A Moral Delima

We ran the last hundred meters to the bridge. The hatch was open and there was a man I didn’t recognize, a large bird, and a woman that looked like a tree in the center of the room. The XO and Ellen were off to one side. The helmsman was sitting at his post at the helm. The captain was about to speak when all of a sudden I heard Janice’s voice in my head.

“Captain, may I present the patriarch of this planet.” The man bowed slightly from the waist and extended his hand to shake. The captain stared for a minute and then took his hand.

“I’m Captain Jack Armstrong. This is the Starship Beagle. Welcome.”

The old one smiled. “I have had many names. I am the avatar of my people. I should explain. I have taken this form to better understand your people as your crew member, Janice Fletcher has taken the form of my people. It is temporary I assure you. We have much to talk about, captain.”

“Are you hurt?” The captain asked the tree woman.

“Captain, you were speaking to the one called the mother of the forest. I am the bird over here.” Janice’s voice in my head held a hint of amusement as she waved the tip of one wing at the captain.

“Sorry. I’m pleased to meat you,” the captain said to the mother of the forest.

She nodded at him and we heard an old woman’s voice in our heads say, “As am I, sir.”

The captain turned to Janice. “What is going on here? Your mother will kill me if you are hurt.”

Janice replied with the same calm voice in our head, “We have a quandry. These fine folk are very reclusive. They have technology the like of which we have never dreamed. They have explored this universe and more. But now they want to be left alone. They realize that there are those of our species that would never leave them alone if we reported their existence. They have offered to remove all memory of our contact with them from our minds. It is the only way they will let us leave here.”

The captain reached for his sidearm. It wasn’t there. The old one said, “You disappoint me sir. I had thought you wouldn’t resort to violence.”

“You kidnap one of my crew, transform them into an alien creature, invade my ship, and you are disappointed in me? You are a condescending, self centered snob. Transform Janice back to the way she was and get off of my ship!”

Janice spoke in our heads again, “Captain. One of their young shot at our ship. That was what pierced cartography. They wanted to make amends. They were not aware how young a race humans are. They didn’t realize the panic that teleporting me to their holy place would cause you. They only want to live in peace and quiet and contemplate their existence without having to constantly deal with people that wanted to steal their technology.”

“But what right do they have to manipulate others to suit their whim?,” the captain said. “They may have the power to force us but that doesn’t make it right.”

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Seeing Things Their Way

I followed the old one down a path through the forest. The mother of the forest followed right behind me. We came to a small clearing and the old one ducked into a cave to one side. I followed him but it was dark inside. After a moment, my eyes began to become acclimated to the dark. There were florescent stones on either side of the path back into the cave. They glowed in various shades of pink, green, blue, and yellow.

We walked for a few minutes and then the cave opened up into a large chamber. There was a long stone table in the center of the room. The old one gestured to me to sit. The mother of the forest went around the table and sat opposite of me. There was a gong at the head of the table and the old one picked up a mallet and struck the gong making one clear tone. Then he sat at the head of the table.

We sat listening to the gong reverberate. It sounded for what seemed to be a long time. As it was finally dying down, three creatures that looked like very thin, very tall monkeys entered from the rear of the cave. They each carried a covered tray. They set one in front of each of us. The old one nodded and a monkey took the cover off the mother of the forest’s dish. It appeared to be a pile of dirt.

The next monkey uncovered my dish. It was covered in various types of seeds and grains. I watched each of the others looking for a cue to proceed. The last monkey took the cover off the old one’s dish. It was what looked like a steak and baked potato. It smelled like one too. The others just stared at their food. I followed suit.

After a few minutes of this, I noticed that I was starring at the mother of the forest. In the dim light it was hard to be sure but it seemed to me her face was becoming wrinkled like the bark on a tree. It also seemed like she was taller than I remembered her being.

The old one had grown taller and no longer had wings on his back. His head had become more round in shape and his beak had become a nose. He had a mouth and two ears. And where his wings had been he had two arms. By now, he was starting to look like a human male.

I looked down at myself. My arms had disappeared and my legs had gotten extremely short with talons instead of feat. I know the drill. If you look like an animal, you are treated with precautions. The old one spoke out loud. “Do you appreciate my concerns better now, my friend? I certainly understand yours.”

Before I could speak, he nodded his head and I suddenly found myself on the bridge of the ship. The old one in his human form was with me. I found I couldn’t speak but my thoughts were audible to anyone in the room with me.I could understand everything that was being said.

The XO was standing there with Ellen. They were looking at a tablet. They looked up and the XO stepped in front of Ellen. The helmsman hit the intercom. “Captain, you’re needed on the bridge!”

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Secrets Shared

The intercom chimed insistently. I started awake. I must have fallen asleep scanning the pictures from the surface below. It was the captain. “Can I come in?” I looked around but Ellen was not in the room.

“Yes sir.” I opened the hatch and the captain entered. I closed the hatch behind him. “Ellen and I were scanning the photographs of the surface for signs of a civilization that might have abducted Janice. I must have nodded off. I’m not sure where Ellen is now.”

“That was a concise report. It’s more than I’m getting from anyone else lately. Don’t worry, Ellen is discussing something she found with the XO. She said you passed out around 0400 and she didn’t have the heart to wake you. I came down to let you know and to talk to you about something else.”

“Yes sir. What can I do for you?” I asked. I felt a little bit apprehensive.

“Well, I need you to hold what I’m about to tell you in strictest confidence.”

“Of course, sir. I will take it to my grave.”

“It’s not quite that serious. It would be uncomfortable for me and Janice if anyone else were to find out.”

“Oh, I see. Like I said, I’ll keep your confidence.” I could see where this was going.

“You see, Janice is my sisters youngest daughter. She’s my niece. She didn’t want anyone to know because she wants to be treated like any other crew member. You and Janice seem close and quite frankly, I’m about to go nuts trying to find her. If anything happens to her I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”

“I see. I need to ask you to return the favor, keep a secret that is. Janice told me you were her uncle and swore me to secrecy. I suspect she won’t hold me accountable for telling you, especially since you just told me but I don’t want to mess things up between us.” The captain sighed deeply.

“I’m glad to hear that. Well, shall we go hear what Ellen’s theory is and whether the XO thinks it is plausible.” The captain put a hand on my shoulder in a fatherly fashion as we headed for the bridge.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

First Summit

The sunrise was glorious. I stood and stretched the stiffness from my arms and legs. I rolled my head and then I decided to give my hosts a demonstration of Earth culture. I did T’ai Chi in the green space in front of the venerable one. I hoped that it demonstrated some of the aesthetic beauty the human form is capable of.

The mother of the forest watched with quiet interest until I finished. Then she beckoned me with her mind. “Come now, little one. Let us sing the colors of your being for the old one.” With that she turned and addressed the old bird on the perch. “Dear one, hear is the young mother from the starship above.”

“Is it true you come from a distant star to taste the song of our being?” the old one spoke to her mind in the same way the mother of the forest had.

I spoke my answer out loud since I didn’t trust myself to think the answer clearly. “Our race is curious by nature. We travel the universe looking for others to learn from and trade with.”

“Your race has a history of violence against each other and other species. You almost destroyed your world on several occasions. How can we know that you will not bring such sorrow to our nest?” the old one paced back and forth on his perch as he spoke to her with his thoughts. He made a clicking noise with his beak.

“If you know of our history you must have also seen that we have not had a war among our own people in almost two hundred years. We have not started a war with any other race in that time but we have defended ourselves when others have attacked us. We prefer peaceful interactions to violent ones but we will not be victims.” Janice trembled a little bit as she spoke. She had never had any official training for first contact.

The old one paced for several minutes. Then he answered, “I believe that your song is bright. If there is darkness in your race it is hidden from your heart. We do not wish to be known to others in the universe. We have long since explored the universe as far as we have appetite to see. We have turned inward and spend our time exploring the landscapes of our shared soul. It is a far vaster place than the expanses of these physical dimensions. We have taken great pains to not be known by anyone that visits this planet. The hard thing is that our fledgling attacked your ship while in the process of becoming an adult. It is his right of passage if I understand your culture. We did not mean for him to damage your ship but we also do not want our presence here known.”

“I see your predicament.” I said. “We must report what we found here. I would be happy to respect your wishes but there are eighty individuals on our ship. I can not speak for all of them. I can tell you that I have been missed and when I return to the ship I will be asked many questions.”

“I see your predicament as well.” the old one answered. “Eat with us that we may recognize the bonds of our friendship together and we will consider one another’s problems together.”

“As you wish.” I answered.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Meanwhile, Back on the Ship

“Hello, bridge?” I said into the intercom. “This is David Mathews. I just wanted to know if you have found Janice Fletcher yet.”

“No, no one has seen her. We are searching the ship compartment by compartment. Just a second, the captain just came in.” I could hear the voices in the background on the bridge for a second and then whoever I had been talking let go of the talk button. I looked at Ellen. We had torn the room apart. Janice definitely wasn’t here.

“What did you mean when you said you thought Janice might be making first contact?” I asked.

“Well, I read a lot of science fiction, especially the really old ones from before we became a spacefaring race. There was one writer, Arthur C. Clark that once wrote that: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ Since Janice disappeared as if by magic, I posit that there is probably a sufficiently advanced technology involved. In which case, Janice is probably experiencing first contact right now. Unless, well, I’d rather not speculate about any other scenarios right now.” Ellen said.

“Oh. Well where do you think she is then?”

“My best guess, and it is only a guess, is that she was teleported to the planet surface. Or whatever other means that they may have for instantaneous transportation. If they could do that I suppose she could be just about anywhere. On the planet surface, in a ship somewhere, or maybe in some parallel universe. I don’t really know. That’s why I haven’t said anything more about it until now. I just didn’t think it would be useful.”

“We’re both pretty worried, aren’t we? Perhaps we should take a few deep breaths and see if we can find any likely candidates for places that a highly advanced race might transport Janice to on the surface.” Ellen nodded.

“That’s a good idea. At least it would beat sitting here doing nothing. I wish they had taken us all. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about her.” Ellen pulled up a chair and I pulled up the pictures of the planet’s surface on the tablet. After a while Ellen said, “Let me get my tablet. I think I can run the scan myself. That way we can cover twice the area in the same time.”

“Good idea. Here’s the directory name. You start with the most recent pictures and work your way back. I started with the oldest pictures and am working my way forward. We’re looking for … I don’t know what we’re looking for. Look for anything that looks out of place.” I said.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

The Place of Bathing and Mating

The air smells different. I knew from the preliminary analysis that the planet’s atmosphere had sufficient oxygen and no significant concentrations of toxins. I haven’t passed out yet so I assume I’ll be okay. I hear water flowing. It is night time on this part of the planet. How I know this is the same planet that we are surveying, I don’t know. Still, I am sure of it in my heart.

My eyes are adapting to the low light. I can see a pool of water in front of me. It is ten meters across and perfectly round. There is a low wall about half a meter thick around the pool. On the other side of the pool is an arch with a pole across it at chest height. Sitting on the pole is some sort of bird about four feet tall. Its head is under its wing. Standing on the ground in front of the first bird is a second bird. Its head is under its wing.

As I look around the pool I realize that there are perches at the four cardinal directions and the space between each pair of cardinal directions. I closed my eyes and listen.

“Breath deep, young fledgeling. I wish you no harm.” the voice seems to come from inside of my head. I can’t hear any physical voice and yet I am sure the voice isn’t just me talking to myself

“Who are you?” I say. “What do you want from me?”

“We seek forgiveness.” the voice answered. I hear movement behind me. I turn to see a third bird. This one is half a meter taller than the other two and has a meter long plume of feathers coming out of her head. The bird nods at me. “It is I whose thoughts you drink. Smell the color of them that you may know their truth.”

“Can you hear my thoughts?” I ask. The third bird stands swaying back and forth. A few seconds later, it answers.

“When you are intending for me to hear you I can. When you are keeping your thoughts private, I can’t hear them.” the bird explained. “I am called mother of the forest but now my brood has left the nest and I pass my days as council to this venerable one here.”

“What prompts you to ask for forgiveness?” I ask.

“One of our young warriors shot the hole in your ship. He was in an altered state of consciousness preparing for his initiation into adulthood. Do not judge him harshly. He was only doing what every fledgeling is taught to do, protect the nest.”

“Will he do it again? I asked.

“No. He has been restrained for the time being. You must be quiet now. The venerable one is contemplated the way into the future.” she admonished.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

For My Next Trick

Ellen is a fantastic cook, like five star Michelin gourmet good. She made us a feast composed of the most mundane ingredients. It turns out she was a chemist and enjoyed synthesizing spices that weren’t available in the ship’s stores per se.

While Ellen was working her magic on the stove, Janice and I decided we needed a break from reading fine print on a tablet. So, Janice got out her flute and played us a musical appetizer while I set the table.

When dinner was ready, Janice surprised both of us with a bottle of wine that she had been saving. We ate and drank and talked like we were in an apartment back on Earth. It was relaxing. It helped prepare us for the work we had ahead.

As I finished cleaning up after dinner, the intercom chimed. Janice activated it and said, “Yes? What can I do for you?”

It was the captain and he said, “May I come in?” Janice opened the hatch and the captain entered. She closed and sealed the hatch when he was inside. “I just wanted to check to make sure that you were both alright.”

“We are more than alright, Ellen made us a wonderful dinner, Janice serenaded us with her flute. It’s been a very enjoyable evening.” I said.

“I’m glad to hear it. The XO says he’s sure that whatever punctured Cartography came from the planet below. We’re not sure how it reached escape velocity, much less the velocity at which it hit the ship.” the captain said. Janice started to say something but before she could get a word out, she just disappeared. We all stood there staring at where she had been standing just a second before. We were so shocked that no one said anything for a moment. Finally the captain said, “Where did she go?”

I shook my head baffled. “I don’t know. She was here and then she wasn’t.”

The captain pressed the broadcast button on the intercom. “Janice Fletcher, report to your quarters. If anyone sees Janice, report it to me. That is all.” He turned to Ellen and me and said, “Stay here. I’m going back to the bridge. Report at once if you find her.”

“Aye, sir. We will.” I said. He left for the bridge and I turned to Ellen. “Do you have any ideas where she went? What did you see?”

“The same thing you saw, she was there and then she was gone. Something tells me Janice may be making first contact.”

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

The Perch of the Old One

“Have you heard the color of their life scent?” The old one sang on the branch above the place of bathing and mating. His head bobbed up and down to the rhythm of his song and no one dared answer him. No one except mother of the forest that is. Her voice was scratching as she croaked out the following observation.

“I know not what they seek here. I look into their hearts and see only cacophony. They are blind to their own scent. But they have disturbed the young prince in his search for his adult plumage. He has lashed out as if they had sought to block his quest. This must be made right.” Her tone was shrill but her pitch was perfect.

“They are unfledged. They have neither our wisdom nor our technology. How do we make it right when they don’t know they were wronged?” The old one sang his response. The second talon unfurled his wings. The old one turned his head to stare at his lieutenant. “Sing the color of your heart, old friend.”

“Perhaps we could bring one of them here. The mother of their nest could hear the color of the prince’s quest and sing the rightness of it.” The old warrior sang to his mentor.

“I must listen to the harmony of your advice dear one. Be patient with me.” With that he stopped singing and tucked his head under his wing. The second talon walked three times around the pool below and stopped beneath the old one. He tucked his head under his wing and waited.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Dinner Plans Develop

“Have a seat.” Janice said. She pointed toward the table in the corner of the room. There were three canvas backed chairs attached to it. I sat down.

“You furnished your own room?” I asked.

“Let’s just say I got my pick of what furniture there was. I’m going to tell you a little secret. But you can’t tell anyone. I’d never hear the end of it. I’m trusting you.”

“Sure. You can trust me with anything.” I said. I was a little bit nervous.

“Okay. The captain is not just the captain.” She laughed at my puzzled expression. “He’s also my uncle Jack.”

“But his last name is Armstrong. Your last name is…”

“Fletcher. Right. But he’s my mother’s brother. You can’t tell anyone. I want to succeed on my own merits.”

“But you’ll take dibs on the best furniture?” I laughed. “Your secret is safe with me.” Janice visibly relaxed.

“Ellen should be here in a few minutes. Maybe she’ll know more what’s going on.”

“Does she know?”

“That I’m related to the captain. Not exactly. I think she suspects though. I’ve been going to tell her but the opportunity never arises.”

The ship’s intercom came on. “This is the captain speaking. Everyone needs to put on their survival suits. We have reason to believe there may be more incidents like we had in Cartography earlier today. Everyone should wear their suits and keep all hatches closed when not in use.”

“That’s weird. I wonder what’s up.” I mused. The intercom chimed. Janice answered it.

“Did you make it back to your quarters okay?” the captain asked.

“Yes. Dave and I just got in. I expect Ellen any time now.” Janice said.

“She just left the bridge. I had the bridge personnel suit up before they were relieved. We think that maybe the meteorite or whatever it was may have come from the planet. If that’s the case, we can’t rule out the possibility that someone might be taking a shot at us.”

“Do you need me on the bridge, sir.” I asked.

“No, you both stay there. I think it’s good that no one be totally alone right now. By the same token, we shouldn’t cluster up too densely either. I’ll make another announcement when we figure anything else out for sure. You kids be careful.”

“Yes, sir.” Janice said. The hatch opened and Ellen came in. She was carrying a duffle bag.

“I grabbed a few things from ship’s stores on my way here.” Ellen said. She started taking ingredients out of the duffle bag. She had the makings of a delicious meal stashed in it.

“Do you need help cooking?” I asked.

“No, I’ve got things under control. You can help set the table and clean up after we eat.” Ellen said.

Janice and I logged on to the ship’s computer and tried to find out what data had been collected on the meteorite.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Adventures in Cartography

The hatch to cartography was shut. I reached down to spin the wheel to open it and it didn’t move. I pressed the intercom button next to the hatch. There was a somewhat muffled clanging noise. “Arie! Charlie! What’s wrong with the door?” I felt stupid after I said it. It was obvious that they were venting atmosphere. I hope they were able to get into the survival suits in time.

Janice was calling the bridge. The captain was trying to calm her down. She was talking so fast I couldn’t follow what she was trying to say and I knew more or less what that was. “Slow down,” I whispered at her. She took a deep breath and started again.

“Captain. This is Janice Fletcher. I’m in the companionway outside of cartography with David Mathews. The Hatch is sealed. We can hear the decompression alarm through the intercom. It is muffled. We need assistance.” Janice finally slowed down enough that she was understood.

“Very good, Janice. We’re sending help now. Both of you find a survival suit and get into it now. Be careful,” the captain said. I found the survival kit half way down the companionway. I drug two suits out and put one on. Janice pulled one on as well. We both decided to wait to pressurize them until it was necessary. They pressurized almost instantly.

I turned on the radio in the helmet. The channel was busy. Apparently a micrometeorite traveling at .8c had gone through cartography entering from the bottom of the module and exiting through the top. Up and down were relative. By convention we normally engaged the artificial gravity on the side closest the object we were orbiting. When we were in space, the aft of the ship was down. Everything was easily adaptable to which way was down at any given time.

It was strange that the meteorite had come from the planet side. It must have just grazed the planet before it struck the ship. It was also more than a little strange that it was travelling at such a high velocity.

The XO and the maintenance chief were climbing up the ladder at the end of the companionway. The XO stopped to fill us in on the plan. He and the chief were wearing EV suits. “You two go down the ladder we just came up and seal the hatch behind you. Pressurize your suits just in case. We’re going to equalize the pressure so we can open the hatch to cartography.”

We both nodded and pressed the button to pressurize our suits. We scrambled down the ladder, Janice first. I closed the hatch and sealed it. “We’re secure sir,” I told the XO over the radio.

“Acknowledged. We’re equalizing pressure now.” We could hear the pumps kick in. It seemed like forever but I had glanced at the suit chronometer and it had only been three minutes. The XO came back over the radio.

“Bridge, this is the XO. Tell doc to get ready to treat two mild cases of hypothermia. Arie and Charlie both got in their suits in plenty of time. It got pretty cold in there before we got to them. Chief says it will take several hours to patch the holes. If that’s what a meteorite the size of a grain of sand will do, we’re lucky it wasn’t any bigger.”

“This is the captain. Acknowledged. Did you get that doc?” the captain asked.

“Acknowledged. We’ll have the thermal stabilization blankets ready for them. Bring them on.” Doc answered.

We heard the pumps re-pressurizing the companionionway above us. After just a few minutes the pumps cut off and the hatch opened. Janice and I helped Arie and Charlie down the ladder. The XO said, “I’m going to go help the chief patch those holes.”

“We’ll take them to sick bay.” Janice said. Both of the patients were shaking. Their teeth were chattering. They could barely put one foot after the other. We helped them to sick bay and into the waiting blankets.

Randy, the nurse, said, “You both did a good job. We’ve got them taken care of now.”

“Thanks, Randy.” I said. Janice and I started back toward cartography but ended up back in the galley. “How about some hot tea?” I asked.

“That sounds good. Didn’t you think it was odd that the meteorite came from planetside?” Janice asked.

“It did seem odd to me. And even odder was the speed it was traveling. What natural object of that size travels at .8c?” We sipped our tea in silence. It was a comfortable silence. I could feel the adrenalin wearing off and I was beginning to feel drained. We checked back with sick bay but Doc said the patients had warmed up and been sent to their quarters to get some sleep. He suggested we do the same.

We got to Janice’s quarters first. “Why don’t you come in a minute?” she suggested.

“Um, well I … I mean, okay.” It wasn’t that I hadn’t dated or had girl friends before. I just had pushed thoughts of such things out of my mind. I had come on this mission to do a job, not take a vacation cruise. But then Janice was a scientist. And a woman. She was definitely a woman. There was no denying that. And I was a heterosexual man. But we were both professionals. Hell, I didn’t know what to do in this situation. I didn’t have any experience to compare this with. I went inside. She closed the hatch.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.