a story about aliens
By Kalin Ringkvist
Nistor-Margis stared up at the rocket, looming overhead, that would send the deadly virus to Earth. After so many years, the hatred still burned inside of him. That was good. This wasn’t the kind of project one could have doubts about.
He stood in awe of the enormity of the craft, thinking about the future, about what it would be like when the war began. He’d be able to take his revenge. His life’s work would finally see it’s purpose: the total annihilation of the human race.
“It will be glorious,” he muttered in the common Cafgran language.
Nistor-Margis looked down at his son, Thifmin. “The war to come,” he said.
“War is glorious?” Thifmin asked.
“This one will be.”
“Because we will win this time.”
“How do you know, Father?”
“This ship gives us assurance.” He pointed up at the rocket.
“What does the craft do?”
“It will carry a disease to the humans’ homeworld, and it will kill them.”
“All of them?” Thifmin asked.
“Only the ones living on Earth. I have explained this to you before.”
“How many is that?”
“I’m not sure. Fifteen, twenty billion.”
“That’s a lot of people. Why do you wish to kill the Humans, Father?”
Nistor-Margis stared angrily down at the boy, his four arms folded across his chest and stomach. Perhaps I haven’t taught him as well as I meant to, he thought. So much time spent here, helping to construct the ship and not enough spent with my son, teaching him about the things the humans have done to our culture, our homeworld, to our spiritually ordained status as supreme rulers of the universe. He has not learned of the murders—or has not properly envisioned them—bombing billions of innocent Cafgrans… My son needs to hate the humans, like every boy should. He shook his head in frustration. “You’re too young to remember the great war,” he said. “Too young to remember the day they told us the humans had murdered your mother. They deserve to die. It’s just the way it is.”
“But our peoples have discovered peace,” said the boy.
“That time is about to end.”
“Are you sure it’s right to end it? Our government would be against this if they knew about it.”
“I’m aware of that. It’s too late for them to do anything about it though.”
“Are you against the launch too–my own son?”
Thifmin did not respond.
“Are you going to answer me, boy?”
“I will not deny my beliefs.”
Nistor-Margis shook his head. “I’ve done a very poor job raising you.”
“You’ve done a fine job, Father.”
“Come: let us find a place further from the rocket’s engines to sit and watch the launch.” They walked together for several minutes and sat in the thick grass at a safe distance. Dozens of people swarmed around the base of the rocket, making final preparations.
“Aren’t the humans mostly peaceful these days?” said Thifmin. “I know they have never violated the Treaty of Two Peoples.”
“Don’t speak of things you know nothing about,” Nistor-Margis replied.
“But isn’t it true?”
“You came here to watch the launch, boy, so let us watch it in peace.”
They sat for a long while without speaking. The hill was now littered with the occasional group of people, waiting to watch the lift off. The workers eventually finished their launch preparations, and soon afterward a great fire erupted from the base of the rocket. A bit of fear hit Nistor-Margis as the ship did not immediately lift off, but after a brief moment it began to rise at an increasing rate and was soon lost to view.
The two sat for a while longer, then Nistor-Margis said, “It is done. There will be no turning back now.”
“I hope you are sure about what you’ve done, Father.”
“It was not just me, Thifmin. If I had not been here, someone else would have taken my place. This would have still happened.”
“But you are a part of it. Their deaths are on your head.”
“I knew I should not have brought you to this,” Nistor-Margis said angrily. “You have been nothing but a negative drain on my enjoyment!”
“I apologize, Father. I am simply unsure if this is right.”
“Well I am not unsure. Come: we are going home.”
They walked for ten minutes towards their groundcar parked on the other side of the compound. There was a loud boom and both stopped in their tracks. Nistor-Margis saw a building not far away go up in flames.
“What is this?” said Nistor-Margis.
“They’ve come to stop the launch,” Thifmin said, “but they’re late.”
Thifmin took a step away from his father and Nistor-Margis felt his anger rising rapidly. What had his boy done this time? Had he caused a bigger problem than just annoying talk?
“What did you do?” he shouted at his son.
“They knew about the project,” Thifmin said, taking a step back. “But they didn’t know where the launch site was. I sent a message, telling them where we were located. I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time and I only decided this morning: I don’t want a war. They were supposed to be here earlier.”
Nistor-Margis’ jaw dropped open. Thifmin took another step back. He looked up at the sky. Several ships were now within view, approaching quickly. Nistor-Margis watched them in horror as they landed and troops armed with energy rifles exited and immediately dispersed throughout the compound.
Nistor-Margis turned back to his son; but Thifmin had already taken off, running. “Come back, boy!” But he did not stop.
Nistor-Margis raced after him in huge leaps and bounds. What he would do when he caught him, he did not know.
Thifmin rounded a corner and dashed into an alley as his father followed, steadily closing the gap between them. Several seconds later he rounded another corner and ran headlong into a doorway. He tried to pull it open, but found it locked. Just as he turned, Nistor-Margis caught him, grabbing him around the waist with his lower set of arms, lifting him and slamming him against the door. Nistor-Margis raised his upper-right arm as if to strike but Thifmin grabbed it with both his left arms and held him back. He did the same with the other arms, and they were at a standoff.
“You tried to ruin me, boy! You could have chosen a better time to defy me. You could have chosen a mate that I did not approve of, but you did not need to attack my life’s work. I will be imprisoned now, and you will probably never see me again.” And their eyes met.
“I had no choice.”
“You’ve done nothing, though. The rocket has left. In a matter of days, every earthling will be infected with the virus and we will be at war.”
“The ship can be stopped.”
“You are a stupid little boy!” Nistor-Margis shouted. “The engine emissions are cloaked. The ship is almost impossible to detect from any distance.” After a moment: “Do you even care that you will never see your father again?”
Thifmin did not answer.
“Well, if I’m going down, I’m taking you with me. I don’t care if you are my son.”
Just then Nistor-Margis felt a sharp pressure on his back and knew immediately what it was. He heard the words, “Set him down and back away,” from behind him. He did as he was told, slowly, looked back and saw several troops, one of which was pressing an energy weapon into his back.
They threw him violently to the ground and began binding his hands behind his back. Nistor-Margis looked up at his son who stood silently to one side.
“At least now we have a chance of stopping this war before it starts,” Thifmin said.
“Captain, there’s something coming in for you from central command,” said lieutenant Markis, the communications officer on duty.
Steve Daniels, captain of the Elaina looked up at her. “Who is it from, specifically?”
“A Mister Kaufman, one of the president’s cabinet members.”
Daniels was a little surprised by that. A message from such a high official was extremely rare. “Play it,” he said. “Put it on the main viewer.”
“It’s not a pre-recorded message,” said Markis. “Kaufman is live, waiting for your response. He says it should be private too.”
He’s live!, thought Daniels. That’s an incredibly expensive way to communicate across such distances. “Audio only, I take it,” he said, standing up.
“Nope. Audio and visual.”
“What do you suppose could be so important?”
“I’ll take it in my quarters.” The captain left the bridge and walked quickly down the hall and entered his room. He flipped on the computer terminal and offered his thumbprint for identification. “Lock into the communication from Command-central,” he told the computer. “Secure the channel.”
A second later the image of a dark haired man who looked in his mid-fifties appeared on the screen. “Are you Captain Daniels?” he asked.
“My name’s Jorj Kaufman. We have a problem, Mister Daniels.”
“Is the channel secured on your end?”
“It is. What is this about, Mister Kaufman?”
“It’s about the Cafgrans.”
“The Cafgrans? We haven’t heard anything from them in years. Have they violated the treaty?”
“Not exactly,” said Kaufman. “They’ve sent a ship into Human territory.”
“That’s a violation, isn’t it?”
“No, but it’s close. We received a pre-recorded message, about half an hour ago, saying that they have sent a ship into our territory. They’re trying to retrieve a lost probe.”
“So they’ve sent two ships into our territory. This must be a very important probe for them to go chasing after it like that.”
“There’s a couple things that don’t make sense, though,” Kaufman said. “First: they can’t seem to locate the probe. They have asked us to send them a message if we pick up any odd signals. We have been scanning for tachyon emissions ever since we got the message and have been unable to detect any. The only thing that could account for this is that the probe is cloaked somehow. Second: we have detected the retrieval vessel they have sent, and it’s on a direct course for Earth. That means the probe–if there is such a thing–is headed for the homeworld as well.”
“Sounds like a trick to me,” Daniels said. “Is this an unarmed vessel?”
“The Cafgran on the message referred directly to the treaty, which states that neither of the two peoples shall send armed vessels into the other’s territory under any circumstances. But we have no proof that it has no weapon capabilities.”
“So what do you need from the Elaina?”
“Right now you’re the closest ship to the Cafgran vessel. We need you to rendezvous with them and simply keep an eye on them. Do not fire upon them unless absolutely necessary, even if you find that they have violated the treaty. Find out what they’re up to. And above all, maintain the peace between our two peoples. We can’t handle another war.” He paused. “All right… I’ll send a copy of the message the Cafgrans sent us, along with coordinates to meet up with their retrieval ship. Any questions, Captain?”
Daniels shook his head.
“End communication,” Kaufman grinned sheepishly.
“End communication.” Daniels flipped off the computer screen. He sat and pondered the situation for a moment before rushing back toward the bridge.
The Elaina had already redirected its course to rendezvous with the Cafgran retrieval vessel. They were expected to meet in about four hours.
Daniels sat in his quarters, this time with his second in command, Sephen Peter. They stared at the computer screen, watching the Cafgran interpreter deliver his message. He spoke in heavily accented English.
“We greet and bid peace to you Humans. I will come to my point quickly for message sending across great distances is costly. We have lost a probe in Human territory. According to the Treaty of Two Peoples, section seven, article four, paragraph five, we have legal right to bring it back. We are sending this message, explaining our reasons for entering Human territory and other items, as required by treaty. As I said, a ship has been lost and we require it back. We will require a maximum of seventy hours across the territory border, much time, because we haven’t the knowledge of the location of the ship. If any Human vessel detects our ship, please send message to our retrieval vessel. We beg you: do not try to board our lost ship. Such an action would be allowed by treaty, but we warn you now, it would be more hazardous to Humans than to Cafgrans to do so. We must end message now, so this may be sent quickly to you. We apologize for possible inconveniences to Humans. Thank you for keeping peace.”
Daniels and Peter were silent for a moment, staring at the blank screen. Daniels commented, “Very brief.”
“What do you suppose he meant by ‘more hazardous to Humans than to Cafgrans’?” said Peter. “Could it mean that there’s something dangerous on the probe?”
“Could also be interpreted as a threat.”
“I hope not.”
“Either way,” Daniels said, “we shouldn’t attempt to board either of their ships. We need to be as friendly as possible, find them their lost probe, and get them back to their own space.”
Peter said, “What I’m wondering is, how did they lose this probe? Why was it so close to Human space to begin with?”
Daniels shrugged. If the probe actually existed, it probably didn’t matter how they had lost it.
“Are the Cafgrans sending an armed vessel?, I wonder,” said Peter.
“They can’t, according to the treaty,” Daniels replied.
“We only have one bank of lasers and no torpedo capabilities. If they do send an armed ship, we won’t be able to deal with it. Are you familiar with the treaty?”
“Not at all.”
“Maybe we should set someone to the task of learning it.”
“I’ve already ordered Markis to start studying it,” said the captain.
“Is she to be our communications officer throughout this ordeal? There should probably be only one. We don’t want to make the Cafgrans deal with any more people than they have to. We should discard the shift schedule and put Markis on duty until this is over with.”
“Make her work seventy hours straight?”
“Chances are the Cafgrans won’t need all seventy hours, but if they did, she’d probably be happy enough to work them.” Peter said.
“You’re probably right.”
The two men stared silently at the computer screen. To Daniels, Peter seemed nervous. He noticed little beads of sweat on the man’s cheek and he seemed to be breathing heavily.
“You know what I think?” Daniels said. “I think we’re worried about nothing. We’ll meet up with the Cafgrans, they’ll be friendly, unarmed. We’ll help them find their probe and we’ll all go home perfectly happy.”
“We can always hope,” Peter said. He stood up. “We’d better get to the bridge.”
Daniels nodded. “You go ahead.”
The bridge crew watched silently as the Cafgran vessel appeared on the viewscreen.
“What’s their velocity?” Daniels asked.
“About thirty-five light years per hour,” the sensors officer answered.
“Are they slowing to meet us?”
“Do they know we’re here?”
“Open a channel to them, Lieutenant Markis,” Daniels said.
Several seconds later a green-furred Cafgran appeared on the main viewer. He–or she: Daniels couldn’t quite tell–was making what was probably an attempt at a smile. “Greetings Human,” said the Cafgran.
“Greetings. My name is Steven Daniels. I welcome you to Human space.”
“My name is Istar-Phenol. We come look for probe. You talk Cafgran language?”
“Sorry,” Daniels said. “We were called here on short notice. We don’t have anyone on board who can speak your language.”
“Sorry,” said Istar-Phenol. “We come with emergency. I is best Human-talker on ship… I can’t understand you well. Small words, please. Sorry.”
“You talk well enough that we can communicate, at least,” Daniels said in slow pronounced words. He worried about insulting the Cafgran by talking to him as if he were a child. “Can we slow our ships and meet in person? We could talk easier face-to-face.”
Istar-Phenol didn’t seem to understand. Instead of answering, he pointed to another Cafgran sitting behind him and said, “Is Ship-Leader. His name is Cabniscar. I speak for him.” Cabniscar, seated in a large chair that seemed to be the center of their bridge, gave a wave with both his right hands.
“Hello,” Daniels said. “Could we stop our ships for a while and talk in person, do you think?”
The Cafgrans stared blankly.
Daniels slowly restated his question using different words.
After a long moment Istar-Phenol answered, “No. No stop now. Is emergency… We find probe, then we talk. Thank you. Sorry.”
“Do you want our help in finding your probe?”
Istar-Phenol waited a moment, turned and spoke briefly to his Ship-Leader, then turned back to face Daniels. “Yes. Thank you. We need help.”
“We’ll begin a tachyon scan then.”
“No,” replied the alien quickly. “No tachyon scan. Probe make no tachyons. Look for fast moving metal thing. Please. Thank you.”
“If it moves faster than light speed,” Daniels said, almost to himself, “it has to produce tachyons–unless you cloaked it.”
“I don’t understand,” Istar-Phenol said.
“You help us look for probe?”
“We’ll follow your ship and help you look for your probe, yes.”
Istar-Phenol looked at Cabniscar and they spoke again for several moments in their own language. He looked back and said, “Thank you, Human. Sorry for inconvenience. We say bye now.”
Daniels waved politely. “Good-bye.” The Cafgran disappeared and he turned to look at the crew. “Anyone have any comments?” he asked.
“He seemed to be trying very hard to be polite,” Sephen Peter said.
“That’s a good sign,” Daniels said. “They’re worried about offending us.”
“That Istar-Phenol seemed very nervous about something,” said Lieutenant Markis, still standing at the communications station at one side of the bridge.
“That’s understandable,” said Peter. “He’s probably a low level officer, thrown into this whole thing without any prior warning, chosen simply because he can speak English.”
Lieutenant Freeman, who was at the sensors station, asked, “Do you think he was faking his poor grammar, to throw us off?”
“Possibly,” Peter replied. “If he wasn’t faking it, then we know that they had to throw their mission together in a hurry, not taking the time to find a qualified interpreter. If that’s the case, then their claim of a lost probe is probably legitimate.”
“So what do we do now?” Markis asked.
“Now we wait,” replied Captain Daniels.
Daniels sat, staring at the Cafgran ship through the “windows,” that lined the lounge at the front of the Elaina. The Cafgran ship was technically too far away to be seen. Instead of having actual windows that would show nothing but the darkness of space, the elaina had screens, made to look like windows, with computer generated images of stars that would streak past if the ship was moving or remain still if it wasn’t. The windows helped to reduce the feeling of claustrophobia that often times occurred in small ships such as the Elaina. In cases like this one, when the Elaina met up with other crafts, the windows produced an image of the other ship.
The Cafgran vessel had a sleek, silvery sheen. It’s two great wings, that seemed to make up the majority of the ship, were lined on the underside with thrusters. Clearly this ship was designed for planetary landings. Daniels hoped that that would not be necessary in the retrieval of their lost probe. If it was, the Elainawould have no way of following them down, and no way of keeping track of the Cafgran’s actions.
Daniels took a sip of his coffee.
“They build quite attractive ships, don’t they?” It was Commander Peter.
Daniels looked over his shoulder at the man who had just entered the lounge, but remained silent. They were the only two people in the dimly lit room. Peter walked slowly toward Daniels and sat next to him.
“You wondering what they’re up to over there, Steve?” Peter asked.
After a moment, Daniels replied, “I just don’t understand why we can’t find this probe of theirs. We’ve been searching for fifteen hours, and there’s still no trace.”
“There is no probe, Captain.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Peter said, “The only thing that could account for the fact that we haven’t found it yet would be that it’s cloaked somehow, and even then it’s unlikely that they could have developed such an efficient engine emission shield. They’re leading us on, just seeing how we react to their presence. They have to be.”
“Maybe they’re looking in the wrong place.”
“Maybe they’re purposely looking in the wrong place. Did you know that we’re heading straight for Earth? That seems like too much of a coincidence to me.”
“You know about that?”
“I had the computer interpret the coordinates that Command-central sent us.”
“So what do you think they’re up to, Sephen?”
“They’re just checking us out,” Peter said. “They want to see how we’ll react to their presence. They want to know if we fear them.”
“You don’t think they’re planning an invasion?”
“Wouldn’t put it past them.”
“You don’t seriously think–”
“You don’t seriously think that this is all legitimate? It’s a game. They say they’ve lost a probe, and yet they rush at nearly maximum speed towards Earth. What are the chances that a malfunction aboard a ship would cause it to head off at this speed directly towards an inhabited planet? One in a billion?”
“I certainly see your point, Sephen, but there’s got to be some logical explanation.”
“I just gave you one,” said Peter. “They’re testing us.”
“So what do you think we should do about it?”
“I’m not sure about that. We should probably just tail them until Command sends out a ship that’s more qualified to deal with this. Maybe we should scan them, find out exactly what they’re carrying over there.”
“No scans,” Daniels said. “They could interpret that as an act of aggression. They haven’t scanned us yet.”
“Maybe they have. Maybe our sensors just couldn’t pick it up.”
“You really don’t trust them, do you?”
“Should I?” Peter said, his voice raised a little above it’s normal level. “They’re murderers, Steve. Cold blooded murderers. That much has been proven, time and again in the War of Two Peoples. I don’t want another war here, any more than you do, but there is no way that those… creatures–can be trusted.”
“We haven’t had any dealings with the Cafgrans in nearly fifteen years. They might have changed their policies. I think we should give them the benefit of the doubt.”
“Maybe we should appear to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe we should refrain from scanning them, to make them think that we trust them. But there’s no way we should actually trust those things.”
Daniels stared blankly at the Cafgran vessel. “I guess I agree.”
After a moment, Peter said, “There’s no probe. There can’t be. We should play along and pretend like we trust them, until they start to over stay their welcome, then we send them home. We can make them think we trust them but we also need to stick to our guns. We can’t let them walk all over us and the treaty, because they’ll just come back and do it again, worse, the next time.”
“That all makes sense to me. But why would they come into our territory, lying about a lost probe?”
“I don’t know,” Peter answered. “But I’ll bet you money that there’s no probe.”
“I wouldn’t take that bet. I’m sure you’re right. I just want to know why.”
Peter shook his head. “Couldn’t tell you.”
The two men sat and stared at the Cafgran ship. Daniels sipped his drink. After a time he said, “Sephen, don’t you find it odd that the only two known intelligent races in this galaxy are at war?”
“We’re not at war.”
“Actually,” Peter said, “I don’t find it odd. We threaten each other.”
“The Cafgrans thought they were unique until they met us. They thought they were special, the only species capable of space travel and other such feats. We threaten that uniqueness, so they make war with us.”
“You don’t think it works backwards as well?” Daniels asked. “You don’t think Humans are threatened by the Cafgrans?”
“Perhaps it works backwards too.”
They were interrupted by a third voice, Lieutenant Markis, calling over the intercom. “Captain,” she said. “We’ve picked up an odd signal, traveling at about two-thirds of our own speed, up ahead. There’s no tachyons that we can detect. Sir, we think it’s the Cafgran probe.”
Daniels looked at Peter. “I think I should have taken the bet.”
“Sir?” said Markis.
“How long until we intercept the probe, Lieutenant?” Daniels asked.
“Fifteen minutes,” she answered.
“Have the Cafgrans noticed it yet?”
“No, sir. They’re not moving to intercept.”
“All right, hang tight and I’ll come up to the bridge in a second.”
“Aye, sir.” The intercom clicked off.
“Looks like you were wrong,” Daniels said to Peter.
Peter shrugged. He stood up and began walking toward the door to the lounge.
As Daniels started to stand, he gave a last look at the Cafgran ship, and noticed something. He peered closer and after a second said, “Commander Peter.”
“Huh?” Peter said. He was nearly out the door now.
“Come look at this.”
Peter walked back up to the window and looked at the Cafgran ship, where Daniels was pointing.
“Do you see that?” said Daniels. “Right there at the back, nestled under the rear thruster. What does that look like to you?”
Peter peered closer. After a second he said, “It looks kind of like a laser cannon.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“Open a channel, Lieutenant,” Daniels said as he entered the bridge.
“Yes, sir,” Markis replied and several seconds later the image of the Cafgran’s bridge appeared on the viewscreen. The Ship-Leader was seated in the same spot as before. A moment passed and Istar-Phenol appeared, rushing in from one side.
“We have located your lost ship,” Daniels said.
Istar-Phenol looked back at Cabniscar, then said to Daniels, “You find probe?”
“We found it, yes.” Daniels replied.
Istar-Phenol spoke briefly to Cabniscar. “Where?” he asked Daniels.
“We’ll send you the coordinates shortly.”
“Thank you, Human.”
“You’re welcome. I was wondering if we could stop our ships now and talk face to face.”
“You ask question, Human?”
“Yes, that was a question. Could we talk face-to-face sometime soon?”
The alien spoke to his Ship-Leader again for a few moments. “Yes, we talk soon. After we stop probe.”
“What’s the rush?” Daniels asked.
“What’s the hurry? Your probe will be around after we talk.”
“Sorry,” said Istar-Phenol. “No talk when we stop probe.”
“Until you stop the probe,” Daniels corrected.
“Until you stop–until we stop probe, yes. Emergency, thank you.”
“Emergency,” Daniels repeated. “You haven’t told me why it’s an emergency.”
“We say bye now? You tell where probe?”
“We can say bye now,” Daniels said. “We’ll transmit the coordinates to your ship.” He paused. “Oh, and one other thing: we’ve noticed something strange on your ship, on the back, just underneath your rear thruster. I’m just curious as to what it is.”
Istar-Phenol paused a moment, then looked back at the Ship-Leader and began a long conversation with him in the Cafgran language. Cabniscar seemed to become more and more agitated as they spoke to each other. His voice raised higher than normal and he seemed to be speaking quickly; both of them were. Finally, Istar-Phenol looked back at Daniels and said, “Is nothing.”
“Is nothing. We say bye now?”
“Oh,” Daniels said. “It’s nothing. Well, I was just curious. We can say bye now.”
The communication ended without another word.
“Are you sure it was wise to ask them about the cannon?” Peter asked.
“We can’t let them think we’re completely naive,” Daniels answered. “How long until we reach Earth?” he asked.
“A little less than two hours,” replied the young man at the helm.
“That’s what their hurry is,” Peter said. “They don’t want their probe burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.”
“We’re heading towards Earth?” asked Markis. “Why?”
“We’re not sure why,” Daniels said. “Another thing I’m not sure about: why haven’t we been sent another ship by Command-Central? They should have easily been able to send us a more qualified ship by now.” He stood up. “I’m going to go send a message to them and find out what the delay is.”
Captain Daniels had sent a message to Command-Central, about half an hour ago, asking for assistance with their current mission. The same Jorj Kaufman had just sent a reply and Daniels was watching it on the computer monitor in his quarters.
“The issue of sending another craft to replace the Elaina on this mission has been discussed,” Kaufman said. “We have reached the conclusion that the Cafgrans have probably become used to the Elaina and her crew. Sending a second ship, we think, would throw them off, and we do not want to do that. The Cafgrans have a legal right to be in Human space, but we do not want them here any longer than they have to be. Forcing them to introduce themselves to a new ship may delay things. From what you have told us, Captain, you are handling the situation as well as could be expected. As for the laser cannon you think you have found, do not confront them about it, for you may have been mistaken about what it is. However, we have a dozen ships following from a distance in case something gets hairy, and we do not want you to tolerate any further violations of the treaty on their part, even minor things. Let them know this. We want them to know that while we are a peaceful race, we still mean business. And one more thing, Captain: do not stop to talk to the Cafgrans. We are not trying to establish relations with them, we simply want them to get their probe, and get out of Human territory. Thank you, Mister Daniels. We know you will do well in command of this mission.”
Daniels flipped off the screen and got up to go to the bridge, feeling a little apprehensive about having to deal with the situation without aid from Command-Central, though flattered by their confidence in his crew.
“So what’s the verdict?” Peter asked as Daniels entered the bridge. “Are we going to get any assistance?”
“We’re on our own,” Daniels said simply.
“They’re not even going to send a little assistance?”
“For the same reason we put Markis on duty indefinitely, because we don’t want to make the Cafgrans deal with more people than they have to.” Daniels looked up at Lieutenant Markis as he crossed the room and sat down in the captain’s chair. “How long have you been on duty, anyway, Lieutenant?”
“Eighteen hours, sir,” she said.
“Starting to feel a little tired?”
“Yes, sir, but I’ll be okay.”
“You won’t be any use to us if you pass out. Why don’t you go to your quarters and have a rest?”
“But sir,” she said, “what if the Cafgrans call again?”
“We’ll deal with it.”
“What if you need to know something about the treaty?”
“We’ll look it up. Go to your quarters, Lieutenant. Get some sleep. Come back when you’re rested.”
After Markis had left, Peter commented, “She’s very determined to do her part, isn’t she?”
“Maybe she thinks she might get mentioned in a history book if she goes beyond the call of duty,” Daniels said.
“Do you really think that’s her only motivation?”
“I don’t know. I don’t really care.”
“Is there something wrong, Captain?”
“I have a bad feeling…” Daniels started. “We’re supposed to find them their probe and get them the hell out of our space.”
“Should we invite them over for tea and crumpets and maybe a bongtoke?” Sephen asked.
“Sure. Why not?”
“Because they’re murderers.”
“These people aren’t murderers—“
“We don’t know that.”
“Well, that seems like a logic jump to say that simply because a bunch of humans were killed in a war thirty years ago, that these particular Cafgrans had a part in it. I’m not saying we should trust them with out lives or our secrets, but they’re here now. Maybe these particular ones are friendly, and we could use this as an opportunity to learn something about each other.”
“I think the Cafgrans need to evolve morally, as a race, before we can seriously think about making friendships with them. Their ship is armed, remember. Why would they send an armed ship on this mission, if not to provoke us?”
“We don’t know for certain that it’s armed.”
“No, we don’t. That’s why I say we give their ship a scan, find out as much as we can about them, and if that is a laser cannon we saw, well then we’ll kick them out of Human space and make it clear they are not to come back.”
“I’m not willing to do that.”
“It’s within our legal right.”
“Even if it is a cannon,” said Daniels, “it’s a small one. We have more armament than that ship.”
“We don’t know that. We don’t know what their technological capabilities are.”
“I believe,” Daniels replied, “that that is a laser cannon, yes, but that they are carrying it in innocence. It’s too small to do any damage to a ship that could fire back.”
“Do you know who we’re talking about here? Those things out there are killers. That’s all they care about. They come into our space, simply so that they can get as close to Earth as they possibly can and pick up some information about us, then go back home and begin planning their invasion.”
“You don’t know that. You don’t know them any more than they know us. You’re just making guesses based on what you’ve heard from other people. There is no way we can afford to jump to conclusions about them.” Daniels looked up and noticed that the rest of the bridge crew was staring at them, listening intently to their conversation.
“Whatever you say, Captain,” Peter said. “The fact is, though, nothing has changed. We still have to simply watch them until they get a hold of their probe and then they turn around and go home.”
“They can’t get at it, sir,” said Lieutenant Freeman, at the sensors station. “They’ve been using a tow-beam, trying to bring the probe out of hyperspace, but they can’t do it. Something about the shielding prevents them from getting a grip on it. It looks as though the probe may end up breaking apart in Earth’s atmosphere.”
“That wouldn’t be so bad,” Peter said. “Their ship burns up and they go home; better than having them chasing after it endlessly around Human territory.”
“I agree,” Daniels said. “But we must at least, attempt to help them retrieve it. Helmsman, bring us along next to the probe and attempt a tow beam. Combine ours with the Cafgran’s tow beam and let’s see if the extra power is enough to bring it out of hyperspace.”
Nearly a quarter of an hour passed as this was attempted. Finally, the helmsman reported that the exterior of the probe was shielded in such a way that made it impossible to get a lock. “I don’t know what they could have built that thing out of,” he said. “They certainly didn’t want anybody messing with it.”
“Try running a scan of it,” Daniels said, a little worried about how the aliens would interpret the act.
The scan was run by Lieutenant Freeman. Again, it revealed nothing, except that the surface of the ship was composed of some compound that the Elaina’scomputers did not recognize.
“How long until we reach Earth’s orbit?” Daniels asked.
“About forty minutes,” Freeman replied.
“We’ve got a communication coming in from the Cafgrans,” said Peter, who was attending to Markis’s normal task.
“Put it on the screen,” Daniels said.
Istar-Phenol and the bridge of the Cafgran ship appeared. “Thank you because you try to help us in taking probe,” said the alien. “It not work, though. You try scan of ship?”
“Yes,” Daniels replied. “We tried scanning your probe.”
“You get any knowing from scan?”
“No, we didn’t find out anything.”
“We not know about probe anything. We destroy it now.”
Daniels’ eyes widened in shock. “You plan on destroying the probe? For what reason?”
“We need destroy probe now. You move away now. We not want hurt your ship.”
“So you plan on firing a weapon?”
Istar-Phenol paused a moment, and spoke with his Ship-Leader. After a while, he turned back to Daniels. “We destroy probe now. You move away?”
“So that little thing on the back of your ship is a laser cannon, is it not? And you plan to use it to destroy your own probe?”
The alien paused and spoke to Cabniscar. Finally, he said slowly, “Yes.”
“You violated the treaty between our two peoples.”
“Is small weapon. No significance. Is no danger to you. You do bad things to us now you know we go against treaty?”
Daniels shook his head and smiled. “We won’t do anything to you. We knew you were carrying the laser cannon for a long time. But why did you do it?”
“We need to destroy probe. Is small weapon, big enough to harm probe, nothing else. We not want to go against the Treaty of Two Peoples.”
“Your probe will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. You don’t need to destroy it yourselves.”
“We must,” said Istar-Phenol, his voice raised slightly. “Probe not reach Earth. Never. It can’t. Is bad thing.”
“Bad thing?” Daniels asked.
“Very bad thing.”
Daniels waited, pondering the situation. “All right, I’ll tell you what, we’ll say bye now for a while and we’ll discuss allowing you to destroy the probe. We’ll talk later.”
When the communication had ended, Daniels said, “Okay, Peter, go look up the treaty. Find out if there is any mention of the legality of destroying one’s own craft in another’s territory. Firing of weapons is probably a violation. I’m ordered not to allow any violation whatsoever.”
“Do you think there will be something like that?” Peter asked.
“Go find out.”
Lieutenant Freeman, at the sensor station asked, “Why wouldn’t we just let them destroy their probe, Captain? The debris wouldn’t be a problem. What harm could it do?”
“They’re testing us, I think,” Daniels answered. “They’re just seeing how far they can push us. But if Peter can’t find any provision outlawing what they’re proposing, then I have no reason to stand in their way. If he can find something, however, then we will know that their only purpose here is to see how lenient we are and we will tell them to leave Human space and allow their probe to enter Earth’s atmosphere.”
Not much to Daniels’ surprise, the action of destroying their own probe in Human space was, in fact, prohibited by the treaty. The treaty was long and detailed and seemed to have a paragraph on every little possibility. Daniels now sat, waiting for the Cafgrans to receive their hail.
He would have to ask them to leave Human territory. If they refused, he would have to insist. He worried about doing that. How would they react? He had been told by Jorj Kaufman not to tolerate any further violations of the treaty on the part of the aliens, so in the end, he would only be following orders by making the Cafgrans leave. But it didn’t feel right. Daniels still felt that in the interest of peace-keeping, he should allow the Cafgrans to destroy their vessel as they wished–they seemed to want it pretty badly. It wouldn’t cause anyone any real problems. But Peter had had a point when he said that the Cafgrans were probably testing them, seeing how hard they could push until the Humans recoiled. Now was the time to recoil; Daniels knew it.
“They’re coming in,” Peter said.
“Istar-Phenol,” Daniels said, as soon as he saw the Cafgran appear on the screen.
“You decide?” asked Istar-Phenol.
“Yes, we have decided. You are proposing an illegal maneuver. Destroying the probe we are chasing is outlawed by the Treaty of Two Peoples, therefore we cannot allow you to do it.”
“You no let us destroy probe?”
“It isn’t allowed by the treaty. I can’t let you do it, no. There’s something else that is not allowed by the treaty: entering the solar system of an inhabited planet in Human territory. That means you must turn back in less than twelve minutes. We won’t worry about your probe because we know that that is beyond your control, but we must insist that you turn your own ship around and head back toward Cafgran territory immediately.”
Istar-Phenol turned and spoke for a long time to his Ship-Leader. Finally, he slowly and obviously very reluctantly turned around and said to Daniels, “We will not go, Human. Must destroy probe. Please. We destroy. You move away now or will destroy too.”
The communication ended.
“Shit!” Daniels shouted, running his fingers through his hair. “Lieutenant Freeman, what is the position of the Cafgran ship?”
“They’re off our port side sir,” Freeman replied. “They’re moving forward though, to get in front of the probe so that they can fire on it.”
Since laser cannons worked at the speed of light, and the three ships were now traveling at a much greater speed, the Cafgran vessel needed to be in front of it’s target in order for it to be effective.
“Helmsman, move us directly behind the Cafgran probe,” Daniels said.
“Steve, are you nuts?” demanded Commander Peter. “Putting us behind the probe won’t give us a chance in hell of getting out alive if they actually fire.”
“I’m aware of that. I’m betting they won’t go all the way.”
“Can we at least begin a scan of their ship so that we can tell if they power up their weapons, and we can get out of the way?”
“Negative,” Daniels said. “They could sense our scan and would feel that we were sufficiently safe. I’m trying to convince them not to fire.”
“This is too risky,” Peter said.
“You’re going to shut up now,” Daniels retorted.
“I have no doubt that they will decide to fire and destroy us.”
“What did I just say, Peter?”
Daniels stood to yell, but stopped himself. “You’re not helping the situation any.” He paused and said to Lieutenant Freeman, “Bring the ship to full alert.”
The bridge crew sat silently, as the alert sirens began to sound. Daniels couldn’t help thinking about the fact that at any moment the Cafgrans could fire and his entire ship would be destroyed instantly. He looked down and noticed his hands trembling. He forced them together and stopped the shaking, not wanting the rest of the crew seeing him in such a state of anxiety.
The sirens eventually turned off. “What’s happening out there?” Daniels asked.
“The Cafgrans are in position to fire, sir,” Lieutenant Freeman replied. “But they’re not going through with it. They’re giving us a chance to save ourselves before they fire.”
“Hold steady,” Daniels said. “Keep us close behind the probe. Peter, I want to send a message to the Cafgrans. Audio only.”
After a second, Peter said, “Okay, recording. Go.”
“This is Captain Daniels,” he said standing up. “I must warn you, Cafgrans, that if you fire upon that ship, our two species will be at war. You will destroy my ship and I can tell you that the rest of the Human race will not take that lightly. I ask you: are you prepared to start a war over one lost probe?”
After several seconds, the Cafgrans responded with their own audio transmission: “Please, Human. You no understand what is happen. We destroy probe for your own good. Is bad thing on probe. Can’t reach Earth. You move out of way now and we shoot probe and leave and we have no war. We no want war. We prevent war by destroying probe. We come to prevent war.”
A theory suddenly came to Daniels: the probe was actually a bomb, sent by some band of renegade Cafgrans, out to start another war. Cabniscar, his ship, and his interpreter, were here to prevent that bomb from reaching Earth. Daniels’ mind raced. What if that was true? There was no way he could allow something like that to reach Earth.
He heard a door slide open. He looked up and saw Markis come in. “We’re on full alert–Captain, what’s happening?” she asked. “Can I be of any assistance?”
“Take over communications,” he told her. “Open a channel to the Cafgrans.”
The ship gave a sudden, violent, shudder. Daniels had to grab the arm of his chair in order to steady himself.
“They fired, sir,” Lieutenant Freeman said.
“Did they destroy the probe?” Daniels asked.
“They weren’t aiming at the probe, sir. They were aiming at us.”
“Did you still want me to put in that communication to the Cafgrans?” Markis asked.
“Sir,” said Freeman. “I think they were firing on us to knock us off course. They weren’t trying to destroy our ship. The laser fire just skimmed us; there was no damage to the Elaina.”
“Return fire!” Peter shouted.
“Hold your fire!” Daniels screamed. “We’re not in position to fire, anyway. They’re still in front of us.”
“They’re moving back, sir,” Freeman said. “They’re behind us now. We can return fire now.”
“Hold your fire. How long until we reach Earth?”
“Four minutes,” Freeman replied.
“They’re not replying to our communication,” said Markis.
“Sir, we have to return fire,” Peter said.
“Sir, they’re moving back,” Freeman said. “They’re slowing down. They’re giving up–”
Daniels watched as Lieutenant Freeman’s eye’s widened as he watched his computer display. A look of shock suddenly came over his face. “Sir, they’re not turning around. They’ve stopped. It looks like they’re powering up their hyperspace drive. Sir, they’re coming back for a real attack, at full speed!”
The Humans wouldn’t listen to reason. Cabniscar expected that much, but he never expected it would come to this. He knew the Humans were a war like race, but he figured they would step aside when confronted with the possibility of the total destruction of their homeworld. Apparently he was wrong.
Cabniscar and his ship were sent here to stop the rocket headed for Earth, and at all cost, avoid another war. If he allowed the craft to enter the Human’s homeworld, there would be tens of billions of casualties, even before the war began. Who knew how many there would be afterwards? He knew that if he destroyed the Human ship along with the probe, the Humans would never understand why he had to do it. They would all be at war and he could not allow himself to start something like that. And if he entered the solar system of the Human homeworld, they would almost certainly take that personally as well. The rocket would be crossing that threshold within thirty seconds, Human time.
He couldn’t help wondering if his rather unqualified interpreter, Istar-Phenol had properly explained the situation to the Humans. But that didn’t matter now. It was too late. There was only one option left.
So Cabniscar gave the order to charge the hyperspace engines to full, set a collision course, around the Human ship and into the renegade rocket. This way, the Human craft would be protected from any debris, and they would have time to reverse their engines before they ran into anything.
It took twelve seconds at full speed. In the instant before both Cafgran vessels were destroyed, Cabniscar found himself wondering what incident had started the wars with the Humans in the first place.