Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 21part #3 of Voyage of the Space Bubble Series
“I see your point, First Sergeant,” Neely answered. “I also respectfully disagree with your conclusions. Among other things, it’s creating an appearance of favoritism. There are a bunch of bored and, at this point, grumbling Marines in the berths. Two-Gun and his team have gotten out and done stuff, First Sergeant. The rest of the Marines feel like they’re just along for the ride. Third Platoon spent a day wandering around ruins doing, as far as they could tell, exactly nothing. Berg’s team did the entry to the base and ended up rescuing the lone survivor. It’s all ‘Two-Gun, Two-Gun, what’s Two-Gun got to do today?’ I respectfully request that you spread the load a bit. One extremely salient point was raised by a Marine I request to remain anonymous. But he asked me, point blank, if you trusted anyone in the company but Two-Gun. I told him that you did, but I know I didn’t make my point very well because I wasn’t sure of the answer.”
“I’ll take it under advisement,” the first sergeant said, nodding. “We’ll see what the next mission is like. Good enough?”
“Yes, Top,” Neely said, standing up. “Thanks.”
“It’s not something I hadn’t thought about,” Powell admitted. “And discussed with the Old Man. He raised the same point, including the trust issue, and I gave him the same answer. So you’re not the Lone Ranger.”
“I trust Two-Gun more than I trust the rest of your company,” Miller said after the hatch closed. “No offense. Kid’s just good. And he’s lucky. It’s a tough combination to beat.”
“Agreed,” Powell said, turning back to the video. “The hell of it is, so do I. It is favoritism. I just think it’s pragmatic favoritism.”
“Coils charged,” Engineering Specialist Rorot stated. “Unreality generator coming online…”
“That does not sound good,” Favarduro quipped as a hard vibration coursed through the ship.
“Structural integrity failure in Number 23 generator pylon,” Rorot said calmly. “Shutting down.”
“How very good,” Ship Master Kond said quietly. “Time estimate?”
“I will need to go outside,” Rorot said, standing up. “A team is on the way. I would anticipate at least two hundred kleg.”
“Very well,” Kond said. “Keep me updated when you have the time. Favarduro, maintain maximum watch.”
“We have seen no indications of the Blin dreadnought,” Favarduro replied. “It is possible it was destroyed by the Klingoddar and the fighters were remnants. Or it may still be out there, damaged as we are and effecting repairs.”
“Keep a watch,” Kond replied. “Chaos ball generator?”
“That is on-line,” Favarduro admitted. “So we have that at least. I’ll fire the minute I see any threat.”
“I wonder what their detection systems are like?” Weaver said, frowning.
“Say again, Astro?” the CO replied, watching the forward viewscreens. The trace of gasses was now displayed in false color and they were following the track at low warp.
“Well, unless they have some sort of detector which is FTL,” Weaver said musingly, “then we’re going to come up on them before they see us. Even what we’re seeing isn’t quite real time. We’re, effectively, past the point that we see by the time we see it. If that makes any sense.”
“About as much as everything else about this job,” the CO replied, not correcting the former academic on his omission of the obligatory “sir.”
“About the only FTL detector we know of, theoretically, is a tachyon detector,” Bill continued, frowning now. “And as far as I’ve been able to determine, we don’t give off tachyons.”
“We’re far too high class,” Spectre quipped.
“Well, your astrogator’s a redneck, sir,” Bill replied. “But the point is, the neutrinos, quentaquarks and such like that we do radiate, propagate slower than light. So…”
“So we’re going to get up to them before they can detect us,” the CO said. “I like it.”
“Yes, sir,” Bill replied. “But the point is, we’re going to get up to them before they can even see us. That’s going to come as a surprise. And they just left a battle…”
“Visual on ship,” Tactical called. “Zooming forward viewscreen.”
There was a brief image of a ship. There was no reference for size but the ship was a long ovoid with dozens of sharp wings sticking out ending in oval devices that looked somewhat like jet engines without an intake or exhaust. The exception to the oval look was a hammerhead projection from either the front or the rear; with the way the ship was sitting it was impossible to tell which.
“Drop us out of warp,” the CO said, swiveling his chair forward.
“Sir!” Bill called. “I respectfully suggest you…”
“Where did that come from?” Favarduro shrilled, his hand dropping to the Chaos cannon switch. There was a hum from forward and a ball of white flashed out, closing the intervening gap rapidly.
“Belay firing,” Kond snapped. “That is not a Blin warship!”
» » »
“…Belay that order, sir!”
“Conn, Tactical, we are under fire!”
“Pilot, warp us out of here!”
“Damn that’s fast!” Weaver snarled, turning to his monitors. “What in the hell is it?”
The ball of what looked like chain lightning was closing the three light-second gap at nearly the speed of light. The Blade had barely dropped out of warp and was now trying to scramble back. The conversion was, unfortunately, slow.
Just as the ball of whatever it was reached their position, the Blade’s engines finally converted them back into warp and the pilot, instinctively, punched in maximum warp up and to the side. They flashed by the alien ship in the millisecond that was left before the weapon reached them.
“Tactical,” the CO said. “What was that weapon?”
“Unknown, Conn,” the TACO said. “All our particle screens went ballistic. We couldn’t even get a reading on it. In fact, we lost all our readings.”
“Pilot, bring us around,” the CO said. “Try to stop a bit farther out and be ready to go back into warp…”
“Where did it go?” Favarduro asked. “Where did it come from?”
“I am supposed to be asking you that question,” Ship Master Kond replied. “Fortunately, it did not fire upon us. I am inclined to show them the same courtesy. If they come back.”
“There,” Favarduro said. “It is at two-one-six mark fifteen. Range sixty-two dreg.”
“How much time from when it disappeared to when it reappeared?” Kond asked.
“Six treek,” Favarduro said nervously. “It crossed over seventy dreg in six treek.”
“That is faster than light,” Kond said, wonderingly. “It has a non-node unreality generator.”
“That’s not theoretically possible,” Favarduro pointed out.
“Theory is always superceded by fact, Senior Tactical Specialist,” the ship master said. “And that is fact. Unless you distrust your instruments.”
“I wish I could run a check,” Favarduro said. “But I don’t have such a system for my brain. Permission to speak to the Ungur.”
“I’m glad to see you have your balance back,” Kond replied. “And nearly as glad to see your hubris pricked by our visitors. Communications, send standard first contact protocol message. Let us see if these are friend or foe.”
“Conn, Tactical. I’m getting a pulse of EM and neutrinos from the target, designated Sierra One. It’s powerful but it’s not pulsing like radar. I think they’re trying to talk to us.”
“XO, we got an SOP for this?” the CO asked, looking over at Weaver.
“Yes, sir!” the executive officer said, pulling out a manual. “There are a selection of first contact protocols prepared!”
“Right,” the CO replied, trying not to grin. “You try to find out what we’re supposed to do. In the meantime… Commo, send them video from conn. See if their computers can parse it out.”
“Sir,” Weaver said. “Remember that Miss Moon thinks they ‘see’ with sonar. I’m not sure they have an equivalent of video.”
“Commander Weaver, they have, presumably, a home-built FTL drive,” Spectre said. “They have some sort of quantum torpedo thingy that goes faster than we do in normal space. I’m going to presume that they have better computers than we do and might actually have experience at first contact. We have a lash-up of human and Adar computers and a linguist that is pretty sure that squirrels are intelligent. They may even be aware that other species use visual light instead of sonar to see the universe. In other words, I’m going to let them figure it out.”
“Point made, sir,” Bill replied with a grin.
“And somebody get Miss Moon on deck. It’s about time our linguist earned her passage.”
“We are receiving various EM frequencies only,” Communications Specialist Elav said. “There are neutrino and quark emissions, but I have determined that they are random and probably leakage from their engines. The initial communication was short pulses in a specific frequency of EM. Following that they began sending a continuous transmission on several frequencies but the transmission is odd. It varies in pulse and does not appear to be binary data. I have determined that it is probably their equivalent of sodee, but it does not parse correctly. I surmise they are primarily an EM detecting species. Thus they are sending us EM reflectance data instead of sonic reflectance data. I am attempting to replicate this for our own use and to translate our sodee data for theirs. There is also an audio channel, but so far I have been unable to parse it for translation. I deeply regret my failures thus far.”
“They have a drive system that is far superior to our own,” Kond replied. “Given the speed of their drive, they undoubtedly have far more first contact experience than we. If they are unable to translate our transmissions when they are that far in advance of us, it is unlikely that you will do better. Continue to work on the problem, but in the meantime I think that we can leave it up to them.”
“Their transmissions are giving me fits. I think it’s some sort of binary, but there’s no change in modulation. And most of it seems to be based on the neutrino emissions rather than the EM. I’m beginning to think that one’s audio and the other video.”
The commo officer of the Blade always knew that someday he’d have to figure this stuff out. But he also figured it wouldn’t be this hard or that the other species would crack the human’s code rather than the other way around. But the two ships had been sitting opposite each other at a bare light-minute for the last four hours, sending lots and lots of “stuff” back and forth and not getting anywhere.
“Sonar is three dimensional,” Miriam said, looking at the signals. “Video is designed to create phosphors of light on a two-dimensional screen. A sonar signal would be designed to produce sound, but very layered and complex. What we really need is a sonarman working on this, sorry. Can you transfer this over to the lab? I’d like to play with it and let the three guys we picked up listen to it.”
“Can do, ma’am,” Commo said happily. “Should I send it over to Sonar and see what they can do with it?”
“Send it to Tactical, yes,” Miriam said. “Tell them to try pumping it through their sonar systems and radar systems. It might look a bit like radar as well. Parse the neutrino pulses into analog data. I’ll play with all of it at the same time.”
“Getting anywhere?” Dr. Chet asked.
“I think so,” Miriam replied. She had set up in front of a small flat-screen monitor and the desk was liberally covered with sheets of paper. Most of it was equations, but some looked like doodles. There were various half-shots of the faces of their visiting aliens. “I’m having to think what they would look like to each other, in sonar. I’ve been looking at what we have in the ship’s computer on dolphin brain imagery, which is the nearest analog I can find. And I think I’m starting to get somewhere.”
She opened up a screen and coded rapidly, her fingers flashing across the keyboard. The small program compiled quickly, then she opened up a freeware open-source video program.
“Now to see what this does with the signal,” she said, dropping a portion of the signal data into the program.
The screen changed to a gray pattern of images while a series of squeals came out of the speaker. There was nothing to truly see, though; it was worse than any surrealist painting. There were some angles and a few moving shapes, but nothing that could be parsed out.
“Not quite,” Miriam said, opening up the code again. She considered her equations for a moment, jotted down a long series of cryptic notations then added some code, removing others.
“There we go,” she said as if to a child. The screen now showed the interior of what was clearly a spaceship. Portions were strangely distorted, cubistic in many ways, with screens taking prominence, positions of some of the beings very odd, translucency to others and one central figure in the room apparently huge. But the aliens on the screen looked, somewhat, like the aliens in isolation.
“Can you change our signals to look more like theirs?” Dr. Chet asked.
“Maybe,” Miriam said. “But I’m not sure what they’ll actually get. We can try.”
“And we still don’t have language,” the M.D. pointed out.
“But this actually helps,” Miriam replied. “It almost automatically subtracts the sonar portion of their sounds. But that makes it harder in a way as well. They seem to use their sonar the way we used body language. It might be one of the things that makes them seem so flat. Communicating with them will always be hard. I don’t think we think exactly the same. Not even as close as we and the Adar. I’m going to see if we can change our transmissions to match theirs, use another frequency to substitute for the neutrinos which were acting as a third dimension modulator. It should work, if they can change their system to figure it out.”
» » »
“Their transmissions have changed,” Elav said. He cupped his headpiece for a moment, then pinged excitedly. “I think I can now parse their transmission. It will take me a few kleg.”
“Very good,” Kond replied. “Change your own transmission to a series of short pulses. Perhaps they will get the point that we’re having to work on our own end.”
“Conn, Commo. Miss Moon modified our transmissions. She thinks she’s cracked the sonar to video code. We sent them the modified video and we’re now getting a single band EM series of pulses. No neutrino, just EM. Simple pattern, just about a quarter send pulse, pause for a second, quarter second pulse at 4.2 gigahertz. No clue what that means.”
“It means: Hold Please,” Commander Weaver said.
“Agreed,” Spectre replied. “So now we wait. Commo, hook in Miss Moon’s changes to the main viewer and run that program as soon as you get something else from them.”
“Ship Master, it is a very strange signal,” Elav said. “But I think I have it parsed. Do you wish to see?”
“Immediately,” Kond said, rising from his couch.
The image was very strange, two dimensional, the beings pictured moving only side to side and having no depth. Walking through the sonar image, Kond saw that they appeared the same from the other side. The actual figures of the crew of the alien ship were hard to separate from their controls but they appeared to be bipedal. So were some Blin units, but these assuredly were not Blin. They could be a Blin subject race, like the haired ones or the multi-legs, but so far they had not acted hostile at all.
“Is there any way to get depth?” Kond asked.
“I am trying, Ship Master,” the commo specialist replied. “But there is no signal for depth. I think that it is somehow interpreted by their sensory organs. They appear to be EM detectors in a limited range.”
“Send an image of our interior,” Kond ordered. “Let them sense us as well.”
“Here we go,” the commo officer said over the intercom. “Sending through the sonar to vid processed signal.”
“Ouch,” Spectre said, shaking his head at the weird view on the forward screen. It was a bit stomach wrenching in its weird distortions, more like a bad acid trip than a video. But he nonetheless stood up and nodded at the image. “Greetings. I am Captain Blankemeier, commander of the Alliance Space Ship Vorpal Blade. We greet you in peace and friendship.”
“I think that the audio is clear,” Elav said, wincing. The tonality caused sonar harmonics that were stomach wrenching, spinning the sensory interior of the control compartment wildly.
“Can you filter out those harmonics?” Kond asked, wriggling his tentacles.
“I’m trying, Ship Master,” Elav said. “But I’m not sure what we’re losing.”
“I’m willing to lose some information to avoid having my weapons fired accidentally,” the ship master replied. “Greetings,” he continued, raising his tentacles. “We come in peace.”
“Ow!” Spectre snapped, sticking a finger in his ear and wriggling it around. “Was that feedback? I think that squeal would bend metal! Commo, can we put some sort of filter on that? The guys we’ve got in isolation don’t sound that bad.”
“I’ll try, Conn,” Commo replied. “Miss Moon said that she was having to bring out some high-frequency tonalities. I think that might be what’s causing that squeal. I’ve set the system to drop all the frequencies another octave.”
“We’re starting to get a translation,” Elav said, looking at his computers. “There are assumptions involved but I think we’re making headway, finally. We are picking up not only the words of the apparent commander, but of others in the compartment. The computer has used all of that and is assimilating their language.”
“Adjust my transmission to use their language,” Kond said. “Can you translate a standard greeting protocol?”
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