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Forboding the Reign of Stupidity

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M314-P3 Mission Status Update: T164/82/04:

We have advanced further into the M314 solar system, have passed P7 and are approaching P6. The deceleration sails have been deployed and speed decreased to PV1. The T103 mission has shown possible useful resources to be found on several P6 moons. Sensors have been set and a scout probe sent. The research team is also analyzing the unnatural object (UN1) that we encountered at the rims of the solar system. As you know, the discovery of the UN1 is what prompted our automated ship systems to wake us prematurely from stasis. It seems to be some kind of probe, and is believed to originate from P3, so paramount to our mission.

Furthermore, I am currently adapting the P3 tactical approach plan. I await any new data (sensor or otherwise), for consideration by T//12 (preferably sooner) from all departments. As always, diligence is imperative.

Ska, Strategy and Security Department

 

Ska to Science Department: T//04:

H’or, what’s the progress on that possible storage medium of the UN1 that you mentioned? How soon do you think we can read it?

Oesc, Any new sensor data yet on P3? No matter how seemingly unimportant. I feel under informed and it’s quite urgent!

 

Oesc to Ska: T//04:

We sent a scout probe ahead to orbit P5. It is programmed to collect and send data from P5, P4 as well as P3. It will definitely give us a better picture of what we can expect, but it won’t arrive there until T//14. I’m sending you a data sheet with current long range sensor readings, but I’m afraid it will be inconclusive compared to what we already know from the T103 mission.

However, we are currently analyzing the data from P6, and it looks very exciting! I’ll send out a report as soon as we know more. Very interesting news indeed!

 -----

The ship is surprisingly small, considering its inter-stellar purpose and the size of its inhabitants. Smaller, anyway, than the solar sails that are spreading out from the bow. Yes, ship is an accurate description – elongated and sleek. The scientists on board like to joke about the use of aerodynamics in the vacuum of space. They mock those huge, totally impractical windows and the intricate artistic details that are covering the walls – form follows function was not the interior designer’s architectural philosophy. But after centuries of space travel, they have learned of the importance of psychology, of wanting to feel at home, especially with long-term missions like this one. The windows are large for a reason: designed to capture even the most dim light emitted by the surrounding stars. Not that that’s necessary – isn’t that what the photon-chargers are for? The builders even covered the floors in the habitational section with soil from home, as if they could tell the difference from the synthetic one. The sculptured reliefs on the walls are important to stimulate the sensory organs on the limbs of the plant-like crew. Some might argue that using depictions of the home world, Tahw, for some of those carvings wasn’t the best idea – it makes them homesick. Science is cool and all, but what can they find that beats Tahw – green and luscious, vast oceans (not as vast as the ones from their destination though), moderate temperatures, three picturesque moons,...? On the other hand, who signs up for this kind of expedition? Explorers, who get all excited about anything new. Scientists, who can philosophize all day about biological principles, astronomical abnormalities and, I don’t know, the spin of quarks? Oesc, the young scientist responsible for data collection, is definitely one of those. Do they really need (what she likes to call) psychological bullshit to be happy? Well, I guess they didn’t want to take any chances, because happy is what you want in a confined space like that. Sadness smells horrible!

 -----

M314-P6 Report: T164/82/05:

New Info! Important!

Sensors have shown a small object (approximately 2asm) seemingly foreign to the planet’s system. P6 has a large number of moons (up to 62) of various sizes as well as a dense ring system (see report T164/81/53 on P6).

This particular object (now labeled: M314-UN2,) however, is interesting and different for several reasons: Although orbiting the planet, the orientation of that orbit is very different from the other satellites. That is especially irregular considering the small size of the object. Furthermore, the orbit diameter was stable until it suddenly started decreasing and the UN2 finally crashed into the planet (or rather, was swallowed by the gaseous surface).

Preliminary readings show a makeup of a variety of metals, alloys, and other materials that suggest a non-natural source (hence the label as UN). Perhaps most intriguing is that this composition is very resemblant of Object M314-UN1 that had us woken prematurely from stasis (for details of that composition please consult reports T164/81/84-93 on UN1). Moreover (and we’re still analyzing the data on this), there was indication of emissions in form of radio waves coming from the object before it crashed. We can’t determine the direction yet, but the UN1 had a similar transmission device. Unfortunately, we can assume that the UN2 was destroyed. Probes were sent ahead to P6 to see if we can locate any debris, but we are not very optimistic.

A detailed report including data sheets to follow shortly. In any case, this is yet another observation that seems to confirm our theories about P3. I put up for discussion: Should we continue on to P3 right away, or should we first spend some time at P6 to investigate further, as initially planned?

Oesc, Science department, Data Division

 

H’or to Ska: T//05:

You will be glad to hear that we are making headway on the UN1. Like I said last time, we initially thought that the memory device was only meant to store collected data – that the object was some sort of probe. But we are now convinced that at least one of those discs shows images from the source world (that we assume to be M314-P3). We finally figured out the method that they used – more primitive than thought – so it shouldn’t take us much longer to decipher. 2R, 3 at most.

 

T’hem to all departments: T164/82/05:

In light of new information, and a subsequent debate request by the data division, I’m calling in a general meeting for all department heads and other relevant personnel. We will convene in 0.1R in meeting room 2. Please prepare any information that can contribute to the debate.

T’hem, Mission Head

 -----

“Thank you, Oesc, for the update. This indeed sounds very intriguing.” T’hem, let’s call her the boss, reads the room. Well, room is probably the wrong word – it’s a hall, more like. As the fifth largest in the ship, it comfortably fits the seven beings. “Well, some of you aren’t convinced”, she smells doubt. She herself, of course, has learned to suppress emissions. As the seven-limber of the group, she has to remain impartial throughout the debate.

“I don’t know – it just sounds far-fetched. Like we just want to read something into anything.” Ska, ever the skeptic, moves the info pad from one limb to another, but that doesn’t seem to change his conclusions. He sets the pad down next to the other two, and proceeds to align them perfectly.

“Why are you always so cynical?” Oesc was clearly hoping for a different reaction.

“I’m not being cynical. I just don’t want to get our hopes up, just to be disappointed again. Like with S29 or M207 - “

“That was different!”

“How was that different?”

“Well, on S29 we knew they wouldn’t develop – I mean, a non-rotating planet with such a thin habitable belt... of course they hunted the place to death. And the M207 predatory species was aggressive, and showed no signs of interest in sustainability whatsoever. But this one did – and P3 is so similar to our planet. And are you really ignoring the UN1?”

“I think you misunderstand me. I’m not saying there hasn’t been sentient, even highly intelligent development, but a successful predator will inevitably destroy it’s habitat before reaching that level of development.”

“We don’t know that.”

“Well, in our experience anyway. But that’s why we’re here, isn’t it. To find out. I’m just being cautious, pointing out the questions. Are we really sure the UN1 came from P3? And also, there were several sentient species on P3. Yes, admittedly PIS1 were the most advanced. Just saying. And the UN2 you so optimistically already labeled, did it really exist? Sensor readings with so small an object can be deceiving.”

“The data is clear!” Oesc was so excited when the sensor data came in. How can they smother it like that? “You’ll change your mind when you see my detailed report.”

“Maybe. I mean, I hope so.” Ska didn’t mean to quench Oesc’s enthusiasm. He was just playing devil’s advocate. That’s his role. Oesc is young, hasn’t even grown her fifth limb yet. Enthusiasm is her role.

T’hem decides to intervene before the room starts to reek. “Ok, these probabilities have been discussed extensively since the T103 discovery. We can continue on that later, when we know more. Meanwhile, Oesc, you asked to debate whether to continue the trip or to investigate P6. Decision parameters?”

“Well, what it really comes down to is time. Are we willing to lose time on the approach, but be more prepared? How much information are we really hoping to gain from staying? I mean, it was our initial plan to investigate the gas planet moons further. I know that plan was postponed for the return trip after the UN1 surprise. But it might still be worth it.”

“You said you sent a probe? Can’t we just wait for those results before deciding?” Tnsso, storage supervisor, is not the most determined individual. “I mean, depending on that – even if it doesn’t find any debris, it might find some minerals and stuff that we need. We’re not experiencing any significant shortages yet though. So if the probe finds nothing useful, I’d prefer we pass the gas planets and move on to where we know we can fill up. Closer to the star anyway. ...Although I do feel like the water is getting rancid.”

“That’s nonsense! The recycler is state of the art. Perfect filters and negligible net loss. The water is as pure as when we left.” H’or, who leads the research team, takes pride in the scientific and engineering accomplishments of their peoples. He hopes to contribute one day. “By the way, we have almost deciphered the memory storage of the UN1. Not sure we can get it done before we reach P6, but it will definitely give us more insight – more than any debris from a similar object would, anyway.”

“I still don’t get why we can’t just wait for the readings from that probe?” Tnsso is not the smartest one of the group either...

“We have to decide before we reach the probe, because once we go into orbit we will have lost the opportunity to use the planet’s gravity to slingshot us on. That would triple our travel time, even if we then decide to leave again right away. Basic science.” Potav, the elder who pilots their vessel, is consciously trying to emit more annoyance than he really feels. He wants to convey intolerance with ignorance and naiveté, but honestly, he does find it in some way refreshing – almost envies the young for it.

“How much time, exactly, would we lose?” T’hem, who in her wisdom can’t be fooled, would smile if she had a mouth.

“I’d have to calculate the exact amount, but I’d say 63-65R”

“Hmm.. That’s quite a bit. And how long until we reach P6?”

“At current speed, 1.8.R”

“H’or said the research team needs 2-3 – would it pay off to slow down a bit, just to buy them that little more time?” Ska regrets that question the minute he poses it. He has enough background in science to know it’s rarely quite that simple. “Or is that a stupid question?”

“It’s not stupid.” Potav’s scheme worked, maybe too well, “Again, I’d have to calculate that to be sure. But, since the planet moves on, slowing down would change our approach angle, so maybe force us into orbit first. So probably no, it wouldn’t pay off. The real question here is whether it makes a difference. Does whatever that memory storage shows have anything to do with P6. Or are other factors more important?”

T’hem can sense confusion rising among the group – or rather, decisiveness weakening. “Ok, I’d like an opinion from each department, from their point of view. H’or, since Potav asked about the UN1’s relevance – how about you start us off.”

“Well, the fact that an unnatural object in space, albeit primitive, exists, is already proof enough of highly developed intelligent life. The recovered memory data will be testament to that, and is highly anticipated. That it originates from P3 is pretty much a given. But concerning P6, it doesn’t really make a difference. Whatever debris we find of a UN2 will be interesting, but unnecessary to the mission. Honestly I’m torn. As a scientist, my instinct wants to explore every possible detail. I regret not having had a chance to take a closer look at the P7 ring system, and the one from P6 seems to be even more impressive. And some of those moons, the largest one particularly, I definitely want to explore further. What difference does the time loss make? On the other hand, that same scientist in me is impatient to get to P3. Such an important discovery. Potav is correct, other factors are more important. We don’t know how much time we have. We can continue to collect data from sensors and from the probe at our fly-by.”

“Thank you. Tsm, from the medical point of view, what effect would an additional time loss have? After all, that was one reason for changing our plans for the gas planets.”

Tsm, the ship’s doctor, is, as usual, ripped from her thoughts. Well, actually, it just seems that way. She is pensive and quiet, seemingly absent-minded, yet always ready, fully present and alert when necessary. A walking – well, if walking were how they moved – oxymoron. “Yes, the premature waking from stasis had an effect in that we were further from the M314 star. And we lost even more time for the retrieval of the UN1. But now that we are getting closer, that effect is decreasing. Physically speaking, anyway – it’s still there, but not particularly harmful. Psychologically, though, the prolongation of the trip in this darkness is taking its toll. That too is getting better, and new discoveries always help, but at the cost of prolonging even more... my recommendation stands to continue on.”

“Ok. Ska. I’m assuming you would prefer a slower approach?”

“Well, theoretically, yes. The more we know about what to expect, and the more prepared we are, the better. But, we won’t learn much more that’s mission relevant from P6. The memory data from UN1 will soon give us more insight in terms of hostility of the species, and we will still have ample time to come up with a good tactical approach. Let’s assume the worst case scenario, that they are hostile and have detected us already. In that case I don’t want to give them the time to come up with a plan of their own. Even though they are most likely technologically inferior, it is always advisory to be quick yet cautious. And then there is the factor that H’or mentioned – we don’t know how much time we have. It is imperative that we are the first to reach them. A sentient predator would be a powerful ally, and if anyone hostile discovers them, it will be easy to sway them onto that path. We might already be too late to implant a peaceful mindset onto the PIS1. Another thing, are we still planning on slowing down after P5? We can always decide to add time there if we need it.”

“You seem convinced that they are hostile.”

“They’re a predatory species. But, no, that’s just the worst case scenario. A probable one.”

“Like I said, that’s a discussion for another day. In fact, I will call in a meeting after the UN1 is deciphered. But while we’re on the subject, L’bis, you’ve been unusually quiet, should I even ask what you prefer?”

“Yeah, no – I just want to finally see them!” L’bis, the biology expert, is usually quite the chatterbox. That was a lie. They don’t talk. This is all transcribed from other forms of communication (pheromones, tapping...). Duh! On that note, do they even have an optical sense? Maybe I should have written “perceive” rather than “see”. Nah, that would make my job too difficult. After all, you don’t need eyes to see.

“Don’t we all! ...Tnsso, would we be sufficiently stocked for any scenario?”

“Our incredibly efficient filter and otherwise systems are functioning with negligible net loss.” Those conceited scientists think they’re so smug. “But yeah, more light would be great. The photon-chargers are starting to fill up, so we’re ok, but faster would be better. Carbon is also lower, but still plenty. A surplus of 500R for the two-way trip was calculated in, so we should be ok with either way.”

“Good. Potav, any addition to your assessment?”

“I’ll run the exact calculations through the computer, then I can say more. You never know, I might have missed some details to factor in.”

“Knowing you, I doubt that. Oesc, since you prompted the debate... your opinion?”

“So, like I said, we aren’t optimistic about any debris. The UN2 probably disintegrated completely. And, even if not, any information obtainable from the UN2 will be inconsequential. We can also assume that we will find more unnatural objects the closer we get. If they are interested in other planets in their solar system and advanced enough to send a probe all the way to P6 and further, they for sure will have sent others to closer planets. I am willing to bet we’ll find something on P4 – a rocky planet sure to peak their interest. So, objectively speaking, we should continue on. But I personally have a huge interest in that moon that H’or mentioned. The largest one of P6. An atmosphere, signs of water – don’t get me started! But that’s my personal scientific curiosity, and shouldn’t have us deviate from our plans. ...I guess.”

T’hem can sense the disappointment. It’s a difficult decision. “Is that probe you sent also taking samples?”

“Yes.”

“Will it then follow us after it’s done?”

“It will, yes. It probably won’t catch up with us, though, until we’re almost at our destination – that is, assuming we slow down before the asteroid belt as planned. But it is programmed to continuously send updates. Same with the P5 scout probe we sent out. That one we can actually haul back in before that, soon after the fly-by. I’m really looking forward to that data. We should receive the first readings at T//14!” There it is again, that excitement. It’s written all over Oesc’s non-existent face.

That was T’hem’s intention with those questions. She knew the answers beforehand, of course. “Alright, I think I have all the information that I need. I will let you know the final decision in ...1.8, was it? Let me know before that if anything changes. Meeting is adjourned. We will reconvene after the UN1 decipher report. Thank you.”

Chapter Text

The Tahw

Tsm to Tnsso: T//06:

How are the photon-chargers filling up? Any chance we can already increase the rations? Chlorophyll levels of most of the crew are lower than hoped. They’re fine, but now that we’re getting closer to our destination, we really need everyone at full health.

 

Tnsso to Tsm: T//06:

I’d say we can increase rations by 5% for now. That’s the current charging:depletion ratio surplus. I’ll let you know when that gets higher, and we can increase again. If you want, I can send you the levels chart from the last Rs. Maybe you can interpolate from that?

 

Tsm to Tnsso: T//06:

Great! That should cheer everyone up! Yes, send me the charts. I’ll feed that to the computer together with the flight projections. Then I don’t have to ask you every time.

 

Memo from Medical to Crew: T164/82/06:

We can now increase photon session rations by 5%. The charging chambers have been programmed accordingly. We will increase these rations steadily and I urge everyone to take the time to fill up regularly. This includes you workaholics out there – you know who you are! Some of you still have residual effects from stasis – this shouldn’t be the case anymore. You can’t perform at peak efficiency if you’re not at full health. I will also continue to monitor chlorophyll and water levels.

Tsm, Medic Department

 

T’hem to Crew: T164/82/07:

We are proceeding on toward P3, as planned. However, the bridge crew was able to calculate a route that leads us a little closer to P6. It is still a fly-by, but will give our sensors a little more time and precision for any data we want to collect on P6 and its system. This will prolong our trip by 3.4R, since we need to adjust our P5 approach angles, but that delay is a lot shorter than a stop-over would be. I hope that is a good compromise for everyone.

 -----

Did I say the ship is small? Size is a relative concept, isn’t it? In the infinity of the universe everything is a dimensionless dot, and even in the scope of the solar system this vessel is currently travelling in, it is a mere spec. The terrans – like our aliens will later learn to call species M314-P3-PIS1 – would say it’s enormous though. It is, after all, large enough to house a crew of 189 aliens (I’ll call them Tahw, like their home planet – it’s just easier that way) ranging in height from 1.4 to 2.3 times that of an average adult terran. And their numerous, long limbs – branches, covered with sensory organs and glands – need their freedom of movement, after all. The atrium that makes up about 1/5th of the vessel, is the epicenter and main meeting hall, and easily fits everyone. The Tahw function as a herd, so at any time of the day you will find a large number of them bustling about in that atrium. All other rooms are attached from there: The well-equipped labs and offices on the sides, habitational areas on top, recycling and storage at the bottom, the engine in the back, the bridge in the front. Straight forward, really. The layout is efficient – very much in contrast to the interior design.

So, for all purposes, let’s revise, and say that the ship is large. Large enough, in fact, that a terran scientist monitoring Saturn is presently trying to adjust the telescope with one hand while fumbling with the phone with the other, in panic. The good kind of panic – the same kind that has befallen Oesc on that rather large vessel. The kind that made her race to the tech lab next-door, pressing her branches against the walls to propel herself forward.

“You’ve got to see this!”

H’or, who is mesmerized by his own findings, just stretches out a free limb to take the pad. “New data?”

“Long range images from P3. It’s... I.. just take a look.”

H’or moves across the pad with his equivalent of a hand. “Are those... rings?”

“Yup. Actually a whole sphere.”

“P3 only had one satellite.” Ok, so this time Oesc is not exaggerating.

“Yes. So what do you make of it? Unnatural satellites? You know, communication relays – stuff like that? Orbital stations?...”

“Unnatural for sure. This is what Tahw used to look like before the orbital debris cleanup.” If Oesc is already this excited, how will she not explode after H’or reveals his news. “Well, that will definitely help us more accurately hypothesize their stage of development... Along with this!” He beckons her toward the screen in front of him. Well, again, not really a screen. It resembles the page of a Braille book, just more complex, and is surrounded with sensory output relays (whatever that means - their terminology).

Oesc lightens up – not her face, all of her, because that’s what they do, apparently – with anticipation. “Did you - finally?”

“Yes. Yes we did.” H’or is shining almost as brightly, and rather untypically. Now both of them are mesmerized, and totally oblivious to the scenery outside the window behind them. P6 – Saturn – in all its glory.

 -----

M314-UN1 Update: T164/82/08:

Important Update! Please read!

We have finally been able to decipher and display all the data from the UN1! It is definitely a game-changer. It includes visual and sound files. The visuals display various two-dimensional images of the M314 solar system and the planet that we can now confirm is P3, as well as images of the PIS1 themselves interacting with their environment, and depictions of their anatomy. This leads us to the assumption that they wanted to introduce themselves. They want to be found.

There are two types of sound files. Some of them are clearly their form of communication, not unlike what was recorded by the T103 mission. It seems to be variations of the same message. That is currently being analyzed by our linguists and decoders, but we assume it’s some form of greeting. The other sound records include sounds not only generated by them, but also using some kind of tools. There is a definite mathematical structure to those sound successions. This suggest an attempt at communication, similar to our long distance tapping codes, but the various tracks seem unrelated to each other. We’re still trying to make sense of it.

We are attaching the decoded files to this update. We urge everyone to take a look. Also attached are new long range images from P3. They clearly show numerous unnatural satellites, and possibly orbital debris, surrounding the planet. This, along with the UN1 (and UN2) finds, would place the PIS1 (perhaps we should relabel them as IS1?) at a Level 1-2 space exploration stage of development.

We suggest, as T’hem proposed, an urgent meeting to discuss the consequences of these new revelations.

H’or, Science Department, Research Division

 

T’hem to all Departments: T164/82/08:

As proposed, I am calling in a meeting for science (all divisions), medical and tactical departments (heads and relevant personnel), to discuss the UN1 data. We will convene in 0.1R, meeting room 2.

T’hem, Mission Head

 -----

“One at a time please!” The atrium has comm-rods installed throughout the entire floor. They’re hollow pipes, and when tapped at the front stage, the whole room vibrates. It’s the best way to get everyone’s attention at general gatherings, to cut through the cacophony of emissions. T’hem is seriously considering having those rods installed here in meeting room 2 as well. “I don’t know if the ventilation can take all of you talking at once.” She waits for the room to quiet down (well, ‘quiet’ and ‘cacophony’ and “talking” really aren’t the right words for soundless communication, but you know what I mean...). “Ok, so, we’ve all read the update and looked at the files. Let’s hear your interpretations. L’bis, how can we compare what we already knew from the T103 mission to now? Do you agree with H’or’s assessment, in terms of development?”

“So, just to reiterate: When we last visited P3, species PIS1 was just developing out of a level 5 tool user into level 1 agricultural stage. Since they were spread widely throughout the planet, we found a variety of conditions. What they all had in common was that they lived in packs with an apparent complex social structure, could harness fire and construct elaborate tools. Some lived in caves, and like most dominant predators, would use up the resources and then move on to a new area. But some built more permanent housing structures, and showed early forms of agriculture. This more sustainable use of resources is a sign of a high intelligence that is not purely instinct based, and what made us curious, and, well, prompt this recon mission. This is the first time we’ve seen this type of behavior in any potentially sentient predators that we have encountered. We weren’t disappointed!”

“Apparently. Seems fast though. I mean, most predictions had them at an early industrial stage, right?”

“It seems fast, yes. But it’s difficult to predict, because their itinerary would be so different from ours. Our development was driven out of a defensive necessity. There are species like that also on P3, mostly animals though (strangely enough), it would be interesting to see how they developed. If they even survived. That’s the thing – the PIS1 were so successful as predators, that most predictions had them extinct before even reaching industrial age, because they would strip their habitat – like we have seen on other planets.”

“Why do you suppose that isn’t the case here?”

“Well, like I said, they were intelligent enough to understand the necessity of a more sustainable food source other than just hunting and gathering. And, since they’re omnivores, they can select from a large variety, and thus allow their prey to recover regularly. In general, they are highly adaptable – which is, of course, a prerequisite of a successful species. This meant that, despite the large temperature fluctuations of their planet (ranging from 230 to 320AZ), they were still able to spread widely. That said, that doesn’t mean that they can’t still destroy their planet, and themselves. We don’t know how many they are, and how well they are managing their waste. I mean, if they’ve now gone through all industrial stages, it’s probable that they encountered similar problems than we did at that time. And whatever is surrounding P3 could very well be waste.”

“H’or, is that what you meant with orbital debris?”

“I was telling Oesc earlier, it reminded me of the famous orbital debris cleanup on our planet. We had hundreds of satellites surrounding Tahw, for communication, research and otherwise. After we developed more efficient methods, all these were rendered useless – and now the two relay stations on the ports, and the three on the moons are sufficient. But all those old satellites were still there as debris. It took decades to clean that up. Now, we don’t know at what stage the PIS1 are exactly. The UN1 is quite primitive, but, as far away from P3 as it was, it was probably shot up quite a while ago. And they seem to be developing very quickly. So those are definitely some sort of satellites, but we don’t know if they are all still in use. Maybe there are even orbital stations there. We have no idea whether they themselves have already been off their planet, or just sent objects. But are you suggesting is that they also sent their trash out, L’bis?”

“It’s a possibility. But it wouldn’t really make sense to keep it in orbit. I don’t know.”

“I have another question. L’bis, you said we don’t know how many they are.” Tsm has been following her own trail of thought, “I’ve been studying the anatomical schematics that they sent, and they answer several questions that I had, but not about population size. Historically, we ran into huge problems at quite an early stage of development, and had to quickly find ways to manage reproduction. Anatomically, their method of reproduction isn’t nearly as efficient as ours. Could they still have run into similar issues?”

“It seems less efficient, yes, but their reproduction isn’t seasonal. Meaning that they can have offspring any time. This is very surprising, since, because of the large axial tilt and slow revolution around the M314 star, the seasons on P3 are quite distinct. Most species on P3 therefore reproduce seasonally. Not the PIS1. They are so adaptable, that apparently this isn’t an issue. So, with offspring and food (as omnivores) all year, we can assume that the population is very large, and probably dominating the planet.” L’bis graduated from Tahw Main Biotech University with the thesis titled: ‘Can a planet ecosystem survive an intelligent predator, a M314-PIS1 case study’. So how can she now contribute to this discussion without completely nerding it out, and boring everyone in the process? She can’t, really. Someone should stop her. “But the higher the population, the higher the risk of harvesting the ecosystem to death – adaptable or not. They must have introduced some form of reproduction control. And they probably killed off many other predatory species – less intelligent competition – along the way...”

“Because we’re on that subject,” Ska is the one to break her flow. Thank God (or whatever entity they believe in). “Is it possible that the UN1 message is some form of bait? I know it’s far fetched and unlikely, but I want to be able to rule this possibility out.”

“What do you mean?” Oesc, in her youthful naiveté, is somewhat confused, “That they sent out a probe for the tiniest of possibilities to lure potential prey to their planet? Doesn’t seem practical.”

“I said it’s improbable. Just saying, imagine you’re in the mindset of a predator. You have almost exhausted all the resources of your environment, you try to set all sorts of traps, even if it’s probably in vain. It would only be one of many possibilities. You know – while they’re already at it, sending out a research probe anyway, why not also rig it with bait...?”

“That would be extremely stupid of them.” H’or really likes Ska, and appreciates his analytical thinking, but he really needs to open up to new ideas, “It’s already a risk to let themselves known. They don’t know who’s out there. They can’t know just how common or rare intelligent life is – we don’t even, really. They can’t know if whoever finds them is hostile or not. They can assume, however, that whoever has the technology to actually visit them must be on a higher stage of development, with superior technology, and is therefore more likely to destroy them than to fall prey.”

“And if they are pretending to be less developed?”

“Even more unlikely. It’s already quite a surprise how far they’ve come in such a short period of time.”

“That makes sense. Again, just wanting to rule out every possibility.”

“I know. And you’re right, they might be hostile, but not really a danger to us.”

“How hostile can a species be without destroying themselves, though?” Oesc, like many young adults, is afraid of losing her idealism if she would allow optimism to falter, “Think about it. A hostile predator can’t be successful for long, No matter how cunning and adaptable, they would inevitably destroy themselves. So the fact that they even still exist means that they can’t be too bad. In fact, that’s probably why they risked sending out that probe, because they assume that anyone intelligent enough to reach space travel would be a scientist, an explorer, rather than a conqueror.”

“I think we’ve covered the subject sufficiently for now.” T’hem, like Potav, is amused by the young, and their adorable naive notions. But they have more to discuss, “To get back to the UN1 – the message wasn’t its only purpose. Primarily, if I understood correctly, it’s a research probe. Was it still sending data to P3?”

“That’s unclear. It was obviously sent out a long time ago, and wasn’t functioning fully anymore.” H’or hates it when he can’t give definite answers, “Some transmissions seem to be going out, but we don’t know if they are actually being received.”

“I hate to be that guy again,” Ska is almost embarrassed, “What can I say, it’s my job. But if it is sending data back to P3, wouldn’t that mean that they then will find out about us now? Or am I right to assume that we would reach them way before that information does? Just want to make sure.”

“Yes, we will definitely reach them before that data does.” H’or isn’t unsympathetic to concern either, “But that’s not to say that they won’t detect us soon anyway – if they haven’t already. We will have to make contact with them, officially, I mean.”

T’hem can tell how that fact is clearly sinking in on everyone. “Yes, it’s inevitable. This is no longer just a recon mission. We’ll have to advance first contact. H’or, do you think we can figure out a way to communicate with them using those sound files?”

“I think so. It’s definitely their form of communication. We are certain that the purely vocal ones are a greeting in several languages. Some are very similar in structure and sound, some seem very different. Apparently they don’t use one universal language yet. That’s what’s different with those instrumental sound successions. They seem mathematical, and it makes sense to use mathematics to communicate with an outside word, precisely because it’s a universal language. But it’s too complex to use as a coherent message. And each track seems to have a different structure. Oesc has a theory though, right?”

“Yeah. Uhm.” Oesc is embarrassed. It was just a thought she had shared, “Well, we have those other greeting sound files, so why confuse us with these non-vocal ones? I was discussing this with my friend C’ce, from the decoding team. We were thinking that they could be something cultural. A form of art – you know, like our tapping poems – they are trying to introduce themselves with the images, so maybe they also want to introduce their culture with those sounds. It’s not my area of expertise, but does it make sense?”

T’hem remembers now why she chose this scientist despite her youth to join their team. “Yes, it makes a lot of sense. When we developed our tapping for long range communication, we used mathematical sequences. That’s why mathematicians make the best poems. Why wouldn’t the PIS1 also use mathematics in their own culture? Are you a poet yourself, Oesc?”

“I try to be.” Now she’s even more embarrassed, “That’s why we made that connection. Even though the basis is math, it doesn’t mean that all poems are calculated. Most happen purely through intuition. These sound files reminded me of that – mathematical, yet seemingly erratic.”

“Hmm.. L’bis —“

“Way ahead of you. I’ll look up if there were any signs of sound art in the T103 files.”

“Ok. Ska, you’re working on a tactical approach plan?”

“Yes. We’ll probably have to adapt again when we reach P4, though. Should I include a first contact plan then as well?”

“Yes, please, a preliminary one. We can’t really plan it out in detail before we see how they react to us. Tsm, let me know if those anatomical charts tell us something new that’s useful.” This meeting was longer than usual, way too long. T’hem is tired, and I managed to bore myself... “We’ll reach P5 soon. Let’s see what we find there.”

Chapter Text

Potav

Memo from Medical to Crew: T164/82/13:

I have had several patients come in complaining of un-seasonal shedding or blooming. As I have told you at the onset of our trip AND after waking from stasis, it is a typical side effect of long distance space travel and stasis that our seasonal metabolisms are out of sync. It is therefore COMPLETELY NORMAL that some of us are at a different seasonal state than others, and absolutely NO REASON TO WORRY!

This said, please take into account that some of you might be at a procreational phase, even though you shouldn’t be! So any couples, PLEASE BE CAREFUL!! We already have two seedlings! I am setting up a nursery in Med Room 3. But we only have limited space and nutrient growth soil. So again, PLEASE have your fertility status checked if you aren’t sure!

Thank you!

Tsm, Medical Department

 

Oesc to Ska: T//14:

Our scout probe has reached P5 and is sending data. From what we can tell, there might be an unnatural object orbiting P5 (we are labeling it UN3), but other than that, there isn’t much different from what we’ve already seen from the T103 mission. Interesting though (I, personally, have an eye set for the 4th largest moon).

But, we are getting first data from P4, and we definitely detected several what appear to unnatural objects in orbit and on the surface. It’s not surprising, and it would make sense that the PIS1 are interested in that planet. Anyway, we’re just getting the images as we speak, and are still analyzing, but it’s very exciting! Since P4 is quite close to P3, those objects will be able to tell us much more about the current development of the species!

And! At T//16 (as programmed, and about the same time we arrive at P5), it will be directing its attention toward P3. So – H’or will update you when we know more.

 

Tsm to Tnsso: T//14:

As you might have read, I am setting up a nursery. I need the prepared nursery package from storage. It should contain the following:

  • Growth soil
  • Containment barriers
  • Incubation lamps
  • Nutrient mixtures H2O 3-6
  • Nutrient mixtures SOIL 2-8
  • Soil tilling tool
  • Infantile venom neutralizer kit
  • Various sensory toys

I’m sending someone down to get it. Please check if the package is complete. (I didn’t prepare them myself, so...) If not, please provide any missing content.

Thanks!

 

M314-P3, Tactical Approach Plan Summary – Revision 3: T164/82/14:

Points 1-2: Passed and executed as planned.

Point 3: We should stick to our original plan of a gravitational fly by of P5. There are some objects of interest for our scientists at P5 and its system. As I was just informed, one unnatural object (UN3) is orbiting the planet and could be of strategic interest. However, the probe and our sensors should give us enough information on a fly-by, and we can, as planned, still visit P5 later in the mission, for more in depth exploration.

Point 4: It remains that we slow down after clearing the asteroid belt, and that we make a stop-over at P4. The original plan was to hide behind P4 to avoid detection. However, since the PIS1 seem to be more advanced than predicted, we must assume that we will soon be detected (possibly already have been). In that case, hiding behind the planet could be interpreted as a hostile maneuver. In this case, it is better to orbit the planet. That way our intent should be clearer to them. The stop-over (in some form or other) is necessary, though, not only for scientific purposes. At P4 we are close enough to P3 to get a much clearer picture of what to expect. Also, as the science department informed me, the probe might have detected several unnatural objects at P4. Due to the proximity to P3, they should give us as a better understanding of the current PIS1 stage of technological development, and of their level of hostility vs. scientific endeavors. Thus, we can adapt our further approach accordingly.

Point 5: We have to rethink the idea to send scout probes ahead to P3. On one hand, it’s necessary, but on the other, we don’t know how this will be interpreted. My advice is to go ahead to send, but only one probe into orbit (nothing to the surface yet). Their reaction will facilitate our speculations. However, we should be aware of the fact that this probe now serves not only for data collection, but also as a first contact tool, and should be programmed accordingly.

Points 6-8: Since our mission now advanced prematurely from purely recon to first contact, these points will instead be treated in the separate first-contact plan. A first draft of that plan will follow shortly, and will also be adapted after we reach P4.

For more details (time frames, route details, species analysis, etc...) please consult the attached charts.

Ska, Strategy and Security Department

 -----

The bridge seems more spacious than usual, maybe because T’hem isn’t there, or maybe because this time Potav, the large pilot, isn’t spreading all of his six long limbs everywhere. Three of them are moving over the over-sized view screen in front of him. It is depicting the image that we would see outside the window, if we were there. It’s P5, Jupiter, spot, moons, and all. Obviously, one branch is enough to observe the screen, but Potav is using all possible senses, in hope to feel the enthusiasm that he knows he should. Two limbs are performing the remedial task of navigating the gravitational fly-by, and one is emitting snappy orders to his bridge crew.

Ska, who has just entered through the archway in the back, always marvels at multi-tasking abilities. His sixth branch isn’t fully developed yet, and all it’s useful for is balance and movement. He sometimes wonders if he will ever be able to do more than five things at once (well, that aren’t instinctual). At least he finally isn’t unevenly limbed anymore. “Is that P5?”

“Yes, we’re passing right now.” Potav lifts one ‘hand’ off the screen, just to put it right back.

“I hope I’m not coming at a bad time?”

“Ska, you’re always welcome.” Now he does turn toward the entrance, even tries to glow a little. “The fly-by maneuver is set. I’m just taking a closer look at that planet. I once wrote a paper on the gravitational effects of gas planets on flight patterns. Not the most interesting topic. So many parameters. Materials, density, moons, proximity to the star and other objects, etcetera. At university they made us calculate all that by hand, as if there were no computers for that.” Why is this making him nostalgic? “Anyway, what can I do for you?”

“I’d like to see the current flight charts. And I was wondering if you’re expecting to encounter any issues navigating the asteroid field.” He could have said that he needed to get out, off his station and stretch his limbs, that he needed to think, that he needed to gather his thoughts... but instead he just decided to ask for pointless data that he could have just had sent – no idea why.

“Should be no problem. It isn’t very dense at all. Even if we’d fly through blindly, the chance of getting hit is minimal. The sails might be vulnerable to larger debris, but that’s easily detected in advance, and we are going to pull them in anyway when we slow down. I can send the flight charts to your station, if you like. They changed a little after we altered the P6 fly-by.”

“That’s what I thought. Just being thorough.”

“As usual.” Potav likes to tease Ska about it, because he can sooo relate.

“Right back at you!” Ska lightens up for a second, but then remembers the task ahead – the first-contact report. He needs more info! “Have you heard from the science department yet? They should be receiving first images of P3 from the P5 probe.”

“I think they’re busy right now running the ship sensors on P5.”

“Probably.” Ska is done here, but somehow still lurks at the entrance. “Where’s T’hem?”

“Making the rounds. The crew is getting nervous.”

“Yeah: I smelled that.”

Potav suddenly straightens up and changes the image on his screen. It’s now depicting normal space. One of the shiny dots in the background is probably P3 – Earth - since that’s the direction the camera is pointing, but it’s still too far away to really distinguish from distant stars. Mathematical data is moving across the surface. “Ska, what do you make of this?”

Ska moves closer and reads with his dominant branch. “Are those photon levels?”

“Photon emissions, coming from P3.”

“Seems high. Are you assuming cities? Wouldn’t be a surprise. And we are looking toward the night side of the planet, right?” Wait, why is it a shiny dot then? Maybe I should abandon trying to make this story scientifically sound...

“Yes, but that’s not what I mean. This is the reading from earlier.” Potav expertly moves the data around the screen, “And this is now. It suddenly increased. Minimally, but still... and it seems like several focused beams – not just diffused static, like earlier.”

Realization strikes Ska, “You think they detected us, and are taking a closer look!”

“With transmission spikes like that, yes.” Potav pulls himself closer to the comm panel.

 -----

Potav to Science Department: T//16:

Did you guys detect this as well? Am I interpreting this correctly if I think they found us? Please analyze!

 

H’or to Potav: T//16:

Yes, we saw that! Oesc is on it. Your assumption seems to be correct. We also have some more details on the ship sensor data on P5, and new, very interesting images from the scout probe on P4 and P3. That probe is now following us (using our traction trail), and we will haul it in while we’re orbiting P4. It took some samples from some of the P5 moons that we’d like to analyze. Same with the P6 probe, that should reach us soon after.

I’m writing up a requested report right now for Ska, and I’ll put you, T’hem, and all department heads in copy.

 

T’hem to Crew: T164/82/17:

As you have presumably all heard, our mission has now changed from recon to first contact. I am therefore calling in a general assembly, in the Atrium at T//20. Attendance is mandatory so everyone can be put up to date! We will also be re-assigning and re-structuring shifts. Please be punctual!

T’hem, Mission Head

 

M314-P3 Update: T164/ 82/18:

P5: The P5 scout probe, as well as the ship’s sensors, were able to collect numerous information from the planet and its many moons. I have attached the data sheets below. In summary, most of our observations are coherent with the T103 mission. One development is a large storm on P5 (that wasn’t there last time) that is quite impressive and gives the planet a unique appearance. Another interesting observation that the T103 mission seemed to have missed is evidence of tectonics between ice layers on the 4th moon. This has scientific implications that we will be analyzing. The most interesting find, though, in an unnatural object (now: UN3) orbiting the planet. It is definitely of the same origin as the UN1 and of similar construct, yet a little more sophisticated (lighter materials, more efficient propulsion systems) – as far as we can tell. It also still seems to be fully functioning, periodically sending transmissions towards P3. This is why we didn’t go near it with the probe. The PIS1 should understand that we have no intention of disturbing their scientific endeavors.

P4: The scout probe had already detected at least five unnatural objects on the surface of P4 and six orbiting. We are currently directing the ship sensors toward P4, and they actually confirmed fourteen objects in orbit and nine on the surface (as well as some additional debris), two of which seem to be mobile. Since we are stopping by at P4, we will be able to investigate these objects up close – hopefully with a landing party. We can give you a complete analysis then.

P3: As we have written earlier, our long range sensors also detected a very large number of unnatural satellites around P3. The probe sensors confirm that. The majority of these objects are planet-stationary, which suggests that they function as relays (example: for communication). Some objects orbit P3, though. That can serve various purposes (example: weather monitoring). One of these orbiting objects is significantly larger than the others. It could be an orbital station. It would be a very small station (even for the PIS1), and probably has no artificial gravity, but it is possible, and would mean that they are entering the level two space exploration stage. Our long range sensors are examining the P3 moon to find evidence of that. It would make sense that this would be the first place they would try to travel to. It seems logical that they’ve already visited their moon since they apparently already have their eyes set on P4.

We don’t have too much information of the P3 surface yet. As expected, the continents have shifted due to tectonics and climate phases. We can actually see the shape of these continents very well because of a high density of artificial light on the land masses. This suggests large cities, and that, as predicted, the sentient life form is dominating the planet. We can’t yet tell exactly what effect that has on the ecosystem, but we do detect changes in the atmosphere, especially around the poles. More to follow...

H’or, Science Department

 

T’hem to Department Heads: T//18:

Please inform me of any changes you might need for the duty roster or shift frequencies before the general assembly, for consideration. Also, please prepare any statements or announcements that you didn’t already send out as a memo.

Thank you.

 

Chapter Text

The atrium is slowly filling up. Actually, no, that doesn’t make sense. The crew is excited and nervous and curious – they would rush in, right? I guess it just seems slow to us, because their movements look sluggish and deliberate. They are plants, after all. Evolution gave them the ability to use hydraulics for locomotion, but pumping water through the body is just slower than flexing muscles. There are athletes on Tahw that have perfected the method, and can match the speed of an average Terran. But these here on our vessel are all scientists – they chose to train their minds instead. Yes, some of them do find the challenge of controlling the body intriguing, but they usually go for multi-tasking rather than for speed. Speed is a waste of time. Efficiency is the answer – and totally not an excuse for laziness.

It takes T’hem three knocks on those vibrating tubes to get everyone’s attention. But she is patient. She has to be. Patient, and not someone of many words. “Ok, everyone, listen up! I’ve spoken to most of you already, but I feel that some of you are still nervous and have many questions about the new nature of our mission. So I’m asking the departments to put you all up to date. Potav, do you want to start?”

“Sure.” Potav is equally concise. Must be an age thing. “We just passed the asteroid belt without any incidents, and are approaching P4. We will be orbiting the planet to conduct research there, and to plan our P3 approach. How long exactly we will stay there is open, but the plan right now is to continue on before T//29. Ska, do you want to take it from here?”

Ska does something akin to a sigh. He clearly prefers writing reports to addressing large crowds. His old friend knows that. What a traitor! “So – you might be wondering why we will be orbiting rather than hiding behind P4, like initially planned. Well, we have reason to believe that we have already been detected by the PIS1.” The hall fills with chatter – i.e. the air turns murky. Potav inconspicuously presses a button on the ventilation panel behind him and sends Ska the equivalent of a smile. That move only slightly redeems the betrayal. “It’s not surprising. At their level of development it was only a matter of time that they would see us. Inevitable. So, anyway, we decided that hiding behind the neighboring planet might be interpreted as hostile. Whereas orbiting would show them that we are explorers rather than conquerors. From P4 we can monitor P3, send probes, see how they react. I have drafted a preliminary first contact plan, that we will adapt accordingly. I will post it for reference after this assembly. Uhm... In short, the current assumption is that the PIS1 are curious and intelligent enough to not react to us with hostility, despite being a predatory (and therefore territorial) species. The question now is how do we attempt to communicate? I’ll pass that on to our research team.” There you go – passed the torch!

H’or won’t take it though. “L’bis, I’d say our findings fall more into your field. Maybe a quick summary about the PIS1?”

L’bis was just waiting in her tracks, “Yes! Like Ska said, we know that the PIS1 is a predatory species. We also know that, despite being highly successful, they were somehow able to maintain their habitat and survive until now. This is due to their intelligence and adaptability, as well as the omnivorous diet.” She swallows her dwelling-on-the-subject nerd instinct, with difficulty, “If you want any details, I’ll gladly... well.. uhm... Anyway, recent images show that they are indeed dominating the planet. Sadly, but not unsurprisingly, there is also evidence of pollution and alterations in the atmosphere, so they are battling with sustainability. Whether that is out of ignorance or just because they couldn’t sufficiently manage population size is unknown. As for communication, H’or, I think...” She could go on, and on, and on, but she did get the hint.

That caught H’or completely off guard. “Communication... yes, so we are lucky to have found the UN1 with their recordings. We were able to conclude that a whole group of those sound files are variations of some form of greeting. So they aren’t using one universal language, despite their high population density. We’re guessing that’s due to the territorial behavior of a predator that Ska mentioned. Still, one language is probably dominant and used for globe-wide communication. In any case, all these files (sound files and images) will help us to decipher whatever messages they send us. We’re quite confident, anyway.” He gestures toward C’ce, who is feigning introversion by unsuccessfully hiding behind the even shorter Oesc, “Our immediate concern right now, though, is P4. We plan to send a landing party to the surface to investigate the planet and UN4 to 13, the unnatural objects we found there. I will post the landing party details on the science department info board.”

“Ok, thanks.” T’hem wants to keep the assembly brief, “Will you need some additional crew in the labs?”

“We’re re-assigning within the department. The workload is increasing, so we’ll be moving shifts around to accommodate. We might need more people later, but for now we’re set.”

“Alright. Any other announcements?”

Tsm cuts through the murmur. “ Yes, I just want to take the opportunity to remind everyone to come to their second check-up. I know it’s annoying, but the long-term effects of stasis and long-distance travel can be severe and so easily avoided. Also, please read my memos! We have a third seedling now. This is a research vessel and not a family planning facility! We have provisions for offspring, because apparently it’s kind of inevitable, but these provisions are limited, so please have your fertility status checked!”

T’hem used to be like Tsm - seemingly introverted, yet a beacon of passive-aggressive sarcasm. It’s a sign of intelligence, and really not meant as accusatory as it sounds. Secretly, T’hem still applauds this form of venting frustration, but publically she goes for a more harmonious approach. So, as a conciliatory gesture, she stretches one limb out to an embarrassed looking parent that is cradling an incubation pot. “I was asked earlier why you’re setting up the nursery in the med room, and not somewhere in the habitational section.”

“Med room 3 was always designated for the nursery because it has an enhanced ventilation system – and believe me, that is necessary!”

“Ok.” T’hem did pick her crew well, but their attention-span is abysmal. At least today it is. Everyone is shifting around, conversing excitedly rather than listening. Well, at least they’re enthusiastic about the mission. “I hope everything is clear. Let us know if you have any questions. Otherwise – back to your stations, everyone.”

 -----

M314-P3 First Contact Plan (Summary): T164/82/20:

Since we have little precedent for this kind of situation, we can only speculate, react, and adapt our plans continuously. So this can only be a preliminary plan. We have to take into account the following parameters:

Species type: Animal, Predatory (territorial and hierarchical social structure?)

Stage of technological development: Level 1-2 space exploration

Form of communication: Sounds, written symbols, images, gestures?

Level of hostility: Unknown. A high level of scientific curiosity, evidence of cultural activity, and attempts at a sustainable use of resources suggest a dominance of intelligence over predatory instinct – but not an eradication, as evidenced by signs of pollution, excessive population density, and the use of more than one universal language.

Transmission technology: Photon and Sound waves

Planet properties (needed in case of landing visit): Atmosphere (Nitrogen/Oxygen), Gravity (approx. 1.4x that on Tahw), Temperature (varying, choose landing spot accordingly)

Other planet species: current status unknown

Dangers from us: Potentially (to them) poisonous emissions, introduction of foreign pathogens

Mission time frame: To be determined

Itinerary: We will continue our extensive sensor sweeps of P3 with our long range sensors. In addition we will be sending a scout probe ahead to orbit P3. It will give us more precise data and at the same time can act as a first contact tool. The PIS1 will probably be able to tell that the probe is scanning their planet, and will react in some way. The nature of this reaction will help us determine the next step. We assume it will be a mixture of curiosity and fear, but we doubt they will try shooting it down. They might try to collect it, to study it further, but we don’t know how easy that is for them in their current technological stage. In any case, they already seem to know that we are coming, and this will be a confirmation to them.

At some point they will contact us in some way. The most logical thing for them is to start by sending mathematical signals, so we should watch for that. The question is at what point we should contact them. Should we wait for them, or should we send a greeting along with the scout probe? I recommend we signal them soon, because sending a probe without explanation may, again, seem hostile. We could, at first, send the greeting from the UN1 back to them. It might seem wrong, because these sounds are an introduction and not a simple hello, but that way we let them know that we have found the UN1.

We can then communicate back and forth using images - equate images of objects to symbols, which, if they are smart, they will do similarly – and so decipher their language. We can also, with time, teach them our tapping language. They should be intelligent enough to be able to decode it using mathematics, but learning each other’s written symbols is quickest and easiest. As for our emission language, we have to be very careful with that, because some of our pheromones could be venomous to them. We have no way of determining that right now. Again, this is also something we need to consider should we decide to meet them personally.

But that is getting way ahead, and to be determined later. For now, we have to decide whether to send a greeting with the scout probe, to see what their next step is, and to react accordingly. We also have to see what our findings on P4 tell us, and to determine how long we want to stay there. I would like to already have made contact with the PIS1 in some form or other before we arrive at P3, just to make the situation more transitional for everyone involved. Like I said, we will have to adapt and react continuously – not everything is predictable.

Ska, Strategy and Security Department

 

H’or to Landing Party: T//21:

We have arrived at P4 and have determined the exact positions of UN4-13. Landing shuttle 1 is currently being loaded with all needed equipment and the adapted surface cruiser. Be aware that we will have to work quickly, since the planet is subject to heavy storms that we would rather not be caught in. So be punctual. We will leave at T//22. If you need to bring any additional equipment, please submit the specifications before that.

Thank you.

 -----

Red dust swirls up around the shuttle as it lands. I know, it’s a cliché image, but it’s accurate. The shuttle slithers forward a bit, before the landing clamps take. Inside, H’or is a little surprised, “Did we make a mistake calculating the gravity?”

“No, we were a little too fast. The breaking shutes were deployed a second too late. It happens – I’ll just need to recalibrate the electronics. No worries. I’ll work on it while you’re out.” The shuttle pilot doesn’t seem fazed at all. He presses the button that reels those shutes back in. They aren’t shutes like we terrans would know them, soft and textile, they’re hard plates that are now elegantly folding into a slit at the back of the shuttle.

“Alright. And keep an eye on the sensors.” H’or slips into the cruiser in the back, where the rest of the landing party has already assembled. “Ok, team. We’ll be going to the UN6 first. It seems to be inoperable – not sending any transmissions or doing anything, really. We’ll see if it crashed, fell victim to a storm, or just stopped working after a while. We’ll do the same with UN7 to 13. UN4 and 5 still seem to be working, so we will be approaching them last, with more caution. We don’t want to damage them. Remember, all these objects have scientific significance for the PIS1, and we don’t want to interfere with that. So, if we’re all set, let’s go.”

The cruiser is a bulky vehicle, and yet way more maneuverable than the larger but slimmer looking shuttle. It’s a matter of purpose, really. The shuttle has to fly through space at high speeds, the cruiser has to move over uneven terrain. But before I get boring with the obvious... Some type of hovering technology ensures a smooth ride despite the rocky surface. Let me rephrase that: it would ensure a smooth ride, had H’or not given in to Oesc’s insisting to drive. She is enjoying herself way too much. “I said we need to work quickly, not that we need to kill ourselves in the process.”

“Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing. I’ve been racing since I was a little sprout.”

“This isn’t a speeder. It’s a cruiser. It’s meant to cruise...”

“But... Fine!” Oesc reluctantly slows down, “There’s dust getting into the sensors anyway. Sorry, just couldn’t resist. I miss my racer.” So much for speed being a waste of time.

The UN6 – terrans would know it as one of the Mars rovers – shows up in the distance. Oesc puts the cruiser into position with a skillful drift break maneuver. H’or wants to say something along the lines of the unnecessary use of energy during an important mission, but honestly, why preach to deaf ears – or whatever organ they use for hearing. Instead, he just chooses to ignore it, well, maybe with a little jab. “Well, now that we arrived swiftly ...and safely... L’bis and her team will be collecting samples from the planet surface, Oesc will stay behind here in the cruiser to work the sensors, and to relay our collected data back to the Notms. The rest of you accompany me to the UN6. Keep within range. I allotted 0.5R before we continue on to the next object – should be ample.” I never name the mother ship, did I? Well, Notms it is, to keep with my naming scheme...

Oesc is setting up the sensor console to her liking, while the others slip into their environmental suits and start heading out. It takes them a few moments to adapt to the lower gravity (about half of what they’re used to). L’bis sends half of her team to a rock formation that she had spotted nearby, and leads the rest to a small crevice. In fact, it is the same crevice that H’or’s tech team is headed to, because wedged into it is the UN6. The teams scramble to take their samples.

After an extensive look at the object, H’or joins L’bis at her delegating position at the edge. “Seems like it got stuck there. It’s otherwise intact. I don’t know why it’s not transmitting anymore.”

“I sent a few people out to explore the area. Should I ask them to keep an eye out for debris anyway?”

“Sure. I’m having someone follow the tracks that the UN left before it stopped. Maybe we’ll find some landing gear.”

“Tracks?” For L’bis, member of an advanced technological species, tracks are something that living beings leave behind, not unnatural objects.

“It was formerly mobile. It used some sort of wheels.”

“Wheels? Seriously? No wonder it got stuck!”

“I guess that’s all their technology was capable of. Two of the objects still seem to be mobile, so maybe they improved on it since. We’ll see.”

 -----

P4 Landing party update (tech): T164/82/25:

We have now probed and analyzed UN6-13, as well as additional debris found on P4. These are the inoperative objects sent from P3. They vary in construction and apparent function. They are all probes of some sort, but some are stationary, and some mobile. A group of them seem to originate from a similar era as UN1 (as materials and technology show), yet others are more sophisticated (like UN3, or even newer).

They are defective for several reasons. Many obviously crashed at the attempted landing. This is not surprising at their level of technology, especially considering that they seem to have been guided remotely either from P3 or from one of the orbiters. Most of the crashed objects are older models, but one of them (UN8) actually seems to have been the most advanced of all. They apparently had attempted a new type of landing system. Why it failed is unclear.

Yet, several of the objects actually did manage to land safely. Again, the reason for their malfunctions vary. We first thought that the energy source is limited, and that this is the reason that some just stopped working after a while. But they are equipped with panels that collect energy from the M314 star, an unlimited energy source. We assume that their solar technology is rather primitive so that the transformators and other electronic parts have a limited lifespan. In one case (UN7), these solar panels failed to open. Others seem to have gotten damaged at or shortly after the landing. One mobile object (UN6) got stuck at some point. It might still have transmitted data for a while after that, but isn’t anymore. In fact, several of these objects have been working – successfully collecting probes and transmitting data – before. At least two might still be collecting data, but are failing to transmit it. This is even though the PIS1 apparently built in redundancies – i.e. having the probes send data to the orbiters as well as directly to P3. I must add that of the 14 orbiters, only 6 still seem to be functioning. We will analyze them after we finished on the surface.

We collected some of the debris for further analysis and are moving on to UN4 and 5 – the two that are still operational. We have to approach with caution. For one, we don’t want to break anything and send a wrong message, but also because these probes are probably also sending visual data to P3 – so, do we let them see us?

H’or, Science department, Research Division

 

P4 Landing Party update (Bio): T164/82/25:

We have collected samples from several P4 locations. These locations are: landing sites of the UNs, rock formations, and craters. Preliminary analysis is consistent with our sensor readings and the finds from the T103 mission (see attached list of elements and materials). Our sensors have identified a few spots with potential H2O (in solid form, of course). We are headed to those next.

The planet contains several minerals and gases we could use, but we don’t necessarily need yet. I propose we ask the PIS1 for permission first, before we just harvest. It would be the ethical thing to do, and they might notice and misinterpret, even if we are just getting small amounts. I asked Tnsso, and he agrees it can wait for the return trip.

I will write a full report once we finished here on P4 and all the samples have been analyzed on board.

L’bis, Biology Division

Chapter Text

T’hem’s office is not the kind of boss corner office that we terrans would be used to, with a big desk and an antechamber with an unfriendly secretary. It’s welcoming and spacious, open on one side to the bridge and on the other to the wide hallway that leads to the atrium. Theoretically, you can just walk in any time if you need something from T’hem – but you’re more likely to find her at the engineering station on the bridge next door. The few walls of the office are plastered with panels and view screens. Ska is standing in front one of those screens, using three of his limbs to study the UN6 schematics displayed there. One would be enough, really – I guess it’s for good measure. T’hem seems to be more efficient, even though she has so many branches to spare. But she is putting all seven of them to good use – one is dug into the soil ground, two are holding various info pads, two working the secondary engineering console, one is on the schematics, and one on the communication panel.

“So you say they’re the same?”

“Yes, UN5 and UN6 seem to be the same model.” On the other end of the comm link, H’or is viewing these same schematics. He is inside the shuttle on P4, together with Oesc and two other team members. “At least they are very similar. We assume that they were sent at the same time. One just happened to die on them first, possibly after it got stuck.”

Ska doesn’t seem convinced. “Why send two at the same time?”

“To cover more ground, probably. The placement of the objects is very deliberate.”

“Well, lucky for us. This way we know how to avoid being seen.”

“That’s the problem, actually. See that protruding arm on top? The thing at the end is a camera. It collects images from the surrounding, to then transmit to P3. Two-dimensional images, like the ones we found on UN1. And it can rotate 360 degrees. The UN5 probably has one of those as well – and we have no idea which direction it’s pointed to.”

Ska knew there was reason to worry. “Great. So much for that.” More as a nervous gesture than out of necessity, he starts rearranging the schematics on the screen to a less disturbing clutter.

Oesc doesn’t see the problem: “So what? I mean, they’ve already detected us, It’s only a matter of time until we have to show them what we look like. Why postpone the inevitable, for like what, two R?”

“We would show them what we look like in environmental suits. But that’s not the problem. We just have to make sure to avoid misunderstandings.” T’hem is thinking way ahead of them, “The probe you sent to P3 earlier contains images of us, among other things, right?”

“It contains mathematical formulas, star charts, a copy of their UN1 greeting disc, to let them know we found it, and a capsule with a pheromone greeting, even though they probably won’t be able to make sense of it, and yes, images of us in 3D and 2D.” H’or is starting to understand what T’hem is getting at, “You think we should do something similar here?”

“What was your plan?”

“Well, we were going to send our little probe bot. We don’t want to damage or even touch the functioning UNs. We don’t have to personally get close, the bot can take all the readings.”

“Hmmm... These UN vehicles have probing tools and sensors?”

“Yes, they take samples from the air and the ground. They’re probably looking for water and minerals – maybe for future colonization or mining. A likely scenario. P3 is not in good shape – L’bis said that, according to new sensor readings, it looks like they really are destroying the planet.”

“Irrevocably so?” Ska is obviously not surprised, but not completely cynical.

“I don’t know. You’d have to ask her when she’s back. They’re out checking for water. Took the chance while the cruiser is free.”

T’hem wants to get back to the subject, “So those probing tools can sample surface structures as well as chemical compositions, right? And at what rate are they transmitting their data to P3?”

“They have various tools, each with a clear function. As far as we can tell, they are transmitting more or less continuously.” More or less... H’or hates imprecision.

“Ok, I have the following suggestion: Oesc is right, we might as well show ourselves – the environmental suits will make sense to them. Prepare a stellar chart like the one you sent, and a tube of that same pheromone greeting. It doesn’t matter that they don’t understand it. They greeted us, we greet back. Show those objects to the camera – long enough to make sure they registered it – and then place them under the corresponding probing tools of the UN, for sampling. Ska, would that make sense, strategically?”

“I’m still not sure about the pheromones. If we use some that are venomous to them, it might lead to a misunderstanding. What did you use for our probe?”

“L’bis and Tsm comprised a mixture that only contains elements found on P3, and are used by plants that are part of their diet – or were, back in T103. So even in the unlikely event that one of them might be toxic, they should understand it as a friendly gesture.” Should – another one of those words.

“Ok, well. I don’t really see any other option.” Ska thinks about it for a moment, “But only one of you should go there. Send someone young and small, so we don’t scare them too much with our size and many limbs.”

“I volunteer!” There’s that glow again.

“Of course you do, Oesc. What’s the terrain?”

“It’s inside a large crater – near a rise in the middle.”

“Ok, you should approach slowly, in a spiral, to make sure that they see you coming. You don’t want to sneak up on the UN, and then suddenly appear. That is a predatory tactic and would most definitely be interpreted as hostile.”

“Emphasis on slowly.” H’or couldn’t resist.

“Very funny! The last part will be on foot, in an environmental suit. Fast isn’t an option.” I know, Oesc wouldn’t use the word ‘foot’, but ‘root or locomotion limb’ just sounds stupid in the rhythm of the sentence. “Do we use the bot anyway, though, in addition?”

T’hem is, again, two steps ahead, “Yes. The bot should take all the readings. You’re just there for the contact. When you study the UN4 later, use only the bot, as planned. Do you have everything you need down there?”

“Yes, We’re set.”

“Ok. I’ll call in a meeting after you’re done, before we leave P4. Will we have new data on P3 from the probe yet by then?”

“Yes. We already have more details from our long range sensors, and the P3 probe will arrive there at T//27. We’ll be back on the Notms by then.”

“Great. Proceed and keep me posted.”

-----

Oesc to Data Division: T//26:

I will be unreachable for 0.3R, but I sent you all the data we’ve collected on P4 up to this point. So you will have enough to analyze for now. Please extrapolate including the data from the orbiters (UN14-28). We will return from the landing mission shortly. I want to be there latest at T//27, when the P3 probe arrives at its destination. Also, start preparing a summary and comprehensive data sheets. T’hem asked for those.

Thanks

 

L’bis to Tnsso: T//26:

Requested update: We found water, but it’s limited and not easily accessible. We don’t want to take it. Like I said, it would be unethical towards the PIS1. You asked about carbon, and we did find carbon dioxide, but it’s scarce as well. We also found several other useful minerals and elements (magnesium, calcium, potassium, and others – see attached chart). We collected sample amounts to analyze in the lab when we return. The only thing we took a little more of is iron. Tsm wanted some for the seedlings, and iron exists on P4 in abundance. More when I’m back...

 

Memo from Medical to Crew: T164/82/26:

We are now moving two of the seedlings to the completed nursery. I posted a seedling-sitting signup sheet at the entrance. The parents will take turns for most of it, but there will be shifts open. The med team won’t have time to fill them, since we will be quite preoccupied with the mission.

Also, some of you STILL haven’t come to their second post-stasis checkup. If your excuse is that there was no time – there will be even less time later, so I expect you before T//30.

Thank you!

Tsm, Medical department

 

Tnsso to L’bis: T//26:

Thanks for the update. We’re not running low yet, so that’s fine. Good to know what’s there though. I don’t quite get the ethics thing, but ok. Maybe they’ll give us permission. Otherwise, I guess we’ll have to mine from the gas planet moons on our return trip. Anyway, thanks again.

-----

The research lab is packed. Everyone is curious about the P3 probe findings. Scientists from all divisions are hovering over the screens. Only Oesc is missing. She’s next door scrambling to organize the incoming data to send over. T’hem, who kind of regrets that she decided to hold the meeting there, is towering over everyone. “H’or, while we wait, can you show us what the long range sensors detected?”

“Of course.” He pushes some buttons on the screen. “As we can see here, the planet is surrounded by unnatural satellites and debris. We can now tell that not all of them are still in use, but many are. Most of the functional ones are transmitting signals (photon and radio) to and from the planet – and between each other. The one larger object might really be an orbital station. This here on the side looks like a door, with perhaps a shuttle dock attached. It would be a small, primitive station, holding a maximum crew of six or seven. We also found evidence of PIS1 presence on their natural satellite. No structures or anything, though, so they haven’t colonized it yet. About the planet itself, maybe L’bis should answer that.”

“Yes!” L’bis stretches a limb out to the screen and moves the image around. Well, image... you know what I mean. “So, like we feared, the signs of pollution and over-population are everywhere. We can’t see too clearly through the planet atmosphere from here, but this much is evident. There are holes forming in some layers of the atmosphere, on both poles. There are emissions from waste products coming out of many of the more densely populated areas – probably from factories. Some of that is actually radioactive waste – probably a bi-product of nuclear reactions.”

“Weapons?” Obviously, Ska was the one to ask that.

“Maybe, but not necessarily. We’ll have to see what the probe tells us. In any case, the planet isn’t completely destroyed yet. There are still some larger unpopulated areas left. And some of the cities seem to be more polluted than others. I would conclude that they are aware of the problem and are working on fixing it. Hopefully not too late.”

The display on the screen suddenly changes, just as Oesc appears in the doorway: “Hope I’m not interrupting. Just sent you the files.”

T’hem helps Oesc push her way through to the screen, “Ok, where’s the probe right now?”

“So, it’s now in an orbit at a height between their satellites and their moon. We’re having it screen the whole planet as it revolves around. We can track it in real time. It’s above their largest continent right now.”

L’bis scrolls through the data stream. “Well, some regions still seem to have thriving wildlife, while others are completely covered with built structures. There’s hardly any place entirely untouched, but yeah, the degree of pollution varies.”

Ska is still following his own convolutions, “What about those radioactive emissions?”

“If they did use nuclear weapons, they didn’t do so very often. It would make sense that wars are common with territorial packs, but rendering a whole region useless for generations seems detrimental. From what I can tell, there are only two larger zones with a concentration too high to really be habitable. One here in the middle of that large continent, and one on this island. Other than that, It’s mostly just in a few smaller areas.” She zooms in a little closer, “These large buildings here also emit radioactive waste. They look like factories. Could be power plants, maybe? What do you think, H’or?”

“Yes, could be. These structures here could be reaction chambers. Using nuclear reactions for energy works, but it’s extremely dangerous. So those contaminated regions could also be a result of accidents – not necessarily fallout from a weapon.”

Ska is still unclear what to think, “Are those potential power plants still in use?”

“This one here seems to be. It’s emitting something.”

“That doesn’t make sense. They know how to harness solar energy. And they have been for a while. Even their older probes and satellites are using it. Why continue with this dangerous and toxic method?”

Oesc takes back control of the screen. “Not only that. I looked at some of their larger cities while I was scanning earlier. I know, overreaching my duties, but I just couldn’t resist. Anyway, a lot of buildings have these solar panels on them, and I even found whole arrays of panels in the outskirts of cities. And see this here, what looks like forests of metallic air wheels. They are all pointed in the same direction, and are moving mostly in sync. My guess is that they’re for wind energy. So then I was thinking... and I followed one of the rivers, and lo and behold – I found some sort of dam. Could be for irrigation, but also for water power. So they actually have several methods at their disposal.”

“Yeah. That definitely does not answer my question.”

In her afore mentioned thesis, L’bis titled a chapter: ‘Greed and the hoarding of resources’ – but somehow she’s not making that connection. Her conclusions are leading elsewhere, and also not completely wrong: “We should check if those nuclear power plants are in the same areas as the solar and wind arrays. We know that they have several languages, so maybe the individual packs either aren’t sharing technology, or have different priorities when it comes to keeping their planet healthy.”

“That could explain it. Just – that concept of individual packs at such a high population density seems... I don’t know. I just can’t wrap my head around it.”

Oesc is moving stuff around on the screen again. “I know what you mean, Ska. Is it still a pack, with so many of them? Wouldn’t it then be more like a hive? I mean, what does this look like to you?” The screen now displays what they can perceive as the bustling of the city.

L’bis is trying so hard not to sound like a smartass. After all, it’s a viable conclusion that they are making. She just happens to know better. “It’s not the member size of a group that determines whether they’re a hive or a pack... or a herd, for that matter. It has to do with their social structure. A hive usually has a queen, and all the rest of them are drones that function as a whole entity. A pack usually also has a leader, but there’s a strict hierarchy, and each member of the group has its individual purpose. The social structure is way more complex. It is highly unlikely that a pack species would evolve into a hive, especially not in so short a time period. I know what this looks like down there, but you have to remember, they move faster than we do, and have a way shorter life span. It’s a city, they’re probably just all in a hurry. Now, we have no idea how being sentient influences their instinctual behavior. Since they haven’t gone extinct yet, they must have found a way to get along with each other, to some extent anyway. Probably, like with us, instinct and intelligence are in constant conflict...”

T’hem likes to listen quietly in the background while the discourse evolves, but now it’s time to put an end to fruitless speculation. “Well, it will certainly be interesting to find out. Has there been any reaction from the PIS1 yet to our probe, or to our greeting?”

“They definitely registered the probe. They’re scanning it. No hostile action ...yet. We need to give them a little time to come up with a response.” H’or expected this question, but was really hoping to be able to give a less vague answer by the time it comes up. “We’re listening with every sensor, we can’t miss it.”

“Ok, keep analyzing the probe data. Potav wants to continue on to P3 before T//29, for proximity reasons. I’d prefer waiting for some sort of answer from them first, though. Maybe we’re lucky, and it comes before that. Let me know:” T’hem emits a smile and leaves the scientist to their work.

Chapter Text

H’or to T’hem: T//28:

They contacted us! We detected a series of impulses sent from P3 in form of radio waves. It’s mathematical sequences – prime numbers, natural series, and the like (see attached sheets). They’re sending them repeatedly. My guess is that they wanted to send something quickly – to let us know that they want contact. They might be working on a more complex response directly to our greeting, or they’re waiting to see what we do. Hard to tell. My recommendation is to send the same signals back, just as an acknowledgement.

The P3 probe is almost done with charting the whole planet. We are thinking of then placing it near that possible orbital station and matching its orbit. If it really is manned, that might facilitate communication in the future. What do you think?

We put together a first contact task force with linguists, decoders and other specialists from both science and strategy departments, and Ska and L’bis are currently adapting Strategy Room 1 as a mission hub. We figured it’s the best place – central and next to your office.

 

T’hem to H’or: T//28:

Thank you for the info. Yes, send the signals back. You’re right, they probably wanted to establish contact first. Using mathematics is the logical choice. As for the probe, proceed as planned, but don’t place it too closely for now. Just match the orbit.

The linguists and decoders are more essential now than anticipated, so I propose that you make them an own division. And since they’ll be coming from various departments, appoint someone as a coordinator. I don’t want there to be any confusion over who reports to whom. The unforeseen stress might create tensions, so preferably choose someone who you deem capable of alleviating that.

I’ll tell Potav that we can make our way to P3 now. He’ll be glad.

 -----

The title of the chapter is a little misleading. The predictions of the Tahw weren’t completely off. They are, after all, a well selected and competent crew. Thinking back, it’s inconceivable that not all appointments were without controversy. Back when T’hem was in university, studying to be an inter-stellar travel engineer, they had to take this pointless soft skill course on team building and herd dynamics. They were taught that there are two methods for assembling a team: either you go for harmony or for skill. Even at that age, T’hem already knew that this was bullshit. Harmony and skill aren’t mutually contradictive. There really is no need to compromise one for the other. In her final essay, she argued that a good leader will spread harmony, a skilled team member will bring dedication and work ethics, and a worthy project will ensure enthusiasm. That was the one course she almost failed. She was told that she will never be a matriarch – but that’s ok, because she is a technician, and technicians just aren’t leaders, strategists are.

That was a very long time ago, and she’s no longer quite as naively idealistic. But she spent her whole life defying stereotypes. She had since lead countless teams – was a project coordinator for every inter-stellar mission since T147. So when the position opened for the M314 mission head, her name was the first to come up. She had already successfully lead ship construction and coordinated flight preparation for this mission, so the decision for her appointment was unanimous. Has prejudice finally been eradicated? One would think so, in a culture this advanced.

Maybe she still was a little naive, because she wasn’t prepared for the backlash she would receive for her team picks. Potav and L’bis were the only non-contentious choices – Potav, a well respected and experienced pilot, and L’bis, a renowned M314 expert. Tnsso was criticized for his mediocre academic record, but he is diligent and good at his job – her herd member of choice in any logistics team. Oesc was too young – yes, a mathematical prodigy among recent graduates, but not ready for a mission of this magnitude. Honestly, T’hem is also skeptical of over-achievers, but when she met Oesc, she was immediately sold by that little troublemaker spark of hers. Plus, she needed someone to keep H’or on his feet. T’hem had worked with H’or for years, and his versatile and extensive knowledge spanning several scientific fields made him the obvious choice for head of research. He does get bored quickly, yet excels when challenged. But a male department head is always frowned upon, still. And a male lead strategist – unheard of! So when she appointed Ska, everyone questioned her judgment. Not only is he male, he is insecure. She was told that, as a technician herself, T’hem needs the best strategist out there. But that is who Ska was – the best one out there. Potav (an excellent judge of character) had recommended him, and T’hem saw immediately that Ska isn’t insecure at all. Maybe that is the personality that he conveys, but what comes across as insecurity is really perfectionism – ruling out every eventuality and optimizing tactics. Ska knows exactly what he is doing.

The one criticism that T’hem least expected was her selection of Tsm. She is the lead expert in stasis and inter-stellar travel medicine – optimal qualifications. But Tsm is reclusive, a rare character trait in a herd society. Even in modern times, when finding security in numbers has been rendered unnecessary, instinct prevails. So the harmony squad (from back at the university) warned T’hem. They said that Tsm is a loner, and is difficult to integrate into a team. But T’hem just saw a fellow individual – an individual within a herd – a fellow defier of stereotypes, and a fellow fan of dry and cynical humor.

And so, just to be a little mean, instead of just writing a request, T’hem decides to visit Tsm directly in the Med labs. “So, has everyone reported in for their check-up?”

For some reason, Tsm is not surprised by the sudden appearance, “Yes, but not until I threatened to post their names for public shame.”

“Do you really think that they care enough to be ashamed? Publicly or not.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. But it worked, they showed up.” It’s only now that Tsm shifts her attention off her pad and towards T’hem. This could be interpreted as rude, but she really is just in her own head-space.

“I came to observe my more mundane matriarch duties and check on the seedlings. How are they?”

“Smelly.”

T’hem sort of laughs, “You know, Ska asked me if we could collect their infantile venom – just in case.”

“He wants to milk our babies?”

“No, he thought to extract it from the used soil and ventilation filters.”

“Well, if he wants to sift through that, by all means!” Now they’re both laughing – or the equivalent of that. Ska might really go ahead and do it. Every eventuality...

Back to more pressing matters... “Actually, I also came to ask you about the PIS1 use of senses. We need that for communication. I have a basic idea, but... You studied the anatomical schematics, right?”

“I did. And I compared them with the T103 findings, so I’d say we have quite a good understanding of their sensory organs. Should I write up a report?”

“Please. And maybe consult with L’bis on the behavioral implications.”

“Uhm... I’ll consult her extensive published works.”

“Do you two not get along?”

“Oh no, she’s great! I love a fellow nerd. It’s just that... when we were putting together the pheromone mixture earlier, I made the mistake of showing interest in P3 plant life adaptability. Not that I don’t appreciate her expansive knowledge, but... that was exhausting! And she is always in such an optimistic good mood – it’s sickening.” Tsm is probably the only one on this vessel to say something like that, even if it’s a joke.

“I think it’s refreshing.” And T’hem is probably the only one who understands, but she has matured past blocking herself off. “Ok, I’ll leave you to your devices then.”

 -----

Oesc to Ska: T//29:

We are observing something that I think is of tactical relevance. The contact signals that we are receiving from P3 don’t all originate from one place. We are receiving multiple transmissions coming from several locations. Most are similar (mathematical sequences, and the like), and some are different – verbal greetings similar to the ones from UN1, and one strange formula that we are still deciphering.

The transmissions are also coming in at varying wavelengths. That could mean that they want to make sure we receive it, because they don’t know what we can detect. But then why the different source locations and contents? Is there no single governing body responsible? It probably just means that their scientists are acting individually (maybe competing for first-contact recognition) without governmental approval – who knows how their system works. But it could also mean that there are multiple, rival packs sending signals. If so, which one do we contact?

I don’t know. I’m sending you the data that we have thus far, and I’ll keep you updated.

 

Ska to Oesc: T//29:

Thank you. Yes, you’re right, that is very relevant. We feared that we might encounter this problem of rival packs (if we still want to call them that). Your data might be further proof. I’m putting this question up for debate.

 

Ska to Task Force Members: T//30:

We now completed setting up a mission hub in Strategy Room 1. We are calling in a first meeting there at T//31 to discuss our next steps. Please bring all relevant data.

 

M314-P3-PIS1 Sensory Usage (Summary): T164/82/30:

The PIS1 are a predatory animal species, and their sensory organs evolved accordingly. Although we think that most of their senses are inferior to the ones of other predators, their adaptive intelligence compensates for that. To summarize what we know:

The sense that they probably rely on most is sight. They don’t see like we do. Some animals on P3 are capable of sonar sight, and the PIS1 have auditory organs (explained later), so it’s possible that they can evolve that ability, but as far as we can tell, that’s not the case right now. Like most animals on P3, they see with eyes (organs similar to the ones found on some Tahw animals). Eyes detect photon reflections off objects, send that information to the brain, that then translates it into images. There are always two eyes next to each other, so that they can triangulate and thus see three-dimensionally and judge distances. Some animals on P3 are nocturnal, but the PIS1 are not. Behavioral studies from the T103 mission suggest that they have excellent vision at close proximity, see fairly well at medium distances (10-30 asm), but not so well at long distances and poorly in the dark. The T103 reports also postulated that they can determine the wavelengths of these light reflections (biologists call that ‘seeing colors’). This is a useful skill when determining the composition of objects, for example. Also important: Their eyes face one direction, but, if I read the schematics correctly, they can move around in the socket. So they can see what’s in front of them, and have, albeit limited, peripheral vision, but they can’t see what’s behind them. This isn’t much of a hindrance, though, because they are very agile, and can turn quickly in every direction.

I already mentioned hearing. They have two ears, but not comparable to ours - they are only used to register sound and don’t emit anything. The ears are formed in a way to funnel the sound waves into the inner organ that then, again, sends the information to the brain to be interpreted (we assume it uses vibrations of tissues and bones within the ear). These strangely formed auditory organs can be seen more prominently on some other animals on P3 – the ones from the PIS1 are rather small. Tests from the T103 missions showed that they hear quite well at certain frequencies, but other than that their hearing seems vastly inferior to that of other predators on P3. They do use it a lot, though – after all, their communication is mostly verbal.

They also have a rudimentary sense of smell. They have an organ for it, but, unlike us, they only seem to use it for examining and understanding objects. As far as we can tell, there might be some communication taking place on the instinctual, subconscious level, but nothing they would rely on (unlike many other creatures on P3). Like many animals, they have one sense that we do not possess (termed ‘taste’). It works in conjunction with smell, and is used to determine the quality (freshness, composition...) of what they ingest. While we use only smell for that, they have an additional organ within their mouth for that purpose. It seems redundant, but nature has its ways to create redundancies in the name of survival.

The one sense that is comparable to ours is touch. The PIS1 bodies are covered with skin – a multi-layered membrane that is an organ within itself. It serves various purposes (inner organ and vessel protection, like our barks, temperature regulation, detoxification, etc...). This skin (or ‘hide’) is also interwoven with nerves. These very fine vessels are very similar to ours in function, and send sensory information in form of electronic impulses (through a long, flexible assortment of bones in the back) directly to the brain. The difference is that while we can feel only with our sensory nodes (mostly at the tip of our limbs), they have nerves everywhere. We assume, though, that these nerve endings are also more concentrated at the ends of their limbs, since they are very dexterous and capable of extremely fine and intricate work.

I would recommend that we communicate with them mainly using images (two-dimensional and three-dimensional) and sound. It would be much easier for them to understand our long distance tapping language than pheromones. They might have studied their own plant and animal life enough to understand that this is a form of communication, but it would take much longer for them to learn to interpret. In addition, we have to be careful not to unintentionally poison them.

I hope all this information is useful for the mission.

Tsm, Medical Department

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Not only nature has its ways of creating apparent redundancies. The brilliance of our alien vessel lies within the multitude of its propulsion systems. And while each system does have its own purpose – usage depending on speed, maneuverability, and other factors – they also act as each other’s failsafe. Not that it’s ever necessary, but that was T’hem’s reasoning when she pitched her construction design. Some might have argued that it was just an example of engineering prowess. Well, there might be some truth to that, but really T’hem just enjoys working out the intricacies of procedures, the synergy of the various parts, pushing the boundaries of physical limitations... I would like to go into detail on the ship’s engines, but it’s a technology way past my meager terran understanding. I could speculate, but I’m no scientist, so I’d have to research that first. ...It’s a time constraint issue, not laziness. Honestly! Uhm...

On Tahw, there is a movement among the engineering community to do away with some pre-superphotonic-travel relics such as solar sails. They are mechanically vulnerable, and lack the technical elegance of more advanced systems. But many, like T’hem, hang on to the method – after all, it still ensures the smoothest ride amid lower speed propulsions (I am deliberately missing the opportunity for a bad pun here), and it is simple and easy to maintain. So to quiet the apprehensive voices, T’hem decided to multi-purpose the sails; they serve for acceleration, deceleration, and for photon collection. Problem solved. Fortunately, because what they lack in technical elegance, they possess in appearance. And how dull would the ship look without this prominent feature? As boring as when the sails are reeled in, I guess – a process that Potav just initiated with the simple push of a button. They almost reached their destination, P3, and shut down all of their engines. They will be cruising on residual thrust for the rest of the way.

Even Potav is feeling a surge of excitement. T’hem doesn’t fail to notice the ever so slight glow that he is emanating. So she sends him an acknowledging smile as she leaves the bridge (and her beloved engineering panel), to attend the strategy meeting that Ska has set up.

Chapter Text

 

Ska is almost annoyed at having to interrupt his work for the meeting. But he was the one who had called everyone in. Not that he regrets it, for he can feel chaos ensuing. Chaos, his worst enemy. It’s not so much the unrest that bothers him, it’s the disorder. He finds harmony in structure, comfort in meticulousness. Potav once joked that there is a name for that, and that it can be treated. But why change an integral part of your personality, the source of your diligence, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your ability to function?

T’hem must have read his mind, because she is now directing everyone’s attention toward the console in the center of the room. “Ok, let’s put everyone up to date, so that we can determine our next course of action. Ska?”

“Ok, uhm... You all already know that the PIS1 replied to us. The problem is that we are receiving signals from several locations on the planet. Oesc suggested that maybe several of their scientists are working independently. That would be very inefficient though, and I doubt that a species can advance this quickly without some form of cooperation in the science community. It is more likely that the planet is split up into territories – colonies, if you will – which makes sense when dealing with predators, and that each group wants to contact us individually.”

“Wait, now I’m confused. First you say there must be some form of cooperation, and now there isn’t?” Tnsso feels a little out of place in this group, but L’bis invited him to come to the first meeting. He really won’t be needed until later, when communication has been established (and they might need to replenish their supplies). But he does make all the effort to follow.

It’s an effort that is appreciated. “You know, to be honest, it is a little confusing – the mixed message we are receiving. I’ll get to that. What I meant is that there would be cooperation among scientist, but not necessarily on the political scale. In fact all around the planet, there is evidence of conflict between uhm, let’s call them factions. Past and present conflicts.” Ska zooms into the P3 image on the center console, to the region we would recognize as the middle east. “This area here, for example, has obviously been heavily contended recently. Possibly still is. There are whole cities completely destroyed. And I mean obliterated.”

Even T’hem is shook by that, “That is... disturbing. Is that a common thing?”

“Yes, but not necessarily at this scale. This region is seeing the worst of it. Currently, anyway.”

“Are you sure it’s from wars, and not a result of, say, natural disasters.”

“L’bis, do you want to answer that?”

“Ok. So, in this case we are pretty sure, because there still seems to be fighting going on, and we have reason to believe that the region is rich in resources. But yes, there are also several regions that have been struck by natural disasters. The planet is subject to earthquakes, volcanoes, heavy storms and floods. And we can see the results of that. We doubt that the PIS1 have already obtained the technology to control weather, and there isn’t really much you can do about the tectonics without causing unpredictable alterations.”

“But, I mean, they must have the technology to predict earthquakes and such – and why would anyone want to live near a volcano?” Another one of Tnsso’s unqualified yet endearing inputs...

“Well, for one, they might not have a choice. The planet is significantly over-populated. And the areas around volcanoes are actually rich in minerals. They don’t erupt constantly and I assume that they evacuate before disasters.”

“L’bis, you said that region is rich in resources.” H’or is veering the conversation back on track. He has better things to do, “Which ones would that be? I doubt it’s water – it’s in one of the hottest places, near the equator. I see several large rivers, so are we talking mineral deposits?”

“That too. But we were curious, so we took the data from the T103 mission, calculated in tectonics and other factors. There were very large deposits of crude oil in that region.”

“That’s highly flammable.”

“Yes. And since they seem to take a liking to dangerous energy sources, we analyzed their emissions. They are definitely using it as fuel. It might even be their primary source.”

“Shouldn’t they have moved passed that by now? I get that materials with explosive properties are an easy and efficient fuel source, but they’ve already developed safer, environmentally friendlier methods. We’ve also committed similar idiocies in the past, but that was way before we reached their stage of development.”

“Well, studies with predators have shown that they often stick to a territory even after the resources are used up, and likewise they stick to a hunting method that has worked in the past even if it doesn’t anymore. Like it’s a tradition that they can’t get away from. Of course, those studies have been made with predators that weren’t sentient, so can we really apply that here? The root of that behavior is instinctual – something that has been embedded into their DNA. This again leads us to the question of to which extent the PIS1 are still slaves to their instincts.” Another essay by L’bis is titled: ‘Explaining the unknown: Belief systems of sentient beings in earlier stages of development.’ She’s not making that connection either, and little does she know how central this issue will prove to be.

T’hem summarizes: “Ok, so this is the way I understood it: There are apparently several territories, colonies, however you want to call it. They each have their own ways of dealing with their environment – some use more sustainable energy sources, some don’t care and just do what’s easier, some are peacefully coexisting, some are in conflict. So we can conclude that each ...pack, let’s say, have their own governing, decision-making body. But there must be some trading of resources, some form of coordination going on between them, right?”

Ska is still working on figuring that out: “For sure. Maybe not so much governmental oversight, but at least something for economic coordination. Like I said, they can only have advanced this quickly if at least some aspects of their society is coordinated. You can’t isolate yourself. With a population this dense, you can’t have every resource you need everywhere. You’re gonna have to trade. And you will trade technologies. We observed similar technologies everywhere, the same methods of transportation, for example. And their satellites are transmitting across continents. So on the whole, they are at least attempting to work together peacefully. They just don’t seem to get away completely from their territorial behavior.”

“Is that what you meant with mixed messages?”

“Also, yes – actually I was getting to that. What I meant is that, while their communications seem peaceful, or at least purely scientific in nature, we can see movement on the planet that looks very much like military preparation. Now, that doesn’t mean that they are hostile. It is more likely to be a purely defensive measure.”

“Can we be sure about that?”

“Well, not 100%, but look at it from their perspective. They have nothing really to gain from attacking us. No matter how territorial their instincts are. They must assume that our technology is way superior to theirs. This would scare them, because they have no idea what our intention is. For all they know, we could be here to take over their planet and harvest their resources. So, they would prepare any possible defensive measure that they can think of. That is why I am so adamant about avoiding anything that might be interpreted as hostile. The only thing keeping them from any rash preemptive measure is our possible retaliation and their own scientific curiosity. Not that they are much of a threat – the worst that they can come up with is some weapon using their nuclear reaction technology – but we don’t want to start a first contact on such a negative note, if we want to win them over as an ally.”

“You surprise me, Ska – you seem slightly less worried than usual. I would have thought you’d see your worst predictions confirmed.”

“Maybe I’ve spent too much time with L’bis.” That was almost a joke! Out of character. Interesting... “But my worst predictions were an irreversibly sick planet with wars and destruction everywhere – so while all of you were hoping for the best, I was fearing the worst. Looks like the truth is somewhere in-between.”

“Okay.” Had they been alone, T’hem would have said something along the lines of: ‘Really, you felt the necessity to become defensive? Don’t you know that we understand your motivations, and appreciate you for it?’ Or maybe she wouldn’t have said that, and I, as an author, am just disgusted with myself for not having come up with something less cliché than the old optimist-pessimist-realist discussion... In any case, in this setting, T’hem is just interested in keeping the conversation going: “This scientific curiosity you mentioned seems to be a strong driving force with them. It’s something we share – so I’d say we use that for communication, appeal to that curiosity. It might prove more difficult that we think because, in my experience, fear is still the strongest motivator, but it’s our best bet. Any more reactions to our probe?”

“They’ve been studying it both from the planet and from the orbital station – which, by the way really is manned. But they haven’t sent anything to the probe. That could be out of caution – or it’s possible that it’s difficult for them, technologically, to just quickly send something out. It might take preparation.”

“I agree. They would need some sort of rockets to achieve the necessary escape velocity. So unless they happen to have one ready by chance – like to send another satellite up, or to equip their station – it will take time to build and program one. H’or, you’ve studied their probes, do you agree with that?”

“Yes. It wouldn’t be a quick, simple thing for them to do. It’s not daily business. They could send a small probe from their orbital station. That would be easier. The station is very small, so I don’t know if they would have all the necessary parts there, but it’s more likely that they will try that route. Ever since we placed that probe near that station, they are using it as a secondary communication hub.”

“What’s the progress on that? On their language – or languages? I’d like to have a greeting ready for them when we arrive.”

“It’s very different, but we’re slowly figuring it out. Well, they are...” H’or ‘nods’ toward the members of the newly formed decoding division huddled around a console in a corner of the room. C’ce, who (to her own surprise and Oesc’s pride) has been appointed division coordinator, sends him the equivalent of a thumbs up, “They promised to post an update right after the meeting. It should be enough to send a simple message. Just want to be sure not to be misunderstood. It turns out that the many languages are actually very helpful. Many of them are related in some way, which helps identify certain terms – you know, terms that come up frequently. The transmissions that the PIS1 sent us (the ones that aren’t purely mathematical) mostly use the same language – probably the one used for globe-wide communication. How much time before we get there?”

“We should arrive there in...” T’hem clicks something on the console, “in 0.8R.”

“Ok. That works out.”

“Great! Let’s get back to work then.”

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M314-P3-PIS1 Communication Update: T164/82/33:

The PIS1 have communicated to us in several ways. At first they sent mathematical sequences, just to establish contact. We responded likewise. It was a little complicated at first, because their signals came from various locations, at various wavelengths, so we didn’t know whom to answer to. But the signals are becoming less frequent from most places but two: one location on the planet, and the orbital station. We conclude that this means that they are coordinating their first contact efforts now.

In addition to the mathematical signals, they have now started sending visual and sound files. The difficulty is that they are sending them in a digital format that we have to transcribe. It is easy with the sound files, because it really is just radio waves. but the visuals translate to two-dimensional images that we then have to in turn transform into something we can see. Information could get lost or distorted in the process. They are sending a lot of that data in some form of binary code. It’s actually quite clever – we used something similar in early computer programming – but we still have to, well, decode it.

The sound files are greetings similar to the ones found on the UN1, only apparently shortened and simplified.

Visuals include: Images of the UN1, the UN5, an image clearly taken by the UN5 camera (showing Oesc, the probe bot, and the cruiser), images of their planet, our P3 probe (probably shot with a camera from the orbital station), an unclear image of the Notms, star charts marked with the position of M314 and M1, our own solar system (they must have figured out how to read the charts that we sent them).

Some visual images are accompanied by symbols, and some additionally by sound files. So, like we hoped, they are trying to teach us how their language works, to facilitate communication. The images depicting us and our vessel include only one symbol. We assume that it’s their sign for indicating a question. The images depicting things related to the PIS1 are marked with a series of symbols – obviously their term for the pictured object – and often include a sound file. That is very helpful. The symbols are their written language. Each symbol stands for a sound, or for a group of sounds.

We are still working on figuring out their grammatical structures. That will take a while, because the concept is so different from ours. There seems to be an exact structure, but once we think we figured it out, we come across a sentence that deviates from it. Thankfully, the language they chose to use to communicate with us seems quite simple (others make even less sense). But for now – we were already able to identify several useful terms! A complete list is attached.

C’ce, Decoding and Linguistic division

 

T’hem to C’ce: T//33:

Thank you! I can definitely put together a few words of greeting with that information. I’ll make it as simple as possible – if we get anything wrong it will lead to misunderstandings. I hope it’s enough to get the message across. I’ll quickly pass it by Ska, and will let you know. Please prepare the transmission, and include the equivalent tapping rhythm and symbols. We should teach them our language as well. I want to send it off the moment we arrive.

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It’s T164/82/34. T’hem is standing at the back of the bridge. The position is slightly elevated, so that she can see everything that is happening on the bridge, and it is at the same time close enough to the strategy room to communicate with the group assembled there. She has configured the panel to her right as a transmission console, and is ready to fire (yeah, wrong word... well). In the center of the bridge, Potav has one limb on the emergency brakes (as if he hadn’t calculated their arrival perfectly), and with two others he sets the quick-thrust engines and shielding on stand-by (something Ska has insisted upon, in case the PIS1 do something stupid enough to warrant evasive maneuvers). The screen in front of him shows the view outside the window – redundant, really. The ship has just passed the moon, and Earth is slowly creeping closer. Of course, the moon didn’t need to have been on their path, but I just can’t resist the classic dramatics of the alien-ship-approaches image. Maybe I am falling prey to clichés after all. And why does my choice of having Earth creep (rather than the ship) spark this whole philosophical relativity-perception bullshit in my brain? Of course, Earth isn’t stationary either, so does the ship then continue flying, or does the planet gravity keep it in position? What was I thinking writing a science-fiction story without having any clue? Or am I just digressing to break up the Kitsch of it all?

Anyway... If the Notms were a place on earth, you could hear a pin drop, but here it’s just the usual white noise created by ventilation and environmental systems. The Tahw express tension – and tension there is in the room – differently than we do. Not with silence, anyway. There might be a little more shifting of roots in the soil than usual. Some crew members might be glowing a little more with excitement, while others are emitting nervousness or insecurity. The expression ‘you could cut the air with a knife’ is actually more applicable here than on the terran equivalent.

T’hem is emitting nothing. She is focused on the task. And as the Notms halts, she presses the button. Well, it’s not really a button, it’s... ok, whatever she does, the transmission is sent, and appears on the screen:

 

Hello Terra

We Tahw

Talk?