Four Hours

Knowledge is the death of research — Walther Hermann Nernst, German Physicist 1864 – 1941

Four hours left…

Tharlia had to stifle a yawn. It had been her choice to work the night shifts at the lab so she couldn’t really complain that she never slept. Working at night not only allowed her to continue her lessons during the day but it gave her almost totally unsupervised access to the specimen. She felt her hearts quiver as she looked at it.

The stasis pod itself was nothing to be excited over. Lacklustre grey metal surrounded what should be clear glass, it was however tainted by the deep frost on the inside. The pod wasn’t of their own design, it had been found floating aimlessly in space. It had collided with one of the military patrol crafts. It was badly scarred but obviously durable as no leaks had appeared. The inside was frozen but it couldn’t have been from the cold recesses of space. Perhaps it was just how this race functioned.

They had set the pod on a course for extremely slow defrost. They didn’t want the being in the pod to have life pushed on it too quickly. What if it couldn’t survive in their World? She sighed and glanced out of the observation decks window. The sky was a deep shade of sapphire, the shades of blue trying to draw her into a sombre mood. She jumped as the comm screen screamed to life. She didn’t know why such an annoying beep was needed. It wasn’t like it was ever loud in here.

She moved to press the accept button and wasn’t surprised at all when she saw it was only the computerised text she was used to. Why waste time actually talking to the scientists? They were only the ones on the front lines doing all the work. In truth she had never met her bosses, she had been hired through the employment bot which had come to the stagnant, depressingly grey hole she lived in. They had apparently read her thesis on life in other Universes and wanted to hire her for their top secret agenda. She could understand why the government wanted to keep this quiet but still it made it hard to talk to others about her work.

She glanced at the screen once again to make sure she had read the message correctly. She was to begin the neural screening. Was that even possible at this stage of deep freeze? Not to mention she didn’t want to think of the pain she would be causing the poor being with the drills. Yet, she was a good little drone and did as she was ordered. Pressing a few buttons she had to admit she watched in fascination as the pod door slowly opened. A few more button presses ensured that the drills were lowered slowly from the ceiling. They neared what she assumed was the head of the being; this process definitely wouldn’t work if it wasn’t. The drills almost tentatively touched the ice as if deciding where best to begin. Finally they plunged deeply into the ice and began their whining movement. They made quick work of the cold barrier but Tharlia felt, much to her astonishment, her stomach churn somewhat when the whining increased at what she assumed must be the skull. Ruby red liquid tried to escape the tracks made but another button press ensured the openings were seared. The drills slowly removed themselves allowing the black wires to carefully enter. A screen lowered to viewing level and flickered to life before her very eyes. She wasn’t sure the being had any thought patterns left in tact but it was worth a try. She sat forward as images began to appear…

There was darkness and pain. It was never ending. The cold harshness of deep, dark black space. Stars sparked to silver infused life and were snuffed out just as quickly. There was darkness. There was pain. An emerald planet with sparkling sapphire blue oceans. A flash of a blade. A mouth screaming. Blood pouring like a river. An attack. An army. So many dead. An explosion. Unending grief, and then… utter loneliness…

Tharlia had to drag her eyes away from the rest of the imagery, momentarily unaware there was tears streaming down her cheeks. Was this what the being dreamt of while stuck in their frozen prison or was it something more? Was this the last moments of it’s existence branded forever in its DNA? Tharlia almost hoped it was the former. No one should experience something like that no matter where they came from.

Shaking off the effects of the screen, she ensured everything was recorded to be sent to the higher ups. Let them think of it what they will. She didn’t want to watch any more so only left the wires in another nano second. Finished, she ensured the wires were properly removed and the wounds seared shut. What if they had caused the being irreparable damage? Her colleagues always laughed that she was too soft for this job. Maybe they were right.

Recordings safely sent she sat back to study more of the life signs of the life form. She felt like nothing more than a keeper, she wasn’t a true scientist. If only there was some way she could prove herself better than her peers.

Three hours left…

Tharlia stifled yet another yawn. She hated to admit she had gotten distracted. The shining sparkle of the moon seemed far more interesting than work that was tantamount to babysitting. The rocky surface outside beckoned her; she was an avid climber, something unheard of for a scientist. Apparently they were all supposed to be geeky. Well nerdy tendencies aside she had outside likes too dammit.

She sighed, looking back towards her frozen charge. Did they have likes, interests, hobbies? Were they even nice? They’d never heard of life on other planets until her thesis and the military discovery. Just because they were out there didn’t mean that they should be sought out. She’d had no reply from her bosses yet about the recordings either. Her damnable curiosity had her wanting to try the drills again, completely forgetting the images had overwhelmed her last time. She theorised the planet she had seen was the one that had exploded. What a shame, it seemed to be a beautiful, peaceful sort of place. Would she do untold damage if she were to use the drills again?

She sat forward in her chair, a daunting yet almost impossible to ignore idea coming to her mind. She wondered if the drills would have less of an effect on the subject if they were more defrosted. It was risky. She didn’t know if the being was peaceful but she was already seeing images of the awards she could achieve if she worked on her charge on her own. What fame and fortune would come!

She moved toward the temperature control, her hand hovering as the last vestiges of good sense left her. She could do this, she would do this. Any danger the subject could prove surely couldn’t be that substantial. They had had the being here for years before Tharlia had come. Steeling her resolve, she pressed the button to increase the temperature in the pod. There was no immediate alarm so evidently her bosses can’t have noticed yet. There was no great difference anyway, apart from the slightly increased condensation on the inside of the glass, probably only noticeable by her due to the fact that her vision had always been really good. At least she told herself that to make her feel better.

She sat down to monitor the beings statistics, noting the blood pressure had risen considerably. Slivers of unease crept through her soul. She was the only one there this night shift. What if the subject was too much for her to handle? Allowing panic to consume her, she decided to administer a sedative to ensure the beings compliance. She watched in fascination as the hyperneedle came down from the same hidden place in the ceiling as the drills had. The pod door again slowly revealed it’s prize. Perhaps she was a sadist, she felt a little amount of satisfaction as the long, lethal looking needle plunged without hesitation into what she hoped was the neck. Sedatives always worked best there, allowing the chemicals to enter the veins quickly. Others preferred to use the hearts but it could prove to be fatal and Tharlia couldn’t afford that in so many ways.

Retracting the needle quickly she let that same original panic spur her to shut the pod even quicker. She sat back, a small sense of relief washing through her at the fact that so far she had been successful. What if she had been caught mid needle thrust? She’d hate to think what would happen.

She shut her eyes, just for a moment, and let her mind wander. The cold and grey landscape surrounding the lab was at a stark contrast to her home. She missed the deep shades of emerald that made the hills the natural beauty spot they were. The deep mahogany chocolate of the surrounding forest had always called to the very essence of her soul. She knew that if she hadn’t been that motivationally driven to become a famous scientist she would have gotten a job somehow linked to the forest. She didn’t however need her fathers mocking tones and condescension if she should have picked anything but scientist. The man was a real demon about science.

A screaming beep tore through her reverie as well as an ice cold bucket of liquid would have. What now? She wondered, somewhat perturbed at being interrupted. She needed to focus on stealing this discovery right from underneath her bosses noses. She grimaced. She was well aware that in a very short space of time she’d gone from a quiet geek to an impassioned usurper but she was desperate to prove herself to colleagues that see her as nothing but a little woman, and a father who thought she would amount to nothing.

The scream of the comm screen sounded again and she pressed the accept button a little harder than was perhaps necessary. It wasn’t the message she had been expecting from her bosses. The text showed it was the engineering team that monitored the equipment of the entire complex. They had noted a change in the systems in the lab. Could she please check and let them know. She glanced quickly at the pod hoping not to see anything too drastic. What if they had noticed because the being had broken out somehow. Instead she saw that everything was the same. Well the same except that the ice was now noticeably thinner. Was that a peach skin tone she could see? She waited an appropriate amount of time then replied that all was okay on her end. She hated lying to them, knowing that now they would spend ages checking all of the individual systems to find where the fault lay. They couldn’t know what she had done, no one could until she had seen it through to the end, come what may.

Two hours left…

Panic was now rising in her throat like bile. Time seemed to stand still. The beings statistics were rising at an incredible rate. Lung function was accelerating but not yet to the degree where they could wake up. She tapped on the screen so she could monitor the beings neural pathways. It appeared the earlier invasive procedure had made little difference as she literally watched signals race across the board. She had never seen so many impulses, it astounded her. Another flick of her finger on the screen and she could see the essence of a DNA strand of the subject scanned by the sensors in the ceiling. It was incredible. There seemed to be the basis of all DNA, the double helix, but seemingly fused to the centre was a third strand, making it a triple helix. There was also so many more hydrogen bonds than was normal. What could this mean? From this information alone she could win prestige but she wanted, no needed, more.

She felt her mouth constrict. She needed things to happen sooner rather than later. She didn’t know what would happen should she be discovered. It was strange, she didn’t really think of whether the being was dangerous, all she could see was the fame and fortune that she needed.

Lost in thought, she barely noticed that some of the ice had fallen away; not enough to show the features of the being but she could see some of the writing at the bottom of the pod. It seemed to be engraved into the dark metal, who would go to such an effort? She moved closer to the pod, straining to determine what it said. She was fluent in a few languages but this resembled none of the modern ones. She knew about a few ancient dialects but again this stumped her. She found herself almost mesmerised by the swirling circular design. It echoed an ancient dialect she had studied in lessons, although it was far more beautiful in orientation.

Squinting, she struggled to remember what she had learned. She sounded out the words to see if they felt right.

“L… Lar…st… Ha… ooo…,” there was ice blocking off the middle of the sentence so she went to the end. “Way… re… Knoe… lege… all.” Tharlia sighed in disgust. That made absolutely no sense to her. Why hadn’t she paid more attention in lessons? Deciding, perhaps ignorantly, that it was nothing to worry about she went back to her console.

Moments later that damn comm screen beep echoed through her skull. She would love one day just to smash the thing up but while she was doing something so dangerous she fought against the urge. She really didn’t want to purposefully draw attention to herself. She pressed the accept button in agitation, willing the sender to disappear. She almost swallowed her tongue when she saw it was her bosses. They were still viewing the recordings but they would inform her of their findings soon. In the meantime they had had reports from engineering that faults lay all over the lab and she was to go into the viewing room to check them out. She should only report back if she found something urgent. She had a little time until engineering finally figured out what was going on. By then she would hopefully have all the knowledge in the World; but actually go into the viewing room when defrost was almost complete? Not in their lifetimes.

Her eyes shot to the pod. She could have sworn there had been movement just then. Was the being finally waking? It was too soon, she wasn’t ready. She could feel hyperventilation trying to set into her psyche. She wasn’t ready… she wasn’t ready…

One hour left…

Things were going from bad to worse. There had been faults she had blindly ignored, feeling they were reporting solely on what she had initiated. She bashed the screen as it displayed something else. The lighting system was failing. Some would consider that a small problem but it did nothing for her piece of mind. Soon another screen popped up, the comm network was failing. That was fine by her, it meant no more beeping headaches at least, though she supposed it should worry her that she essentially couldn’t contact her bosses.

She glanced at the pod, hoping, praying that everything was all right in there. She knew the being would be out soon and she needed them to stay alive. What would happen if life support failed? Her hopes for the future and her dreams of fame would die with the subject. She watched dispassionately as some more ice broke away from the glass. She could now see the entire sentence within the pod but it mattered little as she couldn’t make out its meaning.

Suddenly, a harsh fire broke out within the viewing room. Only then did she notice a warning saying that the wiring was failing for all the machines. How had so many faults gone unnoticed? Had she blindly ignored them in quick succession assuming she was the centre of everything and it was all her doing with the pod? She cursed her own ego and ran into the viewing room willing the water system to come on until she remembered she had had a warning about that too. She looked wildly about for anything that might prevent the fire from spreading. She had no desire to go up in flames but more pressing was that she couldn’t let the being die either. He was her meal ticket. She looked into every lonely corner of both rooms until eventually her eyes landed on the pod and she wondered if their guest was unaffected. They seemed so, though she was now shocked that she could see the features. Their guest was a male, tall with peachy skin and some facial stubble. She moved closer. He would’ve been handsome if he had more resembled her race. Still her hearts gave a little flutter as she stared.

Suddenly, his blood shot chocolate eyes shot open and focused solely on her, a stark contrast to her now fearful deep black ones. His eyes became all that there was. The heat from the flames faded to the back of her awareness. His breath misted on the glass as his eyes stared unblinking and froze her to the spot. She could feel centuries of hate and despair directed towards her and she wondered fleetingly if he even saw her or was he reliving the last few moments before he was frozen. She watched, almost in slow motion, as a gigantic hand shot forth and shattered the glass of the pod. She hadn’t realised she had been bent towards him until his gigantic hand curled around her weak neck. His grip tightened and she knew instinctively that it wasn’t about her, not really. She smiled at the fact that that was the first unselfish thought she’d had all night.

She felt her life slipping from her and thoughts came to her sporadically almost like waves crashing against a cliff… what had she done?… shouldn’t have turned the temperature up… she was so selfish… so blind… what had she unleashed on her World… should have told bosses… should have checked comm screen… …damn warnings… … can hear screaming beep… … … so cold… … … … please help…

Time’s up…

From: Boss C Tulanie

To: Scientist Tharlia Balen

Importance: Extreme Urgency

Scientist Balen, leave the lab immediately. We have had reports that along with the other faults the stasis pod has accelerated its defrost rate, not unheard of in some cases. However we need to isolate that lab. We have finished the viewing of the recordings and found the specimen to be highly dangerous. Our ancient records show it is the last human being, sent into space before their planet Earth was destroyed after an interplanetary War some centuries ago. After decoding the images we could see they implanted the knowledge of their race into that sole being that drove him to insanity and implanted maniacal tendencies. Coupled with the infection in his DNA we cannot risk exposure to our people. Terminate immediately and retreat. That is an order.

Last human being – Beware – Know that the blind pursuit of knowledge destroys all.

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