wobble across a surface and then a fall to the floor accompanied by the smash of its delicate shell.
The two sprinted to the dark room with flashlights in hand. Two small spotlights searched the confines of the dark room. It was Ben’s flashlight that found the remnants of what had been a narrow and tall vase of clear glass on the floor. There was a long table next to the wall with a row of identical vases on it.
“How did that happen?” Geoff asked.
“The change in temperature or a crack in the glass. Who knows?” Ben said and turned back to the large lobby. He took out a collapsible desk from the backpack and unfolded it. Soon a four foot high black desk with an embedded monitor stood next to the fountain. Ben turned it on and began to type in commands.
“I think we’re ready. Go and get the rest of the team and tell them to come in.”
Geoff nodded obediently and left the building.
It was only seconds later that Ben heard the familiar sound of a glass vase fall onto its side and roll across a desk in the next room. A moment later he could hear it shatter on the floor. He grabbed his flashlight and returned to the room.
The same vase was broken across the tile but no others had joined it. Ben dismissed the event and returned to the electronic desk.
Again he heard the familiar sound of breaking and again returned to the room and found that there was nothing that had changed. Ben huffed a frustrated sigh and returned to readying the mission parameters.
His skin prickled at the sound of a vase rolling across a desk in the room behind him. Ben shook his head and concentrated on the mission parameters as he heard the crash of fractured glass.
Ben ignored the sound as it played a fifth time in the background. It was if something was teasing him. He chose to ignore it and continued to
examine the goals set for his team.
Then he heard what he could only describe as a crackle of energy followed by the sound of concrete collapsing. The sound was loud, nearly deafening, and came from behind him in the same room. It sounded like the entire space had caved in.
Ben grabbed his flashlight and ran for the doorway only to find that the room was identical in every way to the last time he had seen it. He searched the room a second time with the small spotlight from his torch only to find that nothing had changed. As the flashlight’s beam crossed the far corner, Ben discerned a pair of blood red eyes staring at him.
He whipped the flashlight’s beam back to where the glowing eyes were only to find that the corner was empty. Nothing was there.