I was a communications officer for the ASO. My position was to maintain communications for deployed units and serve where necessary, as a translator. We were entering a world where most of the modern military advances made in the last eighty years would not be available to us. To maintain the combat advantages that small unit operations can provide the military knew that they needed to keep the lines of communication open to all units. A small unit can be more effective against a larger unit by being better informed about the battlefield and outmaneuvering the enemy. Communication inside and outside of the unit can provide that added information and empower the small unit.
My first duty was to serve under a First Sergeant William Crowley. We met at the ASO teleportation facility in the Nevada desert just before being deployed to The Artifact. We were very nervous about being transported. The process had a 10 percent error rate and they were due for a miss-jump.
Sergeant Crowley was in his forties and but looked a great deal older because of the white hair in his mustache and at his temples. It also gave him an air of importance and a feeling of confidence in his subordinates. He had fought in the three year war against the Congolese and the Self Denialist movement. Like so many governments that start out with good motives, in this case self denial on the part of government officials to combat corruption, men find a way around the ideals and twist them to their advantage. After thirty years of prosperity, the military build up started and then the invasion forces. Crowley lead a force of one hundred men against five hundred in a fortified position. Only two of his soldiers were wounded because of his planning and leadership, and the Self Denialist forces were pushed back six hundred kilometers. The same unit later took part in the Kinshasa liberation and drove seven thousand of the Self Denialists soldiers out of the city.
I remember feeling that a man like the Sergeant would make a great impact on this frontier ahead of us. I was insignificant in comparison to such an accomplished soldier. The events of the next three years would demonstrate how even the insignificant can effect the futures of two planets.
Eric Gammons was the company Captain. He was a good officer but was not a born leader. He had worked with Crowley many years and was clear that it was Crowley’s and not Gammons’ leadership that had inspired men to greatness. It was clear that over the years Captain Gammons and delegated more and more authority to Crowley’s control.
Our truck rumbled through the Nevada desert as we approached the teleport structure, its spire rose out of the desert, 50 stories tall without another building as far as the horizon. This is necessary to isolate the transmitter from vibrations that could cause a miss-jump. Tiny vibrations are enough to miss align the transmitter and receiver over parsecs of space. A mind numbing array of devices designed to measure seismic activity, movement of vehicles, personnel and sound waves are constantly vigilant to protecting the transmitter from contamination. To this end the transmitter is set up on piers to absorb seismic activity, making the structure look as if it belonged off the coast some ocean.
Already thousands of people have passed through this facility. Every two days eighteen tons of personnel and equipment is transported as entangled photons as a laser through a tiny pinhole sized wormhole. One hundred and thirty two men and women can be transported at a time. The process can be repeated a total of three times and then the facility is overhauled. By some estimates it costs a million dollars to transport a kilogram of matter to The Artifact. It is thought that new facilities will greatly reduce that figure.
The men with me in the truck were part of my new platoon. I was often eager to speak with the men in my assignments and get to know them. However, this time I kept to myself, the teleportation process was weighing on my mind I have my reservations about the success of such a procedure. It seemed that many of the men in the truck with me had the same reservations. All their faces seemed solemn, serious and few were talking to each other.
I do not envy the men that left behind wives, children, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. Even if we made it, would anyone want to risk the trip back? It could be years before the return trip was something I would hazard. Today I was very happy to be alone. My parents were in their fifties when they had me. My father died at sixty five when I was thirteen. My mother lived another six years until she too passed away. They had drummed into my head from a young age to study hard so I could survive. I had been too busy in school and the academy to get involved in any relationships.
In the teleport facility we waited in a staging room for the trucks that brought us here to leave the minimum 50 km radius. I was assigned to the third “batch”. A batch refers to a teleport session or a jump. I wanted to see what the teleport process was like before it was my turn to experience it. Unfortunately that was not an option, to keep the batch safe from vibration contamination everyone needs to stay in specially designed rooms that ablate movement. A sneeze near the platform will doom the batch.
The waiting room was a stark long hallway and benches lined the walls and were bolted into the floor. Crowley walked to the far end and we filed in after him.
The Sergeant addressed the room. “Take a seat gentlemen and don’t get out of them. You are not to move from this location until our batch is ready to be processed!” He then exited the room.
We all took our places. The thought of being this close to going off world was making me nervous. Thankfully that broke when a thin looking Private sitting next to me introduced himself.
“James Buckner. How do ya’ do.” He held out his hand and did his best to appear as if standing in front of me while not leaving his seat.
“Onix Concade. I’m not so sure if I’m excited about this or dreading it.” I shook his hand.
He was leaning out into the hallway, body turned sideways with his head cocked in a way that made it look like his spine was not attached to his skull.
“Uh huh?” He said with a big grin, as if expecting the rest of my dissertation. He started to chew as if he had something in his mouth. I tried to see if he did but did not see anything there.
“Well. . . What about you?” I asked trying to break the anticipation that I had more to say.
“Oh. . . I dunno.” He blurted out still anticipating my involvement. From his look he almost seemed like he was trying to play some kind of game but had neglected to tell me how to play.
“Where are you from James?” I asked, trying to think of a question he would know the answer to.
“South Carolina” He stated frankly, still chewing on apparently nothing, still staring.
At this point several conversations broke out in the room at once and several seconds after the entire room was talking. James seemed to loose interest in me and began intently listening to the conversation between the people next to him. He slowly drew his gaze from me and re focused on his new interest.
“What the hell was that?” came in a whisper from the Corporal on my other side.
I vaguely shrugged my shoulders and turned up the palms of my hands rolling my eyes to say I had nothing to do with it.
” Corporal Abraham stationed out of Jersey.” He offered me his hand.
Shaking his hand “Onix out of Gary Indiana”.
“Don’t worry about the jump, if it goes wrong, you won’t even know that it did.” He stated in an attempt at re-assuring me.
“I’m more worried about if it goes right. They say that it’s you on the other end but how do they know?” I replied
“Well I’ll ask you on the other side.” He joked but he had missed my meaning.
I tried to clarify my concern. “What I mean is, the copy that ends up on the other side, how do you know it isn’t just a copy of you and you die on the platform here.”
From across the room a dark haired woman who spoke with a Scandinavian sounding accent broke in. “No, it’s really you. We don’t transmit any data on how the matter should be arranged in the teleport process. It’s all done through entanglement. If the process was long enough to be aware of, you would perceive being in both locations at the same time. In a way, the energy inputted into the system is simply being added to you, but at a different location. That tricks the matter in your body to jump from the Transmitter to the Receiver.”
“But I thought the wormhole wasn’t big enough for atoms to fit through?” I asked.
“It isn’t. The matter doesn’t really move anywhere. . . It’s difficult to explain the interaction with anything other than math, we don’t normally have anything that we can relate the process to but it’s an exploitation of quantum entanglement of particles. The whole issue of if the transported individual is the same as the individual at the destination was resolved in a study done in Helsinki.”
“How did they resolve it?” I was skeptical.
“They were able to slow the interaction down to span over two miliseconds and observed insects in the interaction for equal results.” She explained as if that made things perfectly clear.
“Insects? How do you ask an insect if it felt the interaction and if it was the same bug? I don’t get it.”
She shook her head, not believing that I didn’t understand her. “No, but some insects do show evidence of memory and you can watch for simultaneous action that proves the same neurons are firing at the same time.”
I tried to tone down the conversation, several others had taken an interest in our discussion. “Look I’m not questioning anybody’s intelligence, I just think that it a leap of faith to step into a device that you suddenly cease to exist, no matter what comes out the other end. Your faith just might be better informed than mine.”
A voice from several seats over yelled out “Yeah, I don’t like the idea of having my atoms scattered all over the galaxy!”
The woman’s attention was diverted off of me as she began to argue with the person that just spoke. On her shoulder was her rank she was some kind of specialist and below it was written “KRONQUIST” in bold letters. I recognized the name from our dispatch roster. She was the Field Scientist attached to our company.
It was 12 hours before our batch was ready to be processed. All of us were more than ready to go anywhere as long as it wasn’t sitting on a hard bench. The long dreadful wait came to an end. In the batch room the teleport pad was a raised structure just over a meter off the ground. The pad was made entirely of static resistant plastic. This is because the “gate” is extremely sensitive to electromagnetic interference. The gate creates two copies of the object or person to be teleported. Neither copy is the original and both are entangled. In truth of the copies are the same matter existing in two places at once. This state is extremely fragile and can only be maintained for a trillionth of a second. What the teleport process does is deliver one of the “copies” and then nudges the copy at the destination just enough to make it the one that exists after the gate collapses.
As the gate passes over the batch you exist in two places and then you exist only in the destination. The process is so fast that you don’t realize it occurs. However after the process, you know that it happened. Some men collapsed right around the receiver pad. Some men had to be helped off by attendants standing by. I wasn’t doing much better. The feeling wasn’t extraordinary in anyway. It felt much like a very bad flu. For a moment I had no sensation of up or down but that quickly passed. My eyes came into focus on my new reality. Something like getting the carpet pulled out from under you, only it’s the whole world getting pulled out from under you. The receiver structure was hastily built. The platform we arrived on looked as if it was made from PVC pipe. The platform was plywood. The walls of the receiver station were made from corrugated stainless steel, held together by more PVC pipe for its structural integrity.
The requirements at the receiver station are not nearly so stringent as those at the transmitter. The receiver merely picks up the signal from the transmitter and provides the nudge that the copy at the destination or the receiver needs to become dominant. Vibration contamination here at the receiver is not a consideration.
I stumbled down off the receiver platform. Sergeant Crowley was already giving orders.
Captain Gammons had not fared so well. He swooned and nearly fell over.
An officer stepped up to the platform approaching the sergeant.
“Welcome to The Artifact sergeant, I’m Major Andrew Stein. You’ve been briefed on the situation. Let’s get your men equipped and moving!” The major said.
Sergeant Crowley nodded “Move out men!”
We complied with difficulty; it was just moments after our arrival. Images of boot camp swirled in my head as I saw the men recognize the command and very reluctantly put all their effort into fulfilling it.
As I stepped out of the receiver station into a new wholly unfamiliar world, the landscape stretched out around me. What appeared to be a yellow sky stretched out overhead brown earth stretched below and far in the distance structures and a camp.
I had perceived this reality completely incorrectly. The sky was not what it seemed. It was the roof of an enormous structure. At closer inspection tiny seams could be made out in its vast expanses. Seeing that massive roof over my head made me feel like the pressure of the incomprehensibly large structure pressed down on the air making it difficult to breathe. This was in truth claustrophobia but in a way that doesn’t normally make sense. The place was huge in a way that no building on Earth ever was. Taller on the inside than three Football fields and spread out like a rolling field of the Midwest.
We’d been briefed on the structure of The Artifact but seeing it was something different from the maps we’d been shown. The natives call this structure “Grier”. Earthers called them hexes because of their geometry. A Hex has six walls and is nearly 2 km tall and 10 km wide between parallel walls. Each Hex has its own purpose. Some are composed of several floors. There are hexes for agricultural use, there are hexes for residential use and there are hexes for industry, power, sanitation, and water. More remarkable that the hexes themselves however is that there are over one-and-a-half trillion of them in The Artifact.
The natives here are more comfortable inside of a Hex then they are on the surface. To them descriptions of the earth feel desolate and barren. To many from Earth descriptions of The Artifact feels desolate and barren. It is a matter of perception of the unfamiliar. Many things about The Artifact are alien to those from Earth.
Major Stein brought forward a short man who appeared to be of Asian descent but from my briefings I recognized him as a Scimrahn. He was 150 cm tall with shoulder length black hair, he wore a traditional Scimrahn tunic and girdle.
“This is Hadolko. His rank is first mark keeper, comparable to private first class. He will be your guide to the surface.” The major said to Sergeant Crowley.
Hadolko stood motionless as if not perceiving he was being spoken of. He stood glass eyed, not looking at anyone in particular. I later learned that this was intentional and a learned behavior he used around people from Earth. He was doing his best to approximate a soldier standing at attention. The thought was almost humorous in retrospect.
The platoons climbed into trucks that drove us towards the ASO camp. I was anxious to use some of the Scimrahn I’ve been taught. I tried to come up with something to say that would be intelligent to our new guide but with my head bleary from the teleport procedure and still in awe of the structures common as the Hex, my mind had many things that weighed on it.
Driving towards the camp, Hadolko and continued his glassy stare. I mustered up the courage to try some Scimrahn “keth zi Gadios gomb”. I was asking if he lived in Gadios. Hadolko snapped out of his glassy stare.
“Cheg” he replied looking somewhat confused. And then added in English ” you think I’m dead “?
I obviously mis-spoke. I was trying to salvage what I started. ” In English the question do you live in a place means is this your home? “.
” you mean ‘roke lahchahz keth gomb?’ ” Hadolko replied.
After a few moments I recognized what he was saying. “roke lahchahz keth gomb ” basically, ” is this your home? ” which is how I phrased the question the second time.
Despite my condition and unease from of the teleportation process, the rest of the ride to Camp was quickly passed in Hadolko’s and my attempts to understand each other. Clearly we had much to learn about each other and we were both eager to do so. Hadolko used a different dialect of Scimrahn than we had been taught.
The ASO camp is a sprawling complex of structures filled with new arrivals from Earth. Aside from being inside a Hex, nearly everything was familiar. As we moved through the camp one structure stood out. An enormous white dome stood on the edge of the camp.
“What is that?” I asked Hadolko
“The Drackna are proud to build the home of our allies leaders.” Hadolko stated a bit cryptically, but it was primarily because he was only a little better speaking English than I was at speaking Scimrahn.
“Who are the Drackna?”
“They are Scimrahns that build the best in Gadios. There is no one else that can build like them in this world!” Hadolko said swelling with pride.
The football stadium sized structure had an irregular surface like a hill eroded in stages by a shallow flow of water. The dome had irregular steps that circled the structure making the building look like a work of nature rather than a man made structure. I later learned that this was the U.N. Embassy on The Artifact.
As we approached the camp I was surprised to find that the structures were primarily temporary tents or made of canvas. This was to minimize the material being transported to The Artifact. Military planners were uneasy about using native materials that could have unexpected properties. The headquarters was the only concrete structure in the camp. The cost of transporting that much concrete between planets was exorbitant.
We stayed that night in the camp’s barracks. Hadolko slept outside the door in what he called a “shelter bag” which was something like a glorified sleeping bag.
“You don’t have to sleep on the ground. There must be a bed you can sleep in?” I offered to Hadolko
“I am comfortable with my bag, it is warm and I have spent most of my life sleeping in it” he climbed into the bag. It didn’t look very old but then again neither did Hadolko.
“Yes, but wouldn’t you rather sleep on a mattress when given the opportunity?”
“I am Scimrahn, we do not live like the Kelrath in long houses. A Scimrahn must sleep alone.” He covered over his head letting me know that the conversation was over.
Apparently he had some objection to the barracks. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever understand these people.
That night we had our first look at Alien technology. A Private had smuggled a softball sized sphere back to the barracks.
“Take a look at this!” he handed me the device, it had a feeling like stone, but was very light for it’s size. It obviously was intended to fire something, the barrel opened on one side and there were recessed finger grips on the other. It had the distinct odor of ozone to it.
“Just be quiet about it, I don’t need any trouble for sneaking it in here. I figured you boys would like a look at it before you had to deal with it. It’s some kind of Kelrath weapon, it stopped working after the third time I fired it.”
Despite the potential for getting us into a lot of trouble, we were all eager to take a look and everyone drew up close to see.
The private related how he acquired the object. “Our convoy came under attack by a whole mess of Kelrath! The Scimrahn that was guiding us said we shouldn’t move out in the open so we were traveling through some kind of sewer tunnel. All of a sudden boys started dropping screaming and rolling on the ground!” He did a little dance to mimic what they had done. “The Lieutenant said it was lasers and to take cover so we got down in the water and turned on the spotlights!” he said crouching by the bed. “Then we saw them! A hundred of them about three hundred meters out. The Lieutenant told the scouts to open up with their sniper rifles. It was too easy to hit them, they were all bunched up in one spot. We heard screams and it looked like they were going to take off, but then somebody yelled some gibberish through . . . What are those things called” He gestured with his fist in front of his mouth.
“Megaphone?” somebody offered.
“Yeah, a megaphone. Then they all started charging! We thought we were dead until we got a good look at them. It was just like the combat in the Congo back in 83′. These guys didn’t know how to fight, they were in rags! I think there was only one gun each for three of them!”
He caught himself getting too much into his story. He was getting too loud. “I gotta watch myself, getting too worked up. But you shoulda’ seen them. Only a few had any kind of armor, they didn’t even look like they knew how to use their lasers. Most of the volleys they fired at us fell short of us or hit the walls. Some of them had already lost limbs before were right out in front like they were ready to take the bullets. They were human shields! But that didn’t save them when we lit up those tunnels! When they got closer we opened up on em’ and boy that sent em’ running! One guy launched his missile at em’ and that was the end of that! When we went looking for survivors I found that ball in one pocket.”
His depiction of the attackers was intended to belittle them, but his eyes told me that what he related was accurate. The Kelrath that attacked had little discipline. Their condition sounded pitiable. They were sent to a slaughter. The horrid tale made me question what else we would encounter on this planet.
I quickly came to the realization that this world would not have the same rules of warfare that Earth had developed. For all the debate about if people had followed them in on instance or another, at least there were instances where they were followed.
I feared the day that I would have to fire on a mob of those crippled poor, knowing that they were fully intent on ending my life. The morality of such a conflict tore at my mind and the only thing that could justify it was the right I had to defend myself.
It was difficult to sleep that night. We were sitting on the very edge of the unknown. Just outside the camp was an alien world that promised to challenge every last one of us. Only a handful of Earthers have set foot on this world. We were the privileged few to see it first.
The next day after being fed, we were briefed on our mission.
Sergeant Crowley started the briefing. “The first thing I want to say is that I am honored to have such a fine group of soldiers under my command. Every one of you have earned the right to be here. With some work we will forge a path for future colonization for all our families and countrymen. That work starts here and now! I will ask no more of you than I will of myself. Will you put your backs into it?”
The entire company gave a resounding “Yes sir!”
“Good. Now what I do not want is to see what happened on that teleporter pad yesterday. I lost five men yesterday. They will remain here until they are fit for duty. In the meantime, we have accepted a transfer to replace them.
On the whole however that is not a good indicator of our success. I need every soldier here to pull through and support the company. Will you support the company?”
Again the company answered “Yes Sir!”
“Then we just might forge that path.” Crowley paused making a transition from his pep talk to the matter at hand. “Our mission is to make our way to the surface and give support to a tribe of Scimrahn called the Kwi. Their situation is precarious, and to tell the truth, we may arrive too late.
This tribe has been the focus of Chezbah attack for several months and are reaching the point where another attack could wipe out the entire tribe. We have sworn to protect our allies from assault and we will do so.
Your role will be to afford the Scimrahn enough time to retreat in the event of a Chezbah attack. The mission is simple. . . Save lives.
We will be picking up transport from an allied train that will take us within one hundred kilometers of the surface. We will then proceed on foot to the surface and make contact with the tribe.
Alright, move out.”
I felt little better than I did the day before. Apparently some people take months to completely recover from the transport process. This was definitely not something we had been warned of before. We climbed into transports and headed for wall of the Hex. The wall loomed over us as we approached. I could make out that there once were several exits along this wall but they had been covered over. Now only the center passage was left open. The opening looked as if it were eighty meters tall and one hundred and twenty meters wide. I tried getting a gauge for how thick the Hex wall was, which to the best of my ability was roughly four hundred meters thick.
My concentration was diverted as we emerged from the tunnel. I had been paying attention to something as mundane as a tunnel wall where in front of us emerged an awesome but nearly familiar sight. A city made by human hands although not from Earth.