Author : Bob Newbell

I set the display to pan to the constellation of Canis Minor. The holographic celestial sphere rotates all around me until the Smaller Dog comes into view. I wave my hand over the controls. The display zooms in on Procyon A. The white main sequence star fills half the room. The image is a real-time picture, at least as real-time as 11.4 light-years of distance will allow. The Procyon system has no planets, but if it did I could zoom in on an object the size of a deck of cards on the surface of one.

All across the solar system telescopes of every variety continually search the sky. Sensors scrutinize gamma ray sources to determine if they are the product of an antimatter propulsion system. Detectors search the void for hints of Bremsstrahlung radiation that could come from the plasma confinement system of a fusion reactor. The possible visual signature of a photon rocket? Cyclotron radiation that might be a sign of an operating magnetic sail? A radio signal or modulated neutrino pulse of an extraterrestrial civilization? There are devices to detect all of them and more. And all of that data is sent to observation and early warning stations like this one.

We’ve been watching the skies for decades, watching for any telltale sign of an impending invasion. A second invasion, that is.

January 18, 2098. That was the day the human race finally made contact with an alien civilization. Much to everyone’s surprise, the signal came from Mars. To this day, we have no idea where they originated. We know it wasn’t Mars. They’d come from another star system and claimed Mars for themselves. In fact, they claimed the entire solar system. Earth was ours, their transmission said. And we could maintain satellites in orbit. But that was it. No manned missions and no more probes beyond Earth orbit. Even the Moon was off limits. The entire solar system outside of Earth was their territory. This ultimatum was the first, last, and only communication humanity ever had with the aliens.

The Chinese didn’t listen. Nine months later, they launched an instrumented probe to study Saturn. Three weeks after the launch, Beijing was annihilated. Antimatter weapon, the physicists who examined the aftermath said.

For six years after the destruction of Beijing, Mars was minutely studied by telescopes both on Earth and in Earth orbit. On July 9, 2106, the alien facilities on and in orbit around Mars were struck by 75 nuclear weapons. The Greater United States, China, the European Union, and the Russian Federation had developed stealthy vehicles that could approach the alien stronghold undetected. Each nuclear-armed probe had secretly gone up along with some other innocuous payload like a weather satellite and then surreptitiously proceeded to Mars. The aliens were obliterated.

For close to 50 years, humanity has studied the remnants of biology and technology left behind after the destruction of the invaders. As a result, we’ve advanced much faster than we otherwise would have. We’re all over the solar system now. There’s even serious discussion about a manned mission to Alpha Centauri before the end of the century. The dream of humanity exploring and colonizing space has finally come true. But it’s not the old science fiction vision of the human race evolving into something nobler and embracing its destiny among the stars. It’s a nervous necessity that drives mankind out into space. And we never stop watching the skies.

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