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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2191652
Kaya makes a shocking discovery when her ship is taken off course.
Computer should not be trusted with anything, especially interstellar navigation.

Kaya stared at the sparkling grey rock below her in disgust. The coordinates on the navigation panel were set for the Martian outpost. Yet here she was, awakened from cryo after two months instead of two years, staring at Mercury outside of the viewscreen.

“I don’t understand,” she mumbled. The good news was that she was the only one awakened. She got to the controls just in time to stop the waking sequence on the cryo chambers for the other nine crew members. Maybe she could fix this with no harm done, except lost time. It would be an interesting story to tell while studying the new green life spreading across the Martian landscape from a cozy space station.

Alerts clanged through the ship. Kaya covered her sensitive ears as she searched her memory for the command codes. She didn’t know what was worse: coming out of cryo, or finding the ship in the opposite direction they were supposed to be heading. Maybe this computer needed a good smack. It shouldn’t be able to change ship’s course unless somebody entered a new programming. That was unlikely, given that every sentient consciousness on the ship was asleep and the ship computer was still showing a Martian trajectory.

The ship rattled in a wave of energy hitting the hull. Kaya cringed as she uncovered her ears and typed in command codes. The clanging stopped, allowing her to focus on the readings coming through the science station. Maybe the course diversion was a good thing. There were unfamiliar energy readings coming off the planet in a region near the equator. The mapping probes on the surface activated emergency protocol; but they stalled a thousand kilometers outside of the surge.

Kaya tried to transmit a mission update to the International Space Authority on Earth. Of course, the disturbance was blocking communication. The alien signal was caught up in the planet’s atmosphere and jamming the ship communication system. She should have figured. The entire day goes off track when you wake up early. Right now, all she wanted was to go back into cryo. She wiped sweat from her brow as the radiation shielding struggled to keep the temperature within normal parameters. The ship wasn’t designed for missions in close proximity to the sun.

“Can I run a scan of the surface?” She mumbled as she typed codes in the computer. She was surprised when the scanning satellite booted up the sequence without an error.

The mystery of computers, she thought. She couldn’t communicate with Earth, but she could scan the planet below her, despite the energy readings surging from the surface. There was one more thing that didn’t make sense. She needed to have a long talk with the engineers and programmers once they were at Mars.
The yellow warning alert sounded, cautioning that she would need to retreat to a lower radiation perimeter within the next hour to maintain structural integrity.

“I don’t plan to stay that long,” she mumbled as readings flowed on the science console. She squinted at the surface scans. The energy didn’t match anything in their database. It was, in fact, unlike anything she had ever seen. She zoomed on the point of origin and gasped as the resolution revealed a double-helix structure swirling in the energy surge.

“What?” she changed scans, widening the range. Sure enough, the double helix energy was spreading over the planet. It had frozen the mapping probes and was rewriting their programming at that moment.

“How is this possible?” Kaya asked. She sent a reboot command to the probes, and received a red blinking message that the command failed due to safety protocols.

“What safety protocols? I’m watching this energy rewrite the programming!” Kaya huffed as she ran to the engineering console. If she couldn’t reboot it, then maybe she could shut it down. It’s not as if she could go down there and shut the probes down manually. The refrigeration suits for Mercurian missions were still in beta testing on Earth. Nobody would be going down there for at least three years.

Somebody might be down there already.

Kaya shook off the unbidden thought. “The DNA pattern is a coincidence. There must be an explanation for this.”

Another error message beeped on the console. The shutdown sequence was terminated. Kaya gasped.

There’s no such thing as a coincidence. Everything happens for a reason.

Wasn’t that why they were out here? The International Space Authority has revolutionized life on Earth since the turn of the twenty-second century. Their Artificial Intelligence and robotic probes showed the impossible becoming possible all over the solar system. Precious metals, water, oxygen, and microbial life were discovered all over the solar system in growing quantities that defied evolutionary processes. The question is, how did they miss it for so long?

Did we miss it? Or are we finally seeing something that we didn’t see before?

It was time to launch the life sign scan.

Kaya trembled as she typed in the code. She had dreamed of the day when she would finally use it. This wasn’t what she imagined, but it would work. The energy readings were all she needed. She fed the data in the program, set the parameters to run parallel with known life signs, and held her breath as she clicked “execute.”

The ship was silent, except for the systems churning to keep the ship running in the radiation and heat. She leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes, and blew out a long breath. What was happening? Was it possible that the energy surge on Mercury caused the change in the ship’s course? She didn’t see any indication that the International Space Authority had remoted in to her systems, but maybe the redirect was triggered automatically. She would have to check the archives once this scan was completed.

A chime broke the silence. Kaya opened her eyes and leaned forward, gasping as her eyes fell on the display.

SENTIENT LIFE SIGNS CONFIRMED.

She tapped the “view results” with a shaky hand and leaped out of her chair when a diagram of the entire planet displayed, permeated in a web of DNA energy surrounding the planet. The energy spread across the planet while she was fighting with the ship systems.

Kaya’s hands flew to her mouth. She did it. It was accidental, but that didn’t matter. She just confirmed the existence of alien life, and it was in their solar system.

She collapsed in the chair, realizing that she was hyperventilating. She took deep breaths, forcing herself to calm down and think. She had to tell somebody! She had to get back to Earth!

Another chime sounded. She tapped the console and felt her throat catch as she saw the energy from the planet flowing toward the ship.

That energy shut down the mapping probes. If it reached the ship, it could shut down the ship.

The communication system chimed. She clicked it open to find alien script flowing through the transmission channel. She opened speakers. Static filled the chamber, but a soft noise seemed to seep through the static. She tried to filter the audio channel to clear it, but only succeeded in exposing a soft, musical tone.

Of course, the ship couldn’t identify it.

Kaya was a scientist and a pilot, not a gambler. Computers might not be reliable, but one thing they shared with humanity was a protocol for self-preservation. If the probes on the planet couldn’t tell her what she was seeing or hearing, then it wasn’t safe to bet that organic minds would do any better in a life or death situation. She rushed to navigation and set coordinates for Earth. She hoped they could make it there in time. Now the energy knew there was sentient life out here, and Kaya sensed that they didn’t have much time to figure out how to establish a proper first contact with whatever that was on Mercury.

Kaya hoped the Earth satellites saw and heard what she did. First contact was at stake. One thing was certain: it's a good thing she was awake.

Then again, perhaps that was the true plan all along.
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