Space Madness: Episode III
The ship decelerated into the inertial frame of this unfamiliar solar system. It would be another week or two before it would settle into a polar orbit of the star, another day or two after that to detect planets that could support life, and another week or two to get to the destination. One thing mankind had not counted on when it took to the stars was how annoyingly difficult it is to find planets, even when you know you are in the correct solar system.
One of the oldest legends of space travel tells of the first great colony ship from Earth, the Columbus, which spent twenty years in interstellar space traveling to its destination: Proxima Centauri. Upon arrival the crew could not locate any of the planets in the system, and spent the next ten years poking about the solar system, looking for it. By the time they found the planet, three quarters of the colonists were dead from riots, starvation and cannibalism.
This star system had its own difficulties. For one, the star was a red giant. The radius of the star itself was about 1.2 AUs. Any planets that would have been habitable long ago would have been swallowed up when the star balooned up to its current size. Anything left over would be difficult to see, being obscured by the monster in the middle of the system. There was also a lot of static in the radio and microwave frequency bands, so transmissions from whatever might be out here would be garbled beyond recognition.
Paps had settled down a bit. It was a good thing he was already crazy, because the thought of him being a pawn in some unknown alien plot would have driven him mad. He was starting to think that Hal was more than just a hallucination, but some part of his subconscious mind trying to warn him about what’s happening. Hal knew about the aliens back on the planet that fixed the ship and did God knows what to Paps’ brain. Hal also seemed to know about the creatures he was currently on his way to meet.
Paps sat up straight in his Space Captain’s chair, and attempted to look confident and in charge. Hal seemed to be fascinated by the image of the giant red star on the viewscreen. “You know, if we were this far away from your homeworld’s star, it would be a little yellow dot on the center of the screen.”
“Very interesting, Hal. But I have some things I need to ask you.”
“Do you want to know about the aliens you already met but can’t remember? Or the ones you are about to meet?”
Paps was intensely curious about both, but was afraid that any more information about the ones he already met would set off another panic attack. These new aliens didn’t exactly fill his heart with feelings of joy, but they were the immediate problem he had to deal with. “The new ones. Who are they?”
“Well, names of species are usually the hardest to translate, especially when the methods of communication are completely different.”
“How do they communicate?”
“They speak to each other via modulated infra-red pulses. Devilishly difficult to translate.”
When Paps was going through Space Captain Training a long time ago, he had to take several courses on what to do in case of first contact with an advanced alien race. Trying to talk using infra-red pulses was not covered in the course. “Can I talk to them using a remote control?”
“Sure, if you want to annoy them with gibberish.”
“Seriously, how am I supposed to talk to them?”
“You can use the translator.”
“That one.” Hal pointed to a little device sitting on the navigation console. It was a small box with various sensory protuberances.
Paps fell out of his chair and started to breathe heavily. He thought he could get used to all the unexpected things that kept happening to him. Apparently he had a few more unexpected things left to go. “Where did that come from?!” He had to ask this, even though he knew the answer.
“What do you mean ‘where did it come from?’ It’s been there the whole time. You just never asked what it was.”
“And that thing translates English to Remote Control Alien Language?”
“And the other way around.”
Paps was starting to get that feeling again. That helpless feeling where your fate is being controlled by an alien that you can’t remember. Worse, he couldn’t think of a plausible reason for anyone to send him out here to talk to these other aliens. Ambassador for humanity? In his current state, he was the worst possible candidate for that job. “Alright, I’m not going to ask why the Sand Dune Aliens messed with my head just so I can talk to the Remote Control Aliens. I’m going to take a deep breath, compose myself, and ask something useful.”
Paps put his head between his knees and started breathing more heavily. Hal seemed amused by this. “Your reactions are getting less frantic. Good for you!”
Paps was not entertained. He composed himself once again. It worried him that he had to spend so much time composing himself. “What else do you know about these Remote Control Aliens?”
“For the sake of brevity let’s call them the Remotes, I like that. And the other ones… the Sandys. No, the Duners, that’s better. You know, they communicate via low frequency vibrations through the ground, and some clicking noises when they’re near each other…”
“Focus, Hal, Focus!”
“Right. Ok. The Remotes, as we’re now calling them, are the most ancient race in the galaxy. This used to be their home system, before it went red giant.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Something like 50 million years ago. They all packed up and left after that, nobody knows exactly where.”
Paps cracked a smile at Hal’s overly dramatic delivery. “I assume that when you say ‘nobody knows,’ you mean that you don’t know.”
“Of course. If I don’t know where they went, nobody does. Well, nobody important anyway. What was I saying? Oh yes, they left a research station behind for some reason, and that’s where we’re going.”
This was less helpful than Paps had hoped for. “Do they get visitors often? What kind of reception should I expect?”
“Most species aren’t dumb enough to actually come and talk to them. The Remotes generally regard other species as being beneath them, or primitive. Depending on their mood, they might blow you out of the sky, or they might take your ship and put you in a zoo, or they might listen to what you have to say and have a good infra-red laugh about it and let you go on your merry way.”
Paps slumped. “This is hopeless. I suppose I should do a little dance routine and hope the most horrible conceivable thing doesn’t happen to me. At least I’ve got a few weeks before the ship finds them. That will give me time to properly brood about this.”
“Actually, they’ve already found you.”
“Oh, yes. You’re being boarded right now.”
Paps whirled the Space Captain’s Chair around to get a look at the entrance to the bridge. The door was closed, but behind it was the sound of metal scraping on metal.
“Put on your dancing shoes, because here they come.”
WILL THE CAPTAIN BE KILLED BY THESE REMOTE CONTROL ALIENS? WILL HE BECOME AN EXHIBIT IN AN EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL ZOO? FIND OUT ON THE NEXT EPISODE OF…