Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project: Savior

This page Copyright © 2010, Karl Leffler
Continued from the previous excerpt

A little-known fact about the Marsten Drive is that a ship using it can, theoretically, exit hyperspace at any velocity than can be reached in Einstein’s universe. The practical limit for most vessels is about .65c, though a few experimental ships have used the Transition to reach up to eighty percent of the speed of light in real space. Matching velocity with the alien artifact at half that speed presented no difficulty to Hr’Gen - although his crew did find traveling at relativistic speed disturbing. At forty percent of lightspeed, there was a definite spectral shift to observed objects, those in the direction of travel tinged blue and those behind shaded red by the compression and expansion of light itself. There was also a time dilation effect of approximately nine percent; for every hour spent at this speed, an extra five and a half minutes elapsed in the rest of the universe. Fortunately for the emotional well-being of all the known starfaring societies, the Marsten Drive was an old and well-proven technology, and troubling encounters with Einstein’s ghost were few and far between.
Of course, Gorro considered as he pondered these very thoughts, we seem to have just encountered an unknown starfaring society....
Once the Transition was complete - and once Gorro had recovered from the freakish fit of sneezing he always experienced afterward - the young xenologist donned a Patrol-standard e-suit, armored to withstand light small-arms fire and supplied to support its occupant for up to 120 hours. He then entered one of the small workpods scattered about Hr’Gen’s hull and waited for the explorer to rendezvous with the relatively minuscule... probe?

After a careful, hour-long approach, Hr’Gen had more precisely matched course and speed with the alien object, which had ceased emitting a powerful electromagnetic field, and ceased accelerating, only minutes after the explorer had emerged from hyperspace a few thousand kilometers away. Now the object was transmitting what could only be a prime-number progression, removing all doubt that it was artificial. As Gorro launched his pod and closed on the object, he reported his observations in a running commentary.
“Now getting visual. Object is roughly cylindrical with tapering ends, length approximately 60 meters, largest diameter 6 meters. Pale pink in color, painted, I think, no, looks like a polymer, unpainted plastic. Also natural metal over much of the surface; evidence of wear, minor collisions, dust, micrometeorites, that sort of thing. The plastic may be ablative armor to protect the... thing... during realspace travel at relativistic speed. Looks like some kind of antenna array at the, uh, ‘bow,’ the end in the direction of travel; obviously some kind of thruster at the other end- hey! Captain, that EM field and the acceleration! Could this be a Bussard ramjet?”
The United Nations, later the Terran Empire, had experimented with that old theory before finally acquiring the Marsten Drive after the Europa Incident. Jeffersonians, already possessing faster-than-light technology, had not bothered. “Quite possibly, Mister Gorro,” Kantori answered; one did not become the commander of an Explorer ship without a great deal of knowledge. “What else can you see?”
“No obvious weapons - I imagine any weapon designed by people who can only build a sublight ship would be obvious, and if they’re using a Bussard, and if this is just a robot probe like we used pre-Escape, there’d be either no room for weapons, or no need, or both.
“Counters indicate a small quantity of fissionables, probably an isotope-decay fuel cell like we used to use in the pre-fusion days, probably not a weapon or destruct device. Markings of some kind- heh, everything’s ‘of some kind’ here- bright green, or they were bright once. If I had to guess I’d say they have a written language and use it much like we do. Sir, can you see this?”
“Affirmative, Mister, and we concur, probably equivalent to ‘NASA’ or ‘U. S. AIR FORCE’ - maybe even ‘VOYAGER.’ Not enough there to begin translating.”
“There are smaller markings all over, at what look like access panels, umbilical points, much like our way of doing things. Look at that! Arrows! Warning symbols! Whoever built this thinks like us- oh my God, look at that. If that’s not a ‘No Step’ sign I’ll eat my helmet.”
“The language team thanks you for your input, Mister Gorro, please continue.”
“Closing to ten meters, matching vector-”
“Mister Gorro, be advised we are detecting power sources becoming active inside. Signatures indicate semiconductor computers and binary operation.”
“Proximity alarm, I imagine, sir; keep monitoring all frequencies, there may be an automated message triggered when something gets close. Just in case, I’ll back off a little, I’ll orbit the craft and get more pictures for you- Whoa! Lights coming on! That’s got to be a window - and that’s got to be a hatch! Let me get an angle on it- sir? Do you see what I see?”
“I see a very conventional-looking double-door airlock, Mister, with universal pictorial operating instructions. -Activity inside has stabilized, proceed with caution.”
Gorro thought out loud: “God - if there’s an airlock, there should be crew; no sense putting an airlock on a robot. If there’s crew, either this ship is a flying tomb or they found a way to freeze whole people without the meat going bad.
“Which means I might be shaking hands, or whatever, with them a lot sooner than I thought!
“The hatch is about the same size as we use, so they’d be about the same size as us - which would fit, since the Eyani and Siv and Nikar are about the same size as us, and so are those fossil remains on Necessity. Somewhere between one and three meters, twenty to a few hundred kilograms, must be the optimum size and mass for sentient life.
“Setting controls at station-keeping, preparing for EVA. ...My hatch is open, testing maneuvering unit... releasing tether... proceeding toward the craft.
“There are obviously handholds all over the hull – ‘hand’ being a relative term, maybe, but just looking at this thing, it doesn’t
look all that alien, they must have an equivalent physiology like the other known races. Hull is not magnetic - yes it is, in plates and strips, intended for magnetic boots or grapples! Sampler says titanium, aluminum, steel, and so on. Whoever built this, I can’t wait to meet ‘em!
“I’m at the outer hatch now – can’t see much more through the inner window, but there’s machinery inside, even some by-God blinking lights. Following instructions - indicator lights show that the airlock chamber is already evacuated - I am opening the outer hatch.
“These look like rivets, good-old-fashioned rivets holding most of the craft together. Wow! That’s got to be an ordinary straight-slot screw – there’s more, holding an access panel, just like ours. I wonder which way the threads turn...?
“Entering the airlock. Closing outer hatch - can you still hear me?”

“Affirmative, Mister, some loss of signal strength, no more than we’d expect.”
“Increasing power to transmitter. Sealing outer hatch. Airlock sequence appears to be automatic. Lock is pressurizing, I can feel it - sniffer says nitrogen/oxygen, not much different from our own air, though I don’t think I’ll fill my lungs with it just yet. Indicator lights changing - I would guess they use purple for our green, yellow for our red. Pressure appears to be equalized.
“Opening inner hatch. Looks like diode lighting, not too shabby; dimmer than ours, and a little redder. Proceeding into main compartment. How’s my signal, Captain?”

“Still reading you, Mister, proceed.”
“Interior reminds me of the history files, like the American space shuttle or Russian station way back before the Escape - I guess some ways of doing things really are universal. Te’Hir is gonna love this, it’s exactly what she’sGOOD GOD ALMIGHTY! There’s one in here, one of them - two, no, three of them! That’s got to be a cryogenic chamber- Captain, are the bio folks seeing this?”
“I’m beating ‘em off with a stick, Mister, keep that narration coming.”
“The chambers are half-cylindrical, about one meter wide by two long, one-piece transparent top, domed ends, hinged on one of the long sides. The occupant appears to be roughly humanoid, apparently bipedal, bilateral symmetry, about 1.4 meters tall. Proportioned like a Terran primate, overlong arms, shorter legs. It’s wearing a full-coverage garment with a network of tubes, probably cryo fluids and sensors. The garment is an open mesh, I can see some details.
“Skin appears leathery, grayish brown, but I don’t think it’s mummified; indicator lights on the cryo chamber make me think something’s still alive in there, even if just barely. Spherical head, two large eyes with lids at an angle - closed right now; vertical nostril slit, looks like a hinged jaw arrangement not very different from ours. Hearing diaphragms like a reptile; neck’s a little longer than most primates- could be they’re descended from tree-dwellers, like us only moreso, and swiveled their heads a lot to avoid predators. Completely hairless as far as I can tell.
“Big chest, maybe high lung capacity; that fits, my suit’s sniffer says the pressure here is barely half Monticello’s. Torso tapers down, almost triangular from the front view; protruding hips, like outriggers. Hands appear to have dual opposable thumbs, three fingers between- hey! Base-ten math, I’ll bet! Feet appear to have the same dual-thumb arrangement, atrophied but not completely, like an Eyani fand. Backwards knees like the Siv. No tail in evidence; genitals concealed by cryo apparatus. I wonder what their chairs look like, I don’t see any inside, probably no sense in it considering the ship - oh yes, this is a ‘ship,’ now, not a ‘craft’ - would spend most of its time either in freefall or at low acceleration. These guys are kinda spindly-looking, their world may have much lighter gravity than we’re used to, but that’s just a wild guess.
“All three chambers appear to be intact- uh oh. Something went wrong in the second one, whoever’s in there is... quite dead... and it looks like it was awake when it happened.
“...Omnivorous teeth, by the way, and what I can see of the skeletal structure isn’t too out of the ordinary. Third occupant appears to be all right. By the way, I would guess the main compartment here was in vacuum to save resources, with only the chambers sealed; probably some automatic stuff lit up and restored life support when it sensed us in the neighborhood- oh. Oh my. Yes, of course.
“These must be condition monitors, temperature, heart function, brain activity. Of course, there would have to be an automatic sequence - and since it would obviously take a long time, I bet they never imagined anyone would be out here in an actual starship, they would expect their computer to see anyone coming a long way off and be completely thawed by the time they made rendevous. Let’s see- yes, of course, only one, presumably the mission commander, again to save resources....
“...Captain? I’m quite certain the leader is waking up. As a wild guess, I’d say about an hour.”

“Well done, Mister Gorro, return to your workpod and keep station one hundred meters from the hatch, with your running lights on. Were it my ship, I wouldn’t want to wake up to some weird alien critter looming over my bed; of course we didn’t know it was a ship, and they are broadcasting what we can only interpret as an invitation, and your theory about them not expecting starships makes sense. We will wait for the automated process to run its course, and then introduce ourselves properly.”
“Yes sir. ...Captain, I have a suggestion; could you have Te’Hir join me out here in another pod? This is very much what she’s here for, and she and I work well together; also, I’ve got a hunch that two different kinds of weird aliens who are obviously equal might make these guys less likely to think they’ve been snared by slavers or somesuch.”
“I am developing a certain amount of respect for your hunches, Mister Gorro. Ms. Te’Hir will be joining you shortly. Helm, place the ship in line with Mister Gorro’s pod and the windows of the alien ship’s airlock, at a distance of ten kilometers. Activate all navigation and identification lights.”

Bacco was having a bad dream.
In his dream, he had but a few hours before departed from Chikar, the Eveners in hot pursuit of his fragile craft and his two companions. He had barely escaped that threat and settled down for the long sleep and the long chance, when another materialized in the shape of an horrendous alien creature looming over him in a pressure suit, a creature disturbingly similar in shape to a Chikaran, but with shockingly-pale skin, piercing blue eyes and a patch of impossible red fur atop its misshapen head.
Fighting through the mysterious barrier between the dream world and the waking one, Bacco began to remember where he was - in coldsleep aboard Chikar’s Hope, the hybrid hydrogen ramjet secretly constructed by the Eastern Pact’s best scientists. The unannounced launch caught the Southern Union’s defenses off-guard, and before their numerous but primitive orbital assets could mount a pursuit the little ship had gone past the point where it could have been intercepted.
During the months of acceleration, the untested ion drive had functioned perfectly. After spending twenty percent of its fuel it shut down, and the electromagnetic scoop fields were activated to collect interstellar hydrogen, feeding it to the priceless fusion engine, only the third of its kind ever successfully built and, at the time, the only one in existence. The minuscule acceleration would, it was believed, drive Chikar’s Hope to over half the speed of light - but kamei would pass before then, and kamei more before the ship reached its destination.
The revival process complete, the cover of Bacco’s chamber opened. He immediately noticed that the ramjet’s feeble acceleration had ceased, no doubt following the computer’s program. We must have arrived, he thought; why else would Colly wake me? Bacco stiffly swung his legs over the edge of the cryobed - and noticed that something was wrong.
If we have reached our destination, why would Major Colly wake me, and not wake Lieutenant Wodon?
Where is Major Colly...?
“No!” Bacco cried out as he saw that the commander’s chamber had malfunctioned, trapping Major Colly within, but without the benefit of suspended animation. It had not been an easy death. Colly...!
“I guess I’m in command now,” Bacco said aloud. Shaking off the shock of his commander’s death, he remembered his training, the contingency plans. A quick examination showed that Wodon’s chamber was intact and that he was safely in hibernation. At least I won’t be alone, he thought. Finding a sheet of opaque plastic, he draped it over Colly’s chamber. “May the Maker receive this man,” Bacco recited with hands clasped, “who while he lived did more good than harm.
“Fair journey, my commander. My friend.”
Next he turned to the computer. The plan was for the mission commander to be revived under certain conditions; the receipt of a coded signal from the Pact to abort the mission, or proximity to the planned destination, or the detection of other radio signals like those toward which the ship had been desperately launched. Immediately he saw that Chikar’s Hope was less than a third of the way to the target system, and there were no other stars or planets nearby. Why then would the computer revive me? Is it another malfunction?
Then Bacco saw the radar screen and froze in terror. An object at least six times the size and dozens of times the mass of Chikar’s Hope was only twelve nadeko away, and perfectly stationary relative to the Chikaran craft - which was traveling at more than a third the speed of light! Hands trembling, Bacco activated the cameras and saw the object - vast, silvery, brightly lit, unquestionably artificial.
Then he saw the two smaller objects, close together and barely a nadeka distant, also showing artificial lights. Hearts racing, Bacco magnified the view and could see that the objects were occupied - and that one of the occupants looked like a misshapen Chikara with a preposterous patch of bright red fur, and the other was a completely different shape covered with fur of a darker color.
For a little while, Bacco indulged in the luxury of screaming out loud.

Regaining his composure, he studied the computer’s log. He saw that the red-furred alien had piloted one of the little craft to within a few nadek, disembarked in a pressure suit not unlike his own, easily deciphered the airlock’s function, and entered Chikar’s Hope. Bacco saw that the alien recoiled in surprise at finding the cryo chambers; that it examined Bacco as closely as possible through his chamber’s cover and the hibernation suit; that the alien bowed its strange, lumpy head and placed a hand gently on the cover of Colly’s chamber in what could only be a gesture of respect for the dead. Without taking or disturbing anything, the alien left, returned to its small vehicle, turned on all its lights... and waited.
The log showed that about half an amei later the other small vehicle arrived, with the even stranger alien, while the giant ship, from which the smaller craft must have come, maneuvered to its current position. More than an amei had passed since, and none of the three alien craft had moved, other than using station-keeping thrusters. The occupants of the two small craft seemed to be communicating to each other, turning their heads to look at each other through the transparencies of their vehicle’s control compartments, their mouths moving in speech.
But how could the alien ship have come so close without the computer detecting it? Why was Bacco only revived after the alien had already boarded? Was it another malfunction? No ship could possibly accelerate so fast that it could close to its current distance and match course and speed with Chikar’s Hope before the computer could revive him-
Yes, it must be another malfunction. Bacco was not angry with the scientists who had built Chikar’s Hope; they had been working under terrible constraints, and the fact that Bacco and Wodon were still alive after - what was it? - more than thirty kamei was proof enough of the quality of their work. Following its program, the computer must have detected the ship’s approach, shut down the ramjet and activated the prime-number beacon. I should have been revived before the aliens rendezvoused, but when no one greeted them they must have assumed Chikar’s Hope was a robot, or that the crew was dead, and they must have taken the beacon as an invitation to board. Discovering Wodon and myself still alive and I in the process of revival, they withdrew and waited in politeness and respect, and lit their ships to reveal themselves to me. Bacco took comfort in this analysis; the aliens did not appear hostile, only healthily curious.
Thirty kamei! Bacco thought. Does the Pact still exist? Does the Union? Checking the computer’s log again, Bacco found no evidence of any signal from Chikar since he entered hibernation, and his hearts sank.
Perhaps it is not too late, he consoled himself. Perhaps the struggle continues, and perhaps these are the allies we seek.
It must have been a malfunction that allowed the aliens to get so close before my revival, he concluded.
After all, it’s impossible to travel faster than light!

Bacco briefly debated reviving Wodon, but decided against it. If we must continue on our journey, he will only have to go back into hibernation, and we may need the resources that would be spent reviving him. If these aliens are friendly, he can wait a while longer to meet them.
If we are to die, let him die in peace, unknowing.

Bacco moved to the airlock and peered through the windows; there were the two small craft, each with its own alien. The one with fur all over saw him, drew the red-furred one’s attention, and they both lifted their empty hands and slowly waved them, which Bacco took to be a gesture of peaceful greeting, and which he returned. He retrieved the helmet of his pressure suit, held it into view, and raised a hand in what he hoped would be interpreted as a please wait gesture. The aliens nodded their heads, startling Bacco with the same affirmative motion his own people used. Quickly, before he could change his mind, Bacco donned his suit, braced himself, and directed the airlock to depressurize and to open its outer door. Through the window, he beckoned to the aliens, and watched as they nodded again, then exited their small craft in their own pressure suits, which were fitted with fascinatingly compact maneuvering units, and flew slowly over to Chikar’s Hope.
Noting that the other alien had six limbs, Bacco suppressed the urge to scream aloud again.
The airlock was barely big enough to take both the aliens, whose mouths worked constantly as the ‘lock cycled, no doubt talking to each other and their presumed fellows on the huge ship farther away. The computer found the radio frequency - the several frequencies - the aliens were using and played them for Bacco’s hearing. He could not understand the language, but he determined that both the aliens, who were obviously alien to each other as well, spoke the same tongue, and were indeed reporting back to and taking instructions from others on the larger ship. He switched off the speakers as the ‘lock finished cycling, but had the computer continue recording.
The Pact scientists had laboriously prepared for this moment, though they could not have expected it to come in the depths of interstellar space. Bacco retrieved the teacher, a portable computer that hopefully would, with sounds and pictures, teach the Chikaran language to any creature with similar thought processes.
The aliens became quite excited when Bacco switched the teacher on, instantly understanding what it was for, nodding frequently and enthusiastically. Switching their pressure suits to external speakers, they began repeating back the sounds, correctly identifying Bacco as a Chikara, and Wodon as another Chikara.
Astonishingly, both aliens clasped their hands - the furry one clasped both pairs of hands - and bowed in silent respect to the corpse of Major Colly, in almost the exact same manner practiced by the Eastern Pact’s Maker religion.
The aliens had portable computers too, and the moment they started using them Bacco realized that these people were far more technologically advanced than his own. The aliens’ machines were tiny compared to the teacher, used three-dimensional projections instead of flat screens, and within moments had been reprogrammed to mimic the teacher-machine’s function. Quickly Bacco learned that the one that looked like a misshapen Chikara was called a Human, and named Gorro; that the furry one with too many limbs was an Eyani named Tehir; and that both together belonged to a higher order called Jeffersonians.
Not bothering to switch off their speakers, the aliens conversed briefly in their own language and again reprogrammed their respective computers. Presently, Gorro’s machine displayed animated images representing Chikar’s Hope being taken aboard the large alien ship, which he now knew to be called Hurjen, while Tehir’s computer showed Bacco and another Chikara he took to be Wodon sitting at a table with Gorro, Tehir, and other Humans and Eyanis, eating, drinking and communicating. Both the aliens made beckoning gestures.
Bacco considered the size of the alien ship, and the obviously overwhelming technological advantage these people possessed. If they wanted to destroy me or Chikar’s Hope, they could have done so at any time; their technology is so far beyond ours that it would not be worth capturing this ship intact for its secrets.
Bacco nodded.

Bacco stayed aboard and began the revival process for Wodon, while Te’Hir and Gorro returned to their workpods, taking the teacher with them to hand off to the language team. Hr’Gen’s engineering staff studied the measurements and images of the alien ship and quickly arranged a harness and scaffold to secure it in the explorer’s flight deck. The deck was depressurized and its doors were opened, and the starship’s great bulk was carefully maneuvered into the alien ship’s path, and very slightly slowed relative to the smaller vessel. Workpods were used to gently stabilize the little ship and guide it into place. Once the smaller craft was secured, Hr’Gen Transitioned and Transitioned again to shed his relativistic velocity and neutralize the time dilation effect.
Bacco screamed, and screamed again, as the starship Transitioned, but soon realized that he was neither inside-out, on fire, nor being eaten alive by fur-covered aliens. As he began to understand what had just happened, however, he nearly screamed once more.

The starship remained in freefall, and the flight deck remained unpressurized, for the time being, until better communication could be established with the aliens, and their atmospheric requirements and tolerance for gravity could be more accurately determined. Gorro and Te’Hir were chosen to continue as liaisons, having already become familiar with the alien commander.
Simple animated images and quickly-growing vocabularies on both sides of the language barrier were used to convey simple messages; to keep pressure suits on while in direct contact to avoid the possibility of cross-infection, to establish common communication frequencies and protocols. The Jeffersonians quickly made up a dedicated language machine and gave it in exchange for the teacher, also establishing a computer-monitored link between the machines to develop a translation program.
Soon, Bacco and Wodon were working with Hr’Gen’s crew to determine how and whether it would be safe for either to operate unprotected in the other’s environment. As this was going on, Doctor Ronald Graham, of Kipling University’s School of Xenobiology at Wilson’s Colony, joined Te’Hir, Gorro and Captain Kantori to discuss what had been discovered so far.
“Very interesting, Captain!” Graham enthused. “They’ve developed cryogenic suspension far beyond even the Republic’s level - of course, we had the Marsten Drive, so we never had to develop it for this purpose. However, it will be good to acquire this technology, there have been rare instances when it would have been useful, medical emergencies for the most part, and one can never tell what will spin off....”
“How long have they been in there?” asked Captain Kantori. Dr. Graham stared at the alien ship for a moment before responding. “Hm? Oh.” The scientist turned to his assistant, who had just completed her first estimate of the craft’s flight path. “At least fifty Monticellan years,” she declared.
“Remarkable, simply remarkable,” Graham said. “No significant cellular degradation! Very regrettable about the third one, of course, but that was obviously a mechanical or software failure, not a design flaw.... Excuse me, I must get Healer Bu’Nith down here, she simply must see this....”
Te’Hir shuddered and said, “Fifty years! By Hr’Gen, Monty - when I get back to the Republic, I’m gonna find a big statue of Rachel Marsten, climb up on its shoulder and kiss it right on the lips.”
Gorro nodded and replied, “You said it, sister.”

395JR, Founder's Park, Terra
{And that, Tr’Cre, is why I kissed the statue.}
“Oooh!” Tr’Cre gave a little shudder of her own. “Then what happened?”
Continued in the next excerpt....
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