Went for the standard walk, no problem.
Took care of a little business, the main feature of which was to write to Jaisie, who is the comptroller/CFO, but who also got tasked with filling in for IT director Vanessa after she quit. This would be Jaisie’s busiest week, because tomorrow is the big annual Resident-Trustee meeting at which the Trustees inform the residents of the state of Channing House, especially its financial state. I acknowledged that and said she should put my note on the “next week” pile, but however — we needed to talk about the next steps in implementing the auditorium upgrade, since the $76K grant application had been approved. She wrote back promptly and with a vague promise to meet soon.
Then I wrote an email to my A/V committee, really polling them on how involved they want to be in the upgrade. So far only two have responded, which isn’t good news. Well, a couple of key members are away this week.
Worked on the Studebaker a bit, doing the extremely fussy job of putting chrome paint with my smallest brush, on fine details like the “V8” symbol on the sides, trunk and hood. This actually went pretty well. Worked on hobby #2, the python program I’m resurrecting from 2015. Did not work on hobby #3, the new novel, working title “Gus and Eileen Meet the Aliens”. No, that’s awful. I also haven’t signed up for any CHM work in the coming week, and I feel obligated to do so.
OK I said Tuesday (?) that I would post that novel chapter here. Why not? Background: back in 2017 astronomers spotted a rock coming through our Solar System. It got dubbed Oumuamua. It came from who knows where, which is also where it went. Bye-bye rock.
So I was thinking, suppose they spotted a big rock like that, kilometers long, coming in and everybody thinks, well, another random space rock passing by, but then it starts to slow down. Which rocks absolutely can’t do. And there’s no obvious sign of a retro-rocket or such; it’s just slowing down. Which, even while the “rock” is, say, still outside the orbit of Jupiter, we know beyond the shadow of a doubt, it isn’t a rock, and it’s doing something (slowing down without any reaction engine) that we can’t do. Knowing only that much, we can be quite sure it is a product of alien technology, and can assume it’s a ship of some kind.
Just that much, no more, and we are suddenly sure of the existence of alien intelligence. We don’t know its nature, but we know it exists, and it’s coming our way. Trying to imagine this scenario it came to me very strongly that just that much changes everything. Every decision, every fact about ourselves, our culture, our world is suddenly cast in a new light. Suddenly, “How will this look to the aliens? What will they think?” are questions everybody would start to ask about everything. #WWETS — hashtag What Will ET Say — would instantly trend on Twitter.
I’d gotten that far when I had a long lunch with Prudence talking about this initial image and we got further. They definitely aren’t here to “invade” — there’s only the one ship, not enough to be an invading force. I don’t think they’re here to invite us to join the Galactic Federation, either. The best dramatic possibilities are, they are in deep trouble and looking for help, or a refuge. Will we help? Can we? Will we just try to take advantage? We could sure use that reactionless drive they seem to have.
Both Pru and I think in terms of YA novels. But, how can you have young adult characters involved with the aliens, when you would expect the government(s) to monopolize all info and jealously guard all comms with the aliens? While talking to Pru I said, because somehow, my characters have cracked a code, become the first humans to actually communicate with them, and the aliens now insist on talking to them only. I believe I said, “They say, ‘where’s Bobby’? and won’t talk to anyone else.” Later I didn’t like the name Bobby, but whatever.
And then the cue, or prompt, for this week’s writers group was, “an opening door.” And immediately I thought of, the kids’ first trip up to the alien ship to meet the aliens, and there’s a door with the aliens on the other side. And I pictured the SpaceX Dragon Capsule. If you place the timeline close, 2030 or so, it would still be current tech. And so here we are.
January 23, 2031
The crew capsule began a roll. Eileen gripped Gus’s gloved hand and felt an answering squeeze. Outside the left viewport, the vast gray-brown hull of the Stheentar rolled past the capsule.
“Geez Lou-eeze that’s big,” said Gus, his voice on the radio sounding flat and distant in Eileen’s headphones.
“Radio silence, please, ambassador,” came the voice of Major Whitby. From their back-row seats Gus and Eileen looked at the back of the Major’s helmet and the row of computer screens in front of him. Inside her helmet Eileen poked her tongue out in defiance. That brought a shoulder nudge from Gus. She peered left through her faceplate and saw him giving her a fake “behave!” scowl from inside his helmet.
Major Whitby reached up and tapped a couple of controls on one of his screens, then said, “Stheentar, this is Embassy One, we are aligned on your docking collar, I read 508 meters separation, closing at 1.2 meters per second, over.”
“Our readings agree, Embassy One, thank you.” The light, pleasant voice in their headphones was familiar to both Gus and Eileen; they’d been talking with it — or with the person, or people, or… the beings?, behind it — for weeks. They’d established early that it was artificial, computer-generated, and that the actual voice of a reethlin, assuming the reeth had voices, would be quite different. They’d argued between themselves, and with the UN committee members who monitored their conversations, whether it was meant to be male or female, and what accent it was supposed to have. Gus, with the authority of a guy who at age seventeen could speak six languages, said its English was certainly Canadian, probably from Montreal. Eileen, who was more at home reading C++ and HTML than English, thought it sounded more like her Australian cousin.
“Embassy One, Guiana.” Guiana, the European Space Agency launch center, was the ground communication point for this mission.
“Guiana, go,” Major Whitby sounded annoyed. His gloved hands moved from one control screen to another.
“Embassy One, we have the President of the USA on the line for the ambassadors.”
“Guiana, we are just a bit busy at the moment. Request you hold.”
“Also Secretary General Gutierrez.”
“Guiana, I am about to perform a docking into alien hardware on a giant alien spacecraft, and I kindly request that until I report ‘docked’ you just shut the fuck up.”
There was a brief pause; then “Guiana out.”
Gus mugged a bug-eyed “ooooh” to Eileen, who grinned back. There was silence for a long minute, broken only by the rapid popping noises of the RCS maneuvering jets. Then Major Whitby said “Stheentar, Embassy One.”
“Go ahead, Major,” replied the cool, sort-of-Canadian voice.
“A hundred meters out, closing at half a meter per second, request alignment check.”
“Alignment perfect, Major. Is ‘right down the pipe’ the appropriate phrase?” Gus nudged Eileen. She smiled back, remembering when they had gone over a long list of colloquialisms at the request of the reeth.
“That’s a very welcome phrase, Stheentar. Thank you. Request a count at multiples of ten meters.”
“Roger, Embassy One. Just passed 90, coming up on 80 meters… now.”
“Slowing,” said the Major, and tapped another screen, which brought on another rattle of RCS noise. Gus thought he could feel the change, like when you just tap the brakes in a car.
“Sixty meters, still on axis.” The two passengers could only clutch their seat restraints and watch Major Whitby hovering over his screens, while the cool voice counted the craft in: “Forty meters… Thirty… Twenty… Ten meters and on axis.” Major Whitby made one last set of adjustments then sat back.
“…Two meters, one meter…” there was a thump and a series of clack noises. “Docking complete, Embassy One. Welcome to Stheentar.”
“Guiana, Embassy One, we are docked.”
“Roger, Embassy One, we heard. A lot of cheering going on here.”
The Major turned half-way around in his seat. “Are you two OK?”
“Yes, sir,” said Gus and Eileen said “We’re great!” at the same moment.
“Good; do you want to take that call from the politicos now?”
They looked at each other. “Sure,” said Gus and “Of course,” said Eileen.
“Guiana, we’re ready for that call now.”
“One moment, Embassy One, there’s some… uh… discussion here.” Apparently the launch communicator forgot to mute his mic because they could hear him say to someone, “So who’s going first, the POTUS or the Secretary? … About 6 billion people are hearing dead air… OK, is that… OK. Uh, Embassy One, Guiana.”
“Go ahead, Guiana.”
“We have the Secretary General of the UN who has just a brief word to say to the Ambassadors. Go ahead, Excellency.”
The Secretary General’s words were less than brief and contained nothing Gus and Eileen had not heard from a dozen trainers and diplomats in prior weeks, but they were finally over.
“Thank you sir,” said Eileen. “And now we…” but the voice of the alien communicator cut in.
“Embassy One, are you ready to proceed with entry?”
“Uh, roger, very shortly now,” started Major Whitby, but Gus cut in on him with a very definite “Yes, Stheentar, we are ready.”
“I’m releasing my seat restraints,” said Eileen, and did so. Both of them floated easily up toward the round capsule hatch above the seats — exactly as they had practiced several times before. “Major, can you initiate the hatch sequence?”
“Roger, Eileen, initiating hatch opening,” and he tapped a sequence on a panel. There were clicks and whirrs as the latch dogs withdrew. As rehearsed, Gus reached up and swung the hatch downward into the capsule.
“Remember, Ambassadors,” said the alien voice, “orient toward the dark surface. That will be down, when we turn on the gravity.”
Awkwardly, the two floated in turn through the hatch and into the entrance bay of the alien craft. One of the walls was indeed painted a dark gray, while all the others were silvery metal. A sturdy metal stanchion sprouted out of the dark wall. Eileen grabbed it, and then grabbed Gus’s suited foot as he floated by. They pulled themselves to float parallel to the post, and Gus said, “OK, ready.”
“Gravity on in three, two, one.”
Suddenly they were pulled down firmly and found themselves standing on a dark floor in a metal room. This, artificial gravity, was the number one technical subject that their trainers wanted them to acquire, and now they had experienced it.
To their right was the round opening in a wall, through which they could see the inside of the capsule and Major Whitby peering in. But directly ahead was a proper door, maybe a little shorter and wider than a door in a human building, but clearly a door, with a knob.
“Ambassadors, are you ready to meet?” came the voice in their headphones.
Gus took an audible breath, and looked at Eileen, who nodded. “Sure. Shall we just…”
“Of course. Come on in.”
And they walked across to the door and turned the knob.
Eighteen Months Earlier
So there we are. The book opens with this, then jumps back to when the arriving vessel is first noticed, follows Gus and Eileen as they combine their unique talents to do what the U.N. and the CIA can’t do, open communications with the aliens. And after, as they find out what the aliens are like physically — hint, their body plan is based on radial symmetry rather than bilateral symmetry like ours — and learn what their real problem is. Which I don’t know what it is yet.