Everyone had been recalled to the mothership, but none of Carlos’ colleagues had any idea of why. He made his way through the corridors and came finally to the administrator’s office.
Inside were some of the senior staff of the human mission, and…
Carlos felt a thrill go through him. The senior staff were surrounding a stranger. He was taller, thinner, only six-appendaged and dressed in impossible clothing, but Carlos knew at once what he was. A time traveller.
He felt fear threatening to seize hold of him.
Why was there a traveller here? Now? Right after he had spoken of the very subject with Javier. Had that been a mistake? Did it have unforeseen reprecussions?
“Ah,” the traveller said, turning to him. “‘Carlos.’ Very good, that’s the last of the command staff then.”
“Forgive me, traveller, but what is this about?” Carlos asked. “Did I—”
“I cannot tell you. But, rest assured, you will soon see for yourself.”
“It’s a general emergency,” the administrator said, but her voice was uncertain. Evidently she didn’t know any more than anyone else.
“What manner of emergency?” Carlos asked. “Temporal?”
“No,” said the administrator. “Apparently something that threatens all our lives. The very mission itself.” Then she added after a pause, “Why would it be temporal?”
Carlos didn’t reply.
“All right,” the traveller said. “It’s almost time. You have feeds monitoring the media on Earth, correct? I suggest you turn your attention to your instruments.”
The command staff obeyed, accessing their computers.
All of humanity’s media was monitored, recorded, and processed. Every television station, every radio wave, every bit on the Internet.
There was a monolithic amount of information, but the relevant story quickly floated to the top. It hit the major news outlets in the United States of America first, but then it started getting repeated on every media outlet everywhere until it was the only story.
A group of radical humans—pro-human and anti-alien—had overrun a military installation and seized it.
Carlos felt his spirits sink.
It was the only story anyone talked about until a small local station got a live feed from the leader of the radicals. The man took the centre stage, railing against what he called the invaders and about the righteousness of his cause.
Carlos could feel his fear returning, doubly strong.
The mothership monitored all human communications, including the ones they thought were secret, protected by their primitive encryptions. Government channels, military chatter. The radicals were in control of nuclear weapons.
“We need to make a statement,” the administrator said, looking up from her console. “We can offer to withdraw. Perhaps it was too soon for this mission—”
The traveller cut her off with a flutter of his wings.
Then the human media channels exploded with new activity and the mothership signalled a general alarm. The nuclear weapons had been deployed.
Carlos’ fear reached paralyzing heights. Moreso than any other science, humanity had a love affair with weaponry.
Over the next hour the chatter over all the channels rose to a furious level. And then, suddenly, a fifth of it vanished. Within minutes another fifth, and within the next hour the mothership’s sensors were completely silent.
The Earth mission’s command staff stood, just as silent, staring at a viewport where they saw the planet they were charged with. What was once a blue and green ball was now covered in white and grey.
“Life signs,” said the chief xenobiologist, “…none.”
“No,” Carlos said. “No!”
He raised his appendages and charged at the traveller.
“You knew this was going to happen!”
The traveller thrust one limb forward and stopped him, undettered. “Come now. We all knew it would happen. A species without travellers of their own has no future.”
Carlos chittered furiously. “You—I—we could have done something! Why didn’t you come sooner! Why didn’t you tell us!?”
The traveller smiled smugly.
“Tell you? My dear Carlos, I am disappointed. Answer me this: what good is the temporal citizen that has been spoiled with all the answers?”