“And they shouldn’t,” Payload Specialist Donna Richmond stated. “The explosion happened almost a week ago and there haven’t been any reports of elevated meteorite activity either around Earth or on the moon.
Shuttle pilot Jarred Asher added, “If there was a risk that we would have been met in orbit by a heavy meteorite shower this mission would have been scrubbed.”
“OK,” Commander Paul Zeronski took back control, “it’s a cover story. It’s not the first one we’ve heard and it won’t be the last. The fact is NASA knows very little about what happened out there. They do know that there is a debris cloud spreading from the point of the explosion, and it is radioactive. It doesn’t seem to be gamma radiation and its energy is dissipating quickly. They don’t believe it’s a danger to us. The President wants answers. We are up here to get him some. They went with a minimum crew to maintain the highest security. This will be a cake mission. We’ll deploy the air force satellite gather some facts and go home.”
“Easy for them to say”, Jarred commented.
“Would you have rather sat this one out?” Paul asked.
“Are you kidding Commander?” Jarred answered, “I have a feeling this is going to be an historic mission.”
“If it’s historic Lieutenant, “Paul answered. “We screwed up. This is a classified mission.”
“What about debris?” Donna asked, “”I hate to lose a bunch of tiles to a piece of space junk.” “Donna paused then added, “And yes Commander it’s worth the risk.”
“I’d hate to be hit by something,” Paul said, “but I’d sure like to catch a piece of whatever blew up. OK, let’s get on with our tasks, but the investigation has top priority.”
The crew completed all of their tasks. The air force satellite was deployed and it was their final day in orbit and they were disappointed than nothing special had happened. They had made extensive readings of the area of the explosion and did report an indication of a UFO but they couldn’t nail it down.
Jarred had settled into the pilot’s chair to make routine checks of the systems when the signal energy levels on his receiver rose just above normal. Jarred called to Paul and jumped right on it.
“What is it?” Paul asked floating to the pilot’s chair.
“It’s a signal”, Jarred answered, “It’s just on the high edge of our receivable spectrum. No one uses those frequencies.”
“Are you sure it’s a signal?”
“No doubt about it. It’s weak but it’s regular. The pattern doesn’t match any code that we know but it is a short repeatable pattern. Commander, considering everything we know my guess is it’s a distress signal. It’s very weak, I don’t know if anyone, except maybe SETI, could have picked it up.”
At that moment their communication link came alive. Mission control turned communication over to the director of NASA. Paul listened and responded, “Yes sir, we’ve isolated the signal. I can imagine that the SETI people are going crazy. We’re on it sir one hundred percent. We’ll get you some answers.”
“It’s a distress signal; a distress signal from an alien.”
“We don’t know that Jarred.” Paul said.
“We don’t know what?” Donna asked floating in.
“We’re getting a distress call from an alien.” Jarred’s excitement was clear in his voice.”
“Lieutenant Asher,” Paul called; “control yourself. Right now we have a repeatable energy source at the high end of the frequency spectrum and nothing more.”
“Very well Commander,” Jarred answered, “but we have to proceed from some hypothesis and my hypothesis is that it is a distress call.”
“Have we pinned down the radiation point?” Donna asked. “I’ve heard earthbound signals bouncing off the moon have fooled the SETI folks.”
“Not this time,” Paul said, “according to the director the SETI people are certain that the signal is coming from Earth orbit.”
“I’m getting their data now,” Jarred said, “SETI has agreed to a lock down and I’ve been given permission to pass ours to them. Data from our different positions should give us… Jarred paused for a second then said, “Damn we’re in range! We can get there!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Commander the triangulation puts the source of the signal in a slightly higher orbit about two hundred miles ahead of us. A short burn on the engines will put us right there.”
“How short;” Paul asked, “You know we aren’t carrying a great deal of extra fuel.”
“Commander”, Donna said, “If there’s someone out there and we can get there we’ve got to give it a shot. I don’t care if it’s little green men or if it’s the Russians or the ESA slipped a mission passed us. If someone is out there we can’t leave them there.”
“We won’t do them or us a hell of a lot of good if we get there and then can’t get home. Now that we have our triangulation our people downstairs can evaluate our situation and give us a go or no go.”
“What will you recommend Commander?”
“I will recommend that if the analysis supports it, that we attempt a rendezvous with the source of the signal.”
Jarred and Donna smiled at their commander’s decision.
The analysis agreed with the original estimates with one small variation. The required fuel consumption would put the shuttle on a very dangerous and fine edge. The burn time would leave no margin for error for the trip home.
The Director of NASA himself gave them the news, “Commander everyone in NASA and CETI, not to mention the White House are burning to know the source of the signal, but I did not send your fine crew into orbit to die. I swear on my oath as Director of NASA that your decision will be honored. The lives of your crew are your first responsibility. Make your decision Commander and NASA will stand by you.”
“Commander,” Donna whispered. “We can do this.”
Paul looked at the brown-eyed payload specialist then responded, “Director we would like to proceed with the burn on the main engines. Please tell our people down there to be precise with their data.
“Thank you Commander we’ll get you a burn time to the microsecond.”
The crew strapped in and the main engines fired. “Here we go,” Paul said, “, this damn well better be worth it.”
“I think this just might be the most worth while effort in the history of our planet,” Jarred said as he was pressed back into his seat.
“It’s a ship!” Donna called out, or at least it’s a metal hollow cylinder about twenty-five feet long and the about ten feet in diameter.”
Paul growled, “If this is some junk satellite with a screwy antenna I’m going to have someone’s ass.”
“That ain’t no satellite.” Jarred said, “It’s emitting the low level radiation that was measured in the explosion.
“We’ll see in about eighteen hours.”
“They might not have eighteen hours,” Donna said. “Look, we’re getting closer but the signal is getting weaker. It’s not being attenuated. Whatever that thing is, it’s losing power.”
“We need another burn,” Jarred said.
“NO!” Paul shouted.
“Commander, I respectfully request that you have our people downstairs reevaluate the situation based on this new information.”
“Lieutenant,” Paul answered, “You can make me out to be the bad guy in this if you want to but I know we can’t do another burn and you know we can’t do another burn. We’ll never see home again if we expend another once of fuel before reentry. We’re on the edge as it is.”
“Commander, they’ll die,” Jarred yelled back.
“Who will die?” Paul yelled, “What will die? Does losing a signal mean whatever it is out there lost all internal power or does it just mean that it lost its ability to transmit? My first duty is to this crew and I’ve stretched that duty as far as I intend to. One more outburst from you lieutenant and I’ll put you on report, you know what that means.”
There was silence in the cockpit for almost an hour. The crew just stared at the weakening signal. Finally Jarred announce, “It’s gone.” The statement made the feeling in the shuttle darker than the black night of space beyond its hull.
After another minute of silence the receiver once again showed energy. “Look,” Jarred said with excitement, “It’s shifting down the spectrum and it’s on a narrow beam. Commander, the beam is locked on us.”
Everyone came forward to watch the signal shift in frequency and change form. Suddenly their communication link came alive, “Sherzac bequay sherzac bequay.” The voice didn’t sound like anything the crew had ever heard, but even through its strange tenor it was clear that it was weak and in pain.
“Oh my God,” Donna said, “it’s really an alien.”
“Whatever it is, “Jarred said, “It doesn’t have much time. Commander we have to something!”
“All this doesn’t change the facts.” Paul stood firm, “There is nothing we can do. We’ll get to it as soon as we can.”
Jarred opened his mouth but Paul’s warning stopped him. Jarred knew if he was put on report that this would be his last mission.
“At least we should answer it,” Donna said.
“Paul and Jarred stared at her and she continued, “It went through all of the trouble to find our operating frequency I would expect that it’s trying to communicate. Communication requires a response does it not?”
Jarred looked at Paul and Paul said, “OK, but I’m sure it won’t understand a damn word I’ll say.”
“It will understand that we’re here and that there is hope.” Donna responded.
Paul took a breath and flipped the switch, “This is Command Paul Zeronski of the United States Space Shuttle Zeus. We are closing on your position as fast as we can. Conserve your energy and try to hold on.”
The response came back, “Sigsara! Sigsara! Cemfow shiaty. Sherzac bequay sherzac bequay.”
“It is a living entity,” Donna said. “I was still half believing it was a automated signal. Now we know for sure that this is a living breathing alien.”
Jarred said, “The chances are that by the time we get there we’ll be seeing our first really dead alien.”
“The signal’s gone.” Paul said, “Maybe it is trying to conserve energy.”
“Or”, Jarred said unable to control himself; “it used it all in one desperate shot to get our attention.”
The cockpit again fell into silence. After a few minutes Donna’s eyes fell on Jarred’s hand as it idly toyed with the controls to the main engine. Paul called to Donna, “There’s no sense sitting around wasting time. Even at this speed we can still make additional measurements of the area of the explosion; Jarred keep an eye on things up there.”
“Yes sir,” Donna answered. She stared at Jarred as she got up to go then she said, “Sudden acceleration can be very dangerous to anyone not strapped in.”
Alone in the cockpit Jarred fought with the temptation. He knew, should he survive, his career would be over if his mind could not stop what his hands were doing. Yet his hands could not be stopped as they went through the preparations.
“OK,” Paul said, “I’ll set up the computer and you unload that new stellar interferometer.” They began to drift to their task when the shuttle shot forward hurling them into the rear bulkhead.
“THAT BASTARD,” Paul yelled over the roar of the engines.
When the burn was complete Paul launched himself toward the cockpit. “You son of a bitch. You’ve left my children without a father. Get out of that chair so I can at least have the pleasure of kicking your ass before I die.”
“They’ll be plenty of time for that Commander. I’ve informed mission control I did this on my own. I just couldn’t sit here knowing whatever it is out there is dying. I’m sure they’ll recalculate and find us another option. You know that they wanted this to happen as badly as I did.”
“THERE IS NO OTHER OPTION!” Paul screamed. You can’t get blood out of rock. There is a minimum burn time needed for a safe reentry and we no longer have the fuel to make the burn.”
Commander, Jarred said playing his trump card, “I’ve made the calculation. We were well beyond the safety limit before I made the burn. We were calculating the burn time need to slow for reentry based on our standard orbital speed. Commander we are going much faster than that. Either everyone downstairs made the same mistake I did or they wanted us to take this shot expecting to have to come up with a plan to retrieve us. This is the greatest opportunity of all time. I think, and I believe the world thinks, that it is worth risking our lives for.”
“That does not excuse what you did Lieutenant and I’m going to have your ass for this. It will either happen up here before we die or, if some miracle we live, it will be in front of a court marshal in Houston.”
Donna awkwardly floated in holding her left arm. She looked at Jarred and said, “Thanks, you bastard. You had to be the star so bad that you risked killing the Commander and me back there. You want to be the hero that saved the alien just like in the movies, the rebel who doesn’t let the rules get in his way, the man who gets things done. What you are is the asshole that killed himself and his crewmates.”
“He even called mission control to take credit for the move.” Paul said as he went for the medical kit.
“I took the blame, not the credit.” Jarred countered. “As I told you, they know the situation. They’ll come up with a plan. They’re probably already preparing Atlantis to come after us. She was ready to be rolled out for the next mission. It shouldn’t take too long to get her ready.”
“What school did you train in?” Paul yelled as he made a sling for Donna’s arm. “It takes months to prepare for a shuttle mission. I know Atlantis is being prepared. That’s means they may be ready in four to six weeks if they rush things. They’ll get here in time to cart back our well reserved remains.”
“OK Commander,” Jarred said, “I’m going to get up now. Proceed with the ass kicking so we can get it over with.”
Paul completed the sling for Donna’s arm and said, “We don’t have the medical supplies to waste or the room to store your body. Your time will come lieutenant. Right now, I want to speak with mission control.”
The cockpit fell silent after Paul spoke with mission control. The acknowledged the situation and gave them the standard pep talk and told them that word had leaked out. The entire world was hoping that they’ll make it and all of the scientists and engineers around the world were searching for solutions. The mission director also filled them in on the data they gathered on the alien craft and their best guess so far, “We think it’s some kind of lifeboat. The explosion must have been the destruction of the main ship. The little ship must be damaged. It’s beginning to vent atmosphere into space. It’s a small leak but whatever is in there is running out of time. The good news is that the atmosphere is similar to ours. We can’t be sure but we think that if you can get the alien into the shuttle, it should be able to breathe safely.”
After staring into space for an hour Paul mumbled, “Yeah, the alien will be able to suck air, at least as long as we do.”
Hours went by. There were several communications with mission control. A plan for retrieving the alien craft was formulated. The entire craft would fit inside the shuttles cargo bay. They would use the remote manipulator system (RMS), the robotic arm and the standard satellite retrieval operation. They were also told that their families were summoned to Houston and that they’d be there in a few hours.
The silence continued until Donna saw it. “There it is!”
The sight of the alien ship tore off the blanket of depression and the crew was hit by the reality of what was happening. There was a ship from ‘out there’ and it needed their help. The ship was cylindrical with a sphere on one end which seemed to be the cockpit. The cockpit had a transparent half dome and the aft end of the ship had a glowing green rectangle imbedded in it.
Jarred mumbled, “If that green thing is the engine, it was a technology that humans have yet to dream of.
“OK,” Paul ordered, “Let’s prepare to slow this thing down before we sail passed our friend out there.”
Mission control gave them precise information that brought the shuttle along side of the alien craft. As they neared the ship lights on the hull began to flash in regular rhythm.
“I guess it knows we’re coming.” Jarred said.
“Now what?” Donna asked.
“Now we do what we planned. Satellite retrieval Payload Specialists prepare to extend the RMS. Once we have it inside we can pressurize the cargo bay then we’ll at least have a chance of getting our friend without killing it.”
“OK Commander,” Donna said with peak excitement, “I’m on it.”
“Commander,” Jarred said, “Maybe I should help Donna. She may not be able to handle the arm with her injury.”
“I’ve got it Asher,” Donna called. “I don’t need any help from you.”
Paul ordered, “Lieutenant, you need to be ready on those thrusters. I don’t want us to drift away before we grab that thing. I’ll help Donna.
Paul and Donna suited up and entered the cargo bay. The doors were opened to space and they stared directly at the little alien ship. Paul called, “Let’s do this. You get the RMS going and I’ll direct from out here.”
Donna never thought her training with the robotic arm, or RMS as it’s called, would have been used for such a fantastic purpose. She tried to steady her hands as she gripped the controls. The pain that shot through her injured shoulder did nothing to break her concentration. She could hear the commander in her headset saying, “Take it easy Donna. Think of it as another satellite. Just do what you did this morning.”
Donna smiled at the suggestion then thought, “Was that just this morning? It seemed like a life time ago.” She watched the arm cameras and she went to work.
Jarred knew the Commander was right, but he couldn’t help feeling left out of the biggest event in history. That was until the communication link came alive, “Kasa siga. Sherzac bequay sherzac bequay”
Jarred responded the only way he could, “Hold on buddy; just a little longer. You’re not going to die; at least not yet.”
Paul called from his helmet mike, “Keeping talking to it.”
Jarred said to himself, “OK, keep talking; just a friendly conversation with your local alien.” Then he clicked on the communication link. “We’re going to bring your ship into ours. I know this must sound as much like gibberish to you and sherzac bequay sounds to us.”
“Sherzac bequay! Sherzac bequay;” the response from the alien was immediate and with as much strength as it could muster.
“Man whatever that means, it’s sure important to this thing.”
“You’re doing good.” Donna could hear the commander clearly in her headset. She extended the arm and brought to the hull of the alien ship then she called out, “Commander how do I know if the little ship can take the pressure of the arm? Mission control said it had a hull breech, maybe I’ll make it worse and kill it before we can get it in.”
“It’s the only way Donna. There is no way to create an air lock between the ships. We have to get that ship into our cargo bay. I’ll guide you and we’ll take it easy. OK, the arm is about to contact the hull.
Slowly the small alien ship was lowered into the cargo bay. Paul coached as Donna handled the controls. Everyone in mission control held their breath and when the little ship lightly touched down mission control erupted in cheers. The bay doors began to close and the area was pressurized.
Donna let out a breath that fogged up her helmet for a moment. When it cleared she just stared at the little ship. A minute later she realized she was staring at the cockpit windshield. Slowly she floated toward the craft. The closer she got the more she could make out a figure inside. “Oh my God,” she gasped.
“Donna, what’s going on?” Paul asked as he made his way to her.
“I can see it. It’s sitting there, it’s amazing!”
The alien lifted its helmeted head in a labored motion and looked at Donna. It pointed behind him, “Kerzoc bequay! Kerzac bequay;” expending its strength the alien slumped back in its chair.
“Commander he’s dying! We’ve got to get in there. Its in a spacesuit we can open this thing now.”
“We can’t be sure it’s safe.” Paul said reaching Donna.
“We don’t have time to be sure. Look how it’s gasping his oxygen is running out!”
“Bang on the hull!” Jarred called floating toward the craft. “Bang on the hull it might get it to open up.”
The three astronauts banged on the hull as hard as they could in zero gee. A moment later the front of the sphere popped open. Without taking the time to marvel at the alien form the three astronauts figured out how to release the straps and they guided the alien toward the mid-deck of the shuttle.
The alien weakly struggled all the way crying Kerzac bequay! Kerzac bequay!”
“I wish I knew what the hell it was saying,” Jarred said as they pushed the alien into the mid-deck.
The astronauts franticly searched for the release of the alien’s helmet. The alien slowly raised its spindly arms and point two small indentations on either side of the helmet. Paul pushed the indentations and they slid back. Then in one quick motion the helmet folded back into the suit. The aliens’ orange eyes were dulled by weakness but the insistences burned through. The alien unhinged its jaws and suck great gulps of air through it wide open green lipless mouth.”
Mission control was clamoring, “Put a monitor on it, the doctors are standing by.”
When Paul approached the alien it again began to struggle and pointed back at the ship.” Kerzac berquay!”
“What is it, damn it!” Paul said in frustration.
Donna pulled off her spacesuit and the alien stared at her. Then it looked at Paul and Jarred then back at Donna. The next minute the alien lunged at Donna.
Startled Donna stood motionless as the alien ran its long fingers over her bosom and her belly.
Jarred made a move and Donna said, “No, it’s OK. I think it’s trying to tell us something.”
Stroking Donna’s belly the alien said, “Bequay, bequay.”
“Belly,” Jarred asked.
Donna’s eyes flashed, No baby! There are babies in that ship!”
The alien pointed to the lights on the control panel and said, “Chagat. Chagat kerzac bequay.”
“Lights”, Paul said, “No power for the babies. He needs power for the babies’ life support. That’s why it was in a spacesuit and he couldn’t maneuver the ship. It diverted all of its power to the babies’ life support.
Donna hooked up the monitor and she gave the alien some water. She watched in wonder as it sealed its mouth around the glass and took the entire contents in one gulp.
Jarred spoke up, “Commander, request permission to enter the alien craft to determine its power status.”
“Go,” Paul said, “And see if you can figure out how we can hook up power to it and what kind of conversion will be needed.
Jarred moved aft as Paul contacted mission control, “What can you tell us about our new friend?”
“The alien is suffering from hypoxia. It seems to be taking to the cockpit atmosphere well. Our guess is that our atmosphere must contain at bit more oxygen than theirs.
Congratulations on your analysis. Everyone here agrees that the alien is talking about its young. You and your crew are handling this very well. NASA and the whole world are proud that you are Earth’s representatives. Proceed; find a way to save the children.”
“Save the children.” Donna said. “I bet that’s what kerzac bequay means. Save the children. Commander, we’ve got to figure this out.”
Jarred stared at the instrument panel; nothing made sense. The squiggles were clearly labels but they had no meaning to a human. Most of the panel was dark. He assumed that the small row of the blue and orange-lighted dots somehow controlled the aft area. It was clear by the strength of the lights that the power was low, but as Jarred watched there was a slight increase in the brightness of the lights. “What,” Jarred said.
“How’s it going in there lieutenant,” Paul asked.
“Commander what did you just do?”
“Nothing, I’m just inspecting the hull. I’ve found out where it was damaged and where it was venting atmosphere.”
“Commander, go back where you just were. Whatever you did there slightly improved the power in here. It wasn’t much but it was measurable.”
Paul scanned the hull with his flashlight until Jarred said, “There; right there Commander. Shining your light right there makes the system react in here.”
These panels must be some kind of highly sensitive photocells. OK, let’s get every light we can find and direct them at the panels. I guess the alien really did mean light when it pointed at the control panel.”
As Paul and Jarred assembled the lights Donna tried to keep the alien calm. She pulled a small photo wallet and opened to pictures of her son and daughter. She showed the alien and said, “Bequay.”
The alien’s odd mouth broke into a smile and it gestured toward Donna, “Bequay?”
Donna patted herself and said, “Bequay.”
Mission control popped in saying, “Congratulations, you have just achieved the first interspecies communication.”
Donna smiled and reached out her hand. The alien stretched out its long thin arm and its five bone thin fingers laid across Donna’s palm. Donna knew she had found a new friend.
As Paul and Jarred prepared to turn on the lights Paul asked, “If all this thing needed was light why the hell didn’t the alien keep it in the sun. It could have fully regenerated this craft quickly.”
“Maybe it thought the damage to the hull would get worse. Maybe it was already in orbit before it realized it had an energy drain and then it was too late to break orbit.”
“Why didn’t it enter Earth’s atmosphere and attempt to land? It sat in orbit for many hours. It should’ve been easier to land.”
“Maybe it was afraid to land,” Jarred said.
“Afraid?” Paul asked.
“Yeah, think of it. You escaped the destruction of your ship. You have some kids sealed in the back of your ship. Would you land on an alien planet? Also ask yourself if it wasn’t the right decision. What would have happened if an alien ship landed in some of the places on our planet that we wouldn’t want to land in. For that matter what if it landed in our own backyard? What would be the chances that it would have been given help and sent on its way?”
“So what was it doing?” Paul asked.
“I think it did exactly what it wanted to do. I wanted us to rescue it. This way it; can’t be hidden away and experimented on, at least not if there was any morality on our planet. It was the best chance for the alien to get help for itself and its children without becoming a prisoner. It was a hell of a risk. It must have had its systems damaged escaping the explosion. Its power must have been low when it entered orbit. Recharging what it could on the sun side and using it up on the night side.”
“That’s quite an analysis Lieutenant.” Paul said. “I’m sure it sounds good to you. That makes your mutinous act very important doesn’t it? If we didn’t use the fuel its risk would’ve been futile wouldn’t it?”
“Commander, with all due respect, you asked and I was just speculating. If you don’t like it, make up your own story. I’m going to check on the power levels.”
Jarred watched the alien system suck energy from the lights. While he watched he realized that the photocells were only a backup system. It was designed to provide basic life support. It couldn’t power the engines or the thrusters. The ship must have just managed to enter orbit before its engines failed.
Donna led the alien back to its ship. It shook its shoulders in a way that made the humans think of a nod of approval. It climbed into its ship and immediately checked the state of the aft section. It touched one panel and it glowed yellow. It touched another panel and it glowed green. Shaking its shoulders again it smiled at the humans.
Paul smiled back as said, “I guess we did good. It’s good that we have no way to tell it that its kids are probably still screwed. We do have one shot though. Mission control said that they’d be ready to launch an unmanned supply ship in three days. The rendezvous and re-supply will be tricky but not impossible. If we get those supplies we can hold out until they can have another shuttle ready. We would need to go on short rations to be sure but we could hold out.”
“Remember,” Donna said, “we have an extra consumer and we don’t know what its requirements are.”
Jarred said, “The doctors downstairs can give us a good estimate and we know what ours are. We’ll make it happen.”
No one knew what happened. Most people blamed it on the rush to prepare the rocket for launch. Whatever the reason the rocket carrying the supplies into space veered for course and had to be destroyed.
“They’re preparing another rocket.” Paul said. “The Russians will be ready to launch in less than a week.”
The statement was acknowledged without mentioning that they had no more than two days of water left.
On the fourth day after the supply mission failed the shuttle was out of water. To add to the bad news the weather over the Russian launch site turned bad. They were still days away from launch.
The crewmembers talked to their families. The alien watched the communication with a pained expression. Even on an alien face the humans could clearly see a look of sorrow. It now realized the sacrifice that its new friends made.
As they sat quietly in the cockpit Jarred said, “I’m sorry. I really thought that NASA would pull it off.”
“Screw you lieutenant, “Paul said.
“I don’t know if it was worth my life,” Donna said, “but I’m happy that I had a chance to meet our new friend. The one consolation is that its bequay will survive. When the next shuttle comes they will still be there, and that crew will be ready to tend to them.
Mission control had nothing more to say. The astronauts and their new friend would die while the world watched helplessly.
“Damn it!” The mission director screamed as he slammed his fists down on his desk. “Someone tell the damn Russians to launch. What the hell are they waiting for? Screw the weather. They have to at least give it a shot!”
“The weather is a cover story.” The woman from the state department said, “They have all kinds of operational problems. They’re using the weather to save face.”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about their face.” The director said, “Those people up there are dying. They need water and they need it now.”
“They won’t be able to launch for another three days regardless of the weather. I’m sorry Director the Russians are not going to come through on this one.”
The director hung up the phone and sat it his office. He looked out of the window at his crew. He watched as they sat there in deep depression. There was very little movement from any of them. Then one man jumped out of his seat and started looking around franticly. A second later the director’s line buzzed. “Director there’s something coming! Something big!”
“What the hell are you talking about Jackson? What’s coming? From where?”
“From out there.” Jackson said and the wave of excitement rolled through the room. “It’s a ship sir. We’ve got it here and we’re getting reports from all over. It’s a ship sir and really big ship!”
The crew was barely aware of the call from mission control. They were almost too far-gone to understand or react. Their eyes widened as their view of planet Earth suddenly disappeared. It was replaced by rolls of lights moving passed their window. Looking out the front they could see stars receding as if the shuttle was moving into a tunnel but actually the tunnel was moving over them. A moment later the movement stopped and the tunnel opening closed. Before the crew blacked out they heard their new friend weakly rejoice. “Gekare gekare shamees protran!”
Donna was the first to open her eyes. She tried to control her reaction when she saw several aliens standing around her. One touched her arm and she looked at it. It was their friend. It touched a button on its wrist and began to speak. The mechanism on its wrist translated. “Are you feeling better?”
Donna stared in amazement and answered, “Yes, yes I am. Thank you.”
The aliens helped Donna off her bed and checked her a bit more as the others were revived. When the crew members were together, they sat down and their new friend came before them. “My friends; now I can tell you. My name is Thonk I am a caretaker. We are Parron. You are in the Marionus. This is one of two ships built during the last days of our world. I was on the Cartrekka. Its anti-matter reaction system became flawed and we knew the ship was doomed. We thought we had time to release all of the cradles but we were wrong. My cradle was the first one prepared for escape. I had just enough to time to launch from Cartrekka when the anti-matter shield failed and the ship exploded. My cradle was damaged. It took all of my skill to enter orbit around your planet. I had detected your ship in orbit and hoped that you could help. I had no idea that I was placing your lives at risk. We mourn our loss. Millions of our children and hundreds of their caretakers died in the explosion. Half our next generation is gone.”
“Millions,” Paul asked, “How could you support millions of people?”
“Our children are unformed. They are frozen in a pre-developmental stage. They are to be gradually developed once we have found a new home. My friends your sacrifice was worth more than you known, you saved the lives of over twelve thousand of our young. If Marionus had arrived too late to save us, twelve thousand would have survived because of your efforts. When these twelve thousand are ready to join their generation they will do it with the knowledge of why they came to be.
Earth offered the Parron sanctuary. Each nation was willing to give up lands and resources for them. The Parron council politely declined saying that they would hold the offer in case their search for a new world failed. They said that they needed their own world and they had several possibilities to explore. The shuttle would be left in orbit to be retrieved and its crew would be taken down to Houston in a Parron landing craft. As they prepared to leave Jarred asked, “May I please stay with you?”
“Lieutenant,” Paul said, “you need to discuss that with NASA.”
“Begging your pardon sir,” Jarred said, “I don’t think I do. If they will have me I’d like to stay and help any way I can. If I can’t help I’d at least like to understand their culture and chronicle their search for a new home. I don’t have a family to go home to and frankly, I’m ducking out. I know what I’ll face back in Houston. No matter how many people try to defend me, I know I was wrong. I was acting like an action hero just like Donna said and I damn near got us killed.”
The alien responded, “If you have permission to represent your world we will make you comfortable. We can learn much from each other.”
“Commander,” Jarred asked, “will you support me on this? I know you’re itching to haul me up for a court marshal but won’t this do?”
Paul stared at Jarred then looked at Donna. Donna nodded her approval and Paul said, “OK, lieutenant if that’s what you want I’ll relay the situation and my recommendation to NASA.”
While they were talking the aliens had an excited conversation in their own tongue. When it was over the crew’s alien friend announced, “I will take Jarred’s place and return to your planet with you.”
The exchange was made. The new crew of the shuttle Zeus returned to a far different Earth than they had left and it was only the beginning.