Back In Sol Again: Part 5

5.

Dr. Corben to Ground Control

Ingstrom sounded over the ship-wide comm. “Settling into orbit now. All personnel to remain on-call but at-ease. EVA team-1, report to Comms in five.”

News of the discovery had spread like wild-fire aboard– or perhaps rather more like Herpes; through the thousand holes of some and into the thousand and more of others, ne’er to be lost nor forgotten by any. Through the various peoples, direct and otherwise, the news wet tongues, lips, muzzles, and beaks. Everyone knew now of the alien creatures, and the hopeful plans for contact.

Simon once again found himself on an elevator with Lina, though rather more tired and separated at the tongue than he’d have liked. The preceding days had been spent in varying states of excitement and dismay, swamped by both work and tempered boredom. Rearden was running exceptionally well now, and– if it could be said to fear anything— was beginning to fear any further refinement of its systems might damage it. Nonetheless, it humored Simon, accompanied him everywhere to reinforce his mental health, as it deigned any companion might.

Likewise, Lina was exhausted. The EVA-summons had come just when she’d collapsed for sleep. Like Simon, part of her wanted him closer, but also like him, the very thought of more exertion than breathing was dreadful. Even remaining upright wasn’t high on her list. Simon agreed; standing was negotiable.

“Comms” comprised a third of the ship’s length, most of it contained beyond bulkheads and half-frozen, airlocked clean-rooms. The purpose of each room was roughly as complex as their machinery, and while Simon knew the purposes of each machine cluster, which each room separated, he also stuck to the ages-old code of techies when asked about it; “I‘unno.”

For, to answer anything else, was to seal one’s doom in admitting a secret as ages-old as code itself: that he really did know, and yes, he probably could fix anything wrong with your (insert electronic here).

But the peril in that admission, the agony the techie’s life then gained was too horrible to brave. Only a few fools and masochists brought that madness on themselves. The code then, in its entirety went something like this: “Wherefore when thouest be questioned by thine fellow sentients on matters of technology and thine experiences; lie. Tell no full truths. Offer no advice. Deny. For elsewhere madness lies.”

Simon knew this code. Lina knew it. Niala knew it. Rearden knew it. Every creature, evolved and not, and knowledgeable of tech through-out the known universe, knew it too. And all of them followed it, lest tragedy befall and they soon find themselves aiding hunch-backed creatures and dim-witted, upright ones in working tech.

In truth, Comms was a collection of fancy, inter-connected computers of various purposes. In fact, just about everything ship-board connected one computer to another and thus was routed through one of the various rooms on Comms. Everything from Homer’s course calculations to its sensor arrays, to its ship-wide, external communications, right down to its internal internet connections was routed, run, or processed through the cold, clean-rooms and their servers.

None of this was on Simon’s mind, of course, nor Lina’s. It was sequestered in the section of memory reserved for knee-jerk reactions and activation of fight-or-flight reflexes. Like every other techie in the universe, it was there rightfully– even those masochists and fools had it, however latent. Its entire purpose was to avoid the fight of ignorance and technology and engage the flight from said fight for fear of madness.

None of that was important now. Not to Simon nor Lina. The latter was running on pure adrenaline and something resembling coffee. The former was running on pure adrenaline, something resembling coffee, and lust at the latter’s presence. The male Human was like that; often eschewing vital necessities until death for the mere hint of attention from its preferred mate. Statistically speaking, through-out history, that was the female Human. However, the last centuries’ advances in social politics and personal sexuality meant female was not the only possible Human-male mate.

Unfortunately for Human males, most identifiable as possible mates were simply tired of them; even other, Human males. While ignorance and stubbornness were universal, and far from desirable, the Human male’s form was topped by a propensity for bestial grunting to make even evolved creatures blush. Of course their long, sordid, and recorded history of lame-brained ideas and reactions meant everyone else was tired of ‘em too.

Female Humans on the other hand, were only currently making such fools of themselves. They hadn’t been doing so for quite as long, and while there tended to be more exceptions than rules, Human Females were proving just as stubborn and ignorant– however less their propensity for grunting, naturally speaking. They could do so intentionally, but Human males never did so intentionally.

The whole of this complicated and paradoxical duality could be summed up in a lone sentiment consisting of three words; Humanity was doomed. Though their end might not come until the heat-death of the universe, the sentiment stood. Humanity was doomed. Doomed to repeat the mistakes of their ancestors; to make fools of themselves; to make a mockery of their capacity for intelligence. Incidentally, this is also a universal phenomenon, so at least Humanity wasn’t alone.

That didn’t doom them any less.

Those two doomed creatures, names Dr. Simon Corben and Dr. Lina Beaumont, emerged on Comms via the elevator. It sat, with a few others, at the rear of the massive control area. The forward level, and subsequently the ship’s brain, was sequestered beyond a bulkhead. The narrow hallway and further series of bulkheads there gave way to various airlocks and decon ports for the cold, clean-rooms. These designs were almost entirely mirrored on a lower level which housed experimental labs with specialized equipment to test various space-bound affects on their subjects.

Lina and Simon unconsciously touched hands as they heaved themselves toward Ingstrom and Niala. The pair conversed in a hush, examining a free-standing hologram projected from the floor and an outcrop in the high ceiling. A full-body scan of the distant aliens hovered between the two projectors, spinning slower than one could tell unless staring. It was fairly obvious their original scans were more or less accurate. Given the distance to 876-d was shrinking, and the thoroughness with which each parsec refined the scans, new information regarding the creatures was continuously coming light.

Simon and Lina approached, Rearden with them. Niala and Ingstrom turned, their conversation prematurely ended. Simon expected as much; atop preparing to brief Lina and himself, Niala was likely giving a security evaluation for relay to Jarl. The look in Niala’s eyes confirmed Simon’s suspicion.

Once an HAA soldier, Niala was also a member of a Special Forces unit code-named Padfoot Lightning. The elite, evolved species were recruited for offensives against Solsian enemies via each species’ special abilities. To say Niala outranked Jarl was an understatement. Jarl was a pup, a rent-a-cop in comparison. He was also a by-the-numbers Mastiff with less imagination than a mound of brick-dust. There was no doubt Niala was the better head of Security but her other duties kept her from the position.

Ultimately, evaluating Niala wasn’t his purpose here. Rather than sleeping comfortably, dreaming of Lina’s tongue, he was to take a position near the floor-mounted projector, and hear what was to be said.

Ingstrom spoke to Simon first, “You’re to be briefed. Then you and Dr. Martin will radio Sol and await further instructions.”

“Myself as well?” Lina asked.

“Yes. You’re to aid in carrying out Sol’s orders,” Ingstrom said, stiffer than usual. “Dr. Martin?”

The projection changed as Niala began. “Though we cannot speak to the extent, we know now that these creatures are sentient. They did build the structures we’ve seen. In point of fact, we can see they’re in the process of building others. As best we can tell, this is a developing world on-par with industrialized Earth’s mid-to-late 1800’s. Unfortunately, we cannot ascertain if that means a similar, evolutionary timeline.”

“Why’s that matter?” Simon asked, dulled but curious.

Niala had never seen him miss the point of anything before, even when making a fool of himself. She suddenly recognized his fatigue, and found herself recalling an earlier cat-nap beneath her desk in her office.She answered astutely, hoping not to make him feel stupid. Jokes notwithstanding, the last thing she wanted was discouraging a fellow scientist’s curiosity. She’d seen that destroy far too many promising careers.

“An evolutionary lineage might help answer questions as to the general galaxy-wide timeline of evolution. It may be that a specific interaction on a planet is required for life to form. One which only occurs during or after a certain time-frame. Remember; Earth shares many similarities to 876-d.”

Lina shook her head, both to keep awake and will-away confusion. “Is there new information?”

“Among other things,” Ingstrom replied.“They’re capable of radio transmission.”

The others’ eyes widened. Niala nodded, “Their capability remains in its infancy but there’s no denying the possibility. Both Ingstrom and I believe it be best to attempt long-range radio communication first. However to do so, we need Rearden to interface with the comm network, record and examine their language, then write a translation program.”

Rearden processed what was said then replied with binary affirmations.

“Thank you, Rearden, I appreciate it,” Niala said. The little bot zoomed past for a specific comm console to interface wirelessly.

“Is that all?” Simon asked.

Niala kept her sarcasm in check for once. “It’s all we can say for certain, now. We know this species is intelligent, capable of learning and reasoning, and obviously mirrors Earth in ways. First contact protocol states; before interaction, we passively monitor until Sol advises or the species attempts contact themselves. It’s possible we’ve been spotted visually, but we’re keeping ourselves hidden otherwise.”

Lina piped up. “You want to get in touch with the HAA’s Diplomatic envoy before they find us, so we can control first contact.”

“Precisely.”

Simon heaved a sigh, “Then the sooner we contact Sol the better.”

“Agreed,” Ingstrom grumbled. “Inform me of any changes. I have a meeting with Commander Jarl. You may contact me on my private channel.”

Ingstrom hobbled off. Like most bi-pedal lizards, he looked like the old monster-movie characters that did their best to terrorize Japan with each step. Fortunately, most Reptilians had learned to compensate by pivoting their legs inward so they looked less comical. Personally, Simon felt it a shame; it certainly would’ve bettered their kind to find more humor in life. The true tragedy of Ingstrom’s life, Simon felt, was not his loss of fertility but rather his sense of humor.

The call to Sol took only minutes, and after relaying everything, the Feline Calico head of the Department of Diplomatic Affairs for the HAA, gave them their orders as authorized.

“This report is most exciting,” she admitted. “I envy your opportunity to greet this new species. I will activate the diplomatic embassy aboard Homer and relay all information regarding proposed first contact protocols to its systems. Given the nature of your information, I also approve your proposal for a temporary outpost until better accommodations can be made.”

Niala gave a regal nod, “Thank you, Ambassador.”

“You’re most welcome, Matriarch. I trust you to represent us with the utmost respect and dignity.”

“I would think of nothing less,” Niala said– though Simon sensed an “if they’re not hostile.”

The Sol comm terminated. Simon eyed the two women beside him. The Lioness was deep in thought, no doubt considering the new responsibilities on the three of them. Lina on the other hand, looked ready to collapse. He sympathized.

“Well?” Simon said finally, snapping Niala from her trance.

She cleared her throat. “Right. Go get some sleep. I need you both in peak-shape. In the meantime, Rearden and I’ll deploy the constructors and outpost modules. By the time you’re up, we should have the ship-board embassy active. We can discuss our next move there.”

Simon and Lina breathed relief, grateful for the coming rest. They were already half-dreaming when they launched the elevator again. Simon couldn’t help but speak aloud the question plaguing his mind. He was too tired to hold it back, respected Lina and her opinion enough to find her safe to pose it to.

“You think it’ll go well?”

Lina shrugged, eyeing him, “Couldn’t be worse than meeting the Zelphod, could it?”

They chuckled nervously, eyeing each other with a silent admission that neither wished to know the answer.

Light-years away, in a small office on the fifth floor of HAA headquarters on Mars, the haggard, scarred face of a grizzled Wolf-hound settled back in its office chair. Angmar Zark, war-veteran with the HAA, and privately what one termed an Anti-Humanist, mulled over the call he’d intercepted. He swirled a glass of something descended from Earth scotch, and sipped, plotting. Soon enough, he’d make his call. Soon enough, his friends would make their move.

And soon enough, the galaxy would know Humanity was no longer an Apex species.

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