This is Part Five of The ’39, a story set in a certain sci-fi (prime) universe. just a few years before the events of an original series. I’m sure that you won’t have any difficult figuring out which universe. A new part to be published every week!
No copyright infringement intended. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators or producers of any media franchise.
Over the next seven months, Spirit charted over 120 systems, surveyed three dozen M-class planets and moons. There were a few uninhabited systems, like Ceti Alpha, that were good candidates for colonization. They also discovered twelve pre-warp societies (scrupulously observing the Prime Directive), and engaged in one more first-contact.
There were a fair share of spacial anomalies, ion storms and other unforeseen cosmic events, but the ship and crew came through relatively unscathed, Leonova was pleased to note in her log. Despite the rough start, the crew had really come together, especially young Call. After the incident at the rogue planet, he buckled down and both his performance and attitude improved to the point that she intended on recommending him for a promotion.
As she touched the switch to turn off her PADD, she thought, with a bit of sadness, that the cruise would soon be coming to an end. The crew that she and the Chief had worked so hard to whip into shape would more than likely be distributed throughout the fleet to augment the fresh Academy graduates and green crews filling out fresh commissions.
Well, the kids had to grow up and the leave the house sometime.
The ship’s comms chimed and Vronn’s voice came over the speakers. “Captain to the bridge. Sensor contact.”
Leonova looked up. No alert, and Vronn’s voice was calm, but never-the-less, she stood and slipped on a fresh tunic. If it was important enough for the captain, it was important enough for her—even if it was the middle of the night.
Chew came onto the bridge a few seconds after Leonova took her station.
“Report?” asked the Captain, looking at the main view screen. There was nothing to be seen,
Moreno stood and yielded the center seat to the Captain. “Sensor contact, sir,” she said. “A transmission.”
“Let’s hear it,” he said.
Moreno tipped her head at Vronn who hit a switch. The bridge was filled with an eerie, ephemeral sound, or rather sounds. Each sound had a different tonal quality, shifting up and down the frequency range. Some sounds were more rhythmic, with clear starts and stops, while others ebbed and flowed smoothly. It was one of the most beautiful things Leonova had ever heard.
“Music,” said Chew, voice low, awed. He listened for a moment longer before adding, “Do you know where it’s coming from?”
“Yes, sir,” said Vronn, “From the system up ahead. 1.3 light years.”
“Well,” said Chew, turning toward Leonova with a smile, “seems worth checking out.”
“Agreed,” said Leonova, returning his smile. “E’lis, set course. Warp 2.”
“Course set,” said E’lis after a moment.
“Engage,” said Chew.
* * * * * * * * *
They approached the beautiful green-blue world at one-quarter impulse, in passive sensor-mode until they knew what they were dealing with. Despite the powerful signals being sent out, there was no active scanning, no signs of orbital structures or spacecraft, interplanetary or otherwise.
There were three natural moons, the largest of which was half the mass of Earth’s moon, tidally locked and orbiting at a range of 163,000 kilometers. The remaining two moons were much smaller, and whipped around the planet in low orbit. “Skimming the treetops,” said Leonova. A bit of an exaggeration, but it must be quite a sight, to see the one moon chasing after the other across the sky twice a day.
“What about the planet,” asked Chew.
“Oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, diameter 14,200 kilometers at the equator, abundant animal and plant life. Seven major land masses, fresh-water oceans covering roughy 65% of the planet surface. Wide variety of climate and geological formations. Quite Earth-like,” said Jennings, having come on duty to relieve the junior science officer.
“So, class M,” said Leonova.
“No,” said Jennings. There is an unusually high concentration of heavy metals in the soil and particulates in the atmosphere. Prolonged exposure would be… unhealthy. Also, despite its size, you’d be pulling 4.5 G’s at the surface.”
“Lovely,” said Leonova.
“Not that we’d be going down, in any case. Looks like there’s a thriving planet-wide civilization.”
“Have they detected us?” asked Chew.
“Apart from several radio-wave broadcasts, there doesn’t appear to be any form of extra-plantary sensors, so I don’t think so. No.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Leonova moving over to the science station and looking into Jennings’ scope. “Broadcast of such powerful radio signals indicates a high level of technological sophistication, not to mention intent… I mean why send out signals if you don’t know if there’s an audience?” Leonova was quiet for a moment before straightening. “It’s like shouting into a darkened room.”
“For the last few hours we’ve been picking up audio and video signals as as well as what appears to be volume upon volume of textꟷwhole libraries. The Universal Translator is building the database now. I suggest we get a team of xenopologists to analyze the data,” said Jennings.
Chew nodded. “Leonova, make it so.”
“Yes sir,” said Leonova returning to her station and calling up the duty log.
“Any idea why they’re transmitting all this information?”
Jennings shrugged. “It could be the equivalent of the golden record on Earth’s Voyager probes. A cosmic ‘hello.’ We won’t really know until we get a chance to study what they’ve been transmitting.”
“What else can you tell about the civilization?” asked Chew.
Jennings bent back over the scope. “The transmitting apparatus is very advanced, for EM range transmissions, that is. There are sixteen transmitters distributed evenly over the planet’s surface.” A live image of one of the transmitters appeared on the screen. “Each transmitter is nearly a kilometer high with a self-contained photo-voltaic and chemical power source producing… my god, 1.153 x1017 watt-hours.”
“That’s incredible,” said Chew.
Another image appeared on the screen, instantly recognizable as a town square paved with rose-colored stone cut in intricate patterns. The people reminded Chew of centaurs, though their shape was only vaguely equestrian or human in shape. Their bodies were thick with two sets of squat legs that ended in hooves, and another pair of limbs set high in an upper torso. They had flat, spade-like heads with multi-faceted eyes located on the edges flanked by a set of almost human ears. They wore colorful, flowing garments that matched the temperate climate.
The buildings were wonderfully wrought, the doors and windows matching the proportions of their occupants, and showed a high level of detail and craftsmanship. Even though built for a people with different physical needs, and from a completely alien perspective, Chew found it strangely compelling. The view shifted to another geographic location, showing a different mode of dress and architecture.
“What I wouldn’t give to go down there…” said Chew, almost to himself.
“Not a chance,” said Leonova. “The Prime Directive…”
“I know,” said Chew with a sigh. “Well, let’s see what we can learn from up here.”
* * * * * * * * *
It turned out, they learned a lot. They called their world Ga-nan, which simply meant ‘earth.’ There were hundreds of ethnic and national designations, but as a species they called themselves, the Ga-na-no, or ‘the people of earth.’ Chew had to appreciate their lack of pretention.
The computer was starting to make fast work of the translations, and Chew started to browse the translated books The first was called, ‘Care and Maintenance of Gardening Equipment,’ and when he scanned the first few pages, it proved to be every bit as thrilling as the title suggested. Another was called, “The Proper Mixing and Administration of Tinctures for the Promotion of Digestive Order,” a outdated medical text over two hundred years old. The next appeared to be a work of contemporary romantic fiction called, ‘The Organist’s Accompaniment.’ Chew read a little but it wasn’t really his thing. He continued down the list of titles. It was all so random. Why were they beaming this into space?
A book that finally caught his attention was a collection of legends and folktales called ‘Songs of the People.’ His favorite story was the legend of the planet’s moons. The story went that far in past, Ga-nan, the Father, and Ilyian, the Mother, came together and gave birth to two children, Allurum, the Swift, and Ja-bro, the Heel-biter.
Because of their particular orbits, Ja-bro would often be in Allurum’s shadow. Ja-bro became jealous of Allurum, accusing his sister of stealing their mother’s light. This was not true, but Ja-Bro’s words caused Allurum to harden her heart and filled her with fear. What if Ja-bro decided to take all their mother’s light for himself? Then she would be left in darkness. So Allurum fled and sought to gather all of Ilyian’s light.
Enraged, Ja-bro chased after his sister, sometimes catching and almost overtaking her, only for her to draw away again. And they were thus to this day, the pursuer and the pursued, neither giving the other quarter or rest.
Of course, no one believed the legend any more. It was a creation-myth of the sort he’d heard on dozens of worlds; but it also held a seed of truth. Researchers on the planet believed that the moons could have come into existence by the collision of Ilyian and Ga-nan early in the formation of the system, with Allurum and Ja-rbo being the ejecta from that collision.
Chew put down his PADD and turned on the wall-screen to watch an audio-visual broadcast. In addition to the records being beamed into space, there were thousands of local transmitters directed at small regional areas. It was to one of these that Chew told the computer to tune in to.
During a live broadcast, there was a slight delay in the English translation which Chew found distracting, so he kept the Universal Translator off. Besides, listening to the natural intonations and cadences, even if he didn’t understand the words, gave him a better feel for the people. The language was filled with odd and distinctly non-human sounds, but had a pleasing rhythm and was emotionally expressive, or at least it seemed that way to him.
There were a series of short videos, some of them featuring sports, one of which was quite similar to polo, except for the fact that both player and steed were one and the same. The videos seemed as random as the books, but after a moment, it dawned on Chew that he was watching a series of advertisements.
Finally, the main program began. There was a title sequence announcing the show, written on the screen in the region’s particular dialect. Music played, a much more simple arrangement than the music he’d heard before, but quicker-paced and bouncy. On screen he saw the interior of a dwelling with a number of Ga-na-no. There was an adult male reclining on a piece of furniture tailored to his physiology while three smaller examples capered about the room.
The door opened and a female adult entered, a flat, brown valise or case in her right hand. She said something in a friendly, declarative voice. A greeting. Instantly there was the enthusiastic thundering of dozens of hooves on flooring. Chew was confused. There was nothing on screen to indicate where the sound was coming from, and no one on screen appeared to notice it. The adult male responded and the children ran up to the female shouting and plying her with affection.
The female closed the door and started to walk into the room, speaking all the while. She put one hoof into a low, cylindrical object, stumbled a few steps, and then tumbled over a low, padded piece of furniture. The valise flew open and papers went everywhere, and the female landed on the floor in a pile. The pounding of hooves started again accompanied by scores of voices uttering a staccato chuffing sound.
Chew put his feet on the floor and leaned forward, unable to believe what he was seeing. The female stood shakily and waved her arms around and said something squeaked out in a high, strange tone. Slapstick! Chew clapped a hand to his forehead, tilted back in his seat and laughed, as much from the surprise discovery as from what he was seeing.
He might not know much about the Ga-na-no, but he knew that he liked them. It made him a little sad they would have to leave soon. Even had he wanted to extend their cruise, their consumables were low. They had enough to get home with a bit to spare, but that was all. No, it would be up to a future group of explorers to unlock the mystery of these people. A bell chimed, and he put down his PADD and made his way to the conference room.
Though Chew arrived three minutes early, Leonova, Jennings, Sajad and chief xenopologist Laxman Carstairs were already seated and waiting. Once he’d taken his seat at the head of the table, Lex turned to Carstairs and said, “Why don’t you start things off, Laxman.”
Carstairs nodded and said, “This is only a rough outline. My team has pieced together as much as possible from the translated texts and A/V broadcasts.”
“Understood,” said Chew with a nod. “Go ahead.”
“Sir, this is an extremely advanced civilization, with a global population of approximately three billion. We’ve identified more than a hundred clearly defined ethnic groups and as many geo-political bodies. There is a global language, but there are local languages and dialects, both written and spoken. National borders appear to be porous. There are a variety of religious traditions, but the governments seem to be secular. No signs of conflict, though we’ve monitored some rather, er, energetic political debates.” Carstairs smiled. “There doesn’t appear to be any shortage of opinions on how to run things down there.”
“At least that’s something we have in common with them,” said Lex, smiling back.
“More than that,” said Carstairs. “As a race, they embrace diversity, which has led to a vibrant, inclusive world-wide culture. Despite the diversity of beliefs and governments, they haven’t had a war or major conflict in over a thousand years.”
“That’s incredible,” said Chew, sincerely wishing the same could be said of the Federation.
“Sir, I believe you’ve sampled some of their writing and audio-visual entertainment?” Chew nodded. “As you see, they are a very curious, creative people. They are a cultural treasure-trove. It would take years to sample a fraction of what they have to offer.”
“Sounds like they’d make a fine addition to the Federation,” said Lex.
“No, at least no time soon,” said Jennings. They all turned to look at her. “I’ve confirmed. No spaceflight of any kind, let alone superluminal travel.”
“What’s their rating on the technological scale?” asked Chew.
“That’s hard to pin down,” said Jennings. “I’d say around level G.”
“But the transmitters, the power generation…” said Carstairs. “That level of technology rivals many members of the Federation… and even exceeds a few!”
“Yes, but it is EM transmission. No subspace capacity. And they do have many advanced technologies. Hyperloop transportation, and a near-instantaneous worldwide comm system… and their power generation is in some ways more advanced than ours.”
“But their communities are also tight and self-sufficient. They don’t have massive urban population centers that require importation from rural areas. A lot of the things we use power for, they do not. No replicators. A great deal is produced by manual labor.”
“That sounds downright medieval,” said Lex.
“Not really. Their farming and manufacturing techniques are extremely sophisticated, but are also community-focused rather than on mass consumption, so local labor is sufficient to meet demand.”
“I can confirm that,” said Laxman.
“If they’re so curious,” asked Lex, “why no spaceflight?”
“I have a theory on that,” said Jennings. “First, is the high gravity and low atmospheric pressure…”
“I could see how that would be a hindrance,” interrupted Carstairs, “but with their power-generation capabilities, they could easily overcome those problems.”
“Yes, they could now. But you’ll notice, there also are no flying insects or animal life down there. Nothing to have planted the idea of flight into their minds. Look, I know it’s hard for us to imagine, but it would be like expecting a dolphin to knit mittens. Also, low or non-powered flight is not possible with primitive materials as it was on Earth. Wood and fabric simply wouldn’t serve with the aerodynamic requirements on this world.”
“And despite the heavy-metal content of the planet, it’s relatively poor in fissionable materials. While atomic energy is not required to achieve space-flight, it is an essential component in high-energy physics.”
“But the superconductors…”
“As I said. Just a theory. Maybe they’re just not interested in space flight. Who knows?” Jennings shrugged.
The conversation was interrupted by Perkins’ voice coming over the comms. “Captain to the bridge.”
Chew activated the comm panel near his hand. “This is the Captain. What’s going on?”
“Incoming transmission,” said Perkins.
Chew jumped to his feet and went to the bridge, Leonova and Jennings close on his heels.
“From who? I thought there weren’t any other ships in the system?” said Chew, as he took the center seat, Moreno retreating to a spare station.
“There aren’t,” said Perkins. “It’s coming from the planet.”
Chew’s head shot around. “What? They’re hailing us?” Perkins nodded his head. “Let’s hear it.” Perkins hit a few buttons and the translated message played over the speakers.
The Universal Translator preserved as much of the vocal characteristics of the speaker as possible. The voice was warm, welcoming. “Alien spacecraft. I am Toh-na-rae the duly-appointed representative of the nations and peoples of Ga-nan, we bid you welcome. We hope that you have enjoyed what you have observed. I assume that since you have not invaded us in the seven cycles you have been with us, that you do not mean us harm.” There was a brief, low chuffing sound of Ga-nan laughter. “We wish you peace with open soul, and ask only one thing. Remember us.”
They sat still and mute for a moment, the whole bridge crew stunned. “Message repeats,” said Perkins, breaking the spell.
“Jennings, how did they know we were here? I thought you said that they couldn’t detect us?”
Jennings looked up from her scope. “I’m sorry sir, I should have thought of this earlier. We learned from their broadcasts that they are keen cosmologists, and the Spirit would be visible to the naked eye.”
“Damn,” said Chew. “It’s not your fault. I should have known better. Of course they’d recognize a new star in the night sky. Damn.”
Call turned, “But surely, sir, the Prime Directive doesn’t still apply. They’ve made contact with us.”
“I know that they appear to demonstrate all the values that we hold most dear—better than us in some ways, in fact, but it doesn’t matter. The Prime Directive is clear and unequivocal. Regardless of who contacted whom, this is a pre-warp society. We are to avoid contact at all costs. I was careless enough to let us be seen, and I’ll have to answer for that when we return to Starfleet.”
“But they already know we exist,” said Carstairs. “What harm can there be in talking to them?”
“We don’t know. That’s the point. One wrong word, and we could plunge the entire world into a bloody civil war. Even if we don’t cause a war, or bring an unknown disease, like smallpox to the Native Americans, contact could change their culture in unpredictable ways.”
“Or it could do nothing,” said Carstairs. “All those things could occur when making first contact with any species, regardless of technological level.”
“That’s true,” said Chew. “But I didn’t write the rules, I just follow them.” His tone, though even and low, made it crystal clear that the debate was over. “Our duty now is to minimize our impact. And as much as it pains me, the best way to do that is to beat it out of Dodge.”
“Aye, sir,” said Carstairs.
Chew sighed. “Well, don’t worry about it. I don’t think we’ll be lined up in front of the firing squad for this. Probably.” He smiled. “We’ve had a pretty good run, but it’s about time we headed back to the barn anyhow.” Chew took a last look at the alien world, little Allurum just emerging from behind. “Navigator, set course for home. Warp factor three.”
“Setting a course for home, aye, sir,” said Cangas a little wistfully. “On your board, Helm.”
“Course laid in.”
“Hold on!” said Jennings. “Captain, I’ve found out why they’re transmitting.”