Chapter IV: The Rise of the Sentinels

            283.2 million miles away, a large vessel passed the second moon of the nearest planet to Odyssey’s Fall and broke through the laser marker of the two closest satellites.  When the laser light was interrupted, a signal was sent to the small moon of Odyssey’s Fall, a planet colonized by Earth nearly 15,000 years prior.  The signal woke the computers stored in a large, deep cave of the moon.  The computers were vast, taking up most of the cave.  They had been covered with thick black sheets of plastic and moored by strong tape.  The plastic kept the computers mostly pristine.  Seven pods rested in a smaller adjoining cave.  An artificial gravity kept the computers and pods resting on the ground of the caves.  When the computers awakened, the pods triggered as well.  Slowly, the dusty covers of the pods slid open, revealing seven cyborgs.  The artificial atmosphere in the caves triggered on, sealing the caves from the outside.  Large containers nearby stored suits and oxygen cannisters.  

            Each pod was labeled with its inhabitant’s name.  The seven cyborgs were called Sentinels, Series Four.  The first cyborg, a female by the name of Ariahl, awoke.  Her eyes sprang open and she took a deep breath which dissolved into spasmodic coughing.  The girl pulled electrodes from her human arm, neck and head, and fell onto the dusty cave floor.  Coughs wracked her body and soon she was vomiting fluid from her lungs.  She wiped her mouth and sat back against the pod, wiping sweat from her forehead and neck.  Her metal arm shone blue in the low light of the cave, as did her metal legs.  Her skin was the shade of coffee with cream.  Her kinky hair was worn cropped short to the skull.  Her brown eyes took in the cave without recognition and, slowly, she began to recall.

            She rose slowly and closed the lid of the pod, wiping the dust off to read her name.

            “Ariahl,” she whispered.

            She looked around the sealed cave and saw six other pods.  She walked carefully to the cave entrance and through it to the larger cave.  Slowly, she began to remove the plastic covering from the mainframe and took a seat in a swivel chair before the control board. She pressed a blue button on the display and looked up at the large monitors.  The vast vessel that filled the screen was unfamiliar, shaped like seeds without windows.  There were no words on the side of the vessel, so Ariahl doubted the vessel was from Earth.  

            She watched for several minutes, counting five vessels in all.  They were huge, with sails to capture the solar winds.  The sails were open.

            Ariahl rose and walked carefully to the smaller cave, where she went to her chest and withdrew a black and silver uniform, pulling it over her slender, naked form.  Lastly, she pulled boots over her metal feet.

            She turned to the other pods and began to wake them, starting with Derik.  Then she stood back as the pods awoke each inhabitant.

            Each cyborg awoke in the manner she had:  taking deep breaths, coughing up the fluid in the lungs.  At first there was confusion, followed by recall as the chips in their minds supplied memories.  

            She watched impassively as Derik stumbled from his pod, fell to his knees and vomited violently.

            The others followed:  Mariel, Topon, Kaster, Sol, and Ishel.  Each cyborg represented the major races of Earth:  Ariahl represented North Africa; Derek represented China; Mariel represented South America; Topon represented Southeast Asia; Kaster and Sol represented Europe; Ishel represented the Middle East.  

            “What woke us?” Derik asked, voice rough from disuse.

            Ariahl flicked him a glance while maintaining her full attention on the others as they woke.  “There are vessels headed this way. They broke past the markers.”

            “Earth vessels?” Derik asked.

            Ariahl shook her head.  “They do not have names on the shell of the ships.  I don’t think they are from Earth.”

            Derik sucked in a surprised breath but said no more as he and Ariahl assisted the others.  Soon they were in the larger cave, dressed and sitting around a large round table on seven uncomfortable plastic chairs.  

            “What does this mean?” Mariel asked with her soft Latino accent.  She, like Ariahl and the rest of the Sentinels, kept her hair cropped tightly against her skull.

            Ariahl looked at each of her companions.  “We are to monitor the situation.  If the aliens come with violent intent, we must act to assist the descendants of Odyssey’s Fall.”

            Sol opened and closed his human hand, working a kink.  He looked at Ariahl.  “How long have we slept?”

            “15,000 years, give or take,” Ariahl replied,taking in their reactions.

            Kaster shook his head.  “No one has awaken us since then?  We may have been forgotten by Earth.”

            Topon nodded, his dark almond-shaped eyes flashing.   “More than likely Odyssey’s Fall is a lost colony.”

            Sol leaned forward and put both forearms on the table.  “We should head to the planet so the aliens don’t spot us.”

            “We are to remain here and observe,” Ariahl reminded him gently.

            Mariel made a sound in her throat and sat back in her chair.  “I disagree.  If the aliens are hostile, our tiny shuttle will be shot down or captured.  We should go to the planet before the aliens get here.”

            Ariahl shifted.  “We’ll take a vote.”

            Ariahl and Topon voted to remain on the moon and observe, while the others dissented.  So it was agreed to power up the shuttle and head to the planet before long sensors could detect them.

            They rose as one.

            Kaster and Ishel sealed the computers once more with the thick plastic, turning them to sleep status so they would not be detected.  Topon and Mariel went into the smaller cave to seal the pods before following the others to the third and largest cave, where their shuttle awaited, sealed beneath thick plastic.  The shuttle was a vibrant blue and it was called Little Odyssey, the words written in English on the sides of the ship.  

            Ariahl and Mariel were pilot and copilot, while the others sat behind their computers and began to research the planet nearby.

            “What about our other colony in the second habitable planet of the solar system?” Kaster asked.

            Ariahl pressed the red button on her console and the shuttle hummed to life. “They have their Sentinels, which should have been awakened by now.”

            Sol leaned forward.  “Should we confer with them?”

            Ariahl nodded.  “Let’s get down to our own planet and see what we can see.  We will have to touch base with our counterparts eventually.”

            She pressed another button and the shuttle gave a shake like a great cat awaking.  The cave entrance was large enough for the shuttle to pass through.  Beyond the vast cave mouth, the gray satellite was still.  They saw the large blue white planet in the horizon.  Slowly, the shuttle began to roll out into the plain beyond.  The soft ground of the moon had pebbles that pulverized under the shuttle’s thick tires as it rolled away from the cave.

            “We’ll find the night side,” Ariahl told his companions.  “We’ll come in dark.  Can you find us the cave designated for hiding our shuttle, Derik?”

            “On it,” Derik replied and bent to his task.

            The shuttle rose from the surface of the moon, a cloud of dust rising in their wake.  Ariahl and Mariel maneuvered the shuttle southwest.  The ship soundlessly turned and sped away from the moon.

            “The cave is on the night side of the planet,” Derik informed them.  “There is a grass plain nearby and the ocean not too far.”

            “What about cities?” Sol inquired.

            “There are heat signatures large enough to signify settlements,” Ishel replied.  “Some lights, too.  Not electricity, though.  The settlement seems primitive.”

            “We surmise that would happen,” Mariel told him.  “There are no satellites around the planet.  I wonder if the sister planet evolved.”

            “Doubtful,” Kaster said.  “There has been no stellar exploration or we would have been awakened before now.  Besides, if the other planet’s civilization made it to the stars, our counterparts would have warned us.”

            “You speak truth,” Topon piped up.  “I wonder if Earth is dead now and how many other colonies they managed to found.”

            They looked at one another in silence before turning back to their consoles.  

            After a few minutes, Ishel said:  “If they left Earth alone, I think she will recover.”

            “It is the hope,” Ariahl told him, but she did not say she believed it and doubt clung to the silence.

            As they approached Odyssey’s Fall, the planet loomed dark with few lights on her surface.  She seemed unspoiled, for which Ariahl was absurdly grateful. She recalled the polluted and spoiled face of old Earth and shuddered.  They broke through the atmosphere and the shuttle shook, her lights blinking on and off for a few seconds before re-stabilizing.  They glided silently through a bank of clouds. The sky filled with stars and the moon hung near the horizon.  The shuttle careened to the left and then glided back.  Beneath them, the clouds parted and a dark land appeared.  In the distance, there were some lights.  Soft rain fell and the wind gently batted at the metal skin of the shuttle.  

            Ariahl and Mariel set the shuttle down on a field filled with tall grasses and a few copses of trees.  

            Topon and Sol ran tests on the atmosphere and found the air clean with minimal traces of pollution.  They rose from their seats and stepped down onto the ground.  Ariahl gasped as the weight of the atmosphere settled over her.  Her metal legs were made to support her under most atmospheres, but it would take her flesh and blood a while to acclimate.

            “When are the aliens slated to arrive?” Kaster asked.

            Ariahl consulted her brain chips.  “In a few months.  We need to find the ones who know.  We need to hide the shuttle and seal it against the elements.  Then we need to learn the language.”  She turned to Derik.  “Where is the cave?”

            He consulted his hand console and turned west, pointing.  “That way, ten miles. In a seaward cave.”

            Mariel shifted.  “We have to be very careful sealing the shuttle against the elements.”

            “Let’s go find this cave.  We might have to blast its opening to widen it,” Ariahl said and turned back to the shuttle.

            They found the cave among a series of interconnected abandoned caves.  Indeed, as Ariahl had predicted, they had to hover the shuttle near the cave entrance and blast the opening wider.  But the cave was located on the seaward face of a series of cliffs whose faces were largely insurmountable.  There might be a different way to access the cave, which they would find.  Where humans could not go, Sentinels always could.  When they stepped out of the shuttle, they found the cave slick with moisture and slime, the walls and floor covered here and there with algae.  Puddles littered the uneven floor.  The Sentinels packed their travel bags and began the laborious task of sealing the shuttle against the wear and tear of the elements.  Once the shuttle was sealed, they found another entrance to the cave about 1.5 mile to the south, through a dark, dank passageway.  Once outside the cave, they sealed the entrance with a rockslide.  

            They wore jumpsuits of different colors designating their different ranks and duties:  Ariahl, being captain, wore black and silver;  Mariel, being second in command, wore silver and black;  Kaster, being a doctor, wore light blue;   Derik, being engineer, wore dark blue;  Topon, being xenobiologist, wore dark green;  Sol, being xenopsychologist, wore light green;  Ishel, being a xenolinguist, wore a yellow green.  

            They paused at the collapsed entrance to the cave and looked at one another.  

            Ariahl turned to Ishel.  “How long will it take you to decipher the language or languages?”

            “I just need a few samples,” Ishel replied.  “My guess is that there should be a main language, a descendant of English.  We shall see.”

            Ariahl nodded and sighed.  “Let’s head towards the largest settlement.”  She turned to Topon.  “Which way, Topon?”        

            He consulted his console.  “There is large heat mass to the northeast.  My senses tell me we should go there.  Someone knows what all this means, and she lives there.  My intuition and instincts tell me this.”

            “Mine have awoken as well,” Mariel told them, flicking a glance at Ariahl.  “The one we seek knows about the aliens and us.  She is connected genetically to all of us.  My chips are whirring awake.”

            Sol’s glance had grown distant.  “Yes…I see it.”

            Ariahl strapped on her backpack.  “Then we should head northeast.”  She glanced up at the dark sky.  It was raining softly, and the temperatures were frigid, but they felt little of it, for they were mostly metal and plastic.  She felt the cold in her left arm and her neck and chest and face.  She heated the metal in her body to ward off the cold.  She turned her back to her companions and began the trek to the northeast along the seashore.  They others followed behind her.

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