In the spring of 2019, I was accepted into MIT with a full-ride scholarship. When I got the letter in the mail, I expected to barely feel a thing. Like something I’d always expected had finally decided to show up. When it happened though, I was actually really fucking excited about it. I think I might have cackled when I opened the letter.
My parents heard my maniacal laughing and rushed in, most likely expecting that I had finally gone completely off the deep end. It had always been a close thing. Once they realized that I was still mostly sane and that I had gotten into my school of choice, their reactions ran the gamut from relieved to ecstatic. Before that, before I saw how honestly happy they were for me, I didn’t really understand how much they legitimately cared about me and my happiness. Had I known earlier, it might have stopped me from being such a surly shit throughout my teenage years. Frankly, I doubt it. Hormones were a bitch like that.
It was what came after that was the surprising part. After my parents and I had indulged in our circle jerk of back patting and congratulations (“oh you worked so hard!”, “you guys were such a good influence!” etc.), I decided to look through the rest of the acceptance packet the college had sent me. Underneath all the bullshit tour guide pamphlets was a single sheet of high quality paper, announcing that I had qualified for the Xeno-Engineering major. Reading that was the closest I had gotten to creaming my pants since Nancy Renley felt me up during the slow dance at prom.
Getting involved in Xeno-Engineering had been my dream forever. Ever since I got over wanting to be a firetruck, as every kid did, I wanted to learn how to build giant alien spaceships. In the same way that the previous generation had lusted after astronauts, I pursued alien technology with a fervor bordering on obsession. When I was ten years old I bought my first scale-model StarArc, accurately extrapolated from the remains of the wreck, with my saved-up allowance. When I finished building it, I kept it on my dresser, where it was joined by the dozens of different models I bought over the years.
By the time I was thirteen years old I had learned how to read the technical releases from the teams responsible for researching the StarArc and the dozens of other smaller ships that had fallen to our little blue planet. At that point, I had decided that the press releases from the science journals were far too sensationalized to be accurate. The technical releases, though heavily redacted at times, were a far better source than the over-dramatization of scientific journalism.
In high school, I spent most of my four years attempting to reverse engineer the single alien circuit my school district had access to. When I succeeded, I was probably the most surprised out of anyone. What was really exciting was that I had been the first to be able to do it, and that I did it without access to government-restricted information. It was far less exciting when the government promptly classified my work and forced me to sign a frankly offensive number of nondisclosure agreements. They did pay me a hefty sum of tasty hush money, so I guess things worked out. Regardless, the discovery was enough to get me a lot of attention from the major universities.
MIT was my first choice. They had, by a decent margin, the strongest Xeno-Engineering department in the country. Proportional to that was how exclusive the thing was. Each graduating class only had ten or so students, which was fucking crazy, and the rumored expectations for those students were even crazier. They basically worked for the government, regularly collaborating with outside research teams, and were expected to make frequent breakthroughs in alien tech. The flip side of that was that they could be compensated very handsomely for their contributions. The day I became one of those exceptional few was among the proudest moments in my life.
By the time I had analyzed my 207th possible combination of composite elements, I realized that I was complete and utter fucking moron.
While the other freshmen were getting plastered and having debauched orgies (or so I assumed anyway), I was stuck in some god-forsaken basement running dozens of basics tests. And then running those tests again. And again.
On the bright side, I was not alone in my misery. Each of the other “exceptional” freshman in the program seemed to have lost their souls in a similar way to myself. Which was comforting. Still, momma didn’t raise no quitter. She did however raise an exceptionally lazy teenager with frankly terrifying programming knowledge. By the end of the first three months of my college career, I had designed an algorithm that would analyze that damn alien shit for me, leaving me more time to socialize and build lifelong relationships.
That particular endeavor went poorly. Turns out spending the entirety of high school locked away in a lab does not build strong social skills. Who knew.
My lack of a life and my automated responsibilities left me with a lot of time on my hands. I spent that researching all the schematics and techniques that had been developed since the ships started to fall. A benefit of being in the Xeno-Engineering program was access to the vast majority of the US and the EU’s classified research. There was some truly groundbreaking stuff happening in the military and civilian labs around the world. Inertial dampeners and anti-gravity generators were reaching a point where they could be reliably manufactured. A prototype fusion reactor was already active, though a decent way from being economically viable. The advances in weaponry and military technology were easily the most terrifying outcome of all this. New incredibly strong, lightweight materials, mind bogglingly destructive weapons, and rapid automated manufacturing capabilities all pointed towards a revolution in warfare.
Fabricators in particular became a hobby of mine. By the time I was ending my freshman year, I been thoroughly seduced by their sexy manufacturing might. Fabricators were a staple of almost every alien spacecraft that fell to Earth. They came in all shapes and sizes. The smaller ones, no bigger than a decent sized closet, were most likely used for munitions and small arms manufacturing. The larger ones were theorized to be used to create autonomous strike craft. Regardless of the size, the fabricators all used basically the same technology to function, with tweaks here or there. They require no particularly exotic materials to build, and were capable of delicate, detail intensive work at an incredibly rapid speed. Whoever developed the first fully functional fabricator was destined to go down in history.
I decided that I would be that person.
That turned out to be really fucking difficult.
I remember complaining to one of my friends about the issues with it.
“The main problem is,” I passionately extolled, “that we have no indication of how the damn things were actually interfaced with. I mean, we basically understand the liquid weaving and matter manipulation processes, but we have no idea how to get our schematics to actually be understood by the machines. It’s like… it’s like having a treasure chest that holds everything you could possible desire and then your magical key doesn’t fit in the goddamned lock.”
“That’s great Sam.” She replied, mostly naked, “but can we save this kind of thing for class?”
Somehow, I still got laid. And we started going out. Still not entirely sure how I wrangled that one.
Camille was a year above me in my program, though she specialized more on the Xenology side of it, which was basically alien anthropology. It was actually called Xeno-Anthropology for a little while until some smartass pointed out the significance of anthropo in anthropology. You might be wondering how anthropology was even remotely related to practical engineering. You’d mostly be correct in assuming that they generally did not interact. But when the entire civilization that manned your miraculously advanced space debris seemed to have vanished without a single biological trace, you need people to figure out how the fuck any of the stuff was used in the first place. And since there was no biology to examine, you get Xenology instead. I guess. Still not entirely convinced about it.
Anywho, I guess they had lower standards in the Xeno-Engineering department, because for some reason a very intelligent, very attractive human woman decided to date me. I was pretty happy about that. It sweetened the deal when we figured out how to get files onto the fabricator together. She was instrumental in realizing that our mysterious aliens likely used a primarily telepathic interface to interact with their manufacturing technology.
That revelation was less obvious than it sounds, because the vast majority of their other tech used traditional touch based or movement based interfaces. We still had no idea why, a fact that annoyed Camille no end. I remember her complaining to me about it.
“The thing that doesn’t make sense,” she passionately told me, “is the fact that they had so many different ways of interacting with their technology. I mean, with humans it makes sense. We use our hands for pretty much everything. I mean, they’re easily the best tool for fine manipulation that we have. But these alien fucks,” she continued, practically glowing with frustration and excitement, “decided to have no less than four completely different ways to manipulate tools.”
“That’s nice honey,” I replied, entirely naked and laying under her, “but can that wait until after the sex?”
It took about another year, but together we eventually figured out a janky, cobbled together excuse for telepathy. Using the many breakthroughs in medical technology courtesy of the alien sickbays, we developed a rough brain wave monitor that could accurately read mental commands. We translated those commands into a file format that could be interpreted by the machines, and instantly became incredibly rich. Turns out that being able to have the human mind give commands directly to machines was useful in more than just fabricators.
Those next few months were something special. I was in a shockingly stable and loving relationship, while simultaneously pioneering a field in the way I had dreamed about all my life, and I was financially secure to boot. I was happy. So of course that’s when spaceship S-B21, carrying the super weapon that would destroy human civilization, came down in the middle of Siberia.