Investigating an Anomaly
Earth - Winter of 2799
It is said that when Hannibal crossed the Alps, men froze to death in the cold. Ice made the steep slopes and treacherous paths slick, sending animals, supplies, and humans alike careening to their deaths at the slightest misstep. The Alps' harsh conditions cost Hannibal two thirds of his army nearly three thousand years ago. Now, as Earth enters its third century in an ice age, they are much worse. Temperatures drop below unfathomable temperatures during the night and the howling winds blow with enough force to cleave shards of rock and ice clean from the mountains' spires. However, when the mountains are at peace, they are still the Alps, as beautiful, timeless, and gracefully desolate as they were when Hannibal's elephants left their imprints in the virgin snow.
In the middle of all of this vastness, three figures dressed for the cold materialized at the foot of the Eiger mountain. Their faces were masked by hoods, their eyes by goggles, and their bodies by thick coats. As they looked around, their breaths came out in thick sheets of water vapor before vanishing into the air. They were French civilians, scientists from the Orion League expedition meant to study the human homeworld's ice age. The French team had detected a strange signature emanating from the rock face ahead of them. Led by a handheld scanner, the team silently trudged up the mountain towards the source of the anomaly. After fifteen minutes, they came upon the entrance of a cave. After wordlessly exchanging glances, the three went in, lit by the plasma torch of the lead person, an Australian-French scientist by the name of Claudine Roy. Barely had they gone a hundred meters that they reached a rugged wall of stone.
- Claudine - It's a dead end?
- Lionel - Could whatever's causing the anomaly be embedded in the rock?
- Claudine - Wait, what's that over there?
Her scanner had detected a strange heat signature in a region to her left. Cautious, she walked over to it and placed her scanner on top of it. It was, in fact, giving off infrared radiation.
- Claudine - Is there any reason for this rock to be warm, Guillaume?
- Guillaume - We're far from any significant geological activity, it should be as cold as the rock around...
- Claudine - Merde!
Claudine had pressed her hand against the wall, only to recoil with a sudden intake of breath as a tingling sensation crept up her gloved fingers.
- Lionel - What is it?
- Claudine - It's a hologram. A damn good one at that, but it's degraded––as if it's been active for a long time.
- Guillaume - A hologram? Here?
- Lionel - Now I'm curious to see what's on the other side. Can you interfere with it?
- Guillaume - We might want to report this. There might be something behind that that someone doesn't want us to find.
- Claudine - We'll be fine, Guillaume. We'll just take a little peek. Let's see... If I can just...
She modulated her scanner to emit a dispersal wave at vaguely the same frequency as the projection, causing the wall to distort and warp before finally breaking down and dissolving to reveal a dark corridor of large proportions behind it.
- Guillaume - We really shouldn't...
- Claudine - Come on!
The spacious corridor had large doors on either side, indicating that whomever used this strange area was clearly larger than any Terran human. Despite the darkness, the corridor had a certain sleek elegance to it. The team walked down this corridor until they came across a heavy and sealed door at the end of it.
- Lionel - This most certainly wasn't built by the French Army.
- Guillaume - Hey, you guys were thinking it too.
- Claudine - Taisez vous! Let me see if I can't get this open...
According to her scans, the door was sealed by a large magnetic lock. However, her probing triggered the materialization of a holographic access panel two meters above the ground. By some strange intelligence, the projection then lowered itself to the level of the group so that they could more comfortably use it.
- Claudine - Well, if you'll look at that.
She stepped up to the control panel, though did not touch it quite yet, looking it over. The panel consisted of a ten-digit keypad and a few extra buttons. The symbols on these buttons did not look romantic, more closely resembling Norse runes. Claudine frowned.
- Claudine - Lionel, do you know what this is?
She pointed to the signs on the keypad. She knew the answer, but couldn't believe her eyes.
- Lionel - Draconis. I don't understand.
- Guillaume - We really should go.
- Claudine - Then go! We're continuing.
- Lionel - Do think whoever used to press those left a mark?
- Claudine - How would I scan for that?
- Lionel - Oil, skin follicles, anything. Hold on.
Lionel pulled out of a small satchel at his side a scanner similar to Claudine's and began to examine the keypad. His aim was to see if the owners of the facility had, in typing in the code so many times, left marks on the right keys, which would tell them which keys they would have to press. After that, it was a matter of figuring out the right order. Being a holographic interface, there was no easy way for shed material to stay on the terminal, however the terminal itself did retain some sort of imprint behind, as keys that had been pressed so many times had a slightly degraded image, a holographic equivalent to surface wear. On the scan, four keys were highlighted: 4, 2, 5 and 7.
- Lionel - That didn't work... But look at this.
Lionel handed Claudine the scanner.
- Claudine - Four, two, five, and seven... Nice!
Her eyes shone with excitement, though that light quickly faded the moment her eyes landed on the keypad.
- Claudine - Merde.
A Locked Door
The members of the team stood at the foot of the enormous portal, staring at one another. Lionel was the first to break the silence.
- Lionel - That's a six-digit lock. That means there's seven hundred and sixty-eight different possible combinations with the numbers we have.
- Guillaume - We could be here for months!
- Claudine - We'll open it. We just have to figure out how.
Claudine and Lionel began running their scanners along the wall, looking for what they could not yet tell. Suddenly, Lionel paused.
- Lionel - There it is.
- Guillaume - There is what?
Claudine strode over and looked at Lionel's scanner.
- Claudine - The lock. It looks like it's built to receive input from the hologram through the wall. If it receives the right signals in the right order, it opens the door.
- Guillaume - How does that help us?
- Lionel - If we can figure out how it works, we can pick it. Do you think the guys back on base could help us?
- Claudine - The station computer could give us a much more detailed analysis than these scanners. It's worth a try.
- Guillaume - Good luck getting a signal through. There's two thousand meters of rock above us.
Claudine turned to him with a frown. Leave it up to Guillaume to find every reason as to why something will not work, and then come to the inevitable conclusion that it can't. Her features then relaxed into a sly grin.
- Claudine - Since you are so eager to leave, why don't you go outside and act as our relay to the station?
- Guillaume - Putin...
Claudine's smile widened as Guillaume realized that she was not kidding. He stood and trudged towards the entrance of the cave, the echo of his boots audible long after he had vanished from sight. Lionel sighed and returned his attention to the lock. He pressed the scanner against the panel behind which it was hiding and recorded a lengthy, detailed analysis.
- Lionel - He's not going to like you for that one.
She walked up next to him.
- Claudine - He'll get over himself eventually.
Guillaume's voice then came cackling through their earpieces. He was yelling, trying to make himself heard over the wind that had picked up outside.
- Guillaume - Alright! I've got a link with the station.
- Claudine - Thanks Guillaume. Roy to the moon base, is there anyone there?
A few seconds passed in silence.
- Claudine - This is Claudine Roy to the Orion moon base, is...
A slight click announced the presence of someone else on the line.
- ??? - This is Sokolof.
- Claudine - Helena, hey. I need you to run an analysis through the computer for me.
A European of Polish extract, Helena Sokolof was only too proud to call herself "Human." This was an attitude that tended to rub "nationals," as they were sometimes called, the wrong way. Nobody could deny her skill with technology, however, not even Claudine. Without her, the old moon base would probably have collapsed under a hundred different computer-related disasters since she signed on.
- Helena - Sure thing. What did you guys find?
Claudine motioned to Lionel to begin uploading the data.
- Claudine - An old piece of circuitry we'd like to crack.
- Helena - Mój Boże... This is very complex technology. Where did you find this?
- Claudine - It might take a bit too long to explain. It's a lock and we need to open it. It's linked to a keypad of which we know four numbers, 4, 2, 5, and 7.
- Helena - I can't see very well... Could you bring it up to the base? It might be easier.
- Claudine - It's embedded in a wall. I don't think it's going anywhere anytime soon.
- Helena - In that case, I will do the best I can.
- Claudine - Thanks Helena.
- Helena - No promises.
Another click signaled the discontinuation of the communication. Several minutes passed with no communication from the base. Occasionally, the shuffling of feet could be made out as Guillaume tried to keep himself warm at the mouth of the cave. Finally, Helena contacted the team again.
- Helena - I think I've found a way.
- Claudine - Do tell.
- Helena - There are six locks which can be triggered only by specific frequencies of subspace transmission. These frequencies are captured by receptors and then transmitted to the locks along insulated wires. The receptors probably keep track of the number of attempts made and will lock you out after a set number of tries, but we may be able to bypass that. If you can learn the specific frequencies of each of your four numbers, you might be able to materialize electric pulses on the wire at those frequencies until that lock opens, and then move on to the next one.
- Claudine - We'll try that and get back to you if it doesn't work.
- Helena - Understood.
Guillaume was recalled from the mouth of the cave and came back into the chamber dripping, freezing, and chattering his teeth. Claudine refrained from making a sarcastic comment, though Lionel saw that she really wanted to make one. The three then the following half an hour huddled around the lock's section of the wall, holding a scanner to it while very, very carefully sending tiny electrical pulses the size of several hundred atoms into the locks. It was like balancing a piece of hair on the tip of a needle, though finally they succeeded: with a loud booming noise, the door swung open, revealing a control room that somehow, despite its abandoned state, was still relatively pristine. Consoles and screens had been erected throughout the room, surrounding what appeared to be a large holographic projection table. As they slowly strode in, somewhat intimidated by the sheer size of the room and its accomodations, an emergency light flickered on, bathing them in a dim blue light.
- Guillaume - How old do you think this is?
- Claudine - Check to see if it's old enough for carbon dating. I'll look at particle decay.
- Lionel - That old?
- Claudine - With Draconis technology, you can't really be sure.
While the other two huddled around their scanners, Lionel strode up to one of the control panels and held up his flashlight to better see the runes engraved on it. The control panel resembled a keyboard, although the system itself was offline. The panel itself however was connected to a large screen. Lionel's training as a scientist very much centered around looking-without-touching, differing from Claudine's rather haphazard approach, messing things up and then taking joy in sorting it all out. He liked to control variables, and he did not quite yet have the knowledge to approach Draconis computer technology just yet.
- Claudine - This can't be right...
- Lionel - What?
- Guillaume - I'll check again.
- Lionel - How old?
Claudine looked at him with an incredulous expression.
- Claudine - Four thousand two hundred.
- Guillaume - That's a conservative estimate.
- Lionel - What?! Years?
- Claudine - Years.
- Lionel - So you're trying to tell me that in 1,400 BC, when the Egyptians still had Pharos, the Draconis were here?
- Guillaume - Just got the same result. Circa 1,400 BC.
- Claudine - Do you guys have any idea what we just stumbled upon?
- Lionel - I'm not sure I want to consider it.
- Claudine - This looks like a listening post of some kind, to keep track of us when we were back on Earth.
- Guillaume - Why? What were we to them?
- Claudine - I don't know, but I want to find out.
An exploration of this outpost was warranted. Not far from the main chamber was a room marked "study laboratories" in Low Dracid, Unlike the main door, this one was relatively easy to open, revealing an open room filled with computer terminals, holographic projection tables and wall projectors. The team was very familiar with this kind of whitewashed environment, reminiscent of many of the facilities they had left behind on the moon base. They walked through it, their scanners brandished in front of them like weapons, cleaving away at the unknown.
Unlike in the command room, there were several design features attached to terminals that allowed for smaller creatures to reach and interact with them, footsteps and small lifts. In entering the room, a few terminals flickered to life, using holographic keypads for interfacing purposes. A few of the walls had large transparent boards embedded into them, with post-it notes attached, written in Dracid and marking what looked like events from the past. One board had a DNA sequence, with nucleotide markers highlighted.
Claudine, Lionel, and Guillaume split up and wandered about the room, looking over the post-it notes carefully, one by one, their cerebral implants translating the Draconid inscriptions as they went. These notes appeared to be reminders of the attached events, with another note acting as scientific (and in other cases not so scientific) commentary. Some notes may have caught their eye; a note attached to an image of a gathering of nobles saying "Support of Inbreeding increases risk of social stress", one of the trenches, portraits of Napoleon I, Cesare Borgia, Louis XIV and Charlemagne labelled with indications the Draconis admired their ambition. Attached to Louis' image was a note "remind you of anyone?"
Once they had seen everything, the team silently filed out of the laboratory by some unspoken agreement. They felt like visitors in some strange and haunted museum.
Leading on from the labs and down a long corridor, was a room marked "detainment". Unlike the other doors, this one appeared reinforced based on scans. There was another panel, situated two metres up from them. Unlike the console at the base's entrance, this one consisted of a large button with an imprint shaped like a Draconis' hand. Claudine approached it with an apprehensive look, though as she got close, a disembodied voice emanated from the console, "Condition green. No Isolation required." The door slid open, causing her to jump back with a start. Within was a complex that looked like a prison facility containing cells with three opaque walls and one glass wall facing out into the central corridor.
Claudine laughed off her outburst nervously before proceeding cautiously through the portal. A question was on the minds of everyone present, though nobody had the courage to voice it: "What could they have possibly needed this for?" The cells looked clean and comfortable, a plush bed using memory foam, a sink, a toilet and a carpet made of synthetic fabrics. In scanning the cells' interiors, the team would have found evidence of human occupation that had obviously been mostly cleaned away by the time they arrived. There was no visible blood or staining, but microscopic traces remained in dozens of containment cells within this place. Where the team had previously exchanged glances and looked for each other's reactions to what they were seeing, there was now deathly silence. Each of them avoided looking at the others.
There were no names to attach to these cells, no individuals were noted anywhere, the only evidence of who could have been here was the minute traces of skin, hair and sweat that had refused to be scrubbed away. Scans of these traces revealed evidence of various lineages - evidence of French, Spanish, Italian, German, Greek, Romani along with possibly others marked the block's grim purpose. Claudine knew that more investigation was needed, that, with enough time and diligence, it could be narrowed to whom these cells had once belonged. France kept a meticulous DNA bank which included nearly every single French citizen. Large segments of the population––entire planets, maybe––probably held genetic similarities that would put them in a direct lineage with these subjects. After that, it was just a matter of tracing their history.
With the grim truth from the cells still fresh in their minds, they made their way back towards the control room, passing another room, this one labelled "examination theatre" above it.
They stopped at the foot of the door.
- Lionel - Do we want to go in?
Claudine took a breath.
- Claudine - Let's do it.
As they entered, their eyes beset what looked like a surgical theater, several ergonomic operating tables were set in an arena-like chamber overlooked by an empty auditorium. There were more glass walls here, this time not just showing the human genome, but also locations of organs as well as lists of similarities within ethnic groups. There was microscopic evidence of human presence here as well, but along with sweat and shed skin there were also microscopic traces of blood, flesh and mucus. As Claudine and Lionel wandered into the center of the room, as if in a dream, Guillaume hovered by the entrance, his features having turned an unnatural shade of green. As with all the other rooms, a dim blue glow permeated the theater, notes of human anatomy lay scattered, within cabinets were numerous strange tools the purpose of which could only be left to the imagination of any who had not been in surgery within the Draconid Imperium before.
Finally, when Claudine could not take it any longer, she made for the door, grabbing Guillaume as she passed, quickly followed by Lionel.
- Claudine - Let's get out of here.
As she passed the control room's central holographic table, it activated itself. Emerging from its surface was a holographic representation of Earth split up into numerous sectors. Located in each "zone", as the map called them, was a beacon-like point. The point in Europe was shining at their location within the Alps. Lionel saw it first.
- Lionel - Wait... Look at this.
Claudine turned around, having gotten halfway to the exit. Her eyes widened as she slowly stepped forward.
- Claudine - No, no, no...
In total there were nine zones spread across the planet, with several of these points not too far from key locations of human activity. As Lionel looked on, a tear rolled down Claudine's cheek. She stared at the globe, her eyes darting from location to location as they scrolled past her, her mind refusing to function.
- Claudine - There are so many...
Lionel grabbed her arm and led her towards the exit through which Guillaume had already fled.
- Lionel - Let's go. Someone needs to know about this.