Premiered June 24, 2003
Woody sat staring at the darkened overhead of the stateroom. A rustle by his side in the small bunk reminded him Marie did not sleep well whenever he stayed with her after they had had sex. Not that she would ever suggest he get up and leave. Such an active form of discourtesy was not within her purpose. She would feel strongly obliged never to treat Woody in such a cavalier and cruel fashion. Nevertheless, Woody knew the stateroom bunks were not designed for two people -- at least for sleeping. Besides, it was almost time for his watch.
Woody sat up, swinging his bare legs to the soft but firm carpet Marie had selected for her stateroom’s deck. Sitting there on the edge of the bunk while Marie rustled about slightly seeking a more comfortable position with her new found space; Woody did not appear to be the satisfied lover. Sex with Marie had, as always, been nice, and Woody felt physically satisfied. It just wasn’t enough.
Sex always seemed one-sided with Marie. This time she had apparently been only mildly interested in having Woody in her stateroom at all. Not that she had resisted; she never did that. But the idea had not appeared to have any big appeal to her. In Woody's mind, her decision seemed based more on not disappointing Woody or keeping up with Kat Stevens, than in fulfilling any of her own desires. The subtle difference was important to Woody.
He could take encouragement from the fact Marie had certainly responded -- she almost always did. But the feeling was brief, and she never hinted she'd like a return engagement. Her apathy gnawed away at Woody. She just didn't seem to care -- a fact which gave Woody's thoroughly objective mind all sorts of evidence to mull over and be subject to his gnawing objectivity.
It had occurred to him at one point in their relationship that her laissez-faire attitude toward love making, her doing just enough in bed to complete the task, might merely be her way of maintaining his interest; a bit of the tease. It seemed a reasonable ploy -- to always hold something back, so that the lover would always keep returning. It was even a reasonable alternative.
"To hell with it!" he muttered under his breath. Then with a brief caress of her raised hip he stood up, grabbed his clothes and began to dress. She barely acknowledged the caress, having come to expect it as his parting shot. Dressed, he left her stateroom, made a quick visit to his own, and then headed for Control to relieve Van Lantz, and take the next watch.
Woodward looked up as he entered the control room to where Van Lantz set monitoring the ship's functions. Clearly he had been aware of Woody as he had made his way to Control.
”Morning, Larry. Top of the world to you.”
"No, nothing special." Then as he took the second of the two command chairs (the one normally reserved for Michaels), he asked, "What's happening?"
Assuming this to be a request for the formal turn over of the watch, Van Lantz answered by verbally rehashing the routine status of the ship. Woody nodded as he followed the report on his own status board. But the verbal report was also part of the computer record. It had to be done -- if only for tradition's sake.
Vaguely bored, Woody asked, "What data sensors do we have on the fifth planet?"
"The computer, at Sorrenson's suggestion, has every available, short range sensor scanning the planet. There's not a whole lot to see yet, but you know Max: Waste not, want not."
Woody smiled. Then he addressed the computer directly, "Ralph, what do you see on planet five?"
The computer acknowledged with a carefully programmed, blasé reaction. "It's just a ball of methane and hydrogen gas and well below the level of being able to generate any significant radiation. Nothing special. We've seen lots of them."
"Just thought I'd ask, Ralph. Thanks, anyway."
Having watched Woody during the exchange, Larry asked, "Why do you call the computer, Ralph?"
Woody ignored the fact Van Lantz was the only officer who did not use Woody's name for the voice-controlled computer, and answered, "Habit mostly. All the star ships I've ever been on have pet names for their computers. Besides it helps to prevent a lonely watch if you have a friend to talk to."
Larry seemed unsatisfied with the answer. It had not occurred to him he might be lonely on a watch.
"What do we know of the fourth planet now?"
"Lady Katherine?” Van Lantz smiled. “As a matter of fact, Kat was just here, pushing the sensors to the limit, trying to find out. Basically she's determined that the Lady is about 1.09 times the size of earth, with a gravitational pull of 1.10 g. Atmosphere is 33.2 percent oxygen, 65.1 percent nitrogen, 1.1 percent carbon dioxide and 0.6 percent lesser gases, none of which are likely to be toxic. There is an abundance of water covering about 82% of the surface, with the land masses small and widely dispersed over the planet. The biggest chunk of land appears slightly smaller than the Australian subcontinent. Even there the land is so riven with water that there are virtually no large inland areas separated by any great distance from the seas. Apparently the land is a skeletonized net of green, with water liberally thrown about. The planet's color comes off as a continuum of blue with scatterings of green and white -- the white apparently water vapor."
"Kat has been busy," Woody remarked. "Sounds like she really does have an earth-type planet."
"There's only one problem. There’s absolutely no radio/TV or electromagnetic noise. Consequently, the most we can hope for is a technologically backward, insignificant civilization."
"Not necessarily. EM radiation is not a criteria for an advanced civilization."
"We haven't seen the exception to the rule yet."
"Perhaps," Woody suggested slyly, "That has not been due to pure chance alone. Perhaps an advanced culture might not want contact with the likes of us."
Larry let the remark slide. Then he said, "Plus there are no other signs of life, no city lights and no bright spots."
"Can Kat pick up city lights this far out?"
"With the new equipment, she could perhaps spot a city the size of old Saint Louis from this distance."
"Well, that's too bad if there's nothing there. Kat is going to eat a bit of crow if this planet doesn't produce something."
Larry agreed. "She was more than a little depressed when she left. She really wants a find this time."
"Well at least she can always find comfort in the fact that if there are no intelligent species there, she gets a whole new earth-type planet as a namesake. And with a good colonization effort, her name could become immortal. "
"That's true. But it only means something if they colonize it. And the energy costs of putting farmers and settlers through hyperspace just about rules out any real possibility of colonization in her lifetime. Forget what the politicians keep rambling about; that's just for the crowds in the cities. One simply does not go around contracting space with massive amounts of energy in order to transport pioneers to a new home."
"The flaw in your argument, my friend, is not accounting for vast improvements in technology. Hyperspace travel may not of necessity require such prodigious amounts of energy."
"According to the laws of physics, it does."
"Don't put too much stock in the solidity of such laws. They have a habit of undergoing strange modifications as we go along. Too often someone figures out a loophole in almost any well established physics. Hell, it wasn't that long ago they laughed at relativistic space contraction."
"Perhaps," Larry answered, noncommittally.
Woody noted the fact, and with a quick glance back over his command board, acknowledged, "I relieve you, sir."
"I stand relieved." Larry smiled and rose. With a slight stretch, he added, "I think I'll go comfort Kat. She probably needs a bit of cheer right now."
"You're all heart, Larry.”
Woody moved easily through the passageway as only an experienced star ship trooper could. Even in the higher gravity which they were now experiencing, he moved with almost careless grace. He had always had the ability to make the transitions to the various gravities experienced on the accelerations and de-accelerations with ease, and substantially better than the other officers of Intrepid. He considered this talent a rare and useful tool he had developed through great trial and effort. Shari Ryerson claimed it was just his weird and flexible bone structure. They enjoyed, almost relished, their disagreement on this moot question.
When Woody entered the Intrepid's miniature (but extensively instrumented and equipped) medical clinic, Shari was resting on one of the couches. She looked up, frowned slightly at his lack of discomfort at higher g, and then lapsed into a smile.
Woody greeted her with, "Hello beautiful. Tired?"
Shari grinned only slightly. "Of course I'm tired. Any normal -- emphasis on 'normal' -- person would be tired when they're under 10% more gravity than our lovely bodies were constructed for." Then she added, "But fear not. I'll be strong as an ox by the time we touch down on Lady Kat."
Woody smiled, grabbed a flare stool, seated himself easily, and took up his best bedside manner for the doctor. "I'm not worried. Just take two aspirin and me in the morning. Or earlier, if you think you're up to it. I'm certainly available!"
"With that kind of encouragement," she smiled back, "I'll be sure to schedule myself a non-tired period."
"Great! Now back to business." Woody's face took on a more serious tone. "What about Kat?"
Shari's mind abruptly shifted to her professionalism. Her first thought was the additional gravity imposed by the de-acceleration of Intrepid, which would help to prepare everyone for the heavier gravitational pull of Lady Katherine (standard operating procedure for starships planning possible landings on a planet). "Is the extra gravity getting to her? I hadn't noticed."
"Oh no; Kat's already as strong as an ox. Or so I’m told by… authorities on the subject. I'm really more concerned about her psychological state."
"Have you talked to Rip?"
"No. I'm always a little hesitant to mention crazy things to Rip – he has a tendency to switch patients on you. Besides I want to keep this thing unofficial; make sure there's a problem first. So I came to you to get an off-the-cuff opinion."
"Sounds reasonable. What are the symptoms?"
Woody took a moment to compose his thoughts. "Kat is putting a lot into this idea of hers that Lady Kat has an intelligent species. She has developed an almost religious fever that we've hit pay dirt on her namesake planet. Unfortunately we're getting no indication that there is anything there of significance."
"None. Stray or otherwise. The kind of electromagnetic silence the fourth planet is putting out is almost a sure bet for a primitive, pre-civilization at best."
"Is electromagnetic silence that significant?"
"I think so. Every single uninhabited, earth type planet that has so far been discovered by the NSEM's has yielded dead silence in the radio/TV frequencies. On the other hand, the Molikian and Rynangi civilizations were putting out beacons full of noise all over the frequency spectrum."
"Okay. I'll accept that. Now, how does a dead loss for the planet Lady Kat, effect the psychological stability of our Kat?"
"I'm just concerned about her disappointment."
Shari smiled sympathetically, "We'll all be disappointed. But disappointment is part of life. "
Woody grimaced. "I know that Shari. But I don't want Kat hit that hard. She's a hard charger, and I wouldn't want her to suffer too much loss of face. We're going to need her on the rest of this mission."
"Well, I really don't think there's a problem. Sure she'll be disappointed, everyone will be. But other than passing the word to the others to a void aggravating the problem, what else can we do?"
"I figured Kat has been so hyped on this approach that you might do something to slow her down."
"No way. That I won't buy. We can't do her growing up for her."
Woody stared at her for a moment. "That's a bit harsh."
"It's not intentionally harsh. Just realistic. If Kat is the type that puts her emotions on the line on a regular basis, and I agree that she is indeed the type, then we're not helping her if we don't allow her to come to her own terms. If she were in really serious trouble, sure. Then we'd leap in with both feet so that she could pull herself out of it. But she's quite capable of handling disappointment."
"No maybe about it. Kat is tough." Then Shari smiled a bit more gleefully. "Of course, in her disappointment, she might not be the best of company. And I'm sure that may cause quite a bit of disappointment among some of the other crew members."
Woody glared back at the doctor, as if to admonish her. But he recognized the core of truth. Quietly he said, "Okay, I'll go along with you."
"I'm honored," she answered, smiling.
He shrugged. "That's why I asked your opinion. If I didn't occasionally heed your advice, there wouldn't be much reason to ask."
"And not much reason for me to answer."
Woody acknowledged her statement with a simple nod. Then, "If you're just going to lay around all the time, I think I'll check into Control and see what's happening."
Shari looked surprised, then slightly suspicious. As Woody got up to leave, she asked, "Who's on watch?"
Woody hesitated, just a second. "Uhhhh... Katherine, I believe."
Shari laughed slightly. Cheerfully she said, "Well daddy Woodward, you go and take care of your little girl, you hear?"
Woody grinned sheepishly, and left the clinic without another word.
When he reached Control, Woody glanced around and saw the room was vacant except for Kat. The junior-most officer was busy at her console, interacting with the computer as she monitored all the sensors now trained on the fourth planet. Woody noted instinctively she had not noticed him. Because she had not been monitoring his approach using the myriad of the ship's life support monitors, this told him she was still wholly absorbed in finding some sign of life. It was generally almost impossible to arrive at Control unannounced from any other compartment on the ship -- provided the watch officer in Control was keeping up with the monitors. While it was not a requirement of the watch to keep track of everyone aboard, it was generally done by all of the officers, including Kat. But now she had other things on her mind. Woody frowned slightly; her absorption in the planetary sensors was not necessarily good for the watch officer. Then he made up a casual smile, and noisily stepped into Control.
Kat was only momentarily startled. Then she smiled the gentle, tender smile on which she apparently had the patent, and greeted him warmly, "Hi, Woody. Up and about, I see."
"Oh yeah. I always get restless when everyone else is pretending invalid-status."
Kat laughed slightly. "Spoken like a true freak of nature." Then she grinned even more and kidded, "It must be lonely at the top of the physically-fit summit."
Woody smiled more than the ribbing justified. It appeared Kat had more reserves than he had suspected. "We all have our crosses to bear."
Kat smiled again, but then returned to her console, and began a new series of sensor monitoring exercises. Woody watched her as he went to his own console and strapped himself in loosely. Clearly she was still searching for that one factor to announce the presence of sentient beings on the planet named Lady Kat.
Then just as he had begun to get badly discouraged, he hit it! Using a modified long range, infrared scanner adjusted for an unusual setting; he abruptly came upon a perfect rectangle. Because nature never dealt in straight lines on macro-scale, a large, perfect rectangle on a planetary mass could be attributed only to intelligent beings. As he pushed the instruments to their limits, he began to note other straight lines diverging from the rectangle. The lines then took on a form which reminded Woody of the standard remote sensing textbook's illustrations on expected appearances of technological and industrial centers.
The doubts and concerns in his mind vanished. It was not particularly scientific of him, but he no longer had any doubts: Lady Katherine was inhabited by a real genuine technological race. Maybe not advanced to the point of electromagnetic transmissions, but with an ability to build on a large scale, which would still be good news. Kat Steven's intuition had apparently been true to form.
Abruptly his lifetime of scientific objectiveness stopped him. The evidence he had seen indicated only a tentative estimate of a technology -- past or present. There was some justification they could expect a civilized race still in existence, but it might also be a no longer extant civilization. And these were logical, scientific doubts. Nevertheless Woody decided he would forego such doubts this time. He would abide with Kat's faith until proven wrong. They had a First Contact, coming up. It was decided.
His thrill and excitement at the prospect was dampened only by the realization he should notify everyone else and get them thinking on the prospects. Everyone would be needed to increase the collection, analysis and evaluation of the data on the planet.
But then… another thought entered his mind. There would be very little lost if the announcement were delayed for a few hours. And because Kat still had three hours on her watch, she could easily run across the same data herself in her normal scan of the monitoring equipment -- especially if Woody left the present fine tuning of the IFF remote sensor at its present setting. Better that she discover the evidence; he had received enough already.
Quietly, with a slight discouragement on his face, Woody got up. With a slight hand gesture, he said bye to Kat and left Control.
Ninety seven minutes later, a very excited and bubbling Lt. Stevens asked if he might come to Control, whenever he got the chance. She had something that might be of interest to him.
When Woody, with Van Lantz right behind him, arrived in control, everyone else was already there. Even the doctors were helping, as six very excited people began to utilize every available sensor to wring out more facts on the apparent civilization residing on the fourth planet of XC-137. Even the Captain seemed immersed. But when Woody and Larry reached their consoles, Michaels ordered, "Woodward, you and Van Lantz check out the computer data upload to the Number One Communications Pod."
Woody stopped in midstream. Then quickly, "Aye, Captain." Then to Larry, "We'll check out the physical connections first." Quickly Van Lantz acknowledged the order and they left control together.
When they arrived at the communications pod bays, Larry for the first time broke the short silence brought on by Michael's 'return-to-business' attitude. "Woody, you think Michaels will really launch one of these?"
Woody shrugged. "If we obtain clear data that indicates we definitely have a First Contact with a reasonably advanced civilization, he will."
"But these damn things are expensive. And the energy to slam one through hyperspace will drain our reserves. We might have to skip a star system on the tail end of the mission."
"Possibly. But if we get a First Contact with a new technological, trading partner for earth; nobody will give a damn if we head home immediately thereafter."
"I suppose you're right." Then after a moment, Larry asked, "They've never used a comm pod on a First Contact, have they?"
"Nope. We may be the first."
"And no one's worried that the very act of launching one of these mothers might in itself trigger a hostile reaction from the alien race?"
"Oh sure, there are some who are worried about that. I'm worried about it. But on the other hand it's damn good insurance -- it tells the aliens our friends will know something about what's going on, just in case they figure they don't want us to return to our home planet."
"Too bad we can't just send a quite message home on a carrier beam."
"We could. But it would take light years before anyone on earth heard from us. Let's face it; if you want communications at speeds faster than light, then you have to use hyperspace. And for that, you need massive objects which allows for the relativistic space field contraction. If you don't warp space to fit your needs, then you have to take space as it is, and plan on a very long communication time. Comm pods, expensive or not, are just the only way we can communicate in a reasonable length of time."
"Launching the first one is going to be one helluva decision for Michaels."
"No, it isn't. It's out of his hands. He has crystal clear instructions on the decision to launch a comm pod."
"But I bet it's full of all sorts of contingencies and calls for judgment."
Woody seemed to agree with Van Lantz for just a moment. Then he turned back to the number one communications pod. As Larry went thru the check list, Woody checked all connections and indicators. The check list was almost superfluous, because both Woody and Larry had learned the procedures by heart. In a rush they could launch a comm pod in about eight and one half minutes, including a complete computer upload into the pod.
When they were finished they headed back to Control. From there they had the computer load the pod with all existing data on XC-137. Working in overlapping shifts, they monitored the process carefully.
It was three days before the job of collecting data, analyzing it and synthesizing everything into a total whole, was complete. They had by this time achieved a stable, but distant orbit on the planet Lady Katherine. Then the Captain had ordered Thomas and Stevens to an 8-hour rest. By the time they had returned, Michaels gave them the watch and ordered everyone else (including himself) to an identical 8-hour rest period. Almost four days after "Kat's discovery", the entire crew was in Control at their respective consoles, with 8 hours of rest behind them, and ready for their first serious, Round Table Discussion.
The "Round Table Discussion" might have been more appropriately named the “Octagonal Table Discussion”, because of the eight consoles grouped around a central computer, data retrieval, and input, display and communications station. Each officer sat at a console especially designed for their specific duties. Thus the eight stations included Command, Science, Astronavigation, Engineering, Medical, Psychology, Computer, and Space Survey. But all consoles could be used to monitor all other stations as well (although not in quite the same detail).
More importantly the set up allowed for one console to drive each of the others so that any one officer could present a particular set of data or argument on each of the other officer's consoles. Thus the round table discussion allowed for a complete discussion with individual officers retrieving and displaying information for everyone's benefit on a complete set of video and computer interfaces. And while each of them could monitor everything on their respective consoles, they could also see each other across the tops of the monitors as well. Only Ralph, who was caught in the middle, was left out of the discussions.
When everyone seemed warmed up and ready, Michaels ordered Stevens to start the discussion. Kat had been preparing herself for just such an occasion, but her excitement and enthusiasm seemed about to eliminate any hope of a calm and rational discussion from her. She took a couple of deep breaths (just as she had been taught in debate), and began to outline her points for discussion for the benefit of her crewmates and for the Comm-1 record.
"A current technological society has been observed on the fourth planet of the star system, XC-137. This conclusion is based upon the observation of twelve different sites at various locations around the land mass of the planet. These sites show clear indications of industrial complexes which are currently in operation. The energy source for the industrial sites is apparently based on fusion, solar, geothermal or some unknown means; there being no indications at present to suggest fission and/or combustion of hydrocarbons or other fuels."
"The null findings of combustion and/or fission power plants is based on spectral and remote radiation sensing?"
Kat glanced at Michaels quickly, "Yes, sir." Then she continued, "The industrial complexes are very obvious and clearly distinct from the surrounding areas. All of the twelve observed sites are of approximately the same size. There is no evidence of smaller units at other locations. But while the complexes are clearly recognizable, there is nothing which suggests a city of any size. The area appears quite rural, with no cities of any significance, and with the major "industrial complexes" randomly scattered about."
"Excuse me." Kat turned at Thomas's voice, and quickly let her have the floor. "I don't think," Marie went on, "That we should suggest that these industrial sites are randomly located. In fact they appear very carefully spotted."
Michaels was quick to respond. "I don't see the pattern. My console shows a pretty random distribution."
"Over the face of the planet, yes. But if we consider only the land mass, then the site selections appear more refined. In addition, Stevens has pointed out that a large percentage of the land mass is virtually untouched by the civilization."
"I suspect they're wilderness areas." Kat added.
Thomas glanced at Kat for only a second. "Yes, I agree". Then she turned back to Michaels. "There does seem to be a clear distinction between the relatively 'groomed' areas, where we find apparent thoroughfares and the only signs of civilizations, and the untouched or wilderness areas. The interesting aspect is that the wilderness areas are fairly extensive with fringes of the untouched land inserted into the groomed areas. It's much like a very mountainous region where all the lower elevations and valleys are well tended, and the mountains and higher elevations are quite untouched."
"What does this have to do with the random or non-random distribution of industrial sites?"
Marie smiled. "If you plot the civilized areas on the planetary map, and locate the industrial sites, you can see that there is one industrial site strategically located for each of the distinct civilized areas. These distinct areas are shown on the monitor by the closed loops I've drawn on Kat’s map. It appears to me that each civilized area of a particular size has its own industrial site. The pattern is only obscured if the wilderness areas are not distinct from the groomed areas."
Max then joined in. "What you're saying is that the population areas, that is the groomed areas, are carefully grouped about the various industrial complexes. By the same token there is an abundance of wilderness areas, so that all sections of the populated areas have easy access to the wilderness areas?"
"I don't think we can call the groomed areas, population areas just yet; but yes I agree that no part of the groomed areas are very far from wilderness.”
When Max did not respond further to Thomas' answer, Kat added, "An important aspect of the extensive wilderness areas is that they are primarily mountainous areas. There are apparently no large swamps, everglades, or rain forests. By the same token there are essentially no savannas or deserts of any significant size."
"Kat’s observation is, I think," Marie added, "very important. The mountainous regions are in fact rather mundane with no apparent ruggedness to any of them. They're Appalachian type mountains, not Rockies. And even in the midst of the wilderness, there is easy access between the groomed areas. I suspect certain of the paths from one complex to another, are fairly sophisticated passageways."
There was a momentary silence as everyone absorbed the information. Each of them had had a hand in retrieving the data on the planet. Now they needed time to check the conclusions and inferences now racing across their consoles, with whatever observations seemed important to them.
Woody spoke for the first time. "I think if I were to design a planet, I would do it just like this one. Plenty of seas with the land masses carefully scattered about and with lots of mountainous and wilderness areas thrown here and there. I think it might be nice to have a wilderness area always close by, no matter where you live."
Moltz, almost to himself, quoted, "In wilderness is the preservation of the world."
Van Lantz, snorted slightly. "Aren't we getting ahead of ourselves?" There was no immediate answer, but Larry glimpsed the hint of approval on Michaels' face. Encouraged, he continued, "The only real facts we have are our remote sensor readings, indicating current activity of something we have come to associate with technological or industrial sites. And yet we seem to be extrapolating this one data point to include civilizations and planetary restructuring to suit the pleasure of some intelligent being. I remind you we have yet to pick up other corroborating evidence such as electromagnetic emissions."
"A lack of radio or electronic noise does not rule out a civilization," Kat retorted.
"As a matter of fact," Marie added, "An advanced civilization might very well have reached a stage where they no longer announce their presence by inadvertent radio noise."
"Of course," Larry answered, "But there's no reason to assume the contrary."
"The evidence of industrial activity as seen by the high levels of heat generation in non-random patterns cannot be so easily dismissed." It was clear Stevens now had her dander up.
"I would think," Marie interrupted, "The crucial point is we have significant indicators of an intelligent species, but with no radio or other electronic noise to give us a hint of what the species may be like. We'll be landing blind."
Then Michaels interrupted abruptly. "If and when we land; that decision has not yet been made."
Everyone was momentarily shocked, but Marie could not contain it. "But we have to land! There's no point otherwise." Then the look on Michaels' face reminded her of who was the captain and who was the junior officer.
When everyone had calmed down from the enthusiasm of the moment, the Captain began, "It is clear the indications of industrial activity make a landing the desirable choice. But the absence of radio emissions, and thus information on the civilization, make it a risky one. As Thomas has pointed out, we would be coming in blind. More importantly we may have stumbled onto a society which has reached the industrial age, but not yet the electronic. The potential for massive cultural shock on any resident alien is enormous. We must be particularly careful not to cause any great furor, any incidents, or commit any blunders which will dampen future relations."
After a silence, Woody shifted in his chair, as if to gain attention. When the Captain recognized him, Woody carefully changed the subject. "The industrial sites do not apparently use a fossil fuel technology. Wouldn't that imply a more advanced society?"
Kat, who was also the planetary base's culturist, dropped her head slightly, as she admitted, "Certainly possible, but not necessarily. There are alternative routes to achieving an industrial age."
"But the absence of electromagnetic noise eliminates most of those pathways. It suggests it's more likely they've somehow progressed beyond the electronic stage."
"It might be pure geothermal. The planet's geology may make this the more natural path."
"But the non-random distribution of the industrial sites would suggest the sites are not built on geologically convenient areas, but as a matter of choice. Their power source seems relatively independent of geologic location."
Kat smiled slightly, "You might be right."
There was a momentary silence as the others considered the ideas. Then the discussion continued for another three hours, while every aspect of the known planet's characteristics were discussed and analyzed.
When every aspect had been thoroughly dissected, and there was nothing more to evaluate, Max looked at his Captain for the next move. For a moment, Michaels made no move to speak, forcing Max to initiate the question. "Are we ready for recommendations?" When no one indicated otherwise, Max turned to Kat, "Lt. Stevens?"
Kat looked up briefly, smiled, took a deep breath, and answered, "I recommend a landing on the planet's surface, with an overt attempt at First Contact."
Max nodded and turned to Larry. "Van Lantz?"
Larry was typically brief. "Recommend landing."
Rip always felt slightly out of place in these types of discussions which were primarily technical. Yet he recognized that the regulations requiring the psychologist's input in addition to the other officers was in fact a request that he state an opinion as to the fitness of the crew for the proposed evolution. He knew they were all excited, but he could also see the will power being exerted to maintain complete composure. They were as ready now as they would ever be. "I recommend landing with intent to make First Contact."
When each of the other officers had made the same basic recommendation, Max concurred and turned to the Captain for the final decision. Michaels glanced around at the officer's faces for just a moment. Then, "The decision is that we land, in full view, with intent to make First Contact with any alien species." When everyone smiled and relaxed a bit, Michaels continued, "The decision is easy; it's the execution I want each of you to think about.
"We may be about to make First Contact with an alien race. A species potentially so alien as to horrify or thrill us. Their minds we may find to be so different that they become utterly incomprehensible. On the other hand, they may seem on the surface to be like the folks back home, and then we make the mistake of thinking we understand them."
The idea of making contact with an alien mind at first frightened each of them, but the excitement generated by all the wild and fantastic possibilities that could lay before them, far exceeded any fears. This was the opportunity of their lives: The chance to experience the most unique incident conceivable. Michaels' words could have little effect on this overpowering excitement. But still he insisted.
"Commander Sorrenson will do a complete debriefing on each of you on the Rynangi and Molikian First Contacts. I want each of you to be intimately aware of our status as observers. We’re here to observe and learn, not to modify or interact in any way. It is paramount we look before we leap in all things. The critical factor is to never overreact. If all alternatives seem even slightly undesirable, the rule is not to react at all.
"Remember, the Molikian and Rynangi were not all that alien to us. There is an enormous similarity in their concepts of thinking and in their physical characteristics. They do have very different societies, but that is a cultural bias, not a radically different manner of thought. They are close cousins, in comparison to what we might encounter."
"By the same token, don't overreact to apparent similarities. Remember that the Gertrude computer will be handling all translations. Even if their language is learnable, we will continue to use Gertrude to translate all communications. A computer with an unfailing memory and the ability to evaluate all the nuances of a language is far less likely to make a bad assumption in a literal translation.
“Don't forget the brains that built Gertrude also put in a library of standard expressions. If an alien says through Gertrud) something like 'separate but equal', or 'it's in the bag'; just remember those familiar expressions are just part of Gertrude's humanizing so that she will seem less computerized to us when we're using her. Don't assume some sort of parallel evolution, and subsequently leap off the deep end with an unwarranted assumption.
"Another thing: Security. The security of this ship is paramount. Ralph will be maintaining all security defenses as a normal procedure. Gertrude will be totally severed from Ralph to prevent even the hint of cross linkages. Duty officers will pay close attention to security as well. We will be on alert status two or higher for the duration. A quick lift off on a moment's notice -- with or without all hands on board -- and only for reasons of a 'gut feeling', will be standard procedure. Are there any questions?"
"Where and when do we touch down?" Marie asked.
"Thomas, I want a recommendation from Stevens and yourself on a site. It should be selected so that we can make a very long, very slow approach. I want it to be obvious to anyone on the planet precisely where we plan to land. The flight pattern should stay well clear of any industrial sites, and drop us well short of the nearest one to our proposed landing site. The flight must be totally non-threatening. We don't show off with speed or maneuverability; we simply coast along in the most obvious fashion, so that a simple understanding of trajectories will allow anyone to figure our destination. The final approach will be highly predictable and straightforward."
"We'll use a lot of power that way," Woody interjected.
"I know that." And with the dismissal, Michaels added, "Commander Woodward, Lieutenant Van Lantz and you will finish loading all data and prepare the comm pod for launching. We will begin our descent immediately after we have confirmed the comm pod has entered hyperspace."
"Aye, sir!" The decision was made.
Copyright 1983, 1996, 2003 Dan Sewell Ward
Chapter One -- Star System XC-137
Chapter Three -- First Contact
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]