"This is the short story, you may ask questions later. I know you've been working for us the past couple of months, but you still do not have the exact idea what we do. And after yesterday's events, I must confess I don't know either. That's why I called you. We need help, I need help, and you've proven to be resourceful enough and willing to go through crazy situations without falling into a catatonic state.
In the early 21st century, you might had noticed that progress seemed to stall, and civilization started getting embroiled in conflicts, war, terrorism, religious madness, virus spreads, civil unrest, yet mankind survived everything. Population never decreased as much as we thought, in fact, we went from 7 billion humans living on this planet to the 12 billion we actually are.
I started working for a research company two decades ago, we were working in an inter-dimensional portal much like the one that crashed yesterday, it was going to be a huge step for at last getting ourselves out of the planet. Ever wondered why space exploration stopped in the late 20th century? Why we only went to the moon a few times and never went back? Mars? Exploration was never funded, always spending money in something else, more urgent. So. We were going to beam someone to the Moon, baby steps. Not to the same spot that Aldrin and Armstrong stepped on, but to the Fra Mauro region, where Apollo 13 was headed. There were some concerns with the material that Apollo 14 brought. And then the company was blown to bits by a terrorist attack.
I never bought it. Went on to teach in universities afterwards, but I had a nagging feeling. Once I struck gold with the Magellan technology that became so popular 15 years ago, I had enough money to replicate the work. I bought lavish yachts and islands, I became the mad scientist turned jet setter, but in truth, I was funding the research that culminated in our big event yesterday."
The recruit shifted position in her chair. Doctor Olmedo had been patient with her, but she needed to say something or she would burst. "So, you sent someone somewhere yesterday?"
"Yes, that is correct. Yesterday we sent one man to another planet. No, not our Moon, not even our solar system. Arken Simmler was sent to a supposedly uninhabited planet in Tau Ceti, 12 light years away from here."
"And what happened? Where is he?"
"He... it will be better if you see the recording."
One of the walls in the doctor's office stopped being light blue and turned completely black. Images started to roll. The point-of-view camera in Simmler's helmet had been turned on just before he entered the portal. A perfect circle of white light seemed to float before him. She had seen the concept drawings before, but it looked even more beautiful in reality.
"Are you receiving the recordings?" his voice said, louder than the rest of the ambient sound.
"Yes," Doctor Olmedo had answered. "You may proceed."
"I'll be going then."
And without hesitation he jumped into the portal and the image flickered for an instant.
The image came back showing the surface of a planet, there was no way anyone could think it was Earth, but at the same time, it had familiar tones, tree-like things, mountains, a blue sky and a yellow sun in the sky.
"I'm here. The suit is checking on the atmosphere, I'll remain on helmet for the rest of the mission if possible." Arken's military training taking over smoothly.
He started exploring the surroundings, letting his view gaze on the odd flora and fauna waiting for the high res camera to take snapshots. Then the camera detached from his helmet and started flying above him, recording in 360 degrees. The image in the wall changed and focused on the astronaut.
"We sent him to where we thought civilization could be found in the planet, if inhabited. Walked on foot for 30 minutes and scooped some good locations, so we brought him back and changed the location of the portal a couple of times," doctor Olmedo said while fast forwarding the video showing some brief interruptions when the astronaut and the flying camera came back to Earth and were sent again to the Tau Ceti planet.
"After he reached the third location, he was able to see something in the horizon. A city."
He was near the top of a mountain, and beyond laid a thing that had to be manufactured, a city sprawling over half the valley below him.
"It is incredible!," Simmler said. "Doctor, should I make contact or wait for a next visit?"
A brief pause passed on, probably the executive team conferencing before providing an answer. Then, something appeared to grow on the sky. Huge circles opened and an armada of small ships appeared from inside them, zooming into the city at unthinkable speeds.
It was over in less than two minutes. Select buildings were targeted and destroyed in flashes of fire, with lethal precision, avoiding complete destruction of the city's infrastructure.
A perimeter had been created around the city, after the smaller ships, huge carriers landed on the outskirts of the city, deploying what appeared to be humanoid soldiers.
Simmler had retreated behind a rock formation, the camera just hovering less than a meter over his head. Sudden movement appeared on the side, and the recruit saw her first ever aliens clearly on camera. They walked on all fours, and when they spotted Simmler, they stood up in their hind legs. Long snouts emitted noises, and changed course, retreating from Simmler, showing an incredible amount of fear.
"You will see now."
On the bottom of the hill, a host of humanoid soldiers ran to intercept the aliens, wearing black helmets and holding red weapons in their hands, like an arquebus. One of them spoke in a foreign language to another soldier. Both left the pursuit and approached the rock formation where Simmler was hiding.
Simmler left his cover and started running the opposite way. The humanoid soldier raised his weapon and fired. A bolt of fire escaped and surrounded Simmler, killing him instantly and leaving a body with a huge burn mark in the back.
The soldiers ran to the dead body and inspected it, both took off their helmets at once. The floating camera's point of view only showed them their backs. They conferred with their superiors using wrist communicators.
Only then a soldier noticed the hovering camera, raised his weapon and turned in a fast movement and shot it at once. Before the image faded away, the recruit stood violently and sent her chair tumbling backwards.
The image on the display was unmistakable. The soldier's face. It was a human face.