First Contact

Author : Patricia Stewart

“Commander’s Log, Hyper-light mission Alpha-one, Ship’s chronometer, Day 23,: Commander Adelmann reporting. The Tycho Brahe has completed another uneventful day. We are currently 7.1 light years from Earth. All systems are operating in the green. However, earlier today, during routine maintenance, Lieutenant DeHennis experienced a minor injury while attempting…”

Just then, the ship dropped out of warp, and all systems shut down. The entire ship was pitch-black. Even the independent emergency power did not function. However, there was a barely detectable blue haze visible outside the ship. That’s when Commander Adelmann noticed the menacing looking alien spacecraft floating 50 feet beyond the forward viewing ports. The alien ship launched a grappling cable that slammed into the hull. Almost instantly, the main computer came on-line. A few minutes later, a disembodied voice began to speak over the intercom. “Translating protocol initiated…click…please stand by…click…click…State your system of origin and destination.”

Under the circumstances, Commander Adelmann thought it was best to cooperate. “Uh, Earth. I mean Sol. We’re headed to Tau Ceti.”

“Do you know why your ship was deactivated?”

“Uh, because you wanted to make First Contact?”

“Negative. Your ship was flying at warp 1.1 in a non-designated area, your identification transponder is not functioning, and your warp field is not dampened…click…please stand by…click…click…Sir, Sol is in the Sirius Sector, but this ship is not registered. Please state your Sirius Department of Transportation Pilot Identification Number.”

“Identification Number? I don’t think I have one. This is the first manned mission outside of our solar system. I didn’t know…”

“Sir, are you saying that you are unaware that all warp corridors are either radial, at one degree intervals extending from the galactic black hole, or circumferential, at concentric intervals ten parsec apart? Are you also unaware that transponders are needed to identify and track ships in hyperspace?”

“Warp corridors? Transponders?”

“Sir, you cannot warp randomly around the galaxy. There are 14 quintillion spacecraft registered in this quadrant. If you don’t follow the designated corridors at the specified warp limits, you risk a collision with your fellow travelers, especially if you are not transmitting your spatial spherical coordinates. Surely sir,…click…You didn’t think you were the only one out here, did you?”

“Well…”

“In addition, sir…click…by warping through a non-designated area, you have caused damage to the Cetus amino-acid fields. I’m afraid…click…that your ship will have to be impounded. I will…click…activate you life support and communication systems. You will wait here until a tow-craft comes and takes you to Sirius Station. Your ship will be released when it is brought up to code, properly registered, and all fines and damages are paid. Your passengers can book transportation back to…click…Earth. However, you, sir, will have to be detained. The Magistrate…click…will want to talk with you. Since this is your species first offence, you will probably get…click…probation.”

“Probation? But…”

“I’m sorry, sir. If you have any…click…complaints, you’ll have to take it up with the Magistrate. In the future sir, please use only designated warp corridors, and…click…obey all warp limits…click…click…and sir…click…have a nice day…click.”

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Colonists

Author : Dr. Alexanders

The world did not snap back into focus for Jenna, but rather came in dribbles. The first sensation to return was the feeling of the restraining harness digging into her shoulders and pins and needles running through her extremities as the hibernation state wore off. Sound came next, the gentle hum and hiss of air processors and the array of electronic equipment that had been crammed into the capsule and had probably returned to life only hours before the processes designed to bring her out of deep sleep had begun. Vision was the last to return, the muscles controlling her eyelids would not work at first and several hours must have been spent completely conscious but unable to see or move.

During those hours, fear, excitement, and anxiety battled for dominance. Jenna was a part of a colonization mission; one of ten million colonists tightly packed into a dozen long range barges. They had been placed into hibernation as the trip had been scheduled to take more than 2,000 years traveling across the galaxy at a quarter of the speed of light. A small crew would have been awoken once they arrived at their new home. This crew would have confirmed the suitability of the planet’s chemistry and then sterilized the surface from orbit of any microbes that might have developed.

Once the planet was properly prepped, hundreds of thousands of seed capsules would have been crashed into the planet’s surface containing raw organic material, genetically engineered and programmed to evolve rapidly so that after a few thousand years the surface would be covered in a wide variety of native plants and desired animal species from Jenna’s home world. The evolutionary process would cause some slight differences, but it would also allow the species to modify themselves to be able to cope with the slight chemical differences of the planet. During this process the crew would have returned to hibernation. A handful of scientists would be awoken every hundred years or so to check on the evolutionary process. When the desired state had been reached a series of retroviruses would be introduced in order to slow the evolutionary pace to its normal rate and then the homestead pods containing the hibernating colonists would be launched and guided down to their landing sites.

When Jenna finally opened her eyes, she completed the last step of the initial colonization: the introduction of human life to this new planet. She could see that something was terribly wrong. A haze of old smoke drifted through the capsule, kept from her by the apparently still functioning filter on her hibernation capsule. Only the emergency lighting, which emitted a dim red glow, and occasional sparks from the console on the other side of the room enabled her to see that most of the other twenty hibernation capsules had been cracked open and now contained desiccated corpses.

Not everyone else was dead though. She could see into the capsule next to hers where Kieran was struggling with weakened muscles to operate the emergency release on his capsule, and tears were streaming down his face.

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506 Kelvin

Author : S. Clough

Five hundred and six degrees Kelvin is the temperature our burners need to reach. The tech boys designed them to burn at one thousand and seventy three. The operating temperature keeps going up and up: they seem to see it as a challenge. Anyway. We were heading back along the ninth princeway when it happened. The truck stopped, and swerved off the road, accelerating. Control had jacked our truck from the meat driver and some damn kid was joyriding us as fast as possible towards a presumably important assignment.

Well, the bit about the kid might be an exaggeration. But that’s what it feels like – that sort of reckless abandon you see kids play their games with. Not minding about the odd dent or the rough jump because they won’t feel it, and the damage will be gone by the next round. We buckled down and rode it out. We figured we arrived at our destination when the truck did a screeching right hand turn, nearly rolling, before pulling to a halt. We barrelled out of the back, burners readied. We had pulled up outside a pair of buildings: a farmhouse and a barn. People were streaming out of the barn, some towards us, and some away.

Liz and Patrick broke away to the right, quickly catching up with, and knocking down any of the escapees that were carrying boxes. They were the prize, not the people. They let the rest of them run away. The few who had approached us were obviously belligerent in their attitudes. Most were waving cudgels, although one or two had illegal firearms in their hands. Acts of aggression against Civil Protection troops is treason anyways, so we got rid of them all. Frank’s right burner misfired, though, so he ended up just punching one of them until he stopped trying to attack. Poor sod will probably have to repair it out of his own paycheck.

We collected all the contraband around the houses. Lee knocked one of the walls of the farmhouse in, just for good measure. He said he thought that there might be a secret compartment, although I reckon that was just for the benefit of the tape. That boy likes destruction a little too much. But he is in the right line of work to get plenty of it.

We had collected all the cases in the centre of the barn, and since I was Duty, I was about to put fire to them.

This was Lee’s first real hit. And in a flagrant breach of all our protocol, he stepped in front of me, and opened one of the cases. He picked up one of the objects from inside, tore off the opaque plastic which covered it, and stared. He tried to open the book with his heavily gloved hands, but just managed to tear the cover and the first few pages off.

“Wha…?” he mouthed.

Frank heaved him out of the way, and I put fire to the pile.

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Scentsation

Author : Michelle Pitman

Candice didn’t quite know where to put the thing in her hand.

It was small and light, delicate beyond belief and it sat in her hand quietly still and inscrutable. She didn’t really want to put it down because it was so cute and pretty.

After some deliberation, she decided that it was probably best to put it on the mantel over the firescreen in the corner. From there she would be able to see it from nearly every angle in the room, watch it and amuse her self in the watching it.

It didn’t have a name…yet. It was still in beta testing. She was on the TechWatch Committee listings for these sorts of things anyway so she often had new things come to her out of the blue. This thing had arrived quite unexpectedly in her mail box that morning –zapped into her mail console just like that – whilst she had been concentrating on synthesising some pure Papuan New Guinean coffee beans. It had given her quite a start.

She had known for sometime that this thing was in development but hadn’t expected that she would be privileged enough to actually own one for a month or two during the beta testing period.

She eyed the tiny contraption on the mantel curiously. As she stared, she breathed lightly onto the object and imagined a scene in her mind from her past. The accompanying notes had explained that this was important. Nothing happened for a moment and she was almost disappointed when all of a sudden she felt shivering waves of memory sweep over her.

The smell! Was it the sweet smell of coffee perhaps? No – that was the beans in her kitchen!

A rush of emotion zapped through her. She remembered sitting on the lawn, as a young woman; sitting back and breathing in the heady cologne of him beside her. She had loved him so much, but he was distant, rational and ever so un-romantic. But, she had loved him all the same.

It was his cologne! She could smell it as clearly as on that day! But there was more! She could smell the background scents of new mown grass, of sweaty teenagers playing ball on the holo-court near where they sat. She could smell the subtle distant synth-blended perfumes of other girls who sat in small cliques around them. And him! She could smell him. The memories and emotions ripped through her like lightening rods. She had virtually forgotten this scene from her past until now. The shock of it made her gasp out aloud.

“Holy Shit!” she whispered. “It works!”

She quickly went to the low table in front of the fire-screen and grabbed a tap-pad, itching to make some notes before the moment passed.

‘First test for object number ZXY-4653: Made an eye-level trigger stare on object for approx. 30 seconds. Subject breathed over object as explained in user notes. Experienced strong olfactory sensation and subsequent emotional memory recall. Subject is astonished at clarity of recall due to very accurate scent reconstruction.’

She smiled. This was going to be a whole lot of fun. The little pretty object just sat inscrutably on her mantel oblivious to its potential

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Ice Rustlers

Author : Patricia Stewart

The annoying throb of the proximity klaxon woke the two security guards (aka, Comet Cowboys) from their mid day rest period. They drifted into the control room and floated above the sensor-generated hologram of the “herd.” The “herd” consisted of approximately 3,000 mountain-sized blocks of ice that once were comet 2P/Encke. In the early twenty third century, The Mars Water and Mineral (MWM) Company bought the rights to the comet and spent years breaking it up into manageable fragments. Then, every 3.3 years (when its orbit brought it nearer to Mars) they would “corral” a few blocks and sell the water to the farming conglomerates on Mars, at a substantial profit of course. However, the conglomerates considered the markup so unreasonable that they revolted. They hired ice rustlers to raid the herd and steal large fragments of the comet; thus starting the Great Ice War of 2279. Eventually, the United Worlds stepped in and negotiated a peace, but there were still some bands of freelance rustlers who would occasionally try to steal a block or two to sell on the black market.

Roy Cody surveyed the hologram and spotted the intruder. “Just one ship,” he said pointing the sole flashing red light amongst the 3,000+ drifting white dots. “They must really be stupid to think they could slip under our sensor grid. I’ll handle this one myself.”

“Fine,” said his partner. “But remember the treaty. You can’t blow them up unless they fire first. But feel free to disable their engines, or cut their grapple line.”

When Cody arrived at the designated location, he discovered a dilapidated one person skiff, which was at least 100 years old, and it was struggling to flee the herd with a comet fragment the size of a small house. Roger pressed the ship-to-ship communications button. “This is security. Unknown ship, please identify yourself.”

“Cody, is that you? It’s Buck, Buck Cassidy. How did you know I was out here?”

Buck was one of the original “cowboys.” He had worked the herd during the war, and had trained Roy when he became a guard in ‘98. Buck had retired a decade ago, and didn’t know about the security upgrades.”

“Yeah, Buck, it’s me. Where you goin’ with the cube old friend?”

“I’m desperate, son,” he replied. “They stopped delivering water to Demos. They’re trying to drive me planetside. I’ve lived on Demos all my life. I’ll never survive Mars’ gravity. Look, Roy, this block won’t survive perihelion anyway, and it will last me the rest of my life. Can’t you cut me a break?”

Cody knew Buck was right; they don’t shield these little chunks. It would probably evaporate next time it passes the sun. What the hell. “All right, Buck, get moving. And, listen, don’t shoot back.” As Buck continued to limp away, Roger fired two shots across his bow. “Base, this is Ranger One. It was just some teenagers on a joy ride. I ran them off. I’m heading back to the barn.”

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