Tidbits from Gary

Hello and welcome to Stories by Baker!

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

First Contact, part 1

"First Contact"

a short story
Gary Baker, March/April 2013
(part 1 of 2)

Acier watched as the alien craft drew near like a god landing from the heavens to visit what it was that had been created long ago. The ship was almost virtually a polygonal tear: half-octagonal in the rear where the engines, though currently off, glimmered with a resplendent turquoise glow, with the front section slowly tapering to a spear-like point.

Just below the tip of the nose rest the ring of thick metallic glass to the main command center, appearing quite like a band of oil with innumerous colors shimmering in the rays of the Earthen sun. By design, this very ring indicated a clear sense of interstellar physics that humanity still had yet to understand.

Acier, a nonhuman living on what the Eartheans called “the Ring”, knew all there was to know of this very science and technology. He knew that the craft was built more like a skyscraper than any ship the humans had devised, that the force of generated gravity caused by such tremendous acceleration needed to propel such a mammoth creation would necessitate floors perpendicular to the course trajectory. He knew that at high velocity the heads of the beings running the craft would be closest to the nose, and that this not only made things easier overall for energy saving uses but also of more quickly-gained “space legs”.

But the Earthean Ring was enormously more peculiar than the creations of Acier's own kind.

Made up of a similarly mammoth number of “crate”-like modules, the Ring encompassed the blue planet much like the discs of Saturn. Each module had originally been used as an orbiting laboratory, but by some spark of insane coincidental genius had developed into homes for those wishing to live in space. As the very idea spread across the human world more were built, hanging over every nation until one seemingly infinite line was borne into a complete circle, which then extended outward toward the stars.

Those higher up wanted the same grand view as those below so much so that by default the farthest from the planet surface became wide enough that a cutout of the Ring would look like a pair of opposing exponential curves with the widest diameter more than one hundred units away from the closest and had been built twenty times wider.

Through unhindered awe of the human engineering Acier watched all from the most grand of these entirely-transparent outer modules, as his Queen's ship drifted ever-closer to a dock built primarily for arriving Earthean supplies. He could feel the energy of the Earthean species rise in anticipation. It was, after all, what they assumed to be their first contact with life from the outer reaches.

“Meister Holvinald,” came the familiar human greeting from behind him. He turned to acknowledge the newcomer's arrival and found the lead Asiatic general of Ring Affairs. Seeing Acier's silent nod the man decked in olive green and black, with the occasional golden tassel on either side of his jacket, relaxed. “It seems your presence has been requested by those aboard the starship.”

He seemed perplexed, annoyed even, at having been subjected to denial of being the given the title of “first human contact” for his race. His brows were set in a broad scowl and his eyes darted over Acier as though looking for something of value to the alien race.

Acier nodded and chose not to attempt a smile this time, as controlling the human facial muscles was much too great a task for his ability to fully comprehend even after all this time. “Danke.”

The general nodded and motioned for Acier to follow.

Moments later Acier was suited up in a thick suit of human armor that was intended to keep the species alive in zero atmosphere, standing almost at the outer supply dock where human ships would normally deposit sediments and minerals from the moon or nearby planets. As such, the bay was wide, left open most of the time, and required pressure suits at all times for anyone not in a transport car. Cranes and pulley-drawn rail cars moved about on either side of the floor to assist in moving mining equipment and deposit crates out of the way.

Men and women indistinguishable in their bright orange glow-suits strode here and there directing the flow of traffic, while others clad in green brought small piles of gifts that were set upon marble tables nearest the landing point.

This,” echoed the general's seemingly skeptical voice through somewhat static-prone comm links, “is where they wish to land.”

Acier wished he could smile in this human body without extreme concentration, for the mere idea that his race would even be able to land elsewhere was more than daft. This one location in the whole Ring network held the largest landing bay, and even that would barely contain the nose of the tear. “Abreisen mich.”

The general startled. “What? Leave you?” He turned to point his visor at Acier and scowled. “You think I'm going to just let you make even one mistake that might cost us this friendship? Not a chance, buddy.”

Acier had to admire the man's determination, though uncouth as it was. “Gedenken. Lessen sie mich miene semmeln.”

At this the man smiled as though it took not a single thought, and nodded. “'Thoughts', right.” He reached a suited hand out and let the rubber palm rest on Acier's shoulder in an expression of human compassion. “Look big guy, I don't know why they want you of all people either. Last I heard you just arrived on the Ring from... what was it, Norway? Germany? Anyways, for a businessman like you, all used to international relations, this oughta be no big deal.” His teeth were bared in a wide grin and Acier almost broke the general's visor right then, still unused to the fact that for humans such behavior was yet another sign of cheer, of good intentions, and not provocation for a fight.

Acier would have to make sure his queen understood this very well before the meeting commenced. If he didn't then when the humans in the area would undoubtedly choose to applaud the “first human contact” with grins on their faces, his race would take it as an act of aggression, and war would ensue over nothing less than bared teeth.

As if on cue, a spotlight snapped on from the tear's nose, aiming around in the open bay until it lit upon the fully-cleared central area. There it focused and became a bar of solid white.

“ Whoa,” the general breathed, “they have beaming technology!”

It wasn't true, Acier knew, so as the general and the others out on the floor gaped through their suit visors Acier strode his way toward the beam. Still the tear drifted ever closer, still the massive ship moved at ever-decreasing speeds akin to an asteroid-sized cargo truck hitting the brakes last minute. 

Except in space true sound was impossible.

By the time the general noticed Acier having left, he was already midway across the bay floor still moving with the haste of a man homesick but weakened by his journey. Then at last the tear reached a complete stop and mechanized crank levers were yanked to shift the docking cranes to hold the nose steady. Equipped with arm-thick rubber pads meant to dampen the inertia of badly designed mining transport ships, the cranes seemed to find their job half-done by the alien ship's own inertia dampening mechanisms.

KZAK MOTUL COMPRIETA, came the sudden echo of Acier's queen through a subspace communications link. Oh and how he longed to see her face to face once again.

He reached the beam and stepped in, completely aware of the numerous humans probably thinking this suicide. Truthfully, however, it was like stepping into a hot bath. His body began feeling regenerated and his mind more fluid in a matter of Earthean seconds. In the beam of light Acier began to disrobe of his human life-suit and let the artificial skin pucker and shrink as moisture was wicked away by the lack of pressure.

Soon his whole human form was as dry as baked clay, a human statue void of color and life, as the humans might see it.

But Acier knew this wasn't the case. To his own eyes, hidden away underneath the artificially-grown human flesh, he tasted the dull tones of grey and alabaster white, he inhaled the deathly sulfuric mist that resided between the membranous cells, and relished the cool sensation of open space once again.

It was then that the general reached the outer edge of the beam. His hesitation emanated from him as much as the putrid smell of his fear, but it was the determination that had Acier second-guessing the coming events. As denuded as he was, to the general Acier would seem to either have committed suicide or have been the first casualty in an interstellar war.

It was the time-adopted human in Acier that cursed the infamous Hollywood for making the man feel this way. Knowing he had very little time, the no-longer-human Acier quickly shook himself into a violent convulsion and let his true self break free of the essentially freeze-dried flesh.

This was why the beam had been set up. If the humans saw this they would think his coming out to be a virtual act of war, much like if a Russian spy were to let himself become known as so in the inner chambers of the British consulate.

The flecks of dead flesh floated outward, toward the edge of the beam, threatening to override all that had been done to keep this peaceful. Acier shot his broad face skyward and into the light source, and snapped out a color signal across the white tendrils crowning his skull. Instantly the light shut off and the bay went completely black in comparison.

Then the doors of the nose opened as the humans set up their own light sources, and several of the alien race slowly began falling to the bay floor around their liaison.

When the general's eyes attributed for the change in light, he stared in complete shock. Before the man stood seven previously unseen beings, bipeddaled with limbs as thin as bars. Their skin was puckered and loose, much like the heads of the many turkey-vultures that Acier had come to see on Earth, yet were toned with a much wider variety of colors.

Acier stepped toward his previous guide and looked at himself in the man's visor. His broad, flat head was back to what it should have been, with opaque tentacle-like tendrils where glimmers of colorful light reflected as though in fiber optic cables. His eyes blinked vertically once more, over primarily black eyes, with pupils glowing chartreuse speckled with green.

“Thank you,” Acier bowed his head to the general, who still stared with his mouth agape under his visor.

There was a long pause while Acier flickered his tendrils to explain to his comrades the many odd ways of the human species, until the general stammered out a rough cough. “Y-you speak English?”

Acier's tendrils wavered cheerily. “Yes, and what you call German, as well as seven others which I have deemed of utmost importance to know.”

Men at the outer rim of the docking bay shifted closer and Acier felt his comrades tense in response. Switching back to his own language, he turned to face the others. “Fear not, friends, these are human ways which even I still barely understand. They are in awe, a human idea for instant worship of the relative nature.” 

The others around him barely contained their unease, proving Acier's coming job to be even more work than he'd expected. Somehow he would have to get his own kind to stay at ease in the presence of a species with completely opposite social norms.

The general stepped back and looked toward the planetary officials in the pressure chambers on one side of the bay. “We should go to them, they haven't enough suits to all come out here.”

Acier nodded over his shoulder. “First let me speak with my Queen.”

“Is she not with you already?”

“No, human,” Acier paused to think of the best way to put it. Finally deciding upon Spanish, he indicated the six others of his kind, “se trata de lo que podrĂ­amos llamar: sus guardaespaldas.”

One good thing about the human technology was that each suit had been installed with an automatic translation device, using standard programs updated at each consulate each and every month.

“Ah,” he nodded back. “Then let me guide these... men?”

“You are... mostly correct.” Acier darted his eyes to Gylar in the rear, striking in her deep maroon-toned skin, and smiled. She, however, was not amused.

The general caught Acier's glance and smiled as well. “Well let me – dare I say it – take you to my leaders.” He let out a loud guffaw of laughter at which Acier's fellows jumped with palms instantly reaching for their heads. The general scowled. “Did I...”

“No, friend,” the liaison mumbled, “you did nothing wrong. It is simply that to us that sound is what most-often precludes a shrill birthing ceremony. Very loud, and very much something my kind do not enjoy.”
As the general nodded and looked around for the German politician, Acier bowed his head and stepped back behind his fellows. "I leave you to care for my comrades, general, for now I must meet with my Queen." The light suddenly struck back on and consumed the sight of him as he vaulted up toward the main guest hatch to his queen's ship.

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