Contact

Here we are at Wednesday again. This time we have an even longer story (nearly 11000 words) than the last. This one’s about first contact between humanity and an alien species. Have fun!

The arrowhead shaped silver ship sits motionless in the endless black void of space nine hundred miles above the surface of Earth. The point of the ship is aimed outward, toward Pluto and the outer edge of the Sol System. Inside the ship that has no name, bar its official designation of Blink-001, the three crew members sit surrounded by holographic console displays. They have a view through the wide canopy of space and the solar system beyond. None of the three crew members are strangers to space, or traversing it, as they are all members of the United Space Alliance, or UnSA for short. However, they are strangers to the technology that exists within this vessel as it is the first of its kind. It’s one of the reasons why the space lanes have been cleared for this test, as well as why they are pointed toward the outer edge of the system.

At the centre of the trio sits Wendy Chang the System Specialist and defacto commander of this mission. She is a representative of the Chinese Collective and their interests. Wendy runs through all the systems aboard Blink-001 again to ensure that everything is ready for the impending test flight that she, as well as the rest of humanity, hopes will end in success. Such an achievement would herald in a new era of space travel for humanity, who have to this point not left the confines of the Sol System. Even though humanity are a couple decades into the twenty fifth century.

Wendy pulls her hair back again, tightening the bobble that is tied around her long black hair as her brown eyes continue to scan over the system reports the onboard computers are relaying to her. Her eyes scan back and forth at incredible speed as she searches for inconsistencies or errors that could otherwise result in disaster. Wendy doesn’t want to die today and is pretty sure the same goes for her two pilots, who flank her on either side, Nicholas Mendes and Tenisha Faulkner. Wendy casts her glance to her left and then right to find both are also busily running checks of their own as the comms system sparks to life.

“Godspeed Blink-001.” Doctor Alistair Wells’ voice resonates clearly over the crews in-ear radios. The man himself, white haired and tired looking with sunken eyes, is standing in the control centre of the UnSA launch building on the Moon.

Wendy touches the earpiece in her left ear to activate it so she can thank Doctor Wells, who is the head of the Blink Transit project. In fact, he is the sole reason the project exists as faster than light travel had been deemed an impossibility before his revolutionary calculations and insight paved the way for a resurgence and refocus on the subject. It had taken more than twenty years of continuous work but it was all worth it as it has led them to this point, the first test flight for faster than light travel, which has been dubbed Blink Transit.

“Thank you Control.” Wendy responds sincerely before immediately cutting her broadcast.

“Still keeping it short and sweet then?” Nicholas Mendes offers with a smirk and a chuckle from his seat to Wendy’s left.

Nicholas is the lead pilot on this mission with more than fifteen years of space flight experience. He is a representative of the Portuguese Republic, as well as the wider European Conglomerate, which consists of traditional Europe as well as Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Turkey.

“Better than what you do Nick.” Tenisha, the secondary pilot, says from her seat on Wendy’s right with a beaming smile.

Tenisha is a representative of the Canadian arm of the UnSA, which in turn is a part of the North American Concord much like the African Union and South American Assembly. She’s an experienced pilot but it isn’t her background, Wendy knows.

“Wow, you are cheeky.” Nick fires back with a wide grin of his own.

Wendy knows some crew leads; she doesn’t call herself a commander as she doesn’t actually have a rank, would try and quieten their fellow crew members. Wendy however, sees little issue with a light hearted exchange, especially as they will soon be firing the Blink Drive to attempt the first ever faster than light travel for humanity. It’s an exciting time and she can barely contain the energy she feels in the moments before they complete their preparations, all of which show no issues present. Wendy has to admit that she’s pleased about that. Maybe it will mark the first time in human history that a first test flight would be performed without a hitch.

“Command, we are ready for test flight of Blink Transit.” Wendy says over the comms as her finger presses against the piece in her left ear.

“Confirmed Blink-001. Standby for all clear.” The voice of one of the UnSA command centre technician’s replies sounding excited.

“What you gonna do when this is over?” Nick asks looking over at Wendy and Tenisha as they wait for the all clear. There is nothing more the three crew members of the test flight ship can do and they all know it. But you can always leave it to Nick to decide to fill the void by starting a conversation. His thick black hair swept back as his tanned skin starkly contrasts with the vibrant colours of the holographic consoles around them. Nick’s trademark smile painted across his face as his ice blue eyes shine brightly.

“Ask for a boat.” Tenisha jokes with a chuckle as her wide smile, dark lips and green eyes look back at him.

“Wendy?” Nick then asks after a few seconds of silence during which she makes no attempt to respond. Her lack of response is for no other reason than she knows that it plays on Nick’s belief that she is a woman of few words and to a point he’s right, but only when such things are called for.

Wendy shifts her glance to Nick having previously been gazing at the console before her pretending to be focused on something. Feigning that she didn’t hear what he said. She’d heard everything though and Nick knows she has but still he plays along. Until her expressionless look breaks into a smile.

“I knew it. You were listening. Go on then. Or are you at your word quota for today already?” Nick jabs playfully.

Wendy turns and looks at Nick and simply blinks several times as Nick hangs ready for something, anything that he can take as a response from the Systems Specialist. He knows she is buying time, not because she doesn’t have an answer, but because she is trying to hold him off until control come back with the all clear. But Nick knows that could take a while, especially seeing as UnSA command will be triple and quadruple checking to ensure that all Sling Gate routes are clear of traffic. After all, the last thing anyone wants is the first Blink Transit test flight to end in the ship spearing through a civilian transit ship killing hundreds or even thousands of civilians.

So Nick waits patiently for a response as the seconds drag on and Wendy is left to wait longer and longer. He can tell she’s struggling. He begins to lightly tap his fingers against his forearm, which like the rest of him and his two other crew members, is covered in a second skin spacesuit.

“Don’t think you’re getting an answer Nick.” Tenisha offers before long, her words break the silence that is hanging in the cockpit of the test ship. She pulls her long curly black hair back to tighten the bobble that is holding it in a ponytail.

But Nick continues patiently to wait for a response. He doesn’t have to wait too long as Wendy exhales and rolls her eyes. He knows it’s a sign of defeat as his smile widens in response to his victory.

“To get as far away from you as possible, Nick.” Wendy offers with a forced over the top smile.

Tenisha bursts into uncontrollable laughter at Wendy’s words.

“And I thought you liked me.” Nick fires back feigning that Wendy’s comments have injured him in some way. His right hand clasped over the section of his chest below which lies his heart. Wendy chuckles and shakes her head happy that someone like Nick is here to keep the mood light and not let them dwell on the ifs and buts of what could come next.

“Please tell me you do better than that when you’re out on the town?” Tenisha queries as she continues to laugh.

“Blink-001. You are clear to proceed. Good luck.” The same technicians’ voice says over the comms system now.

“Roger.” Wendy replies as the three of them shift their focus back to their holographic consoles, their hands dancing over them as they prepare to spool the engines up.

“By the way, what happens if we don’t hold the course exactly?” Nick asks serious now. His smile is gone, much like Tenisha’s laughter.

“We hit something.” Tenisha replies succinctly as Wendy watches the engines begin to spool up. They’re quickly gathering the energy needed to propel them forward before the ignition of the Blink Drive that should take them as far as Pluto, if they time it as planned, that is.

“What, there’s nothing out here.” Nick responds.

“A planet. A moon.” Wendy replies without diverting her focus as the engines advise that they are ready for ignition. But she doesn’t give the order yet, instead she checks to ensure they are not creating any anomalies with the Blink Drive. She finds, much to her relief, they are not. Wendy lets out a silent sigh of relief in response.

“Ready for ignition in 3…2…1.” Wendy counts down.

As soon as she hits one both Tenisha and Nick ignite the twin engines. They burst into life, flinging them forward at speed. The trio know that this speed is nothing compared to what is achieved during Sling Gate traversal, which in turn will be nothing compared to Blink Transit. Or at least they all hope so as their ship races away from Earth at several thousand miles an hour.

Wendy continues to run diagnostics and system checks, scanning the data returns which are all showing well within margins and without any conflicts. Wendy smiles slightly pleased with the results thus far, though she knows that this is just the build up before the big reveal. Her tongue laps at the corners of her mouth, nervously. She, along with Nick and Tenisha, has trained for this moment her entire life, but if she is honest she never thought it would come. Faster than light travel had seemed impossible for humanity, who had developed and relied on Sling Gates since their inception in the mid twenty second century to traverse the Sol System at roughly half the speed of light. The only issue with Sling Gates is that there has to be one at both the origin and destination points for such speeds to be possible. So where two Sling Gates are not located humanity has to still rely on engines much like those that the Blink-001 test ship is running on at this very moment. Its why in the early days of solar colonisation it had taken humanity months of travel to reach Mars and begin terraforming the red planet.

“Velocity stable.” Tenisha states as she keeps her focus on the console readouts ahead of her.

“Trajectory confirmed and holding.” Nick then offers as he holds the holographic joystick steady in his left hand, his right hovering over holographic buttons. He knows the pattern of activation better than he knows his own security codes, as he stares out the canopy to the blackness of space beyond.

“Preparing for Blink Drive activation.” Wendy says as she runs another diagnostic to ensure all systems are green. The on-board systems confirm that everything is still green as she prepares for the faster than light drives activation. Her hand hovers over the holographic button ready to activate the prototype transit system.

“Cut engines on my mark.” Wendy then orders as she casts her eyes left to Nick and then right to Tenisha. Both nod in turn to confirm her order.

“3…2…1…Mark!” Wendy calls.

The two pilots cut the conventional engines leaving their ship to drift at a steady velocity.

“Speed holding.” Nick offers after a few seconds, a smile on his face as he waits for the single greatest moment of his life. He knows it and welcomes it openly without an ounce of doubt being present in his mind.

“Blink Drive activation in…3…2…1.” As Wendy says one she activates the Blink Drive which fires into life, spooling audibly as it spins up to full speed in just a few seconds. Wendy continues to monitor ship systems, drive sensors and returning data. All are still showing clear and within margins, much to her relief and delight. She can feel the excitement well up inside her, almost to the point of becoming overwhelming as she calmly inhales and exhales.

“Blink Transit activation…” Tenisha calls as both she and Nick tap away at their consoles making sure everything is ready and that there is no human error that could result in failure. Especially as they have managed to get this far without catastrophe.

“Blink Drive initiated!” Nick calls as he completes the memorised sequence with his right hand a moment before the Blink Drive fires, forcing the three occupants back into their seats.

Nick though keeps his hold on the holographic joystick which he grips tightly as space rips past them in a blur of light. He can’t comprehend where they are or what they’re passing as the ship tears across space. It lasts for only a few seconds, which feels too short to him, before the drive cuts and they decelerate sharply out of faster than light speeds and back into a gentle drift with Pluto below them.

All three crew members erupt into screams and shouts of joy. They have succeeded in reaching faster than light speeds on their maiden flight using this technology.

The ship hangs sedately in the exact position that had been planned as its exit point, some two miles from the Sling Gate, which in turn sits some forty three hundred metres above the surface of Pluto. Wendy, Tenisha and Nick laugh and throw their arms up in the air as their faces beam with wide smiles.

“Command to Blink-001, congratulations. You’ve made human history.” The voice of Doctor Wells says over the comms systems.

“Blink-001 to command. No Doctor Wells we’ve all made history here today.” Wendy replies as Nick and Tenisha continue to scream and shout in celebration.

“Blink-001, transport on route. Standby for retrieval.” A different technician’s voice, this one female, says with pure joy over the comms system. The cries of success from the rest of the command centre fill the trios ears, almost drowning out the technician’s words.

“Standing by.” Wendy replies as Tenisha catches a glimpse of something in the corner of her eye. Her head turns as she looks out the canopy but sees nothing now but Pluto and empty space.

“What is it?” Nick, who had been looking across at his two colleagues, asks.

“It…it doesn’t matter.” Tenisha answers sure that she saw something, even though there is clearly nothing out there.

“Tenisha?” Wendy asks worried about the secondary pilot, who is a biologist primarily and a pilot second.

“I…I thought I saw something. But…there’s nothing there.” Tenisha offers unsure of what she could have seen. There is nothing out here except us, she tells herself. All Sling transports have been cancelled and there is no way the retrieval ship could have arrived that fast, even if it is only one gate over.

“It’s the excitement!” Nick exclaims.

“We just went faster than light!” Nick continues his mood unperturbed.

“Nick’s right.” Wendy offers as she rests her right hand on Tenisha’s left shoulder.

Tenisha turns her focus away from the view of space beyond the canopy and looks at the other woman and Nick for a few moments before she smiles again. Tenisha nods just as the transport ship that will return them to the UnSA Moon base appears from the Pluto Sling Gate.

“Hey look, almost home.” Nick says with a wide smile as he goes back to waving his arms in the air and dancing in his seat. The sight makes both Wendy and Tenisha roar with laughter.

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