Leaving Earth — Survey Fleet at Galaxy Six
Gwen Aragon, Fleet commander of the Galaxy 6 survey, studied the latest sensor logs intently. She was encouraged by indications of solar systems with habitable planets and strained to see a cluster of dots that analysts said might be alien ships headed their way. The sensor readings were not clear. Scientific analysis had only provided her with suggestions that might help. What appeared to be an approaching alien space fleet could be many things; perhaps an ejected comet cluster, or debris from an ancient stellar explosion. She sighed and wished the images were better.
Gwen had worked many long years in scientific research, first on Earth and then Luna. Though she was placed in charge of the galaxy survey as a logical step in a brilliant career, there was nothing in her experience to prepare her for strategic decisions involving possible hostilities.
She called to the battle group for advice and preparation of an action plan, “Captain Walker, have you seen the latest sensor logs?”
“I’m looking at them right now.”
“What do you think?”
“They must be viewed as hostile until we know more.”
“Why do you say that?” Gwen resisted the temptation to assume this was an automatic, knee-jerk response from a trained military mind. She personally liked Captain Walker and was well acquainted with his parents, Will and Leslie Berrigan, two brilliant scientists who had remained on Luna. She also knew and thoroughly enjoyed Walker’s brother, Shawn, and their two siblings on Earth, Kevin and Grace. Even so, her experiences with military tacticians had left her somewhat suspicious of their motives. She looked at him questioningly yet not aggressively.
Captain Walker pointed to the map in front of him and then began speaking; “The formation structure is straight out of military school and, if they are peaceful, they should have responded to our communications by now.”
Gwen looked at Captain Walker’s image sitting across the conference table in perfect holographic clarity. His manner of dress was different than most in the fleet. Perhaps it was his boots, stained by long hours of work deep inside the ships. Whatever it was, his clothing somehow gave the impression of a handsome pioneer from an imagined century, past or future. “He is so young,” she mused.
“She is afraid,” Captain Walker thought, knowing her concerns for the survey ship crews also included the well-being of unknown aliens who appeared to be about to attack them.
“What do you think we should do?” Gwen asked.
“We need to find out if we face a hostile force and how strong it is. You should prepare communication torpedoes and send all the data we have to the main pioneer fleets at Galaxy 5. Planetary survey personnel should pick a likely planet or moon to escape to if this encounter goes badly and retreat to the main fleets proves impossible or not wise. I’ll transport crew members with families from the battle group over to the scientific survey ships while your preparations are underway. Then we should briefly engage the deep-space drives and head directly toward what ever is coming our way.”
“But why transfer crew members with families from your ships?”
Walker didn't hesitate with his answer; he had already asked himself the same question. “The battle group may be forced into a struggle for time while the rest of the survey fleet retreats to Galaxy 5. There are almost eight hundred people in this venture and the battle group can operate quite well on a skeleton crew of less than two hundred.”
Gwen slid her chair back from the table and looked straight into Captain Walker’s eyes. “Yes, but at that crew level you can only use your joy-powered weapons for a short time,” she pointed out.
“Yes. Joy power is labor intensive, I am aware of that,” he responded.
“The aliens may be reacting from fears in their own history that we don’t know about.” Gwen said.
“I had a similar thought.” Walker responded. "We don't want to make them do something based on surprise and fear."
“A small crew means you could be forced to switch to more explosive, energy-powered weapons." She stood and paced quickly back and forth for a moment, then sat down again. "If you use those weapons instead of joy force set for defense, the aliens will see us as enemies and be correct.”
Gwen was very uneasy thinking about a battle. She asked to speak with the ambassador. “This might be a good time for me to speak with the ambassador you carry as a passenger on your ship.” She said this without limiting his authority as battle group commander even though she was obviously searching for a different plan from a different person.
Captain Walker could see Gwen’s direction of thought. He looked at her holograph sitting in front of him on his ship. It was plain to him why she was being considered as the first pioneer chief executive officer in charge of facilitating Distiller results. She did not know that this galaxy survey was her test. He looked into her eyes and saw the honesty and determination that made her so attractive to everyone. He was silent for a moment and she could feel him weighing her words before he spoke.
“We have quite a bit of time before we fire up the high-speed, deep space engines, and even more time before possible hostilities. Believe me, I don’t want to see humanity’s first contact with intelligent alien life to be in a war any more than you do.”
Then it was Walker’s turn to take a deep breath. “Gwen,” he said, “Our ambassador, Anaya Khan, developed a late-term pregnancy issue and her doctor requested that she stay with the main fleet in case she needed special medical attention. Admiral Castro appointed me temporary ambassador as we were preparing to leave the main fleet at Galaxy 5.”
Walker watched a look of surprise flash cross Gwen’s face, maybe even a hint of anger and disappointment. He wasn’t sure what to say and glanced down at the table.
Gwen was surprised yet had no reason to hold her facial expressions secret from Walker. Though she was disappointed at not hearing what Ambassador Anaya Khan might say, her primary expression reflected her keen mind concentrating on what to do next.
It was Walker who broke the silence. “The Admiral asked me to tell you. I forgot. I apologize. My error does not indicate lack of regard for you, contact with aliens has been considered very unlikely and we were all so busy. Your position as survey leader is absolute. You may order us to flee in a direction which would not lead an alien fleet back to the main pioneer fleets. We have enough joy force to lead hypothetical attackers in the wrong direction before setting a course for Galaxy 5.
“The problem is we don’t know for sure we are being attacked, nor do we know if we are strong enough to escape if we are in fact being attacked. At this point it seems most logical to send our battle group out in front as a peaceful ambassador for humanity and try to make contact from close range. I will use voice communication channels and a visual show of our weapons and fleet maneuvering skills. If this comes to naught and communication proves impossible, then perhaps the bulk of the survey fleet can escape.”
Gwen saw a brief hint of doom cross Ambassador Walker’s face before his resolve washed away any hint of doubt. She found herself looking into the steel hard eyes of one who knows exactly what to do in the face of grave danger. She also knew his training and skills were the best available. She kept her silence, waiting to hear his final words.
Walker looked again at Gwen and thought about her before speaking. Before him was a regal woman with beautiful chocolate brown skin, black eyes, and silver white hair. He looked into her wise, patient eyes and then spoke. “If escape without endangering the entire pioneer fleet cannot be accomplished, then we all retreat to the nearest habitable planet or moon and assemble our ground-based defensive weapons. We should be able to shield ourselves from assault and the sting of our land-based weapons will give long pause to a hostile alien force regardless of their technology.”
A hint of a smile crossed Walker’s face. “We might become the first human colony outside Earth’s solar system because we have no other choice. Gwen, this is the worst case scenario. Hopefully our communication torpedoes sent via long decoy routes will reach the pioneers on Galaxy 5 and they can plan for our eventual rescue.”
“Okay,” Gwen responded this time without hesitation. “I hadn’t thought out all the details and your conclusions are actually not very different than mine. You begin transport of your selected crew members to the survey ships and I will prepare a series of communication torpedoes to be released throughout the period of alien contact. Survey research teams will send you course data to the nearest habitable planet as soon as possible. We will be ready to follow you then.”
“Gwen,” Walker concluded, “the survey and support ships should stop and hold their positions at a safe distance. Battle group will stop with you briefly and then continue on to a closer contact.
“We will restart the deep space drives and ride a joy wave straight to the aliens. Our maneuver is code named, ‘Rincon.’ We will cut back at the last moment, fire our weapons into empty space, drop back into joy force drive, and be obscured inside our joy wave as we cross in front of the alien fleet. This move will be quick and called, ‘rights and lefts,’ our group will split and cut back in opposite directions. The main fleet battle groups will know these terms. Communication capsules will be ejected to maintain a line in front of the aliens for the science crews during this run. We will regroup further back and assess their reaction. After that; maybe it’s battle, there is no way to know unless they say something or spring in attack. Communication channels will be open except while we are at deep space velocity.”
Gwen glanced down at her hands and then looked up with a warm smile. “Good luck, captain Walker. I hope things go well for both you and the aliens.”
Walker stood up and prepared to leave. “I understand from your last words that we both believe this is most likely a peaceful intelligent life form in front of us. My first job is to establish contact and show them we mean no harm. If that is no use, my next purpose is to be sure that no pioneer is lost to hostile forces. We have talked enough and time requires we start. I hope we talk again together soon. Now let’s go forth and complete this totally unexpected part of the survey.”
“There’s one more thing you should know.”
“Our scientists have found no indication of aliens anything like these on any of the other planets which might be habitable for humans in this galaxy.”
Walker let this new thought rest in silence. Now it was he who stood and paced back and forth as he contemplated what it might mean for the impending encounter. “Then they must be an entirely alien life form from a planet we couldn’t live on,” he speculated as he sat back down at one of the small tables where he and the crew shared meals.
“That is one possibility,” Gwen responded. “It is also possible that they are explorers in this galaxy just as we are.”
Walker was at first startled and then he grinned widely. “I haven’t heard a more interesting idea in a long time,” he said, still smiling. “Is there another possibility?”
“Yes, it is even more interesting, but we have neither scientific equipment nor specialized talent to settle it one way or another.”
“I’m all ears.”
“The best we can do at this point is send the data on to the main fleets. Even they may not have the science to handle what we have discovered soon enough to matter to us. Our preliminary findings indicate that at least part of these alien ships may not be constructed of matter as we know it. Opinion is evenly split among our own small scientific team. One side believes the alien ships may be made using the dark matter which makes up most of our universe. As you know, evidence for dark matter is extensive yet it remains elusive except in mathematical calculations and shadow tricks. We have felt it during cosmic storms while the spacetime continuum is compressed relative to us traveling at time warping velocity but it eludes tangible understanding, so far.”
“And what is the second opinion?”
“When we learned the precise moment our universe exploded into being, we also learned that it would keep on expanding until it became so thin and cold that it essentially returned to the cold, homogenized uniformity it was before it started.”
“What does that have to do with the aliens?”
“Well, since our universe came into being with a bang and expands until it is so thin it fades back into bland background nothing, the theory implies that universes bang into being as commonly as raindrops form during a flood. The second opinion of our scientists is that we have discovered travelers from a different universe, they may be living evidence of many universes. This encounter could well be a huge scientific breakthrough even more grand than the discovery of a companion intelligent life form.”
Gwen looked questioningly at Walker. “Does any of this change your plan?” She asked.
“Only slightly,” he responded, after a brief hesitation.
“How so?” She asked.
Walker stood and let a slow grin spread across his face. “I had planned to show off our maneuvering skills and weapons as we crossed in front of the alien fleet. Now I’ll tell the pilots to ride our joy waves like dolphins ride surf and forget firing weapons. Aliens as you describe are probably so technically advanced that our weapons won’t impress them anyway. We will show them how much fun it is to be a human riding and playing in a glowing wave of Joy that comes from our own life as well as the technology and machines we have made.”
“You are indeed our ambassador, Captain Walker. Let’s hurry before they leave. My only change after this discussion is I think the communication torpedoes should be sent to the main fleet on the fastest, most direct route. What do you think about that?”
“I say ‘Yes.’ And let’s go meet these new people as soon as possible!”
continue to Chapter 2