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Lunar Contact

Lunar Contact

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Lunar Contact

Länge:
934 Seiten
14 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Aug 1, 2013
ISBN:
9781483506746
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

Caught up in a war of survival between organic life forms and an artificial intelligence, Jason and his crew must learn the secrets of controlling an alien spacecraft, a veritable ghost ship that he and his crew have been stranded on. The ability to control the very fabric of space-time has been conquered by this alien race, but their own success has led to their doom. Only human creativity and imagination can hope to defeat an alien AI that threatens not just Earth, but all inhabited worlds.
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Aug 1, 2013
ISBN:
9781483506746
Format:
Buch

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Lunar Contact - JD Clarke

LUNAR

CONTACT

By

JD Clarke

&

Gary Hocker

Please feel free to contact the authors at:

author.jdclarke@gmail.com

Website: jdclarkeauthor.com

LUNAR CONTACT© 2012 by the authors.

This is a work of fiction. Names and events are inventions. Any resemblance of the events or characters in this novel to the real world is coincidental.

Foreword

What if a civilization were able to harness the power of gravity? What capabilities would this empower them with? According to Einstein's view of gravity, it is the result of the curvature of space-time. There is no actual force of gravity, no graviton particle that creates an attractive force, but rather a side effect of the distortion of space itself. If a civilization wanted to conquer gravity it would have to master the ability to warp space-time to its own desires. This would imbue the civilization with the ability to create artificial gravity, perhaps create faster than light travel, and maybe even create gateways or wormholes in space.

Book one

Lunar Contact

We are not alone

It was August 2012, and the story was too obvious and too big to keep under wraps. A small object, small on the cosmic scale, about the size of a Coast Guard cutter, had streaked into proximity of earth. It then began orbiting the Moon. It was shiny and symmetrical. Amateur astronomers posted hundreds of photos of the object on the Internet. The government was cautious; their official position was that it was an unknown object, possibly not of natural origin. They were very noncommittal. But in the photos it appeared to have antennae and other projections protruding from it. It was shaped like an American football, with the strange metallic projections sticking out at regular intervals. But most telling of all, it was in a stable polar orbit around the Moon.

The government and the space agencies kept very quiet about just what the object was until the Chinese made a public statement. It was three days after the object began orbiting the Moon. The Chinese issued a public statement indicating that the object was emitting infrared and high frequency radar onto the surface of the Moon. The Chinese report went on to speculate that the object was an alien probe and that the evidence suggested it was conducting a survey of the lunar surface. The report went on to give the dimensions and approximate mass of the object, based on its orbital trajectory.

NASA and ESA both confirmed the Chinese report. The object was not a natural phenomenon. It was approximately 85.5 meters (~280ft) long with a mass of 436 tons. It seemed to be scanning the surface of the Moon with several types of emissions. It was not sending any emissions towards the Earth. It had not sent any radio transmission or any other type of transmission towards the Earth. In fact, it had not made an effort to contact Earth in any way. This last was an attempt to squelch rumors of secret contact between the governments of Earth and the object. Of course, the rumors persisted.

There were rumors of an alien civilization orbiting the Moon and issuing an ultimatum to the governments of Earth. The ultimatum ranged from an invitation to join a galactic federation if the Earth could first organize itself into a peaceful world, to an ultimatum of extermination in preparation for colonization by the aliens. The apocalyptic 2012 people had a field day. Some were even quoted as saying that the Mayan civilization had achieved space flight, abandoned their ancient Earth cities and were now returning to fulfill their prophecy of the end of Earth on December 21, 2012.

After the object had been orbiting the Moon for a week, NASA, ESA and CNSA (China's space agency) made a public announcement that the world's space agencies had been trying to make contact with the probe. Despite sending radio messages and even flashing harmless laser beams off the object, there was no acknowledgement from the object. The spokesman for NASA went out on a limb and even stated that the Chinese assessment, it might be an unmanned probe, could be correct. In the UN General Assembly, Russia advised the world to consider the object an invasion of Earth's territory and to destroy the object as soon as possible. This of course stirred up a hornet's nest of controversy.

The following week the world's space agencies announced that a joint mission to the Moon had been decided. A Chinese rocket would launch the Chinese space capsule Ning into an orbit around the Moon. The capsule would carry astronauts from China, America and Germany. It turned out that the Chinese were the only nation with a moon-worthy system ready. They had been planning a moon mission in 2013, but with an ambitious schedule it could be ready by December. The flight crew would consist of China's top astronaut to pilot the ship, a famous American physicist, and the German engineer and metallurgist Hans Gerder. Doctor Gerder and his engineering firm had been involved with the Chinese space program during previous endeavors. The Russians were conspicuously absent from all presentations and discussions of the mission.

On September 13th there was a new development. The Alien Moon Probe, as the media was calling it, emerged from the dark side of the Moon with all of its antennae missing or withdrawn. Then on September 16th the Alien Moon Probe disappeared behind the far side of the Moon and did not reappear. It was gone. There had been no sighting of it flying away from the Moon and this caused a tremendous amount of speculation. Had it crashed or landed on the far side? Others pointed out that it had approached unobserved until the last moment and postulated that the probe must have some type of cloaking mechanism or at the very least was difficult to observe when it was under power. The plans for a manned expedition to the Moon were placed on hold.

On September 20th the space agencies, under their newly reorganized banner of World Space Agency, WSA, announced that a moon probe would be launched to search the far side of the Moon for any sign of the Alien Moon Probe. The probe would be ready to launch within three weeks.

There was no sign of the Alien Moon Probe or of any debris. Speculation ran high. The most popular theory on the Internet was that the ship had landed on the far side of the Moon and then tunneled underground for some sinister purpose. The space agency scientists were puzzled and had little to add, other than the fact that the Alien Moon Probe had disappeared without a trace. Questions were rampant across the blogs. Why had the aliens been interested in our moon? Why had they ignored Earth? Why had they ignored us? Why were they not interested in the only habitable planet in our system? Why did they sneak around under some cloak of invisibility? Were they really gone?

December 21, 2012 came and went. There was no apocalypse, no worldwide catastrophe, and no alien invasion. It was a normal day like any other and no one disappeared. There was still talk of the Alien Moon Probe and the world's space agencies were still working together under the WSA. There was no longer any doubt that civilizations existed on other planets, but this only fueled more speculation as to what they were like and what it meant. The interest in space travel was renewed, but goals and objectives were less clear. Exploration, defense, or colonization were hotly debated among politicians and the public. Three more moon probes were launched by the WSA to try and determine what the alien interest in the Moon was and in preparation for the alien probe's return, if it returned. But nothing happened, at least not until nearly a year later.

Return

It had been almost a year since the Alien Moon Probe vanished. A large object was spotted near Jupiter. It was moving fast but decelerating. Its trajectory would intercept Earth and its moon. It was huge compared to the little probe that had circled the Moon in 2012. As it got closer, better photos of the object revealed a ship of some type, but the best photos came after it established a stationary orbit about the Moon. It was the size of six aircraft carriers. It was composed of six units, roughly cylindrical but with various projections and complex arrays along the sides. The cylinders were arranged in a group of four, two in the front and two behind. On top of the last two were two more cylinders. All the cylinders were of the same shape and size, as if they had been assembled in modules and then joined together. It was massive, you could actually see it at night with the unaided eye, the sunlight glinting off of its metallic surface.

It took up a synchronous orbit right above the crater Aristarchus. Most of Earth's recent artificial satellites circling the Moon had been placed in a polar orbit, anticipating the return of the first probe. The alien ship was at an altitude of 56,000 km. At first many people expressed concern. What if one of Earth's lunar satellites accidently collided with the alien ship? Could that instigate a catastrophic war with the aliens? The WSA reassured the public that there was no chance of a collision, because the Earth satellites, at 700-8,000 km, were well below the alien's orbit. The first satellite to pass under the alien ship was the LS3. The satellite was rolled into a position facing all of its instruments and cameras upward, away from the Moon. Anticipation rose as the satellite approached the alien ship and the pictures became more distinct. Then the unexpected happened. The ship emitted a bright beam and the satellite was destroyed as it passed below. Pictures from observatories were all over the Internet. Opinions on the death ray were everywhere. WSA officials put together an immediate press conference, trying to reassure a jittery public that there was still nothing to fear. No hostile actions had been taken towards the Earth.

Analysis of the beam of light from the alien ship revealed that it had been a high-energy laser. The remaining lunar satellites had been retasked to keep them from passing under the alien ship. The alien ship, for its part, continued to ignore the remaining satellites and the Earth as well.

After two days the laser was back in action. This time it was firing on the surface of the Moon. A large area of the Moon crater Aristarchus was being scoured. The laser continued for eighteen hours, then stopped. On the alien ship, one of the large cylindrical modules detached and descended to the lunar surface. There it opened in the middle and the cylindrical walls slid back, revealing a complex structure underneath. Two small cables shot upward from the complex on the surface. Each had a small cube on it and they ascended all the way to the orbiting alien ship. There they attached to the underside of the ship. The world watched in awe as the alien ship went about its business, totally oblivious to the spectators.

Eight hours later, all hell broke loose on the Moon. Via the satellite feeds, the large surface complex could be seen visibly shaking. A huge billow of debris shot up from the surface of the Moon. Lunar dust and rock shot up out of the complex at a 45-degree angle. The lunar rocks actually achieved escape velocity and were hurtled out into space.

Directly under the orbiting spacecraft, cubes the size of boxcars began to travel up one cable to the ship and back down the other. It was the first space conveyor belt humans had ever witnessed. The Moon was being mined by aliens.

Involvement

There was a knock on my door. It was seven a.m. on the dot and I was in the shower. The knock became a pounding. Just a minute! I yelled as I got out and pulled on a pair of pants. Who in the hell is at my door this early in the morning, I muttered to myself as I threw open the door. The two men before me were dressed in suits and sporting badges.

Secret Service. Mr. Hauptman? the one on the right said.

Yes, I'm Hauptman, I said, with a little more respect. Both of these guys were huge and obviously very serious.

Mind if we come in? We need to speak with you, sir, the one on the right said.

Sure, just have a seat and I'll get dressed. They hesitated and looked unsure, like maybe I was going to run or come back with a shotgun. I just need to get a shirt and some shoes. There's coffee in the pot on the counter in the kitchen, if you guys would like some, I smiled. That seemed to do the trick. They relaxed, a little. One stood between the couch and the front door. The other one began looking around as he made his way into the kitchen.

I came back fully dressed and feeling more confident, as opposed to feeling half-dressed and overmatched. Even though I am six foot, I had felt a little short around these guys in my bare feet. The one that had gone to the kitchen was standing there with two cups of coffee in his hands. He offered me one. I got the feeling he was waiting for me to take the first drink before he trusted it.

I took a sip, relished it and then asked, So what can I do for you guys?

I am Agent Carlton and this is Agent Baxter. We have orders to pick you up and take you to the airport, the agent said, and then took a sip of coffee also.

I thought maybe this was about my taxes, I joked. No one laughed. Sorry, can you tell me a little more?

Only that you need to pack for a one week stay. We'll wait for you while you pack, Agent Carlton said. After a moment of me standing in place without moving, he said, It is a matter of national importance, sir. Your employer has been contacted and all arrangements have been made for you to fly to Houston.

I am Jason Hauptman. An archaeologist at the University of Texas, here in Austin, I said, looking from one agent to the other. Are you sure you have the right person?

Yes sir, Mr. Hauptman. We need to hurry, sir. Agent Carlton sat down on the couch. Agent Baxter just stood by the door. I went to pack.

Three hours later, most of it spent in Austin traffic, we arrived at the NASA Space Center in Houston. Agent Carlton escorted me to a meeting room that already had twenty or so people milling around in it. There he handed me off to Dr. Stronton. He left without saying goodbye.

Dr. Stronton, I'm glad to meet you. Can you tell me why I am here? I couldn't get anything out of Agent Carlton, I said.

Dr. Stronton smiled. I'm sure he didn't know anything, at least nothing he could tell you. You wrote a book a few years ago. Communicating With Another Species, I believe.

Bells went off then, the aliens…they must be trying to communicate and they think I can help. I coauthored the book with Dr. Sloan. He was the biggest contributor to the mathematical aspect of language and most of the theories were his. I only helped with the basic concepts common to primitive societies. I don't know if I can be of any help.

Dr. Sloan died two years ago, as you know. We need your input. You won't be the only one working on this. I'll introduce you to the rest of the team after the meeting, Dr. Stronton replied.

Just then another man entered the room and turned down the lights. We should be getting images shortly, he announced. A large screen at the front of the room flashed on. It was just all fuzz and snow.

We launched a probe to rendezvous with the alien space craft. It is just now getting there. It should dock with the alien ship any minute. When it does it will begin sending images of the ship's surface to us here, he said.

Have they tried to contact us? Do they know we are coming? I asked.

No, we decided we had to try something. We think they may ignore our probe, as long as it doesn't interfere with them, he whispered. It had gotten quiet in the room as we waited for the video feed.

Like they ignored the first satellite? I asked.

They only destroyed it because it got between them and the surface. It interfered with their plans to set up the mining operation. At least that's what we think, he shrugged his shoulders.

The screen flashed an image and then went all static again. After what appeared to be a few false starts an image snapped into view. It was the side of the alien ship. Evidently the probe had latched onto the ship's skin with magnetic feet and was now walking along the alien ship, so apparently the ship's hull contained ferromagnetic components. The smooth metal surface looked seamless and highly polished, except for occasional raised bumps that seem to be lettering. The probe stopped close to a set of bumps and focused on them. It was three lines of about six characters each. The probe went on walking along the ship's outer hull. Every ten meters there were more markings and the probe dutifully stopped and focused on them each time. It went on walking along the surface towards the front of the ship. The probe had landed near the rear of the rear most cylinder. It became almost monotonous as it walked over the smooth surface. The only features were the raised characters. Everyone in the room murmured and agreed they were obviously alien markings, writing. The groups of characters were placed about ten meters apart in a straight line along the side of the ship and in a line that seemed to encircle the cylinder. They made up a sort of grid crisscrossing the surface in ten-meter squares. It became painfully obvious that it was going to take hours for the probe to make its way to the first junction between the cylinders and the view ahead was more of the same. As we watched, people became restless and began to chat among themselves in a low murmur.

Instructions! I said to myself, a little louder than I meant to. Everyone standing nearby stopped and looked at me. Assembly instructions. The lettering on the surface. They are assembly instructions. You know, like attach part A to part B.

But it's all one piece. There is no seam, someone said.

There is a seam, we just can't see it. Do we have thermal imaging on the probe? I asked.

The probe is using several different wavelengths and recording in all of them. We only have the visible feed coming into this room, Dr. Stronton said. Max, see if we can get the thermal feed in here. A man next to the door picked up a phone and in a few seconds the video switched to a thermal image of the ship's skin. Sure enough, certain areas were slightly different. The ship now appeared to be a patchwork of different colored squares. Each square had a group of characters in the lower right hand corner.

Dr. Stronton looked over at me and smiled. Yeah, I think we got the right guy.

For the next two hours the video continued, but now it cycled through different wavelengths of light. But after the adrenalin rush and the excitement of the discovery of the alien markings, my head was starting to throb and I was getting tired. I needed a break.

Any place a guy can take a break around here? And maybe get something to eat? I asked Dr. Stronton when he made his way back over to me. He had been circulating around the room, talking to the other scientists assembled.

Sure, come on, I'll walk you down to the cafeteria, he said without protest. I think he was getting a little worn out, too.

We grabbed sandwiches and Cokes and sat at a government-issue table.

What do you think? he asked me. Three or four others had left the conference room and had followed us down to the cafeteria. Two came over to join us.

I'll tell you what I think. A tall woman in her late twenties walked up to the table, pulled out a chair and sat down. Those aliens don't give a rat's ass about us. They probably don't even think we're intelligent. They may not even consider us alive.

Jason Hauptman, may I introduce Dena Carter. We rose just enough to reach across the table and shake hands briefly. Dena studies extremophiles. Organisms that live in extreme environments.

I saw your presentation at TED last year, very impressive. But I think any civilization capable of space travel would have a good idea of what life looks like. I would think there are basic characteristics that all life share, I said.

Dr. Dena Carter had jet-black hair pulled back in a ponytail that made her look younger. A pale blue shirt tucked into jeans and an absence of jewelry made me think that maybe she had been rushed here also. But the jeans flattered her figure and her natural good looks were only emphasized by the lack of jewelry.

Oh, sure, I have no doubt that life can be defined by a basic set of characteristics, but the aliens might have their own prejudices, just as we have ours. We find snakes and spiders and slime mold very disgusting. We never think twice about the fungi that live in the forest floor, when in fact there are fungi that have enormously large complex systems, she said as she opened her soft drink. They, the aliens that is, might not be based on carbon as we are, In fact, their experience in contacting other worlds could have led them to the conclusion that carbon-based life is too delicate to survive space travel. They might even consider us an evolutionary dead end, a waste of time.

Or they may not think at all. Another scientist joined the conversation and sat down. He was short and stocky, thirtyish with piercing eyes. His movements were quick and so was his speech. He seemed to never stop fidgeting. We shook hands and he gave Dr. Dena Carter a quick nod. William Becker, he said as an introduction. Has anyone thought that it might also be an unmanned ship? It could have been programmed to come here, mine whatever the probe had found and then simply return with its booty.

It does seem to be rather oblivious to our probe crawling about on the outside of its ship, I responded. I really expected more of a reaction to it. But maybe they don't even know it's there.

Really? Do you think someone could ride up beside one of our aircraft carriers in a small boat and begin climbing all over the hull and we would not notice? Dr. Becker asked as he looked over the tops of his glasses at me. I could feel my back stiffen at the condescending tone.

Dr. Stronton saw conflict coming and quickly interceded. It's hard to know what the aliens are thinking or are capable of. We need better information. We need to send a manned mission to gather the facts we need. Everyone stopped and stared at him.

What do you think the outcome would be of a manned mission to go and contact the alien ship? What type of team should we put together? What resources would they need? Should we send them now or wait? he asked.

It seems pretty risky to send a manned ship. Our satellites were blasted pretty effectively by that large ship's lasers, I said.

Yes, but as I said, I think they were only targeted because they were in the way. They were interfering with the aliens in their attempts to set up the mining facility, Dr. Stronton said. They did not object to our probe landing on their ship and walking along the outside hull.

Just then a young man came up to the table and handed Dr. Stronton a stack of photo printouts. Dr. Stronton thanked him and the young man left, obviously in a hurry to get back to other tasks. Dr. Stronton looked the photos over briefly and then handed them to me.

These are close up photos of the markings. What do you think, Jason? he asked me.

I took the photos and began looking them over one by one. Shuffling each to the back of the stack to keep them in order. Yeah...yeah, I think there's a pattern here, I said. Look here, this symbol moves over to the right one position every nine photos. Each photo corresponds to one plate on the ship hull. This looks like a simple numbering of the plates as they progress up the long axis of the alien ship. I kept shuffling through the photos. Yes, this gives us their numbering and counting system. They may be using a base eight system. I was lost in thought.

Of course! Dr. Becker said with a discovery of his own. You're that Mayan guy. The one that decoded the Mayan written language a few years back.

That was very impressive work. I thought you looked familiar. I saw a special on your work and the Mayan society, said Dr. Dena Carter. So that's why you're here. They needed someone to help translate the alien language, like you did with the Maya. Didn't you write a book about first contact with aliens too?

I looked up. This is going to be a lot harder than the Mayan language and it will take a lot more than one guy. I coauthored a book, Communicating With Another Species. Dr. Sloan did most of the work.

Just then another young man entered the cafeteria and made straight for Dr. Stronton. The probe found what appears to be a hatch to the interior. It's attempting to enter now, Dr. Stronton the young man said.

The group rose as one and hurried back to the conference room to watch. On the screen there appeared to be a rectangular hatch of some kind. There was an obvious seam and the hatch seemed made of a different material. There were, however, no obvious handles or ways to open the hatch. The probe circled the hatch, broadcasting video of it from every angle and in every available spectrum. There were faint markings in one corner that looked like the same three lines of alien characters. There were no other markings or features on the hatch. The probe stopped like it was puzzled as to how to get in. It was really just awaiting further instructions from its Earthbound controllers. After what seemed like an eternity, it stepped onto the hatch with a single appendage. As soon as it did the hatch sunk inward and began to swing open. The probe almost fell into the opening as the magnetic connection dragged it forward before the probe could detach. The probe had only been instructed to place one foot onto the hatch, not step fully onto it. The hatchway stood open, a dark chasm. Nothing could be seen within. New orders were sent for the probe to enter the hatch. As it cautiously did so the images began to flicker and degrade. When the probe was fully inside, the signal suddenly stopped completely. The screen was now blank.

Max, still standing near the door, was already on the phone. After a few seconds he hung up and addressed Dr. Stronton. They have lost all contact with the probe. No communication at all. The probe is either destroyed or our signals are being blocked.

Everyone stood silent for a moment, still staring at the screen. Then slowly everyone began talking among themselves. Dr. Stronton looked over to the other three. See why a manned mission is so needed?

Mission

It was one in the morning before I finally got to sleep back at the hotel. Dr. Stronton had asked me to attend a meeting at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. After four hours of sleep I got up and got ready. On any normal day I would have been dragging to get up and get ready for work. But not today, this was no normal day and I was full of adrenalin just thinking about what the day might hold, little did I know.

The meeting room was down the hall from the room we'd met in yesterday. It was smaller and only a few people sat around the table. I got my coffee and sat near Dr. Stronton, who was at the head of the table trying to get everyone to have a seat. There were fourteen others beside myself.

If we could get started now, we have a lot to cover, Dr. Stronton said as everyone took a seat and fell into silence. Introductions were made around the table and then the meeting began. I think yesterday's robotic expedition made it clear that we need a manned mission to explore this alien spacecraft and perhaps make contact.

I don't think there's any doubt that if we send people up there to start crawling around inside that ship, we are going to get contact. Maybe more than we are prepared for, an older gentleman with greying hair, Dr. Cook, stated.

No, we still don't know that it is piloted. It could be unmanned. It could be just like the probe, a robotic ship running on automatic, Dr. Becker said. He was still claiming the unmanned theory and he was still blunt and undiplomatic.

Even an unmanned ship is likely to have some self-defense systems. I don't think anyone would launch such a large ship into an inhabited system without some type of defense systems, Dr. Cook said.

Not necessarily, Doctor. Dr. Dena Carter made a good point yesterday when she said that the aliens might not recognize us as an intelligent species and they may not see us as a threat. They may not even be aware of our ability to travel to the Moon, I said, trying to be a little more diplomatic than Dr. Becker. In all the space probes that we've sent out, we never armed any of ours. It's possible that life is rare and spread very thinly throughout the universe. The aliens might not have considered it likely that their ship would encounter another intelligent species.

Ladies and gentlemen, the decision has already been made to send a manned mission to the alien ship. The question now is who do we send and what should their objectives be? Dr. Stronton said. The answers to all our questions are up there orbiting our moon. The room grew quiet for a moment as his words sank in. I've asked you all here to determine what goals to set for the mission.

After a short silence Dr. Becker spoke up first. To determine if there are in fact any aliens on board and then to make contact with them if they are. If not, then to determine how the ship is controlled and to acquire it if possible.

That caused an eruption of chaos as everyone voiced their own concerns over Dr. Becker's bold statement, but Dr. Stronton quickly brought the room back to order and asked Dr. Carter what she thought.

I agree that we must first determine if there is an alien intelligence aboard the ship. Then our next step should be to begin a dialog and establish communications with it. But to interfere with the function of the ship, let alone steal it, could result in a hostile reprisal, Dr. Carter stated.

Dr. Stronton replied, And what are your thoughts Dr. Hauptman?

I agree with Dr. Carter. Interfering with the ship or trying to commandeer it could be catastrophic, I said.

Who would be qualified to identify an alien life form and to interpret their language? Who would be necessary for that part of the mission? Dr. Stronton asked, still looking at me.

Someone familiar with linguistics and mathematics, and if the ship is robotically controlled, then someone familiar with computer programming, I replied.

Dr. Stronton was still looking at me when it dawned on me what he was thinking. Whoa, I…uh…I don't think I'm qualified. I'm not an astronaut. I don't have any training for this type of mission.

No one has been trained for this type of mission, Dr. Hauptman. It's a unique situation and I believe you would be invaluable in interpreting an alien language. I hope that you will give the matter serious thought. I'm counting on your help, Dr. Stronton said. And I'm also hoping Dr. Carter will volunteer, he looked over at Dr. Carter. As you said, the aliens could be almost unrecognizable by our standards.

I believe your skills, Dr. Hauptman, Dr. Carter, will be invaluable on this mission. Dr. Stronton continued. Dr. Tanakai, your knowledge in advanced materials science will also be needed, as will your knowledge in computers, Dr. Becker.

Dr. Stronton paused after looking at each of the scientists. There will also be two marines on this mission to ensure your safety and Commander Christopher Douglas will be your pilot aboard the space shuttle Atlantis. We have brought the shuttle out of retirement and it is being readied now.

Has anyone thought about all the dust and rock the alien mining station on the Moon's surface is throwing out into space? According to our best estimates it is throwing out over 100,000 tons of material each day. Since the Moon's gravity is so low, virtually none of that material is falling back to the Moon's surface. It is all going out into space and over one third of it will be caught by Earth's gravity. It will rain down on Earth beginning in about six weeks. Within six months all of Earth's satellites will be wiped out. A huge cloud of dust and debris will encircle the Earth. Dr. Stronton paused to let the information sink in. At first, it will just be a spectacular meteor shower, most of the ejected matter is small rocks and dust. These will burn up in Earth's atmosphere, but some of the larger rocks it's spitting out are the size of a Greyhound Bus. None of the meteors are large enough to threaten life on Earth, but if they strike metropolitan areas on Earth, they will cause tremendous damage. And we have no idea how long the aliens plan to continue their mining of Earth's moon.

We have to assume it's a permanent mining operation, I said, half out loud and half to myself. It would have to be, to justify the expenditure of such a long voyage and such a large ship, at least one of extended duration.

Has anyone calculated how long it will take for the ship to be filled up? Dr. Carter asked. Assuming that each of those little cargo buckets rising up to the ship is full.

Not to my knowledge, replied Dr. Stronton.

It doesn't matter, Dr. Becker stated. The aliens could have more ships on the way to accept more minerals, after this ship is full.

What information do we have about this ship? asked Dr. Carter.

Dr. Stronton brought up pictures of the alien ship on the large screen at the end of the conference room. The ship is composed of six sections. Each is basically a large cylinder. The cylinder at the front of the ship is different from the others in that it has antennae and dishes attached to it. It also has several round protuberances at various places. We believe this to be the command module with all flight controls and data acquisition instrumentation. The other cylinders are thought to be cargo holds. If aliens are onboard, then this is where they would be. If not, then this is most likely to be the area where the ship's onboard computers are located. This will be where you will attempt entry.

And after we enter? Assuming we can get in, what then? I asked.

Then your job begins, Dr. Stronton smiled.

We'll need to show that we are not hostile, perhaps by offering a gift. What are the aliens mining? What are they after on the Moon? Do we have any ideas? I asked.

Our best guess is that they are mining rare earths. Gold, platinum, palladium, these are rare on any planet and it is thought that the Moon could be rich in these. A highly advanced civilization would need these rare earths in many technologically advanced devices, Dr. Stronton said.

The unique origin of the Moon may have made it rich in these heavy metals, Dr. Emaury said. He had been introduced as a leading geologist with a special interest in the Moon and planetary geology. The Moon began when a large body, or asteroid, struck the Earth. The impact resulted in part of the material from both bodies splitting away and gradually cooling to form our moon. As it cooled the strong gravitational attraction of Earth may have caused these heavy metals to settle close to the surface of the Moon that always faces the Earth. The large impact craters that formed the dark regions on the Moon were so destructive to the Moon's crust that they actually filled with molten lava. That is why they look dark and smooth. It also means that the heavy metals could have been brought even closer to the surface by these lava flows. The aliens have undoubtedly detected the minerals they are interested in and mapped out the richest and most easily accessible areas to mine.

Then, perhaps we could take a few bars of platinum as a gift, I suggested.

Blankets and beads might be better, Dr. Becker said with more than a little sarcasm. You know what happened to the Native Americans when they showed the Spaniards they had gold. As bad as mining the Moon is, we sure as hell don't want them mining the Earth. And we don't want to be the reason for an invasion.

Perhaps, a cultural gift, it might show them our value as a living species, Dr. Carter suggested. We could give them recordings of music. Mozart would be appreciated by any species that could appreciate mathematics.

We could give them specimen of plants, both food and ornamental. One of the treasures of the New World was the potato. It's always a good idea to feed your guests, Dr. Emaury added.

A boom box loaded with Mozart and a dozen roses ringed with potatoes. Sounds irresistible, Dr. Becker snorted. People, we have no idea what these aliens value. Or if they even have ears to hear music for that matter.

It's not the value of the gift, Dr. Becker; it is the gesture that is important. All societies throughout history have had laws of hospitality. It's a basic need between strangers to show their intentions are peaceful and not hostile. I felt myself getting hot under the collar and purposefully tried to calm my voice. Dr. Becker was more irritating than poison ivy in your underwear. We should present gifts to the aliens. We should also make every effort to show we are unarmed and carry nothing that could be misconstrued as a weapon.

I like the ideas of music and food as gifts. We can present these first and if that is sufficient then we will stop there. If it's not, then we can have a gift of platinum ready. It's often better not to show all your cards, Dr. Stronton interjected. "We'll land on the cylinder adjacent to the first cylinder, the one that our probe landed on. The shuttle is being outfitted with a magnetic grapple to secure it to the alien ship's hull. It will approach from the rear of the ship and pull up alongside it. This is the same basic approach that the probe took. We believe there are fewer sensors to the rear of the alien vessel. From there, Sgt. Klanton will lead the four of you along the ship's outer skin to the command module. There we believe you will find an access hatch similar to the one found by the probe. After you enter the ship, we will probably lose communication with you. After that you will be on your own, until you emerge again.

Private Brunsic will cross over to the first cylinder and attempt to retrieve the probe that vanished inside it. We believe it may have recorded more information while exploring the inside of the cylinder and that could be important, Dr. Stronton continued. Your oxygen supply will limit the amount of time you have, so make the most of it. You will have to return to the shuttle to replenish your oxygen supply.

A lot of our time will be wasted travelling back and forth to the front of the ship. Why not dock on the alien's command module? I asked.

This could be misconstrued as an aggressive action. After you have made contact, Commander Douglas can reposition the shuttle closer to your point of ingress and save you time, Dr. Stronton said.

I noticed Dr. Stronton looked very tired. He must have been up all night going over mission planning with other specialists. I began to wonder when he last slept and for how long.

The mission could take a very long time, I said. How long can we stay?

The shuttle can be outfitted with enough supplies to support you for three months. You and your supplies are the only cargo, he replied.

Dr. Hauptman, Dr. Carter, Dr. Tanakai, and Dr. Becker, if you would follow the gentleman at the door, he will take you to another meeting room where you can begin preparing for the mission. You're going to get a crash course in being an astronaut. You will be joined by the two Marines who will be going with you shortly, Dr. Stronton said, ending the meeting for us.

As we left, Dr. Stronton began going over other details with the remaining people in the meeting room. I wondered how this was going to turn out. A part of me was excited. What kid doesn't dream of being an astronaut and what scientist hasn't wondered what it would be like to meet an alien race? But this felt rushed and haphazard. And why the Marine guard to protect us? That didn't really make sense to me. What could they do? Or was that just a cover? What were their orders? Shit, I just hoped I survived this little expedition and if it all went wrong I hoped it was not because of my screw-up.

On Board

It was a hectic period of training and I only averaged four hours of sleep each night. I thought I could catch up on sleep during the travel to the alien ship. No such luck. Training continued nonstop until the day before we reached the ship. Then Commander Douglas gave us the day off. He wanted us rested for the next part of the mission. The guy was all heart. Actually, he was pretty tightlipped. He was calm and cool, all business. Nothing seemed to rattle him, not even Dr. Becker's irritating manner. I was beginning to wonder if the Commander had any emotions at all. Commander Douglas would be remaining inside the shuttle the whole mission. It was his job to make sure we made it safely to the alien ship and that we had a way home, whether we survived or not. I was beginning to envy him and thought about volunteering to be co-pilot. The more time I had to think about making contact with an alien species, the more things I could see going wrong. After a solid twelve hours of sleep I awoke feeling surprisingly fresh and went in search of bagged nutrition and drink, and also someone to talk to. Fortunately, I found Dr. Carter and Dr. Tanakai. Dr. Becker was still sleeping, and so were the Marines.

Anybody know what time it is? I asked, as I floated in.

Earth time or mission time? asked Dr. Tanakai. He had a heavy Japanese accent.

What time is it in Austin, Texas? I've heard of enough of that T-minus twenty hours stuff, I said.

It's 2:38 p.m. in Texas, said Dr. Carter, looking at her phone.

You brought your phone? I asked.

It has all my apps and functions as a world clock, too, she said with a smile. But I do miss the Internet. If you're going to heat something up, I suggest the pot roast with mashed potatoes and green peas.

I had that yesterday, the green peas were like little raisins, but without flavor, I said, looking through the prepackaged food.

You must have gotten a bad package, mine were delicious, Dr. Carter replied, way too chipper.

The turkey is very good, added Dr. Tanakai.

I decided on the turkey dinner with M&Ms for desert. I wish we had cold beer on this trip.

Dr. Tanakai smiled. I was just wondering how they got the space shuttle Atlantis ready so quickly. I thought it was decommissioned and headed for a static display in some museum.

I was talking to the sergeant earlier. He kinda let it slip that it's not the Atlantis. That was a cover story. I got the feeling that the military was keeping a shuttle of its own under wraps. A secret ship that could be used for their own purposes, probably in case of space warfare, you know, anti-satellite missions or even acquisition of an enemy's satellite. They are probably now hiding the real Atlantis and using it to support the cover story, Dr. Carter said.

A ship built to CIA or military specs? Yeah, that makes sense, I said. Dr. Stronton said the Chinese had assembled the main liquid fuel tank to provide extra propulsion on this trip. They had probably stolen all our plans to build their own anyway. And the solid rocket boosters were just larger versions of the old ones. They are made from stacking discs of fuel.

Makes you wonder what else they didn't tell us, doesn't it? Dr. Carter said.

You can never trust the government completely, added Dr. Tanakai. I think we should keep an eye on our Marine friends.

Commander Douglas came over the intercom then. We will be docking shortly. Wake up the rest of the crew, get them fed and ready. Short and sweet, that was the commander.

The approach to the alien ship was uneventful. The ship was secured with magnetic grapples that could have lifted the shuttle in Earth gravity. As far as we could tell, the aliens had completely ignored us. It was good news, but a little creepy too. We went over our mission plans again and wished each other luck.

We were each outfitted with a jetpack so we could essentially just fly over the surface of the huge alien ship. Our boots had magnetic soles that could be activated when we wanted to walk along the hull or inside the ship. I had noticed there were no rocket nozzles on the outside of the alien ship. That had been a topic of conversation during our mission preparations. Evidently the aliens used a type of propulsion different from anything we knew.

We reached the command module of the alien ship more quickly than I thought possible. We were all very quiet, lost in our own thoughts. It was incredible seeing the size of the ship and the Moon far below with all its craters, nothing but greys and shadows. There's a lack of any color on the Moon and the alien ship's hull was a dark grey. There were large metal supports joining each of the cylinders together. Where they met the cylinders the two pieces flowed together with no visible seam. The mining facility could be seen, with its huge plume of debris shooting into space. We had purposely chosen this side of the ship to land and travel so we would be sheltered from any moon dust or rubble that got into the Moon's orbit. I was surprised that there was none. Then it occurred to me, it wasn't a happy coincidence. The mining facility was throwing the debris clear of the Moon's gravity on purpose, so it would not hit the alien ship or the steady train of buckets that were ascending from the surface. We had no pictures of the belly of the alien ship and I was tempted to take a quick peek, but I stuck to the mission. Besides, I knew there was at least one large laser underneath tasked with protecting the ship from anything it deemed as interfering with its operation.

We had hoped there would be a hatchway on the command module like the one our probe had disappeared into. And sure enough there was. It looked identical. It was not overly large, just large enough for us in our suits to get into. Not enough room for the jetpacks, however. We removed our jetpacks and secured them to the hull with magnets. We also secured a small signal transponder to the hull, hoping it would be able to relay communications to the shuttle after we went inside. Then the sergeant placed a small electromagnet against the hatch. When he activated the magnet, the hatch immediately responded by receding in a few inches and then sliding to the side.

The sergeant went in first and we followed one at a time. I wondered if the hatch might close on me or one of the crew, chopping them in half or at the very least trapping them there and blocking our exit. Fortunately, the hatch remained open and only closed several minutes after we were all inside and clear of the hatchway.

The inside of the ship was unlike anything I had expected. There was no hallway of any kind. We were standing in a large space maybe twenty feet deep from the flat rear hull. The inside was cylindrical, mirroring the outside of the ship. At the end of the open space was machinery. It was huge and filled the inside of the ship. It was not densely packed, but had spaces between its different components. Supports reached across from different points of the machinery to the hull. It was going to be difficult crawling through all the machinery to the forward end of the ship. It was the forward end that was most likely to house the crew and the controls.

Any luck communicating with Commander Douglas on the shuttle? I asked the sergeant.

No. There's no signal reaching the transponder on the outside of the hull. We'll be out of communication until we exit or figure out a way to prop the door open, Sgt. Klanton said.

I don't think we should jack around with the hatch until we know if there's another way out. I would hate to get it jammed half open, half shut, I said.

Agreed, responded the sergeant.

It's a machine. The whole thing is a machine. I knew it. It's just like the probe, unmanned, said Dr. Becker as we spread out, looking into the maze of mechanical parts.

We still don't know that for sure. We have to reach the other end first, I said, but it did look like he might be right.

There are no hallways, no displays, no place that an organism can interface with the machinery. I am telling you, this is a machine, one huge machine, Dr. Becker said.

Over here, said Dr. Carter. We looked up to our two o'clock position on the inside of the hull. Dr. Carter had walked up the side of the hull and was peering into the machinery. It looks like enough space to get through for quite a ways. There are a few obstacles, but not bad.

We should be looking for a power source, a way to pull the plug, while we are traveling to the front, Dr. Becker said. No one responded to him. I thought about telling him that the aliens, if they were present, might be monitoring our transmissions, but the chances seemed pretty small. Then the sergeant spoke up.

Dr. Becker, I would advise you to restrain yourself from making any more remarks concerning any deleterious actions against our host. We're on an open channel and our communications could be misinterpreted. Even by machines, the sergeant said, giving Becker a no-nonsense look. We're on a peaceful mission.

We had to crawl over and under machinery. Worse, there were many places where the machinery had sharp projections that could tear our suits and there was no atmosphere inside this part of the ship. We had to help each other, keeping an eye on any possible damage to our suits. It was taking far too much time. At our current rate we would be halfway through our oxygen before we made it to the forward section of the ship.

The sergeant was leading the way when he gave us the good news. There seems to be an opening along the hull here. I can see to the forward section of the ship.

I managed to crawl up beside him and sure enough there was a small space, just enough for a person to stand up in. It was clear all the way forward. As I was looking forward the sergeant laid against the hull.

What are you doing? I asked.

We don't have much time left. I am going to try pushing off and gliding all the way to the front. If I start to get out of control or drifting into the overhead machinery I will engage my magnets on my boots. They will act like brakes and secure me to the hull, he said.

Sounds risky, there are a lot of sharp edges along the way. You have plenty of clearance if you travel in a straight line, but if you bump the hull and bounce into the machinery or if you just drift too far from the hull, you could be in trouble, I said.

That's why I'm going first, the sergeant said, and with no further conversation he pushed off with his legs and went flying forward. He made it look easy. He flew all the way to the forward bulkhead and caught himself easily, then engaged his boots and stood there waiting for us.

Dr. Becker, you go next, I said. But you see that one piece of machinery that projects down into the space. It's the only real place where we might get caught up. Use your magnetic boots to stop under it and then position yourself on top of it so you can catch anyone that drifts into it.

Bullshit, what if I get electrocuted touching that thing? It looks like a capacitor anyway. You go, he said.

Damn the man. But he did have a point, I hadn't thought of electrocution. There had been flashes of light like sparks within the machinery, but we had never been where we could see them or what they were coming from. Okay, I'll go. Dr. Carter you come next, then you, Dr. Tanakai. Dr. Becker will bring up the rear.

Keep your eye focused on my left knee, don't look around, stay focused. That way you will move straight, said Sgt. Klanton.

I looked at the distance, focused on the sergeant and pushed off. It was like being Superman, without the cape. When the low-hanging projection of machinery passed out of my vision I engaged my boots and came to a screeching halt. I could feel the boots scrape against the hull trying to lock onto it and then I came to an abrupt, jarring stop. I thought my helmet would come off for a second. I stood and looked up. I had only passed the piece of machinery by a few yards. I walked back and reached out to grasp the machinery. Just as I touched it a brilliant blue spark jumped and light flashed all around me. My heart skipped a beat before I realized I was all right. It had just been another electrical discharge somewhere within the massive machine. It had been close by, but it was just a coincidence that it had happened as I touched the object. I suddenly realized I was holding my breath. I took a minute and then climbed up onto the machinery and reoriented myself so I could push anyone away from it if they happened to drift too close. Okay, come ahead, Dr. Carter. I could swear they were all smiling and laughing at me. But they were too far away for me to see inside their helmets and I heard nothing over the communications channel.

All three passed by without incident and I guess I was just being too cautious. I climbed down and started to push off towards the forward bulk when something caught my eye. It looked like a faint seam or a different type of metal on one part of the hull. I stepped onto it with my magnetic boot and nearly lost my balance. It rose and slid aside. It was another hatchway. This one was bigger, at least twice the size of the last one. I stepped off and after a moment it closed again.

Looks like you found our way back, Hauptman, said the sergeant. Good work.

It was harder to push along the hull and get going because I didn't have a good backstop to jump off from like before, but I managed and soon I was standing next to the others.

There was obvious disappointment on everyone's face. I didn't know what to expect at this end, but this was not it. It was just like the other end, about twenty feet of open space between the machinery and the flat bulkhead. But the bulkhead had no hatch. No markings, no symbols, no seams, just a smooth circular surface that we walked all over, examining every inch. Dr. Carter even tried knocking. It was just a whim, but we all held our breath in silly expectation that something would happen and when she knocked again, it was the old shave-and-a-haircut…two-bits knock. That got a laugh out of most of us and broke the tension.

There's no hatch here, Dr. Tanakai announced. This space we are in is the mechanical room. It is much smaller than the total volume of the ship.

The rest of the ship below us is probably just cargo hold, Dr. Becker said.

We don't have much air left, said the sergeant. We can continue here for a while longer, or we can try access from outside.

I don't see any sense in wasting more time in here, I said.

I agree, said Dr. Tanakai. We should spend our remaining time examining the outside of this area. We can go through the hatchway Dr. Hauptman found. The others nodded in agreement, except for Dr. Becker.

We went back down to the hatchway and exited the vessel. It was a short magnetic walk to the front of the ship. The front was rounded slightly, not like an airplane nose,

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