“Captain to the bridge. Captain Elder to the bridge.” The voice over the ship’s intercom gave no hint of emergency so Elder finished what he was saying to the crewman he had been talking with before heading off to the bridge; he had been heading there from the Engine Room anyway but had stopped off to talk with someone from Krasgia.
Once on the bridge deck, Elder strode to the bridge; as far as anyone as short as him could be said to stride. Marched was perhaps a better word, he was in authority and he knew he had to present himself as being in authority, even though many others strode better than he did.
Once through the door to the bridge, Elder stopped and sent his deep-set gray eyes around. He still needed to remind himself that this was his ship but he also needed to take a second to find out where he was wanted. Lieutenant Lubow was standing at the Sensor Console facing The bridge door. When Elder stopped just inside the door she waved at him and pointed at the Sensor Console. Elder marched over to her and the sensor technician.
Elder saw no obvious signs of distress (but would a trained and experienced Scout Cruiser crew display any?). Elder stopped just behind the sensor technician, Junior Warrant Officer Leslie, and looked at the displays. He saw nothing immediately unusual, and then Lieutenant Lubow pointed at the graphic display of the third planet. Something was orbiting the planet and it was too close to be natural. Elder looked again, the object was huge, larger than a lot of Class-W Fortresses! Elder looked at the reported dimensions of the artifact, the computer estimated that the object was fifty kilometers long and thirty kilometers wide.
“Captain, what do you think it is?” Lieutenant Lubow whispered the question to Elder, perhaps afraid of what his answer might be.
“I don’t know Lieutenant. No Imperial shipyard ever made something that large except the Admiral Class Class-W Fortresses and even then, those are smaller. Moreover, we know where each of those is and none are out this far. With smart planning, you could probably fit the entire population of an entire county in that thing. What do we know so far about the planet it orbits?”
Lieutenant Lubow scanned another set of displays at the Secondary Sensor Console. Her long fingers danced over the controls and called up the meager data collected so far. “Habitable, prime candidate for a new duchy. So far, nothing else in the system is all that interesting, even the two asteroid belts seem routine at first glance. No signs of intelligent life except for the artifact. There is no radio coming from the planet on any wavelength. None coming from the artifact either.”
“Nothing?” Elder stepped over to the other console and looked. :Interesting, the artifact seems to be completely without power.” Elder wondered, something about the situation bothered him. However, since it did not come to him right away, he let it go. Whatever it was would come back to him once he stopped trying to think of it.
Lieutenant Lubow flicked a control and the data on the display shifted. A technical readout came up for viewing. A lot was missing, the computer had too little data to be sure of the chemical composition of the artifact for example, but there was no indication of power in the artifact. “I’d say that the artifact is dead, with no power there can be no life.”
“Is there no power or is the level of power too low for the computer to pick up yet? Let us not jump to conclusions Lieutenant. Let us keep our options open. Correcting a mistake is harder than preventing one.”
“Aye sir, but the computer has had over two hours since we first found this. If there is power on that artifact, it is too low for life to exist. In addition, there has been no reaction to us. It has been four weeks since our Jump into this system and anyone here could have seen the flash that resulted. Between the two, I’d say this is a derelict.”
Just then the computer beeped and the number for the power level of the artifact shifted to a non-zero number, flickered between the number and zero for a few seconds and then settled down at the absolute minimum number detectable.
“Well sir, it has power but so little that it proves nothing about being inhabited.” Lieutenant Lubow sounded tentative, her strong teeth worrying her lower lip. “After all, it may just be machinery that was left working after the last person died.”
Elder thought for a moment, “Well, we’ve got three more days before we reach orbit around the planet. During that time we can gather a lot of information about this thing and make a better decision about what to do.” He turned his head and called out “Communications! Launch a message torpedo back to base with the information that we have discovered an unknown artifact in orbit here. Attach what information we have about it and send it off immediately.:
The captain of a ship was supposed to on the bridge or near it all the time in case of emergencies, especially in Second Fleet the fleet assigned to scout out the uncharted regions of the galaxy. In addition, a captain was supposed to spend most of their time visiting with the crew throughout the ship in order that the crew bond with the captain. Elder knew of these desired activities and saw the conflict. During the flight to the habitable planet, Elder spent most of his time on the bridge or in the small day cabin attached to it. He was sure that the crew understood; the news of the artifact had reached the last crewmember within an hour of its discovery. Every crewmember probably glued themselves to a computer display showing the artifact or its data whenever they had free time. Elder was doing the same, but he could justify it because he would have to make decisions about it and needed the data. Actually, every Department Head, including the Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Major Major of the Marines, was staying on or as close to the bridge as possible.
One day away from orbit, the situation changed drastically. “Captain! I’m receiving a message from the artifact!” The Communications Technician, a tall oriental Chief Sergeant, almost got up from his console but stayed bouncing in the seat with excitement. It seemed that the MACALPIN had found a new Lost Colony. Elder moved from his Command Chair to the Communication Console.
What he heard coming from the speaker, once Chief Sergeant Yamaguchi put what was being received by the system to the speakers on the console, was nothing like Elder had ever heard before. The voice was multi-tonal, ranging from tenor to bass baritone and the sounds were like no language that Elder knew. Well, not really, there were flashes of what could be human speech but for the most part the voice was a complex and shifting pattern of sounds.
“Can you give me the frequency spectrum of this voice Chief Sergeant? Nothing sounds right. Maybe looking at it will give us a clue.” Chief Sergeant Yamaguchi operated the controls and on one of the secondary displays popped up a frequency spectrum. Elder looked at it hoping for a clue. “Well, I don’t see anything helpful here. Communications, put someone on analyzing it.”
Lieutenant Lopez said while also examining the displayed spectrum, “It looks alien Captain. How are my people supposed to decipher an alien language?”
That triggered Elder’s mind and he realized what it had been that had bothered him when he first saw the artifact. “Allen. That’s it Lieutenant. That is a generation ship, unless whoever built that ship is larger than any human in all of recorder history. It cannot be from Earth; the time it would take to reach here would require the ship to have started before Columbus sailed for India and discovered the New World. It has to be alien.”
“Very well Captain, your argument added to the inhuman quality of the voice proves the ship to be alien. How does that make it easier for my linguistic analysis to decipher the language?”
“Well Lieutenant, who am I supposed to ask, the Marines?” Elder was not really being sarcastic, he had a fair idea of the skills an Imperial Marine battalion had amongst its members; he had too many friends who were Marines to not know. It was just that Lieutenant Lopez’s response ticked him off for some reason.
“And right proud we would be to take on any task you would entrust to us sir.” Elder had not remembered that Lieutenant Major Major was hanging around on the bridge. The fact that a Marine, and especially one from Sharnalt, would volunteer for any job that might result in honor and prestige was something Elder also knew.
Lieutenant Major Elmer Llewellyn Norbert Donald Major could stand in as a recruiting model for the Imperial Marines, as could most people from Sharnalt perhaps. Athletic without being muscle-bound, blonde, blue-eyed, with just enough of a hint of oriental about him and skin just dark enough so that even where the Nordic ideal was not the local ideal he could be considered acceptable, and at 180 cm in height, slightly taller than the Sharnalt average he wouldn’t offend anyone by his looks. Even the ritual sword carried by every adult member of the Duchy wasn’t considered odd by most people, too many duchies had some weird quirk – Elder wondered what people thought of as the quirk of Krasgia every time he had this line of thought – so that such quirks were never really paid attention to, just noted if noticed. Then Elder wondered about the fact that the Marine Battalion Commander’s name and rank were kind of the same; and he remembered that the Lieutenant Major assumed his new rank of Captain Major in about an Imperial Month’s time. There was somebody famous in history; during one of the Pre-Imperial major wars that was named Major Major, which the Lieutenant Major would be in a few years, but Elder could not remember who or what war. Nor could he understand why his mind went off on that weird tangent like that. There was too much to do that was too important.
“Lieutenant Major, you offer is accepted. Send one or more of your linguists to help whichever of his linguists Lieutenant Lopez assigns to this critical mission. In addition, Lieutenant, get a message torpedo off to base telling them we may, repeat MAY, have contact with an alien species. Make sure that all current information is in the torpedo.”
“Aye sir. Should we start sending a signal to the aliens?”
“Such as Lieutenant?”
“I’m thinking a prime number sequence for starters and then adding the names of the numbers to the prime numbers and expanding it to all the whole numbers up to, say, a thousand. By then we should have figured out a way to teach them our language or maybe they will teach us theirs.”
Elder considered, vaguely noticing that the Marine Commander was giving orders to his troops at the same time. He decided. “No, let’s wait a bit. No signal from us until we have a handle on what they are saying. If we can discover anything about their language, it will help expedite everything else. It should be worth the wait, they seem to be trying to teach us something of their language just by talking continuously as they are doing. We can always try your idea if we cannot learn anything about their language, and I can’t see that we lose anything by waiting.”
“Well sir, if we work both ends, us trying to teach them and them trying to teach us, we could each learn faster.”
Elder considered what Lieutenant Lopez had said for almost three minutes, during which time he noticed that several senior enlisted personnel came onto the bridge and were waiting by the door. After giving the idea his consideration, Elder said, “No. We go with working on their language first. If we split our efforts, we will probably lose some time and may even mess it up. Concentrate on one thing at a time Lieutenant.”
Elder looked around the bridge, all the consoles were occupied with busy crew and there were several extras hanging around. Then Elder realized that it was shift change and the extras were the relieving crew. Time was passing as it always did. Noticing again that there were Marines over by the door and now noticing Lieutenant Lopez was with the Lieutenant Major and that they two officers were talking with the Marines and Navy crew standing by the door. Elder walked over to investigate.
“Captain, these are the linguists who will be working on the alien language.” Lieutenant Lopez pointed at the two naval officers, “Ensign Wolfe and Midshipman Goodwin.”
“And Junior Lieutenant DeWitt and Master Warrant Officer Coyne.” The Lieutenant Major indicated the two Marines.
“Good. Find an empty space and have the signal piped down to you, and get whatever else you need. This is important, no, it is actually critical. This is the first contact humans have ever had with an alien life form. At least as far as we know. Work around the clock until you have something or it is obvious that you cannot get anywhere. Report to Lieutenant Lopez and to Lieutenant Major Major directly. Lieutenant, Lieutenant Major, I want regular reports also. However important you think this is, it is probably more so. Let’s get this cracked and start off friendly with this new race.”
For the next two days nothing changed (Elder ordered that the MACALPIN slow down so that the Imperials had a chance to decipher the language before arriving at the generation ship.) The reports that Elder received concerning the efforts of the linguists gave little hope as far as he could tell. The MACALPIN got closer to the artifact ship and began orbiting near it, but since it appeared to be a ship the MACALPIN stayed clear enough so that if the engines were fired up it would probably not affect the MACALPIN.
Waking upon the third day, Elder decided to visit the linguists and check on the progress personally. He had avoided doing so up to now because he had not wanted to interfere but time was now critical. He had expected that, regardless of how alien the language was, his crew would have gotten a good start on translating it by now. He hoped something good would come of his visit.
Reaching the section where the linguists had their working office, Elder noticed Lieutenant Lopez and Lieutenant Major Major walking towards him. Since Lieutenant Lopez was almost ten centimeters shorter than the Lieutenant Major, they had to be deliberately walking together; besides, the Lieutenant Major marched everywhere he went and Lieutenant Lopez ambled whenever possible. Yes, they had important news since only that could keep the two of them together for any length of time. Lieutenant Lopez hated the Imperial Marines for some reason that Elder did not know and had not found out yet – although, he really had not pushed very hard.
“Well, what news do you have for me about the aliens?” Elder was a bit frustrated that it had taken so long even though he knew that deciphering and alien language would be harder than deciphering a human one. Once the message torpedo announcing that the MACALPIN had discovered what could be aliens reached Sector Headquarters every senior officer available in Second Fleet and most of the senior bureaucracy would start heading this way. Elder wanted something ready to present to them, not just work in progress.
Both officers began explaining what they wanted to say simultaneously, then looked at each other and began laughing so hard that they collapsed into each other’s arms. After a few moments of this, they dropped to their knees they were so weak from their hard laughter. Elder was totally out of the picture on this and he started getting annoyed; after all, his question was not getting answered.
“All right you two, just what is so funny?” Elder used one of his medium growls to show he was concerned but not angry; at least not yet.
Helping Lieutenant Lopez up from the deck, Lieutenant Major Major said, “Even though it was Master Warrant Officer Coyne who made the discovery, I’ll let the Lieutenant explain the situation.”
With only a slight hint of anger in his voice, Lieutenant Lopez said, “He only made the discovery because Ensign Wolfe was in the head. However, Captain, the reason that our talking together was so funny is that is exactly what the aliens are doing, Actually, they aren’t aliens but two groups of humans who are speaking two different languages – Russian and English, with considerable mixture between the two. – and each is asking for our help.”