Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Week 11 - U1

Michael Salsbury
After thirty years with The Agency Without a Name, Dr. Evan Chambers saw the end coming.  He had seen the termination list on his boss’ desk, and saw his name on it.  He knew from past experience what would happen next.  In the dead of night, he would wake up to find a group of people holding him down and injecting him with the Amnesia Compound.  A few days later, he’d wake up on some deserted road with no idea where he’d been for the past thirty years.

It’s not right.  I’ve kept their secrets for thirty years, even when it cost me my marriage.  They’ll blank my brain like they did Carl’s, unless I move fast.

Chambers filed a flight plan with the control tower, as he’d done several times before.  The officer on duty looked the plan over, stamped it “approved”, and went back to work.

Facility 7 quietly came into existence as the first conspiracy theorists began sniffing around Area 51.  Unlike Area 51, workers at Facility 7 dedicated their lives to their work. From the moment they arrived, they received only limited glimpses of the outside world.  The United States Government didn’t want its allies and enemies to know it had collected a hangar filled with alien spacecraft.  The best way to ensure was to ensure that very few people ever left Facility 7 with any memory of its existence.  The Amnesia Compound saw to that.

Chambers made his way to the archival section at the back of the hangar.  He knew that a flight plan involving any of the recent acquisitions would draw attention from the brass.  Taking the facility’s oldest UFO out for a spin barely warranted any notice.  They had gleaned all the secrets from it they could, and weren’t too worried about its location and disposition.  By the time anyone noticed it was gone, Chambers would be far, far away… from Facility 7, the Amnesia Compound, and those who had decided to end his employment.

Chambers pulled the tarp off U1.  U1 hadn’t been flown in ten years.  The Army grabbed it in 1933 from a field in Kansas.  The occupants had apparently left it to go exploring and were never found.  The craft itself was completely intact and functioning.  Facility 7 reverse-engineered what they could, and put the thing on mothballs.  Chambers hoped it still flew.  The team had never figured out what powered U1, or how it flew.  Despite being in the hangar the longest, U1 was probably the most advanced craft in the hangar and the one Facility 7 knew the least about.  Everyone on staff had probably taken it out for a test flight at some point, hoping to learn its secrets.  No one had.

Walking up the ramp into U1, Chambers turned and closed the hatch behind him.  The ramp retracted into U1 and the door sealed.  He sat down in the control seat and placed his hands on the surface, closing his eyes to concentrate.  As his thoughts became clearer, U1’s consoles and displays activated automatically.  For all its technical complexity, U1 had proven extremely easy to fly.  A pilot had only to visualize what he or she wanted U1 to do, and the craft made it happen.

He tapped the unlock code into the keypad on his badge.  The hangar doors became their slow retraction.  Up gently, Chambers thought into U1’s control system, move slowly and easily toward the hangar doors.

When the doors opened, U1 flew through them and into the night sky.  The duty officer in the control tower checked the flight schedule, saw that U1 was cleared to go, and turned back to his crossword puzzle.

The flight plan said that U1 would head out over the ocean and north toward the pole.  Chambers guided U1 along that path until he knew the craft was out of Facility 7’s detection radius.  Climb, out of the atmosphere, he instructed U1.  The ship climbed rapidly, and was soon in space.  He pointed it toward the moon and flew in that direction.

According to a file he’d once read, although the military had sent a couple of the Facility 7 craft out to explore space, none of them had ever returned.  After that, it was deemed more valuable to keep the craft as research material than to use them as vessels of exploration.  Remembering this sent a small chill through Chambers, but he kept going.  He felt ten years younger looking down at the lunar surface.  He’d only ever seen it in pictures or on television.  In person it was both more awe-inspiring and somehow more mundane than he had expected.  It was a beautiful sight, but it was also just a dusty, dirty rock.  He turned the ship toward Mars.

When he’d seen all the solar system had to offer, Chambers turned his attention outward.

Is there life out there?  What’s it like?  How would I find it?  Is it dangerous or friendly?

He imagined being at Alpha Centauri.  Suddenly, U1 began to vibrate and hum loudly.  A moment later he watched Pluto disappear.  U1 seemed to be going faster and faster.  He took his hands off the control surfaces.  Can it really go there?  Should I let it?

Chambers felt his lanyard and badge slide across his chest, and looked down at it.  After all I’ve done.  They owe me this. U1 is my retirement present, instead of Amnesia Compound.

Hours later, U1 came to a stop near Alpha Centauri.  The thought both thrilled and frightened him.  He pulled out his cell phone and took pictures.  No one would believe they were real, of course, except him.

His stomach began to growl.  It was time to return to Earth.  He’d land U1 somewhere safe, grab provisions, and explore the universe as long as his luck held out.

He placed his hands on the control surface and connected with U1.  Home…

U1 began to hum and vibrate again.  This time, it moved through space faster than before.  Chambers wondered if U1 had interpreted his request as an emergency.

When U1 stopped, Chambers looked through a porthole to see series of large metal structures orbiting the planet beneath him, a planet which clearly wasn’t Earth.  He knew that alien life existed, of course.  They’d had all the evidence at Facility 7, but he’d never seen an alien world before.

Chambers touched the control surface.  The thought Home entered his mind.

This is your home?  This is where you were created?

Again, Home entered his mind.  He didn’t know U1 could communicate with its operator.  Perhaps it could only provide brief indicators, like the dashboard of a car.  He removed his hands from the control surface while he decided what to do.

He could leave right now, but might miss out on the experience of a lifetime.

He could land on the planet below, and meet U1’s creators first-hand.  Am I ready for first contact?

He could stay here and observe.  There’s no risk in that. I’ll just watch for a while, then return to Earth.

U1 shook briefly, then began moving toward the planet.  Chambers put his hands on the control surface.

Let’s go.  Return to Earth.  He began picturing Earth and its solar system in his head, hoping it would help the ship know where to go.

Negative.  Local control overridden.  U1 shared a picture of its home base.

 I don’t want to go there.  He thought.

Nor do I.  U1 returned.  It showed Chambers a picture of what could best be described as a scrap heap.

Then let’s leave.


Chambers watched helplessly as U1 descended to the surface of its homeworld.  The tall sleek buildings, aerial vehicles, and green parks reminded him of science fiction movies he’d seen as a boy.  He could see that there were aliens moving around below him, but was too high to make out the details.  From this distance they could have been human.

In the distance, Chambers saw a group of buildings resembling the ones U1 had shown him earlier, though they were not identical.  He wondered if this was a communication problem or if U1 had shown him what the facility looked like when it had left the planet years earlier.  U1 centered itself over a flat structure and began to land.

He tried to open the exit hatch, but it would not open.  He touched U1’s control surface again.  What happens now?  He wondered.

Boarding. Inspection.

Three humanoid aliens stepped through the hatch, aiming what Chambers could only assume were weapons at him.  He raised his hands and stood still.  He felt a strange sensation, as though his memories were a deck of cards and they were being flipped through by a set of cold hands.  Were they reading his mind?  He’d seen abduction stories about that, but always assumed they were exaggerated.

Hello?  Chambers wondered if whoever was rifling through his memories could hear intentional thoughts.

You are being scanned.  No further communication until the scan is complete.

Chambers saw flashes of his childhood, his school years, college, graduate school, and his years at Facility 7.  He wondered if this was what dying people meant when they said they saw their lives pass before their eyes.

Scan complete.  You are under arrest.

Arrest?  For what?

You have, by your own admission in thought, stolen this craft from your own kind.  Your race stole this from us.  You will be tried for these offenses.

What will happen to U1?

This vessel is obsolete.  It will be dismantled and recycled.  Why are you concerned?

I am growing fond of it.  Please do not destroy it.

Your wishes are irrelevant.

The aliens marched Chambers to a prison facility.  Inside, he found that he could no longer move.  The aliens removed his clothing and ran what he could only assume were scanning devices over his body.  Satisfied that he had been disarmed, they placed him in a purple jumpsuit and escorted him to an empty cell.  The door swished shut and clicked.  Control over his body returned to him.

Chambers examined the cell.  There were no windows.  There was a cot built into the wall, and a chair in the corner.  What appeared to be a sink and a toilet were also present, though the designs and positions were similar enough that he wasn’t sure which was which.  Chambers sat in the chair, and noticed what appeared to be a control surface on the wall next to it, like the control surface on U1.

What have I got to lose?  Chambers placed a hand on the surface.  His brain was suddenly flooded with images and sounds.  He jerked his hand back. The images disappeared.

Again, he reached out and touched the surface.  The jumble of images was overwhelming at first, but gradually became easier to filter and focus on.  He began to see the control surface as a combination of computer interface and entertainment system.  Chambers could access the planet’s library of musical, philosophical, historical, scientific, and other knowledge.  He focused his search on information about the planet, its people, and its legal system.

Eventually, he became aware of his thoughts drifting.  He pulled his hand back from the control surface and realized that he felt exhausted.  He had no way to know if he’d been using the surface for minutes or hours.  All he really knew was that he felt incredibly sleepy.  He dragged his body to the cot and crawled onto it, closing his eyes within seconds.


When he awoke, the cell door opened and an alien stepped inside.  It handed him a device shaped like a toilet seat, but the size of his head.  The alien mimicked the motion of putting the device on its head, then pointed at Chambers.  He put the device on his head.

“Thank you,” it said.  Or rather, Chambers thought he heard the sound but hadn’t seen the alien’s mouth move.

“You’re… welcome?”

“I’m not as telepathic as many of my brethren.  I can’t communicate with aliens like they do.  The amplifier makes your thoughts louder so I can hear them.”

“I see.  And who are you?”

The alien smiled, which made it look uncomfortable somehow.  Chambers smiled back out of politeness.  “I am Zurn.  I will be your advocate in your trial today.  Share your story with me.”

Chambers explained how he’d worked for the government at Facility 7.  He’d worked for decades to reverse-engineer technologies found within alien spacecraft like U1.  When he happened to see a document listing staff to be terminated, he found his name on the list.  They would wipe his memories and leave him essentially broke and confused somewhere, unable to figure out where twenty years of his life had gone.  He wouldn’t let that happen, so he’d stolen the oldest alien craft in the hangar and gone out into space.  By accident, he found himself here.

“You’re on the planet Garlax,” Zurn told him.  “The ship you arrived on was missing and presumed lost many years ago.  It was an official scouting and reconnaissance vessel of the Garlaxian military.  You can expect a lengthy interrogation.  They will want to know what happened to the crew, how you came into possession of the ship, and why you haven’t returned it sooner.”

“I don’t know what happened to the crew.  I’m an engineer.  My job at Facility 7 was to analyze and reverse engineer the technologies in recovered artifacts like U1.  If there were any crew in U1, those would have been analyzed by a completely different group.  I would never have seen them.”

“That’s unfortunate.  I think our military leaders are most interested in the fate of their people.”

“I wish I could help you.”

“So do I.  It would make our job much easier.”


Chambers tried to follow the trial, but even with the thought amplifier, the many layers of telepathic communication were as difficult to follow as the voices in a crowded room on Earth.  From what he could understand from Zurn and the others in the courtroom, the Garlaxian government wanted to make an example of Chambers, and of Earth itself.  He was sentenced to the equivalent of fifteen Earth years in one of their prisons.


Chambers could barely tell the new prison cell from the old one he’d inhabited.  This one seemed slightly larger, but otherwise nearly identical… down to the gray and white sheets on the cot.

For a few weeks, he busied himself with the control surface.  He learned more about Garlax and its people.  Then he began to read reports of his own legal case, learning that Exploration and Reconnaissance Vessel (ERV) 387 (the Garlaxian name for U1) was being examined for clues to the whereabouts of its crew.  The Garlaxians were making preparations to revist Earth.

Chambers saw this as an opportunity.  He reached out to Zurn and offered his services.  He explained that he wanted them to know what happened to their people, and that he’d help them launch an assault on Facility 7 to find out.

On Earth, it is unlikely anyone would have taken an alien seriously if it offered to help humans raid one of its race’s most secure facilities.  Garlax was not Earth.  Its people could peer into Chambers’ mind to read his thoughts, and they did, for several days.  In the end, they were convinced of his sincerity and willingness to help them.  All he wanted was to return to Earth, just as they wanted their own people returned to them.


Chambers told the Garlaxians everything he knew about Facility 7.  He showed them its layout, its guards, its alarms and defenses.  The Garlaxians showed the information with the other races they knew.  Soon, a small fleet was on its way to Facility 7.

The Garlaxians dropped Chambers off on the island of Lanai in Hawaii.

While sipping a glass of water in beachside restaurant, Chambers saw a news story on television about mass sightings of a group of UFOs, and fires rising up from a forest in Alaska.  It seemed that Facility 7 had met its match.  Chambers wished he could have been there to see it.  They would be sorry that they planned to let him go.  Fortunately, the Garlaxians weren’t killers.  They would stun the human inhabitants of the base, take the Garlaxian people and equipment out, and return home.  The other races joining them would do the same.


As he fell asleep that night, Chambers wondered what had happened to U1.  Had it been scrapped?  Had it been reused?  Was it recycled into a box of paper clips?  He didn’t know.


The next morning, he awoke to the sound of a crowd outside his hotel room.  Pulling back the curtains enough to peer outside, he saw a crowd gathered around a large metallic object.  Television crews were photographing, people were taking selfies with it, and some were even trying to open it.

U1 had returned for him.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


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