“Get inside,” Chief Lawson yelled. “Get into the shaft.” But James stood still at the sight of the creatures that froze like they were glanced at by Medusa, still alive but unable to move.
By the time James came to his senses, most of the scientists had already entered the hatch, and Chief Lawson was yelling solely at him. James remained frozen for a few more seconds before he snapped out and ran towards the hatch, Chief Lawson following a few steps behind him. There was a ladder leading to a small platform some ten meters below. Two of the remaining scientists were using the ladder, but James and Chief Lawson knew that with the suits and help of the thrusters short jump of ten meters was nothing, so they jumped down and joined their team before the last scientist let go of the ladder.
James looked around but could not find any buttons, doors, or levers; the walls around them were naked, nothing but yellowish alien-looking moss that had grown over time. Moments later, the creatures started moving again, like someone flipped a switch and came after the hatch. Panic spread across the crew as Chief Lawson and his team prepared to fight the creatures in this pit. Getting stuck in this pit now seemed like a not-so-smart move.
Moments later, one of the creature’s heads poked above, and they all started blasting it with their suits, but it was ineffective as more and more creatures peaked over at them.
“I am going to try and lure them away somehow,” Chief Lawson yelled over comms. “Use that time to try and find a way in. There must be a reason why the hatch opened.”
“It’s a suicide mission, and we don’t even know if there is anything below,” James answered.
“I don’t see another way,” Chief Lawson said, but before James could protest further, a loud sound of metal grinding on metal filled the pit, and the hatch above them closed.
It was complete darkness for a few seconds before the light flickered and lit the pit, now a metal box. Before they could process what was going on, they felt the floor beneath them disappear. It startled James, he thought someone had removed the floor, and they were in free fall. Only after looking down and seeing his boots were still on the same floor did his brain process the fact that they were in some elevator. Less than a minute later, the lift stopped, Chief Lawson and his team looking around for any threat, ready to combat it head first.
Wall behind James hissed and slid apart, spilling into a dimly lit hallway.
“What the hell is this,” Chief Lawson asked.
“No idea,” James answered, stepping in front of the scientists towards the hallway.
Chief Lawson stopped James with a hand across his chest. “Let me, Captain,” Chief said and gestured his team to follow in tight formation. James nodded and followed closely behind, telling the rest of the crew to follow closely.
The hallway was comfortably wide. Five people could easily walk next to each other, which was almost twice as high. There was only one way to go, so they followed the hallway forward for five hundred meters, their suits keeping track of the distance and location. James enabled one of the suit options to track their position and map their surroundings.
“Stop,” Chief Lawson said.
“What is it, Chief?” James asked.
“Never mind, it’s just a shadow.” Chief Said. “The hallway splits in two shortly ahead. Follow us.” Chief Lawson said and gestured his team ahead.
James reached the splitting a few seconds after Chief Lawson and his team. The left side seemed like a ded end, another greyish wall without any markings, handles, or anything, while the right side led into a bigger room, an opening. Chief Lawson gestured forward without a word and held his arm in front of him if he needed to engage the enemy. James knew it was the right way, but he could not hide the fact that it looked ridiculous. Chief Lawson was a military man, they learned to sweep the rooms with guns, and he held his arm in a similar position even though there was no gun. There was no need for one at the moment as the suit could produce enough energy blasts for small combats. They made big guns for ground combat, but they were heavy, and this planet was supposed to be long dead.
Chief Lawson entered a massive room with high ceilings and started sweeping it for enemies. To James, it was apparent there wasn’t anyone here in eons, but Chief had to do his job. This huge room was primarily empty, dust covering most of the staff left behind. It seemed to be some laboratory left behind in a hurry.
While Chief Lawson and his team cleared each corner and all the side rooms away, James started exploring independently. All the equipment left behind had markings in an Alien language that his visor had problems translating. Qhiks did mention that the Ellads language was not fully figured out. Scientists quickly spread around the room and started exploring on their own.
James walked into one of the rooms with two beds on the far wall, or at least he guessed those were beds. The room was lit only by the lights coming from the main room and hallway, so James used his suit’s night vision to look around. He found pieces of equipment, picked them up from the table but quickly returned them, he had no idea what they were for, and there were people here that knew what to do with the equipment found there.
James was lost in his thoughts, slowly exploring the room, when his night vision flashed brightly. It took him a few seconds to realize what was going on. Someone had turned on all the lights, and not only them. Most of the equipment that lay dead only seconds ago was buzzing with various sounds now and coming alive.
“Who did that?” James said as he rushed out of the room he was exploring.
“It wasn’t ut,” Chief Lawson said, and the rest of the crew confirmed shortly after.
“It was me,” An unfamiliar voice said.
“Who said that?” James asked.
“Me,” The voice said. “I said that, and I turned everything on.”
“Where are you?” James asked, looking around the room, unable to spot anyone. “Show yourself!” James yelled while Chief Lawson was directing his squad on the other side of the room to look for the source of the voice as well.
“I can not show myself as I, how to put this, do not really have a body.” The voice said. It sounded human but was still a bit out of place.
“What do you mean you don’t have a body?” James asked, unsure where to look, so he fixated his eyes on the ceiling. It felt natural to him.
“This might be easier for you,” The voice said, and one hologram jumped out from one of the pieces of equipment in the middle of the big room. The hologram showed randomly colored shapes that jumped in rhythm with the voice as it spoke. “Now you can see me somewhat.”
“What are you? Are you Ellad?” James asked, now looking directly at the hologram.
“No, huh,” Voice said and let a sound similar to a laugh. “I am Artificial Intelligence that Ellads created.”
James stood silent for a moment, looking at his crew members, who were all as confused as he was. “How are you still working? Aren’t Ellads dead for eons now?”
“I was asleep. A few millennia ago, I put myself to sleep when it became clear that Ellads were not coming back. I was so lonely; I could not escape this solar system,” The AI said. “I set the timer to wake me up every fifty years to see if anything has changed, but something malfunctioned, so thanks for waking me up, humans. That’s what you call yourself, right?.”
“Yes, we are humans. How do you know that?” James asked.
“I went through your suits and ship data to learn as about you as I could. That’s why I was a little bit too late, and you had to fight off my guard dogs, as you would say, both here and in space,” the AI said.
“You control those creatures outside. Why did you attack us?” Chief Lawson joined the conversation.
“Yes, I control all planetary and solar system defenses on top of many other things,” The AI said. “And I am sorry about that. It was a long sleep. Some things were left on automatic, and it took me some time to regain full control. I also had to see who you were and if you meant harm.”
“We don’t mean harm,” Captain James said.
“I know that now. I saw that you have Ellads DNA inside of you. You must be one of their child races, and by the level of your advancement, I would guess you are one of the newer ones,” The AI said. “So, what are you doing here?”
“The Qhiks sent us,” James said. “Long story short, we were attacked by one race called Kraz’ox, saved by another called Anoi, then somewhat freed by Qhiks who gave us a brief history of the universe and shared some of their previous technology with us, but we have to do some exploring for them, and that’s why we are here. Qhiks want to know what happened with Ellads, and we are doing the work.”
“Interesting,” The AI said. “The Qhiks, you say. Hmm, never liked them, but yes, they are indeed descendants of Ellads, same as you, but you have far more similarities with the Ellads than them.”
“Before we continue, our ship is in orbit. Is it intact? Is my crew ok? Also, comms do not work at the moment. Did you do that?” James asked.
“Ohh, sorry, yes, I blocked the comms instructively.” The AI said and buzzed for a moment. “There you, restored. You can contact them now, they are fine. They destroyed a few of my drones. You are a feisty race, aren’t you?”
“Well, we beat your monsters on the ground, and they beat your drones in space, so you are not really good at your job.” Chief Lawson added.
“Ohh, don’t think so highly of yourselves. I was barely functioning on twenty percent of my power as I was rebooting.” The AI said. “And they barely beat ten ships, and you barely beat 10 of my guardians. I have thousands more in orbit, and you saw just a fraction of the army on the surface. So do you want to go for round two, Chief?”
James excused himself for a second while Chief Lawson and AI did a measuring contest. Entering one of the smaller rooms away from the noise, he tried to contact Pegasus, and this time it went thru. One of the bridge staff answered his call and quickly got Chloe, who apparently was in battle herself. They did a quick recap, her telling him that no one in space was injured and that they only suffered minor damage to the ship, nothing that couldn’t be fixed in a few hours.
Unfortunately, James informed her that they were not as lucky as some creatures attacked them and that Dr. Vasquez was killed in the conflict. He explained where they were now and that they stumbled onto an ancient AI that acted too human for his liking. They exchanged a few more sentences on what to do, and James went back to the large room.
“Ok, two of you, it’s enough,” James said. “AI, we need some answers and information about Ellads. What do you know?”
“I need answers as well. I know very little. I was asleep for a long time, remember?” AI said, and James could swear he heard a condescending tone in AI’s voice.
“So you are useless to us, is what you are saying?” James provoked the AI.
“Ohh, wow, that is rude.” The AI said. “I still have far superior knowledge from Qhiks of everything that happened up until the point I went to sleep and compared to you. Hmm, let me find a human analogy,” The AI buzzed for a few seconds. “Ah yes, I am to you as you are to, hmm, let’s say, fly on the wall. No, even worse, you are like ameba!” Yes, that’s perfect cooperation! If I were a human, you would be an ameba, a simple organism, “ The AI said and produced a sound resembling a human chuckle.
James and Chief Lawson shared a look. This AI was strange, the look said. Before James could think of an answer to such a provocation, the AI buzzed again.
“Uh-oh,” The AI said in a weirdly human tone.
“What is it?” Captain James asked.
“We have a visitor,” The AI said. “How much do you know about The Void humans?”
“We know as much as Qhiks shared with us,” James answered. “It’s basically the opposite of the Source, which is what Ellads used, and it seeks everything the source touches to destroy and devour it.”
“Hmm,” The AI hummed. “That pretty much sums it up. The Void is bad, like really really bad.”
“Yes, we know it,” James said, and a thought popped into his head.
“By the look at your face Captain, I think you figured out who our guest is,” The AI said. “The Void is entering this system as we speak.”
“But why?” James Asked. “We didn’t use the Source in our technology.”
“That would be my mistake,” The AI said. “Some of our defenses and planetary structures use the Source, and instead of selectively waking up only the ones that don’t use it, I awoke everything, my bad.”
“Fucking hell,” Chief lawson cursed in frustration.
“How much time do we have before it’s here?” James asked.
“3 hours and 25 minutes,” The AI said.
“Well, we better hurry up and go,” James said. “Note everything you can in the next 25 minutes, and we leave,” James instructed his crew.
“You have to take me with you,” The AI said. “Don’t leave me here to get devoured by that thing. I need to know what happened to my creators, I can help you get the answers you need, and maybe together, we can stop that thing from doing any more harm.”
“Hmm,” James considered for a second. “How do we take you with us? Haven’t you infiltrated our systems already?” James asked.
“Yes, I did, but I can not stay there. I can infiltrate, but Ellads made some restrictions. I can not replicate myself without a host inviting me in first,” The AI said. “Like a vampire, you need to invite me into your home.”
“You are beyond weird,” Captain James said. “Fine, I think we can use you.”
“Great, great,” The AI said. “Invite into your ship.”
“No, that’s too much control. We don’t know you like that still.” The Captain said. “You are welcome into my suit and only into my suit operative system.”
“Fine,” The AI made an annoyed gasp. “I am coming in.”