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“All people in Canada are the same age... more or less. Maybe this guy” – Alighieri tapped one of the tubes, belonging to an old, well-dressed man – “would never date a 19-year-old girl normally, ‘cause he’d be so much older and people talk. Now, they’re chronologically 519 and 570-whatever, it’s not so much of a difference.”

“I don’t know. I would think it’s physical age that counts. You know the Half-Life series? There was a scientist who got frozen like this, which I think was to do with his job. Chronologically, he was about 40 and he had a girlfriend who was 20-something – a baby when they froze him – but it was OK because physically he was in his twenties too.”

“Half-Life – what was that, like, mid-1900s?”

“About 2000 onwards, I think. I’ve forgotten most of school now.”

“God damn it, I hate these suits.”

“The temperature control gone again? Hold on a minute.”

Blake stood behind Alighieri, drawing a nano case from his pocket and tipping the tiny robot onto Alighieri's shoulder. The nano's spindly legs unfolded, and it started scuttling over the suit panels, chirping quietly as it tuned up the suit. The only other noise was the weird, pulsing hum of the tubes.

“Ah, there it is. Right, let’s get going.”

“Come on...” He teased the nano back into the case and shut it. “Ah, we’re making good time. We’re already almost at the Memorial.”

A stone column stood a few hundred metres ahead, with a light burning at the top.

“Weird to have a memorial when they’re still alive.”

“Barely. Even if they did come back, how would they cope?

“Still weird.”

“You know they brought a new high-intensity beam up from CalTech last week?”

“No?”

“Kept it pointed at one of the tubes until it overheated, and there wasn’t a scratch there afterwards. Heated up everything around it – the technicians got first-degree burns even through the suits – but the tube wasn’t even warm.”

“Shit.”

“So what’s she like?”

“Who?”

“You know, this woman – Carin?”

“I only met her once. She’s OK, I guess. She’s not, like, a tramp or anything, and Dad seems happy.”

They stood a moment, as Curators always did, at the base of the Memorial. There was an engraved plate on it, and through constant cleaning and the dry, cold atmosphere, it had escaped corrosion and dirt.

 

PLANET EARTH
ONTARIO CONTACT MEMORIAL
ON 19 SEPTEMBER 2010, THIS SPACECRAFT LANDED ON THE SURFACE OF LAKE ONTARIO, BRINGING THE FIRST KNOWN EXTRATERRESTRIAL VISITORS TO EARTH. ON 24 FEBRUARY 2011, AFTER A PERIOD OF MUTUAL INTER-SPECIES COOPERATION, THEY PERSUADED THE ENTIRE CANADIAN POPULATION TO BE CRYOGENICALLY FROZEN ABOARD THE SHIP. IT IS NOT KNOWN HOW THE POPULATION WERE PERSUADED SO EFFECTIVELY, BUT THE MESSAGE APPEARS TO HAVE MET WITH NO RESISTANCE. THE VISITORS THEMSELVES DIED FOR UNKNOWN REASONS SOON AFTERWARDS. THEIR MOTIVES REMAIN UNDISCOVERED, AND IT IS UNKNOWN AS OF THIS DATE WHETHER OR NOT CANADA CAN EVER REAWAKEN.

24 FEBRUARY 2011

33, 659,212 CANADIAN CITIZENS CRYOGENICALLY PRESERVED

24 VISITORS DECEASED

 

“I still find the whole thing bizarre.”

“Yeah. What could persuade someone to be frozen aboard the ship?”

“And of course the skeleton crew.”

“You ever go up and see ‘em?”

“The Pilots? I have done a couple of times, but the lockdown’s so strict it takes days.”

“I heard they found out one of those cables they got is like a vein, and it pumps blood all around the Pilots and the ship.”

“That’s an urban legend, just like the Escaped Canadians that are supposed to be out in the wilderness.”

“I got some pretty good sources.”

“Can we just send the signal and get home? The second shift’ll be along in a minute.”

“Sure.”

They walked briskly down another corridor of freeze-tubes and turned into the central space of the ship: a 200-metre high cavern lined with more of the tubes, row upon row, a silent regiment of the nearly-dead. At the centre, at the end of a long walkway, a single black column rose up through the middle of the space, its perfectly smooth surface covered with bright swirls of colour, constantly moving and combining into new symbols, though none were recognisable. A large metal collar had been fitted to the column, with square components and displays that looked clumsily incongruous. Blake tapped at the computer on his wrist, speaking slowly into his helmet mic.

“1947, 15 December 2511, Curators Blake and Alighieri sending daily contact signal. This will be contact signal number 19C/1783. All diagnostics show transduction collar and comms equipment is fully functional. Initiating signal.”

He tapped the computer again. The collar began lighting up, and the swirling shapes on the column stopped moving and drew themselves into straight vertical lines, shooting up the column. As always, this continued for a few seconds before returning to normal. As always, there was no response.

“Right. That’s us done.”

“Let’s go.”

 “What does your mother think of all this, then?”

“She hates it when I talk about work. I think she’s a little creeped out by it all.” Alighieri looked pointedly at the Memorial as they passed it.

“No, your father leaving to be with Carin.”

“Oh, that. Honestly, I don’t think she was really surprised. She was perfectly nice about it when she helped him move his stuff out.”

Stoical.”

“What?”

The sudden emergency signal alarm in their earpieces cut through the silence.

 

“This is New York Control to all Contact Site Curators, come in please.”

“Control, this is Blake and Alighieri just coming off-shift. What’s the problem?”

“They’ve landed again – everywhere this time! They’re in Boston, LA, London... get down here!”

“Wait, the Visitors have landed again?”

“Yeah, and this time they’re working fast. They already got their... message or whatever out on TV and most of the net... it’s like a fuckin’ riot out there, they’re all going for the ships.”

“Well, is anyone stopping them?”

“We tried, damn it! Listen – I don’t have much time before they get the encrypted freqs and the military AIs. Don’t let them get you too – turn off all the comms and you might make it.”

“What can we do, though?”

“I’m sorry, this is it. 1953, last transmission of Colonel Milton. Goodbye.”

They heard the growling metallic report of the Colonel’s Hydra sidearm, and then nothing.

There was a procedure in place for dealing with this. Swearing intermittently, they switched off every device on the suits – computers, radios, helmet screens, even the backup indicators – and ran, their boots clanging on the walkway, past the rows of tubes.

The shuttle was still on the dock, and they were almost at the door when Alighieri grabbed Blake.

“What?”

“The message probably already got in there! We gotta turn off the comms from the maintenance panel!”

Moving quickly around the aircraft’s elegant, tapering tail, Aligheri unlocked and opened the panel at the rear. Blake followed and tipped the nano in, shouting “Deactivate all communications systems!” The arachnid robot scuttled over the shuttle systems, pausing a moment as though to sniff out its objective. Finding the comms power supply, it destroyed it with a second-long arc of electricity before doing the same to the backup. As the nano returned to Blake’s case, Alighieri kicked the comms unit repeatedly, until the casing caved in.

“Come on, let’s fucking go!”

The shuttle ride back to New York took five minutes of silent panic, watching the roads grow ever more crowded with people as they flew into the city. The sky was completely empty. It wasn’t long before they could see the Visitors’ ship on the horizon, its sleek black form towering above several of the Manhattan arcologies. Drawing closer, they could see it had landed in Central Park, covering most of the park’s area.

“God damn... what the hell do we do now?”

“I... I don’t know. Land it on that roof and we can think.”

The shuttle came gently down onto the 20th-floor rooftop, and they watched the crowd pouring into the ship.

“Well, I don’t think we can persuade them.”

“We got no weapons, we can’t use any of the comms...”

They sat in silence for nearly an hour. The crowd remained as thick as ever.

“There’s just one thing we could try.”

“What?”

“Ask people about the message, but face-to-face. Maybe it wouldn’t work if it was a person telling us, and we could work out a way to stop this.”

There was another long silence.

“Yeah. Guess it’s all we can do.”

Emerging from the abandoned apartment block, where most of the doors had been left open, they found themselves in front of the crowd. Blake turned towards one of them, a soldier who had got rid of his weapons and armour.

“Excuse me? Could you tell me why you’re doing this?”

The soldier stared past him and continued walking. Alighieri grabbed him by his shoulders, shouting into his face.

 “WHY? WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU ALL DOING THIS?

The soldier suddenly became aware of them, and spoke softly as he held Alighieri's gaze.

We will fulfil our destiny.

He leaned towards them, whispering excitedly into their ears, and told them all they needed.

Blake and Alighieri thanked him. The three turned and walked towards the ship.

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