Impatiently pacing up and down his office on the grated floor of his laboratory, Kurt found it hard to imagine that his message had been received.

An hour ago he was woken by an alarm, telling him that a return message was being received. After a short, text only message, which told him that his message had been received, another message was following suit.

It was a massive data transfer.

 

Had the sun not been gobbled up by the neutron star, it’d be the first interstellar transmission in human history.

After earth had been annihilated due to close proximity to the neutron star, the latter moved on, wreaking havoc on the sun.

Suddenly missing the center of gravity, Mars was shot out the solar system, luckily it had been in the ideal position to not being caught by the neutron star’s gravity.

 

Musing on Martian history Kurt found himself staring out the small port hole window in the lab. It looked out over the main crater of Olympus Mons.

Darkness below, except for a few guiding lights along the rails of the sweeper carts, and a starry sky above. Nothing to see of the red deserts from, meanwhile ancient, video and photo documents. All had been swallowed up by darkness.

Reminiscing about the Martian history he thought about his great grandfather. Widely known as the Professor, he was the, borderline mad, scientist, who had led the colony in its infancy.

Under his supervision the lava tunnels of Olympus Mons were utilised as first living accommodations. Following his lead the first geothermal reactors were constructed, to satisfy the colony’s fast growing needs for energy.

Although the red planet had been too cold to sustain a magnetosphere even when the sun was still around, it was still hot enough in its interior to fuel geothermal reactors.

 

Droves upon droves of cryogenic chambers were coming in, future colonists, who either couldn’t contribute to the colony right away, or just couldn’t be sustained in any other fashion.

First the lava tunnels were developed, then the central shaft of the enormous volcano, in his grandfather’s generation. Then his father’s generation had developed the crater, smoothed it out and began laying down the sides of it, so it became a super sized dish.

He had finalised that work, and sent out messages to the ships that had left for RV-p296.

 

Now he was receiving his reply.

Anxiously he turned to the monitor behind him.

Still not finished.

 

Slowly but steadily life in the colony below awoke to a new morning. Lights in the hallways, offices, messhalls and gardens were turned up, people left for work, or took breakfast. Except him.

After a mere four hours of sleep he had skipped breakfast due to the alarm, and went to the lab.

Ever since he had started sending the message, a repeating message out to mankind’s other new home in the galaxy, he had not slept much more than five or six hours a night. Even though he knew that it would take a long time to be received, let alone answered, he was too anxious about the whole deal.

“Almost one and a half years, and you still get up early and check for results?” Maya entered the lab. She wore her usual attire, with the revealing neckline. “Didn’t you hear the alarm?” He turned to his wife.

“No.” She sat down at the workstation he had been droning over for the last hour.

Or was it hours? He had lost track of time. “Leopold had kept me up, as usual.” Their son. As usual. “Trouble sleeping again?”

“Trouble with girls.”

Carefully eyeing her, he glanced over to the monitor. Still not finished, but almost. “Girls? When I was his age,”

“You were not only active, but hyperactive with girls!” She raised a warning index finger. She too now turned her attention to the monitor. “I hope this isn’t a porn download.” Jesting she took a read of the text message that had been sent in advance of the massive bulk currently downloading. Suddenly her expression got more serious.

“They replied?” Disbelief in her voice over the obviously stated before her eyes, she read the message again. “Doctor Braun, on behalf of the people of Equatoria, Destiny and Kismet, as well as the other ships and the lunar colony, it is my honor to reply to your message. We will examine the database of martian history you have sent us in great detail, and we return the favor by transmitting to you everything that our exodus society has produced and discovered over the years. Kind regards, Admiral Benjamin Fuller.”

 

While his lab assistants, Quirin and Alexandra arrived and began with the dish cleaning operations, Kurt and Maya sat over the monitor, keeping a watchful eye on the progress of the download.

“Good day Doctor Braun.” The face of a bald black man appeared on the monitor greeting Kurt and his wife. Intrigued the two assistants also gathered around. “As written in the text message ahead of this database, it is my honor to reply to your message. In these files you will find our history, detailed information about the species we have encountered, our latest scientific data and of course everything about the colony we have dubbed Equatoria, due to its geographical location on RV-p296. Of course, we are interested in learning how you were able to relay your message so quickly to us, not even our most sophisticated form of communication could reach Mars in anytime sooner than eIght years from now. In the hopes that you are still alive upon receipt of this message, I remain with kind regards, Admiral Benjamin Fuller, out.” The message ended.

Maya patted his back. “See that? They made it. I can’t believe it. We are not alone.” Maya kept on talking, while Kurt felt a heavy burden fall off his chest.

It had lifted for the most part as he read the text message, but even more so now. They beamed back the reply in the direction from where they had received it, without detecting his means of communication.

 

Light dimmed as evening broke, Kurt stood in a small compartment of his lab, obscured from view by the grated floor above.

An elderly woman stood next to him, she was stern and stoic.

His mother always had been like that as far as Kurt could remember. Wearing her black dress she had worn ever since his father had passed away, she went over the data on the monitor with him, her greying hair tied to a tight knot.

“Are you sure your want to do this?” She turned to him with all of her torso, instead of turning her head.

“The dish, the Braun family heritage, is a pretty useless device, mother.” He sighed. “Eight years of communication, in one direction, renders it obsolete! If we can get the direction right that is. The quantum entanglement device is my answer to that problem.”

Stoic as ever she raised her right eyebrow. “I did not refer to the device, but your way of delivering it to the presumed colony. An antimatter powered probe might prove disastrous.”

Staring at her he raised his eyebrow now. “To the device, but not to people. I programmed it to park outside the solar system, so any problems that might occur, will occur in open space, this position still leaves a few months for communication, but it is better than to send something, and then wait sixteen years for a reply. If we can get the direction right, if the planet is facing the right patch of space at the time of the reply, and so on.”

Stoic Charlotte Braun turned back to the monitor. “Still it’ll take four years to reach its destination.”

Squinting his eyes, Karl looked angrily at his mother. “Half the time a transmission would need.” He pressed a button, a countdown appeared on the screen, both Karl and his mother climbed up the ladder to the normal level of the lab.

They turned to one of the small port holes.

Below it was the crater in all its darkness, suddenly a series of lights went on, illuminating the crater, and the dome in its center.

The latter opened like a lotus, communication devices were pulled and pushed out of the way, obscured by shielding.

Shaped like a traditional rocket the transporter for the probe came into view. It would bring the probe to a safe distance to Mars before the main propulsion would come online. “No one noticed you taking away all that fuel?”

“Nope. Besides, I couldn’t have done this without knowledge of the council. This lab may be our family heritage, but creating the amounts of antimatter needed for the trip, all the raw materials needed for the device, the casing, the rocket, the modifications to the dome, I’d need to work 24/7, and still wouldn’t be finished.” Looking at her with a slightly triumphant look Kurt sighed. “You could hold a vivid and passionate discussion with the colonists on RV-p296 about everything via the dish, and I still wouldn’t be finished.”

Still, for several reasons, no one in the hierarchy of the Martian colony would want to see the launch, or be conected with the project in any way.

He had been granted the resources, but not the attention. In a way, Kurt was fine with that. Perhaps he too was, like some insisted about his great grandfather, a borderline mad scientist.

Beneath them the ground began to shake, the crater was illuminated even more. With much greater ease than on earth, the rocket lifted off from the martian surface and plowed into the darkness of space.

 

Eased in every way Kurt looked over to a small framed picture in a corner, right next to a picture of his father. I told you it’ll work mother. “We need to inform the senate, the president, the scientific committee.” Maya was as joyous and anxious as a little girl.

“First,” Kurt looked at the people in his lab, “we need to celebrate. A new milestone has been reached. Interstellar communication, communication via a quantum entangled device. New grounds broke.”

Maya was the first to start applauding, Kurt’s assistants followed suit.

After they had all calmed down he began giving out assignments. Maya would begin with the flora and fauna of the new world, Quirin and Alexandra were to review the logs, all of which were not classified as personal logs, thus open for viewing, while he was to review the reports that had been labled as containing sensitive information.

 

Being in the position of running an officially undocumented project he was not hard pressed to report to anyone.

When he had something to report other than just that they did receive a communique from RV-p296, he would contact the senate, and the president, as well as the media.

Although surely more than enough people would want to talk to him, or their distant relatives in the far distance, he hated the secrecy. Especially now that there were no hazardous materials involved any longer, no antimatter, no danger. Through the quantum entanglement, their signal couldn’t even be traced back.

 

A circumstance he discovered was very good to have. “I assume that the information in this segment is only reviewed by people who have the utmost security levels.” A woman in an Admiral’s uniform like Benjamin Fuller, spoke with a smoky voice. “My name is Jane Mulgrew, Admiral of the Destiny. In these files you will be familiarised with the alien species we have encountered. This includes the Harpies, the natives of RV-p296, the silicates and the DEHumans, the latter being a spawn of mankind.” Kurt had headphones on, still he reassuringly looked if any of the others were looking.

No one was. “Although none of the aforementioned species means harm to mankind, except maybe a faction in the Harpies, called the patriarchists, revealing this kind of information to the public might provoke unrest.” Mulgrew’s introduction ended with her releasing Kurt to explore the reports on the alien species.

 

Black volcanic rock whizzed by the porthole of the cab, here and there illuminated by a lamp, but mostly it was black and and featureless as the martian surface if no light was shone on it.

Having taken their que from the three ships engineers and colonists had built the tubes to replace the long hallways, staircases and ramps of the original colony.

But unlinke the tubes on the ships, those on Mars were pressurised. There should be no catastrophic decompression in case of any forseen geologic incidents and instabilities.

Barely noticing the change of color in the rocks from volcanic black to granite grey, Kurt stared out the porthole. Why the senate had relocated to a structure outside Olympus Mons was beyond him.

But he admitted that he was a little biased towards the volcano. After all, the dish was not the only family heritage.

But he knew he preferred black rock over grey rock.

Maya preferred the gardens, or the crater when fully lit.

Although what little atmosphere Mars had, had fallen to the ground after Mars was jettisoned from the solar system, there still was dirt from space in need of being swiped from the dish. Vacuum cleaners wouldn’t work without any form of atmosphere left, so swipers were used. Maya liked remotely driving them in the well lit crater.

 

After a while he noticed another change in the view of the cab. The grey rock was suddenly giving way to show another tube. It had a grated floor and doors on the far side, leading to offices, laboratories, living accommodations, what not.

After a short while the cab began slowing down.

In a large cavern, the view breathtakingly vast for a subterranean civilisation, the cab spew him out on a platform near a small artificial lake.

The water of that lake was native to Mars, he knew. Pure water, no life what so ever had ever dwelled in it. Until mankind came of course.

For a moment he rested his eyes on the lake, and the tiny island in its center. Miniature replicas of landmarks of earth had been placed on the shores of the island.

From his vantage point at the tube exit he could see a small Tajmahal, a small Eiffeltower, and behind a bush he saw the torch of a statue of liberty.

Memory lake. Some people dubbed it.

At least he could take solace in the fact that they weren’t burying their dead like in the old days. They had taken the same drastic measures the population of the ships had to take. Dead people were incinerated, returned to the soil they had taken their nutrients from.

 

Inside a large room, along the tracks of the tube he had taken earlier, the senate met. Why they had to have a senate consisting of fifteen people was beyond Kurt’s understanding, but he was not a politically involved member of the colony.

From his early childhood on his parents and grandfather molded him to be a scientist. Whether he could be anything else than that, he didn’t know. Sometimes he mused about it, but found no answer.

The sixteenth member of the politicians sitting in front of Kurt was the president.

An elderly man, if Kurt wasn’t mistaken he was the senator who had green lighted his plans for the probe.

“Mister President, members of the senate. As some of you may or may not know, several years ago an undercover project was green lighted by this very senate. The very specifications of the technology involved in the MISR, or Martian Interstellar Relay, made such secrecy necessary. Details containing this are in the files on your tablets. I am now comming forward to the senate again, with a successful report.” He knew the senators had already gone through the detailed information about the antimatter powered probe. In the eyes of those previously oblivious to the existence of the MISR he could see the outrage. “We have made contact with the colony on RV-p296, twelve months ago the MISR probe successfully completed its voyage and I sent a message to them, containing our history and a short greeting. We have a reply, gladly they sent their reply in the direction of the relay.” On his own tablet he tapped a few buttons, information was loaded onto the tablets of the senators. “At the time of the message they had no knowledge of the MISR, they sent us all of their history, discoveries and what entertainment they have produced.” At this moment the download onto the tablets finished, opening the senators, the worlds of knowledge he and Maya had been able to explore for a few days with his assistants.

He let the condescend summaries he and Maya had produced sink in with the senators before he opened his mouth again. “As you can see, there is a lot we can learn.”

“Aliens?” President John Kinsey looked up from his device. An older model Kurt noticed, with the limited resources on the planet new versions were given to those who needed them, old devices were repaired, not replaced.

“Yes, sir. Harpies, who originated on earth, a silicone based life form, the natives of RV-p296, and a splinter group of humanity. They have changed themselves with alien technology, and declared that they no longer are part of unaltered mankind.”

Disbelief shone from the eyes of the president and the senators. “This reads like science fiction.”

“With all due respect Mr. President, martian history reads like science fiction too. A group of struggling survivors, builds their home under the martian surface as the planet hurls out of what is left of the solar system.” In a mocking trailer voice Kurt felt the tension he had felt over meeting the senate fall off. “Do you still have technology with which you could create antimatter? Because, despite the breakthrough, this is a real concern!” A senator stood up. She reminded him a lot of his mother. “Antimatter technology was banned after the Ark1 disaster, for good reasons. You creating antimatter and a device that utilised it, on martian soil, violates rules and regulations. Laws, if you will.”

A bit of the tension rose again. “My work was in accordance with the senate. It was approved, and green lighted. Although a black project, it still was authorised. I currently have no means of producing antimatter, but with the technology available to us we can replicate the process.” He neglected to reveal he had some antimatter left in a geostationary stash above Olympus Mons. “As you can take from the files sent to us, Harpies and DEHumans, probably the silicates as well, do all use antimatter. Hence, one day, we will have to learn to use it.”

Carefully eyeing senator Adele Farrington he hoped the subject would shift back to the received database. “So you are saying that,”

“I gave him the go.” Kinsey interrupted the senator. “There will be no further investigation into the project’s past. Doctor Braun has set up the communication with the colony, and we can now reconnect with them. Please, enlighten those who are not familiar with your work how this is achieved.”

With a sigh Kurt shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Explaining the details about quantum entanglement to a bunch of laymen wasn’t his idea of how his time should be spent, he came to report about the database, the implications, whether the probe should be moved in closer to the colony, allowing for shorter spans of communication, what their reply should be.

 

“How was it?” Maya awaited him, sitting on the bench near memory lake, next to the tube sation. Someone had etched a graffiti into it. Seen by many as vandalism, he actually didn’t mind to know that a young couple had been there. Probably sharing their first kiss on that very bench.

“I had to explain in detail how the communication is being done, the computing behind it, the math, the quantum entanglement. We spent almost no time talking about what we have actually received.” Still he managed to smile. “However, the president gave me free hand to communicate with them, tell them about the device, and ask them whether the MISR should be moved closer to their home world.”

Maya also smiled, she was glad to hear those news. For a fleeting moment it seemed perfect, but she saw the stern looking woman approach behind Kurt. “I believe a dark shadow is rolling in.” Also reminded of her late mother in law, Maya nodded in the direction of senator Adele Farrington.

“Is there anything I can help you with, senator?” Kurt turned, he needed not to turn and recognise her, nor did he need any hints from his wife. His instincts alone were enough.

“Maybe. It is about the antimatter.” Replying with a sigh of frustration Kurt was about to explain that he couldn’t make some at the time, he had dismantled the devices needed to create it, after the probe had left, and his stash was parked above the lab. “I need you present me with detailed plans on how to make some, as well as a timetable to do it.”

Confusion must’ve been showing on his face as the senator pointed to the cab station and began walking.

“A little black project me and the president have in mind. In front of the other senators I of course had to maintain an opposing stance.” She entered the cab after Maya and Kurt had boarded. The door closed and the vehicle moved off in the direction of Olympus Mons.

“Seeing that your communication device is working, we have planned to create a series of probes to scout for new worlds, through your quantum entanglement technology these probes can rely information in real time to us, we can gain insights on the universe beyond our wildest imagination, and perhaps find a way to a brighter future.”

Kurt and Maya didn’t need it spelled out any more detailed. She wanted ships in the far future, or even more insanely ambitious, turn the planet into one.

 

At the base of the volcano, at the old colony, Adele got off the cab, leaving Kurt and Maya alone to ride to their home further up, just a few hundred meters below the crater. The lab was the highest point, along with three other observatories, three labs on the top of Olympus Mons, all to gether they were part of only a handful of structures on the surface. The lack of a magnetosphere, or an atmosphere made surface structures dangerous places, as asteroid impacts of all sizes could harm the exterior of the structures and vent atmosphere. anRadiation of all sorts could penetrate the relatively weak shielded walls and kill those inside.

Relieved to see his assistants work on the database in the subterranean portion of the lab, Kurt went to the garden with Maya.

They needed time to think, Maya was and always has been, a vital part of his life, and work. While constructing the machines needed to create the antimatter for the probe, she also had been his partner in crime.

“Eat something.” She pointed at a bush of raspberries, already enjoying some of the deliciously sweet fruits.

Not feeling like eating anything he just shook his head. “Can you believe this?” After reassuringly looking around the small garden he finalky spoke.

Except the large city cavern they just had left, none of the gardens on Mars were big. But the one near the top of Olympus Mons, was probably the smallest. Only a dozen families lived up there. Scientists and their families, mostly, also a few of the assistants.

“She wants more antimatter created.” Munching on a handful of berries, Maya replied. Kurt just nodded. He was nervous.

A thought formed in his mind, bringing him back to caution. Senator Farrington might be laying out a trap. Detailed plans for antimatter creation with his signature on them might be a way for her to prosecute him.

Still, he was going to make those plans. Without any traceable link back to him. Everything involved with the MISR wasn’t linked to him, just as black projects are.

 

Again Kurt was woken by an alarm, driven to his lab by curiosity. Another transmission from the MISR. Just as the last time, Maya slept through the noise, so he was alone in the lab. How long has he slept? Pondering as he stared at the monitor he anticipated another month old message.

The monitor instead displayed footage from the on board surveillance. A ship was approaching the relay. By the way it looked he deduced it was not from the colonists. Quickly going through what he had learned of the other space ferrying races in his head, he surmised it must’ve been the DEHumans.

As they approached the image began to flicker, data transmissions of all sorts reached his end of the communication line. Suddenly the face of a young blonde appeared, with a noticeable red light the camera above his screen told him, he was also seen. “Greetings. I am Doctor Braun.” He stammered, half asleep and surprised.

Apparently the young woman was studying him. “We are the DEHumans. Our sensors have detected this communication device. To our knowledge the humans do not possess the technology for quantum entanglement communication, or safe antimatter conduct.”

“The humans you stem from, yes. We had time to sit down and develop this technology. There were no threats from aliens, or digital enhancements.”

Semingly intrigued the woman squinted her eyes. Kurt assumed that the collective mind behind her was estimating how well Kurt would add to their collective mind.

“All this, and you sent just a communication device?” Smirking sheepishly Kurt studied her face as she spoke. “You might not judge the value of one’s life as an individual does, your thoughts and memories are shared and distributed, death has little meaning to you. But as we are slowly beginning to understand antimatter we tread with caution.”

“The value of one biological entity is highly valued among us, the genetic diversity of the DEHuman race depends on each entities survival.” She raised eyebrows, but in a manner that told Kurt that she was not used to do so.

“How noble.” He cleared his throat. “Did you contact me to exchange cultural views, or is there any purpose to this call?”

Again there seemed to be a momentary pause, her expression seemingly froze. “Where is Mars?”

Aha. So that’s the secret. “I do not know its present location, or the precise direction. The orbital speed should be on record.” They must’ve intercepted the original transmission. Probably the reply from RV-p296 as well. “Why do you ask?”

“Curiosity. We might be able to offer you a way out of the underground dwellings. A transport to Equatoria, or you and your people could join us.” Assimilation. “What do you want in return?”

An awkward pause ensued his question, the collective mind was searching for a way to reply. “Why assume our offer has a prize?” Something he had read in a report popped into mind. They had told Admiral Mulgrew that the debts to humanity had been paid when they delivered them to the colony. “Because we are separate species, and you have no reason to interfere with a primitve species like ours, unless you saw a gain for your people. So what’s the prize?”

“Genes.” She displayed a playful smile, also obviously something recalled from the collective memory. “Not to clone you.” She added with her smile vanishing. Our genes, I believe they want our sperm and ovarian cells. “I will relay you most unusual proposition to our government. But I must tell you that I doubt there is going to be an agreement.” In fact I will speak against it, if I am foolish enough to even forward this.

“Please see that you do.” The nameless woman said monotonous. The transmission ended, again the image of the DEHuman ship hovering motionless near the relay returned.

Leaning back in his chair Kurt pondered his options.

Forgetting this ever happened was surely an option. Somehow he doubted that it was a wise option. The relay was defenseless, they could blow it out of the sky, and it would take some time to replace it.

Senate and president needed to be informed. To what end however? He leaned back forward to monitor, mouse and keyboard.

A nagging thought surfaced as he touched them. “What if?” He whispered, opening a transfer protocol.

Massive amounts of data had been loaded while he and the woman were talking. He went through the code for a moment, but couldn’t understand it.

Heat rose to his face as he came to the realisation that the DEHumans had loaded something, that was probably already spreading out into the network.

Devastated he looked up and out to the porthole window, lights began to flicker in the crater.

Somehow he knew that this was just the beginning.

 

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