A Forgotten Legacy: Excerpt by Larry Allen

{Transcript of last message received from the Endeavor Expedition, presumed lost}

It’s so damn cold.

The environmental systems all say that the temperature is within two degrees of nominal, but I don’t care. It’s still cold.

I don’t know where to begin. This is my first log transmission in about three months. I mean, why bother sending anything when we were all going to get home years before any message would. But now, well…

Okay, I can see that I’m starting to ramble. So, I’ll try to do it by the book. At least for as long as I can maintain my sanity.

Personal log of Mission Specialist David Frey, Endeavor mission time 330 days, eleven hours, twelve minutes…

Oh, fuck it. There’s no way I’ll be able to stay on track, so I’m not gonna try. And who knows if anyone is ever going to hear this anyway. So, I’ll just start at the beginning.

From day one, eleven months ago, the mission had gone exactly according to plan. The ship performed flawlessly, and there wasn’t a day when engineering wasn’t singing the praises of the designers and builders, especially considering that this was her maiden voyage.

For the most part, the crew all seemed to get along together fairly well, which is important with seventy-two people packed that close together. Even after the Transition, six months out, that didn’t change. Sure, we were already almost fifty million miles from home, but when the field generators kicked in, we were instantly more than a million times further away. So no more messages from home. No more email, no more first run movies, and no more good night kisses. Over the next few days, crew activities started becoming more deliberate and thoughtful, as the enormity of the distance we’d traveled began to sink in.

{Signal integrity lost—estimated 12 seconds of recording missing}

…didn’t last long, because only a few weeks later we began receiving radio transmissions from our destination. Engineering got to work on the modulation schemes being used, and two days later, we were receiving both sound and moving images.

What we saw was more shocking than anything we could have imagined.

There were people there.

Not one-celled amoebas, not beasts, not little green men. People. Or at least they looked enough like people that we couldn’t tell the difference from the pictures. Sure, their clothing was different, and they behaved differently, but any one of us could have been dressed up and dropped into the middle of their world and not been noticed.

Of course, the science team came up with an explanation, but I think that was mostly to save face—they had no better an understanding of how this could be than anyone else. It became the topic of cafeteria and hallway debate for the next several weeks. The official explanation was parallel evolution, but that had so many holes in it that the science guys really didn’t try to defend it with much vigor. The ship’s engineers had come up with their own explanation, centered around spaceships, of course; both this world and our own had long ago been seeded by an advanced race. There was another theory involving quantum entanglement, but it didn’t get much traction, at least in part because not many on board could follow the math. The ship’s chaplain was the one crew member who seemed at peace with our discovery; after all we were made in the image of God and so were the inhabitants of this new world. Nothing odd about it at all.

As for me, well, I’m not a scientist or a theologian or a philosopher—just a linguist who lucked out in the selection process and got to take a long, long trip. And now? Well…

{Long delay in recording, sound of switches being toggled, followed by sound of speaker taking a deep breath}

There’s gotta be something wrong with that environmental unit. I don’t care what it says.

Anyway, I’d spent the first half of the trip doing routine service assignments, but now I was working every waking hour; as a linguist, I had just become one of the most critical members of the crew. I spent the first days viewing the incoming video broadcasts; you can learn a lot about a culture by watching its television. It didn’t take me very long to start grasping words; some of the broadcasts were intended for children, for that exact purpose. From there, sentences, and then thoughts and concepts. There were plenty of entertainment broadcasts that helped me start to understand their culture, and the newscasts gave me a good feel for how these people organized, what their values were, and even what sort of things they feared and worried about.

Once I had that, I started putting together training material and teaching classes in their dominant language and the culture behind it. The crew responded the way that I’d hoped: many of them began speaking the language to each other, even correcting each other’s mistakes. For those who weren’t making progress, I arranged with the infirmary for a few shots of Lexinol. Some people think that’s cheating, but it’s not—all the stuff does is boost linkage formation in the cerebral cortex slightly. The hard work is still up to the student.

The anticipation of our first contact grew as each day brought it closer. It became a popular pastime to program the printers for clothing like we saw in the videos and even to take local names. The captain fully supported this. He even participated when his duties permitted; in one of the all-hands meetings, he said he thought it would help us prepare for what was coming.

The planet itself was similar enough to home to make you want to cry. Gravity would be within ten percent of ours, there was a similar axis tilt, and spectral analysis of the atmosphere pronounced it suitable for sustaining life, though a few points higher in oxygen than we were used to. Assuming no deadly microbes, it would not only be breathable but quite pleasant. Surprisingly, the surface area of the world was covered with roughly the same percentage of water as at home, though it was concentrated in fewer, larger bodies. The science team speculated that that would create some weather that was extreme by our standards. So what? Sometimes we’d have to stay indoors. And that moon, enormous compared to what we were used to. The 4 tidal effects would be significant, but the part that interested me most was seeing what it would look like on a warm, clear summer night.

By the time we reached orbit, even those crewmembers with no gift for language could speak the dominant tongue reasonably well. Maybe not well enough to write poetry, but certainly well enough to be understood. The bigger challenge would be the cultural differences. We could mimic the behaviors seen on the video; in fact, a lot of my advanced language teaching focused as much on culture as on vocabulary and pronunciation. But this is the sort of problem any foreigner has in a new environment; there’s a portion of it that can only be learned only by exposure.

{Message appears to have been partially erased and rerecorded from this point}

With all the broadcasts I’d been watching and listening to, I was arguably the furthest along in comprehending their culture. But the more I learned, the more I became worried that our planned first contact protocol was hopelessly misguided. The committee back home, a combination of politicians, military leaders, psychologists, and scientists, had spent literally years working out a first contact strategy. The intent was to be unambiguous, nonthreatening, and direct. The unambiguous part ruled out initial contact by radio—someone would need to go down there. Nonthreatening meant that there would be only one crewmember. And direct meant that his initial action would be to establish contact with some individual or group empowered to negotiate.

That all made sense, unless you’d spent the last several months studying their culture. It was unquestionable to me that subtlety, not straightforwardness, was called for. I still questioned the decision to avoid initial contact by radio. I understood that a physical presence would leave no room for doubt, but it would also leave room for any number of cultural mistakes or social blunders that could do serious damage to our mission.

We needed a buffer, and our ambassador would be far better off quietly establishing contact with a native trained in the nuances of their legal and political systems. With the right intermediary in place, we’d be able to avoid any number of gaffes that could never be anticipated, and our eventual contact with the planet’s leadership would move forward smoothly. I even prepared a formal proposal, but the contact committee didn’t want to hear anything from the ‘language kid’. Who was I to try to second-guess a protocol developed by the best minds back home?

{Timestamp indicates a 19-minute gap during recording}

Anyway, on the fifth day after making orbit, First Officer Adam Webster boarded shuttle M3 and headed down to the surface. In deference to that nonthreatening mandate, he traveled unarmed; in fact, the only technology he carried was a CommsPak to broadcast sound and video. And of course that tiny vital signs implant that everyone in the crew had been injected with back home.

Per protocol, Adam brought the shuttle down in a remote area near a major city and began the trek there on foot. He’d been broadcasting continuously, and by the time he arrived, pretty much everyone who could get away from duty had assembled on the multipurpose deck to witness the first historic events. I watched from the middle of that crowd, surely being the only one there cringing with the sense of imminent disaster. I suppose that at this point I could say, ‘I told you so’.

Only I don’t know who I’d say it to.

Adam walked directly into the largest of the structures we’d identified as government buildings, explained who he was to an attendant in the lobby, and requested a meeting with their political leader. He was asked to take a seat, and several minutes later was met by two uniformed men whom I recognized as law enforcement officers.

It wasn’t clear what happened next. There must have been some sort of altercation; the video showed jostling, then a view of the ceiling, and then the screen showed a Loss of Signal message.

As it became clear that the broadcast was not going to be restored, the crew began dispersing to their regular duties, but with an unspoken uneasiness in the air. Until then, the entire expedition had gone flawlessly, a textbook example of successful planning. Now we were off the plan.

I suppose I was the only one on board who wasn’t shocked. My hope was that we’d try again with the protocol I recommended. Adam’s vital signs 6 implant was still sending; of course, the signal wasn’t strong enough to hear on Endeavor, but his shuttle was picking it up and repeating it. So, if we were able to establish relations with the locals, we’d definitely be able to find him.

I pleaded my case to the contact committee again, and again it fell on deaf ears. The committee included the captain, our crew psychologist, and someone from engineering. The idea must have been to benefit from diversity, but instead they became deadlocked. For two days they stayed in session almost continuously, breaking only for meals and sleep. Nothing was said to the crew; apparently, no conclusions had been reached. And when nothing is said, rumors fill the void. I won’t repeat them all here, but crew morale was definitely low, and on the way down.

On the morning of the third day, a general meeting was announced. My turn had come up for watch duty, so I got to stay behind on the bridge and make sure none of the green lights turned red while everyone else was down on the multipurpose deck. I watched on one of the small screens as Captain Anderson began.

“At 03:10 ship’s time, a series of telemetry commands were issued to return shuttle M3 to Endeavor unoccupied. The contact team judged that the risk of the shuttle being discovered by planetary authorities outweighed any potential hazard that might be caused by its delayed availability to First Officer Webster. At the time of the shuttle’s retrieval, Mr. Webster’s implant was still broadcasting. He appears to be in good health, though under some stress. The contact committee has therefore decided…”

I’ll never know what the contact committee decided. Because that’s when it hit.

What hit? Beats the hell out of me. It could have been a meteoroid. Or it could have been some orbital debris; from the newscasts, we knew that several of their governments had flown small vehicles to orbit. But whatever it was, it was moving damn fast, fast enough that the hazard lasers never saw it coming. It couldn’t have been that big; if it had been, I wouldn’t be recording this. But whatever it was, it pierced the hull near the floor of the multipurpose deck, clipped a chunk of the central core, and exited about two-thirds of the way up the opposite wall. The entry hole was about the size of my head, and the exit was maybe twice that size.

Nobody had a chance. In less than thirty seconds, the air pressure on that deck was approaching zero. A few of the crew made it to the central core and cycled the hatch, but whatever had hit had breached the core as well, and through it, air mix funneled from the other decks, decks that would have been compartmentalized if the core had held. Only the engineering deck and bridge were on separate pressure, and there was no one in engineering; everyone was on the multipurpose deck. Except for me.

And that’s how the Endeavor went from expedition to morgue in less than a minute

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About the Author

Born and raised in the wilds of suburban Long Island, in the shadow of New York City, Larry Allen migrated to Massachusetts in the Great Exodus of 2010.

When not writing speculative fiction, he designs embedded computer systems, flies light aircraft, swims the Polar Bear Plunge, and rides on multi-day bicycle tours.

He and his bride live at an airport on Cape Cod.

Buy A Forgotten Legacy at Amazon or learn more about Larry at his website.

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About the Book

A Forgotten Legacy
by Larry Allen

David Frey signed on as a mission specialist for the Endeavor's inaugural interstellar expedition - a chance to be among the first to visit another world. But after a devastating shipboard disaster, he finds himself marooned and alone, trillions of miles from home.

Greg Parker commutes between a dead-end job and a loveless marriage, his dreams of a life at sea long abandoned.

Christopher Bishop's high-tech empire has made him one of the most successful men in the world. But something he's tried to find for a generation still eludes him.

Much to all of their surprise, their lives are about to converge in a way that none of them could possibly have imagined.

Written by an engineer and pilot, A Forgotten Legacy will be a compelling read for science fiction fans, as well as those who just want to enjoy an entertaining, suspenseful adventure.

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