The survey fleet at Galaxy 6 dropped out of deep space drive 5 million kilometers from the alien fleet. They adjusted velocity and direction to maintain relative position. At this closer vantage point there was no longer a hint of doubt, the sensors were locked onto spaceships. Round-trip communication time between the human and alien fleets had been cut from thirty minutes to little more than thirty seconds. There was still no response from the aliens.
Captain Walker worked through a brief checklist with each of the battle group ship captains as they set up in formation a short distance from the survey fleet. “Hold your position until the scientific teams have completed an analysis of sensor data,” he said this as the latest reports were flashed from ship to ship.
Turning to Willow, the science analyst on his own ship, he raised his eyebrows in question. “This information is quite different than our first impressions. What's going on here?”
“We're still not sure." Willow responded. "At this closer position we can see that our confusion about the construction of the alien ships was their huge mass. They are at least ten times heavier than what our instruments were calibrated to expect, maybe even one hundred times heavier. They also have an unexpected surface geometry. Finally, our sensors also gave odd readings because several of these ships are shrouded in some sort of metallic fabric.”
“So this means they are constructed of normal matter?”
“Yes. We still don't have a clue what those ships are made of but we do know it's normal atomic matter.”
Captain Walker looked closely at the latest readings. “They don't look like military warships to me.”
“The science teams are guessing that way too,” Willow responded.
“Why do some of them have the extra fabric shielding? Could it be some sort of protection for fighting ships?” Walker mused.
Willow pointed to some details on the data simulations. “We thought of that too, but notice here on this ship, the fabric shielding looks random. It's the same on the other two of their ships that have a similar covering. We won't be able to get a handle on this until we move closer.”
“We've just cut the distance between us to one tenth of what it was and learned a lot. I think we should at least do that again.” Willow looked at Captain Walker. “I'm a scientist, curiosity rules. You're the Captain, we should get as close as you think safe.”
“I am as curious as you are, Willow. The problem is if we scare them and they attack, somebody will be hurt. This latest information makes me think it will be them and not us. Even so, we don't want to get into a fight where we might end up hurting them to save ourselves.”
“I know what you mean and it's more than a little odd they won't answer us. I still think it would be helpful to have the survey ship sensors and scientific crews close enough to study those alien ships better.”
“Okay. As soon as the communications torpedo is launched for Galaxy 5 we'll all go in closer. The survey fleet stops at fifty thousand kilometers and the battle fleet will deploy defensively within close fighting range, our ship will launch its single-seat fighter escorts and cruise into their fleet for close observation and contact. You inform Gwen and let me know as soon as the torpedo is launched.”
Walker busied himself studying new sensor data as it came in. He watched the monitor as each survey ship status signal turned from standby to ready. The moment Gwen's ship signaled that the communication torpedo had launched, he switched on his intercom. “Countdown to launch is 5, 4, 3, 2, one—go.”
It didn't take them long to reach the alien fleet and drop out of deep space drive as per plan. Captain Walker's cruiser emerged closest, rapidly approaching the aliens. “Single-seat fighters launch now,” he said over the intercom. The small fighters were deployed almost instantly. Humanity's first ambassador to contact alien life swung his battle cruiser in a wide arc and matched speeds with the alien lead ship. The fighter squadron assumed defensive position as Walker maneuvered alongside the alien ship and opened communication frequencies.
“This is Captain Walker speaking. We come in peace. Can you hear me?”
The radio remained silent and the alien ships continued their course without the slightest change.
“What do you make of this, Willow?” Walker asked over the intercom.
“These ships appeared to be mostly full of water, that's why they’re so heavy.” Willow responded. “What we thought might be extra shielding on some of the ships is actually a very light-weight fabric. It looks like the ships launched by floating suspended from giant balloons and some of the balloon fragments were simply tangled and didn't completely release.”
“Have we missed any frequencies they might be using to reach us?” Walker asked.
"No, we're listening to all of them.”
“Okay. I'm going to have the smallest fighters attach sensor relays to each of the alien ships and then move back to the battle group's defensive position. Gwen, are you listening?”
“I'm here, Captain.
“If nothing happens between now and the time we return to formation, you regroup there, too. If all remains quiet after that, you take over direction of the survey operation again and the battle fleet remains on stand by alert.”
“Okay, Captain — The survey ships will rejoin with you when you pull back. We will send another communication to Galaxy 5 as soon as a close-range analysis is complete,” Gwen concluded.
“Do we know the course the aliens are following?”
“Yes. It's very interesting. Our preliminary calculations indicate these ships will reach one of the habitable planets in Galaxy 5 within about eighteen months.”
“That information will be included with the communication torpedo?”
“Okay. I'll wrap things up here. We'll know more about what to do next after your science teams have had time to do their work.”
continue to Chapter 5