A Brief Encounter

Part One

We always thought that they would find us. We always thought that they would come out of the sky and either hail or annihilate us. But that was sci-fi material. In fact, the first contact occurred just outside of the orbit of Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star in the constellation Centaurus. Imagine our surprise. The search for extraterrestrial life took us further than we had dreamed, and yet the answer lay not four and a half light years away. We thought it would be Hubble or Maximus or any of our other long-range telescopes that would discover some blip on the surface of a planet on the outskirts of some solar system and then, suddenly, bam, we would have discovered alien life.

But, in 2137, a research team sent to collect data from our neighboring dwarf star was astounded to find an oblong, deep black device etched with slender markings lodged in the webbing of their spacecraft. It was unlike anything they had ever seen. Certainly it couldn’t be natural. No environmental condition or mineral forming could have created the complex patterns and glyphs that were carved into the artifact. There was only one explanation: something else was out there, and we were not alone.

Once news of the discovery reached Earth, chaos of biblical proportions shook the foundation of societal laws. The planet split in half, one side wishing to pinpoint and contact the aliens, and the other wishing to hurl the device into the sun, never the wiser to its origin.The latter group decided that, to ask the questions of where and why the object had been sent, would be to risk the safety of the entire planet. They established their borders along the equator, forcing their counterparts out of the Northern Hemisphere in the largest land-exodus in recorded history. They colonized the now half-abandoned cities of the Northern half of our planet and began to amass resources, communication technologies, and, eventually, armies. There was no way they could stand by and let the one thing that was keeping them alive dissolve. The extraterrestrials didn’t know we existed, and they intended to make sure that never changed.

Those who wished to search for answers formed new borders along Central America, Northern Africa, Australia, and the Pacific Islands. But countries no longer needed to exist. Within the confines of both the North and the South there was no need to distinguish differences that had plagued humanity since the Middle Ages. Black and white, gay and straight, only intellectuality was favored above all other traits. Now there was a greater goal. They attempted to resolve the issues between the two sects, but to no avail. Tensions rose steadily higher.

The conflict reached a boiling point in November, 2155, when the second greatest discovery of the century was made. A team of researchers working on decrypting the artifact’s etchings made a landmark breakthrough, managing to decypher almost half of the entire set of markings through a computer algorithm. Some of the characters depicted stars we had seen in our own night sky. The others pointed to a massive planet the size of three Earths, their home. If we could find the astrological locations of the surrounding stars, we could find the planet they so desperately wished to share.

It was a map, and it led us right to them.

A Brief Encounter

A bright green light flashed for a brief second on the dashboard and then was gone. The radar swept slowly from sector to sector, detecting nothing but the emptiness of space and a few small asteroids that quickly passed. Outside of the long glass cockpit window, tiny lights shone brilliantly throughout the dark sky, both closer and further away than seemed possible. Annabelle had travelled for seven months, stopping for neither obstacle nor repair. At speeds a hundred times that of light, the ship had travelled nearly eighteen parsecs from its port on Earth, the farthest any ship had been from the motherland.

In his small crew’s quarters, the sound of Lukas’s slow breath traveled across the cabin and filled the silent halls of the ship. The health monitor displayed a steady heartbeat that rose and fell, noting the rhythm of his sleep. His boots and suit hung just by his feet next to the bed. Lukas had settled in ten hours before, and was just now beginning to stir.

The heavy olive eyelids that held back his sight slowly separated. Lukas stretched his arms out to either side and twisted his back, feeling the tension of a long rest leave his body. He rose to his feet and slipped inside of the deep crimson spacesuit that he had worn a thousand times before. He admired the fit in the mirror opposite his dormitory. Though it was well equipped for any environmental challenges, it was made of only a thin composite material a mere half-inch thick. Even so, it was lighter than cotton and more breathable than any shirt Lukas had worn back on Earth. A golden insignia of two meteors fleeing from a sleek spaceship embroidered the center of his chest. The boots he decided to leave behind. He wouldn’t need them; he wasn’t going to leave the ship today.

Feeling a slight dryness in the back of his throat, Lukas slunk slowly out of his quarters and down the hall to the bathroom. The glass door slid open as he neared, and he reached just inside to fill a cup of water. The cool taste of the liquid filled his mouth as it slid down the back of his throat. He walked to the galley and opened a vacuum-sealed container of beef, bread, and dried fruit, staples of a modern Earth diet. He would need his energy for the day to come.

Lukas heard a soft click and a sudden rush of air as the halls filled with fresh oxygen. The environmentally-controlled ship left nothing to be desired. Temperature and toxin-monitored water flowed from every tap and spigot around the crew’s quarters, and nuclear heating tubes kept him safe from the almost negative one-hundred degrees celsius temperatures that crept just outside the spaceship’s hull. The whole system was run by a super-computer stored away somewhere in the ship’s many engineering rooms. Sometimes, when the Annabelle would pass too close to a star, it would have to enable carbon-conduction cooling methods to keep its sole passenger from baking alive. Lukas was happy for the protection. After all, space is a dangerous place.

The LED screens of the pilot’s monitor flashed bright blue for a second and then flicked fully on as Lukas approached the cockpit. He settled into the deep, leather arms of the captain’s chair and turned to face the bay window that lay before him. Almost immediately he shrunk back away from the emptiness that lurked outside of the thick glass wall. It was too much. For months he had stared out at the black and found only black staring right back. Now as he approached his destination he felt a knot form in the pit of his stomach. All of his preparation, all of his thoughts and imaginations about what he was about to discover were about to be reaffirmed or swept away with the alien winds.

Setting out from Earth, he knew he would be lonely. He had no delusions as to the distance between his flying tin-can and the orb of rock that he called home. After he switched to post-light speeds, he was no longer to contact anyone on Earth. Their communications simply could not reach him fast enough. But it was not without cause that he now flew through the vacuum of space. He flew for discovery and wonder and everything that had ever made a person stare breathlessly up at the night sky. But more importantly, he flew for peace. He flew for the end of the war that had raged for thirteen years between the North and the South.

The preparations for Lukas’ departure were made long before the location of the alien planet was know. They would be ready, they thought, so they could finally have the answers when they needed them most. But, after the map had been drawn, it was only a few short months before the first bullet left its chamber. The North couldn’t stand by while its southron brother destroyed the one thing keeping them safe. The South couldn’t let the opportunity go to waste. They launched their space shuttle, and the fighting began.

Annabelle was a capable ship; her top speed was one hundred and fifteen times that of light, and it relied on a warp drive system well ahead of its time. For the Southern scientists, however, that wasn’t fast enough. They wanted to be alive to see their ambassador reach the alien planet and peaceful encounter on a much different scale than had ever been seen before. So, much like its pilot, the Annabelle Lee was not the first choice for the mission. That honor went to the Red Baron, a highly advanced project that boasted some new technology sure to revolutionize space travel. But in the midst of a military skirmish surrounding the research base in Sao Paulo, the Baron was incapacitated, its navigation system ripped from its skeleton and the uranium cores that powered it stolen. There was no choice left. The launch had to go on.

Lukas was the third best astronaut in the lineup. Out of ten applicants, he was the second best navigator, the third best translator, and the worst fighter. But instead of succumbing to the pressure and dropping out of the ranks, Lukas stuck through the training and came out on top. He knew something the others didn’t. He craved something they hadn’t even begun to consider. They were not traveling sixty light years to conquer or to invade. They were going as ambassadors. Lukas understood that the only way to stifle the effects of war on Earth was to ask the questions that nagged at humanity’s heart. He alone could bring the message of peace to the aliens, and he alone could bring it back to Earth.

“What is our ETA?”

Lukas’ question rang about the steel walls of the cabin. A soft click of machinery swiveled the front-facing monitor to his eye level and a soft feminine voice answered his call.

“Approaching Gemini 3 -7 from rear-orbit. Acceleration negative one thousand kilometers per second. Arrival in 13 minutes.”

He stood and turned off the monitor, shutting down the cockpit lights as he went. Before he left he activated the automated external defense system linked to his spacesuit and designed to protect him from harm. The mission was to prevent violence, but he was blind against the unknown species, and he had no way of knowing what was out there.

Lukas made his way to the back of the ship where the loadout room was located. He donned a set of black composite gloves. They could withstand heat up to three thousand degrees Celsius and stood against cold just as vicious. He attached a small micro computer system to his back that would give off environmental readings and detect life forms within a thirty foot radius. A helmet of impenetrable diamond glass covered his head down to his shoulders, with a display that showed toxin levels in the air and the amount of oxygen left in his tank. He would be fine, he reasoned, thirteen hours of air was enough to get out and explore and then come back to the ship. Thirteen hours and he would be back on the ship, he told himself. All he has is thirteen hours.

His heart was racing inside his chest as he reached for the leather holster strapped to the wall. The clasps fit snugly around his waist, and he adjusted the belt so his laser gun would be just next to his hand. He lifted the gun from its place on the rack and looked it over twice. The carbon fiber handle fit nicely in his hand. It held enough power to level a house, if he needed it. For his life and the thirty billion back on Earth he prayed that he wouldn’t.

“Arrival in one minute at landing zone Alpha. Conditions stable. Wind speed thirty miles per hour with heavy sediment.”

“Doom. Doom. Doom” his heart seemed to scream at him. “Don’t open the door. You don’t know what’s out there. You don’t know what could be waiting.”

The Annabelle buckled under its own weight as the landing gears struck the hard alien ground. Three hundred and fifty to trillion miles, and he had made it. He took a deep breath to try and calm his heart and untie the knots in his stomach, but to no avail. His fingers shook as he raised his glove to the bright orange release button on the steel door in front of him. His hand fluttered nervously around the hilt of his laser gun. Annabelle shuddered and the door fell from its hinges to the ground below.

Ffffwwwwwwwwwww. The wind and dust howled into the ship as Lukas stumbled forward. The alien sediment trapped in the wind blew around his helmet, and he could not see but fifteen feet in front of him as he walked down the ramp. His feet found the rocky soil at the bottom of the ramp first, but his knees were soon to follow, digging into the cold, tan ground. He wasn’t sure if his eyes had seen what lay before him or if his imagination had conjured it.

A pale grey, muscular creature ten feet in length lay unmoving on the ground below. In its four seven-fingered hands it clutched sharpened poles made of the same black material as the artifact Lukas had studied to prepare for his mission. Its feet were like solid blocks of stone, dauntingly huge like its massive arms and torso, and callused from intense use. A surprisingly sophisticated face sported a pair of tusks that grew from just behind the alien’s jaw in the place of teeth. A long flat nose pointed up at the sky. Quiet and blank were its three blue eyes as they seemed to stare into the space in which Lukas had been standing. From its chest leaked a clear red liquid which had stopped flowing some time ago.

Lukas climbed shakily to his feet and stepped over the body. Tears now leaked from his face as he walked, but he pressed on. An alien hill loomed before him, but he could not find the capacity to climb it. Strewn across slope were dozens of other alien bodies, thrown about like ragdolls. Their tusks shown proudly in the light of the two suns. Their blood ran cold in the tan dust around them.

Taking a deep breath, Lukas turned and began walking towards a small shadow at the

edge of his vision. He strained to see a metallic looking object floating a few feet off of the ground. He picked up his pace and the object grew larger in the distance. His boots slammed one after the other on the hard rocks below his feet. The metal began to take form. Lukas slowed down to a walk as he realized it was the wing of a ship; his hand dropped to the pistol on his thigh. Slowly he walked left and ducked under the wing. The ship felt cold to the touch as he brushed his hand against its side. He took a step back and looked up. His knees buckled and his eyes watered as he stared at the side of the spacecraft. If his mission was to protect Earth from the attack of the aliens, it was complete.

The red letters on the side of the ship read: The Red Baron, Earth.


Captain’s Log

Captain Robert Stark II

May 25th, 2180

The Red Baron

Our destination was Gemini 3 -7, and we were to arrive on the 20th of May. We flew the Baron out past the orbit of Pluto to a location safe enough to test the new engine. Spirits were high as we knew we would be the first on the aliens’ doorstep. A ship was sent out some years before us, but more as a last minute resort than a full attempt at mission success. It was piloted by only one pilot, with no crewman or defense teams. By creating a wormhole in space-time we would be able bypass its travel speed infinitely. With this new technology we could go where and when we wanted in a matter of days. It took the Baron thirty six hours to prepare for launch and thirty minutes to create a wormhole. We entered not knowing if we would return, but without a single trial run, we were successful. We entered Gemini’s orbit and landed safely.

For a few days the aliens were nowhere to be found. We sent out search parties every six hours to check the surrounding hills. The rocky crags that overlooked landing zone Alpha were covered in thousands upon thousands of dark green bushes which we later attributed as the aliens’ primary food source. We found no animals on Gemini for the first couple of days, but eventually a couple dozen grey snake-looking creatures approached the ship. That was it, until we made first contact.

The aliens are a brutish bunch of foul-smelling creatures. Ten feet tall, skinless, and greyer than the London sky, they have three eyes bluer than the rivers that streamed around the landing zone. Two ugly, sharp tusks protrude from their mouths, and they have no teeth at all. They are quite primitive, and when we first discovered a small group huddled in a cave, they were brandishing long spears made of an unknown mineral. Seeing us at the mouth of the cave, they quickly grouped together and pointed their spears at our throats, shouting in some incomprehensible tongue. We made quick work of the lot and carried one back to the ship in a bag for DNA analysis. But it was not long before more, a force of about one hundred, quickly followed. They surrounded the Baron and locked us in the cockpit, forcing us back with their spears. Here we await what, death? Triumph? We hold our breath.

God save our souls.

Comments (2)

RubyJane Anderson (Student 2015)
RubyJane Anderson

I really like this. I think it invokes an interesting comparison between the colonization, imperialism, and the search for aliens. What will we do when/if we find aliens? I appreciate the imagery in this piece.