Remember the Voyager (I and II) – our invitation sent to the Universe to visit our not quite star traveling race? In 2419 at the far edge of our solar system, we come across an invitation from another race. We go in peace to meet and break bread with these new aliens, we find them charming, intellectual, and worthy of our allegiance. But the camera crew we sent along to record this historical event finds a different story. Is it sinister, are they threatening, should Earth be wary of making friends – ever? They are too far from Earth to obtain guidance, but with a squad of 20 space marines on board. If a fight is what is called for, than a fight they will get. The results could be catastrophic at most or leave a hole in space at the very least. Alien Voyage, it is not to be smooth sailing!
ALIEN VOYAGE, it is not to be smooth sailing!
She was in the front of the ship, staring out at the lights, the dark, the hugeness, the coldness and the warmth of space. It spoke to her. Not in words, but in a comforting way that she felt inside, all over, really. That sort of ease and sleepy comfort she had known when she was back on Earth, back in school, had the health of the truly young. Those few mornings spent waking on her own accord; when she would stretch, curling her back into a backwards ‘C’, feet touching her head. She smiled as she thought about those times. Yes, that was the perfect description for bliss and bliss also was seeing this view. She had the feeling that she was home, that she belonged here.
Something caught her eye. It seemed small enough, maybe metal? Didn’t look like a meteor, were they already leaving space trash behind, way out here? She shook her head. Standing up from the viewing alcove she continued to look. What was that? As the ship made its way in the same direction as the unknown object was, she saw that it was much bigger than she had thought at first. She turned and walked to the wall. She looked up at the ceiling.
“Dennis” she called out to the ship. “Open a channel to Napier.”
“Napier here, Siena?” he asked.
“Yes, Napier, who did you think it was? Anyway, I was viewing the space ahead and I saw something weird. Will you do a scan? It is dead ahead and 30 degrees on the right. The object appears to be man-made but I was under the belief that we were the first in this quadrant, so it couldn’t be space junk; at least not our space junk.”
“Yes, I see something – could be a piece of meteor, some are metallic in makeup. Let me do a closer look – I’ll drone it.” He touched a few buttons on the console, well not really, there was no console there – he had on glasses that recognized the buttons and controls that were only in his mind, to say it was a touch screen was not 100% correct, but close enough.
“Okay, I’m heading back to you. You should have more information by the time I get there.”
“I’ll time you!” Napier said, his voice was teasing.
Siena smiled. The wall in front of her changed to an open doorway when she got close enough to almost, but not quite, hit it.
When she was finally walking into the main hub, control room, bridge, the room where Napier was, she saw the screen in front of him and a close up of the drone sending out a grappling hook to catch the space object.
Napier spun his seat around towards her. “I have instructed the drone to capture it and bring it back to the backup bay for closer viewing. Of course first we’ll have a look from the drone cameras.”
“Should we wake Leia or Sam?” She was referring to their backups – the other couple who when she & Napier were awake, were asleep and when she & Napier were asleep, were awake.
“No. Let’s find out what it is first: Could be nothing.”
While the camera shots from the drone showed it was indeed manmade or someone made and the drone wasn’t able to detect any true danger, its AI clicked on to recommend that an unknown object not be brought on board the ship but tether it eternally and investigate more there. Napier pushed some more “buttons” which over-ruled it.
“Napier,” said Sienna in a sweet lilt. “Don’t you think that ‘just in case’ we should set a timer to wake up the others in case something unexpected happens? Maybe leave a message about what we are doing so they would be aware if we’re no longer here?”
“Hmm, ahhh, no. It will be fine.” Napier was a curious sort and also an eternal optimist. It was probably partly what made him ideal for this life in space spent wandering the borders of the galaxy - since humans had found no other life they figured they owned the Galaxy. Now, maybe not!
“Dennis, please take the controls, slow forward motion by a eighth. Thank you.”
Thank you, Napier. I have the controls.
Napier looked at Siena, his first and his second, his life mate and his next in command. “Come on; let’s meet the drone in the backup bay. It’s been too long out here with nothing new, this is new!”
About six hours later Napier & Siena were in the main hub sending a communique to NASA and the powers that be. While it took several minutes for a response, since the installation of laser tech for the transmissions and the placement of many satellites that assist in the line of site transfer of data, the conversation took minutes to hours versus days and bad guesses about what was meant. When NASA got back to them it was to ask them to place the entire object in the bin for the 3-d printer schema and send that data back to Earth so a full copy could be printed. Once the copy was printed they would be notified to release the original back into space. The whole point, besides saving time in getting it to Earth, was to not allow any GPS type data to be sent from the object that would give directions back to Earth.
Once Siena & Napier completed their task, they went and awoke their counterparts Leia and Sam, shared the happenings and then got ready to go to sleep for a couple of weeks. The technology regarding the deep sleeps had advanced over the years. No longer was one near frozen with Glassy Water but with a substance Hydrogen Sulfide, the body temperature could remain the same. Hydrogen Sulfide slowed the metabolism & cardiovascular systems with just a small dose and was easy to use whether for a long period of time or just a few weeks. It really only had one side effect, when waking from the suspended animation, a foul taste persisted in the subject’s mouth of rotten eggs and another, even less pleasant flavor, but most recipients couldn’t recognize it as they had never actually tasted raw sewage.
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“Well Sampson, what have you found out?” President Anderson hoped this was the olive branch that humanity had sought; the proof of the advanced life that they had hoped for. Their OS Team (Outer Solar Team) had immediately transferred the data once they had found some sort of communication from the Galaxy - or from light years away. The president was waiting on the scientists and analysts to give him the details.
“Well sir, have you heard of the Voyager space probes that the US sent out some two hundred and eighty years ago?” Sampson paused and the president nodded. Every president was briefed on that when he took office. Just in case. In case someone came knocking in response.
“It seems we aren’t the only ones who sent out a probe like that. This has a plaque, very much like ours that seems to indicate the race that sent it is like us, humanoid. It also gives directions directly to the planet. My guess is that they want us to visit them. ”
“How likely is that?” President Anderson wondered. He was thinking ahead to ambassadors and exchanges of knowledge and what he imagined would be the greatest of alliances.
“How likely is what? That they are humanoid? All I know is that there is this Drake equation. That’s an equation used way back in the 1900’s to estimate how many aliens possibly intelligent life, we could expect in the Milky Way. I don’t think it guessed at the humanoid part though. That just comes down to chance.”
“Alright. Get me NASA, congress’s scientific committee, and the Chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. I need recommendations of how to respond to this.”
“Sir? What about SETI?”
“What about them?” The president looked up, he had been about to relax until all his advisors could be gathered.
“Um, they’ve been calling all morning.”
“Well who the hell told them?”
“I don’t know sir, but their messages would seem to indicate they are well aware of the contact.” Sampson looked down at his feet and braced for a tirade. He had worked for the previous president and had served him with complete loyalty, but this president had never struck him as too presidential, just seemed to be going through the motions. Why on earth did he run if he didn’t want the job?
“Alright,” President Anderson sat down in his chair and made a decision. “Get their top guy and put him through to me in here.” The Oval office and the White House, they were the two main representations of the free world; and the president of course.
“Yes sir, immediately.” Sampson turned and left the room closing the door as he went.
President Anderson sat back in his chair and extended his feet and rested them on his desk. He should have expected something like this, damn. His advisors would tell him but wasn’t there some play book for this? He tried to think. Seven Items, no that wasn’t it, seven something… Steps – Seven Steps to Contact. He sighed. There already was a plan, so it wasn’t up to him after all.
President Anderson began to whistle, his mood greatly improved.
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Everybody was awake at one time on the frontline space craft – something that didn’t occur often. Here on the space craft Astraeus, named for the astrological deity and the Titan god of the dusk, the newly assigned ambassador, around twenty space marines, and the ambassador’s assistants were about to board once then they had given Napier the coordinates of the origin of the invitation, the Atraeus would begin its journey to this new alien world. To break the Although President Anderson had tried to give these new aliens a name, his advisors reminded him that the aliens may already have a name and perhaps it would be best to find out what that was.
Way out in space, Planetesimals on every horizon as seen through the viewers, the four-member crew of the Astraeus stood tall to greet the travelers from Earth. Their Winguard, a small and much faster space-craft had just landed and no one knew exactly what to expect. The back cargo door opened and out came the space marine as if this were enemy territory.
Napier stepped forward at seeing the ambassador. “Greetings Ambassador and welcome to the Astraeus. Your comfort and needs will be met by our AI. While Dennis is the ships AI, he does not have a human form but Marieke & Donovan are our AI robotic systems and will be happy to assist you in any way. Unless they have already been tasked with something you can find them in the common area charging up until needed.” Napier turned to lead the way to the main hub when suddenly it occurred to him… “Should we share information first and then get under way, or perhaps you, Mr. Ambassador, would like to freshen up before we make our way, or is it a long journey best started immediately?” As Napier was offering options he watched a blond female come out of the ship long after anyone else, carrying a couple of bags that looked to be equipment. Although the bags seemed heavy, no one was offering to help her. Napier stepped forward. “Excuse me Mr. Ambassador.” And then to the young lady, “May I help you carry that?”
“No, thank you, I’ve got it!” She stood up and faced Napier and stuck out her hand – a rather antiquated form of greeting, but he took it. “My names Sarah, Sarah Lynn Bernstein, and I am the journalist sent along to document this historic occasion.”
Shaking her hand, “Hello & welcome; My name is Napier. I am one of the OS Guard – the OS means outer Solar System.”
“Yes, Sergeant Cirilli explained that to me when we were on our Voyage here.” She turned smiling at one of the marines and then turned back. “But I apologize; you were speaking to Mr. Ambassador.”
“Yes, yes…” Napier’s voice drifted off as he turned took a few steps to back in front of the group and looked at the ambassador. “So what did you decide?”
The ambassador cleared his throat as if some really important words were going to follow. “Well, now, er, I think you don’t need me to tell you where we are going. Captain Sampson can handle that. So if,” and the ambassador turned to the left then right looking for Sienna, “you, young lady can take me to my quarters, Captain Sampson will assist you.” The ambassador walked over to Sienna. “Lead away.” And the two walked off followed by his entire staff and the few who were carrying his luggage, and he didn’t pack lightly.
One of the marines stepped forward and then snapped to attention. “My name is Captain Jon Sampson and I have been instructed that we depart ASAP. You are correct that it is a long journey, at least in actual distance though I am told that the Astraeus will make quick work of it. I understand that this ship, though only inhabited by four of you is rather large and has a whole floor that is dedicated to a marine barracks of sorts?”
“Yes Captain, that’s correct. Tell your men they can go directly to floor 3 and then Dennis, the ship’s computer will assist them, they just have to call out to him.” Napier partly hated having so many people on board – he had taken this post to avoid that, but also hating himself as he was realizing how good it was to talk to someone different for a while. He loved his life-partner Sienna incredibly, but a little variety was nice. While they were walking to the main deck he stopped and turned to ask the Captain something. “By the way Captain, any idea how they were able to discern the exact coordinates of the planet?”
“Only that it was rather simple to do. It probably was part of the digital recording, there was something about a repeating sequence. Anyway, we know where we are to go!” Jon answered.
“Well then, come this way Captain.” Napier led the way.
Captain Sampson turned and told the Sergeant that he was in charge and to take the troops their floor and get everything all settled. He was going to the main-hub with Napier. The two groups went their separate ways.
Having given the coordinates to Dennis, the ships AI, Napier advised the Captain that he was going to the Kit (the full word of kitchen hadn’t been used on Earth or in Space for probably 100 years) and have some food. The captain explained he would stay here.
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When Napier walked into the Kit he saw that Sarah, the journalist, was there.
“Hello, have you found everything you need?” Napier asked, ever the polite host.
“Yes, thank you - both here and my quarters. Actually, my quarters are much nicer than I had expected. Does everyone have a room so big?” Sarah was preparing something, but the food printer hadn’t completed enough of it for Napier to tell what it was.
Napier grabbed a cup and went to the coffee dispenser. He mused out loud, “I can’t for the life of me understand the purpose of a journalist at the very first talks. We have no idea if an invitation to dinner was one to eat or actually one to be eaten!”
“I’ll answer that.” Sarah offered. “By sending a journalist who will not really be interviewing people and interrupting but acting as a silent third party to the event of the century, we record the happenings for posterity. No matter which way it goes, the data is sent back to them before, perhaps, your guests might eat us. Basically, it will be the event to end all other events. Besides, it was more my idea than theirs and I had to sign every sort of waiver imaged before coming. Apparently, in addition to alien woes, space is a dangerous place!”
Napier laughed. “Yeah, that it is.”
“What’s so funny?” Sienna broke into the conversation as she entered the room, feeling a bit like maybe she walked in on something.
The trip to the planet took no time at all as the ship not only had the Em Drive, but more specifically the most recent version of it. The Em Drive had been developed by NASA as their answer to the Warp drive suggested and salivated over by billions of fans of an old TV show turned movie, turned reboot again and again until it became such a part of history some were unsure if it actually happened or not.
As all the space marines were gathering in the bay some loading their just-in-case gear on board the ship, others making sure they look snappy, to quote the ambassador, the journalist was in her room making sure the video drone was operational to record the entire event from the meeting to breaking bread and that her recording device that would send everything to the ship in real time was properly configured. Even though the data wouldn’t be sent back to Earth until she was back on board the Atraeus, it was a safety mechanism that it was sent to the ship. More of a just in case – fail safe; so many miles from Earth and only so many people – from the ambassador and his assistant to the space marines, a record needed to be maintained in order to let Earth know of the aliens intentions should things go bad, or celebrate should things go unbelievably good.
The scientists had won out in this round. Yes the Politian’s had the final say, as always, but the scientists had stated their case and provided the reasoning behind their theories. The document the president had placed his confidence in, the Seven Steps to Contact, stated the approach would take some time and begin a reasonable distance. It would employ such things as observation from a distance, move closer, observe again, then we would make ourselves known in making low-level approaches where our craft and its operators could be seen, but not reached. Finally, once we had been witnessed by the greatest possible number of the alien inhabitants, and demonstrated our non-hostile nature, we would land and attempt to communicate face-to-alien-face. The scientists had pointed out that the document was several hundreds of years old and also did not take into account what technology the race had and that the alien race actually might be able to use that tech on our ship even at quite a distance. The best step, therefore the scientists suggested, was to initiate contact per the request on the alien probe. To actually wait, if the aliens had some way of knowing when the probe was discovered, was to risk the aliens fury, and that was an unknown they weren’t sure they wanted to realize!
Sarah heard a call for all leaving for the planet followed by some time increment she wasn’t aware of – must be specific to space or something. Regardless she took it to mean NOW. She put all her gear back into the auto-carry bag. The drone as well as all her other needs to follow behind her effortlessly in mid-air; Gone were the days of a bad back or pulled muscle all on account of something being too heavy.
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Once the landing team, which consisted of everybody except for the OS crew – Napier, Sienna, Leia and Sam, was all on board the “Scout” - a short distance shuttle, they took off to the alien planet. It was a short ride really and it was no longer noticeable when the shuttle took its descent through the atmospheres different levels. Once, a long time ago, the people being transported had to practically tie themselves down and be prepared to not only survive a number of G’s but also when slowing down from Orbital speed the ship needed to flip around and fly backwards for a while allowing the orbital maneuvering engines to then thrust them out of orbit and toward whatever planet. Now the experience was very similar to an everyday flight. At least that was what the passenger felt and that made space travel a more palatable happening.
While the shuttle didn’t have windows, at least none in the back area neither the first cabin where the ambassador and his assistant as well as the journalist were nor where the space marines were in the second cabin area. Instead both cabins had several screens that showed what was ahead of, behind, and all around the ship. Sarah Lynn had her eyes glued to this, feeling relaxed and peaceful watching the beautiful clarity of the clouds, the colors (okay, it was light hitting the gases but…) and then as they got really close and were about to land, the clouds seemed to part to show a city. Sarah couldn’t help but be impressed at the quality and cleanliness of the city.
‘There was something missing…’ Sarah thought. ‘Oh I know!’ the part of her mind that seemed to always have the answers chimed in. ‘Cars.’ There was no hustle & bustle of people going to or from work, whether walking, or riding in a car, a vehicle of some sort, none of it was in the city that was closer to them every second.
As they flew over the city and then circled it to allow their air speed to come down to the correct one for a direct landing versus the coasting down a runway sort sometimes utilized, the areas that weren’t the city they were headed to were nothing but desert. An airplane or shuttle or something from the ground raced up with communications coming rapidly and loudly over the agreed upon channel. A voice broke into not just the pilot’s area but the cabins as well.
“Spacecraft – please adhere to the exact flight plan suggested. You must adhere to the exact flight plan – do not deviate as some areas of the planet are inhabited by hostiles.” The unknown voice demanded then their Captain explained.
“This is Captain Sampson. Our space craft requires that our airspeed be below 1240 kph while still more than 50 feet from the landing spot but then slow down to 230 kph for the actual landing. Sometimes circling in air is required to attain that speed before landing. I apologize for not advising you before.”
The air crafts backed off and Captain Sampson landed Scout.
Sarah couldn’t help but think that the aliens had over reacted but then she figured if there were hostiles nearby, the aliens must be worried for the Earthlings safety and were trying to be helpful. She gathered all of her stuff and prepared to disembark.
Once everybody had made their way to the door at the front of the shuttle Scout, they walked single file onto the concourse. It too was that really clean white that made one wish they had worn sunglasses or a visor. The air was good, clean Oxygen. More like Oxygen that one breathed through a mask than the one that was found on any sort of planet.
Once Sarah had stepped off the shuttle she went off to the side of the others and opened her carrying case to release her film-magic drone. Once it was flying in the air to gain a perfect perspective of the ambassador meeting the robbed being Matthias, she took out the hand held device that allowed her to not only direct the drones movements but see the camera shot being taken. It also allowed her to instantly send the data back to the data-recorder on the Atraeus.
She looked long and hard at these aliens through the lens/data stream from the drone and didn’t watch the event directly.
There was seventeen or some similar amount of the aliens from the apparent leader to his officials. Each wore white robes. Their skin, too, was white. Their faces almost human but the face was slightly more oblong and the aliens motions slow and thought-out, they seemed ancient and frail.
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Meanwhile up on the Atraeus Napier & Sienna were watching the event in the Control room and could not believe what they saw. First through the shuttles recording device, the thick gray and black cloud which gave way to a filthy, seemingly low-tech planet or abode; next once the shuttle had landed, the gross ground that was both rocky and uneven. There seemed to be tunnels that led to underground bunkers, but no buildings, no nothing that screamed life. Finally they saw one alien crawl out of the tunnel on his eight legs. Then, somewhat amazing, was the response of the ambassador, his assistants and the space marines, nothing. No stepping back aghast at the aliens looks. In fact they were talking looking directions no one was in. It was quite strange.
”Filthy insects” came Napier’s comment. As if the alien on the ground heard him, he looked up at the drone camera and then from his antennas came a bright light that then shot forth and then the picture died.
Napier sat up and leaned forward fooling with the virtual computer keyboard in front of him trying to get the picture back. “no,no,no,no…” he said all the while. Seeing that he couldn’t get the picture back he then attempted communications with the team on the planet but was unsuccessful.
“Think, think, think…” he said hitting his temples with his hands. Then, unable to come up with anything he sat back in his chair and twirled it around. By the time he had made it a complete revolution he knew what to do.
“Sienna?” she looked up at him. “We need to contact Earth, update them and find out how they would like to proceed.”
“But where did they go? And what were those things? The plaque they sent had two legs and two arms, not…And why didn’t they react?” Her voice trailed off but she seemed in an odd state.
PART 3 – the Conclusion
“Sienna, Leia and Sam – come to the control room at once. I have new instructions from Earth and it has time constraints.” Napier closed his call through the intercom channel.
The three jogged to the control room. It was probably at the furthest point from where they had all been but of the three of them, none really believed there was anything they could do. And so they jogged to the control room. Answering Napier’s call, deeming it important, just not THAT important. What could Earth have possibly advised that could be done by four OS personnel that were now far from their territory?
Sienna in particular was analyzing the current situation. The other three, actually only two as her husband Napier knew of her prodigy-history, thought she was the weak link and maybe she was. She hadn’t contributed much in a long while, but then again, not much ever happened out here. When Sienna was younger, from about ten or eleven straight though her early twenties she was consulted by the governing party, she had no affiliation so both came to her, over anything and everything from alien in nature to how would people vote if its Tuesday and they only had one coffee . Besides having a unique ability to do calculations that most couldn’t and even scientists usually required an AD (Access Device), a computer to do, she also seemed to have an uncanny sort of sight into what others were thinking. She had been able to theorize where and what the numerous artifacts that had been found thus far, were. But now she was trying to get into these new aliens heads. The bugs that they were, she didn’t think that they were the top guys. No reason, but if ants were the same across the universe, regardless of their size, then these guys were nothing more than workers carrying out someone else’s desires.
When the four some had arrived at the control room Napier was staring at the screen trying to get through the clouds that covered the planet below – the clouds that were dirty looking, the kind of dirt that would wipe off on you if you got too close. Napier swung around n his chair somewhat defeated but willing to lead the charge to try again.
“OK, so each of you has access. I know that’s not normally the set-up but I was able to override the system restraints. Earth has asked us, as we are all there is, to try and locate a signal or some sort of antenna on the planet that is allowing for this…this…I don’t know, something that doesn’t belong. There has to be something, something that has made them believe everything is wonderful. When that alien walked out toward them, they all looked at him in awe and in a pleasant way! Then the alien saw the camera drone and shot it down!” Napier looked far away. He thought about the journalist girl. There was just something about her. He liked her. Yes he was married, that had nothing to do with it. He found her interesting. Maybe it was just she was a new person to talk to in a place where he had been with the same three people for coming up on six years. Regardless, he knew they had to try and find something.
“Look,” Napier continued as each had sat down. “Each of you checks using whatever method you feel you have the best chance. Sam, I imagine you’ll want to breakdown the gases in the atmosphere that the shuttle read on its way down, Leia, as I recall you prefer all the senses, so look, listen, anything. Sienna, you & I both know your strengths. Just relax, think, and let your mind wrap itself around the problem. Remember the old think-tank days, just share any thought you have, however small or big, as the Earth spoke particularly about your viewpoint.” He stopped zooming in and now spoke to them all. “Basically, they have five hours. Per Earth, we are to stay here for five hours. If we find no way to rescue them, then we take off, but on our way out, we annihilate them.”
Sienna looked surprised that the decision was annihilation, but Leia was off on a different tangent. Leia looked at Sam when Napier had spoken about Sienna’s strength’s. The roll of her eye’s had been translated instantly by Sam. Still, in the back of his mind was a little thought that had been bugging him for a while; if Siena wasn’t at all special, then why’d she get picked? And a think tank? Hmmm. There had to be a whole lot of something that he and Leia didn’t know. But then he just dismissed that thought as he had a million times before. All four of them weren’t chosen for the OS assignment because they were nosey, quite the contrary. They were all a bit loner with a touch of savant.
Two hours later, with no conversation, no recognition that there were even other people in the room, each of them was deep into their analysis.
Napier spoke up. “Anybody got anything so far? Any hints of what is controlling them?” He paused and turned toward Sam. “Sam; how about you, have you located anything promising?”
Sam shook his head and pushed his chair back slightly and just put threw his hands up. Looking straight at Napier, he commented. “I have checked everything on that planet that stands from 5 feet to a hundred. None of them seem odd in the slightest. I even checked into the atmosphere. Especially since the fake imagery seemed to start as the ambassador entered the planet’s seemingly Earth-like setting. Again, I found nothing.” He turned towards Leia. “How about you babe, got anything?”
“Glad you asked, to be honest, no. But there is something in that answer. It would seem to indicate that they are more advanced then we think. Perhaps generating some signal from underground and propagating across the planet.” Leia felt that while she couldn’t find something, it didn’t mean it wasn’t there, it meant that the technology made it so.
But all of a sudden Sienna spoke up loudly and with complete confidence. Both Sam & Leia were confused, this wasn’t the Sienna they worked with daily. But to Sienna, this work made her feel alive. This work was what she was made for and it had been too long. She sat back in her chair and began to speak. “Okay, what do we know? Easy, we know that somehow, through some form of disruption or signal that the brain waves of our Earth contingent or simply the retinas are being fed misinformation, thou I suspect at the brain wave level. Sam, you haven’t found any protruding antennas coming from the ground, Leia, you either, but we are in agreement that there has to be something.” Sienna paused, it gave off a dramatic effect. “Perhaps because we couldn’t give off such a signal without the use of some system is why we are looking for an alien-made object to translate a signal, but have we considered that it could be biological in construction? While this isn’t Earth and there aren’t ants, per se, they are very similar in body type to the ants of Earth albeit much, much larger. Maybe we need to investigate this area. Think about the ants on Earth. Just in basic communication they utilize various methods. From Chemical to vibrations, sometimes direct contact, a dance, they are very similar to bees in that way. It has never been proven, but it has often been under consideration that the Queen, or the leader, if you will, has spoken to her subjects via telepathy. Some say no, that it is through chemicals, but there is something strange about the way a colony gets totally lost immediately when the Queen is killed. What I am suggesting is that perhaps these aliens take that to the max. These creatures have antennas on their heads, we are looking for antennas, no? I think the reason we are finding nothing, is it is hiding in plain sight.” She leaned forward, preparing for argument. “Alright, now tell me I’m crazy, but tell me what else is going on.”
Napier, Sam, and Leia all looked pensive. In their eyes one could see the wheels were turning as they considered what she had said.
Napier was the first to speak and his words were carefully thought out. “Sienna brings up a good point. We are looking as if expecting a human’s method. These are aliens. We have no idea what they are capable of. While I am resistant to go with any thought without the proof, we have nothing using the ‘usual’ methodology.” He turned towards Sam, “Sam, what do you think?”
“I think we have spent hours and only have a couple more. I also think if we are going to try something, we need to do it soon. Given that we have found absolutely nothing, we need to give this theory some credence. Leia, do you have anything that points either for or against Sienna’s theory? “
Leia bit her lips. She looked down at the floor, at her feet, at the chair, but not really. She looked but didn’t see as her mind was playing the argument over in her head then ‘fact-checking’ it. Still looking down at her hands, tracing the fingers on her right hand, she finally spoke. “Sienna brings up something that perhaps we should have thought of. And actually, if we give it thought, it makes some sense. While bringing it into terms we can understand, the ants on Earth, we need to take that out further, to an alien species. An intelligent alien species could certainly develop a form of telepathy, either through some advanced computer technology or through a totally different biological selection process. The brain, our brains, already produces weak electromagnetic fields. Who’s to say if we had followed a different evolutionary path, we might have acquired our own telepathic abilities! I think we need to look into this a bit more, but quickly, as it makes the most sense, not because what we have found, but because what we haven’t.”
Napier looked pleased. “Thanks Leia, I totally agree. So here’s what I propose. We have only a couple hours before the deadline that the Earth gave us to just annihilate the planet as we leave. Up until that time we are welcome to try anything, but not endanger the Atraeus.”
The crew continued to discuss their option for the next half hour but as much as they were open to other avenues of thought, they couldn’t find one to grasp onto. Finally they found themselves deciding that they had to just do something as time was running out and any longer they would not be able to do anything.
Napier interrupted what had been an odd sort of brain-dump. Everyone was postulating the most remote thoughts, but nothing that deserved any action. “Okay, I wish we had two or three more days, but we don’t. If we don’t act now there are 20-something space marines, an ambassador and his assistants, and a journalist that will just blow up with the planet. Forget research; now let’s decide on a plan.” He looked over at Sienna. “I give you the go ahead. What do you suggest?”
Sienna looked up. The think tanks that she was often a part of mostly wanted analysis and options, and then they decided on the action, she was sure about her theory, but she didn’t know if she were willing to act on it. “Okay, I guess the theory doesn’t entirely answer where the signal originates. WE don’t know that the one alien we saw is the only alien. There might be another race and this species is their worker or warrior. Can we do a scan of the tunnel, maybe get an idea if it is hiding another alien race or a queen or something else altogether?”
Sam looked at Sienna. “Yes, but we would be wise to move away from the planet first. Send a drone as close as possible, maybe the first few layers of the atmosphere and then scan that area. Napier, what do you think?”
“I think that is wise. Dennis?” he called the AI. “Take us out further out from the planet, please. But, maybe release a drone that will enter the planet’s atmosphere, just not yet – wait until we are at a safe distance.”
Sienna looked concerned. “Uh, how do we know what a safe distance is?”
“We don’t, we guess.”
Minutes later the drone was taking its scans, but as it was sending the data back to the ship, it was suddenly destroyed.
“Well, let’s see. The first part of the scan seemed to indicate that it was just about to get interesting. Dennis, display the scan on the big screen.” Napier then went on. “You see the shadowing that is towards the edges on the left? That is where the scan was going. My guess is that whoever, or whatever, didn’t want us to scan that area.” Dennis leaned back in his chair, thinking and then realizing who might be able to help. “Dennis. Have you comprehended the avenue we are following?” When the AI replied affirmatively, Napier went to his next thought. “Then can you suggest what our next steps are?” Again Dennis responded in the positive.
This plan must be two-fold if you truly believe in and want to rescue the people on the surface. Given that time is up and you must make any move you are going to now, I suggest that you utilize a CT – 2 bomb, drop it into the area the scanning was stopped. At the same time, one of you, and I do suggest that no more than 1 or 2 go down to the surface, needs to take a shuttle down and be ready to scoop up the landing party whether or not you can jar them out of their illusion. As quickly as possible, return to the ship, the ship needs to send the planet buster bombs and high tail it out of here for several reasons, any retaliation that they may have time to initiate and also, the debris will be tremendous. The planet will in all statistical probability form a new asteroid belt as a result of its destruction.
Napier thought about it. Looked at Leia and Sam to his right and then Sienna to his left, then looked down at his hands and tried to think how to handle this. He cleared his throat. “Dennis is correct in his assertions. We need to do this now, but who do we send down to collect the landing party. My first thought is to go along with Dennis and send only one person, but whoever I send needs to gather a lot of people and we don’t know that the CT-2 will have any effect. A Cyclonic Torpedo, level two will basically blow once it is gone the configured amount of kilometers below the surface. BUT we don’t know that our people will be back on our side, or maybe disoriented, so whoever goes down to the surface could end up dragging them back to the shuttle. So maybe it needs to be two people or…”It was obvious that something just occurred to Napier. “Wait a minute,” he looked at the ceiling as he spoke. “Dennis, can the AI, Marieke or Donovan, handle the task of being the second to go to the surface?”
Yes, Napier; though selection of Donovan would require fewer alterations to his programming.
Sienna started to raise her hand. Napier glanced up, started to turn back to where he was looking then shot a double take.
“Really? You are raising your hand?” Napier rolled his eyes. “What is it Sienna?”
“I am just volunteering to be the one who goes to the surface with Donovan.” Sienna replied.
Napier stared at her in shock. This was his life partner, he couldn’t send her – he didn’t have that much faith in the plan. But then could he ask his best friend or his best friend’s wife? Truth is Sienna just made things easier on him. Truth is that is probably why she did it. If he was to show that he didn’t play favorites, he had to let her go. His heart was screaming no, but all he could do is nod his head.
Sam stood up. “Well, I better get to work on Donovan. Should take only ten to fifteen minutes, but things never go exactly as planned so…” and he left, pausing to rub Leia on her left shoulder.
Napier looked long and hard at Sienna. Sienna kept eye contact with Napier for a long time. Leia silently waited out whatever game they were playing, finally giving up; she got up and headed towards the kitchen area where Sam would be working on Donovan. Those two exhausted her.
At last Sienna spoke. “You know why it has to be me, right?” Napier nodded. They had never mentioned it to the rest of the crew, but her time with the various think tanks wasn’t exactly the truth. Raised in captivity so to speak, given over to think tanks in hopes that the abilities they had tried to genetically give her would be activated. There had been hints at it here and there, times when she felt herself being aware & inside of others minds but she never let anyone know. When she was 21, they figured give her freedom as she had shown no skills. She had always wished she knew what she could do but had always feared the government would take her back and hold her prisoner; especially after she met Napier. It was as if space were given to her as a reward for her lifetime of needles and electrodes.
“I know I don’t say it often, but…” began Napier.
“I know; me too. I mean you too. Oh whatever, you know what I mean!” Sienna smiled. She didn’t do that often.
Over the speaker came Sam’s voice, or rather Dennis repeating what Sam had to say. Apparently he was done and they all would meet Sienna at the bay by the ‘spare’ shuttle – called simply number two. Sam had thought that funny when they first were on board but it grew old with time.
“Let me walk you down.” Napier was wondering what to say to her but Sienna almost made it easy just by being Sienna. She really did need all that crying and hand holding stuff. She enjoyed being in his arms at night, far more than she would ever let on. She felt that it was a weakness and so she kept quiet about it.
“I’m good, let’s say goodbye here.” Senna stood directly in front of Napier. “I’m sorry it has worked out this way. And I love you. You are probably the only thing I have ever loved, will ever love. And I will try to make it back.”
Napier, his arms straightened and stiff as he held her shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Yes, I would prefer it greatly that you came back. I love you.” He pulled her close and hugged her tight.
Sienna waited longer than her usual 15 seconds, it felt too good. She pulled back. “Bye.” She walked off, heading to the landing bay to take off for the planet.
In the landing bay, instructing the shuttle to take off, Sam was in her ear. “What is it?”
“Just wanted to make sure you were clear on the timing.” Sam asked. “Right before you land on the planet, we will release the CT-2. It will slam into and down into the ground, should happen practically beside you! Then a second will do the same, but it will go down and through the crust. From that moment on you have five minutes. The first one will blow almost instantly once it reaches the right depth, but we have to send them both at the same time – incase their defenses.** You won’t be able to get them all. Whether they are disoriented or still in a fog. Donovan has instructions to grab as many as possible, in particular the ambassador. You grab the journalist. Each of you grab anybody else you can, hop in the ship and high tail it out of there. When you pull into our landing bay, you are going to feel us start to take off immediately. This is all time sensitive!”
Sienna laughed. “Sam, don’t worry, I’ve got it and I understand.” She thought for a moment. “You know that is probably the most words you have ever said to me?”
Sam laughed. “Yeah well, I’m a late bloomer. Good Luck Sienna, see you soon!”
Sienna replied as the shuttle headed out of the bay. “Back in a flash.”
As the shuttle made its way down through the layers of the atmosphere Sienna looked as if she might see the escaping layers. She expected given the desert type land on the planet itself that this planet was experiencing a shift from all the oxygen they wanted below to less and less oxygen over time; from the solar winds originating from their star, to the kinetic energy of the molecules in the gases chasing and likely surpassing the escape velocity. As Sienna got closer and closer to the ground, things came into focus. The one ant-like alien they had viewed before was still outside the dirt tunnel and the ambassador and his group were zombified, staring into the eyes of someone not there, seeing wonders that didn’t exist, exclaiming treaties when their minds were involved in a war of sorts.
The ant-like alien looked up as her shuttle was coming in for a landing. Donovan, the AI, was in the back ready to open the cumbersome hatch once they landed, readying for a dash to get the landing group. What happened next was unexpected. As planned the two torpedoes were coming down to the ground and NOT AS PLANNED the alien on seeing them brought his antenna together and shot a laser of sorts from them hitting the shuttle but allowing the two torpedoes to pass. As the shuttle half crashed half slid onto the planet, the smaller explosion timed for as she landed and supposed to take out the mind-controlling issue occurred as planned. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to stop the zombie-like stance of the ambassador and his rather large group.
Having landed rather hard and bumpy, Sienna quickly took stock making sure she had no broken bones or other issues before trying to break out of the shuttle. Getting back to the main ship wouldn’t be a problem, the landing team had their shuttle. Sienna stopped to make sure Donovan was okay and then proceeded out the hatch that Donovan had worked with to finally get open. The second she got to the outside though things changed almost immediately for the worse. While the landing group all remained catatonic, she was pinned down to the ground by two of the ant-aliens. Donovan however, was left alone and made his way toward the ambassador first, grabbed him and dragged him to the shuttle named Scout. Donovan wasn’t given any instructions for gentle movement and so was not concerned when clothing ripped and bruising was immediate. After he buckled in the ambassador so he wouldn’t move, Donovan went out again to grab the next person. As Sienna had been supposed to get the journalist but now was pinned to the ground, Donovan completed her part of the mission. He made several more trips but was programmed to only continue for so long. When done, he looked Sienna’s way; she was no longer on the ground where she had been. He attempted searching first visually and then using heat signature lest they had dragged her down the tunnel. They had. Donovan followed the plan and boarded the shuttle and started the ignition process. He called up to the Atraeus. Given what the android, robot, something in between had been told he was to return regardless of whether he had Sienna or not, but he had been designed with an understanding of the human condition and so while it wasn’t a logical choice he imparted the data to Sam, that Sienna was not on board and in fact had been dragged into the tunnel by the ant-aliens. What he had expected was Napier to say go & get her, what he was told instead by Sam was to hurry back. He took off and headed up through the various levels of atmosphere and toward the Atraeus.
Napier was in the control room pacing and talking loudly to no one other than himself. “Why? Why, Sienna? No one asked you to, we hadn’t gotten that far. Why all of sudden did you volunteer? That’s not you!”
Sam and Leia were seated. Just watching in silence and looking at each other in stares that said paragraphs. Neither was very close to Sienna. Neither was awake very often at the same time so while they had “known” each other many years, they didn’t know each other.
With Donovan making his way up to them, not quite breaking from the planet’s orbit as yet, but almost, the monitor that was trained on the planet below, which had in its cross hairs the returning shuttle, now had something else. The planet was breaking apart. As if a jigsaw puzzle being separated to put away, the planet was cracking, complaining, and while in parts it seemed intact, it was for now, for this second.
Sam was watching the monitor and all he said, quietly, was Napier. Napier stopped his pacing and came over immediately. The two spoke in silence, with just a glance. Then, over the ships communication system came a voice. Napier’s heart leapt, Sienna.
“I’m sorry Napier.” Her voice said. “I was right, the ant-aliens, actually their called Xiglens, are being overseen by another race, a race you may come across again in the future; the Riddlies, or that is what the Xiglens call them. It seems only fitting that I will die as part of a sort of think tank. That’s how I am speaking to you. Thanks to the Xiglens I am sending my thought’s to your communication system where the electrical converts to the sound. Cool, right? Napier, I just want you to know, I love you. Maybe I didn’t, actually we didn’t say it much – but I think we both knew how the other felt…”
They could see on their monitor the planet breaking apart. Sam shouted to take a seat and he quickly started the maneuvers but they could see the shuttle climbing up to reach them. As they moved away from the planet, they moved away from the shuttle. The shuttle seemed just on the edge of what was going on. Large debris was chasing it, on its tail.
Over the Ship comms they heard “Goodbye my love, don’t worry, I’m happy!”
On the Monitor they saw the debris catch up with the shuttle. It ran over Donovan and those he had rescued. It ran over the human delegation, the space marines, they were all gone. Sienna was gone. Was there a purpose? Was there a lesson? All Napier could think was Sienna’s last words, ‘don’t worry, I’m happy.’ The words seemed to say it was all worth it, but he couldn’t see how. Perhaps Earth didn’t understand the rules of this space stuff yet, perhaps they should make some. And perhaps they should keep on going, keep on exploring.
Just maybe not follow some probes invitation. Type your paragraph here.