Chapter 1 - Eureka!
EARTH - 2006
It was truly a eureka moment for the Bridge crew aboard the Belarian starship BS-1071. It was the middle of Shift C when the ship dropped out of warp near the orbit of Mars. All Belarian starships are manned on three 10-hour shifts to coincide with the 30-hour day on Belarius. The 9-person, well-experienced Bridge crew was as alert as always, but at the same time was not prepared for what the ship's sensors indicated: the third planet from this system's sun had a multitude of artificial satellites! The crew quickly moved 1071 to an 18,000-kilometer orbit, the standard orbit for close monitoring of a planet this size.
Belarian starships do not have to worry about being detected by the inhabitants of a planet. A starship's outer surface is covered with an advanced 'stealth' technology that can thwart the efforts of any radar or other electro-magnetic sensing devices employed on the primitive planets yet encountered, and this planet was no exception. If they chose to, they could park BS-1071 400 kilometers above a planet such as this and it would go undetected. The radar absorbing plates on the outer hull do not reflect any high-frequency EM radiation. Of course a ship that is 16 kilometers in diameter must consider the possibility of being seen visually if in a low orbit. Even in an orbit as high as 36,000 kilometers, some astronomer who was lucky enough to be gazing in their direction, would see a large circular absence of stars. But the starships designers had thought of that possibility. The warp drive could also be used to bend light around the ship. Massive objects like a star bend light as well. So the warp drive could be configured to imitate this phenomenon, thus making a starship invisible. Light is fooled into thinking a starship is very massive, is the simplest way to explain it.
In the first few minutes, the Bridge detected a manned space vehicle in orbit. This was the moment for which they had been waiting centuries! This planet had achieved space flight and a manned presence in orbit. A large portion of the prime objective had just been satisfied.
The 'benevolent civilization' portion of the prime objective would require some time to determine. A large battery of linguistics computers would now go to work studying the audio and video transmissions from the planet in order to learn their languages. This could take weeks depending on the number major languages spoken. Following that, a large number of scientists and political experts would determine if this civilization was benevolent. This determination would be by committee and would probably not be a unanimous one.
But for now, the important thing for the Bridge crew to do was to alert the Senior Staff, who, after a quick briefing, would alert the civilian leadership of BS-1071. This discovery would spread throughout the ship in just a few hours, so the Mayor of BS-1071 would be very involved with the proceedings as well. It fell to him to keep wild rumors and assumptions from spreading throughout the ship's populous. Normal news outlets would be kept up-to-date to help in this effort. The Belarians had had centuries to plan for this discovery and for what would take place in the next few days and months. The plan established for this eventuality allowed for as much time as necessary before making contact with a civilization. The opinions of the greatest thinkers in Belarian society agreed that several years was a conservative time estimate before contact could be made.
Before he was completely through the door to the Bridge, Capt. Kroy said, "What have we got, Commander?"
Capt. Kroy has been in command of the starship for almost 30 years, not a long time for a Captain. Since the average lifespan of Belarians is 130 years, a Captain will normally serve for around 40 years before retiring. Kroy is a well-qualified Captain, having degrees in aerospace engineering, astrophysics, and cultural anthropology. In addition, he is a highly-qualified shuttle pilot, which is a requirement of all Senior Staff and Bridge Officers. He is also a well-liked leader, easy going, but demands that his Bridge crews know their jobs and requires that they all be cross-trained on several science and command stations.
"Sir, we're in standard orbit around a planet with a manned space vehicle in orbit, along with a multitude of geosynchronous and other satellites. I've notified all Senior Officers," yelled Lt. Cmdr. Molte, shift supervisor on the Bridge.
"No need to yell, Molte. I can hear just fine."
"Sorry Sir. The excitement and all..."
"OK, let's get all sensor arrays going. Start recording all audio and video from the planet, and start preliminary scans of the weather, oceanic and atmospheric currents...the whole complement. Planetary Sciences will be screaming for that. Launch five equatorial and two polar science probes. And don't miss one peep from that manned spacecraft."
"Already in-work, Sir."
"Very good. Now, is the tobin fresh?"
"Made a fresh pot, Sir."
"You must be looking for a promotion, Molte."
After a long silence while staring at the large monitor displaying the planet, Kroy said, almost to himself, "Zem. After all these centuries, we get the honors!"
"Looks like a beautiful place to call home. But that's no indication of anything."
Capt. Kroy got his cup of tobin from the Officers Lounge and sat down in his chair. In a few minutes the rest of the Senior Officers came flooding onto the Bridge. They each had a hundred questions and no answers were available.
Capt. Kroy barked loudly, "Settle down!" Finally silence. "Gather as much information on this planet as quickly as you can. I want a briefing in my ready room in one hour. As you all know, all planetary departments will want whatever we can provide come day shift, so let's get moving."
What went unsaid was just how demanding the Mayor was going to be when he was informed. "Thank Zem we have several hours before that happens."
Mayor Chamot is the elected head of the 'city' of 1071 and its roughly 15,000 surviving citizens, but he thinks he is in charge of the ship. Keeping him in check has always been a frustrating and challenging task for Kroy. The Captain is always the one individual responsible for a ship and its crew, a fact long ago established by the Belarian Initiative. Chamot always seemed to overlook that.
In his ready room, Capt. Kroy and his officers were waiting for one last, but key participant – Lt. Trolit. Lt. Trolit is Kroy's Science Officer and a trained linguist. His input to this briefing would be vital, assuming he had managed to learn anything in the past hour.
"Thank you, Lt. Trolit, for attending my humble briefing," Kroy said as Trolit entered the room, his ever-present computer under one arm and his electronic notebook under the other.
"You're welcome, Captain," Trolit said as he quickly slid into the last seat at the large table.
"OK. Who wants to go first?"
Cmdr. Stipz, Kroy's female First Officer on day shift, popped up, "I will, Sir." She wanted a promotion as well and figured this momentous occasion could all but guarantee it.
Stipz started. "I've put together a summary of physical characteristics to give you before the individual officers get to their detailed reports."
"Not that an hour can yield much detail," mumbled Lt. Trolit, sitting close enough to Kroy for him to hear. Kroy cut his eyes toward Trolit and that was all it took for him to feel reprimanded.
Cmdr. Stipz continued, "The planet's equatorial radius is 6,378.1
kilometers, it is tilted 23.44 degrees on its axis, rotates west to east, and is orbiting it's sun at an average distance of about 150 million kilometers every 365.2422 mean solar days, based on their 'day', which is about 20% shorter than ours, or 24 hours. There are seven major continents, most showing evidence of tectonic plate movement, volcanism, and orogeny. There are north and south polar ice caps, and a nominal magnetic field. The land area is about 148,300,000 square kilometers, or about 30% of the total surface area; water area is about 361,800,000 square kilometers, or about 70% of the total surface area. The tilt in the planet's axis results in mild seasons above and below its equatorial region. We have detected weather patterns that include high winds, rain, lightning, snow, and large and probably very destructive rotational tropical storms. Planet-wide oceanic and atmospheric currents effect and help to stabilize the planets weather."
Concluding, Stipz said, "That's about it for now. Of course, much more detail will follow over the next few weeks."
"Thank you, Commander."
"Lt. Fertoz, do you have an opinion yet on the possible size of the population?"
"Yes, Sir," Lt. Fertoz said with little conviction. "All seven continents are well populated, with the exception of the southern polar continent, the northern polar region, and a large island continent in the southern hemisphere that is quite under populated. Some metropolitan areas seem to be unnecessarily over populated. Based on this one-hour assessment, I estimate the population to be 4-5 billion. I can make that more accurate, of course, after a few weeks of shuttle surveys."
"I know you're anxious to get down there, Lieutenant, but that will have to wait. Can't we get a more accurate number by accessing their computer databases? Do they have accessible computers?" Kroy looked at Lt. Trolit.
"Yes, Sir, I believe they do have computer databases," Lt. Trolit jumped in with the answer. "I've been able to discern from what little of their language the computers have been able to learn, that they have what they call the 'internet', which is apparently a planet-wide network of communications, library, database and other informational computers, both civilian and military. Once our telecommunications and computer science departments determine the protocol for this 'internet', we should be able to learn a lot about this civilization."
"That's good news, Lieutenant. Anything else?"
"Well, Sir, they call their planet, Earth. And they call their moon, the Moon, and their sun, the Sun." Snickers were heard around the table.
Lt. Trolit continued, "The two inner planets are Mercury and Venus. The planet we dropped out of warp near is Mars. That's all the probes have been able to come up with so far. The language spoken by the most inhabitants is Mandarin Chinese, but the most common language planet-wide appears to be one called English, and I believe the linguistics computer will learn it in a few more hours. No idea yet regarding how many major languages are spoken.
"Very well, Lieutenant. Stay on top of it." Capt. Kroy has been quite impressed with Lt. Trolit. He is brilliant and thorough, both valuable characteristics to Kroy right now. "Does anyone have anything else?"
There was an awkward silence around the table as his Senior Officers looked at each other. Lt. Fertoz broke the silence, "I think I probably speak for most everyone when I say that until the linguistics department can learn the major languages, we won't be able to do much but observe."
"Agreed, Lieutenant, but we can gain a lot from those observations, so stay sharp and focus on the duties you've spent your lives training for. This may be the civilization that satisfies the prime objective. We all knew it would be this way, so let's not blow it."
Kroy was ready to end the briefing. "OK. I want everyone's report in the computer and compiled in three hours. I have to inform the Mayor and the BAC."
"Cmdr. Stipz, draw up a work schedule reflecting four 6-hour shifts per day for all flight operations personnel. I want us to get synchronized with...Earth."
"Four shifts, Sir?"
"Yes. Four shifts will give my junior officers more Bridge time and will accelerate hands-on training in the supporting departments."
"Right away, Sir," Stipz snapped.
As his staff filed quickly out the door, Capt. Kroy was already rehearsing his call to Mayor Chamot.
"Good morning, Mayor Chamot. What can I do for you?"
Mayor Chamot got right to the point, "Capt. Kroy, I haven't felt the warp drive in a couple of hours, what's going on? And don't hold out on me."
"I wouldn't dream of it, Mayor," Kroy responded with well-practiced patience. "I was actually going to call you in about an hour when my preliminary reports are in. We are in orbit over a planet having artificial and manned spacecraft in orbit."
Before Kroy could continue, Chamot interrupted, "How long ago did this happen and why wasn't I contacted immediately?"
"Mayor, it would be irresponsible of me to contact you before I had meaningful information to report."
Realizing the Captain was correct, Chamot said, "Right. Is there anything you can share with me before your preliminary reports are in? I know the sensor arrays gather and interpret information very quickly."
Capt. Kroy shared with him the results of the earlier briefing.
"Oh my Zem!"
"Exactly. This may be the one. That's another reason I didn't want to get you involved until I was sure."
"Of course. I understand," Mayor Chamot responded, being uncharacteristically cooperative.
Kroy continued, "When we get the media involved, our information must be as accurate and thorough as possible. They will have a million questions and you will be the one trying to answer them." Kroy was so glad the Initiative placed the Mayor between the Captain and the media. Capt. Kroy would most certainly have to grant interviews, but they would be at his convenience, on his turf, and would end when he wanted them to end. Kroy also had Ensign Yort, his Public Information Officer, who would run interference as well.
"Mayor, why don't I call you back in about an hour and set up a meeting with you, one of your most trusted staff members, myself, and Ensign Yort?"
"Can I have a written report at that time?"
"OK, Capt. Kroy. I expect your call in one hour," Chamot's controlling personality slipped through.
"About one hour."
"Oh, yes. Goodbye Captain. And thank you."
"That went surprisingly well."
The meeting with Mayor Chamot went well also. The copy of the preliminary report compiled by the Captain's staff was much more detailed than the one-hour briefing had been, and that seemed to satisfy the Mayor. After Chamot's assistant asked some technical questions about data in the report, the Mayor asked, "Captain, how long do you think it will take before we can make contact?"
This was a question Kroy had been asking himself since entering the Bridge almost five hours ago, "I wish I could answer that, Mayor. It all depends on this planet's civilization and how we assess their readiness for contact. As I'm sure you know, the Initiative predicted as long as two years – less if they are a progressive society."
"Of course. Then that is what I'll say to the media."
Chamot continued, "Can I schedule a media briefing then?"
"Absolutely. Just do not speculate. Stick with what's in the report."
Ensign Yort added, "And I would advise you to keep the briefing short. Just distribute copies of the report and take a few questions. Remember, all you know is what's in the report. The media will keep you answering questions for hours if you don't cut them short."
"Yes, I fully understand that lovely characteristic of the media."
"Good," Capt. Kroy said as he stood to conclude the meeting. "Let me know when you schedule the media conference and contact me if you need anything."
"Thank you, Captain. I will."
As the Mayor and his assistance left the room, Kroy and Ensign Yort looked at each other with disbelief.
"I never would have believed that Mayor Chamot would be so cooperative and relatively calm with this," Ensign Yort said with raised eyebrows. Actually raised eyebrow muscles. Belarians no longer had hair anywhere on their bodies. Initially existing for warmth, the evolutionary process had long since eliminated the need for hair.
"My sentiments exactly, Ensign. Maybe the reality of finally discovering the prime objective planet has made him fully comprehend the gravity of what is happening and what his role is going to be from this point forward," Capt. Kroy said, adding his psychoanalysis of the Mayor.
After Mayor Chamot held his media conference, Capt. Kroy contacted the Belarian Advisory Council. Cmdr. Stipz established the connection.
"The Council is connected and standing by, Sir."
Kroy was in his ready room and spoke directly to the Council President, "Good afternoon President Boltinder. I believe it is afternoon back there."
"Yes, Capt. Kroy. It's so good to hear from you again. We can't help but notice that you are contacting us ahead of schedule. I will be bold enough to wonder aloud if you have a special reason."
Status calls to the Council were made on an annual basis, unless an extraordinary circumstance required otherwise. Kroy had made his last status call just 9 months ago.
"Well, Sir, I'm glad to see you are sitting down. I do have a special reason for calling. We have discovered what is most likely the prime objective planet." Kroy stopped, giving that little bombshell time to sink in.
"Oh Zem!" sputtered President Boltiner after a short silence. "Are you quite sure? How long have you been there? What is it like? How populated is it? Just what..."
"Hold on, Sir. Let me answer a few of those questions."
"First of all, we arrived here at 'Earth' about seven hours ago. My preliminary report is being transmitted to you as we speak. All the information we have at this time is in that report, including an extensive set of stills and videos of the planet."
The conference continued for two hours as the Council read the report and asked questions that, for the most part, Kroy did not have answers to yet. But that was to be expected. This was the momentous discovery, the anticipation of which, had sustained the people and the missions on 500 starships for centuries. Many a Belarian Advisory Council had come and gone. But this moment was worth the waiting, the hopeful status calls, the disappointments. And, yes, this moment was even worth the despair felt when the reproductive problem aboard the starships had been diagnosed.
But to the Belarian citizenry, the search for a prime objective planet, after so many centuries, had become almost folklore. The Belarian Initiative, which had launched 500 starships all those centuries ago, had for many on Belarius, come to represent an old dusty document stored away in an archive somewhere; a document written with high hopes that turned out to be a futile exercise.
But Capt. Kroy could not concern himself with the situation on Belarius. He had years of intelligence gathering and analysis ahead of him. He had to focus on that task – the most important task in the history of the Belarian civilization.
The assessment of Earth took more than two years. Crime, several small wars, terrorism, international politics, international finances, federal governments, state governments, rich countries, poor countries, and many more cultural aspects of Earth, were all things with which Belarians were unfamiliar. Both a 'Political Science' department and a 'Sociology' department had to be created and staffed just to evaluate the confusing and mysterious Earth culture.
Earth science was much easier to evaluate. Lt. Fertoz kept a fleet of 25 shuttle craft making close observations of Earth for 16 hours a day for most of the two years. Their cloaking systems ensured that none were ever detected. Military strength and technology for each Earth country were assessed. The vast diversity of cultures among the many countries were studied. Ground and air transportation, the different types of news media, agriculture, the fishing industry and other food production and distribution systems around the planet were all thoroughly evaluated. Of special interest were the raising, slaughter, and consumption of animal flesh by the Earth population.
Special attention was given to the space programs of Earth. It was determined that the country calling itself the 'United States of America' had the most extensive and successful space program dating back more than 50 years. Called the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, it had 10 installations around the country with the launch facility being located in the state of Florida.
In addition to the shuttle sorties, 'bugs' were also used for information gathering. Bugs are micro-miniature robotic, self-directed or remotely directed, artificially intelligent 'aircraft', have a full complement of video, audio, and orientational sensors, are able to fly unnoticed into a room or anywhere necessary, and are virtually indistinguishable from a small Earth insect. Once situated, a bug will stream audio and high-definition video back to its home base. They are bio-mechanical in construction, having real insect wings and musculature for flight, with the remainder of the body being constructed of a carbon-silk fiber material, giving it very light weight and great strength. They are powered by a two square millimeter fuel cell stack in the abdomen, which obtains its oxygen from a 1-millimeter diameter Dewar in the abdomen, and its hydrogen supply from a 2-millimeter diameter Dewar in the head, an arrangement that helps balance the craft. Bugs heads move 90° in all directions, giving them superb visibility. Add to that their stereo vision and stereo audio sensors, and they make the ultimate spy plane.
The nano-electronics in a bug make the best 21st century Earth integrated circuits look like primitive vacuum tube technology. Power, communications, and data flow between circuit elements are all supplied via extreme low-energy lasers. This eliminates the need for a circuit board, with all electronics, including those for flight, navigation, communications, situational awareness, and data retrieval being mounted on a thin fiber disk the size of a capital 'O'. The uplink lasers are directed toward a reflective dome above the circuit elements, where each element then picks the information it needs from the reflections. They in turn, transmit their downlink information back toward the dome and a receiver via low-energy lasers.
A bug can remain on a reconnaissance mission for up to eight hours before power is depleted and the biological wing elements begin to deteriorate. Once this condition is reached, a bug will simply self-destruct into the ground where it is nearly impossible to notice. On the outside possibility that a bug were swatted or accidentally damaged, it would appear to be just a dead Earth insect.
Bugs are the ultimate spy and proved to be one of the most valuable intelligence gathering devices available to the Belarians. Without bugs, it would have been impossible to find that one special individual with whom to make first contact.
The Ship's Council on First Contact, chaired by the Captain, is the onboard committee whose charter it is to evaluate all the intelligence gathered on Earth and then offer a consensus opinion regarding the Earth's benevolent status. As was expected, that opinion was not a unanimous one. Earth had its problems. Many countries were ruled by corrupt totalitarian regimes. Military skirmishes and terrorist attacks took place around the planet on a regular basis. Many countries were not on speaking terms. Some countries stood out as trying to encourage and assist in establishing peace among world nations. Others seemed to encourage conflict. However, all things considered, and given the fact that the Belarians were desperate to find a prime objective planet before personnel numbers dropped below that required just to maintain the ship, the Council voted to proceed with first contact.
Chapter 2 - First Contact