Walker strode into Admiral Castro’s office followed by his brother, Shawn and several of Pacifica’s leading scientists. The receptionist pointed toward the hall to the meeting room. They filed in and saw the kindly old admiral bending over a large map spread out on a central table. Two large computer screens on the wall behind him displayed images sent from the Delfinian fleet by Cecric.
“What’s your first impression, Admiral?” asked Walker.
“I’m not sure what to think yet,” the Admiral responded, turning to the screens. He changed one image to the picture Cecric had taken of herself. She would eventually discover that humans saw her smile and understood it. The Admiral then displayed the image of the playing Delfinian family.
Sequoia whistled softly. “This is an amazing response to our first contact,” he said.
“Whoever this being is obviously understood something about us when we sent those heartbeats as Shawn suggested,” the Admiral said. “That was brilliant, Shawn.”
Shawn felt his cheeks blush. “The entire communications department worked on it, sir,” he said, pointing to the alien family. “I’m glad we figured out a message that they understood.”
Walker turned to his brother, “That really was a stroke of genius, Shawn. You can be modest if you want to, but history will make you a legend for the way you managed this first contact between humanity and a newly discovered intelligent life form.”
Shawn’s expression turned into a brother’s smile, “Thanks, Walker,” he responded. “It seemed a logical thing to do after hearing the alien’s heartbeat sent by our sensors. I think they are a beautiful life form, somewhere between Dolphins and the legendary Mer people I read about in a children’s book about wizards and magic.”
Aaron Mullen smiled at Shawn and pointed at the tail. “I have a hazy memory of my mom reading me that story with Mer people, wizards and witches when I was young. Mer people had learned to eat a plant called Gilley weed and that allowed them to live and breath underwater. Those were interesting books for me as a child but this is even more amazing to me as an adult. That huge third hand on the tail is the most surprising natural adaptation imaginable. It looks strong enough to hold just about anything, while their two very human-like arms and hands work.” He grinned, “How many times have you heard someone wishing they had an extra hand?”
Amanda, representing the biological sciences, moved closer to the screen and pointed. “That large third hand is a true hand with an opposing thumb for grasping. Study of this creature’s evolution will be fascinating. The tail is identical to that of a dolphin except for the hand. I’m very interested in seeing the skeletal structure. Just imagine how strong that hand must be.”
“Very strong,” the Admiral commented. “It looks to be at least five times as big as mine. And the wrist, or whatever one calls where it attaches to the end of the tail, it's as big as my leg!”
Amanda then pointed to Cecric’s smile, “This simple smile in response to Shawn’s heartbeat message will probably put that alien in a historical legend with her kind, too. The smile has profound biological significance and her’s is truly beautiful.”
“Does that mean you would trust this alien?” the Admiral asked.
“It’s certainly not an expression one would see at a poker table,” Amanda answered. She folded one arm around her waist, rested her chin on her other hand and studied Cecric’s smile. “Yes, I suppose I do trust what the alien has communicated thus far.”
“They look like mammals to me,” Walker said.
“That’s true,” Amanda responded. “But not sufficient reason to totally trust them. Think of the smiling United States of Earth politicians who push endless war and pollution for profit. They are smiling mammals, yet I certainly don’t trust most of them. Most Use politicians are people who destroy their own planet with dark clouds of pollution and then claim that the benefits of what they do outweigh all the social and environmental costs. United States politicians are somehow able to smile on the surface as they lie to themselves, their families and anyone else who will listen.”
“Point taken,” the Admiral commented wryly. “We won’t trust them just because they have a ready smile. What does the communication department make of the verbal section of the alien’s dispatch?” He asked, turning to Shawn, who keyed a few commands into the computer before answering.
“The communication department is certain that the vocal communication is her counting and then reciting the alphabet. The single word must be equivalent to 'Hello,' which indicates the alien correctly guessed the word we sent with the heartbeats. There are no sounds beyond our voice range so we should be able to learn each other’s languages.”
Admiral Castro turned to the map on the table, “Sequoia, you are our leading astrophysicist, what does this map mean to you?” Sequoia leaned across the table and pointed to the long curved line that stretched almost all the way across the map. “I believe the way this map is drawn is meant to represent a starting point at a finite boundary for our universe. Two extraordinary ideas are expressed here. The first being that our universe is finite, and the second is that these space travelers come from outside it. If what I suspect is true, the aliens are a life form from a different timespace continuum than ours.”
Walker turned to Sequoia. “Are you saying these aliens came from a different big bang than ours?”
“Precisely,” Sequoia smiled as he answered. “As you know, we have searched the vastness of space and seen farther and farther without finding an end. Even so, there has been a steady swing to the idea that big bangs must be happening like popcorn on a hot fire, theoretical models supporting this idea have never been proven, until now. I must warn you, though, I may be seeing what I want to see and not what actually is.”
The Admiral looked at Sequoia’s now baffled expression and chuckled. “You astrophysicists certainly are a complicated breed. Can we at least assume this is a map of the aliens’ travel route through space?”
Sequoia’s face lost its perplexed look and he returned to his usual warm smile. “There’s no other explanation for it, though the starting point is nowhere and the ending point is us.” He scratched his head and looked wonderingly at the map. “This one bit of information may advance astronomy beyond my wildest dreams, I wonder what other surprises the aliens have in store for us?”
“That question is exactly why I’ve asked you here,” the Admiral said. “We have received a second transmission from the aliens. It appears they are pioneers like ourselves. The major difference between us is that they are survivors who escaped the destruction of their planet. This alien fleet is something like Noah’s Ark.” Saying this he activated the computer and started running the second image series from the alien fleet.
Quiet attention turned to open-mouthed awe and gasps of astonishment. They watched a black cloud traveling across space and obscuring the stars behind. It rushed toward the camera viewpoint with long black streamers that first dimmed then blocked out the sun. They saw bodies of uncountable aliens, each with the same dismayed expressions of pain and surprise. They saw the ineffectiveness of weapons attempting to defend the planet. Images of the alien fleet rising upwards clearly showed each ship protected within tremendous balloons. What appeared to be singing golden light could be heard as well as seen as it shepherded the rising fleet to the freedom of open space. Finally, receding in the distance, they watched a dense engulfing smog pulsing like a beating heart around the planet that had been the alien’s home.
There were no dry eyes when the image series ended. The sadness of witnessing savage destruction of an entire planet was made even more shocking by how quickly it had happened. Amanda let out a choked sob and sat down, the others pulled out chairs and sat in silence with her. Though the Admiral had already seen the images, he felt as overwhelmed as everyone. Nothing could prepare anyone to witness such horror. He was trying to think of what to say when a knock at the door interrupted his reverie. A young fleet cadet stepped inside the door. She looked nervously at the silent group before delivering her message, “A third communiqué has been received from the alien fleet,” she said quickly and left the room.
Admiral Castro looked at the glum faces around him. “Does anyone wish to leave before we take a look at what the aliens have sent now?”
No one moved. The Admiral reached for the computer with more than a little trepidation and a heavy heart. He mechanically typed commands which brought up new images.
The mood in the room had turned from giddy excitement about humanity’s first contact with intelligent aliens to palpable dread. Slumped in their seats they silently watched as alien sensors peered further and further back into their voyage. The first views were simple magnifications that showed nothing unusual. And then they saw it! The same black cloud that had destroyed the aliens’ world was pursuing their fleet. The image faded and was replaced by the aliens’ route map, with a change of direction penciled in.
“They are going to turn and attack it!” Shawn said in dismay. Cecric’s face then came on the screen, her smile replaced by a wide-eyed look of stark terror. Next came an image showing a sleeping alien, and accompanying soundtrack recorded uncountable hearts awakening from deep-space hibernation.
“Those ships are packed with aliens.”
“They are going to turn back!”
“Their weapons are useless against it.”
“Why would they turn back?”
Everyone talked at once and the jumbled conversation was silenced by the last question.
They all knew the answer — Walker studied the pencil marked course change before turning back to the group. “There can only be one reason for them to turn back,” he said. “They want to save us from becoming involved in their own certain doom.”
“I think you are right,” Sequoia said. “They wouldn’t travel all this way and give up without a fight if we weren’t here.”
“Oh, they’ll fight it if everyone aboard all those ships agrees,” said the Admiral. “Their weapons did some good before, maybe the black cloud is smaller after attacking the planet.”
Walker threw a doubting look to his brother. Sequoia saw Walker’s look and said, “I noticed one thing that may be important in this struggle. Did you see the color of that light that surrounded the alien fleet as it passed through the darkness? It’s the exact same shade as our joy beams and generator exhaust.”
“How do you know it’s exactly the same?” Amanda asked.
“I’m a landscape painter,” Sequoia responded. “If I hadn’t done so well as a student in the sciences, I would most likely have lived my entire life as a poor struggling artist.”
He walked to the computer terminal and began a data search. “It’s easy enough to prove,” Sequoia continued. “Here’s a spectrum analysis of our joy beams, and here’s a very close number for that light in the aliens’ image. The variance is so small it might be due to velocity compression shifts during transmission, which, amazingly, implies virtually instantaneous broadcast travel time.” Sequoia tinkered with the computer for a moment, his fingers flying over the keyboard. “We transmit to them over about an eleven-hour time lag. Their ships will arrive here in six and one half days, whatever that dark force is will be several days behind them. Our ships can reach them in a little under two days. These estimates are, of course, shrinking as they approach us.”
A soft tapping drew everyone’s attention to the Admiral. He was studying the aliens’ map and tapping it with his index finger. He glanced up, surprised to see everyone looking at him, began to speak and then stopped. Reaching for a marking pen, he drew rapidly on the map. First he scribbled out the pencil line that showed the aliens turning back and added an arrow from the aliens directing them to Planet Pacifica. He stopped a moment and tapped on the map with his finger again and everyone gathered closer to see what he was doing. The Admiral then drew two arrows leaving the planet, the arrows stretched past the alien fleet toward the dark cloud behind. Finally, he drew a picture of an alien ship settling onto the ocean. Other alien ships were illustrated descending nearby. “Send them this,” he said. “We can fill in the details later.”
The Admiral stood and stretched. “Please put those colors back up on the screen,” he said. “And correct the alien color for velocity shift during transmission.”
When the two colors were side by side on the screen, he turned to Shawn. “There is no doubting the color match. Your parents are tops in this field, send everything we have to them in care of the spaceport at nation Pacifica.”
Turning to Walker, he said quite solemnly, “I’m putting you in charge of battle fleet attack. You will take all the fighting ships and make that thing regret every inch it travels in our direction.” Then a twinkle came into his eyes and he smiled, “I heard that comment you made from Galaxy six, the one about the sting of land-based weapons. Now I’m saying the same to you. We will defend from the planet and the moon, whatever that doom cloud is, it will feel the sting of our big land-based weapons if it reaches here.”
The Admiral began drawing on the map again and then he looked up, “Amanda, please get the medical staff ready.” Returning to the map he drew more arrows before turning to Walker. “Please go prepare the battle fleets, your job is to engage whatever that thing out there is and defend behind the aliens so they have time to land. I’ll try to outfit a large civilian ship with some of the bigger land-based weapons so you can be reinforced as you retreat back to the planet. Now let’s all get out of here and back to work. On the double.”
“Yes, sir,” Walker said and started for the door. “Wait just a minute!” Shawn yelled, running to catch his brother. Although Sequoia was behind Shawn as they went through the door, he actually caught up with Walker first.
“I want a ship.” Sequoia said.
“Me too.” Shawn said reaching for his brother’s arm.
Walker stopped and looked them both in the eyes. “What about communications and astrophysics?” he asked.
“They don’t count for much if we’re dead.” They replied together yet in their own different words.
“Okay, we have one captain out with a broken leg and another about to have a baby. Round up your gear and report to battle fleet headquarters. Shawn, please launch that communication torpedo to mom and dad before you do anything else, I’ll have the fastest one ready for your data pack.”
“Right,” Shawn responded, turning to the door they had just left. “I’ll use the computer in the meeting room, it will be the quickest.”
Shawn walked hurriedly into the meeting room and was halfway to the computer before he noticed a woman working at the keyboard. “Hey!” he shouted. “What do you think you’re doing?” At that moment he felt strong arms grabbing him from behind and a sweet-smelling cloth was flung over his face. He struggled briefly and then everything went black.
“Did you hear that?” Sequoia asked, turning back.
Walker broke into a run. They both hit the door together. It was locked. Backing up, they launched themselves against the door, hitting it with their shoulders. It cracked but held. “One more time!” Sequoia yelled. They slammed into it with all their might, the door splintered and broke open and they tumbled through into the room just in time to see the door across the room close. Sequoia ran for it only to trip over something on the floor and fall. It was Shawn, lying dead or unconscious. By the time Sequoia was back on his feet, he saw Walker kneeling over his brother feeling for a pulse. Without hesitating, Sequoia sprang for the second door. It was locked.
“Is Shawn alive?” He asked, turning to give whatever assistance he could.
“Yes, he’s alive.” Walker answered, reaching for the rag Shawn’s attacker had left lying on the floor. It felt cool to the touch, he sniffed it. “Ether!” He exclaimed. “Phone the medics. No. Wait. He’s coming around. Phone security and have this building sealed off so no one can leave.”
Sequoia was about to make the call when the door across the room opened. A young groundskeeper looked in.
“What are you doing here?” Walker demanded.
“I was working outside and saw this chair wedged under the door handle and wondered what was going on.”
Sequoia ran to the opened door and stepped into the hall, a building exit four or five steps away stood opened to the outside. “Was that outside door open when you came here?” he asked the gardener.
“Yep, that’s how I saw the chair holding this door shut.”
“Did you see anybody leaving the building?”
“No, but there are quite a few people walking around out there. I didn’t see anything unusual until I noticed that chair wedging this door shut. What’s going on here, anyway?” The gardner asked, eying the splintered door on the other side of the room.
“We’re not sure ourselves,” Walker answered. “My brother came here to use the computer and someone attacked him.”
Sequoia jogged a quick few steps to the computer and checked the activity log. “A valid launch code was entered and that torpedo is gone, the data pack has been loaded and launched to the United States of Earth!"
“Why would anyone here send that data to Use? ”Walker asked as he beckoned to the gardener to help him with Shawn. Together, they hoisted him up and into a chair.
Sequoia worked rapidly at the computer and assembled another data pack. “Somebody from Use was causing problems even before this dark cloud showed up,” he said. “Maybe they think this will be a chance to take over planet Pacifica and turn us into wage slaves for their corporations.”
“I wouldn’t put it past them,” Walker said, bending over Shawn, who was trying to move his arms and legs. “He’s coming back fast,” he observed. Turning to the gardener he asked, “What’s your name?”
“Eddy, please go get some water for Shawn. And coffee if you can find it.”
Eddy went out the door running. Walker held Shawn upright in the chair. “Did you make sure the data was complete?” he asked Sequoia.
“Yep, it’s all there.”
“Okay. You hold Shawn and I’ll check with Battle Fleet headquarters for another communication torpedo, the data packet can be sent from there.”
When Walker was sure the torpedo had been launched to nation Pacifica he turned his attention to Shawn, who was sitting unassisted and drinking coffee. “Are you back to normal?” he asked him, a worried tone on his voice.
“I think so.” Shawn answered. “I’ll try walking after I finish this coffee. Did you send the data?”
“It’s on the way to mom and dad, care of the spaceport at nation Pacifica.” Walker replied.
“Why didn’t the Admiral send it to Luna? That’s where they are.” Shawn wondered.
“I don’t know,” Walker mused. “Maybe he’s worried about Use spies on Luna. I’m sure they followed us here and are behind what just happened to you,” Walker said, turning to Eddy. “I’m needed at Battle Fleet headquarters, please stay here and help out.”
“Yes sir!” Eddy responded.
Walker turned to Sequoia, “Pack up your space flight gear and meet me at headquarters. I’ll report what happened here.”
“Me, too?” Eddy asked.
Walker smiled. “Ask one of these guys,” he said over his shoulder as he walked out the door.
continue to Chapter 10