When Ben had taken a job at a remote research station he was told that he would be part of a team investigating illegal experiments in cross-species genetics. On the first day Ben began to have his suspicions that it was just a cover story for something else. By the evening of the following day he discovered that the specimens were actually aliens. After his initial shock wore off he decided to begin his own independent investigation.
The most effective method would be to hide one of the aliens and attempt to revive it. He made his selection from the hundreds of rectangular stasis pods containing the aliens in cold storage. No one would notice it missing for a while.
It hadn't been too difficult for Ben to figure out how to insert a canister of restorative fluid into the pod. He had hidden the alien in his cramped living quarters in the facility and was hopeful that during his last shift some improvement had been made. His heartbeat quickened as he entered his bedroom and saw the pod where he had left it in the middle of the floor. Ben’s bed was propped on its side against the far wall. Last night he had slept on the couch in the small living area that was also his office and kitchen.
Ben couldn’t believe the difference since he had left for work this morning. It was definitely an alien. Smooth iridescent skin constantly shifted in colour and pattern like some sea creature. The face was humanoid and feminine in appearance with cheekbones that were two slender ridges beneath the eyes that curved around the skull into the ears of lucent skin on delicate spines. A dark velvety fuzz covered the top of the alien’s head, forehead and continued down the bridge of the nose. The hands were disturbingly similar to a human’s but the back of them was covered in velvety fuzz while the fingers had retractable claws like a cat.
‘Aliens are real.’ Ben said softly to himself before beginning to check its vital signs.
The alien became aware of something touching her and was roused abruptly to full consciousness. At the sight of a human bending over her she yelped and scrambled away, falling to the floor on the other side of the stasis pod she had been lying in.
Ben grabbed the camera off the tripod to record the alien’s movements and continued to narrate his findings so that he could type them up for his notes later. The alien watched him with wide, startled eyes and appeared to be in shock. He needed to take samples but was worried that the alien would become violent if he made any sudden movements. To his surprise when he approached, the alien was muttering in a barely audible mumble.
‘Hello, I’m Ben. I will be your doctor today.’ Ben said as he held up a swab in what he hoped was a non-threatening gesture.
‘Oh, you’re talking to me now, are you?’ the alien replied.
Ben’s mouth dropped open as the swab slipped from his hand and hit the floor.
‘Huh – what?’ Ben stammered.
The alien glared at Ben, her skin turning an icy shade of blue with ominous black and white splotches shifting in alarming patterns.
‘Uh, err, you speak my language?’ Ben stammered.
‘Obviously.’ the alien replied with a snort of disgust.
Ben’s knees gave way and he slumped to the floor. The alien frowned, or Ben guessed it was a frown. The alien’s forehead briefly resembled rumpled suede and her eyes narrowed.
‘What am I doing here, human?’
Ben didn’t know how to begin to reply to the question and said the first thing that popped into his dumbfounded brain. ‘Are you really an alien?’ he asked.
‘Alien as in not human? Or alien as in not from this planet? Because that definition would apply to you as well,’ she said in a tone dripping with acid.
‘What?’ Ben said, his confusion growing with every word the alien uttered.
The alien considered the possibility that the he might not be playing stupid to put her off guard, but actually had no idea of the history between their two species.
‘How much do you know, human?’ the alien asked.
Ben felt as though his intellect had been insulted. ‘My name is Ben,’ he corrected the alien, his temper flaring.
The alien put her hand to her face and her eyes closed as if in pain. ‘Ben, how did I become your prisoner? The last thing I remember is entering stasis when my people had to evacuate the planet.’
‘Oh, was your home world destroyed?’ Ben asked.
The colour abruptly drained from the alien’s skin at his question, leaving her a pale sickly grey. Ben was alarmed and reached out a hand to steady her.
‘Don’t touch me!’ she hissed and backed away.
Ben was offended. What an annoying, ungrateful alien.
‘I should have left you in your pod,’ he mumbled.
‘I agree. I would have preferred to die while unconscious and unaware of my predicament as well.’
Ben flushed with embarrassment and didn’t know what to say. He busied himself putting the camera back on the tripod.
‘You humans invaded us as you had so many times before. My people build planets and yours destroys them.’ the alien said.
Ben protested that such a thing was impossible. Humans still hadn't developed space travel technology. There was barely enough funding to maintain the international space station in orbit above the planet. To prove his point he showed her pictures on his laptop.
‘No, where are your spaceships? What have you done with them?’ she asked as she tapped the key to progress through the images.
She saw a picture of Mars and froze, staring in horror at the image.
‘What is it? What’s wrong?’ Ben asked.
‘Show me, show me the orbits of the planets,’ she said softly.
Nothing was as she remembered. The planets that had been on the same orbit around the sun were in completely different places and some of them were missing. Only the Earth remained with its single moon and even that was wrong. Ben was sure that she was mistaken, that she had to have come from somewhere else.
‘No, it’s gone. It’s all gone.’ she said in a heartbroken whisper.
The alien returned to her pod where she sat and stared at nothing for over an hour. Ben decided to take her some food and something to drink in the hopes of rousing her out of her misery.
‘Hello?’ Ben said as he put the plate and cup on the bedside table.
There was no response from the alien, she didn’t even blink.
‘Are you hungry or thirsty? Um, what is your name? If you don’t mind me asking.’ Ben asked.
The alien heaved a weary sigh. ‘You may call me Nil.’
‘Seems appropriate, considering the situation,’ she flicked a glance at the food and wrinkled her nose. ‘You don’t expect me to eat that do you?’
‘It doesn’t even smell like food. Are you trying to poison me? If you want me dead, there are quicker, less disgusting methods I could suggest.’
‘Yeah, well that’s microwave dinners for you. There should be a cruel and unusual punishment warning label on them.’ Ben smiled but Nil didn’t get the joke.
Nil went back to staring at nothing and ignoring Ben.
He took the plate away and decided that he was too tired to think clearly. Maybe a solution would present itself in the morning.
* * *
A noise woke Ben, it was still dark and he groped for the switch to turn on the light. It was almost 4 am, had security come to arrest him for taking the alien? Then he realised that the noise was coming from his bedroom. He rushed over and yanked open the door.
Nil had taken apart pieces of the pod and was assembling the components to create some sort of device.
‘What are you doing?’ Ben asked, desperately hoping that it wasn’t some sort of weapon or a bomb.
‘I'm looking for my people.’ Nil replied.
Ben was amazed. ‘You know where they went?’
Nil looked up at him, her forehead rumpled in a frown. ‘How would I? They were captured by humans after I went into stasis.’
‘Oh.’ Ben had been asking about the ones who escaped and was relieved she misunderstood his question. ‘They’re in the basement. It’s below ground.’
‘Hmm, I’ll have to adjust the calibration.’ Nil said.
She picked up a small tool that she had cobbled together from bits cannibalised from the pod and used it to make an adjustment.
‘Are you planning an escape?’ Ben asked.
‘You say escape, I say reunion.’
Nil inserted a length of what looked like white plastic tubing into the scanning device and something clicked. A glowing web of light formed a hologram in the centre of a circular lattice of crystals.
‘There it is.’ Nil said.
‘What?’ Ben knelt down for a closer look.
‘Our spaceship in the warehouse next to the basement and there is a tunnel connecting them.’ She pointed to the appropriate areas on the hologram as she spoke. ‘So what do you say? Are you going to help us?’
Ben looked at the hologram, considering how to answer.
‘We could tell the world the truth, people need to know your story–’ Ben began.
‘That isn’t a solution, you know that humans won’t accept the truth, they never have before. We have to get away.’ Nil pleaded.
Ben was disappointed with her response. ‘Maybe we’ve changed enough, give us a chance.’
Nil looked down at her clenched hands. ‘I watched the news on your laptop.’
Ben knew there was no way he could convince her to stay. ‘Oh. I was hoping that your people would be able to help us. When you said you were world builders I thought they would have a way to fix global warming, clean up pollution, solve the energy crisis, end famines–’
Nil grimaced sadly. ‘I’m sorry, but we can’t do any of that.’
‘No, I suppose not.’ Ben agreed reluctantly.
He looked at the time and decided that they would have to move quickly if she wanted her “reunion” before the scientists started work for the day. Nil nodded and put everything that she had made into the pod.
‘What are you doing?’ Ben asked.
She was doing something to a panel on the pod. ‘I might need some of this.’
‘We don’t have time to move the pod. I’d have to go get a gurney–’
The pod floated up above the floor and Nil sent it sailing out the door with an easy push.
Ben stared in amazement for a moment then grinned. ‘Okay. Let’s go.’
He ran the program that he had used before to hack into the security cameras and put them on a loop. They took the lift down to the basement and Nil was sickened by what she saw. One of her people had been experimented on. Wires were threaded into the alien’s body to tap into his nervous system.
Ben was shocked and disgusted. It was unlike any experiment he had ever seen. Was it some sort of torture device?
‘What have they done?’ he whispered.
‘They’re trying to access our knowledge.’ Nil said softly.
Ben shook his head. ‘I’m so sorry, I had no idea.’
Nil frowned. ‘We have to get him back into his pod.’
‘It might kill him.’ Ben protested.
‘Yes, but I can’t leave him here.’
They were running out of time and Nil simply cut through the wires so they could put the alien in his pod. Nil checked the scanner to make sure she hadn't left anyone behind as they ran, the two pods following them to where the rest were stored.
‘It’s going to take too long to access all the pods to move them.’ Ben said as he keyed open the cold storage door.
Nil grabbed a component from the mess in her pod and inserted it into her scanning device. ‘You may want to cover your ears.’
Ben took a step back. ‘Why? What is that? Are you going to blow us up?’
Nil stared at him in amazement. ‘No! I’m sending directions to the pods and they’re going to move really fast. The noise might hurt your ears.’ she said.
Nil’s hands moved quickly over the scanner’s controls. Pods flew in a tightly packed mass through the doorway and down the corridor to the tunnel. There was a loud bang as the pods smashed through the closed doors to the warehouse.
‘That should do it. Are you coming?’ she asked as she hopped up onto her pod.
Ben hesitated. ‘You mean come with you into space?’
Ben grinned. ‘Sure, why not.’
He climbed in behind her and hunched down as they sped after the other pods.
Security didn’t even have a chance to respond to the mass of flying pods that entered the spaceship. They were just reporting the incident and calling for reinforcements as the ship took off, crashing through the roof like it was made of paper. Ben hoped none of them were hurt as they fled from the falling debris. Nil programmed a vector into the navigation system and turned to Ben.
‘Are you sure you want to come with us? It’s not too late to go back.’ Nil said, watching Ben carefully.
‘Yeah, I’m sure. I’ve always wanted to travel.’
Nil nodded and showed Ben to an empty pod. ‘You’ll have to go into stasis. It’s a long trip.’
Ben took off his shoes and lay down in the pod. ‘What, no in-flight movie?’ he asked.
Nil shook her head and smiled. ‘Sorry, but you won’t even notice how much time has passed. It makes the journey seem instantaneous.’
Ben closed his eyes as she activated the stasis field.
As the spaceship left Earth’s gravity field, Nil floated weightless above Ben’s pod. She looked at Ben’s unconscious body and thought that it was a terrible shame that humans still hadn't evolved beyond their desire for conflict and exploitation. Nil touched the surface of the pod sadly and felt tears fill her eyes.
So much potential and no will to use it for anything but to satisfy their greed.
Her people had learnt one thing from the humans. The value of deceit.
She checked the holographic display on her scanner that showed his insides. She knew that he was an android, even if he didn’t. The signal he was transmitting back to the humans was unaffected by the stasis field. The humans would track their android spy, thinking that Ben would lead them to more worlds that her people had created.
Nil’s people preserved life and dedicated themselves to create places it could thrive.
She began waking the other members of the ship’s crew. It was time to implement the next stage of their plan. All of them were decoys and it was their task to lead the humans into the depths of space. To galaxies where there were no other sentient lifeforms. The humans would either learn to survive on their own or perish in the attempt.
No more of Nil’s people would suffer because of the voracious appetites of humans.