by David F. Daumit
part 1 of 2
Captain Guerre stood on the portal deck and watched the world turn.
It was good to be back at Earth. Four days of debriefings, physicals, and psychological verifications separated him from home, but still, he was there. And he could feel it. A deep, pervasive yearning had started in his gut nearly six years ago, and spread then across countless exa-meters through his every organ and bone. Now, it had receded. Soon it would dissipate entirely, and with terra firma beneath his feet, an enveloping serenity would replace it.
Booted footsteps across the deck broke him from his revery.
“You just sighed the same way my crew did five days ago,” a woman’s cool, even voice said from beside him.
“Captain Frieden,” Guerre said in greeting.
“You arrived five days ago?”
“Why aren’t you down there? Did they extend your quarantine?”
“No,” Frieden said. “My crew is there. And I was yesterday.”
“For just one day? I can’t even imagine,” he said.
“I have an extended report to make to Command. I thought it best to come back here to make it.”
“They’d have to drag me back. After six years, I’d need more than a day.” He nodded at the world outside.
“It was hard, but it’s not all bad,” she said. “I’m glad I ran into you.”
“It’s good to see you, too. If you have time this afternoon, perhaps we could have dinner.”
“That would be great. I just have to finish up some administrative work. Actually, though, I came over to ask if you’re... free.”
“Are you?” she said.
“Then I’d like to be with you today. In addition to dinner, of course.”
She had made a professional proposition, not uncommon amongst those serving in the theater of infinity. He had no reason to decline, and in fact, he found himself desirous of the interaction.
Yet something about the request, about her, saddened him. Perhaps it was her abbreviated leave or the report she had to give. Whatever it was, it gave him pause to accept her offer. More so, he wanted to ask what was going on. As an equal in rank, he had the right. But his own personal code, rather than military protocol, kept him from prying.
In any case, she awaited his answer. An experienced officer made decisions quickly and confidently, so he made his.
“I would like that,” he said. “No, honestly, I would love it.”
She moved close to him and took his hand. They stood together, silent and strangely sad before the slowly turning world that embodied his joy. After a while, a soft reminder tone sounded.
“I have to go,” she said.
“Call me later, then?”
She nodded. Then she squeezed his hand, released it, and walked away.
* * *
Guerre left the suite’s bedroom and entered the living area, immediately moving the two chairs there to face the portal that encompassed half the wall. He poured himself tea from an awaiting pot on the table, then sat. Pleasantly lost over the globe that filled his view, he sipped the hot drink and pined contentedly for home.
Frieden came up behind him and kissed his neck. She moved to the open chair, turned it to face him, and then sat. “You’re dressed already,” she said.
“Old habit from on-ship.”
He noticed how the earthlight and shadows accentuated her form, and his mind drifted without resistance from world to woman.
“You surprised me,” he said.
“Earlier, when you came up to me on deck.”
“You didn’t expect me to want you?”
“A pleasant surprise, I hope,” she said.
“I’m glad to hear that. This is a wonderful respite for me.”
“I’m equally glad to hear that,” he said, remembering his earlier sense of her sadness.
She took the tea pot and poured first into his offered mug, then her own. He thanked her, and then they both drank. The warmth of the tea and the sweet blue light from the portal soothed them, much as if they had retired from their day before an old-world hearth.
“So, I hear that your mission went well,” she said, after an unhurried silence.
“It did. Without exaggeration, I can say it went incredibly well.”
“‘Wow’ describes it nicely.”
“Can you tell me about it?”
He paused for a moment to reflect. Finally he said, “Yes, that should be all right. My report’s already filed with Command, and they’ll disseminate it through the fleet soon enough.”
“Great,” she said, settling in as if for an old mariner’s tale.
“It was a first contact.”
He nodded, matching her expressed awe with a return to someplace far away in his eyes.
“The standard operating procedure doesn’t begin to prepare you, which I’m sure is no surprise. The reports from other captains help a bit, but of course their situations are all different from each other’s and will be from your own, as well. You just have to make your own way and hope that whatever you do doesn’t lead to death or war or worse.
“The fact is, in this case, I don’t think I could have failed. They made it easy for me.”
“By ‘they’,” she said, “you mean...”
“The aliens. They made it easy. The encounter started off with all the nervousness, fear, and tension you would think to be there. More than that, probably. But it was all on our side. They entered into it with all manner of ease and grace. Except that those are such human terms, such human concepts, and they are so... inhuman.”
He grimaced at his difficulty in conveying the imagery.
“I wish I had other words to use,” he said.
“How else can you describe things but through a human perspective?” she said. “Don’t worry, I understand what you’re trying to say.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that. So, yes, for lack of better descriptions, they met us easily and gracefully. They immediately made it clear that their agenda was one of peace and mutual benefit. We reciprocated, of course. And from then on, nothing we said or did was going to offend them, put them off, scare them, disgust them, or anything.
“Of course we weren’t trying to do any of those things, but from the accounts I’ve read, every other first contact has run into one or more of those pitfalls. Lack of understanding on some level has always led to it. But not this time. Not with them. Like I said, they made it easy.
“We met the first time on neutral ground, on a small, dead planet neither of us had a claim to. But that’s getting ahead of myself, I guess.
“We first saw them as a blip on a long-range scan. We signaled, they signaled back, and then we dove fully into it. My command staff and heads of every science and humanities department worked non-stop for a week. Then we signaled again. They responded. We went at it again for another week — actually, that time it was for nine days — and then signaled again.
“On and on we went through the cycle, though after the third time, we began progressively narrowing our response time, until it was down to a somewhat less tedious fourteen hours.”
She sat, enraptured, as he paused to drink.
“By that point, we thought we understood them. We tested and retested our comprehension of their communications over another three weeks. Finally, we suggested a meeting. They agreed. Then we worked out the details, neutral ground and all that. Never, not once, was there a hassle or a snag. It was too good to be true, except that it was true.”
“So you met them, face-to-face?” she said. “Or, face-to-whatever it is they have?”
“Exactly. They have a countenance of sorts that can be faced, or at least interfaced with. Calling it a face would be liberal, but as you said, we’re limited to our perspective. Anyway, yes, I met them face-to-face, as we’ll call it. I won’t even try to describe them physically. I couldn’t do it justice, and you’ll see the images in the reports.”
“I’m disappointed,” she said with a smile. “But I’ll just have to wait.”
“You’ll appreciate seeing them for yourself, without suffering through my flailing attempt at descriptive xenobiology.”
“Consider me convinced. Aside from how they look, tell me about them.”
“They are pretty much at our level. Advanced science has answered their questions, extended their lives, brought them to the stars. Like us. Very much like us. But unlike us, they didn’t come from a place of conflict. They didn’t learn and grow through hunting, killing, and wars. They didn’t survive and thrive through violence, and then mature past it. They never experienced it at all. How that’s possible, I can’t even grasp.”
“Nor can I,” she said.
“I don’t think any of us can. It’s not only contrary to our own origins, but to those of every other civilization we’ve ever encountered. Their very nature encompasses everything we consider good. They didn’t evolve into higher beings. It’s like they were born — or made — that way.”
He stopped for a moment and looked at her. She had stiffened a bit and lost her air of joviality. “What are you thinking?” he asked.
“Hm? Oh, just pondering about your... aliens. What do you call them?”
“We’re still trying to translate what they call themselves into something shorter than a paragraph.”
“It sounds like ‘angels’ would fit the bill.”
“You’re not alone in thinking that. Someone in my crew started using it, and it caught on.”
“I’m not surprised,” she said.
“It’s not exactly scientific, but for the interim, it works.”
“Where do they come from?”
He noticed the directness in her question, unmistakably pointed in comparison to her friendly curiosity from before.
“I’ll show you,” he said.
He activated a change to the portal that replaced their view of the world outside with one of an empty, awaiting viewscreen. A verbal command brought up a three-dimensional map of outer space, and a second command began a quick navigation through the galaxy to the point of first contact with the angels.
“We met them here. And they told us they came from there, having taken this path from their entry point into the Milky Way to where they met us.”
She stared at the map. “May I?” she said.
She took control from him and navigated again from the angels’ entry point, on to first contact, and then back to Earth.
“Has capitol protocol been extended?” she said.
“Yes. I helped broker the negotiations. They won’t arrive on Earth for years yet, but they will come.”
Her only response was a nod.
“Are you concerned about that?” he asked. “About them coming to Earth?”
“Not per se, no.”
“But you’re concerned about something.”
“Yes... I’m sorry. Establishing contact with your angels is wonderful. And of course they should come to Earth. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just... There’s another, unrelated situation that isn’t very good. It’s what I’m here to discuss with Command.”
“No,” she said. “I don’t think you do. Because I didn’t until just now, and I’m not even sure that I do yet. Or if there is even anything to understand.”
“I’m totally confused now, if that helps at all.”
She smiled despite herself, and he felt better for having lightened her mood.
“What you’ve told me about the angels struck a chord,” she said. “And when you showed me the map, that struck it again.”
He nodded. Then a soft chime sounded from the bedroom. They both turned towards the note.
“My meeting is in an hour,” she said. “I need to get ready.” She stood, then leaned over him in his chair. “Will you be here later?”
With a kiss she said goodbye. When she was gone, he closed the viewscreen. The world again shone beyond the portal, and he watched it as he sipped his still-warm tea.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by David F. Daumit