Alarms shrieked and a dozen warning lights flared to life in the tiny cockpit of the TSS Crockett. The pilot, Captain Alana Wilson, flicked switches and pulled back on the controls but it was no use. The scout ship was going dirtside and there was nothing she could do about it. She wasn't sure what had caused the problem, but suddenly as the ship was doing a routine mapping flyover of some barely habitable planet that didn't even have a name yet, something had knocked out the #3 engine and the left ventral control service was dead. She was going down and fast, the only thing she could do was make sure it was at least a partially controlled landing.
It was. Scouts for the Terran Commonwealth were expected to be top notch pilots and she was no exception. She wasn't even the best in her class, but she was good enough to put her tiny ship down one piece (mostly). But it took only a little bit of experimentation to determine the ship wasn't going to go back up again. Whatever had knocked her down plus the hard landing had seen to that. And she was unhurt, beyond a few bruises and the need to change the trousers on her uniform.
After the requisite uniform change, she began to assess her situation. The atmosphere here was breathable, barely. She was in a valley close to sea level and it would be about like living high in the mountains on Earth. So as long as she didn't go mountain climbing she'd be okay. Water was also not going to be a problem, as long as she stayed close to the ship. The fusion reactor was still working and still putting out H2O as a byproduct. And if she had to go far from the ship, she had a testing kit and various treatments to deal with most kinds of contamination. Food was going to be a problem, once she ran out of rations. There was life on this planet, sure, but mostly in the planet's shallow seas. On land, just some lichen-like stuff and a few primitive plants. No signs of animal life on land at all. And even if she could gather enough of them to feed herself, there was no guarantee it would be edible or nutritious. It almost never was on alien worlds, just too many biochemical differences. But if she stretched what she in her emergency supplies, she could probably go a month before malnutrition became a problem.
But would a month be long enough. She wasn't even due back to Kepler Base for another week, and it wasn't unusual for scouts to be a day or three late. So it would likely be at least 10 days before anyone came looking for her. And they might not even start with this planet, her assignment was to do preliminary surveys of five different systems, each with six to twelve planets. It might take a rescue party a while to get to this one.
She wasn't hosed, exactly, but things were definitely going to get worse before they got better. And she might as well make herself comfortable here, because she was going to be here at least 10 days, possibly (though she didn't want to dwell on that) the rest of her life. She dragged the emergency pre-fab survival shelter out of the tiny cargo hold in the ship's belly and began setting it up. Within an hour, she she had food, water and shelter taken care of. And after that there wasn't much to do but think.
What had brought her down? She remembered that her sensors had located a site that showed rich mineral deposits and, though she had thought it had to be an error at the time, energy. Specifically electrical energy, something she would expect to see if colonists had set up a generator of some sort. She was heading for it, to get better readings and...now here she was. She knew she that while she had probably overshot...whatever it was, she also probably hadn't overshot it by much before crashing. It had to be close. It was late evening now, and she didn't relish a long walk in the dark on an unfamiliar world, but in the morning she would see if she could see what it was.
In the morning, she returned to the cockpit of her ship and double checked some readings, whatever she had encountered was only about 15 Kilometers away. Terrain looked mostly flat between here and there and gravity was a tad on the light side. She should be able to jog there and be back before dark, easily. Before lunch even. And so she began. As she jogged she thought about the energy readings she saw. This planet was uninhabited, not even freelance mining crews came out this far so it couldn't have been a generator or other such source of power. Unless....aliens? So far, in the 300 years since the invention of the Alcubierre Drive and humanity's spread into nearby planets, The Terran Commonwealth had never encountered sentient aliens. Turns out that Earth was very typical in some ways, most planets it seems had the same requirements for life and saw it develop first in the sea with microbes, plant like organisms, then animals, then those animals coming out of the sea and so on. But out of 177 planets where humanity had settled and the thousands that it had explored, never, not even once, had we found any sign of life taking the next step that it had on Earth, sentience and sapience. Never had anyone even encountered signs of a long vanished species. Humanity, it seemed, was alone in this neck of the galaxy. So it was unlikely that Scout First Class Alana Wilson was going to be the one to change that on this nameless rock. But a little voice in the back of her mind told her "Yeah. But what if? Someone has to, after all"
She jogged on until the unbroken expanse of reddish earth and purple-green scrubby plants gave way to a most unexpected sight. An enormous structure, made of crystals. A single crystal the size of some of the largest buildings back on Earth sat in the center of it with six smaller but still enormous crystals radiating from it at an angle. The effect was that of a flower the size of a city made of crystal. Beneath it, thousands of smaller crystals studded the ground. The "petals" and the central spire occasionally crackled with energy of some kind.
Alana stopped and sat on a rock, observing. Somehow, her ship must have drawn a bolt of that energy from that thing. That's what knocked her down. But what was it, exactly? She had been a Scout for 15 years, and before that had majored in xenoplantetology a the Academy. She had seen, either in pictures or via holo, many strange phenomenon on many worlds. But never had she seen anything like this. And she didn't want to get closer. An energy discharge from that thing would definitely kill her if it could knock out her ship. Instead she took pictures and got a variety of readings from it. Then she jogged back to her camp.
By the time she got back she had a massive headache, right at the base of her skull. She found painkillers in the first aid kit and otherwise tried to ignore it. But it didn't go away.
For each of the next two days, she returned to "The Flower" as she called it and got more readings. Each time she did, she ventured a little closer. And after each visit, the headache got worse. On the third day, a storm moved in and it began to rain, hard. It was accompanied by wind that was strong enough that it seemed to be raining sideways at time. Alana had little to do and even with the pain in her head, she began to analyze the data she had collected so far. She had thought that something about The Flower was causing the headaches, perhaps a bad reaction to something in the air near there. Or perhaps it was a side effect of the energy fields the thing put off. So she hoped that a few days away from it would, perhaps, make her feel better. But she hoped in vain. If anything, the pain at the base of her skull became even sharper and more insistent. By the fifth day, as the drizzle continued, she was nearly incapacitated.
On the sixth day, the rain stopped and to Alana's relief, so did her headache. It didn't just gradually fade, either. It was just gone, instantly. She decided to steer clear of The Flower for a few days, perhaps until she was rescued and had better tools to determine why it had such an effect on her. She had lots of data to study already, and when she grabbed her dataslate to begin doing so, she noticed a single word continuously scrolling across the screen
OTHERMIND OTHERMIND OTHERMIND OTHERMIND...
She was certain she had not typed that in. But if so, where did it come from? And she could come up with only one explanation...The Flower.
She considered typing in a reply, but before she could, it flicked off. As did the survival lights in her shelter. And everything else electronic.
The headache returned with a vengeance. She dropped to her knees in agony. Still, she thought she realized what was going on.
"YOU ARE HURTING ME!" she screamed into the air. The pain stopped, the lights came back on.
She grabbed the pad and typed, "Use this"
Nothing at first, but within a minute words began typing of their own accord "WHAT ARE YOU"
She typed "Alana"
No response again, this time for at least five minutes. Then a single "?"
She did not know how to answer in a way The Flower would understand "Am I the only othermind you have met?"
"SOME LIKE ME. NONE LIKE YOU"
Communication had begun. Over the next few hours, she had figured out that "The Flower" had a consciousness of a sort, the details of which would likely delight xenobiologists for decades to come, and could communicate via modulated electrical impulses. It had spent days trying to contact her directly and only recently had the idea of using modulated impulses to "talk" to her dataslate, using language it figured out from her brain. There were perhaps 20 others on the planet, and they connected and shared experiences. They did not have names, each identified itself to the others by the distinct frequency that it broadcast on.
Days came and went. She perfected her communication with the thing, and this was helped by the fact that if she really could not explain a concept, it could pluck it from her mind. It never got less painful, but it worked. Eventually, the conversation got around to what would happen if..no...when she was rescued "Many others like me will come. They will want to speak to you too. All of you." she told it.
"NO" was the reply on her dataslate.
"NO OTHERS. ONLY YOU." It had also learned the trick of tapping into her ships computer, and it began a huge dump of historical records. Specifically ones detailing what had happened when humans had met other humans in history.
"YOU DESTROY OTHERMINDS. EVEN THOSE LIKE YOURS. YOU CANNOT BE TRUSTED"
"But if my kind does not come for me, I will die. And soon."
"THIS IS A DILEMMA". And it went silent. For days. Eventually, her communications unit picked up a signal and sent out a message to her, her rescue party was in system and had picked up her beacon. Within hours she would be home. And still, no communication from The Flower. The ship came, it landed, she gave them a short debriefing of what had gone on, with the promise to give a much longer report back at Kepler base. She tried to contact The Flower, but no response, it was silent. She boarded her rescue ship and it began the long ascent back to the stars. It was then that a puzzled "What the hell" came from the rescue pilot and all the screens on the ship flashed a message.
"THE DILEMMA IS SOLVED. WE ARE SORRY ALANA"
Across the planet, 20 crystal flowers emitted focused energy discharges at the rescue ship. 20 times the energy that had disabled her ship nearly disintegrated the rescue ship. All aboard, including Alana were killed instantly and painlessly.
20 minds, on the surface of the nameless planet knew that others were out there now. And that these others might destroy them. They were prepared.