Little Green Men

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Alien life is found on a desolate planet, but it's not what it seems...

Submitted: July 23, 2009

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Submitted: July 23, 2009

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Darkness surrounded them. Sleet rained down upon them.


They've broken through the mantle,” Johnson cried over the sound of the frozen methane rain pelting on the back of his helmet. “Dallas wants everyone back.”


Some thirty feet ahead, Mitchell ignored him, wading forward through the mist rising from the thermal pool.


Mitch,” Johnson cried, using a contraction of Mitchell's surname to deliberately piss him off, “You need to get your sorry-ass out of that cesspool and back to the Die Gratia.”


You have no idea, do you?” Mitchell replied, his gloved hands working with a portable mass spectrometer. “These vents are astounding. Most of this planet is an icy wasteland at 220 degrees below, but everywhere we find these vents we find a warm chemical oasis at upwards of a balmy 90 degrees. There's dissolved sulphur dioxides, calcium, lithium, radium. I'm picking up hydroxides and peroxides. This is a primordial soup. And those crystalline structures along the shoreline, they're like nothing I've ever seen before.”


They're wonderful, beautiful,” said Johnson, the sarcasm dripping from his words. “But if you're finished playing in the mud, us adults would like to get back to work.”


You ignorant Neanderthal,” Mitchell muttered under his breath.


I heard that.”


Mitchell looked around. Warm water lapped at his legs, just below his knees as he approached the far side of the pool. The lights from his helmet exposed a neon-blue crust running along the rim of the bank. As he raised his head, the spotlights on his helmet illuminated plumes of steam rising from the mouth of the main vent some fifty feet away. Mitchell pulled out a pick-axe and took some samples, carefully scrapping the neon coating into carefully marked specimen bags.


Five more minutes.”


That's what you said an hour ago,” said Johnson, adjusting the gravity compensator in his suit to relieve his aching legs. “Stop screwing around in that spa pool and get the hell out of there. We're not down here to play around. There's real work to be done back at the ship.”


I'm going to need your help here,” said Mitchell, ignoring him. “I want to take a sample from some of these large outcrops above the waterline. I'll need your mining laser. Will you help me?”


You need help, alright,” Johnson moaned as he began wading over toward him. “You need help tying your god-damn shoelaces.”


Mitchell snapped. “You... You arrogant, obnoxious, stubborn mule. This isn't a lark. This isn't one of your bravado bonding/bitching sessions with the miners. This is potentially the most important discovery in the history of mankind.”


What?” Johnson snapped back, as the muddy water swirled around his waste, “This shit hole?”


This shit hole,as you so aptly put it, is the genesis of life. If my suspicions are correct, we're dealing with the alien equivalent of hydrogenothermaceae here.”


Aliens? Have you lost your bloody mind?” Johnson barked, breathing heavily has he waded forward into shallower water. “In over two hundred systems, almost three thousand planets and God knows how many moons, there hasn't been a shred of evidence for extra-terrestrial life and you think this shit hole is any different? Where are your little green men? I don't see ET bathing in this cesspool.”


Your arrogance,” replied Mitchell with a mock of calmness in his voice, “is exceeded only by your ignorance and pride.”


Mitchell didn't want to get drawn into a lengthy debate. When Dallas had assigned Johnson to buddy with him he knew it was a mistake, but Dallas insisted. At the very least, it gave him the chance to explore for something other than volatiles for once, but Johnson, as far as Mitchell was concerned, Johnson was the missing link. Nothing would ever come of him, of that Mitchell was sure, and yet, deep down, he could help but risk provide him with an explanation.


Life has existed on Earth for roughly four and a half billion years. For more than four billion years it looked pretty much like this, just a microscopic pile of sludge slowly forming various fundamental organic compounds, the simplest forms of life. I can't be sure until I get these samples back to the Die Gratia but the chemical markers here are remarkably similar to DNA. There's amino acids, simple nuclear sugars, complex molecular strings. There's every chance these pools are populated by the alien equivalent of archaean bacteria.”


Great, we've found a bunch of bugs,” Johnson grunted, coming up beside him.


Yes, precisely.”


So you're telling me that the first damn aliens mankind encounters are germs?”


Well, statistically speaking,” Mitchell began, naively assuming Johnson was somehow remotely interested, “its not that surprising. The sheer weight of time required to produce intelligent life would suggest we're more likely to encounter bugs, as you so eloquently put it, rather than your fabled little green men. The chance of mankind celestially co-hosting the galaxy with another sentient race is just ludicrously small. I think-”


Can we just get on with this?” Johnson growled. “I'm hungry.”


Mitchell fumed. He turned on the recorder on the side of his helmet and calmed himself as he said, “OK, this is it. One last sample.”


He stepped up out of the pool onto a thin ledge, carefully finding his footing on the fragile crust. Johnson stepped up beside him without any concern for the ground crunching under his feet.


The structure before me,” Mitchell began, “is roughly twelve feet in diameter, standing eight feet tall. It has the consistency of coral, branching out from a broad base just above the waterline. Specialist Johnson is going to use a standard 3800 nanometre deuterium fluoride mining laser to remove a section roughly the size of my arm.”


Who the hell are you talking to?” Johnson asked, tapping him on the helmet as if he were knocking on a door to see if anyone was home.


Mitchell was flustered, embarrassed. “Posterity,” he spluttered. “I'm recording this moment for future generations. This is momentousness. This is Noble Prize material. I must record this. They'll want to know. They'll want to know precisely how this moment unfolded. They'll examine this footage for generations to come?”


Why?”


To understand. This event will be studied like Columbus discovering the Americas, the pilgrims landing at Plymouth rock. It will be analysed like Armstrong setting foot on the moon.”


Who's swollen with pride now?” asked Johnson as he powered up the mining laser.


Just cut here,” said Mitchell blandly.


Mitchell held the coral arm as Johnson sliced through it with the laser. The brilliant red beam seared through the structure in seconds. Mitchell turned to Johnson, holding the arm up in triumph. A smile stretched across his face as he held his trophy with pride.


Are you happy now?” Johnson asked. “Can we get back to the ship?”


Yes, yes. Let's get back to the ship.”


Johnson turned and stepped back into the pond. Mitchell waded in behind him, keeping the coral arm up out of the water. Mud, stirred up from the bottom, swirled around their legs.


The wind blew wave upon wave of frozen sleet down upon them, reducing visibility to a few feet. Eddies swirled around them in the air. Flakes of methane snow lit up in the glare of their helmet headlights before melting in the heat radiated from the pool.


As they reached the far shore and moved out of the thermal bloom surrounding the vent, the temperature dropped suddenly. Mitchell activated his de-icing circuits, Johnson merely powered up his gravity-assister to increase the suit's dexterity. Crystals formed on their visors. Mitchell brush his away with his gloved hand and noted that within ten feet of the outlying pool the ambient temperature had already dropped to negative 120. The warmth that had previously radiated through the soles of their boots was replaced with a chill.


The shuttle craft sat on the frozen plateau in the distance. The crunch of loose shale under foot soon gave way to coarse ice.


Did you see that?” asked Mitchell, breathing heavily with the coral arm resting over his shoulder.


I can't see a god-damn thing,” replied Johnson, using his wrist computer to detect the homing beacon on the shuttle.


Mitchell turned his head, allowing the spotlights on his helmet to pan around. Through the driving snow, shadows flickered in the darkness. The earpiece in his helmet crackled as a transmission came through from the Die Gratia.


Mitchell? Johnson? Where the hell are you guys?”


Making our way back to the shuttle, sir,” Johnson replied.


We're pumping tritium,” said Dallas, from the warm confines of the bridge on the Die Gratiasome sixty kilometres away. “So come in slow and cold. I don't want any flare-ups.”


Johnson screamed suddenly and violently. The pitch and intensity of his scream overwhelmed over the radio.


Mitchell turned to face Johnson. His hands instinctively went up beside his head as he tried to block his ears but his gloves hit the smooth outer shell of his helmet instead. Over the screaming, Mitchell could hear Dallas yelling as well. The high-pitched squeal of audio feedback resonated with the screaming, deafening him. As he twisted, his headlamp lit up flashes of brilliant red blood streaked across the blue-white ice.


Cut his transmission. Cut his bloody transmission,” Dallas yelled at someone else on board the Die Gratia. Johnson kept screaming, rolling over on the ice. Blood marred his white suit, shards of crimson ice crystals lay smeared across the outside of his visor. Mitchell was in shock. It took a couple of seconds before he realised Johnson's right arm was gone, seared off at the shoulder.


The screaming ceased abruptly. Mitchell could hear himself hyperventilating inside his suit. He dropped to his knees beside Johnson, dropping the coral limb off his shoulder and on to the ice. Johnson was still screaming, he could see that, but there was no sound. His mouth was wide open, his eyes were pressed shut, but there was no noise, just the sound of the wind gusting by. The Die Gratia had cut Johnson's audio feed.


What the hell is going on?” demanded Dallas over the radio waves.


Something brushed against Mitchell. He turned and caught sight of something, someone disappearing into the darkness. He swung around, staggering to his feet. There were more of them, crowding around him, but the light from his helmet seemed to repel them.


Mitchell. Sit-rep.”


Mitchell fumbled with a flare from his leg pocket. His thick gloves struggled with the twist-top of the flare. Suddenly, the darkness was illuminated with the brilliance of magnesium alloy burning at over a thousand degrees.


Mitchell,” Dallas commanded.


Mitchell held the flare aloft, pushing back the darkness by thirty feet all around them. Blood stained the ice. Brilliant arcs of red and crimson spread out across the frozen ground. Johnson lay still. Mitchell stuck the flare into the ice and knelt beside him.


Mitchell. Are you there?”


Yeah.”


He was breathing heavily, adrenalin surging through his veins. His hands trembled. Johnson was either unconscious or dead, Mitchell dared not guess which.


Stream your video,” came a call across the airways. The voice was soft, feminine, soothing. It was Dr. Jane Summers. “Can you hear me, Mitchell? I want you to stream your video.”


Mitchell mumbled to himself as his thick gloved fingers struggled with his wrist-pad controls.


That's it. We can see your vision now. What happened to Johnson?”


Mitchell was numb. He couldn't speak. He simply bent forward, directing the camera down at the still body before him. In the background, he could hear several people talking, including Dallas and Dr. Summers. They were hurriedly discussing the video feed, trying to take in what had happened. After a few seconds, Summers came back on the microphone.


OK, Mitchell, I want you to lean forward. I need to get a good look at Johnson's shoulder. Do you understand? I need to see the injury.”


Mitchell didn't respond. He reached out and rocked Johnson on his side so the frozen, bloodied stump on his shoulder was visible, and held him there, shaking. Again, there was a heated discussion away from the microphone.


Mitch,” Summers began. His shortened surname didn't seem so relevant any more. “Listen to me. Whatever happened out there, Johnson's suit is still transmitting vitals. He's alive. Do you understand me? He's not dead. He is still alive. His suit still has partial internal pressure. The wound has fused to the fabric, it's sealed the rupture. The cold has cauterised the arteries and stopped the bleeding. Now I need you to get him back to the Die Gratia. Do you understand me? You need to get him back to the shuttle and then back to us here on the Die Gratia.


Mitchell couldn't speak. He simply dragged Johnson up beside him, pulling Johnson's one good arm over his shoulder. He stumbled onward toward the shuttle, leaving the flare in the ice behind him. As the darkness closed in so did the creatures. They buffeted and bumped him, coming from behind and brushing up against him as they darted by, forever staying out of the light of his helmet. Mitchell pressed on. As he approached the shuttle, the landing lights came on automatically and the creatures scurried for the darkness. Over his headset, he could hear Dallas and Summer talking about what they were seeing from his video feed, but their words seemed to blur.


Mitchell didn't worry about de-suiting. Once inside the airlock, he simply opened the faceplate on both helmets, removed his gloves and struggled inside.


Listen, Mitch,” said Summers. “Harris is going to remote pilot you back from here. I want you to set up a medi-cast monitor beside Johnson and add four litres of plasma to the resource tray. I'll be able to do the rest from here.”


Mitchell obeyed dutifully. He barely even felt the craft lift off the ground. The fifteen minute flight time seemed to pass in seconds. It confused him. He felt like he'd only just set up the monitor when Dallas and Summers came through the airlock and took over from him. For a moment, he wondered how they'd got out there so fast. He didn't realise he was already back at the Die Gratia. Summers took him the sick bay and gave him a shot of valium to put him to sleep.


When Mitchell awoke he felt refreshed. For a moment, he didn't remember anything specific. The incident at the thermal pool seemed to have faded like a bad dream, but when Dr. Summers walked in and he realised he was lying on a bed in the medical bay reality came flooding back.


How is Johnson?”


How are you?” Summers asked, gently touching his forehead. She had her hair down, which was unusual for her. She normally kept her long blonde locks pulled back in a pony tail. Dr. Summers was all business, always professional, but she looked rattled. Her eyes were bloodshot. She seemed preoccupied, distracted. She looked down at her electronic clipboard. “Are you feeling OK?”


I'm fine. How's Johnson?”


If you're up to it, Dallas would like you to come up to the bridge.”


And Johnson?” Mitchell repeated a third time.


Johnson...” She thought about it for a second. It seemed to take a deliberate effort to recall the details. “Johnson is in a chemically-induced coma. He lost two-thirds of his blood out there on the ice. At this stage, we're not sure if there was irreparable brain damage. His ECG scan is not good. The area that was cauterised by the cold suffered severe cellular damage and had to be cut back to the base of his neck. I've stabilised him but the physiological shock to his body was massive. I simply don't know if he'll live or in what state he'll live. I'm sorry.”


Mitchell was silent. He'd sat up on the edge of the bed but his head hung low.


I am sorry,” Summers offered again, her soft hand resting on his shoulder. She shouldn't be, Mitchell thought. It wasn't her fault. She'd done all she could, he knew that, but his mind wouldn't let him follow that thought further. Deep down, he wasn't ready to consider whether it was his fault this had happened.


Mitchell stood up slowly. His body ached. Although the medical quarters were warm, he felt cold.


You're still in shock,” Summers warned him. “Physically, you're fine. But your eyes are partially dilated. Mentally, you're still coming to grips with what happened.”


What did happen?” Mitchell asked.


That's what we all want to know.”


They walked to the bridge. Without the gravity modifiers built into their EVA suits, the 2G environment made each step laboured. It was as though they were each struggling with a heavy backpack. Normally, it didn't seem so bad, but Mitchell felt weak and Summers seemed numb, as though she were drugged and simply going through the motions. Something was wrong, something other than what had happened to Johnson.


Dallas was seated in front of the navigation desk. He looked like he'd aged ten years. The natural silver-grey highlights in his hair seemed to have gone white. He needed to shave. The wrinkles on his brow and the stubble on his face made him looked worn and weathered.


How are you feeling?” Dallas asked.


Like shit.”


Don't we all,” replied Dallas, sipping some coffee.


How long was I out?”


Ten hours,” replied Summers, sitting down next to Dallas, “You slept like a baby.”


Mitchell sat down. Harris handed him a cup of black coffee. The rich, dark coffee moved like mud in the heavy gravity.


They hit us hard,” Dallas began. “Punctured the containment tank. We were venting H3 for almost an hour before we managed to seal the rupture. If we fired up the anti-matter drive in this state there's a good chance she'd go nova, so, for now, we're not going anywhere.”


Mitchell was silent. As science officer, he knew the dangers of a core leak.


Doc saw one of them,” Harris said, butting in, wanting to add his bit to the conversation. “Tell him, Doc. Tell him what you saw.”


Dr. Summers ran her hand through her hair. “It was dark. I was down in the hold. Came around a corner and there he was just standing there in the corridor.”


Mitchell hung on her every word. He felt overwhelmed by the pace with which events were unfolding and confused by the diversity of incidents on what should have been a lifeless planet, but he wanted to hear more, he wanted to understand.


Ah... It just stood there. I think it was afraid.”


Hah!” cried Harris in disbelief.


I backed away and came straight back up to the command deck.”


What are we dealing with?” asked Dallas, looking squarely at Mitchell.


Mentally, he was still waking up. Everything seemed to be coming at him so fast. He simply raised his shoulders in a shrug, unable to say anything more.


On the tapes,” Dallas continued, “you said there was life in those thermal pools.”


Yes,” replied Mitchell. “But simple cellular life, perhaps some kind of alien bacteria, but not this. This is... highly developed.”


While you were out, I had Harris analyse the footage from your helmet cam and reconstruct events using holography.”


Harris fired up the holographic projector on the navigation desk.


Are you sure you're up for this?” Dallas asked.


Mitchell nodded and sipped his coffee.


The three dimensional image before them was only partially complete. For those angles where there was no footage from either Mitchell's camera or Johnson's, the image was transparent. Mitchell watched the drama unfold from the vantage point of The Eye of God, a hypothetical spot about twenty feet above them. The computer reconstruction made it look as though there had been a camera on a boom following them as they took the coral sample, waded through the thermal pool, out onto the frozen steppe and into the full force of the storm.


Harris zoomed in as the creatures began their attack. Because both men had been facing forward, the majority of the reconstructed images lay before the astronauts as they struggled against the wind. Mitchell watched in silence as Johnson's arm was severed in a flash of light and the creatures began to buffet them, darting in to harass them and then darting out, away from the light.


Can you enhance the image?” Mitchell asked, trying to distance himself from what had happened and view the scene objectively.


Increase the gamma as well,” said Dallas. “Let him get a good look at these little buggers.”


Harris adjusted the scene, amplifying the light in the image.


They're men,” Mitchell began, astonished by the view in front of him. “They're small. And the colour, it's green. Is that true colour? Not an amplification distortion?”


They're a deep sea green,” replied Harris.


I don't believe it,” Mitchell continued, “That is impossible. They're little. They're little green men.”


Dallas, Summers and Harris were all silent.


But that's not possible.”


Apparently, it is,” Dallas replied.


Mitchell shook his head trying to grasp the full implications of what he'd seen. His mind was spinning with possibilities, desperately trying to make sense of the images, desperately trying to reconcile the reconstruction he saw before him with what he remembered of the event. The scene moved on and he watched the holographic projection of himself planting a flare in the ground. Light blazed outward from that single, point casting long shadows on the ice.


Wait a minute,” he began. “His arm is gone. Doesn't that strike anyone else as strange?”


And what part of it strikes you as normal?” Summers asked.


No, no,” Mitchell answered, his mind alive with possibilities. “I mean, where is the arm? Doesn't it strike you as strange that his arm is gone? It was severed, we know that, but where is it? Where did it fall? It should be lying there in the snow beside him.”


Dallas rubbed the stubble on his chin.


I didn't notice that,” replied Summers. “I don't think any of us did. We were so fixated on them, fixed on what they'd done that we didn't realise his arm had disappeared. But why would they take it?”


I don't know,” replied Mitchell. “But there has to be a reason. Life, wherever we find it on earth, always operates according to reason. Sometimes the reasons can be instinctive, opportunistic or predatory, but there is always a reason for an animal's actions so the question is, why did they take his arm? They didn't just attack him or try to kill him. They wanted that arm.”


Mitchell gestured toward Harris, spinning his hand as he spoke. “Can you roll it back? Can you zoom in on one of them and enlarge?”


Harris punched the keyboard in front of him and a life-size holographic image appeared before them. A little green man stood four feet tall above the navigation desk, frozen in place, slowly rotating in a clockwise direction.


Fascinating,” said Mitchell. “Jane, what can you tell from their physiology?”


Good question,” she replied. “Lets start with some anatomical comparisons.”


Here we go. Bored already,” said Harris. Dallas laughed. Dr. Summers ignored them.


She stood up, reached in toward the figure and touched certain points on the holographic image. She touched the top of the shoulder, the elbow, the wrist, hand and fingers. As she did so, the computer automatically calculated lengths, displaying the figures in the air beside the image. She mumbled to herself as the rest of the crew talked about the mining progress. She touched the hip, the knee and ankle as well as measuring the length of the torso in relation to the rest of the body.


Well, that is bizarre,” she said, returning the conversation back to the alien. “There are no visible genitals, but the proportions are human.”


What?” asked Harris. “Are you saying this thing is human?”


No. But I am saying the proportions are exactly what we would find on a child of similar height. Look here, at the ratio between the forearm and the upper arm, they correspond to a Fibonacci third, exactly as we find in all mammals on Earth.”


What are the odds of that?” asked Dallas.


Astronomical,” replied Mitchell. “It simply isn't possible. For one, in double the gravity, the proportions would never equal those on Earth. They should be more stocky.”


But there it is,” said Harris, his arm outstretched before him, pointing at the holographic image.


This is wrong,” said Mitchell. “This simply cannot be right. If it is, we're talking about convergent evolution in different parts of the galaxy.”


The others were silent. Mitchell elaborated.


Convergent evolution has occurred on a handful of occasions on Earth, but it is the exception rather than the norm. The norm is for similar creatures to be related, to inherit similar traits from a common ancestor. For example, humans and monkeys both have four fingers and a thumb because they share a common ancestor. They didn't both develop four fingers and a thumb independent of each other as the chances of that occurring are next to nil. One would end up with five, six or seven fingers.”


But there are some evolutionary developments that were independent. Eyes, for example, developed differently in the octopus. The eye is such an amazingly useful organ that it evolved twice through entirely different, separate, unrelated mechanisms. So we, and all other mammals, have a blind spot inherited from a flaw introduced by our most ancient common ancestor while the octopus doesn't. It's eye comes from a convergent pedigree. It developed separately and never suffered from a blind spot.”


And you're saying?” asked Dallas.


I'm saying this is impossible. I mean, conceivably, there could be some forms of convergent evolution in different parts of the galaxy for common functions like sight, but even then, you'd expect it to centre around different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, depending on local conditions. But this, this is a clone. This is an exact physical copy. Look, he's got two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth. Why not one eye, four ears and a mouth at the end of his hands? Why is he exactly like us?”


\"That's absurd,\" replied Harris. \"Why should anything have a mouth on its hands? Perhaps we're seeing a universal design for intelligent life?\"

\"Butterflies taste with their feet,\" said Dr. Summers. \"I think Mitchell is right. Think about all the incredible adaptive variety there is on Earth in just one genera of species, like all the varieties of caterpillar. There so many different forms, it is astounding. We should see even more variety between star systems, not less.\"


Dr. Summers was still making measurements as she spoke. “Look at this thing. The cranial structure and apparent volume are the same. There appears to be a jugular vein in the neck. The skin tension over the muscular and skeletal frame are directly comparable with our own anatomy.”


This is impossible,” Mitchell repeated.


But it is possible,” Harris insisted. “Because it's here. It is right here in front of us. We can see it with our own eyes.”


Maybe there was some kind of celestial cross-pollination,” Dallas offered. “Maybe millions of years ago little green men visited Earth and we're somehow related to them.”


No, no, no.” Mitchell continued. “You're not thinking broadly enough. Look at the climate here. It reaches 220 below. No organic being of any kind could function in that environment.”


And yet they do,” said Harris.


And that's the problem,” replied Mitchell. “They can't. It is just not physically possible.”


He thought for a second before continuing. “There is a scientific principle called inductive reasoning. Although it was made famous by the Sherlock Holmes stories in the 1900s, it's more than fiction. It's the underlying principle behind numerous scientific theories, including relativity. The inductive principle says, when you eliminate all other factors and all other possibilities, the one that remains, no matter how unlikely, has to be true.”


So what is true?” asked Dallas.


All the evidence leads to one conclusion. There are no little green men.”


And yet here there are,” said Summers, siding with Harris. “I've seen them for myself.”


Yes, and that's the problem. The existence of little green men defies the laws of physics, chemistry and biology, laws that have been universally proven time and again over the past five hundred years. Now if the existence of little green men is not possible scientifically then the only conclusion I can reach is that none of this is real.”


Nice theory,” said Dallas. “Try explaining that to Johnson.”


I'll prove it to you. Stop the drill.”


What?” cried Dallas. “We need that tritium. Without the H3, we'll never get off this planet.”


Do it. Pull it out. If I'm right, we'll get a response from the aliens. If I'm wrong, we'll lose a few hours processing.”


We could all be dead in a few hours,” cried Harris.


Dallas shook his head in disbelief. He picked up a headset, keyed in the construction frequency and said, “Davis. Are you there? I need you to stop drilling. Cap the the mount and pack up the rig.”


A few seconds later, a reply came in across the static. “Did I hear you right, boss? You want us to shut up shop?”


Affirmative.” Dallas tossed the headset on the table in disgust. “So, now what, Mr. Scientist?”


Mitchell sipped his coffee. In the increased gravity, the dense fluid held its heat longer.


This is crazy,” said Harris. “We should be fighting them. We should be arming the mining lasers for short bursts and taking these things on.”


Has it occurred to you,” Mitchell replied, “that they can get inside the ship without using an airlock, without breaching the hull. We have no idea what we're actually up against. Any provocative action on our part is only going to inflame the situation.”


Inflame the situation,” Harris mocked. “So what? You just want to sit around and wait for the next one to show up and chop off a limb?”


A limb,” Mitchell mumbled to himself, lost deep in thought.


Are you listening to me,” Harris demanded. “We need action. We need to take the initiative. We're the UAE Space Corps. We lie down before no one. We need to get out there and kick some ass.”


Dallas was quite happy to let Harris say what he was thinking. From the headset lying on the table, Dallas could hear the radio calls as the surface team backed out the drill and set a pressure cap in place on the mount.


If we're going to go down, we should go down fighting,” cried Harris, looking for support from the others.


Mitchell smiled as the realisation settled. “In all the universe, there is no monster more insidious than human pride.”


What?” asked Dr. Summers, wanting a double take.


Don't you see. It was pride that got us into this in the first place. We thought we could just come down here and strip mine the planet for its volatiles. It didn't matter what we had to do, we could just do it. For billions of years, this planet has been here and we come along and want to suck it dry in a few days.”


Don't go all eco on me,” said Dallas. “It's a rock.”


But not a lifeless rock. And pride, that's what started all this. Johnson was swept up in it and so was I. Don't you see? There are no monsters on this planet. We're the monsters.”


Dallas shook his head. “I think you're being a bit to...”


A flashing light on the console next to him caught his eye. He reached out and tapped on a keyboard. An image came up showing the tritium levels rising in the containment tank.


That's impossible,” he stated, realising he had just repeated the mantra Mitchell had been proclaiming for the past half hour, but there it was, tritium levels being restored. “The tank is sealed. We've stopped pumping from the mantle. How can the tritium increase?”


Mitchell smiled.


What is going on?” asked Summers, confused.


It's all about us,” Mitchell offered. “We thought all this was about the little green men, but it's not, it's about us.”


I don't get it,” said Dallas. Harris was silent.


Why did they chop of Johnson's arm?” asked Summers.


Why did we chop off a limb of coral?”


What?” said Dallas. “Are you saying they're copying us?”


Yes. Think about it. We took a sample, so did they. We were all boisterous and brash, so were they. We pillaged their natural H3, they rupture our containment tanks. Jane, you said you thought the alien you ran into was afraid, right?”


Yeah.”


How were you feeling at the time?”


Afraid.”


Exactly. And that's what they mimicked.”


But why copy our actions and emotions?” asked Dallas.


I think they're trying to communicate with us,” replied Mitchell.


No bloody way,” cried Harris. “They just about killed Johnson. That's like calling attempted murder a casual conversation!”


Mitchell ignored him. “When Columbus first discovered the new world, when Cook first sailed the pacific, the biggest challenge was in overcoming communication barriers. And that was between two creatures of the same species, using the same means of communication.”


Fishing,” said Summers, remembering her ancient Earth history lessons.


Exactly,” replied Mitchell.


Fishing?” asked Dallas.


Yes,” said Mitchell. “When Cook's sailors first arrived at Botany Bay in Australia it took eight days before they could even make it to shore. They were constantly harassed by the natives. Once ashore, it took several weeks before they could both understand each other and discuss even basic concepts they were both familiar with, like fishing.”


So you're saying they're trying to talk to us?”


Yes. Remember, when you eliminate all other factors and all other possibilities, the one that remains, no matter how unlikely, has to be true. There are no little green men. It is impossible. Therefore we are seeing the initial attempts of an alien race trying to communicate with us. We thought of little green men, they obliged and gave us little green men. By the same token, we stopped plundering their resources, they obliged, restoring our supplies. At each step, they have mirrored our actions and expectations.”


So they're mimicking us,” said Dallas.


Yes. They're trying to establish a baseline for communication. Jane was afraid so they reflected the same emotion back at her, trying to open dialogue with her. I believe they are whatever we want them to be.”


So if we go out there with guns blazing,” Dallas replied.


The only one's we'd hurt would be ourselves.”


And that's it. That's all this is?” Dallas asked.


That's all,” replied Mitchell. “The attack on Johnson was a mistake. That's the only logical possibility that is consistent with the laws of science.”


Dallas laughed.


At first, his laughter was light and breezy, but it grew more hearty as the irony sunk in. With his chest heaving, he slapped Harris on his back. And beside him there appeared a little green man laughing as well.


THE END


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