Here is my speculation of what should have happened in Ridley Scott’s film “Prometheus…”
Epimetheus: Titan in Greek Myth, brother of Prometheus, husband of Pandora. His name means “afterthought” in contrast to his brother “forethought.” Also credited with accidentally distributing all good and noble qualities to animals as opposed to humans.
If the Engineers had granted humans an IQ that occasionally made triple figures…
Major Doctor Sloane stretched, yawned, winced, shook her limbs, then swung herself up to sit on the side of the hibernation couch. Around her people were groaning, swearing, and several were throwing up, including that archaeologist doctor.
‘You people haven’t had enough hangovers in your lives,’ she said, rubbing her grey hair and standing up. ‘You’d know how to handle this if you had.’
She glanced around, then followed a trail of wet footprints out to where a young blonde woman was doing press-ups on the cabin floor. Pretty fit, thought the major, but too thin to make a decent soldier. Almost certainly too prissy, too.
‘You were up and out before my couch had even popped,’ said Sloane. ‘Order yourself to be woken up first, Miss Vickers? Want time to pull yourself round and look in control?’
‘We own this ship, we run this ship,’ said Vickers, only pausing briefly.
‘And I command it absolutely,’ said Sloane, not unkindly. ‘In the event of any friction or silly buggers, you go back in that couch until we’re home again, are we clear?’
‘Crystal,’ said Vickers. Her voice was barely a degree above absolute zero.
Sloane walked back through to the main room. David the android was emptying a bowl of sick.
‘See anything interesting in our dreams?’ she asked.
‘But Major Doctor Sloane—’
‘Just Major. We have plenty of Doctors about.’
‘Major Sloane, that would be illegal. Besides, we have no equipment on board capable of—’
‘Smart android like you, two-year journey, you telling me you couldn’t rig something up with all our scanners and get around security? I could!’
‘Major, I assure you that—’
‘I’m just messing with you. Carry on.’ She slapped the android hard on the shoulder. It staggered like a human, or was it just pretending to, blending in?
‘Listen up people! You have heard the exciting stuff about aliens, you have heard the hopes of Mr Weyland, now you get practical.
‘In case any of you have hibernation amnesia, I am Major Sloane, PhD. It is my hope that this mission will be all science and my expertise won’t be needed. If it is, I would remind you that the authority of the military and the Council of Humanity is absolute in matters of first contact. Our probes have detected no activity in those buildings during the journey, but we still have no idea what is in them.
‘You have all been selected for your skills, intelligence, and psychological stability. If we are being observed, I want them to have a good impression. Remember that.’
‘Landing trajectory plotted,’ said the Captain. ‘The satellite will keep us informed of the weather, but there’s a nasty storm front going to be at the site in twenty hours.’
‘Any threat to the ship?’
‘None at all while it’s on the ground. Wouldn’t be nice to spacesuits or even ground vehicles, though.’
On the other side of the bridge, Dr Elizabeth Shaw has holding a private holo recorder to the window as the Prometheus descended to the atmosphere.
‘It’s beautiful, my love,’ she said. ‘I wish you were here to see it. They wouldn’t let you on this trip because your psych profile said you placed achievement above everything. I know you said that if I was really dedicated to the work, they wouldn’t have let me go either. But there is something I love more than discovering this truth; it is you. I am doing this because I love you.’
As she lowered the camera, David approached and cleared his throat.
‘Excuse me, Dr Shaw,’ he said. ‘You should know that my hearing is many times more sensitive than human. You should move to another room entirely if you want to have a private conversation.’
‘Oh.’ Shaw was taken aback. ‘Sorry.’
‘I do not make emotional judgments, I am an android. But may I ask an indelicate question?’
‘Might this message have an unintended effect on your husband? After all, it is an implicit message saying you are aware that he loves you less than you love him. Could it be taken as a rejection or a mixed message?’
‘You don’t know my husband like I do. He won’t notice that, and wouldn’t care if he did.’
‘May I ask another question?’
‘Is it another personal one?’
‘Not of that nature, no. In the presentation you said you believed that the aliens had created humanity, but admitted that you had no evidence for this, and that it was more of a personal belief. Is there a personal reason for this?’
‘Not one I feel able to tell you, David.’
‘I am sorry if I gave offence.’
‘Somehow I doubt that.’
‘I believe this is a control of some kind,’ said David. ‘Shall I press it?’
‘A light switch?’ asked Shaw. She shivered, looking around the dank tunnel. Condensation was starting to mist on the outside of her helmet, and she wiped at it. ‘Damn! Major, the atmosphere is 0.5% CO2, perfectly breathable. Permission to remove helmet!’
‘Permission denied,’ snapped Sloane over the intercom. ‘You take that off and you’re sleeping in a quarantine tent under the ship for a week. If the storm doesn’t blow you away, that is.’
‘Can we at least press the button?’
A few minutes later, the exploratory team were still gazing, goggle-eyed, at the giant, headless corpse lying at the door. Carved text covered the walls and the portal above it, a mysterious epitaph; but they had just seen the blurred holographic recordings or terror and death.
‘You were right,’ breathed Jenkins. ‘Extra-terrestrial life…’
‘Is nobody thinking what the Major and I are thinking?’ came the voice of Miss Vickers through their headsets.
‘We need to examine this!’ said Jenkins.
‘The alien is dead,’ snapped Sloane. ‘They were scared, they were running. This building is a tomb. The storm hits in a few hours. I want everyone back here and working to decipher that writing, ASAP.’
‘But the chamber… I believe I have located the door switch!’ said Shaw.
‘That chamber is hermetically sealed,’ said David. ‘We should open it only under ideal conditions.’
‘If at all,’ said Vickers. ‘That hologram may have been a warning!’
Shaw sighed. For a moment, she imagined explaining to the world’s media how she had spoiled priceless evidence because of her impatience. ‘Back to the ship, everyone.’
On the bridge, Sloane switched intercoms.
‘Chief engineer Davies? I’m forwarding schematics for a set of improvised weapons. I want you to start fabricating them immediately. The basic flamethrower is simple, but I want some advanced models too. No need to tell the others yet. Out.’
‘Didn’t you expressly forbid weapons of all kinds on this expedition?’ said Vickers, arching an impossibly perfect eyebrow.
‘That was doctor Sloane,’ said the Commander. ‘She’s an idealist. Major Sloane, on the other hand, is a hardened old cynic who believes in being prepared for anything.’
‘It’s organic,’ said David, touching a probe to the black slime emerging from the cylinder. ‘It also appears to be exhibiting macroscopic organisation. It is moving, making shapes.’
‘It’s not coming back on the ship,’ said Sloane. ‘We set up a remote lab to study it. Don’t skimp on the quarantine coming back.’
‘We can at least bring the head?’ said Jenkins, doing it up in a bag.
‘You can bring the head. How on earth is it so well preserved, even in a sealed chamber, when the outer body had decayed away?’
‘Just one of the many questions,’ said Jenkins. ‘David, are you going to stay and study the cylinders?’
‘I am afraid that I have duties that require my attention on the ship. We can set up remote surveillance.’
‘The preservation is remarkable. There is something in this head besides the organic.’ Jenkins studied the instruments carefully. ‘The cells are intact, and the muscles still contain chemical energy, the neural pathways are connected… if we applied electricity, it might even think it was alive.’
‘What kind of sick bastard would resurrect a severed head just to watch it die again?’ snapped Sloane.
‘I’m not suggesting we do it. Although it would be fascinating to see how its mind functions. It is so similar to us!’
‘There is little wonder,’ said Shaw, from her instrument. ‘It doesn’t just have and use DNA like we do; a lot of it is the same as us.’
‘What do you know,’ muttered Sloane, ‘Sci-fi was getting it right.’
‘It’s not entirely the same. I’ve run a set of comparisons. The genes most similar to this… Engineer… are the ones that make us different to apes. There are other clusters of similarities, but some great differences.’
‘So our life had a common origin…’ said Sloane, scratching her head, ‘…but then they came to Earth and gave us the jump up to sentience?’
‘Possibly with other interventions along the way; the basic pentadactyl limb, for one.’ Shaw smiled. ‘Where’s David? I know he’s an android, but I want to see his face when I tell him I was right all along!’
‘I don’t know where he is. Even androids get time off.’
‘Really. And on matters of faith, how come you are strongly religious, yet were keen to believe that aliens made us?’
‘And God made them. This is one link up the chain.’
‘You need to see this.’ Jenkins’ voice held fear, and disgust. She motioned them to the MRI-CAT scan of the head.
‘What’s that?’ asked Sloane.
‘It’s not part of the Engineer. It’s not a tumour, either. It’s a… parasite!’
‘In its brain?’ Sloane winced. ‘How did it get there?’
‘The really revolting part is how it was going to get out.’
‘Oh Jesus, no.’
‘Afraid so. Looks as if it was getting close to… hatching… just before death. I think this poor Engineer ended his own life first.’
‘Still intact and un-decomposed, you say? I want that thing frozen immediately.’
‘Don’t have to tell me twice,’ said Jenkins. ‘I’m padlocking the freezer while it’s chilling, too.’
The scientists huddled around the holo-screen, watching the pools of black slime covering the floor of the chamber where they had found the heads—both the severed one, and the giant stone one. They now called it the “mural room.”
‘There!’ said Sloane, pointing. ‘A ripple. Try fishing.’
Jenkins worked the controls, and a robotic manipulator appeared, reaching down into the slime.
‘You’re a robot, why aren’t you out there?’ Shaw asked David.
‘I’m a very expensive robot. It makes sense to use cheaper ones first.’
Jenkins gave a little scream. On the hologram, a snake-like creature tightened its coils around the mechanical arm, snapping it into fragments.
‘From slime to snake in a day,’ said Shaw, as the creature vanished back into the pool. ‘I’m glad we have a fossil record!’
‘Preliminary readings on the slime, it looks like some kind of nano-tech, but so far beyond our ken, I’m not sure that’s even the word,’ said Sloane. ‘I think we should crack open that head—carefully—and compare the foreign body to the slime.’
‘Commander, I can present my preliminary findings on the mural room and the engravings,’ said David.
‘So you have been doing some work. What have you got?’
‘It is a shrine, a chapel if you like, although in this case, it was specific to their area of endeavour here—their patron saint, if you like. The deity depicted at the centre of the mural, with the elongated head , double jaws and no eyes, could be compared roughly with Shiva or Kali of the Hindu pantheon—’
‘It’s a fucking death-cult alien Temple of Doom?’ said Sloane. ‘Is that what we came to find?’
‘I believe this is more in the nature of a biological weapons facility but yes, that room at least fits your description.’
‘It went wrong and they did this to themselves.’ Sloane changed the screen to another feed; a pile of Engineer bodies, all piled together and rotted against a large wall. With their organic exo-skeletons and the dreadful ruptures in their corpses, it was worse than a renaissance painting of Hell. ‘After they invited us to come and find it. What were they intending?’
‘If I have ever expressed disappointment in my own creators, I take it back at this point,’ said David.
‘Security watches on the ship approach, round the clock,’ said Sloane. ‘I don’t know what else that slime might turn into, and I don’t know what became of the things that grew inside those engineers. Dismissed.’
As the others left, David drew Sloane aside.
‘Commander,’ he said, ‘My Asimov software compels me to reveal this. I communicated with Mr Weyland; it is possible to do so by lightening the coma and keying an android mind to a neuro-scanner. I was instructed to do so upon significant events, and after a status report, he requested that I covertly infect a crew member with the black slime. Without the additional ethical programs required for this mission, I might have found myself compelled to obey.’
‘I knew having that corpsicle along was a bad idea!’ Sloane slammed her fist into her palm. ‘He stays in deep sleep and incommunicado until we get back to Earth, and then he goes on trial if he’s still alive. As for you, we’ll discuss you lying about the dream-readers another time.’
‘I believe we are quite safe from these cylinders,’ said David. ‘They are in a storage mode; the crew did not wish to set them off.’
‘Something went wrong here,’ said Sloane. She and a number of the crew moved cautiously through the cargo hold of the alien ship. They carried a fearsome array of weapons—flamethrowers, mass drivers, lasers, grenade launchers. ‘If it was as simple as closing the door to a room with a few alien snakes, they wouldn’t have been massacred like they were. And it seems their friends haven’t been back since.’
In the strange control room, Sloane moved up to the enclosed couch. Within, the Engineer slumbered as he had slumbered for two millennia.
‘Can we wake him up?’ asked Shaw. ‘Please?’
‘Who knows what he could trigger with all this machinery?’ said Sloane. ‘We know this ship was headed for Earth with a cargo of lethal bio-weapons, the last thing they get from us is respect. That message capsule is safely away to Earth with everything we’ve discovered, but it’s still too risky. We go home. I’ll recommend we come back with heavy-duty tech teams and bio-security; we’ll tear this ship and all the computers apart, try to find out every last thing we can about what happened here and how their tech works. Then perhaps we wake him up.’
A sudden hiss. The canopy over the Engineer was opening! Sloane swore and backed away, swinging up her weapon. ‘Base? You read me, Janek? Vickers?’
‘They’re… busy,’ said the voice on the intercom. ‘It’s Larsen, I got called to cover his watch.’
‘If things go bad here you have to get out of here,’ said Sloane, watching as the giant alien slowly sat up and rubbed its head. ‘But on no account are you to let an alien ship launch. Stop it any way you have to or there won’t be a home to go back to.’
The alien stood up. It slowly swung its head around, looking at each of the weapons trained on it from around the room. Its expression was unreadable.
‘Aim for the head if a body shot doesn’t stop it; that looks like armour,’ said Sloane. ‘David; how’s your work on their language? Do you think you can speak to it? Tell it to make no sudden moves.’
‘That will not be necessary,’ said the Engineer. It accent was strange and its voice was impossibly deep, but it was clear. ‘I have learned your language. My mind remained active in the capsule, and I have been watching you.’
‘Why did you not release yourself earlier?’ asked Sloane. ‘Perhaps you should answer some questions for us.’
‘This faculty is a preliminary test for the species we seed,’ said the alien. ‘We present them with hazards lethal to the reckless, but easily avoided by the prudent. We present an unflattering portrait of their creators, including evidence that they themselves were marked for destruction, and we observe their reactions.’
‘And how do we rate according to your standards?’ asked Shaw.
‘You are adequate. You are rational and co-operative but prepared to defend yourselves. You are worthy of making full contact with us.’
‘What if we had not been worthy?’ asked Sloane.
‘Things would have become… distasteful,’ said the Engineer. It sighed, just like a human. ‘We thought it would never actually happen, but you would not believe some of the clowns we get coming here….’