Alien Signal

by

Joe Vadalma



10.15.2134 0103 ESDS Time

Out past Pluto's orbit floated a tiny grain of sand in a vast ocean of everlasting night and near absolute zero temperatures. From that distance the sun was only slightly brighter than the myriad other light points that surrounded it.

The Extraterrestrial Signal Detection System, ESDS for short, rotated slowly as it reoriented its antennas. It was the size of a three-story building, ungainly and ugly, a mess of antenna dishes and other devices that protruded at odd angles, so that it resembled a floating junk pile. It was a listener. It listened for minute signals, a few nanowatts, mere whispers, so tiny that they were not measurable by ordinary radio telescopes, from every part of the Milky Way galaxy, scanning a billion different frequencies. It amplified the infinitesimal bits of information to microvolts, digested and analyzed them with a powerful artificial intelligence computer looking for that one in a billion signal that seemed to have intelligent content.

Twice it had detected signals it considered worthy of further investigation. These it broadcast to a relay satellite in the vicinity of Jupiter's orbit, which in turn sent the amplified signal to the astronomical center at Clavius crater on the moon. Both instances had proved false alarms. The first was from an erratic pulsar. The second was a sporadic anomaly in the satellite's own circuitry, which was corrected by telemetry from Clavius.

On October 15, 2134, at 0134.43 hours according to its atomic clock, ESDS pointed its main dish at a section of sky not previously surveyed and detected an unusual signal in the microwave range. It performed tests to ensure that its own circuitry was not producing the phenomena and analyzed the signal. According to the criteria coded into it, the transmission contained patterns that an intelligent being might send. ESDS activated its amplifiers and beamed an alert signal to the Jupiter relay station.

The first transmission reached Clavius several hours later. The receiver recorded the signal and sounded the IMR (Intelligent Message Received) alarm.

####

In the cramped quarters of the SETI section of the Clavius astronomical complex, Matthew Harding sat reading a science fiction paperback. He felt his job was cushy, that he was paid for doing nothing, although it was severely boring. For the past two years, each day he gabbed for a few minutes with the person he relieved, checked that the equipment was operating properly -- and then sat for seven hours.

When a buzzer sounded across the room, Harding mumbled, "What's wrong now?" He stretched and sauntered across the room. A red light flashed on the SETI receptor. He pressed the Alarm Reset button to turn off the irritating sound and read the label under the glowing indicator. It read, "Signal Received."

That was unprecedented. A signal had come in from the ESDS. Quickly, he pulled the manual from the desk drawer. He wanted to be sure that he followed procedures to the letter. This was too important to screw up. He read the manual: "If the Signal Received indicator comes on, do the following: Press the Alarm Reset button." He had already done that. There was also a warning, "DO NOT TOUCH ANY OTHER CONTROLS." The second item on the list was to call the chief of SETI Operations.

After several rings, a sleepy voice answered, "Hello. Aaron Warner here."

"This is Matt down at SETI Operations. The Signal Received indicator has come on."

"Wow. That's great. Don't touch anything. I'll be right down." He clicked off.

Harding recalled that twice before he had come to the moon ESDS had sent a signal. Both times had been false alarms. "Well, third time's a charm," he muttered.

Minutes later Warner, flushed with excitement, rushed in. He was barely dressed, hair uncombed, shirt unbuttoned, no socks. He was followed by two SETI scientists, Kate Hatchway and Lu Dong. All three ignored Harding and went directly to the SETI receptor. Warner flipped two switches and nervously lit a cigarette although smoking was not allowed anywhere inside the complex. All three peered anxiously at the computer monitor. Beeps and squawks came from the speakers.

Harding peered over the Warner's shoulder. Columns of numbers slowly floated upward on the monitor screen. "What's happening?" he asked. "Is it really a signal from an alien intelligence?"

Warner grinned like a Cheshire cat and shrugged. "We won't know for a while. I relayed the signal to the supercomputer in the main complex. It'll number crunch for a couple of hours before we'll know for sure. If it says yes, that's when the real fun begins. It may take months, maybe years to translate the information."

####

For the next three years, the top mathematicians, cryptologists and linguists from all over the world worked on decoding the data. It was definitely from an alien intelligence and came from the Nihal star system two hundred and fifty light-years distance, but that was all they knew.

The signals repeated every four hours. Parts of the data simply consisted of a progression of prime numbers. Everything that followed was gibberish. No one could make head nor tail of it. Many cryptographers, language experts and mathematicians worked on the problem without result. Soon the official effort was abandoned. Finally, the signals stopped. A month later, the ESDS malfunctioned. As a result, funding for the entire SETI project was stricken from the Clavius budget.

The recorded signals were stored away as a curiosity. Over the years many experts and amateurs tried to decipher the message with no more success than the original team.

July 7, 2155

Jacques Roget was a graduate student majoring in ancient languages with minors in chaos theory and cryptology. Roget had chosen the most difficult subjects simply for the challenge. He was especially adept in seeing patterns in chaotic information. His fellow students called him Genius Jacques. It was a joke that he did cryptology problems in his head while making love -- not that Roget dated much; he was too busy with his studies. When a friend in the astronomy department told him about the message from outer space, he jumped on it like a starving spider on a fly. It was exactly the kind of challenge he loved.

He obtained a memory cube of the raw information sent by ESDS, logs from the SETI project and notes from various attempts to decode it. He was not interested in anything except the original data, which displayed on his computer monitor as rows and columns of numbers. He noted that by grouping them, they formed patterns. For the next two weeks he barely ate or slept. He rearranged them, converted them into letters of various alphabets and examined the group immediately after the prime numbers for clues.

One night, he dreamed that he lived in ancient Babylon. When he woke, it came to him. He rushed to his computer and replaced certain combinations of numbers with symbols that represented phonetic sounds. Soon he saw words and a grammar that bore a slight resemblance to ancient human languages. Two days later, exhausted from lack of sleep with his stomach grumbling from the awful stuff he had put into it, he had it much of it translated. He saved the translation, collapsed on his bed and slept thirty-six hours straight.

Later that week, he submitted his conclusions to a linguistic journal. His "paper" included the translation and reported how he accomplished it. Soon after the paper was published, the entire academic world buzzed about his achievement. Eventually he received a Nobel Prize.

For those interested in learning about the aliens, the message itself was disappointing. It gave no information about their appearance, history, culture, philosophy, technology or psychology. It was cryptic and made vague references to mystical beings, god or demons and strange and fantastic events. A minority thought that it warned of some danger. Many felt that it was a religious tract. It did, however, pinpoint its location, as that of Nihal, a G-type star, approximately two hundred and fifty light years from the solar system.

Ten years later a robotic probe was launched toward Nihal. Accelerating to fifty percent of light speed, it would take the probe more than five hundred years to reach its destination and another two hundred and fifty years for its report to reach the solar system. Nonetheless, the scientists, engineers and backers of the probe felt that although they would be long dead by the time the information about the aliens arrived, they were leaving a legacy of the utmost importance to future generations.

April 30, 2179

As it turned out, several of them were still alive when a method was invented for reaching the alien's system in a fraction of the time that the probe would take. Perhaps because of the interest generated by the receipt of the alien message, great strides had been made in faster than light travel technology.

Early in 2177, the quantum drive had been invented. With this device, a starship navigator simply entered the coordinates of any point within a radius of fifty light years, engaged the quantum drive and instantly appeared at that location. No one, not even its inventors, were exactly sure why it worked. It had to do with quantum jumps on a macro level. Physicists theorized that the starship passed through one or more dimensions other than the familiar four.

Later that year, a starship dubbed Alien Explorer was built. One drawback to the quantum drive was that it needed massive amounts of fuel. Each jump required the energy of a ton of hydrogen matter colliding with a ton of antimatter hydrogen. This meant that it initially had to carry two tons of hydrogen, half of which was converted to antihydrogen, for each jump. Hence, for the round trip to the alien's star system, it needed ten tons of hydrogen to fuel the quantum drive. In addition it needed fuel for the impulse engines that it used within the system, plus electricity for life support and the antimatter converter. Although the spaceship was enormous, most of its bulk was for fuel storage. A relatively tiny forward section contained the antimatter conversion unit, the quantum drive and the engineering bay. The smallest sections were the crew's quarters and the bridge. Far to the rear were the refueling station and the impulse drive. A shuttle for planetary exploration was mounted on the outer shell.

A second drawback of the ship was that after each jump, the quantum drive required a month cool down period before it could be used again. This meant a month of idleness after each leap of fifty light years toward its destination.

The starship was built near Jupiter and siphoned gases from the giant planet's atmosphere from which hydrogen was extracted, compressed and loaded into the Alien Explorer's enormous fuel tanks. Only the amount needed to reach Nihal was stored. It was known that there was a Jovian planet in the Nihal system to fuel the ship for the return trip.

A crew of mixed civilians and Solar System Cosmonaut Corps members were chosen for the mission. Captain Steven Amlada, commanding officer and pilot, was responsible for making command decisions, ensuring the welfare of everyone aboard, and seeing to the overall success of the mission. Lieutenant Shirley Thompson was his copilot, chief navigator and second in command. Lieutenant Celia Gigilioni was the science officer and medical doctor. Chief Petty Officer Kirk Schmidt, the chief engineer, was responsible for the smooth running of the ship. His assistant Mike was a humanoid robot who communicated with the artificial intelligence that ran the automatic functions. Also aboard was Doctor Sharon Miller, an anthropologist, who had published several papers and a book dealing with alien intelligence with cultures so different from humans that from our point-of-view they might seem insane. She had studied Roget's translation of the alien signal extensively. Finally, there was the genius himself, Jacques Roget, who was nearly fifty, the oldest person aboard.

The last day in April in the year 2179, the seven had boarded the Alien Explorer. At the end of the countdown, Lieutenant Thompson entered the coordinates for the first jump. Captain Amlada signaled thumbs up to the camera on the bridge and moved the switch that engaged the quantum drive. From the point of view the personnel observing the ship's departure, the ship simply vanished.

Because electronic transmissions cannot travel faster than the speed of light, there would be no communication with the ship until it returned. The mission personnel, who must wait with bated breath for two years for the Alien Explorer to return, prayed that the mission would go well. All over the solar system, people wondered and discussed what the astronauts would find. Most of their guesses and hypotheses were wrong.

Captain's Log Ship Date and Time: May 30, 2179 1000 hours

We made our first quantum leap into the unknown. I and my crew are the first humans to venture out of the solar system. I have great confidence in them, all whom I have served with me on other missions. On my last long mission, which was to make repairs to the ESDS, my second command, Lieutenant Thompson and I became lovers. She was an Ensign at the time. Although we no longer have a romantic relationship, we're good friends. Perhaps, on this mission things between us could heat up again. I only mention this because we have long idle periods between quantum leaps. From a morale standpoint, it would be good for people to pair up. It would be one more thing to keep them occupied.

All went well with the leap itself. Kirk, a fine engineer with years of experience, checked everything out and reported "all systems nominal." We consumed exactly nineteen percent of our original fuel supply. Now it's my job to ensure good morale and keep everyone aboard busy. I don't need worry about our two geniuses. They're quite content to do research and argue over the finer points of the alien signal translation. Roget is an odd duck who keeps to himself unless he's debating with Sharon Miller. I suppose that's the nature of genius. Our anthropologist is an attractive twenty-seven-old woman. I had it in my mind to shack up with her during the mission. But when I flirted, she became cold and annoyed. Well, who knows? As time goes by, sheer boredom may drive her into my arms.

Our first jump brought us into the vicinity of Castor, a sextuple star system made up of three binaries. I felt it incumbent to do a little exploring and make a report on such things as planets, detailed astronomical information and any other scientific data of interest. Since Celia Giglioni is our science officer, I put her in charge of planning the additional mission. She and I will work on it together, which gives me a chance to get better acquainted with her and feel her out about cohabiting with me.

Captain's Log Ship Date and Time: June 7, 2179 2300 hours

We are in the middle of our first idle period and so far, crew morale has remained good. We explored two of the six stars in the Castor group, Castor Aa, a main sequence blue white dwarf and its companion red dwarf, Castor Ab. These stars are separated by a little over a million miles, and orbit each other in nine days, causing great flares to leap from one to the other. We found an earth-like planet orbiting both stars at a distance approximately that of Jupiter in our system. Because of the radiation given by its two suns, water exists in liquid form. We orbited it and made observations. There seems to be plant life, as there were great stretches of green across the continents. Celia wanted to take the shuttle down to explore, but I nixed it. We had no idea what dangers she might face. We can't afford to risk losing personnel until our primary mission is accomplished.

As I had hoped, people are pairing up as couples. Nonetheless, I was a bit taken back by the choices. My fun loving second in command, Shirley, picked the stiff-backed by-the-book German engineer, Chief Kirk Schmidt. Jacques Roget came out of his shell and hooked up with the buxom and pliable Celia Giglioni. The only woman available for me, your poor captain, was the frigid Sharon Miller. I knew I had my work cut out to unfreeze her.

Captain's Log Ship Date and Time: December 22, 2179 0800 hours

Our third jump put us in the vicinity of Gomeisa, a group of five luminous giant blues. We won't be doing any exploring here. There's a problem with the impulse engine. Kirk sent Mike out on an EVA to fix the damn thing. It's too bad we didn't know about the problem at Jump Point 2, where there were no nearby stars. The crew is becoming extremely bored. I played a lot of chess with Mike and haven't yet won a game. Also, I've given up trying to seduce Miller. She informed me that she preferred women. So it goes.

In addition, she and Roget are arguing endless about the meaning of certain words in the alien message. Roget thought that they referred to mythological creatures, such as demons or dragons. Miller felt that they referred to an enemy. They practically come to blows on the point. After a while, the stubborn Miller walks away and refuses to discuss the subject further.

To cheer everybody up, I suggested a Christmas party. All were agreeable. Miller, who is an avid Pagan, calls the holiday Yulefest.

Captain's Log Ship Date and Time: March 15, 2180 1300 hours

We made our fourth jump. Only one more and we'll reach our destination, Nihal, where the alien signal originated. Excitement is building. To my chagrin, during our last idle period, Lieutenant Thompson, Chief Schmidt and Miller became involved in a menage a trois. When I asked Thompson why, she rolled her eyes, giggled and pinched my cheek. "Jealous, Captain? I bet you'd love to be Schmidt now, wouldn't you? You know what your problem is; for the captain of a starship, you're too namby-pamby, always worried what people think of you. Kirk is a real man."

I was taken aback. "I thought women liked sensitive men."

"Maybe some women do. Not me. I like a man who's not afraid to order me around. You're so cautious about everything. Look how you wouldn't let Celia take the shuttle down to that planet."

"There could've been deadly danger."

"A real man would've gone with her to protect her. We have weapons aboard."

I was mortified. In retaliation, I said, "I never thought of you as a lesbo before."

She laughed at me. "Oh Steve, you're such a dope. Sex is sex. I enjoy variety. Miller is quite passionate with women. She does anything I ask."

I should note that the nearest star is Mu Leoporis, an O type blue giant. Its only planet is a brown dwarf. I'll have Giglioni do a report on the star and its companion. There'll be no need to use the shuttle.

Captain's Log Ship Date and Time: March 30, 2180 0100 hours

There's been a major shift in sex partners to my advantage. Celia is now mine. She's lying on my bunk at this moment, exhausted from the wild sex we had last night. Praise be, my year of celibacy is over. She came to me after dinner about a week ago and asked to see me alone. When I brought her to my room, she burst into tears. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, "Doctor Roget is evil. A very bad person."

"What did he do?" I asked.

She shook her head. "I can't say."

"Did he harm you physically? If he did, I have the authority to discipline him, civilian or not."

She would not reply, merely stared at her hands in her lap. Finally, she said, "It's not necessary." She gazed up at me, her eyes big and round, filled with tears.

"What should I do?"

"Put your arms around me."

I held her for a long time. Finally we kissed, which led to the inevitable.

When I told Shirley what had happened, to my absolute stupefaction, she broke up with Kirk and seduced Roget. I'll never understand that woman. What was even more surprising, Doctor Miller stayed with Kirk. What does that man have that even a lesbian wants to make love with him?

Captain's Log Ship Date and Time: April 22, 2180 0700 hours

Today we entered the Nihal system. We celebrated with the bottle of Champagne I had put away for the occasion. Our next step is to locate the transmitter of the alien signal. If it's still transmitting that won't be difficult. A signal that could be detected from the solar system would have to be extremely powerful. Of course, we're two hundred and fifty years later in time from when the signal was sent. Everyone except me is grouped around Celia, who is running the detection equipment.

Captain's Log Ship Date and Time: April 22, 2180 1200 hours

There was rejoicing as Celia pinpointed the signal's source although it was reduced in strength from the time it was first detected. I declared a holiday and a general celebration.

Tomorrow we start the impulse engines and head inward, since the source is eighty million miles from the G-type star Nihal, slightly less than one astronomical unit.

My own morale has improved since I hooked up with Celia. This is a great day, a successful mission, a beautiful mistress who is great in bed and a crew who seem to have finally settled happily into their assignments and partners. The only fly in the ointment is that now we must travel several months on impulse power to reach the inner system. It will be a busy six months, however, since this is a full blown star system with many objects of interest, an outer and inner comet belt, several gas giants with moons and rings, and smaller planets. We'll record everything.

Captain's Log Ship Date and Time: July 4, 2180 1200 hours

We've stopped our progress inward to orbit a gas giant planet for refueling. It's larger than Jupiter, with an enormous ring system and many moons. As I gazed at it through the bridge viewscreen, it was such a marvelous sight that I choked up in awe at its beauty. Lieutenant Thompson caught me with tears in my eyes. She laughed at me. "See what I mean about you, Steve. You cry like a woman at the drop of a hat."

"And you have no appreciation of beauty." Nonetheless, I felt that the remark was flirtatious in a weird way.

She and Sharon Miller, the two Americans aboard, had their own Independence Day celebration. I could not allow fireworks to be set off, but I allowed them to light candles.

I also let Celia take the shuttle to explore one of the moons. It would give her practice in maneuvering the shuttle. The entire time she was gone I worried about her. Perhaps I've grown overly fond of her. A starship captain should keep a little reserve when dealing with the crew, even the one who is his current mistress. It was better when I was with Thompson. She never took our loving making as anything but fun sex.

Captain's Log Ship Date and Time: October 29, 2180 1700 hours

We've finally reached the object of our mission, an artificial satellite, a metallic sphere several meters in diameter covered with many microwave dishes. It orbits an earthlike planet, which we'll explore after we see what's at the transmission station. We've tried sending signals without receiving a reply. Either it doesn't hear us or doesn't understand.

I discussed the mission with Celia. Early tomorrow morning I'll send her and three others to explore it since the shuttle only hold four persons. My original plan was to send the two scientists and either Chief Schmidt or Mike the robot. I felt that an engineering person might figure out the working of the electronics and machinery aboard the artifact. Celia refused to have Mike on the mission. She was quite stubborn about this. She argued that the quarters on the shuttle were too close for her to be comfortable with the robot aboard. She wouldn't say why. I argued that Doctors Roget and Miller would also be there, so that she would not be alone with the AI. This is what I get for becoming too close to one of the crew. I allowed her to overrule me and logic. I'm wondering whether what Thompson said is true. I'm too softhearted to be in command. I have a tendency to allow subordinates to subvert my decisions.

Excerpt from Science Officer Lieutenant Celia Giglioni's Report of the Mission to the Alien Satellite

We were very excited when we left the Alien Explorer. We were to be the first humans to explore an alien artifact and possibly meet the aliens face-to-face -- if they had faces. What we actually found was a letdown, however, although my scientist companions were in their glory. Chief Schmidt also seemed to enjoy poking around the alien machinery and electronics. I'm happy as long as he stays away from me.

Once we docked with the satellite -- it actually had a docking facility that we could use, not a perfect fit, but the shuttle has ways of dealing with that. Anyway, it was a simple matter to open the hatch to enter an airlock. We found a lever that closed the outer door, filled the airlock with an invisible gas and opened the inner door. I tested the atmosphere and found that it was a mix of nitrogen and oxygen not much different from the air we breathe on earth. That bastard Roget remarked, "Simply by entering the satellite we have learned much about the aliens. The size of the hatches reveal that they're our size, perhaps slightly smaller, and that they're oxygen breathers."

I removed my helmet and was almost sick. There was a strong stench of death and decay. I quickly put it back on. Miller, who was about to remove her own helmet, asked, "What's wrong?"

When I told her, she smiled. "You'll get used to it after a few minutes. Catacombs and tombs all smell like that." She took off her helmet and stepped through the entrance. Roget did the same. Feeling like a fool, I followed. She was right. After a few moments, the stench seemed only musty, like walking into a room of moldy books.

Inside we found only death and unusable equipment. This did not bother the two scientists or Schmidt, who found much to explore. They took pictures, bagged samples and took apart broken equipment. There were several mummified corpses of the aliens. I chose two of the best preserved and asked Doctor Miller to help me prepare them to bring back to the shuttle. The aliens had bodies somewhat like chimpanzees covered with greenish hair, their faces were almost human except that they had no noses, simply nostrils, and their eyes were set further apart. They had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. This confirmed Roget's theory that they used a duodecimal system instead of a decimal system for counting and mathematics. They also had tails.

The scientists found the transmitter, which was a machine for repeating over and over the message the ESDS had intercepted. The satellite's power source was atomic, but the radioactive element was almost depleted. We had intercepted the message just in time. A few more years, and the station would've shut down permanently with no power.

I relayed this information to Captain Amlada. He ordered us to return soon even though the scientists wanted to stay for several days in order to examine everything closely. We brought their sample bags and the alien corpses back to the ship.

Captain's Log Ship Date and Time: November 2, 2180 1000 hours

This morning I met with Roget, Miller, Celia and Shirley to discuss what our next move should be. Roget wanted to continue exploring the satellite. The others wanted to go down to the planet. They argued that once we found out more about the aliens, the items on the satellite would make more sense. Since a majority were for going planetside, I decided that is what we would do. Roget looked unhappy but acquiesced. I decided that the planetary mission should consist of Roget, Miller, Shirley and Mike. I felt that the robot's strength and imperviousness might be needed if they ran into trouble. Celia could spend the next couple of days doing autopsies on the alien corpses -- and her nights pleasing me of course.

Excerpt from First Officer Lieutenant Shirley Thompson's Report of the Mission to the Alien Planet (Day One)

To choose a landing spot for the shuttle, I orbited the planet -- temporarily named Nihal Five since it is the fifth from the star -- at a low altitude and surveyed it with the high resolution camera. N5 has four major continents and several large islands. The rest is all ocean, which I determined to be liquid water. The atmosphere consists of an oxygen- nitrogen mix with other gases including water vapor. In other words, the planet is almost identical to earth. The continents are covered with forests, deserts, mountains and so forth, again in an earthlike mix. During my first pass the land areas seemed uninhabited by any intelligent beings. I was especially watchful for alien artifacts. At first there seemed to be none. But Sharon pointed out that what I first thought were jumbles of stone were ruins. The planet has many acres of them. Sharon concluded that we had stumbled on a destroyed civilization.

I relayed this information to Steve and asked Jacques and Sharon where I should land. They chose a large ruined coastal city.

Following protocol, after I landed I sent Mike out to scout around in case something in the area was dangerous. I passed out sidearms to my companions. Jacques tried to refuse to take one.

"Typical militaristic thinking," he said. "I suppose that if we spot an alien we should blow it up?"

"Only if it shoots first. Hey, there could be dangerous wild animals out there. Without a weapon, what would you do if a sabertooth tiger attacks you?"

He kept the weapon. I showed the civilians the settings. Jacques kept his on Stun. Probably it was best that way since he wasn't used to handling firearms. At least if he accidentally let it go off in my direction or Sharon's the effect wouldn't be fatal. On the other hand, Sharon informed me that she often carried firearms and sometimes hunted.

Hours later Mike returned. The robot said that it had encountered wild animals, but none that posed a threat. I asked him whether he had seen any humanoids, alive or dead. He said no, but that he had not entered any buildings.

We were two kilometers from the nearest ruin. I left Mike to guard the shuttle, and the three of us hiked up there. The ambient temperature was in the seventies, the air was pure and sweet, and the sun was high in the sky. All in all it was a beautiful spring day on N5. I enjoyed the walk immensely. We stopped often to take samples of the plant life. We even saw a few small animals and insect like creatures. The animals seemed similar to rabbits only with long tales and six legs.

The first set of ruins was a disappointment. Barely one stone was piled on another. Whatever had damaged the city had turned the buildings into charred and crushed rock. Most of it was practically gravel. We poked around in the debris for several hours without finding anything of significance. Once or twice a block had what could've been a date or a name engraved on it. We took pictures of those. One stone was etched with a relief of something that could have been an animal, a god or a demon. Something about the carving gave me the willies.

Sharon remarked, "The aliens must've had a terrible war. It's likely that they destroyed themselves completely."

Jacques, who never agreed with any conclusion of Sharon's, said, "Or a few survived and retrogressed." He pointed at ruins ten miles away. "Those look like they haven't suffered as much damage as these."

By then the star Nihal was low in the sky.

I told them that we would go there at first light. I decided against traveling at night. I herded them back into the shuttle and radioed our plans to Steve.

Excerpt from First Officer Lieutenant Shirley Thompson's Report of the Mission to the Alien Planet (Day Two)

We started out at sunrise in the all-terrain exploration vehicle or ATEV, which runs on tracks and cruises at thirty-five kilometers per hour. Because of the rough terrain it took two hours of jolting, zigzagging and breathing dust to reach the second site. Again, not one building was whole. Nonetheless, we found what might've been a skyscraper but was reduced to its first six stories. The ground floor seemed to be a lobby of a commercial building. A large heap of debris made a mound in the center where an upper floor had collapsed. The two scientists spent a long time minutely searching through it for anything that would give a clue as to the nature of the alien civilization and what happened to cause such devastation. They found nothing of significance.

We started up a partially blocked stairway. I wished that I had brought Mike, as we spent an hour of hard labor clearing it away. Two flights up, we found something noteworthy, a large room filled with what seemed to be video broadcast equipment. Although it was rusty and broken, Sharon found storage media that she hoped contained the station's programs. Jacques could hardly wait to get back to the Alien Explorer, where he could work on decoding the media so that the broadcasts could be viewed. Bowing to his wishes, we returned to the shuttle and subsequently to the Alien Explorer.

Captain's Log Ship Date and Time: November 12, 2180 2100 hours

It's been over a week since the expedition to the planet returned. So far Roget and Miller have not been able to decode the recordings they found in the alien ruins. They've been so involved in this project, neither one has hardly spoken to anyone on the crew. When I ask for a report, they claim to be near a solution but had not reached it yet. Chief Schmidt is not happy since he's reduced from having two lovers in his bed to none. Since Roget has his head stuck in a computer all the time, Shirley started to flirt with me and Kirk again.

Celia finished her autopsies of the alien corpses and reported that their inner workings were similar to humans in some respects and much different in others. There were organs whose function she could not determine. "Perhaps, if the landing party had brought back a few living animals for me to experiment with, I could figure it out. Allow me to make planet fall and trap some."

I told her that there would be no more exploring parties. "We must return to earth. Future expeditions can explore this system in depth. Right now, our duty is to report what we've found as quickly as possible." What I didn't say was and bask in the glory of being the first to visit an alien world. She pouted and refused to sleep with me that night.

Captain's Log Ship Date and Time: November 30, 2180 1800 hours

Our first jump of the return trip was fifteen days ago. Good news on all fronts. Roget and Miller have found a way to view the alien broadcasts. Because they showed events during a war, they were a bit confusing. What we learned was that their enemy was a race quite different from the alien corpses. The enemy aliens were horrible looking creatures who had powerful weapons of mass destruction. It was apparent that the natives of N5 were attacked and obliterated by a species from another star system. Until Roget and Miller translated the commentary, however, we cannot be sure exactly what transpired.

The other good news is that Shirley and I are back together. I enjoy sex with Shirley much more than with Celia. Celia is too compliant, always waiting for me initiate everything. Shirley, on the other hand, is quite inventive.

Captain's Log Ship Date and Time: September 1, 2181 0800 hours

We're on the final leg of our journey. On the next jump, we'll be home. All of us will be glad to be back. It's been a wearing voyage. We've been cooped up in the Alien Explorer for twenty-nine nerve-wracking months. Nonetheless, I count our mission a great success. During our last idle period, Roget and Miller finally had a breakthrough in translating the aliens' language. From the recordings, they learned that the other aliens, the invaders, were beings who controlled many star systems in the galaxy. Our aliens were given one chance to capitulate and become slaves. When they refused, they were set upon by the conquering race and obliterated. It was a sad fate for them.

Captain's Log Ship Date and Time: March 15, 2182 0100 hours

What horror! It's unbelievable what happened. It's inconceivable. The people aboard the Alien Explorer may be the last humans alive. During our absence the aliens who destroyed the planet we had visited had come to our solar system and destroyed humanity. We took the shuttle down and found only blasted ruins as we had on the alien world. We visited all the colonies and science stations on Mars, Earth's moon, and other moons. We found not one person alive. Everywhere in the solar system there was nothing but death and destruction. As the truth became known, I wept like a baby. One space station was semioperational. It was broadcasting a distress signal. Roget thought that it was deliberately left on to lure other beings to the solar system. It was his theory that the evil aliens had left a detection device so that any starship coming to the satellite could be traced back to its origin. In that way, the aliens would know which systems to attack next. We destroyed the equipment.

We did not know whether the evil aliens would return. To be on the safe side, we returned to Castor and settled on the planet there, which turned out to be also quite earthlike, with many species of plants and animal, none of which were anywhere near as intelligent a humans. If we can survive, the seven of us will become new Adams and Eves of Paradise (as Shirley dubbed it) and populate it with the human race.

THE END



2006 by Joe Vadalma

Bio: "I'm a former technical writer retired from a major computer manufacturer. I've loved science fiction and fantasy from the time I learned to read. I've had several short stories published in E-zines. My hobbies, besides writing, are adventure game playing and do-it-yourself projects. I've sold a series of dark fantasy novels to Renaissance E Books . The series is called The Morgaine Chronicles. Renaissance has also published a collection of my short stories, The Sands of Time and two SF novels, Star Tower and The Bagod. These E-books are also available at Fictionwise E-books. Delingers Publishing has published my science fiction novel, The Isaac Project. The Book of Retslu, a humorous fantasy, has been accepted by Mundania, and will be published in June. My web site, The Fantastic World of Papa Joe, contains SF, fantasy and horror stories, serials and art."

E-mail: Joe Vadalma

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