Author : Jacqueline Rochow
Private Collins remained at attention as the guard ran the scanner over him. Satisfied that he carried no electronic devices, the guard left him alone with Sergeant Peters.
“At ease, private. Take a seat, will you?”
Nervously, Collins did as he was told. “Sir?”
“You’re here because you ticked certain consent boxes when you joined us seven years ago. Particularly, an automatic consent to top secret missions. I’m a fair man, private, and I know a lot can change in seven years, so I’m going to give you the chance to walk out of this room now. If you don’t, the only way you’re leaving is in the cockpit of a one-man craft with some top secret orders. Understand?”
“Y… yes. “
Peters stared idly at his fingers for several seconds, then looked up to see that Collins was still there. “Good man. Tell me, have you ever heard of Taxcelon?”
Collins racked his memory. “Weren’t there old folk tales about… some hugely powerful immortal entity? Destroyed whole planets before just disappearing one day? That was –”
“A long time ago, yes. The official story was mysterious disappearance; in actuality, we caught it.”
“Tricked it. Some genius engineers rigged up a device that imprisons it inside a material body. Such a form severely limited its abilities. It was only as smart as the brain it was inside, couldn’t do much beyond move material objects. No idea how the thing works, but that doesn’t matter; the important thing is, what the hell could be done with it then? Killing its host would cause it to automatically take another, and we were worried that over time it would figure out how to control that. An enemy with no mercy, a huge grudge and the ability to possess anyone? Not a good thing. A prison doesn’t work as a prison if the inmate can suddenly become one of the guards, does it?”
“So… what happened?”
“We built a guardless prison from scratch. A shell, if you will.” Peters slid a small star map across the table. “You know how the entire Alpha Centauri area has been a no fly zone for as long as anyone can remember?”
“That’s because of this nearby star, here. We picked a planet and seeded the entire thing with single-celled life, left the entity’s poor host there and took off.”
“Oh! So if it dies –”
“Taxcelon reincarnates into bacteria indefinitely. That was the plan. The no-fly zone is to avoid the remote possibility of it hitching a lift off the planet, but in bacteria it shouldn’t be able to remember what it is or think at all anyway.”
“And there’s a problem?”
“The thing about life is that it doesn’t stay the same for long. That planet, see, now has intelligent life. Smart enough that, assuming Taxcelon is inside one of ‘em, it should be able to remember some stuff, possibly even work a little of its old power. And that species is inventing space travel.”
“So you want me to kill them.”
“From a distance. Make sure you get everything intelligent but leave some bacteria or something, enough to ensure that life will continue. Mission details are in your ship. Get going.”
“Yes sir.” Collins’ salute and stride were purposeful. He had a very important mission.
Once he was alone, Peters remotely checked the condition of the explosive charges hidden in Collins’ ship. It was a pity about the kid, but they couldn’t risk him bringing Taxcelon back by accident.
“That’ll buy us a few billion more years,” he muttered to himself.