The Augustin Mission

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

This story is set in the not too distant future, and involves an encounter with aliens ...

THE AUGUSTIN MISSION:


 

The year was 2038, and after a long hiatus that had been caused by the Corona Virus of 2020, the European Space Agency - ESA - was ready to begin operations again. Commander Irene Tomas was the first female astronaut to fly in the space shuttle Augustin, that had been designed by combined ESA with the help of Space X, a privately owned exploration project that was started by the Tesla organisation. Her first crew was: An American engineer by the name of Captain Mark Gardner. With him was a co-pilot from Germany whose name was Paul Merkel, and a French navigator named Victor Cartier.


 

Their first maiden mission was to provide parts and supplies to the Mir Space Station orbiting Earth. This was to take place on the 21st of August 2038. After a two day delay due to bad weather, the mission was at last under way. The four cosmonauts - having been under quarantine for 48 hours - were finally cleared to commence with the mission. There was a feeling of excitement and anticipation throughout the space station as this was the first European Space endeavour.


 

"Ground Control." Stated Commander Tomas from the cockpit, "This is space shuttle Augustin. All checkpoints have been finalised, and we await your final clearance - over. "


 

"Roger Augustin." Came the reply, "All systems are go. The countdown will commence on my mark. T minus 15 seconds - 14 -13 ... " The excitement increased as the countdown drew closer, until the last five counts, After which the air was filled with the roar of engines and massive clouds of smoke. Slowly the space shuttle began to lift off much to the applause of the ground staff. The whole world watched in awe as the first space shuttle in almost two decades ascended in the bright afternoon sky.


 

Due to advancements in technology, the Augustin was able to reach orbit a lot quicker than her predecessors, and soon the crew were able to view Earth from above. Commander Tomas later stated that the world looked so peaceful from her vantage point that it was almost as if all conflict, war and hardship had come to an end. She also said she lamented the fact that this was not the case.

 

The Mir Space Station appeared just on the horizon. It would take 3 days for them to reach it. Even with the advances in technology, travelling in space was still a slow process as without gravity one relied on inertia to traverse the distances. During this time it was decided that one cosmonaut would attempt an EVA, and that person was Commander Tomas because she was the Senior officer. Preparations were under way for the expedition. At last the time came for her to exit the capsule. With her space suit on, she launched herself out of the airlock. The location of this exercise was determined by the fact that a fragment of a long derelict satellite had been spotted there. This expensive piece of equipment may still have been salvageable, and thus it was considered vital that it was collected.


 


 

As Commander Tomas was about to commence with the mission, a message came over the communicator saying that there seemed to be some form of interference between the shuttle and Mission Control. Even as the communication came through it was broken by what appeared to be static on the line. So much so that she only heard part of it, and was delayed in her response. Just then a dark shadow seemed to come between her and the space shuttle. When she looked up to see what it was, she discovered that it was another spaceship of a design that she had never witnessed before. It was much larger than any vessel that had ever been designed or manufactured on Earth. But before she could communicate what she had seen with her crew the vessel came between her and the shuttle. All lines of communication were lost, whether between her and the Augustin or between the shuttle and Mission Control.

 

"Augustin - this is Control." Came the order, "Instruct Commander Tomas to abort the attempt to retrieve the item and return to the vessel immediately!"


 

But alas, all the crew heard was: "Augustin … Control ... Commander Tomas … attempt ... return to the vessel ...!"


 

When the crew asked Control to repeat the message, all they heard was static. That was the last communication between Earth and the stricken vessel, none of which was received by Commander Tomas who was still floating in space. Soon after this the alien vessel severed her lifeline that connected her to the ship, leaving her to float off freely into outer space. she knew that she only had enough oxygen in her reserve tank for three hours without the vital connection to the ship. To make matters worse the alien craft had somehow interfered not only with communications but also the ship’s navigation and propulsion. This meant that there was no way for the rest of her crew to rescue her.


 

The Augustin was also stranded in space, and the crew themselves knew that they would not survive for long once their oxygen supply had run out, and without any form of contact with Earth, there was little chance of them being rescued. Thus each of them began preparation for their inevitable demise, Commander Tomas included. Captain Gardner was a devout Catholic, and began to recite Hail Mary’s and the Lord's Prayer while holding his rosary beads. Neither of his companions were particularly religious, and busied themselves with recording messages for their loved ones, even though they knew that their families were not likely to ever hear them.


 

Commander Tomas had only recently got married, and her message to her new husband was simply: "My darling Henri, I love you more than words can say." - which she spoke in vain to the ether, knowing that he would never receive her last transmission.

 

 

 

Soon Irene began to feel faint as her oxygen levels steadily diminished. She started to suffer from increased exhaustion and her breathing was increasingly laboured. Eventually she slipped into unconsciousness with a last farewell to her loved ones. In her final minutes she did not feel saddened, except by the notion that she would never give her husband the child that he so desired. Her dying moments were painfully nightmarish as her system craved the life-giving oxygen, and when she sank into oblivion it was almost a relief from the agony.


 

Imagine her surprise when she awoke again having half expected to do so in another world. Although she was not particularly religious, she had some notion that there had to be some form of afterlife, but the reality that faced her when she opened her eyes was very different from what she had expected.  Firstly she found herself lying in a chamber of sorts with a glass or perspex lid through which she could see a kind of interior, the details of which she could not as yet make out, but from the humming sound in the background it was clear that this was some kind of medical facility. At first she thought that she was in a hyperbaric chamber, as one would expect after suffering from oxygen starvation, but she had never seen anything like this before.


 

Soon however she was to discover that the truth far exceeded her wildest imagination. From the other side of the perspex she saw two figures, the likes of which she had never seen except perhaps in her nightmares. They were certainly not human and she even questioned whether they were even living. Their bodies were made of some kind of metal rather than flesh, and as one of them peered at her through the glass, she noticed that it didn't even have a face, instead she was looking at what appeared to be a blank dark mirror. When it spoke, the voice sounded as if it was being amplified through a set of speakers with some kind of distortion. It reminded her of the effect that was achieved by using a vocoder. She could not understand the language to begin with, but slowly it appeared that she could comprehend it more and more.


 

The alien said: "Do not be afraid we will not harm you. We are glad to see that you have recovered from your accident.”


 

"What accident?" Retorted the Commander, "Your ship came between my ship and I, while I was outside the capsule."


 

"A fact for which we are most regretful." Came the reply, "Our ship is malfunctioning and we have all but lost control over her. We are explorers from the planet Unan, but our ship has developed a problem that we cannot fix without parts to do so. It was not our intention to do you any harm. We only have partial control over navigation, and thus find it difficult to manoeuvre with any precision. Sadly we need to inform you that the rest of your crew have perished."

 

 

Irene was shocked by the news of the deaths of her comrades. She swallowed hard as tears brimmed in her eyes. While she was forced to accept the aliens’ explanation, it did not diminish her sense of loss. She had been with the other crew members for almost a year and had grown somewhat fond of all of them. So much so that they became almost like an extended family to her.


 

Irene was an only child. Her parents had both passed away, and the rest of her family had either died or immigrated to other countries, which meant that she felt alone in the land in which she was born. The result was that many of her friends and colleagues became substitutes for the family she didn't have. At the same time she had to accept the risks that came with her chosen profession. Every time they went on a mission, she and her crew were fully aware that what they were involved in was intrinsically dangerous.

 

After what seemed to be a week at least, Irene was strong enough to stand on her own. Her hosts removed her from the chamber in which she had found herself when she woke. She was allowed to roam freely in the ship provided that she informed the crew where she was going. This was just in case she became faint or injured herself in any way. She also learnt a great deal about the race that rescued her.


 

The Unanoids were a race of mechanoid beings that had originally been created as slaves by a highly advanced civilization. Being inorganic meant that they were immune to disease. This worked to their advantage when their Masters succumbed to a deadly plague that overran the entire planet. By that time the Unanoids had become self maintained, and could thus survive without the technicians that were responsible for their upkeep. Eventually they were the only beings that endured. Not being dependent on a viable environment, they allowed their home-world to fall into disrepair until it could no longer support any life.

 

In the meantime they became avid explorers, embarking on often dangerous missions that would have likely cost the lives of biotic beings. Their ships traversed the Galaxy and even beyond. Having once been originally designed for organic life-forms, these vessels still had basic life support on board. Thus any living specimen that they collected could be sustained therein. If the being was either ill or injured the Med-Bay was fully functional, and could thus treat whatever illness or morbidity the creature was facing. This is how they managed to revive Commander Tomas.


 

The Unanoid that spoke to her went on to say: "... If our ship was in working order we could return you to your planet. However in its present state there is a danger that it could cause greater calamity. Thus we need to return to our home world in order to effect repairs. Our world is alas not suitable for human habitation, thus we will transport you to the nearest organic planet from our own."


 

Irene requested: "is it possible for me to send a message home from your vessel? There are many who would like to know that I am alive and well."

To her delight she was told that this was indeed possible. The alien said: "We will do our best, and I hope that we will succeed. I will arrange it immediately. The only problem might be in finding a channel on Earth that could receive the transmission."


Some time later, Irene's hosts informed her that they had managed to create a communication link between the ship and a station on Earth, and that she would be able to send her message. She told them that she needed time to prepare it as there was a limit as to how long the broadcast could be.

 

About an hour thereafter she informed them that she was ready. She sat in what appeared to be the communications bay and began to speak. She said: "This message is for everyone back home whom I know and love. Firstly to my dear husband Henri: I bet you are angry and upset with me for accepting this mission. But you knew the risks from the start. Although I doubt whether we will ever see each other again, be assured that I still love you and always will. I am sorry that we only spent such a short time together. I am sorry that we were unable to have the family that we had planned. Above all, I am sorry that we will never be in each other's arms again.


 

To my colleagues back at Ground Control: Thank you for always being there for us: For your guidance and instruction, but most of all for your friendship. It saddens me that such good things have come to an end. To all my friends everywhere: I will miss you all, and I hope that you will wish me well on this new adventure that lies before me. So I bid all a fond adieu. I send my love, and wish you all the best for the future, and who knows perhaps we will see each other again somewhere some time."


 

Having finished the broadcast, Irene requested that she be left alone for a moment so that she could pay her respects to the members of the crew who had passed away. Her hosts led her to a small bare room where she was left to her own devices. She had never prayed before, but after a moment's awkwardness, she was able to offer some kind of supplication for those lives that had been lost. There was no mention of God or any deity. Instead she spoke as if her offering was made to the Universe which she had held in such awe that it was the closest thing to a god that she could perceive.


 

Not long after this, the ship and its crew arrived at the planet Unan, where her hosts would bid her farewell. They had already arranged for a shuttle to take her to the nearest inhabitable world, which was known as Zeten. The only problem was that it was highly developed and urbanized, with the entire surface being one massive city. But from there it would be possible for her to travel to a more suitable destination. One suggestion was the planet Acaide, which was equally advanced but less developed. This meant that there were more open spaces which would make it more earth-like, and thus would help Irene to feel more at home until a way could be found for her to return to Earth.



 

 

 

The Acaidean ships did not have life support that would last long enough to make the journey back. If they travelled to Earth it would be a one way trip, and understandably they were not prepared to take the risk. Even if they could make the journey it would be doubtful that they would be well received by the humans they would meet. Humanity’s reputation for being hostile towards other races was far too well-known to be ignored.

 

There was to be a three-day delay between their arrival on the planet Unan and Irene's transfer to Acaide. Although the Unanoids had no need for food or sustenance, they had constructed accommodation for organic life forms complete with food replicators that provided all but the most lavish of meals. Irene's accommodation was sparse but adequate.

 

During her stay, she learnt more about her hosts’ culture - if one could call it that considering that they were not organic. Nonetheless it appeared as though they had developed cultural characteristics of their own over and above those that they inherited from their makers. Seeing that the downfall of the beings that created them had taken place over two centuries before, it was hardly surprising that the surviving race had begun to establish an identity of their own.


 

The planet of Unan had never been very fertile to begin with, but after the demise of its original inhabitants, it had deteriorated into little more than a barren wasteland where only the inorganic Unanoids could survive. Seeing that the star system around which Unan orbited was a binary system, there was little shortage of sunlight, the source of energy for it's mechanoid inhabitants. Massive solar panels generated power for both industries and for sustaining the beings that operated them. This meant that there was little pollution in the atmosphere, and if there had still been the slightest hint of life on the planet surface it would no doubt have thrived. But without any form of precipitation, nothing could grow there. And thus the entire surface was one almighty desert over which fierce sandstorms raged, creating giant sand dunes that would rival the highest mountains on Earth. In other areas the sand gave way to weather-beaten rock that resembled massive sculptures, as if they had been fashioned by the ancient hands of some long-forgotten race of gigantic beings.


 

When the day finally came for Irene to leave Unan, she vowed to return so that she could continue her study of the planet and its strange inhabitants. She was certain that there was so much more to learn about  this world that was completely alien to her.


 

The shuttle arrived at the docking bay at about midday - if one could call it that in this place. The beings that greeted her looked surprisingly human, except that parts of their bodies were obviously robotic. She had already been told that these people were known as ‘Augments’, and were a kind of melding of flesh and cybernetics. This had come to pass as the race began to explore the worlds beyond their homeworld. They would often encounter environments that would prove difficult for them in their natural state. In order to counter this, they began to transform themselves in order to better adapt to their surroundings. Hence the age of the Augments came into being.

Irene had also learnt that the reason why she could understand the language of her hosts was that special nanites had been implanted in her brain that acted as translators, thus it did not matter who or what was communicating with her, she would know what was being said.


 

The journey to Acaide was much shorter than the previous one. Nonetheless she was glad when it was over, especially when she saw how beautiful her new home was and how closely it resembled Earth. Although there were many differences, the foliage and green trees were a welcoming sight after having seen nothing but metal for so long. And there was so much to see and discover about her new home, that despite missing her loved ones, she felt the desire to remain where she was and learn as much as she could ...

 

… " Sir - I think you had better come and see this for yourself. " The young officer reported. The senior official followed his subordinate to the control room, and was met with an alarming sight on the monitor screen: An object descending to Earth at a speed that he'd never seen before. It appeared not to be out of control, even though it was plummeting towards the surface of the planet at an incredible rate. As it drew closer it became obvious that this was no piece of space debris, but rather it was a small vessel,  the technology of which was far beyond that of the present day on Earth.


 

"Get the President on the line as well as the Chiefs of Staff." The General ordered, "We have a potential crisis on our hands! "


 

No sooner had he spoken, when orders were given to intercept the alien spaceship. A squadron of Fighters accompanied a flotilla of ships that sailed off the coast of Newfoundland where the vessel had landed. Unlike shuttles and capsules of the day, this ship seemed to be able to hover on the surface of the ocean unaffected by  the rolling of the waves.


 

As the units approached, their leaders were already preparing for any hostile response. Indeed there were those among them that wanted to shoot first and ask questions afterwards, but fortunately it seemed that sanity still prevailed and the entire force was placed on alert, but were given strict instructions not to engage until the other ship reacted.


 

A Hatch on the deck of the ship open, and four figures clambered out. Three of them were dressed in some kind of metallic armour, whereas the fourth wore what appeared to be a space suit that looked vaguely familiar if not somewhat outdated.


 

A lifeboat was launched from one of the US naval ships, with an armed guard and a representative of the Navy on board. There was no visible reaction from the occupants of the alien vessel as the small boat approached. When the party came alongside the space ship, two of the figures dressed in armour reached down to aid those who wished to come aboard.

A day later news headlines all over the world were dominated by the report of the strange visitors, and even more so of the seemingly miraculous return of the astronaut that had been missing for over twenty years. What was even more astounding was that she appeared to have survived without even ageing and still looked as young as she did on that fateful day in 2038, a day in which she and the ill-fated crew of the Augustin space shuttle had met their doom, or so it seemed at the time. When the original disaster occurred, there were many who considered the reports of an alien vessel being involved as fake news. Now that a second unidentified spaceship had landed for all to see,  even the most avid critics were silenced.


 

Irene Tomas’s return raised a number of questions as to how the people on earth would respond to the presence of life elsewhere in the universe. Many were driven by fear, and tried to force the governments to take a stance against what they deemed to be a threat to society. Others were excited at the prospect of being able to make contact with other races. There were those that considered this as an opportunity to develop trade with these newcomers, and a way to address the many shortages that plagued the world of men as a result of the increasing burden that humanity imposed on the environment. Scientists hoped that they would learn important lessons from them: Such as sustainability in the utilisation of resources, and in turn the reduction of the negative impact their race would impose on the world around them.


 

From that day onwards a special occasion was set aside to commemorate this historic event. Ten and a half years passed  before any further contact was made with the alien visitors. Sadly those who believed  that relations with the aliens would be beneficial to humanity were way too few, and were outnumbered by those obsessed with violence. As three alien diplomatic vessels entered the Earth's atmosphere, a squadron of fighters intercepted them, and without hesitation or provocation shot them out of the sky. When the world press demanded an explanation, it was told that the information surrounding the incident was classified, and that the subject was closed.


 

A special council meeting was held between the worlds upon which the Augments and their allies resided. The purpose of this gathering was to decide how to react to the Earth’s attack on the vessels that had been sent to establish official ties with its inhabitants. It did not take long for the verdict to be given: No further contact would be attempted between their planets and the human race. The only exception was a small group that was sent to offer Irene the opportunity to return with them to the home-world of Acaide. Having heard of the atrocious way in which her own people had dealt with the visitors, she gladly accepted their offer.


 

Her husband had remarried the year after her disappearance, and she had been unable to settle down since her return to Earth. She felt that she had unfinished business back on Acaide, as well as Unan, and would rather find a new life there than have to dwell amongst those so driven by fear, that they could not comprehend that another race would be willing to make contact with them without any ulterior motive.

The final straw was when a local newspaper printed an article stating that Irene had been abducted by the aliens, and that they had experimented on her. Not only that, but they alleged that she had been sent back to Earth as a spy, an agent to gather information that her ‘Masters’ could use in the event that they would invade planet Earth. When she tried to get the tabloid to withdraw their absurd allegations, they refused. Instead a second report was printed saying that she had lost her senses, and had stormed into the offices and made all kinds of threats. This too was of course false, seeing that the initial conversation took place over the phone, followed by an e-mail.

 

Thus it was that three days after Irene was visited by four mysterious strangers, her cleaner discovered that all of her mistress’s clothes and personal belongings had disappeared. It was as if Irene had Departed in a hurry, except that her car was still in the garage and her cell phone was still lying on the table next to her bed fully charged.


 

The woman began to fear the worst, until she saw a message on her phone that stated: "My dear Isabel - by the time you receive this message, I will already have been long gone. I cannot stay here much longer - my conscience will not allow me. Those who brought me back after my disappearance have invited me to return with them, and I have decided to accept the invitation. I have left instructions for you to take up employment with one of my friends. The apartment is fully paid-up, and I leave it to you. Adieu and thank you for your many years of service, and now I beg you a final farewell - as always, Irene."

 

Commander Irene Tomas was never seen again.



 






 



 



 



 


 

 



 


Submitted: June 06, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Tristan Biggs. All rights reserved.

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