The roaring was in his ears, like the twin waterfalls of Niagara only louder. Andrew’s grandfather had told him about seeing the rock group The Who in concert, and how he could feel the sound as if it were a physical force. Andrew James Armstrong, forty-five year old doctor of quantum physics and forth generation astronaut finally understood what his famous great grandfather had meant. This was how the old Saturn V rockets must have sounded.
This was not the sound of chemical’s exploding however, this was the sound of the delicate dance of matter and anti-matter. This was the sound of the very fabric of the universe being ripped asunder to allow the Prometheus passage through tenth dimensional hyperspace. This was the sound of a tear in his Great grandfather’s eye. What had provoked him to say “One small step for a man, One giant leap for mankind”.
The Prometheus was now eight hours into her maiden flight, with 64 hours remaining. If he stood very still and closed his eyes Andrew could feel the old Commander standing just behind and to one side of him. “Keep your wits about you son,” he would say “There are no gas stations or tow trucks out here.” There was only one Prometheus, if something went wrong there would be no rescue.
So this was what it was like Andrew though to himself, to be more scared and excited at the same time than he had ever been in his life. For the 48 men aboard the Prometheus the 72-hour trip to Alpha Centuria was only the beginning. They would slip into the system, glide past the what ever they found. Then they would take as many photographs as time permitted and be on their way in less then four days. Would they go back home then? Oh no, not even close. The shake down cruise would take them through 12 systems in 90 days. After that the unavoidable debriefing back on Earth.
An entire year telling a bunch of paper pushing bureaucrats how everything worked. A year wasted on bean counters and politicians who couldn’t understand what they were being told anyway. A hand on his shoulder caught his attention, pulling him from the yet distant and gloomy future.
“Hey Cap.,” a smile slid easily across his face, as he look up to see Patrick Covington, Captain United States Navy and Commander of the Prometheus.
With a twinkle is his eye the Captain said to Andrew, “If I had known this rust bucket of yours was going to be so noisy I would have stayed home.”
“ If I remember correctly,” Andrew replied, “This is actually your rust bucket we only borrowed it.”
“ Oh don’t go getting technical on me, she was never this noisy when she was a Triton submarine.”
“ True enough,” Andrew laughed, “But she wasn’t this fast then either.”
“ Well, there is just something indecent about a sub making this much noise,” the captain said with a grimace.
He then stared silently into the place where his ship had once had her nuclear power plant. Where now a far smaller and much more powerful matter, anti-matter reactor now stood. Or, to be more precise almost didn’t stand, perhaps sprawled would be a better description. As Captain Covington though back, three years ago the Prometheus had been a decommissioned nuclear submarine waiting in the San Francisco harbor for a war that would never come.
Then came that crazy physicist from Cal Tech, and neither his life nor the Snark’s would ever be the same. Dr Andrew Armstrong who claimed he could do the impossible, and then had the unmitigated gall to back up his claims. Two years later the Snark was recommissioned as the Prometheus and ten months after that she was in orbit having the finishing touches put on her to make her the first ever-genuine real space ship.
“ Hey Doc.,” the Captain said, “ I thought you said this thing would quiet down once we were underway?”
“ She will,” Andrew replied, “We are, to borrow an old expression just blowing the carbon out of her at the moment. We’ll be throttling the main drive down in about another two hours. Once we’ve done that you’ll still feel the vibrations from the main drive but you shouldn’t hear a thing. And from there on the only time you’ll actually hear the drive again is when were creating a shear.
“Another two hours eh? Well I suppose I can live with that,” the Captain replied. In the mean time mess is at 1900 hours, Officers mess hall. Oh one more thing the Captain added, some habits die-hard dinner is formal. You NASA people do have uniforms don’t you?”
“ Of course we do,” said Andrew.
“Good I’ll see you then,” the Captain said as he left the engine room, “and I’ll expect an informal update at that time. “
As the Captain left Andrew couldn’t help thinking about the discovery he had made that had led the two men to where they now were. Ten years ago he had been a postdoctoral student at the California Institute of Technology. He had started his studies as a electrical engineering student, and had actually earned his Bachelors Degree of Science in Electrical Engineering before catching the Quantum Physics bug which would come to dominate his life.
It was in fact while designing his first quantum gate array for a new generation of computer processor that he fell in love with quantum theory. It was a mystery that he just could not leave alone. It was the strange relationship between the quantum tunneling effect and the quantum mirror effect that began the line of reasoning that would lead to his Nobel Prize in physics. The discovery that gravity was not a physical effect itself but the result of several different physical properties interacting. When he demonstrated Electro gravitation he turned the entire physics world upside down.
When he proved that quantum tunneling was a result of micro gravitational fields overlapping and producing a tenth dimensional hyperspace opening, NASA sat up and took notice. When he told the press that he wanted to build a space ship that could make the trip to other solar systems in a matter of days they made him a celebrity. When he said his ideal space ship would be constructed nearly identical to a nuclear submarine the United States Navy offered him a submarine.
As Admiral Collins had said the first time they had met, “ Son,” he said “we have a saying in the navy, “can do, can you?” he then asked. Andrew who was so excited by the whirlwind of attention that his research had produced in the media had not even hesitated to reply to the Admiral, “yes sir I can. And it was at shortly after this that he was introduced to Captain Covington. Covington, who was just about to retire, had been captain of a submarine for twenty years. Covington who was the navy’s first choice to command this starship that Dr. Armstrong was building.
It was Covington who would supervise the refitting of the USS Snark, which would be recrissened as the Prometheus. A rather fitting name for a submarine turned into a spaceship. The USS Snark originally had a crew of 174 men this had been cut down to a mere 48 because as the Prometheus she had to carry her own air. Unlike the Snark, the space ship could not simply turn the water outside into breathable air. The Snark had had her nuclear reactors updated in the process of being refitted to become the Prometheus and in the process had a coat of the newest ceramic alloy fused to her hull as well.
This new alloy was designed to reflect radiation the same way a mirror reflects light making nuclear reactors both safer and more fuel-efficient. When Dr. Armstrong found out about this ceramic alloy he insisted that it be fused to the ships outer hull. Something that the Navy at first refused to do fearing that the wrongs people might find out about their secret alloy. It was only after Dr. Armstrong was able to explain that the Prometheus would probably only make a few trips anywhere because of excessive radiation buildup that the Navy relented.
Once the Tokamaks anti-matter reactor was installed where the Snark’s secondary nuclear reactor had been and the weapons bays had been replaced with liquid oxygen tanks the Snark was recommissioned as the Prometheus. Her electro gravitation system worked like a charm. Which wasn’t a very big surprise as the Armstrong electro gravitation engine had already replaced the turbine jet engine in all commercial aircraft. In spite of the fact that it was possible for nearly anyone to escape earth’s gravity as a result of Dr. Armstrong’s discovery and subsequent invention.
The other more serious limitations on technology had mostly resulted in no one other than NASA even thinking about space exploration. It took a enormous amount of energy to open a shear into hyperspace and maintain it. You could light up a city the size of L. A. with what it took to create a shear. Not something the average homeowner was likely to be able to produce. As Andrew stood there thinking he slowly realized that for the first time in human history his thought truly were worlds away from him. With a start he pulled himself back to the here and now. It was 1600 hours and the main drive would be throttled back to normal operating conditions at 1800 hours.
That left him a half-hour to put together an informal report on how the system was functioning that he could present the Captain at dinner. While just leaving him time to get cleaned up, for in spite of his comment to the Captain regarding NASA personal having official uniforms he himself had never been much for formal attire. And considering the efficiency with which Captain Covington ran the Prometheus Andrew had little doubt that when he said “FORMAL” dinner what he meant was “FORMAL” dinner.
Just then Garret Tyler walked up wearing a personal computer of the new holographic display type that had become so popular with engineers and scientist in the last few years. Garret had been Andrews’s closest friend since being assigned as his lab assistant back at Cal Tech when Andrew was doing his doctoral thesis. They had remained close friends and colleges even in spite of Garret’s having eventually earned his own Ph.D. in physics.
Together they had earned the nickname of the brain trust among the seasoned submariners who were their crewmates. As Garret walked up he began adjusting his display unit to show a specific portion of the hyperdrive engine that was in it’s own way as much his brainchild as Andrews.
“What have you got Garret?” Andrew asks, already knowing what the answer would be.
“Just the expected flow dynamics charts from the shear fields,” Garret replied as he expanded the display he had been working with.
“As predicted within one standard deviation point of error” Garret continued bringing up an image that look for all the world like a psychedelic donut that had been cross breed with a beach ball.
“The torrid is remaining constant at a one kilometer radius” Andrew ask?
“Plus or minus ten meters” Garret answered “That ten Terahertz phase loop lock you designed into the field stabilizer works like magic.”
“Good” Andrew laughed, “Because the old man was just here and he wants a informal briefing during dinner, which by the way is at 1900 hours and formal.”
“I warned you Covington wouldn’t like us spending all our time down here” Garret mocked His good friend. Garrets father had been career navy, and an officer at that. Garret had indeed warned Andrew that Captain Covington would come looking for them if they didn’t keep him fully in the “LOOP” as Garret had called it.
While the truth was that the only reason that either of the doctors was even on board was that no one else on earth really understood how the Armstrong hyperdrive worked, their presence wasn’t actually necessary. The submariners that the navy had chosen were extremely able and capable sailors. Granted they weren’t at sea this time around, but then again no one else knew a submarine like navy submariners. And after all, a space ship is little more than a variation on the theme of the submarine. For the next two hours Garret and Andrew continued to monitor the progress of the Prometheus’ Armstrong drive as they counted down the remaining time before throttling down to what in the future would be normal operating levels for the drive unit.
Andrew uploaded to his own computer the data that Garret had shown him. It was after all his responsibility as the head of the research team to keep the Captain updated. A fact which in his own way Garret had been tormenting Andrew with for nearly three years now. In so far as his father had been an officer in the Navy Garret had something of an idea what to expect of Captain Covington. And had done his best to make sure that it was Andrew that did all the important interaction with the navy commander.
Garret had never really gotten over the very poor relationship he had had with his father. And without really thinking about it had chosen to put the blame on the navy rather than his father for the way things had turned out between the two of them. His father like Captain Covington had been a career submariner. Although only reaching the rank of Lieutenant Commander before dying in a tragic accident while Garret was in high school. His father like so many naval officers before him had been a strict disciplinarian who showed little in the way of emotion. While at the same time demanding the highest of standards from his only son.
The net result was that in an odd sort of way he knew exactly what to expect from Captain Covington. And found himself seriously put upon to not display a very sarcastic attitude towards the captain. Which was of course the reason that he more or less forced Andrew to handle the vast majority of interaction with Covington. Andrew had very fortunately had a wonderful relationship with his father as well as his grandfather both of whom had been astronauts. While his grandfather had been in the military his father had not, having chosen to work directly for NASA rather than any military branch.
So while he lacked the direct experience with the military mindset, he also lacked any of the prejudices that Garret had that made prolonged contact with officers painful. And as a result of his relationship with his grandfather Commander Neil Armstrong, Andrew actually had rather quite a bit of respect for career officers like Covington.
Andrew and Garret continued to compare actual reading from the Tokamaks reactor and the main drive unit and the projections that they had made in the years prior to the first flight of the Prometheus.
Making careful notes in all regards so that at dinner Andrew would have every thing that the captain might ask covered in his informal presentation. While Andrew knew that Garret would be at the captain’s formal dinner he also knew that unless the captain directly spoke to him that Garret would not say anything to the captain. That of course left the job up to Andrew. As he was transferring the most recent image that he and Garret had produced showing the differences between their original projections and the actual drive units performance his computers alarm began to beep. He had set it to give him the necessary amount of time to get prepared for dinner.
Ah Andrew exclaimed, that would be the bell tolling for whom we both know now.
Um, Andrew, Garret remarked, has anyone told you lately that you have a strange sense of humor?
By lately Andrew replied, would you mean say between the last four and five hours? Hmm he continued I think the Chief was mumbling something to that effect as he left. I got the distinct impression he wasn’t overly amused when I asked him to get me an inverted neutrino stabilizer.
He sure thought it was funny when he showed me that dam sea bat Garret said. By the way he added, I appreciate your getting even for me you have no idea how stupid I felt when I bent over to look in that bucket and he hit me in the ass with a broom.
It’s not like you’re the first person to fall for something like that Andrew said.
When I was thirteen Andrew continued, I was in the Boy Scouts. And we were on a campout and some of the older guys tricked me into going on a snipe hunt. A snipe is a mythical bird with one leg shorter than the other, that when it gets scared it runs around in circles. After about 30 minutes in the dark with a flashlight running around trying to catch one I noticed that all the older boys were laughing their ass’ off. It didn’t take me long to figure out what they were laughing at. So I was kind of getting even for myself here as well Garret.
Well thanks just the same, Garret replied
As he was saying this Andrew and Garret were just reaching their quarters. Which had once been officer’s staterooms and were now their cabins. One advantage to having reduced the crew down to 48 from 174 was that the crew had far more personal room that there had ever been when the Prometheus was a submarine.
As a submarine Andrew and Garret would have been sharing a single stateroom with two of the crews officers. As a space ship they actually were able to have cabins of their own. A fringe benefit of using a submarine that had been converted for space travel rather than designing a space ship from the ground up. In spite of having cabins of their own Andrew and Garret were required to share a shower with the other officers. And while this seemed somewhat cramped to both civilians had either of them been aware of what the conditions had been like for Andrews father or grandfather who had been astronauts prior to Andrews discovery and subsequent invention of Electro gravitation.
They would have considered themselves extremely fortunate. As it was they were blissfully ignorant. Nor was it just the subject of hygiene that they were ignorant. As civilian members of NASA neither were actually aware of the full implications involved in the concept of a full formal military dinner. While NASA did provide its employees with a uniform of sorts it consisted of a unisex jumper. A considerable difference from a formal military uniform. As a result both men were rather surprised to find that all of the ships senior officers were already engaged in rank and file shower detail. And that they as the ships sole civilian population had shown up late and as a consequence were last in line for the shower facilities.
Dam I should have expected this Garret lamented as he and Andrew took their places at the end of the line for the shower.
I don’t get it Andrew said upon hearing Garret.
Oh my dad was so spite and polish Garret replied that he wouldn’t leave the house in the morning unless he could see himself in all his buttons and his shoes. I should have expected that there would be a line for the shower based on rank.
At which point the officer standing in front of Andrew turned around and spoke.
No sir, he said this is strictly first come first served.
The nametag over his left breast identified him as Lt. jg. Masters
Thank you that is Lieutenant isn’t it? Andrew Asked?
Lieutenant junior grade Doctor Armstrong and its Wayne you’re a civilian there is no need to address me by rank Sir.
Thank you Wayne Andrew replied. I’m never really sure how to tell which insignia means, which rank anyhow.
It was at this point that another officer came out of the shower cubical and informed Lt. Jg. Masters that it was now his turn to use the shower facilities. Which of course moved Andrew and Garret respectively one step closer to the showers themselves.
Eyeing the shower with some suspicion Garret smiled ruefully and said, well you know what they say. There are those who having smelled the fires of the imperial court dream only of returning to the intrigue of the court and there are those for whom there is yet still hope. God I hope I never get to like these formal dinners Garret lamented.
At which Andrew began to laugh so hard that his sides hurt.
Please Andrew coughed, as if there were any chance of that ever happening.
Just then Lieutenant Masters emerged from the shower toweling off his hair and smiling.
Fortunately for you Dr. Tyler the old man only does this once a month he said as he moved quickly to his cabin in order to get dressed for dinner.
Andrew still laughing at the idea of Garret ever getting to like attending formal military functions stepped into the shower and said over his shoulder as he went.
Not much in the way of privacy on these things is there?
At which there was a number of laughs from the cabins near by, and a single voice that called out, hell this is the most privacy any of us have had in the last three years were starting to think were on a luxury cruise. Which of course produced another chorus of laughter. One thing that Garret had noticed was that each of the officers had been in and out of the shower in less than two minuets. The laughter and the joke made Garret release that these men were used to a Spartan existence that he was going to have to get used to as well. And he just might have to rethink some of the things he had always assumed about his father.
Just then Garret felt a sharp stabbing sensation in his eyes as a blinding flash of negative light enveloped him momentarily causing him to loose his equilibrium.
“What the hell” Garret started to say only to be drowned out by the shouts for answers from the officers now hastily emerging from their quarters in various degrees of formal dress.
“Dr. Tyler are you alright?” Lt. Masters asked him as he helped Garret up.
“Yes I’m fine” Garret answered looking around to see whom all were now present.
“Andy” Garret called out “you o.k.”
“And I though getting soap in my eyes was bad” Andrew said as he emerged from the shower.
“What was that Dr. Armstrong” Lt. Masters ask Andrew as he was toweling the last of the water from his hair.
“I’m not certain Wayne” Andrew replied “A rough guess though would be that somehow we were just knocked out of hyperspace.”
“Not a bad Guess Dr. Armstrong” the familiar voice of Captain Covington said as he climbed down the ladder leading from the conning tower. We got about ten seconds warning up in command before it happened.
“You got a warning about this” Garret ask rather surprised.
“The navigator’s computer said that the drive field had been phase inverted and was shutting down in ten seconds” the Captain answered “Which is why I am here to see you gentlemen.”
Before he could say any more Andrew interjected with “And you want to know what happened right?”
“That would be a good start” Covington said.
“Garret check the error logs for the drives main impellers” Andrew said as he turned and headed for his cabin. “Captain” he continued “I’m going to need a sensor log of what is outside us right now.” He was in his cabin putting on his jumpsuit as he said this. Not even bothering to put shoes on he immediately followed the captain back to the bridge.
When Andrew had first designed the ships hyperspace drive unit he had discovered that there was one very interesting aspect to it. If more than one drive field should happen to overlap another both fields would invert and collapse. At the time Andrew had though it rather funny because he personally was of the belief that the size of the universe and the age of the universe conspired to keep intelligent life isolated by both time and distance. His view was that it would be a long time before this particular aspect of the hyperdrive would present any problem.
As a result he had decided not to include any buffer circuitry in the drive unit. As he and the captain reached the bridge Captain Covington began calling out orders to his bridge crew. In spite of what had just happened Andrew was slightly surprised and greatly relieved to find the men on the bridge appeared completely unaffected. Andrews respect for the crew’s professionalism and Captain Covington’ control of his ship just kept growing.
“Mr. Spencer” the captain called out “give me a sensor reading of our position.”
“Reverse neutrino imaging system and mass spectrometer both showed a momentary image sir” Mr. Spencer replied “both are clear at this time captain.”
“Can you call up those images for Dr. Armstrong” the captain asked?
“Yes sir” Mr. Spencer replied. Before the Snark had become a spaceship Mr. Spencer would have been the ships sonar operator. While sound does not carry through the vacuum of space the Prometheus still needs to know what is around her to avoid running into anything.
The result was that Mr. Spencer had been given the position of navigator. As navigator he had control of all the ships sensors. In place of the sonar that had been on the USS Snark the Prometheus had an imaging system that was based on one of the unique aspects of the neutrino. If you capture two neutrinos at the point of their creation they have the unique ability to instantly mirror each other regardless of how far apart the become. By capturing one and emitting the other it becomes possible to reconstruct an image of what ever the emitted neutrino passes through. In effect producing a three-dimensional image of whatever the neutrino field passes through. Kind of like a high definition 3D radar.
This combined with the electro-gravitional field’s ability to correctly measure any objects molecular density and mass allowed the Prometheus to see what was around her far better than the Snark could ever have hoped to.
And thanks to the Artificial Intelligence computer system she had Prometheus knew to keep records of anything that her sensors registered that was unusual. While the Prometheus’ AI was not as intelligent as an adult human it was close. This like the sensors was an advantage that the Prometheus held over her earlier incarnation the USS Snark.
“Well Doctor?” the captain asked.
“Hmm,” Andrew replied “to tell you the truth Captain we knew that mathematically this was a possibility but we calculated the probability to be so low that we didn’t make the necessary buffering circuitry active.”
“Excuse me Doctor” Captain Covington said “but you knew what was a possibility?”
“Oh I’m sorry Captain, we just passed through another ships drive field that’s why our drive shut down.” Andrew answered the now stunned Captain of the Prometheus. The silence on the bridge was palpable. And yet the discipline that had impressed Andrew just moments ago was still there. Captain Covington sat down and stroked his beard with his right hand in an absent-minded manner, while a deep and thoughtful look played across his face.
“What is rather interesting here’ Andrew continued on “is that that other ship did have the necessary buffering circuitry.”
“Suggesting that they either expected this sort of thing to happen” Captain Covington said “or they had reason to know that it would happen.”
“That would seem to be the case.” Andrew said.
At that moment Garret entered the bridge bringing his error logs displayed on his portable computer.
“I’m just guessing here” he said “but it look as if we passed through some kind of artificial gravitational matrix back there.”
“Yeah” Andrew replied “the ships sensor logs show the same thing, right now I have HAL doing a reconstruction of the ship that was producing it.”
“A ship” Garret blurted out “are you sure? Oh man have you any idea how teed off Professor Maxwell is going to be?” At this suggestion Andrew began to laugh uncontrollably and the very thoughtful look on Captain Covington’s face became one of puzzlement.
“Professor Maxwell? Covington asked making his puzzlement vocal.
Andrew wiped the tears from his eyes and fought to bring his laughter under control.
“Professor Maxwell” he said “is the head of the Physics department at Caltech and the current director of the SETI program.”
“And somewhat narrow minded” Garret interjected. “He is of the opinion that only SETI has any chance of detecting any evidence of intelligent life in the universe other than human.”
“Oh and” Garret continued before Andrew could interrupt him “Andrew and Professor Maxwell have had a long running feud about ET.” “Professor Maxwell” Garret went on “is certain that ET is out there someplace while Andrew here has always claimed that the age of the universe and it’s size made it impossible for two intelligent species to exist at the same time.”
“The irony of course” Andrew told the bewildered captain “is that I will be credited with proving that extra terrestrial intelligence exist.”
“And that” Garret said “is going to piss Professor Maxwell off absolutely no end.”
“I see” Captain Covington said in a tone which suggested the exact opposite.”
“Gentlemen” Captain Covington addressed both doctors “are there any other little surprises that I should know about?”
Andrew who to his credit managed to look rather embarrassed replied “not that I can think of just now Captain.”
“Me either” Garret answered.
In spite of the fact that when the Prometheus was refitted her computer system was not made by the legendary IBM, it still garnered the nickname HAL. Lieutenant Master’s had been the one to notice that the HP/Compaq merger that had led to this computer’s creation had taken place in 2001. Which was also the name of the Arthur C. Clark novel in which the first AI computer had been predicted. Because of the similarities between the Prometheus’s computer and the fictional computer Lieutenant Master’s began calling the Prometheus computer HAL. It didn’t take long before the rest of the crew was doing likewise.
“Dr. Armstrong” a soft neutral voice spoke “the reconstruction of the alien ship is complete now.”
“Thank you HAL” Andrew said. “Please give us a visual display and a verbal summary of what you found” Andrew continued. At this a holographic image appeared in the center of the bridge where the periscope had once been. It was a sphere of some dull gray material, which seemed to be completely featureless. There was a bright green line overlaying the sphere that was divided into even increment obviously placed there by HAL to denote scale.
“As you can see” HAL began, “this ship measures almost exactly one kilometer in diameter. And has a outer hull constructed of a ceramic beryllium alloy quite similar to that of the Prometheus.
It appears to serve the same function although it has a higher degree of reflectivity than that used on the Prometheus. There are a series of decks bisecting the ship sixteen in all dividing it into two hemispheres, which appear to be duplicates of each other. Eight decks in each hemisphere thus allowing a great deal of open space that has been filled with a large quantity of flora.”
The holographic image now displayed a one-quarter cut away view and a one-quarter transparent view. And began to enlarge at a slow but steady rate as HAL continued his narration. Various objects being highlighted with a blue flashing outline as HAL described them.
“I have no actual data on the next few items” HAL said “I believe that the aliens have employee some kind of quantum phase shielding technique. Where the neutrino scan should have displayed the contents of these areas of the ship no image was returned. Based on the configuration of the ship it would be logical to conclude that these sections of the ship should have held the main drive units. These over here should be the living quarters. And that leaves these as probable weapons bays.
Considering the fiction that has been loaded into the Prometheus library.” HAL went on is a somewhat dryer voice than previously “the next images will probably come as a disappointment. “This” he said, “appears to be the ships bridge and command staff.” The next images were stunning in their familiarity. The aliens looked nearly indistinguishable from any other humans anyone on the Prometheus had ever seen.
The first person to react was Captain Covington.
“Are you certain that these are aliens” the captain asked?
“Yes Captain” HAL answered. While they are obviously of the same species as all other humans from earth, they completely any lack shared mitocontral DNA. All human life on earth can be traced back to a single common ancestor by means of their mitacondral DNA, which as I have stated these aliens do not share. As they passed us they issued some form of communiqué I have as yet not fully deciphered. It is in no known human language or any derivative of any human language. And unlike all earth based human languages is not derived from any symbolic representation of auditory tones. It is a binary computer language constructed around mathematical and chemical symbols.
The message seems to say “greetings/hello/goodbye” “rudeness/understanding/not understanding/mild confusion” “not intending rudeness/your ignorance?” “Beep beep/please to be avoiding passing traffic” “safe journey/cautious travel to you” I will need a larger sample of the language to render a more complete translation. It was at this point that Garret began laughing out loud.
“And what Dr. Tyler is it that you find so amusing” Captain Covington asked?
“Our first trip out into the galaxy” Garret laughed “And we almost get run over by a interstellar school bus on its way to Disneyland and they tell us its rude to stare.
“You have to admit” Andrew said, “half of that bridge crew if that’s what they were did look as if they were juveniles.”
“Doctor Tyler” HAL asked, “how did you come to the conclusion that they were implying that we were staring at them.”
“Did you notice” Garret answered “that the only crew members we saw were those on the bridge, a ship that size certainly must have a larger crew than that. That combined with those areas that didn’t show up in our scan suggest that we were looking more intently than they considered polite. And while its possible that they might have been implying that our failure to communicate was how we were being rude it seems unlikely because they made no attempt to wait for any reply on our part.”
“And” Andrew added “they seemed to know that we were here, yet did not appear to make any attempt to scan us in any manner similar to how we scanned them.”
“Dr. Armstrong” HAL interrupted “I believe I have an explanation for that. While a great deal of the alien ship was somehow cloaked I was able to discover certain aspects of the ship through indirect methods. One of those aspects was that because of their twin oscillating drive field configuration they also were able to manage something our design is not capable of.
Their design allows them to have a gravitation based sensor array while the drive is functioning. While it is not as fine a resolution as our main sensors it does work in hyperspace. And Captain I have already sent the specifications for the required printed circuit boards to Master Chief Gunner to upgrade our drive units to give us this additional sensor capability.”
“HAL” the Captain answered “do you have a estimated time until these upgrades will be completed?”
“Master Chief Gunner informs me approximately four hours” HAL replied to the Captains query, “Until the improvement are operational.”
“Keep me appraised of the situation” Captain Covington said “I don’t want to re-enter hyperspace blind again, until then as this situation does not appear to present any eminent threat I will see you gentlemen at dinner in ten minuets.”
At this announcement from the captain Andrew, Garret and Lt. Masters all proceeded to return to their quarters from the bridge to complete getting dressed for dinner while the rest of the crew secured from the general quarters that had been sounded as they had dropped out of hyperspace. Thus Andrew and Garret got their first glimpse of the future of space travel, minuets of excitement surrounded by weeks and weeks of shear boredom. For the crew of the Prometheus having been submariners before becoming astronauts this was what they were already experienced with. So for them there was no change in their already well established routines.
Lt. Masters explained to them that this was the reason that the Captain held these formal dinners. That the navy had discovered centuries before that ritual’s of this nature served to enhance shipboard discipline. And forestall the restlessness that often accompanies long stretches of boredom in cramped spaces. What really surprised Andrew was that in spite of what had just happened the crew remained completely calm and went about their business as if nothing at all had happened. Inside the officers dining room the Prometheus’ officers were seated and talking among themselves cheerfully in a very relaxed manner only waiting for the captain to join them before beginning dinner.
Just then Captain Covington walked in. All the officers began to stand but before they could get completely erect Covington said, “As you were.” In spite of the formal uniforms Andrew soon learned that dinner was more relaxed than formal. And somewhat to his surprise he noticed that Garret was extremely talkative. Andrew gave the presentation that he and Garret had worked out earlier and included the information that they had received from HAL. Master Chief Gunner was there as well which surprised Andrew, as the Master Chief wasn’t actually a commissioned officer. Lt. Masters explained that he was there because he was the highest-ranking enlisted man on board and as such represented the crew.
Andrew and the Master Chief briefly discussed the design that HAL had come up with for the new sensors. However Captain Covington made it clear that any serious discussion would have to take place at a later time, this was after all dinner not a strategy planning session. Garret had told Andrew when they first learned that they would be onboard the Prometheus that there was one nice thing about the way the navy treated submariners. They do feed them well Garret had said, a fact that the Captains formal dinner bore out quite well.
About halfway through dinner the captain asked Andrew how the existence of aliens could have come as so much a surprise to him. To which Andrew could only tug his beard and smile. “Being a physicist” Andrew replied “means placing an enormous amount of faith in mathematics, and the mathematics have always appeared to suggest that while the existence of extra terrestrial intelligence’s is a near certainty, the probability of actually meeting an ETI is virtually nil.”
“Carl Sagan” Garret continued “first suggested that the shear size and age of the universe were the two largest obstacles preventing intelligent species from meeting. Our galaxy alone is some 12 billion years old and some 230 million light years across. Finding a needle in a hay stack the size of the planet earth would be child’s play compared to finding another intelligent race in the volume that represents.”
“However” HAL spoke up “The late Dr. Sagan never considered hyperspace as a valid theory. And while I am still waiting on the new mass spetromity sensors that Master Chief Gunner is fabricating for me I have temporally rigged a circuit that now explains how the alien ship knew we were here and why they did not seem to be surprised to see us.”
The captain was the first to react to the news that HAL had delivered.
“Explain yourself HAL” the captain ordered.
“At the moment the circuits that I have provide a rather fuzzy image of hyperspace that has a limited range. It is however a four dimensional image. And I can see the wake of both our ship, and of the alien vessel that we encountered a short time ago. I can also see what appears to be the wakes of many, many other ships. I would hazard a guess that what I am seeing could probably be described as the major shipping lines for hyperspace.
HAL delivered this piece of information with the disconcerted grace only a AI could, as if he were describing the American freeway system to an Englishman. Something the Englishman had always known was there but had just never actually seen. It was quite simply a case of life imitating art, in this case HAL’s programming imitating the fictional computer for which he was named after.
The silence in the wardroom ticked away in seconds of complete shock. Had HAL announced that GOD had just called the Captain on the telephone and asked that he join him for dinner the ensuing silence would not have been more complete.
Captain Covington frowned and spoke first breaking the now pregnant silence. “Well, he said “anyone think now might be a good time to tuck our proverbial tails between our legs and run for home?”
Where only a moment before there had been silence was now a tumult of voices all straining to be heard. One voice however was conspicuously absent, the voice of the man who was responsible for their being where they were in the first place. Rather than displaying any of the outward signs of excitement that the others in the wardroom were showing he sat back slowly sipping from a cup of coffee.
A fact, which while everyone else in the room had failed to notice, had not escaped Captain Covington’s attention. Displaying the self discipline and shrewd judgement that was the hallmark of a experienced commanding officer Covington allowed the senior officers under his command to respond to the newest development. After 30 seconds he tapped his spoon against his water glass for quite.
“Dr Armstrong” the captain said, “ I suspect you have something profound to say at this point?”
By way of answer Andrew set down his coffee cup and reached into his right breast pocket and pulled out a small merchbaum pipe and a foil packet of tobacco, which he proceeded to fill and light. Only when there was a aromatic wreath of light blue smoke circling around his head did he proceed to answer the Captain.
After their many years of close company Garret recognized the posture now being displayed by his friend and wondered if the Captain suspected just how prophetic his question was. This was indeed the exact same posture that Andrew had exhibited at the moment the ephipiny had struck him about quantum interaction and electro gravitation. It was what Garret had years ago taken to calling Andrews “dangerously thoughtful look”. The same posture he had been in when Admiral Collins had ask the fateful question some four and a half years earlier “can you?” And Garret alone suspected the depth of the answer the Captain was about to receive.
“I believe” Andrew replied at last “that it’s time you opened those sealed orders of yours Captain, as they probably contain our next move.”
It suddenly seemed as if someone had shoved a steel rod down Covington’s spine he sat up so straight. A dead pan poker face now replaced the almost relaxed expression that he had worn until Dr. Armstrong had spoken.
Lt. Masters sat up equally straight and looked at Captain Covington who barley nodded. Master then reached into the front of his uniform and pulled out a chain that hung around his neck which held a red magnetic key card. Removing it he placed it on the table as Covington did the same.
“HAL” Covington said “verify authorization code one alpha foxtrot niner niner seven five tango epsilon delta fiver seven gulf.
“Authorization code one alpha foxtrot niner niner seven five tango epsilon delta fiver seven gulf confirmed please expose key one” HAL replied”. Covington held his magnetic key card up. “Key confirmed” HAL again replied.
“Verify authorization code Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall Humpty Dumpty had a great fall and all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put Humpty together again” Lt. Master spoke.
“Authorization code Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall Humpty Dumpty had a great fall and all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put Humpty together again confirmed please expose key two” HAL again stated. Lt. Masters repeated the act of holding his magnetic key card up. . “Key confirmed” HAL again replied.
At which a holographic display appeared flashing a warning of TOP SECRET CAPTAINS EYES ONLY. As the officers began to stand with the obvious intent of leaving the wardroom Captain Covington spoke “As you were gentlemen, If Dr. Armstrong is suggesting what I think he is we might as well all see what is in here.”
Covington reached up and touched one edge of the holograph and the page flickered and changed. They were now looking at the image of Admiral Collins who began his briefing. “Hello Pat, If your viewing this then you might want to call your command officers in to see it as well. I won’t bullshit you here’s how it stands the entire scientific community tell us that the odds of your running into anything alive and intelligent out there are practically non-existent.
However since they can’t completely rule ET out I am required to issue these orders in the event that you do discover Intelligent Alien life. You are under no circumstances to allow earth’s position to be revealed. If it means you cannot return without being discovered, then I’m sorry you and your crew cannot come home. Earth’s security is paramount and must be protected at all costs.
If you are discovered and are unable to conceal your point of origin Dr. Armstrong has been authorized by the United Nations to act as Earth’s Ambassador this is solely as a last resort and his powers of negotiation are both final and absolute. What ever you do, protect earth’s interests. On behalf of the President of the United States of America and the Joint Chiefs of Staff good luck and God bless, were all going to need it. Admiral Collins out”.
Captain Covington reached up and touched the corner of the holograph once again, this time turning it off.
“Master Chief” the captain said, “In the locker above your head you will find a 150 year old bottle of scotch, it has been handed down from captain to captain since the Snark was first commissioned. Tradition says it is only drunk from when it looks like thinks can’t get any worse. I think it’s time to change that tradition.”
Master Chief Gunner reached up and opened the locker above his head and retrieved the bottle the captain had spoken of while Lt. Masters began passing out shot glasses. Gunner passed the bottle to the captain who opened it and poured himself a double before passing the bottle on. As each man around the table poured their drink they all waited until at last the bottle came to Dr. Armstrong. The bottle was still nearly half full, a fact which did not escape Andrews notice.
“Here’s to perhaps the most important event in human history” Andrew said as he raised his drink. “Let us pray that the fortune that has allowed this bottle to reach us with so much of it’s contents intact will continue to prevail for as many more years as it already has.”
With that Andrew emptied his entire double of 150-year-old scotch whiskey in a single gulp and sat his shot glass down on the table upside down.
“I couldn’t have said it better myself “ Covington said.
Each man at the table then nodded his head in accent with the proffered toast and repeated the actions of Dr. Armstrong and Captain Covington, complete to the placing of their shot glasses upside down on the table signifying the finality of their decision and the totality of their agreement.
Only one ominous question remained unanswered, whom would the new Ambassador Armstrong be negotiating with? And as fate would have it, it was a question that would receive an answer far sooner than anyone on board the Prometheus could possible have guessed.
“Gentlemen” the Captain said, “I believe we all have work to.” And that was as far as he got when the collision klaxon began sounding.
“General Quarters, General Quarters this is not a drill the Captain will please report to the bridge.” The voice was unmistakable that of the ships computer HAL and at that moment all hell seems to break loose.
“What the hells going on HAL” the captain demanded even as he raced down the passageway towards the bridge.
“Sir” HAL responded “I have detected a ship on a collision course with us and it’s closing fast.”
“Evasive maneuvers” Covington started to order.
“No time Sir” HAL responded “They are already here, and they are hailing us.”
“Dr. Armstrong to the bridge” Covington said into the microphone at his captain’s chair. “Well HAL” Covington continued “what are they saying this time?”
“It’s an audio and video transmission sir” HAL answered “I am recording it sir.”
A holographic display of an elderly gentleman appeared.
“Greetings fellow beings on behalf of the Dayvom Empire welcome to the Dayvom commonwealth. My name is Amshivom Klerivok, special envoy representing His imperial majesty Gerric Dis Exectrum emperor of the Dayvom Empire. Is there someone on board your vessel bonded to represent your world?”
At this point Dr. Armstrong entered the bridge, HAL had been playing the alien’s message for Andrew and he immediately responded.
“Yes” he spoke “I am Ambassador Armstrong, I have been authorized to negotiate on behalf of our planet.”
“Delightful” Amshivom Klerivok replied “ there is a planet 23 light years from here maintained by the Dayvom commonwealth for ceremonies of state we are transmitting it’s location to your ships personality if you would be so kind as to follow us there we have ever so much to discuss.”
“It would be our pleasure Ambassador Klerivok” Andrew responded. With a nod to the Captain the communication channel was cut and Andrew let out a deep sigh.
“Out of the frying pan and into the fire eh Doc” the captain asked?
“Well at least they didn’t insist on boarding us or shoot first and not bother asking questions at all.” Andrew replied with a laugh to the captain.
“Captain” HAL said, “I have received the co-ordinates from Transak, Ambassador Klerivok’s ship. Along with some interesting engine protocol adjustments that Transak assures me will allow us to keep up with them.”
“Are you suggesting that the Ambassador’s ship is an artificial intelligence?” Garret who had followed Dr. Armstrong to the bridge asked?
“No Dr. Tyler I am not suggesting it, it is a fact I need not speculate on. Although I might add that Transak barely considers me intelligent. Our estimated time of arrival at the imperial planet of Pyridine is just under one hour.”
“One hour to cover 23 light years” Andrew exclaimed, “ I have to see those protocol adjustments that Transak gave HAL.”
“Me too” Garret chimed in as both men practically ran from the bridge. Captain Covington looked around the bridge with a weary look of resignation, there was nothing for him to either say or do.
For the moment the fates of ancient lore seemed to have conspired against him leaving only one course of action. Follow Transak on to Pyridine and watch as Ambassador Klerivok and Dr. Armstrong would decide earth’s fate. As a career officer in the United States Navy he was used to seeing this happen. It was never easy, it was however how things were done back home. And somehow gave Covington a small sense of security.
It was at this point that he suddenly realized that the ships engines had become almost but not quite silent. What now seemed like years but was only hours ago Dr. Armstrong had told him once they had finished their burn in tests this would happen. Covington suspected that Transak’s adjustments were probably responsible for a considerable amount of noise abatement as well. He was just making up his mind to take this up with HAL when the ships computer addressed him first.
“Captain may I speak with you in private” HAL asked. In spite of the unusual nature of the request Covington was inclined to agree.
“Lt. Master you have command, I’ll be in my state room” Covington said as he left the bridge. Lt. Masters employing every bit of self-control he had ever learned as an officer looked around the room with what appeared to be calm nonchalance. Acknowledged the captain with a nod and proceeded over to the charting table where the captains chair was located and sat down.