my entry was the March Cliffhanger challenge:
First Contact by Mistral
PART ONE-We Just Have To Keep Our Heads Here
The starship hung like a jewel in our sky. The news feeds were full of speculation on whom they might be. I’m sure Dr. Sful was upset at the arrival of people from another world upstaging his landmark voyage to the stars, yet I had a feeling that these people and their appearance in our star system, coming so close with our first flight to another solar system, were related.
I was reading another report on the micrometeorite abrasion of the Leaper during his manhood flight when the news feed interrupted me. As the early stories came in of a mysterious, artificial light in our sky I couldn’t help but wonder. What had Dr. Sful brought back with him? Many of the feedcasters speculated on the same thing. Dr. Sful was adamant in his belief that nothing within the range of his scanners had been detectable. Since Leaper had traveled across three light years the scans had been cursory at best but in the interest of preserving the public peace the government had supported his statement wholeheartedly. A bit of time passed before the repetition of the newsfeeds finally broke. Channel 2 had gotten an exclusive with the great man himself.
“Dr. Sful, what do you believe this is?” The caster waved an arm at the graphic of the mystery light behind her.
Sful cleared his thorax and scratched his chiton in that pompous manner that drove most of us junior researchers insane. “It stands to reason that going out into space and the interstellar void would increase our chances of encountering another star-faring race.” He paused to suck nectar. “I am not surprised that they have arrived here, not surprised that they came to make contact. It stands to reason,” and here he stroked his melan to emphasize the point, “that they have, possibly, been watching us. Maybe they need to see that we can come to them before they will come to us.”
“But Dr. Sful, what if their motives are something less than benign?”
He looked into the camera directly and said, “Well, I would guess that we would be dead about now, wouldn’t we?” and he used that awful chuckle that he thought people appreciated. The feedcaster focused all of her eyes on him for a moment, as if unsure of how to react. Then she chuckled too.
“I guess you’re right, Doctor. Since we’re still here I’d have to speculate that they come in peace.”
Sful turned several eyes at her. “And you have no training to decide such a matter. Why don’t you leave it to the experts?” There was the Doctor I admired and hated, slashing his chances of any further media exposure.
I looked up as the computer signaled that the test results were finished. That’s why I missed the single most momentous event in our history, the First Moment as the aliens arrived.. The abrasion factor was exactly as predicted and I was about to enter a simple “Approved” mark on it when the feedcast caught my eye.
“…and we have eyewitness accounts of aliens in Markeesin, right in the city courtyard! According to the reports, they just appeared out of thin air!” The feedcaster was all but drooling on her chiton. Dr. Sful looked confused.
“Re-entry, even with heat shielding much better than our own, would take minutes if not hours! There is no possible way these,” Sful sputtered, “whatever they are, appeared. It must be a group of local yokels dazzled by the aliens’ high technology!” He appeared quite happy with his pronouncement, his hunting arms clacking with approval.
The feedcaster hadn’t been given her job. She brought an amazing sense of focus to her next question. “Then you’re saying the Presidia and the Council are nothing more than ‘local yokels’ who have mistaken the suddenly-appearing aliens who materialized in front of the Presidium Fntoss a few moments ago for a fast re-entry?” Her sub-arms were crossed in a confident manner. Her hunting arms clacked once, with an ending emphasis.
Dr. Sful was very uncomfortable, and I noticed that some of the lab assistants had gathered around the ‘caster to watch him squirm. “Well, no, I mean, yes, they may have arrived suddenly, I mean, they had to get here somehow.” He gazed down at his lap and I heard a few of the now, rather large, crowd around me snicker, hunter arms clicking loudly. The feed switched to the Presidium courtyard. Back legs scratched in surprise as the camera zoomed in on the aliens.
They were soft beings, that much was obvious. Although upright like us, they lacked any form of chiton. Their skin reminded me of the younglings before their exterior fluids hardened, soft and pink. They wore rather more garments than we did, covering most of their bodies. There was hair upon the parts of their bodies that were exposed, similar to the rugat or fnex that roamed the woods beyond the capital. I wondered if they were warm-blooded. Obvious machines, portable in size, were attached to their mid-sections or carried in their hands. I assumed they were recording or scanning devices, although some of the junior technicians speculated as to the possibility of weapons. I noticed that the leader was readily apparent, for the others returned to him after waving their machines around. It seemed obvious that they were reporting to the lone being that lacked hair upon his head. I scratched an itch on my second-knee and saved my analysis to moly-cube. The feedcaster was going on in a rather silly way about how unusual they were. Since they were from another world, I had accepted that they looked different from us long before she did. My business was other worlds. The concepts came easily to me.
As the feeds followed the official greeting of the aliens, I spent a little time checking on my brood and then went to my quarters to pumice myself. After a quick plate of grubs, I felt ready to return to work. I figured Dr. Sful would be getting back from his interview soon and would need his ego soothed, so I made haste as best I could. The public transportation system was a mess and I got back to the Super-luminal Research Institute much later than I’d planned. The good doctor was present ahead of me and had worked himself into a fine snit. When I walked in he was raving to anyone who would listen.
“There are aliens but they can’t be hostile!” He was trying to shout above the din of computer chimes announcing new results from the analyzers and the incessant tolling of the com net. What seemed like a thousand grad students were answering the multitude of inquiries, shouting between themselves. I saw T’rl standing in a corner of the vast Central Synthesis Room looking interested but removed from the events around him. I sauntered over casually, ducking what, to me, were mere children to reach his side.
“Anything new?” I asked.
T’rl glanced at me with his head cocked. “Rubbish. They are trying to second guess what is going on in there.” He waved a forearm at one of the primary feedcasters, which showed the aliens stepping into the seat of government. “Our visitors are probably going to arrange trade agreements and mutual defense treaties. It’s what I’d do in their place.” He stroked his melan before he continued. “I really doubt anyone out there,” here he lifted his forearms high, “Would look at interstellar conquest as a viable option. Space is just too big.” I nodded at him but withheld my judgment. Just then, the com net buzzed for the thousandth time and one of the grad students waved every arm he could spare at me.
“Excuse me, T’rl, it seems that one of these babies needs my attention.”
T’rl laughed with his legs and said, “Of course. Don’t torture the …” he squinted his left eye, “Boy too much!” I grinned and walked over to the kid. When I arrived, I used my best Professor voice.
Yes,” I asked. The poor child wilted.
“I have the Presidia wanting to talk to you, Madame Professor.” He held out the com to me as if he thought I would bite his head off. I took it graciously.
“Thank you, child,” I responded. “The Presidia! Why me and not Dr. Sful?” I thought to myself. Gathering my wits, I took a deep breath and lifted the com to my mouth.
This is Dr. Sra. How may I be of assistance?” I was surprised to realize that I was trembling with nervousness at addressing our leader.
The voice in my hearing aperture was known the world over. “Doctor, I understand you’ve been heading up the analysis of Dr. Sful’s flight. Is that correct?”
“That is correct.” I could hear my own voice coming from somewhere. I knew it couldn’t possibly be from me-I was too shocked and nervous to speak.
“I’d like you to come and meet our visitors. I suspect your insight would be useful.”
I could feel the room moving, and an idle part of my mind wondered if there had been some kind of tectonic shift.
“I would be honored to help in any way I can,” I replied.
“Of course you would, dear. If you could come to the Presidium now?” She left the question dangling in front of me. “There should be a groundmover outside the Institute in a few moments.” The connection ended and I handed the com back to the nervous young male in a daze.
“I guess I’m going to advise the government,” I commented idly to the boy. I wasn’t even sure why I spoke to him. I snapped to and headed for the cloak room. Tossing my lab coat onto a hook, I grabbed the cloak I’d worn to work and headed for the steps out in front of the Institute. The groundmover was waiting for me, and I suspected it had been there when the Presidia called. The driver had the Presidium livery painted on his chiton and he only nodded as I slipped into the vehicle. The drive was eerie, with few people out on the streets. I realized that the population, world-wide, had watched the aliens arrive and were even now nailed to their feedcasters. Then I realized that in a few moments I might very well be in front of those same cameras, broadcasting to millions. I prayed that I would comport myself accordingly.
The mob scene in front of the Presidium stretched across a number of streets, the crowd larger than the one that had assembled for Leaper’s launch. It took us forever to get through, our vehicle moving barely above walking speed. When we finally arrived, crowd control people had to hold back the masses as I exited. It was quite overwhelming, my hunter arms clacked in and out of their sheaves, I was more nervous than I’d ever been. Entering the Presidium Fntoss did not help put me at ease. The receiving hall was jammed with feedcasters and their crews. The mercury lights blinded me over and over again. My escort formed a phalanx around me to get through the press of bodies. We eventually pushed through to the main anteroom. The situation wasn’t much better there. Assistants to the Council scurried about and lesser politicos clumped in bunches, discussing the latest turn of events. My escort led me to the Audience Chamber without letting anyone near. I was glad for that, as my hunter arms kept sheathing and unsheathing involuntarily.
The peace of the Audience Chamber was a welcome relief, but I hadn’t been there for a moment before the Presidia, herself, called attention to me. As she spoke, I could see the little cluster of aliens standing in front of her Chair. They looked on curiously at my intrusion.
“Dr. Sra, I am so glad you are here! Please, come and meet our new visitors!” One did not refuse the Leader. I walked forward as the leader of the aliens walked back towards me. It took a moment in this overwhelmingly massive room for us to reach each other. Finally, I could see him/her up close. The bare scalp I’d noticed earlier radiated a bit of heat that was perceptible to my eyes. There was a noticeable air of softening of the outer…whateveritwas that he used in place of a chiton. I noted it as he approached and wondered, was it the effect of some change in diet that he was given as a leader or was it, perhaps, a relaxation of his outer covering brought on by the passage of time? Then he /she was there, in front of me.
The light from the immense, painted windows that lined the room cast a spectrum of color upon the floor. As the alien leader stepped close he bowed as a signal of respect. I knew this, intellectually, but when the light from the right arm window glanced upon his pink exo-covering the blend of colors on his neck touched an instinctive reaction. That is the best I can say it, the best way to explain what happened next. My mind was screaming, “Czir!” even as my hunter arms lashed out.
“Hello, I’m Captain Jean-Luc Pi-“and his head rolled upon the floor of the Audience Chamber while blood pumped a shocking scarlet onto the tiles from his twitching torso.