NSC – Be As Gods 5 – Signal

Thank you for reading! Me and my coauthor Darinost are gradually combining forces and blogs, so the joint comment section for our stories is currently located on discord! Come on in and let us know what you thought, we don’t bite.

Adam was barely clinging to life by the time Eve got him to the medical bay. The man was just so damn big that he was impossible for a weakling like her to lift… getting him up the ladder was a nearly impossible task. Thankfully, with each rung she made it upwards the task got easier as the simulated gravity of the centrifuge grew weaker, and eventually he was light enough that even she could lift him without much effort. She couldn’t bounce along the central corridor fast enough for her tastes, carrying the unconscious man in the oxygen mask with her until she could lay him down on one of the beds and hook him up to the life support systems.

The moment she hooked the electrodes to the sensors they started going berserk, screaming that he was approaching respiratory arrest… his blood oxygen content was insanely low. How? How was that possible… he was breathing from a mask, he had been for several minutes now! The planet’s atmosphere had oxygen, even…

For just a second, Eve stood there, uncertain, unsure of what she had to do, unsure of what she even could do. She wondered if she should pray for an answer, but God had never come to answer her prayers before… women were unworthy of His love after how they had betrayed Him. Normally she would find a man and ask him what she should do, but Adam was unconscious and he was the only other person in half a dozen light-years. She had to do something herself.

Eve tried to think. What would her father have told her, what would he have had her do? Whatever was happening to him hadn’t immediately started, either time… and it hadn’t immediately incapacitated him either time. It was rather what her father would have called a progressive failure, growing over time. It seemed like choking symptoms but more, too… some kind of poisoning, perhaps? If so, why had he recovered quickly last time, but this time he was still on the ropes? He had breathed longer this time… why had none of their scans detected the toxins? They had scanned for things that were bad for humans to breathe!

Eve didn’t know the answers to her questions… but that could wait. What was important was just the first part… what was causing him to collapse. The sensors said his O2 stats were low… even breathing right from a mask. That meant that there was something wrong, and since he was breathing the air mix from the ship and not from Eden that meant that the problem wasn’t with the atmosphere but instead his lungs. “So bypass the lungs,” she whispered, searching through screens for what she needed. It was possible to inject oxygen directly into the bloodstream in fatty molecules… their supplies had some of that on hand. Having their printers make more, however, would be far, far slower than the rate that Adam would burn through it to keep him alive… A quick calculation based on the supplies the computer stated told her that Adam had about half an hour. Still, better than nothing… she pressed the button and the mechanical arm prepared the injection. Meanwhile, she tried to think.

Desperate, she pulled up the survey data from Eden and looked at it, trying to find what they had missed. Line by line she went through the composition of the atmosphere, looking for what was there… what could be poisoning her husband. Tense minutes passed and she could find absolutely nothing… there was just nothing dangerous in the atmosphere. The most dangerous thing was a bit of carbon monoxide, and that was lower than Earth’s even… there weren’t sulfurous gases, or vaporous heavy metal, or… or…

Why was the carbon monoxide that low?

Eve stopped, considering it. Then she pulled up and began to dig through the full reports, analyzing them line by line until the mistake they had made came to light. The atmosphere alerts and scans had been designed to warn them about anything dangerous to humans, which the atmosphere certainly was not. What it didn’t do was warn them about anything out of the ordinary at all, anything anomalous… and as Eve looked over the scans her heart started to fall.

Carbon monoxide wasn’t an especially stable molecule… it wasn’t the preferred way for those atoms to bond, preferring the much more stable and uniform double-covalent bonds of carbon dioxide. Most of it would be formed via incomplete combustion reactions using CO2… so the less carbon dioxide, it would follow the less carbon monoxide. Based on Earth, she would have expected there to be between half of a percent or a quarter of a percent of the atmosphere made up of carbon dioxide. Between life forms breathing it out and volcanic activity, lightning strike fires and releases from pockets decaying beneath the soil, there should have been a steady collection of it in the atmosphere… CO2 was heavy, and very stable… it took over a thousand years for it to decay in the atmosphere or be flung free of the gravity well, so it almost always would build up faster than it decayed, or was consumed by greenery…

But here, it wasn’t. There was less than a hundredth of a percent of the atmosphere that was CO2 by volume,  and while there could be unknowable thousands of reasons for that, God had only provided her with evidence of one way. Something was eating it.

It was possible the greenery was just far more efficient and CO2 hungry than Earth plants were, but nothing that Eve had seen would suggest that. Their ecological survey hadn’t shown them to be any larger or faster growing than Earth plants, and the regrowth of fire-tracks seemed very similar… if anything they seemed slower. That meant it had to be something else.

It wasn’t a sure thing, but Adam had only a few minutes to live if she did nothing. Eve ordered the machine to start washing out his lungs, pumping in a saline solution and bit by bit cleaning first one lung then the other while she watched her husband with fear and anxiety. She noted, to her horror, that the liquid was darker on the way out than it was going in… she wasn’t sure how normal that was but the yellow fluid that was coming out of him made her nauseous. Then, thankfully, she watched him take a breath as soon as the fluid was out… and his O2 graph on his chart began to spike upward.

Eve felt like she was going to collapse. Thank God…

Eve watched the whole process, hours long, as the medical machines tended to her husband, watching the fluids pumped out of him grow progressively cleaner… watching his breathing steady, the color return to his skin. It was after midnight, ship’s time, when she rose and walked back to the ship’s control center, sitting down at one of the consoles again. Then, with a resigned swipe across the screen, she brought up the atmospheric data again… and the biological analysis from the saline.

It wasn’t the atmosphere at all. It was bacteria.

She stared at the classification sheet in front of her, eyes dull with exhausted resignation as she looked at it. Adam’s lungs had been absolutely packed with one particular type of alien microorganism, packed as tightly on the walls of his lungs as in any petri dish. From what analysis their computer systems were capable of, these things grew almost like plants did on Earth, using the carbon in the air. The things absolutely infested the atmosphere on Sirius B-III – Eden – to the point that it was impossible to take a breath without them swarming into your mouth, attracted by the carbon dioxide being exhaled.

That was why the animals they managed to scan all seemed small… this planet wasn’t made docile and tame by God at all, but rather the animals were constricted by their breathing… every animal needed a way to prevent their lungs from filling, and that means that small mouths, and smaller lungs, and therefore smaller animals, were best. If she had to guess, it also would account for the large trees that were more leaf than trunk… they were likely composed of far more silica than trees on Earth were.

It also explained the problems with breathing. The amount of bacteria that arrived, clogged, and multiplied inside his lungs, and had been there for days now, explained the stronger reaction… but the immediate collapse had come from bacterial respiration. GCMS of vaporized bacteria told her that their structure was mostly made of nitrides. They breathed in carbon dioxide, and breathed out ionic sulfur trioxide. When it touched the water in the cells of his lungs…

Eve sagged in her chair, head in her hands. This microbe, this… Eden… Plague… Most of the rain on this planet would be nitric acid. Every outdoor surface would need to be proofed. Every mechanical surface would need constant care against corrosion. Every drop of water would require not just filtration but neutralization… and the air wasn’t breathable as long as these things swarmed the entire atmosphere. Maybe an entire colony of workers and maintenance robots, with full supplies for colonization, could have made this work… but there were only the two of them. It left Eve with an unavoidable reality to confront.

Eden wasn’t even close to habitable for humans.

Their problems didn’t end there, either. They had decontaminated in the airlock before leaving the garden deck, but they hadn’t decontaminated the inside of Adam’s lungs. He had been walking around, breathing in and out… and the little parasite of a microbe had hitched a ride with him. Even a casual scan of life support systems showed that they were already beginning to accumulate a decent concentration of the Eden Plague here. The Ark’s atmospheric systems were maintaining an oxygen/nitrogen mix, and scrubbing out all the carbon dioxide they could… but that didn’t mean they were getting all of it, and it meant that the bacteria was accumulating at the vents. It would continue to build up in systems of the ship that she had no idea how to repair, secreting acid and corroding its way through critical systems while their food slowly ran out…

Eve didn’t know what to do. God, it was said, never gave a burden heavier than could be carried… but this seemed hopeless. This was not their promised Eden. The only thing that she was certain of was that this world was never going to work.

But there was nowhere else.

She wasn’t sure how long she sat there at the console, just staring. It was long enough that she got hungry, at the very least… but getting up and going to get food seemed like an absurd amount of effort. She was too tired to think, too tired to eat, too tired to even sleep. Too tired to pray. Despite what Father Elias had said, there was no home for them here… could God even see them here? Or had they left His light completely, venturing out among demons?

Lost in her thought, she almost missed it… the small sensor spike as they orbited Eden. If she hadn’t been staring at the screen, senselessly looking at the unchanging readings as they spun through the black, she probably would have. It was enough to catch her interest, turning her attention towards looking at the data.

And as she did, she got more curious… and more excited.

It was objectively minor. Barely a blip on the EM spectrum; Eve was pretty sure she could have made a stronger signal by turning on a computer outside of the ship, unblocked by the radiation shielding around the Ark. There were plenty of places where she would have considered that kind of reading nothing remarkable… but the reading wasn’t coming from one of the planets, or their moons. It wasn’t coming from Sirius B, or the asteroid belt.

It was coming from the L1 point between Sirius A and B.

Eve suddenly felt completely awake, waiting eagerly for their orbit to come around again… but they weren’t in a low orbit. On Earth, a low orbit would take about 90 minutes, but her ship was much higher, high enough that they needed to fly a powered orbit to stay around the planet at all at this speed. Nevertheless, the distance made the orbit much slower despite their great speed… she had to wait nearly three hours for the orbit to come around again. She spent the time doing calculations, double-checking the readings from what she had, distractedly eating a meal replacement bar she had finally gotten up to get. Then, when they came around again, she focused every sensor array they had at the L1 point as it came back into view around the horizon of the planet, and took every bit of sensor readings she could get before they vanished back behind the planet again 12 minutes later. Armed with new data, the excited Eve dug into it with a new sense of purpose, drawing on equations and theories that she hadn’t gone over since she was a child, still learning beneath her mother and father.

The Sirius system was a binary star system. Sirius B was a white dwarf… an old star, one that shone as a main-sequence star for about 130 million years before falling into its current state. When Father Elias had stated that God decreed they go here, Eve had felt a flutter of doubt before pushing it to the side. White dwarf stars like Sirius B weren’t generally considered a great prospect for having Earth-like worlds, as the habitable range was so close to the star that it was easy to produce a tidally locked world, but it had still been considered a better prospect than Sirius A. The white dwarf’s companion was technically a main sequence star, but it was an A0, heavily metallicized. In practice, this meant that it would burn barely any hotter than its twin, and any planets in orbit around it would have far more limited metallic resources than Earth did… it was a far weaker prospect for colonization.

The two stars orbited each other in a fifty-year sequence, dragging their solar systems along with them… but not everything moved. There were a few points in an orbit, called Legrange points, where anything in orbit would effectively stay put… the centrifugal force of their orbit, the attraction of gravity, and the movements of the stars balanced just right to keep them in the same relative space. Every orbital system had them. The L1 point was the gravitational center between Sirius A and B, an easy orbital capture point… but not an accidental one. No ballistic trajectory would result in an object matching a Legrange orbital… it required course and speed adjustment that went against the laws of physics for an unpowered object. It required intention.

And there was something there emitting EM pulses.

The exhausted woman rubbed at her temples, staring at the readings. The computer wouldn’t calculate a course to the anomaly… it was waiting for authorization, from Adam. The computer on the Ark was responsible for engine fine control, drone management, course calculation… it was a staggeringly powerful machine, and all of the higher functions of the computer were encrypted, accessible only by the man whom she was supposed to obey… her husband. Eve’s collar felt heavy around her neck. She ought to wait until Adam was awake. He was the wise one. The decision maker. The protector. He was the one God had given dominion over her, and all women. She ought to let him make the choice.

Eve made it instead.

After making sure that Adam was sleeping still, Eve settled back down in front of the controls and initiated the sequence to leave orbit. As the engines lit up and the ship began to vibrate with the burn, she stared dismally at the fuel display. They had some fuel left. Objectively, it was an enormous amount of fuel… but compared to what they would need to get back to Earth, or to another star… it was barely a fraction. They couldn’t return, and they had to find a place to settle down quick, or be lost out here, helpless and hopeless. The ship started in its ascent, and she watched the cameras as she stared down at the green and blue below that she would never visit.

She was committed now… and already her hands were trembling. One month. It was one month to the L1 Legrange point… in the scale of space travel, it was practically no time at all. In the scale of living on a ship with their supplies, and with Adam sick, it felt like an eternity.  What if Adam woke up, right now? What would he say? Why had she done something without consulting him? She was defying him, defying Father Elias, defying God! What was she doing? She half expected to be smitten any second, by God if not by Adam.

She wanted to turn around… to undo it. To pretend it had never happened… but she couldn’t. The ship was accelerating already. They were going too far to set back into a powered orbit again… they were going to slingshot around the planet. She had a sinking, sick feeling in her stomach… this was wrong. The strong ruled the weak… and she was weak. Pathetic. Whorish. She couldn’t look out for herself. She couldn’t care for herself.

Keye set the ship to auto-pilot while she worked, throwing herself into the one she could do right… math. The computer could do this rapidly, but there was nothing about the force calculations she couldn’t do by hand… it would just take her longer. One step at a time, one try at a time, Eve did the course calculations to optimize their course, a path that would take them to the anomaly while making as minimal use of the precious fuel remaining as she could manage. Soon, Adam would wake up, and then he would decide what they would do. He would punish her for her stupid, impulsive decision, as was only right, but then when he heard of what she had found in the atmosphere, the acidic parasites, the inhospitable world, and the strange sensor data, he would investigate. He would know what was right.

She went to sit on one of the control seats and leaned back into it. The longer she lay there, however, the more worried she became. What if Adam never woke up again? What would she do?

What could a stupid whore do alone?

The first thing Adam noticed when he woke up was the ceiling. He was laying on his back, he realized… in bed. Not on the garden ring, staring out at the sunlamps. He wasn’t where he had passed out anymore. And that meant…

“May God damn her,” he muttered. His voice was rough, harsh even if it was quiet, and just trying to talk hurt… hurt far worse than he could have imagined. Everything hurt… his limbs, his head, deep in his chest. He groaned, but let his head sink further against the pillow. Eve… she must have dragged him out of there again. He was confident that he could get used to it. That this was a test… that God would not give them a world that was beyond them. He could acclimate, he could survive… and Eve was the one thing now preventing him from fulfilling God’s plan and taking over this planet.

Maria Keye. She was supposed to be his Eve, his wife, the mother of many children. She was supposed to be his… but so far, she had behaved as if she was against him. The first Eve betrayed the first Adam, choosing evil and the serpent over him and obedience to God. Scripture was all starting to replay again, and their new world had not even begun yet. This one was also trying to side with the devil… She did not have the faith, or the capacity to think and believe on the same level as he.

He lay there, thinking dark thoughts, for several minutes until the beeping brought Eve to him. She stood there, looking at him from the doorway in silence. Her eyes were wide, looking terrified… but she didn’t say anything, didn’t fall to her knees and beg, didn’t apologize. That ungrateful whore… “You!” he snarled, glaring at her. “What do you think you are doing?” he growled, ignoring the agony his voice caused.

“You were sick,” she said back, uncertainly. His Eve looked confused. This was not the plan… Was it not confusion that made the first Eve betray her man? Evil lurked in confusion and uncertainty. No, he could not have this. He would have to correct her with an iron fist, just the way Father Elias had taught him to. “I needed to get you to medicine, or else…”

“Why can’t you have any faith at all!” he cursed Eve. “Confound you, woman. Why can’t you use what little wits God gave you?!” Twice he had tried to take the world that God had given him, and twice the cruel lack of faith of this woman had held him back. Maybe… maybe he should lock her on the garden ring until her oxygen ran out. That would be a good lesson. That would teach her to have some faith. Yes… If she tried to undermine him again, he would lock her out, watch that oxygen tank she had so much faith in run out. After that, when he came in like her savior and did as God willed, she would learn. Maybe from then, she would learn to have faith, and they could finally claim their world.

He struggled to get up, and realized, to his dismay, that he couldn’t. His limbs just sort of… flopped, and he noticed that he was being fed through an IV. “How… how long have…”

“…A little over three weeks…” Eve said softly.

Three weeks. He’d been unconscious for three weeks. “You drugged me?!” he growled.

“No!” she protested.

“How dare you!” Adam screamed. “What is wrong with you?”

Even began sobbing, but she didn’t say anything. Her silence annoyed him, pierced through his ego and punctured it. This bitch… she was like a punishment sent from hell for him. Her very silence was a mockery, telling him he did not have the capacity to do what God expected of him. Why was she always trying to show that she knew more about space than he did? Why was she always trying to act smart? A woman was supposed to be quiet while the man acted, be obedient and supportive and helpful. She was supposed to assist her better and stronger half, to make his life easier.

“Can you say nothing in support of yourself?” he snarled. His throat felt raw. “Or has your collar left you so dumb you’ve forgotten how?”

“I don’t know what to say,” she replied. Her voice was soft and filled with fear, but Adam could not get past the point that she appeared to mock him when she was silent.

He scoffed at her. “Pathetic. Your lack of faith is ruining everything. We’ll have to cleanse you of your sin…” He looked up at her. “And then we’ll do this right. I was a fool to think you could be brave and faithful when everything wasn’t on the line… we have to force you to be brave. We’ll land on the planet directly, take our home properly. Then you will see God’s plan.”

Eve bit her lip and looked away. “Yes, sir…” she muttered.

“You’ll see…” He tried to get up again for a few moments before he gave up. He pulled the IV from his arm furiously. “No more drugs. Bring me food… and when I can get up, we’ll go down to Eden.”

Eve disappeared towards the storeroom and the kitchen so quickly it was almost like she vanished, and Adam settled his head back. Sometimes, he couldn’t tell if his woman was closer to the weakness of Eve, or the treachery of the snake instead. Either way, he would overcome. She was his property… he would overcome.

She hadn’t told him.

Eve sobbed, curled up in one of the chairs in the command center as she whimpered and cried. She was pathetic. Faithless. Weak. An affront to God. She had screwed everything up… why had she made the decision herself? Why had she not considered her place, again? Why did she have to be like her whore of a mother… why had she made the choice herself?

She should have listened. Eve wanted to live, to spread to the galaxy the way God commanded… she didn’t want to die faithless and alone, left behind by God’s light. Eden was their home… it had to be! There was nowhere else… they had to make it work, or die. She should turn the ship around… then she could beg Adam to forgive her for her foolishness. She had let her curiosity get the better of her, stupid slut. Maybe, it was for the best that a man be in charge. He didn’t have such stupid ideas in his head.

The ding from the computer brought her out of her dark thoughts, bringing her attention back to the real world. She was half expecting it to be a message of condemnation from the still-locked functions of the machine, cursing her for her heathen ways with its denial. Instead, it was a sensor update. She opened it up, looking. As part of orbital courses, the quickest path between two points moving through space was never a straight line. Instead, it was a curved line, moving into orbital insertion… and as part of that, she didn’t always have a clear line of sight to her target. For the last week, every time the Ark was pointed towards the Legrange point she had been trying to gather data, getting more than they had on what was there, and each day brought them closer.

Unenthusiastically, she brought up the readings. The last several readings had gotten her little, and she hadn’t expecting much more this time… and that was before Adam had made her feel like a fool. Now, she was certain she would find nothing of importance, and she couldn’t imagine what she would see that would convince her different.

She couldn’t have been more wrong.

The object wasn’t reflecting electromagnetic radiation from Sirius B… it was the wrong frequencies for that. There was a physical object there that they were coming from, that much had been certain. Now, however, was the first time they were close enough to get a meaningful visual look at it. The object was oblong and angular, with harsh, unnatural lines. She wouldn’t have thought they would get good enough scans at this point, but the reason immediately became clear… it was covered in flat surfaces. Almost nothing about the object was round, forming unnaturally harsh angles everywhere but in the center… the round center forming a pressure vessel.

Those bulges at the end… they were engines.

Eve stared at the screen in stunned silence… forgetting even to breathe. The electromagnetic radiation she was picking up… it was venting from a reactor.

She was looking at a spaceship.

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