Back to Chapter Four
Home        Index to Chapter Six


by sharok rillk

Chapter Five : First Contact

- Earth : the White House, USA -

President Richard V. Lyndall, Defense Minister Harry Arbunt and Security Advisor Senator Mike Brennard sat through the report without saying a word. Doctor Susan Richards was introduced by General McWinter as "the leading expert in her field" (which did please her briefly), before being thrust to the microphone to deliver a ten-minute exposé of GravNet, the latest results and their signification. She was aided by a continuous stream of images projected by the flatscreen wall behind her, images that she referred to from time to time. If the President was impressed by the numbers or by the technology, he did not show it.

When Doctor Richards had finished, she started to step back to her seat, but a sign from the President made her stay put. He thought for a few more seconds in silence, then asked : "Doctor Richards, if I may summarize your report, you are saying that there is an alien fleet of no less than . . " President Lyndall glanced at a few numbers he had jotted down on his pad, "than three thousand ships, orbiting around Ganymede."

"That is correct, Mr. President, 3020 ships to be exact." Richards confirmed.

"For a total mass of over a trillion tons."

"Metric tons, yes Sir."

"Which is a hundred times what the initial situation was a few days ago." said the President.

"Yes, Mr. President." Susan was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

"Although the number of vessels has increased by only several dozens of times the initial amount." continued the President.

"Yes. The initial situation was comprised of 42 vessels for an average of 241.4 million metric tons. Now we have 3020 vessels for an average of 334.5 million tons. But these numbers are not representative of the actual situation." Susan explained.

"And why ?" asked the President.

"Because the main vessel, their mothership, has a mass of no less than 217 billion tons all by itself." answered Susan. "The other vessels are puny by comparison, the bulk of the fleet is composed of vessels of no more than 4 million tons."

"When you say bulk, do you mean the majority as in 51% ?" asked Brennard.

"No, I mean that 80% of the fleet is more than fifty thousand times smaller than the mothership." answered Doctor Richards.

"How can you be so sure ?" pressed the Senator.

"Senator, GravNet is basically a planet-wide gravity detector. If I wanted to, I could weigh every asteroid in the Solar System. If I had the coordinates, I could probably tell how massive an extrasolar planet is." Susan explained. "Imagine that you're on the sidewalk next to a 50-story skyscraper, and I'm on the top floor. If I had binoculars, I might be able to recognize you among the crowd, right ?"

The two men nodded their consent.

"Well, with GravNet I'm not using binoculars, I'm using a space telescope. I can count your hairs and measure their individual length. I can count the pores on the skin of your head, and measure how deep they are. I can even count the number of bacteria in the pores. I am using the most precise scientific tool that has ever been devised in the history of Mankind." Susan suddenly noticed that she was getting a bit carried away. She took a deep breath to calm down. "That is why I can be so sure : GravNet can read the data and it is doing it's job perfectly."

General McWinter observed the people take the information in. He was rather satisfied at the way things were going. The first military use of scientific means of detection, the radar at Pearl Harbor, had been a disaster. Even though the operators had detected the enemy, and given the alert, no one had taken it seriously enough. As a result, 2388 Americans had died, and America had been thrust into war, killing hundreds of thousands more. Well, McWinter rectified, the war had been inevitable anyway, but that 7th of December could have been quite different had the people in power taken the warnings seriously. The same error was apparently not going to happen here, McWinter mused, and that was a good thing. What to do about an alien invasion was quite a different matter though.

President Lyndall was on an entirely different train of thought. He was thinking of the 200-billion-ton mothership. The magnitude of the alien civilisation's power was apparent in this one ship. If the mothership was a combat vessel, then there was little doubt in his mind that it could wipe out all life on Earth entirely by itself. In that case, the other vessels were probably nothing but cargo vessels, or some kind of support ships. On the other hand, if the mothership was more like a floating city, with reduced military capacity, then the other vessels could be combat vessels destined to protect the mothership. Finally, the mothership could just be the impressive flagship of an entirely military fleet, in which case the mothership itself was already a sizeable threat, but there were thousands more to take into account. In any case, it meant one thing : the aliens had an unmatchable advance in technology and firepower, which would more than probably translate into unconditional surrender if the aliens decided to engage hostilities.

Defense Minister Arbunt was thinking along the same lines, but he was also doing some practical math concerning the fleet. Consulting the numbers that were being displayed in the summary on the wall in front of him, the Minister was breaking down the fleet by element size. The mothership counted for an impressive 22% of overall tonnage, but the next two in line were no lightweights either. The second vessel weighed in at almost 78 billion tons, and the third at 56 billion. Mind-blowing numbers, Harry thought to himself. The next ten in mass dropped to slightly less than 17 billion tons, and then there a freefall to a sight more than a billion tons. Just two-hundredths of the mothership, but there were 75 of those. So the first 90 or so vessels after the mothership counted for a respectable 40% of the total mass. Less than 3% of the numbers, 40% of the mass. That had to be significant. But how so ?

President Lyndall snapped out of his reverie. He had to find more hard data. He looked at the numbers on the data wall. "Can we infer anything from these numbers ? What do they say, militarily speaking ?" he asked.

General McWinter took the matter into his hands. "Mr. President, if you look at the numbers you will see that, apart from the mothership, the first 135 vessels account for no less than 46% of the total fleet mass. The distribution clearly indicates a power line from top to bottom : the first vessel is gigantic in its own right, weighing in at a hair less than 78 billion tons. The second is a slightly lighter monster that weighs a bit more than 56 billion tons. The rest goes sharply down in mass, most of the others weigh little more than a billion tons apiece. There is a similar weight distribution in our own fleets. An aircraft carrier weighs more than 100,000 tons. Combat Support Vessels displace nearly 65000 tons. A cruiser or destroyer comes in at 10000 tons. A frigate comes last at 5000 tons."

The General displayed a fact sheet of his making, comparing alien vessel size and US vessel size. "Of course, we don't know anything about these aliens, but I have taken the liberty of making some ventures about their fleet composition. Excluding the mothership, I think we can reasonably classify the alien vessels as follows : V1 and V2 are probably aircraft-carrier equivalents. Or one of them could be a battleship. V3 to V12 could be likened to CSV roles, and V13 to V135 could probably be classed as destroyers."

The President and his aides looked intently at the charts. With some stretching, the General's theory sounded right. Except that they were talking billions of tons and not thousands. And they were talking space combat, real 3-D warfare. By comparison, even though a human fleet had to take into account what happened above, on and below water, that suddenly seemed pitiful compared to space, where an attack could really come from any possible direction. Richard Lyndall noticed that he had already clearly divided races in his mind : human vs alien. Barely half an hour, and he had all but forgotten about China, the URD, and guerilla terrorists. He snorted to himself. If a 78-billion-ton warship started raining death on the surface of the Earth, guerilla terrorists were really going to be the last of his problems.

Having remained silent until then, the Defense Minister pointed to some numbers at the bottom of the General's charts. "What about those 300-something elements that weigh in at almost half a billion tons ? Where you classify those, General ?"

The General did not need to look at where the Defense Minister was pointing, he knew his charts and their numbers like the back of his hand. "You mean the 380 units that have a mass of some 470 million tons ? I believe we could classify those as frigates, Sir."

"So, in your view, we have an alien fleet composed of two carriers, ten combat support vessels, over a hundred destroyers and almost four hundred frigates." the Defense Minister summarized. "What are the other 2000-something vessels doing there then ?"

"Well, gentlemen, any fleet on Earth needs support vessels. Given the size of the main combat fleet, if these associations are indeed representative of the alien fleet, more than 2400 support vessels could be a reasonable estimate if you consider that we don't know what kind of support they need, nor how long the mission type of the fleet is, nor even what their mission is."

"Right. And we still don't know what the mothership is. Do you have any ideas on that ?" asked the President.

"Well, Mr. President, as far as we are concerned I believe there are only three pertinent possibilities to take into account. First, it could be a super-battleship. Second, it could be a colonization vessel. Third, it could be a combination of the two." The General stated his conclusions in a somewhat mechanical manner.

Of course ! President Lyndall thought to himself. Colonization vessel. How obvious. It could take the aliens centuries to get to another star system, for all they knew. When the aliens finally arrived, it would be logical that they set up shop and colonize a planet. The mothership could have carried all these thousands of support vessels, else the support vessels could be robotically managed from the mothership. Maybe the whole fleet was managed robotically, and the mothership was the only one that actually contained aliens. Which could only mean that the aliens would need a planet in the Solar System. And there weren't all that many that were available, if the aliens needed anything like human conditions to live in. Mars was still in the middle stages of terraformation, and was occupied anyway. Venus was in the starting stages, but it would take centuries to get that wild planet under control and sufficiently tame to undergo ernest colonization efforts. Maybe it would be possible to develop an understanding ? A joint colony ? Richard Lyndall sighed quietly. Please, God, please make them not shoot first and talk after. Or there won't be anyone left to talk to.

"Understood General, and I believe you are right." said the President in a voice more firm than he felt. "The only pertinent issues are whether or not they will blow us off the surface of this planet, or reduce us to slavery. Any other option means negociation is possible, and in that case it doesn't matter what the vessels are as long as what the aliens call a discussion is not made with the business end of a weapon. Do you have anything to add ?"

"Well Mr. President, " started the General, "it must be repeated that we do not have the faintest idea what kind of technology these aliens have in their multi-billion ton vessels. We don't know why they chose to show up in our Solar System, nor why they chose Ganymede as regrouping point. The only thing we do know about the aliens is the size, sorry, the mass of their vessels, and with our lack of knowledge of their technology, that is not enough to reliably infer anything about the usage of the vessels, much less the purpose of the alien fleet."

Defense Minister Arbunt concurred. "I think we all understand that, General."

The General nodded. "Yes, of course, but I do think it's worth insisting on. We know very little of their fleet, and nothing of their intentions. Maybe you need a billion-ton ship to cross the distance between stars, maybe you don't. Maybe this fleet is a war fleet, maybe it's just merchants setting up shop. We need to plan for war, but we also need to plan for peace."

"For peace ?" Senator Brennard was surprised.

"Yes." answered the General. "Because a war with these aliens would certainly be the last thing we do. Therefor, I prefer planning for peace. Gives a much better long-term perspective of survival." The General smiled thinly.

"Do you have any idea of how they could attack us ?" asked the Defense Minister.

"Actually, I do." said the General. "We have proof that the alien fleet has at least one installation on the surface of Ganymede. We also have proof that the alien fleet is bringing mass to and from the surface of the moon. That means that, regardless of what other technology they have, they could bomb us with chunks of Ganymede until the Earth is uninhabitable by human standards."

Everyone present pondered the possibility. All present knew about the theory of the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. A planet-killing asteroid was a registered threat for which ThreatNet had been specifically designed. A ten-kilometer piece of dense rock impacting any point of Earth at a mere 16 kilometers per second would create a crater bigger than Washington D.C. The fireball would be larger than a hundred kilometers wide, burning to a crisp countless millions in mere seconds. Millions more would be blasted by hurricane-level winds, and gigantic earthquakes would shake every city in the world. Whatever continent the rock impacted could be instantly written off as far as human life was concerned, and the blanket of ash thrown into the upper atmosphere would guarantee death by cold and starvation to anyone lucky - or unlucky enough to survive the impact effects.

Such data was not ignored by the men in the room. And everyone knew the aliens were mining Ganymede at that very instant. If they were extracting 10 kilometer-sized boulders, it was already over. There was no way any country, or even all together, could hope to resist more than one planet-killing rock at this time.

After a few seconds, the President ended the emergency meeting. "And thank you, General, and you Doctor, for an outstanding achievement. The quality of your report is quite impressive." said the President.

"Sir, " said the General, "I cannot take any credit here. Doctor Richards is the only person who could possibly have given us this result. I just gave her the processing power to do it."

Susan Richards looked at the General, astounded. It was all she could do to keep her mouth from dropping. Never before had anyone given her such a heavy compliment in such an important situation. Somehow, the fact that President Lyndall was repeating some nicities for her intent registered her attention, and she made a conscious effort to turn her head back to him and smile her thanks. Then the meeting was over.

While the other were filing out of the room, their minds filled with foreboding thoughts, President Lyndall motioned Doctor Richards to stay. He walked up to her and asked in a soft voice : "Doctor, is there any chance that this alien fleet can influence our planet's orbit ?"

Susan was taken aback by the thought. She had not considered that eventuality herself. "Well, we don't know anything about their technology, of course, but they would have to be able to somehow manipulate masses billions upon billions of times bigger than the mothership to be able to do so. I can't see that happening as of yet." she answered carefully.

"Oh, so putting the mothership in orbit around Earth is not in itself going to be an issue then ?" Richard Lyndall asked, for confirmation.

"Oh no, certainly not Mr. President." Susan answered confidently. "For all its mass, the entire alien fleet is but a speck of dirt compared even to Ganymede, which is less than 2% of the mass of Earth." She looked at the President in the eye, and saw uncomprehension. "It's simple, ask yourself if an ant on your hand could shift your center of gravity and make you fall." There, she saw it. The glimmer of comprehension. Susan knew how to look for it, and she was getting rather good at knowing how to create it. The size of things in the Universe was quite beyond normal human comprehension. The scale had nothing to do with everyday experience, but you could always find a way to compare it to something that a human could actually come to terms with. Now, to hammer the point home. "Then tell yourself that you're actually worrying about a mountain crumbling because an ant is climbing it." She smiled a reassuring smile.

"Good. That means that we only have the military aspect to deal with." President Lyndall said. "Well, that looks like it will be quite enough already." he said, smiling in return.

But the smile was only skin deep. Richard Vincent Lyndall had a problem such as no man had ever had before. And this was only the beginning, he thought to himself.

- Earth : Allen Telescope Array, California, USA -

Hazad Oktaran was a rather young operator at the Allen array. He had only been there for twenty or so months, and was still learning some of the more intricate details of signal detection. Hazad had graduated near the top of his MIT class as a Bachelor in Physics, specialised in Signals and Electromagnetism. His goal was to get a Masters in Astrophysics. But right now, he was studying the possibilities of getting Rachel Gillan to go to lunch with him. Man, was that girl hot ! And she had a mind to go with it too. Tall and lean, with beautiful raven-dark hair, and hazelnut eyes that could make a guy forget how to breath. Plus, she was a true physicist, having got her Masters the year before. Of course, she was a few years older than he was, but that just made her more desirable in his eyes.

Unfortunately, Hazad knew he was not exactly the Bond type himself. Of Turkish origin, he was not too tall and slightly squat, and his features were a bit on the blocky side. Each time he thought of her, he couldn't help but see himself as the frog next to the beautiful princess. Not exactly an encouraging outlook. Sighing again, Hazad took up the clipboard and eyed the various elements he had to verify, seeing only Rachel's eyes looking at him. He had twenty minutes left to find a way - and the courage - to invite her to lunch.

- Ganymede : alien fleet in orbit -

The mothership lay in the vastness of space, a slumbering beast awaiting its time. The fleet lay around it, as if creating a protective cocoon. The three thousand and twenty vessels were now accompanied in orbit by several dozen objects shaped like mushrooms. The stem of these objects was a hundred feet long, and the umbrella at the top was a good sixty feet wide, sporting four quad-barrelled turrets on the upper half.

Every several hours, a vessel made its way to the surface installations to take delivery of a new platform and bring it to its appointed orbital position. All this activity was being conducted under the watchful supervision of the mothership and her escorts, safe from view in the shadow cone of the night side.

Among the fleet were, of course, the two original twins that had commanded the first group to arrive at Ganymede. They were no longer the only ones of their kind though, fourty-six more were scattered around the mothership in an area of a few hundred thousand cubic kilometers. The first twins were obediantly sitting in formation at some 30 clicks from the mothership, surrounded by their own escorts, and nothing could possibly be seen that could possibly be a threat to the group. Suddenly the propulsion nozzels on one of the twins bloomed into activity, and the vessel started moving away from the fleet, alone, towards the edge of the shadow cone.

Just a few minutes later, it arrived at an orbital position 90 degrees from the fleet. The bloom in its engines went dark, and the vessel lay still. It was now visible from Earth.

- Earth : Allen Telescope Array, California, USA -

Hazad was still undecided on the procedure to use. Jotting down the required information without really paying attention to it, he was reviewing the data on his screens while mostly thinking of Rachel. He just couldn't get her out of his mind. That is why it took him a while to notice the words slowly scrolling across the main reception screen on his left. He also failed to see the blinking light that signalled incoming data.

He continued to ponder and write automatically, until finally his eyes registered the signals. With a jolt, he dropped the clipboard, scattering the papers on it, and hastened to the reception screen. He started reading the words, stopped, then rubbed his eyes. Starting over, he still could not believe it. Was this some dirty trick ? He picked up the phone and dialed the supervisor's number. Rachel's number. The phone rang, and rang. He let it ring for all of thirty seconds, then hung up with disgust. What a coincidence, hmm ?

Convinced it was a prank, he went off to find Rachel and tell her just what he thought of the joke in person. She couldn't be far, her shift was not yet finished. All ideas of lunch were erased from his mind. Being the butt of a joke he could take, but being taken for a fool was not acceptable, even from a strikingly gorgeous woman with doe-like eyes and hips that set his manhood on fire. No, he would not be taken for a fool. Not even by her.

On the screen, the words continued to form slowly, letter after letter. They started like this :



Back to Chapter Four
Home        Index to Chapter Six