‘You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he expects to wake up.’
-Morpheus, The Matrix.
I am thirty-five lightyears from Earth, sitting in the back of a Rover driven by my less-than-trustworthy android assistant, his dying creator, and some of the surviving members of our ill-fated crew. We are racing towards an ancient and immense dome structure topped ominously by a humanoid skull. Within its walls we plan to talk to God.
I am in awe of this world, the immense mountains dwarfing anything on Earth, the black volcanic soil that seems to glisten beneath us like blue goldstone. You’ve never seen so much black. It is a dark, barren landscape, but its beauty is undeniable. The blackness continues to the interior of the structure, with dark featureless kidney-shaped corridors that seem to stretch on for kilometres. This eventually gives way to a biomechanical chamber, every surface from floor, to wall, to ceiling is highly textured and detailed. This is not a world designed for us, it is thoroughly alien.
‘You can take your helmet off if you like, sir. The air, it’s perfectly breathable.’ the android, David says in an inhumanly neutral tone.
‘Are you sure?’ his creator, Weyland, asks.
‘Positive.’ I can’t help but notice David had become more robotic than usual now that he is in the presence of his master.
‘Wait, we still don’t know how Holloway got infected, if it’s in the air,’ Elizabeth Shaw spoke. The archeologist, whose passion had brought us here in the first place, was now doubled over in pain. Having already survived an ordeal that had killed her husband and impregnated her with an alien that she’d had to surgically remove herself, I was amazed she was still capable of walking at all. I had been supporting her most of the way here, however.
‘It’s not’, says David.
‘How do you know that?’
‘Smells fine to me’ Weyland says, entirely unconcerned.
David leads the way, he races ahead of the crew, practically skipping as he goes. His tone may have been soulless, but I knew him well and could detect his mounting excitement.
‘The bridge is just up ahead’, he declares.
Weyland looks around the room that we have just entered, it is stacked to the ceiling with pewter cylinders.
‘What is this?’ he asks weakly. He is some distance behind the android as his feeble body is only able to walk so fast, even with his mechanical enhancements.
David stops and turns to his creator in a way that seemed almost rehearsed, ‘it’s a cargo hold.’ A slight sneering smile creeps onto his face. There was David’s true personality bleeding through.
As we reach the final chamber, I realise it’s no chamber at all, but the bridge of the alien ship, the Juggernaut. None of us had been here before on our previous explorations. It is smaller and yet more magnificent than the preceding rooms. It retained the biomechanical design, but the ceiling is higher, giving it the look of some unhallowed cathedral.
‘A superior species, no doubt’ David says with a swagger in his step, he can’t repress his excitement any longer. He proceeds to operate the alien technology with ease. He had gathered from his previous visits to the ship that the aliens, the Engineers, had been in the process of leaving. They had been heading to Earth, with a cargo hold full of deadly mutagen.
‘Sometimes to create, one must first destroy’ he adds with a smirk. For once in his life he is getting what he wants, he is so close to greatness, and potentially freedom, so close that he can barely conceal his intentions any longer. Weyland seems ignorant of this, or he is simply more intent on meeting his maker. A goal which David is only too willing to assist him achieve.
David strides towards the cryopod containing the last remaining Engineer and proceeds to wake him up. I know exactly what is coming, so I hang back. But from my position I am still able to watch the alien rise and take his first steps in countless millennia. He is an impressive sight to behold. Almost god-like in his stature, especially in comparison to me. His body is both exaggerated and proportionate in the way only Greek statues can be. I have no inclination to get any closer, he is terrifying. I look around at everyone else, some of them seem worried, but Weyland, Shaw and David are unphased in the presence of this brobdingnagian creature. As the Engineer slowly registers his surroundings, I quietly back out of the room before things take a turn for the worst.
There are many rooms along the corridor leading to the bridge, I pick one on the left and hide there. A few moments later I hear screams and gunfire as anticipated, it isn’t loud enough to hurt me, but it does startle me. I see Elizabeth run past, though she doesn't see me. It is at this moment that I remember I am here on a mission, I am not merely a witness to these events, I was to try to alter them. To find the answers I was seeking. It only then occurs to me to switch on my comms.
I hear Shaw, desperate and breathing heavily, begging Captain Janek to send the Prometheus colliding into the Engineer ship, to sacrifice himself in order to save Earth. I see my opportunity and without thinking, I cut in: ‘woah, wait a minute, are you sure? Maybe we can solve this another way.’
Janek says ‘like what?’
‘I don’t know.’ I hesitate as I feel the world trembling, this is no mere pyramid chamber, this is a spaceship. The Juggernaut. ‘Maybe I could try to kill the Engineer?’
Janek snaps back ‘are you nuts, kid? It took out trained soldiers, you don’t stand a chance.’
‘No, it’s too risky. Trust me, I thought this through, we're wasting time.'
I feel a bit stupid for even interrupting. ‘Sorry, no, you're right... It was an honor working with you.'
As heavy vibrations pulse through the Juggernaut, I brace myself in a corner and worry about what will happen to me after the collision, might this be the end? Could I return in some other form? And yet the full force of a trillion dollar ship and half a dozen lives is little more than a jolt. I barely feel a thing as we fall back to the planet’s surface. I remain in my hiding spot until I hear the Engineer pass by, after which time I head to the bridge where David remains. He is now in two pieces, but still functional.
'Well that didn't go according to plan, huh?'
David looks up at me as best he can, 'the decapitation was a surprise.'
'We have a saying in my country, "shit's fucked"...what do we do now?'
'There are more ships, I can pilot them'
'You're going to need hands first. How do I put you back together?'
'Provided there's anything remaining of the Prometheus, there is a repair kit and a soldering iron stored in Vicker's module.'
'It's less destructible than the rest of the ship.'
'Of course it is, seems like something they'd do'
I carry David's head with me to Vicker's module because I don't know what I'm looking for. I see no sign of Vickers, which I expected, but there's no Shaw either. I try to look for survivors in the wreckage but David becomes impatient, he cannot remain detached indefinitely. I wonder how he feels about Shaw, has my presence prevented that relationship from developing? Of all the crew, I had spent the most time with the android, neither of us quite human enough to fit into such a belligerent group.
I am wary when I enter the module, I know the Engineer and the trilobite are in there. It's at this moment I wish I had picked up one of the rifles the guards had left behind, though it may not have made much of a difference, guns didn’t seem particularly effective against the Engineer anyway. I put David down and picked up the axe that lay nearby. I can hear noises, something wet and writhing, and I'm starting to feel the adrenaline rising. When I round the corner I see the trilobite already on top of the Engineer. That was lucky, but then where is Shaw? Right, I have comms, I send out a message but get no response, I keep it on, waiting. In the meantime I gather supplies and talk to David.
'Do you want to go back to Earth?'
He blinks but doesn't respond immediately, 'no one has ever asked me what I wanted before. I will take you wherever you want to go.'
'There's nothing for either of us back on Earth.'
'I thought you liked humans, won't you miss them?'
'I don't experience loneliness.'
David scoffs, I’m not sure what he means by it.
I continue, ‘there's a whole galaxy out there to explore, I think that's much more important than returning to our mundane lives, right? Who knows how many planets the Engineers seeded. And who created them? Don't you want to know?'
'You're right, I would prefer that.'
The next order of business is to put David back together, then he would be able to help me scavenge for supplies and carry them to a new ship. Heading back to the Juggernaut, it becomes clear that I had altered its trajectory when I stalled the Prometheus. I believe I may have inadvertently caused Shaw's death. Part of my mission had been to try to minimise the amount of destruction and number of casualties, I had failed. Perhaps it was for the best, I knew there was little brightness in her future. Nevertheless, I would have liked to have brought her along with us, to get to know her better, to go on this journey with her.
David’s body lay where it had fallen, on the platform which was now complete with the pilot seat and telescopic device. It was going to be far too awkward to work on him here, so I went wandering in search of a table or something of that nature. While I carried David’s head I asked him ‘can you feel your body from here?’
‘No, there’s no wireless communication between my components, I’m not exactly designed to be disassembled. Wait, stop. That room back there on your left.’
Following his directions I found a kind of slab, I placed his head on top of it. ‘It’s too bad you can’t control your body remotely, now I have to carry it all the way over here.’
Returning to the body I remove the armour so as to lighten the load considerably. I test lifting it, the only way I can manage it is if I stand behind it and wrap my arms around the chest and drag it that way. Rather undignified for the both of us, but it gets the job done. I find myself wondering at this moment why I hadn’t chosen a different form for myself in this world. I look much as I do in real life, basically like a twelve-year-old boy, though I’m fairly at peace with that fact. However being in such close proximity to David’s body I’m surprised to find it does make me feel inferior, it does make me keenly aware of how small and fragile I am. Serving as a constant reminder of everything I was not, and never could be.
‘Be more careful with me’ David said as he saw the way I was dragging his body along.
‘I’m doing my best, shut your face’ I strained.
In order to repair him, I have to unzip his bodysuit down to his waist, this level of physical proximity with a human would make me uncomfortable, but he’s not human. In his current state especially, he is just an object, a mannequin. He is fully conscious as I reattach his head to his body, which makes the experience more surreal. It’s not often your patient can talk to you while you’re performing surgery. The repair is simple enough, synthetics are designed to be primarily self-repairing, once I solder the wires together, he, or it, will take care of the rest. I then staple the skin together, leaving a deep scar around his neck. His perfection diminished.
‘Will that ever heal?’ I asked.
He sits up in one perfectly smooth motion and examines the scar with his fingers. ‘Unlikely, the damage is far too extensive. Beyond anything our equipment can deal with, at least. But I am whole again and that’s what matters. Thank you, my friend.’ He places a hand on my shoulder as he walks off. If he is bothered by the scar, I can’t tell, it doesn’t seem like it.
We return to Vickers’ module and gather everything we can, there was enough here to keep a person alive for a couple of years. I even grab some books, I figure there isn’t going to be a lot to do on our journey. There isn’t much left of the Prometheus, but some of the supply crates were relatively intact and untouched by the mutagen which is steadily leaking from the remains of the Juggernaut. We load everything onto our new ship, our new home, apparently it is referred to as the Dreadnaught, so Dreadnaught I shall call it. It is virtually identical to the Juggernaut in every way, well, less corpses for one, but like the Juggernaut it is loaded with mutagen. We are all prepared to set off, doing one last sweep of the module, I thought I would try to convince David to deploy the payload before we leave, but he argues that it might be valuable later, just in case we encountered more hostile aliens. I might have argued the point further but we are interrupted by a voice, weak and pained, coming through the comms: ‘Is anyone there?’
David’s eyes widened ‘I’m here, Dr.Shaw. I’m with Coulson. We thought we were the last survivors. Where are you?’
‘I’m trapped under the ship. The Engineer ship.’
‘Okay. We’re really close, we’re coming’ I say.
‘Hurry my oxygen is running low.’
David and I sprint the short distance to the wreckage, following her voice we find her wedged in a spot that we never would have seen by chance.
‘Are you alright?’ David asks as he crawls into the tight space and removes his unused oxygen tank to swap it with Shaw’s.
‘I don’t think anything is broken, I just can’t free my legs.’