“Commander, I’m sorry to wake you at this hour, but it’s urgent. You are needed on the bridge.” Commander Kaina Vollinn grumbled softly in her bed, tapping her communicator implant and sitting up straight. “Coming.” The woman stood nine feet tall, her split lower jaw stretching wide in a long yawn. Kaina slipped out of her night suit and pulled her uniform suit on, admiring her heavy tail in the mirror. She had always felt proud of her tail, and this uniform certainly did it justice. Taking her jacket in her four-fingered hand, she stepped from her quarters and moved swiftly down the hallway, taking a gravity lift to the lower decks.
“What is the situation?” Commander Vollinn asked the night crew as she walked onto the bridge, and suddenly all talking stopped. The crew looked to each other, then to Keipan, the officer in charge. “Well? I was woken up for an emergency, what is it?” Vollinn said, rubbing her temples. The commanding officer on the bridge spoke up, in an unsure tone, “We… aren’t quite sure ourselves. Long range sensors picked up an anomalous object, which we passed off as a stray chunk of space debris. But it appears to have a very faint power signature, matching no known patterns. We would be interested in taking a closer look.”
Keipan stood straight as Vollinn’s expression became quizzical; Vollinn turned her gaze on Keipan, studying her for a moment. Keipan could feel the other woman’s piercing gaze, attempting to understand, before relief washed over her as Commander Vollinn turned to face her with a friendly smile.
“Of course. Make available any resources you need, and keep me informed.” Vollinn sat at her position, and observed.
“Forward fifty percent, and make ready the scanners.”
The officer paced between stations, giving orders and instructions like a true bridge officer. She would make a fine captain someday, Vollinn thought to herself.
“Commander?” Keipan began, catching Vollinn off guard.
“Yes?” Vollinn blurted, surprising herself with the volume of her voice; she spoke softer. “What is it?”
“Should we wake the captain?”
“I don’t feel that’s necessary, there is not yet cause for concern. Likely just a lost tourist anyway.”
Keipan nodded, turning to speak again with the bridge crew, when Vollinn grabbed her arm gently; “And, just between you and me, I like being the officer in charge while the Captain is off duty.” Keipan snickered to herself, pulling away with a smile. “We’re approaching the object, Commander.”
“Good”, Vollinn said. “Start your scans.”
The large, sleek starcraft came to a stop a fair distance from the object, the blue-green scanner beams of energy passing through the hull of the other ship. “It’s… definitely a ship, of some sort. It matches no known configurations… It has a very odd construction. It’s being pulled into the gravity well of a large asteroid. It’s on a collision course, and appears to have insufficient power to escape. It does not answer our hails to ascertain its status and offer aid; it doesn’t even acknowledge our presence. If there are life-forms onboard, they may be injured or incapacitated. Should we move to intercept?” Keipan looked closer at the holographic projection of the derelict craft, turning and examining it with her hands.
Vollinn stood, peering through the window surrounding the bridge, eyeing the craft carefully. “Implement first contact procedures. We will assess the damage to their vessel and render aid, try to establish a peaceful dialogue with the new species, and return them on their journey if they desire. Bring it aboard, and exercise extreme caution. Pull it into cargo bay 1, I’ll meet the xenologists there. Keipan, your linguistic expertise may be needed; you’re with me.” Vollinn ordered, quickly leaving the bridge with Keipan following closely, the pair stepping into a gravity lift. The crew scrambled in the cargo bay to make room for the incoming vessel, and Commander Vollinn watched as the grappling cords silently approached their target.
Nick Casey, the pilot of the starship Resilient, awoke with a headache, touching the side of his head to find a long since healed scar. Peering through the porthole in the cryo-pod he didn’t remember entering, his bleary vision showed the shuttle totally dark, with only the blinking lights on the vitals monitors on the stasis pods to illuminate the cabin. Just as he reached for the manual release, he heard a muffled metallic clunk reverberate through the ship, sending a jolt through his body.
“The hell was that?” he said aloud to himself in a scratchy, unused voice, pulling the manual release lever and pushing aside the lid of his pod, shivering in the frigid air. It was warmer in stasis.
The proximity alert light was rapidly flashing in the cockpit, and another loud bang from outside the hull compounded his question. It didn’t sound like the docking clamps on the space station, and it didn’t sound like a boarding party coming to revive them. He reasoned that they must have dropped out of warp.
Muscle memory kicked in. He immediately pushed off the wall of his pod and tapped the hub computer to life, dialed up the thermostat, and hovered his hand over the button which would wake the passengers, as he had done at least a thousand times before. He thought for a moment, remembering what had happened.
“If we’re stranded out here,” he thought out loud, “they shouldn’t have to have to be awake for it.”
He looked down the access corridor towards the emergency exit, and saw nothing but the starry expanse of space where the escape pod should have been. Probably stolen, and he had a pretty good idea by whom.
He kicked off the wall and floated across the hub, starting up the main computer station in the cockpit. A metal prybar with a bloodied end floated across his view, undoubtedly the same weapon which marked him for death in this damned shuttle. He pushed it out of his way, grumbling.
He checked the computer, then double-checked. The chronometer indicated they had been in stasis for 5 years, 3 months, and 26 days. Power from shipwide systems had at some point been automatically diverted to keep the stasis pods running; communications, navigation, life support, and FTL propulsion had evidently been offline for a long, long time. The sub-light engines still had fuel and appeared to be one of the few remaining operational systems, but they had been disengaged.
He bumped his arm into the right wall, cursing and pulling himself back into the pilot’s seat. For some reason, he had drifted to the other side of the cockpit. Perplexed, he checked the speed gauge on another panel. The shuttle had no forward velocity, and a lateral speed of 3 meters per second. The pilot looked out through the small side porthole, his eyes wide with shock.
A colossal ship, just outside. It had what looked like towing cables affixed to the shuttle, and it was reeling them towards a cavernous open bay.
It was not a human ship.
Nick couldn’t believe what he saw, his head starting to swim. Paralyzed by shock, he was powerless to break his gaze as the alien ship grew larger and larger in his view, until the shuttle passed through an energy barrier, and they were inside.
To his surprise, he fell downwards in his seat and heard objects throughout the cabin clatter to the floor. Artificial gravity. Artificial gravity?! He supposed that whatever these beings were, they were far technologically superior; this made him even more frightened as the shuttle gently thudded against the floor of the alien ship.
Bright mauve light shone into the dark interior of the shuttle through the portholes and cockpit canopy, forcing him to squint. Though his eyes were struggling to adjust to the sudden light, he could make out the unmistakable forms of a group of several tall, bipedal, suited beings carrying strange equipment filing across the wide bay, circling the shuttlecraft and approaching the escape pod airlock. He could hear them talking to each other in deep, guttural groans and warbling tones.
“Well, Commander, it certainly isn’t one of ours,” Keipan quipped. The two women led the science team forward into the cargo bay as the cables released the derelict ship, setting it gently on the floor. “Look for a door,” Vollinn ordered, her crew moving forward quickly and searching the derelict craft’s exterior for a hatch.
“Commander, I think I found something.” One of her crew shouted, poking his head in front of a tiny circular window, which sat in the center of what appeared to be a small, round inset door. A barely audible shuffling noise came from inside the ship, and Vollinn thought she saw a figure moving in the shadows inside. “I’m reading three undiscovered alien life forms inside; they barely register through the hull, but two are stationary, and one is in motion.”
A slamming noise came from inside the craft, followed by a series of mechanical clicks. The commander grinned excitedly, turning to Keipan. “Think we should go in and say hello?” Commander Vollin remarked, leading the group around the small craft to the hatch mentioned by the young officer.
Simple diagrams painted on the surface of the small, circular door indicated how it could be opened, with arrows indicating the operation of a certain lever.
As instructed by the alien diagram, Vollinn gently twisted the lever, but it didn’t budge. After so long adrift, it may be stubborn. Trying now to force it, she heard the metal creak, but still the mechanism stayed closed.
“Can we get a structural scan on this part here?” she asked, frustrated. “If it’s stuck, I’d like to know why,” Commander Vollinn suggested. Keipan took a probe and shone the beam of shimmering blue-green light across the bulkhead, penetrating the metal and illuminating the structure within. An audible click came from the other side of the door. Curious, Vollinn tried the lever again, and to her satisfaction, it worked smoothly.
“Thank you.” She pulled the door open, peeking her head into the dark, silent ship.
They had found the manual release lever. He couldn’t do anything but wait as the creatures worked at the locks. They would be inside any moment.
Nick retreated deeper into the ship, his mind racing, holding the bar up and taking a defensive stance between the escape hatch and the main hub where his passengers lay serenely in their stasis pods. If he couldn’t stop them, maybe he could slow them down.
In a moment of clarity, Nick examined that thought. Stop them from… what? It briefly occurred to him that they might want to help, but his fear took over. Whatever happened, he had to protect his passengers.
However prepared he thought he was for the door to swing open, he was wrong. His stomach dropped as the alien opened the hatch and peered inside, a strangely pleasant, sterile aroma pervading the stagnant air of the shuttle.
The being was in some sort of protective suit, and Nick made eye contact with the sleek, nearly featureless helmet, holding his bar like a baseball bat. From what he could see, the alien was at least 8 feet tall, maybe taller, crouched unnaturally in the airlock on two legs resembling a dinosaur’s, with a long, thick tail and four heavy humanoid-like arms ending in four somewhat short gloved fingers. Its helmet was slightly elongated, as if to accommodate a snouted face and larger than his own head by a wide margin.
He suddenly felt naked without a spacesuit of his own to protect him from whatever alien microbes were probably entering his system, or whatever alien weapons they might have trained on him. For what seemed like an eternity, the two stood frozen in place, watching, and waiting for the other to make the first move. There was a commotion outside the shuttle, and he heard more of the strange alien chatter; several more helmeted heads moved into view behind the one he was staring down. There were at least six or seven of the creatures, and he could hear more approaching.
“Okay, back up now!” his voice hitched slightly, the fear catching his words in his throat. “Please.”
Time slowed to a crawl as the pilot tried not to tremble or show fear, twirling the heavy bar in his grip in an uneasy attempt to intimidate the tall, suited creatures. It seemed to work to a small degree, causing some of them to flinch.
Though he seemed to be keeping the aliens occupied for now, Nick got the sense that they didn’t intend to let them go. Slightly reassured by the fact that they didn’t attack him on sight, but unnerved that they had simply plucked up their shuttle and immediately broken into it, he tried again.
“Can you talk to me?”
Swiftly and wordlessly, the one in front of him was handed a small device by the others behind it, which it pointed at him and fired.
He yelped in surprise as a wide beam of bright greenish-blue light impacted his skin and seemed to pass straight into him, causing an unnerving, warm tingling sensation as it passed up, down, and across his form several times. Shutting off the beam and inspecting the device, the creature suddenly became interested in the stasis pods behind him, aiming what he assumed to be a scanner and firing a split beam which passed around him and swept over the two pods simultaneously.
“Stay away from them,” he warned in as stern of a tone as he could muster, starting to slowly back away from the escape hatch towards the stasis pods, swinging the bar through the beams to little effect.
The creature seemed more agitated by him disrupting its scan than him trying to threaten them, re-adjusting its scanner and loudly clicking in what Nick assumed was frustration. It seemed satisfied for now, ending the scan and returning the device to the other creatures, who hurriedly chattered and retreated. Now, there were only three aliens which he could see, the one in the airlock, and two others which remained, watching from outside and conversing with the one before him.
“What do you want?” he shouted, his voice starting to quiver. He couldn’t help but be anxious, starting to feel like an animal in a trap.
A familiar whirring hiss came from the two pods behind him as the wakeup sequences began on their own, the pilot’s heart sinking as he turned to see the failing electronics starting to open the pod doors.
“No, no, no! Not now!” he cried, rushing to the sparking control panels on the pods, unable to stop the passengers from slowly regaining consciousness.
“Vollinn, I’m speaking to you on a private channel now,” she heard the captain speak through the communicator in her helmet. ““The aliens can’t hear us. What is happening in there?”
Keeping her eyes on the creature as it frantically ran between the slowly opening chambers, exclaiming in its unknown language, Vollinn replied, “The scan seems to have interfered with the operation of their devices, but it has also revealed their intended purpose. They are rudimentary stasis devices, and we have awoken their occupants.”
“That explains why it’s being so defensive. Take this opportunity while it’s distracted to retreat,” the captain commanded. “Slowly.”
Vollinn followed the order, slipping out of the alien craft and joining the rest of the crew on the other side of the bay.
“The scanner managed to download the ship’s data banks before their systems failed,” Vollinn continued. “Keipan, they appear to communicate with verbal and written language, so I need a translation matrix as soon as one can be made ready.” She immediately set to work, trying to contain her excitement.
Starting to become aware of the numbing cold, Eden groaned softly, trying to open her eyes and being blinded by a harsh purple-ish light. She distantly heard the pilot speaking, but her brain was still foggy from the powerful anesthesia, and she sat still in the pod, too dazed to try to respond. Finally, as her vision cleared and her eyes focused for the first time in what must have been years, she could make out what he was saying.
“Stay here,” the pilot insisted, taking her arms tightly in his hands and insistently pushing her back into the pod. Failing to force her muscles to respond to her commands after they had laid unused for so long, Eden could only watch as he slammed the door back over her and manually re-engaged the seals on her pod, before crossing the hub and doing the same with Jodie’s.
‘No,’ she thought, hoping he might hear and let her out. ‘Please come back…’
Through the small window in the pod door she saw him turn down the corridor towards the bright, purple tinted light, pausing for a moment as if preparing himself, before cautiously starting down the hallway carrying a bloody metal bar, quickly exiting her view. She looked across the hub to the other passenger, who appeared to still be asleep.
“The…fuck you mean, ‘stay here’?” she grumbled under her breath weakly, her voice hoarse and light from years of silence. She tried to muster the strength to reach for the manual release, but her body laid still. Starting to panic, trapped in an unresponsive body, she heard the muffled chatter of voices coming from outside, and she tried one last time to move before resorting to screaming. All she could move was her mouth and her eyes. She decided to test her voice.
It only took a few minutes for the translation matrix to be completed, and as Keipan added the finishing touches to the program, she implemented it into the universal translators in their communications devices.
Quite satisfied with her work, she turned back to the Captain and the Commander; “The translator is active now, so whenever we’re ready, hopefully second contact will go a little more smoothly.”
As if on cue, the sound of a shaky, feminine voice came from inside the craft, in perfectly translated speech.
“HELP!” it screamed.
The three looked at each other, unsettled.
The Captain stepped closer to the open hatch on the alien craft and the two officers followed behind. An idea came to Keipan, and she opened communications with the group.
“Captain, the scanner data shows no harmful contaminants or pathogens in their ship or bodies, so I recommend we remove our helmets; it may gain their trust, as an act of vulnerability and goodwill,” she explained.
The Captain had come to trust her senior officers’ advice, and considered it for a moment, before approaching the open door.
Concentrating an enormous force of will, Eden found that she was just barely beginning to regain control of her body, pins and needles shooting through her in waves as her muscles burned. Weakly, she pulled the manual release lever and the lid unlocked, but she couldn’t muster the strength to push it open. “Let me out!” she shouted out helplessly, but the pilot didn’t return.
An unfamiliar voice, muffled by the sealed stasis pod, came down the corridor; “Do not be afraid. Let us help.”
There was no response; shortly after, she heard something loudly clatter against the hub floor, followed by a heavy thud.
The second the Captain removed their helmet and offered their greeting, the alien’s face went pale; the weapon slid from its grip as it unceremoniously fainted, likely from shock. This was an uncommon response for alien species; Keipan was surprised.
“Alternatively, it was an effective means of eliminating the threat,” she added over the comms before removing her helmet as well.
“I will take this one to the infirmary. If the other two can be convinced, escort them there as well. Be diplomatic,” the Captain ordered as they effortlessly lifted the unconscious alien, motioning for her and Vollinn to board the small craft.
Keipan stepped forward and clambered through the small door, the shifting weight of her body making the floor of the craft creak under the strain. The air inside was frigid and smelled stale, but strangely sweet. She took point as Vollinn followed close behind, moving deeper within the alien ship towards the stasis pods.