Short Story – Barriers

“So, what is it?”  Commander Deane leaned over the lab desk, his muscles standing out through his crisp white shirt.  On the other side of the desk, a scientist adjusted his small glasses and coughed nervously into the sleeve of his anorak.  The lab was chilly; understandable, considering the artic wind outside.

“We, uh, don’t know sir.  The only thing I can tell you is that it is definitely alien.  Without a doubt.”

“Huh.”  There was silence for a moment as the commander studied the small silver ring on the table.  It looked like a very thin washer, except it had intricate symbols that glowed with an eerie pink light.  “Do we know what it can do?”

“Only this.”  The scientist reached out and slid his finger along the hoop.  Immediately, a pink 6 inch Y-shape appeared from the ring.

“Is it safe?”

“You could say that.”  The scientist picked up the shape and handed it to the officer.  “What you’re holding is, effectively, an energy barrier.  We’ve hit it with hammers, bullets, even tried a small amount of explosive.  It is impervious to ingress by any means, except temperature.”

“What?”

“You can’t break the barrier, but it is an almost perfect conductor of heat.  Quite remarkable.”

Deane put a finger inside the shape and gripped the outside with his thumb.  “My god – I can feel my finger through it!”

“Exactly.”

In the gloom behind them, someone coughed silently, the various scientific and military observers in the background growing impatient to get their hands on the artefact – little chance of that.  Deane had been sent to primarily assess the importance of the object, but to also secure it for transportation to Dulce base by any means necessary.

“Mr…?”

“Dr Benson,” replied the scientist.

“…Dr Benson, I won’t lie to you.  This is the most advanced object on this planet.  Using this, we can create lightweight armour for our forces, buildings that will never fall down, even indestructible cars.  You’re done a remarkable job so far, but I need to take this with me.  I hope you understand.”

“Absolutely,” Benson answered with a small smile.  “I’m not stupid.  I realised the importance of this object and have tried to keep its existence a secret since we found it in the snow.”

The double-doors to the lab parted underneath a wave of fire, knocking everyone to the floor and spewing deadly shrapnel into the room.  Some of the occupants died immediately, others screaming from their wounds.  The commander regained his footing quickly and grabbed both the alien artefact and his Desert Eagle, firing huge flames into the breach.

“Marines!  To me!”  In the darkness, his elite combat squad formed up and showered the opening with heavy fire as they retreated towards the lab offices.  A swarm of strange-suited soldiers flooded in, most falling from the bullet storm but gradually, the unknown attackers started to take the room.

The team fell back in sections, through the business offices of the science building, slaying dozens of enemies as they tried to get outside to the safety of their helicopters.  However, their enemy was smart, and well-prepared.  Expertly cut-off from every avenue, Deane and a handful of remaining marines found themselves pinned down amongst storage crates in a large warehouse.  Deane fired off a spray of bullets and leaned against his cover.  He needed to get the artefact into safety, but he was almost out of options.  Thankfully, Keller was still alive.  He clicked his tongue twice and the scout made his way to his commander.

“Sir?”

“Son, I don’t need to tell you that we’re done for.  Reinforcements are hours away, so I’ve got a final order for you.”  He gave the deactivated alien object to Keller.  “Get through their lines.  Get this into protection any means necessary.  Go through the air duct over there, we’ll buy you as much time as possible.  Stay warm, and good luck.  ”

Keller snapped off a salute, then made his way over to the far wall, hounded by gunfire all the way.  Deane slapped in his final clip and, counting to three, charged the enemy.

Keller had just finished replacing the grille to the air duct when the gunfire stopped.  The battle was over, but the war was about to begin.  He started the long crawl to the outside world.

***

“Those men were wearing government military uniforms, Popov!  Don’t tell me that they weren’t under your orders!”

“Mr President, I assure you that Russia has absolutely no interest in provoking the USA.  Why would we want to attack a US base?”  Popov was glad that it was a voice-only conference; he was sweating profusely, but he was also aware that his words were being analysed for signs of stress.  He stroked his small beard anxiously; his advisor shook his head and mouthed the words calm down.

“There was a particular object in that base,” replied President Theodore, “that was of great value.  That was undoubtedly the target of the attack.  Would you happen to know what I’m on about, Popov?”

Yes.  “No, I’m not aware of any object, and I wasn’t aware of the attack until you called me.  I assure you, I have my best men assigned to tracking down these terrorists.”

There was a pause.  “Popov, you’re a goddam liar.  I have enough dead Russian soldiers and intercepted radio transmissions to know you ordered this attack.  Admit it.”

“I admit nothing.”

“You don’t have to, Dmitri.  I have all the proof I need.  You’re facing a war with the west.”

Oh well, he thought, no point lying any more.  “That artefact is worth more than either of us can appreciate.  Sure, it’s an energy field, but more importantly, it’s a new form of free energy!  Look Mr Theodore, oil is running out.  We both know that.  Eventually, we’re going to have to conquer oil-rich countries just to stop our economies from collapsing, and even that will be a temporary solution.  But with that device, we can completely eradicate our reliance on oil!  Understand that the attack on Thule was a necessary course of action on my part.”  He took a small measure of vodka, relishing the clean taste.  “You really don’t want a war with Russia Mr President.  Trust me.  Give me the artefact.”

For a long time, there was silence on the line.  “Well,” replied Theodore eventually, “I think you’ve given me no choice.  Goodbye, Dmitri.”

***

                “The world is on the brink of world war three tonight as President Theodore declared the US is at DEFCON 1, following the Russian attack on Thule base in Greenland where more than 200 US personnel were killed.  The Russian President Dmitri Popov denies any involvement in the attack, but US intelligence sources say they have proof that the attack was authorised by the Russian government.  The European union is calling for calm, and offering to mediate talks between the US and Russia.  However, the main focus is on the considerable nuclear might of both countries as they mobilise their military forces.  We now go to Richard Mills who is in Washington DC.  Richard?”

***

                Trend squared his shoulders and started his presentation.  “This extra-terrestrial object is the most important discovery in the history of mankind.”  Above him was a 15-foot image of the Y-shaped artefact, slowly rotating on a plinth.  The dark amphitheatre was electrified as the unseen scientists and officers soaked up every word, every morsel of information that Trent served them.  He continued.  “The field is activated by stroking anywhere on the metal ring, and deactivated by a second stroke.  The field itself is an impervious shield, a uniform 4mm thick which branches off at 45 degrees, at 6o millimetres from the base.  Although it is impossible to penetrate, heat and electricity passes straight through it.  How that occurs, we don’t understand at this time.

“The intended use for the artefact is still a mystery.  The winning theory so far is that it is a support for a hazardous object – a nuclear rod or similar, especially considering its unique thermal properties.  Another theory is that it is a part of a bigger machine, to trap gas or foreign objects.  We are unlikely to know.”

A voice rang out.  “Can we copy the technology?”

“Glad you asked that.”  A murmur.  “The long and the short of it is no.  There is an unknown element within the ring, something we cannot liken to anything we know.  In order to get to it, we need to break the artefact, something we’re not prepared to do at this time.  Sorry folks.

“But as a treat for you all, I do have the artefact here.  Yes, you will be able to touch the antlers today, the thing which will probably start world war 3.”  Trent could sense the motion from the darkness as he took the antlers out from his pocket and held it up.  He looked at the field in awe, the mystery of it, the silent power of its purpose.  Imagine an army protected by this kind of field!  They would be unstoppable!

Others reached out and stroked the object, loudly suggesting how it worked.  Trent allowed it to be taken from him and watched it pass amongst the geniuses.  Some waggled it on a finger, some tried to bend it.  Others grabbed each antler and pulled.  One even licked it; despite how magnificent a technology was, there would always be one who tried to lampoon it.  Immature.  His smartphone beeped, followed by everyone else’s in the room.  With a sinking dread, Trent knew that war had finally broken out.

***

                Almost 3 million dead in the first nuclear exchange.  Exchange!  Made it sound very mutual and friendly.  Russian and Chinese forces landing along the west coast. Most major cities flattened.  The reports in front of Theodore were straight from a wargame scenario, and they were losing.  On the polished wooden desk was another set of reports – and the artefact, brought in by his scientific adviser.

Theo picked it up and activated it.  The cause of all this destruction; why didn’t he just give it up to Popov in the first place?  What had they learned from it?  That they couldn’t build one?  They knew that before ever finding it.  The unknown element powering it was the key to the object, but all attempts to open the device had proved fruitless.  They didn’t know what it was for, and how it worked.

Theo threw the artefact across the room and cursed it with all his rage.

***

                “What about here?”  Shegama pulled Bram to his knees and kissed him.  In the snow, her three red eyes burned with desire as she started to undress him.  He fumbled with her jumpsuit, barely-able to contain his raging hormones, until they both found themselves naked.  “Do you have… y’know?”

“Of course.”  Bram reached into his discarded jumpsuit for a protective sheath and allowed her to put in on him.

“OK, go easy with me,” she breathed as she laid ready to receive him, just as their communicator buzzed.

“Bram, Shegama – we’re about to take-off.”

“Flak!”  He grudgingly acknowledged the request, then got dressed and stomped back to the ship, frustrated and annoyed.  Just before the pair of explorers ascended the ramp, Bram realised that he was still sheathed and, quickly, pulled it off and threw it into the air.  It landed in the snow; pink, glowing, and Y-shaped.

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