Wow, its been awhile since I’ve posted anything from my group’s Yuva anthology. But that’s been the nature of my writing in these past few weeks, picking up projects I haven’t been working on lately and getting busy on them! And one of the fruits of these labors is the next installment in the short story “Arrivals”.
It came after I finished reading over my friends’ proposal for another story – Amber Iver’s and Goran Zidar’s “Ember Storm”. Somehow, reading another’s work always seem to help stoke the creative fires. And since “Arrivals” has been sitting on my desk without improvement for months now, I figured it was time to dust it off and make some headway!
As the story that starts off part III of the anthology, “Arrivals” deals with the Second Wave of colonists who come to the planet of Yuva some 200 years after the first Terraformers set foot on the planet. Naturally, this new group of settlers is fare more advanced than the first, and has made the trip in less time thanks to the superiority of their next-generation, interstellar space ships.
The first segment of the story, which I posted back in March, dealt with the signal from these distant ships being received. This second part deals with the repercussions, as the Yuvan authorities come to see the ships in distant space and realize they will be arriving in orbit within two years time. Preparations need to be made, and the possibilities need to be addressed.
Will these new “arrivals” be friendly, or hostile? Are they simply people looking to join the first wave in creating a new home, or are they intent on pushing them out of the way? And just as importantly, what news and developments are they bringing with them from Earth, a world the Yuvan people have not heard from in over two centuries?
Planetary Research Council
Anuja Padda tapped the table before her, loud enough so that everyone arranged in the circle would hear her and come to attention. Slowly, the many conversations that were passing between the board’s various members came to an end and they looked in her direction.
“Good morning, all. I thank you all for coming, especially those who joining us from overseas. I think we can all agree, we meet here under some rather extraordinary circumstances.”
There were mumbles of agreement from all around the table. Padda continued.
“And though I’m sure everyone has had a chance to review the information, I know my colleagues won’t fault me for reviewing our situation for the sake of posterity. Future generations will certainly appreciate it.”
That got a few snickers, and some people looking around the expanse of the room. From multiple angles, holorecording devices were capturing their every word, gesture and nuance. Someday, posterity would be looking back on the recordings made, and she was determined to give them a good show.
She cleared her throat and started from the beginning. “Less then twenty-four hours ago, a remote monitoring station on the western coast on Bonfils reported receiving some anomalous readings. The station assessed the readings and determined that they were in fact a transmission, which appeared to be coming from an extra-planetary source.”
She paused for emphasis. The next segment of her introduction required a few seconds grace, given the heady nature of it all.
“Ever since we arrived on this planet almost two centuries ago, we’ve entertained the notion that one day, another flotilla would follow in our wake, bringing a second wave of colonists to this world. Yesterday, we finally heard from them. And today, we will receive our first glimpse of them.”
The room’s lights suddenly went dark and a million specks of light slowly began to appear around them and grow in luminosity. The image that was now filling the Council meeting room could be seen in every Planetary Research office on the planet, the video feeds that were being captured from orbit streaming in through their own holodisplay devices.
Raising her hands and the image responded, the holodisplay reading the embedded sensors in her fingertips and responding to her manipulations. The image began to move and zoom in on a particular region of space. Holding her left hand steady to prevent lateral movement, she pulled her right hand back several times, increasing the magnification on the desired region. Three grey blobs appeared in this area, indiscernible and bland, until the image improved the resolution.
What they saw then instantly amazed and left them all speechless.
There, at the center of the room and hovering above their heads, were the mottled images of three large space-born craft. Their edges were sharp, their profiles long and contoured. There was no mistaking them for asteroids or any other kind of stellar mass.
“The image quality leaves something to be desired, but as you can see, we are detecting three ships flying in a wedge formation.”
“In other words,” said Councilor Moltke from the other side of the room, “a formation and disposition which matches our arrival exactly.”
Padda nodded, as did numerous others who continued to watch with awe. Within seconds, questions began to follow.
“How long until they get here?”
“Our scopes indicate that at their present velocity, they will arrive in orbit of Yuva in just over two years’ time.”
“What was the message they sent?”
“We don’t know yet, as it was encrypted using a rather complex cipher. But our technicians are sure we can decode it before long. Most likely, it’s a message of greeting.”
“The ships they are using, they’re faster than the ones that brought us here, yes?”
Padda turned to address this question, though it was more of an observation. Given their apparent distance and the timeframe she gave them, one could not help but draw that conclusion.
“Yes, they do appear to be using a form of propulsion technology that is superior to the one that powered the Avincenna, , and . This should come as no surprise, given that they’ve had well over a century to refine their methods.”
“And what of their intent?”
Padda looked around the room to find the source of the question. It appeared to be coming from the back wall, an alcove which was temporarily shaded due to the display of lights above. As the speaker stepped forward, she suppressed the urge to sigh and greeted them politely.
“Minister Astrakhan, this is a surprise. We weren’t expecting a visitor from Planetary Defense.”
“Perhaps if you had invited us to this session,” he said dryly, moving closer to the center of the room. “Nevertheless, my question still stands. What is their intent?”
Padda cleared her throat. “We can’t be sure at this time. However –”
“All we really know is that have a flotilla of ships arriving in our system from Earth. They are more advanced than we are, they have sent a message we can’t interpret, and yet we assume that they are here bringing a new wave of colonists who plan to peacefully integrate into our society.” He stopped and looked at the display; nodded, as if appraising the image and finding something within it that he approved of. “Have you even considered the possibility that their intent might be hostile?”
Padda shook her head. She tried to respond, but incredulity prevented her from finishing her sentence. “I’m sorry, I –”
“It’s not unheard of for new waves of colonists to displace those that came before them,” he continued. “Or have you forgotten your Earth history?”
Padda’s face went warm. “I haven’t forgotten anything sir.”
“Ah, then you recall the last time in Earth’s history when exploration and colonization took place? During the 18th century, many waves of Europeans arrived on the shores of what they liked to refer to as ‘The New World’. In the north, settlers landed in large numbers along the eastern shores, and after clearing the lands of its native inhabitants, subsequent waves of settlers triggered a series of conflicts. Colonies switched hands as their respective nations demanded the right to control the lands that were already spoken for.”
Padda once again suppressed a sigh.
“You’re saying you think these colonists are here to push us out? Or demand we submit to their authority?”
“And why not?” he asked, turning around to face her. If they do possess superior technology, what’s to stop them?”
Low murmurs began to erupt around the room, growing in intensity as more people joined the chorus. It wasn’t long before she could hear remarks being shouted in Astrakhan’s direction. All the while, he continued to look at Padda, a cold stare on his face.
All too quickly, she remembered exactly why she hadn’t invited him to this meeting. She knew he would be likely to raise some pessimistic possibilities. Unfortunately, not inviting him had had the effect of exacerbating the situation. Amidst their awe and distraction, he had managed to sneak in and stir the pot even more.
“Excuse me, everyone!” she said finally. Slowly, silence returned to the room. “Let us not get carried away with speculation. Minister Astrakhan, it is your contention that we do not know what these ships and their crews are doing here, correct?”
“It is not my contention, Madame Councilor. It is a fact.”
She smiled. “Then it would be foolish of us to be taking an alarmist position, would it not? If we are indeed ignorant, we shouldn’t allow such ignorance to manifest itself in fear.”
No one chuckled, but she felt the room respond favorably to her remark. The only one who didn’t appear impressed was Astrakhan. Despite his next words, his face registered no reaction to her rebuttal.
“Indeed, Councilor. It would be foolish to assume the worse anymore than it would to assume the best. Perhaps we can agree then that more information is needed?”
Padda nodded silently. She sensed there was more coming, something she wasn’t going to think too highly of.
“A good first step would be to decode the message they sent. I recall you saying it had a rather advanced encryption?”
“That is correct. A quantum encryption that will take some time to crack.”
“Good…” Astrakhan brought his hands together in front of him. “Then might I suggest Planetary Defense and Resources arrange for a collaborative effort. Between our two ministries, we could be able to dedicate all our quantum processors to the task and break their codes that much quicker.”
Padda was about to respond in the affirmative, but was interrupted by Moltke.
“A valid suggestion, Minister. But might I suggest that we extend that collaboration to include all major settlements? Between all of us, we have over a dozen processors that could be networked and dedicated to the task.”
Astrakhan quickly turned around to confront Moltke. “That would require breaching whatever security we have in place with this matter. The entire planet would be made aware of the arrival of these ships.”
Stepping into the light, Moltke spread his hands in a gesture of defeat. “They are likely to have heard of it already, Minister. If we want them to remain informed and calm on the subject, I can think of no better idea than to get in front of the story. Besides, if Planetary Defense is determined to learn of their intentions is what we want, then any measure that could accomplish this task sooner is in order.”
Astrakhan bristled noticeably, then turned back to look at Padda. His face was still painfully neutral, but she could tell from his body language that Moltke had ruffled his feathers.
“I shall have to speak to my superiors, and of course the Planetary Council will need to be informed, and will retain final approval of anything we propose.”
Padda smiled, inwardly suppressing a sense of sardonic joy. “Yes, they will, Minister. I commend you and my colleague on the sensible recommendations made here today.”
Astrakhan left without further incident. The mood lightened the moment he was gone and the rooms main doors slid shut behind him. Within seconds, murmurs began to erupt again. It wasn’t long before questions began to be asked as well.
“There’s the matter of their arrival,” said another Councilor. “What shall we do to prepare?”
“A welcoming committee?” said another.
“What about a series of shuttles going into orbit to greet them?” said Moltke.
Several heads turned to him and began muttering curiously.
“An orbital meet and greet?” said Padda. “Not a bad idea, but we would still be waiting a full two years before they would be close enough for our standard aerospace jets to reach them.”
“Perhaps then we should prepare something with greater range and capability,” Council Mond suggested, their resident expert on aerospace. “If they are going to be two years in coming, we could dedicate the next year to developing shuttles that could meet them half way.” Everyone in the room began to voice their approval of this idea. Mond took that as an invitation to continue. “Until now, we’ve had no reason to build ships that were built specifically for space travel. But between the orbital stations and our resources here on the surface, we have the capability to build a series of shuttles that could be sent from orbit to meet them in space before they reach our world.
This produced additional hums and vocalizations of assent. Eventually, numerous people looked to Padda again to see if she agreed. After a brief consideration, she nodded approvingly.
“A good idea,” she said. “And one I’m sure Minister Astrakhan will be suggesting himself. No doubt he would emphasize that we need to get a look at these people before we allow them to set foot on our planet.”
“Looks like Planetary Defense and Research will be collaborating on something else.”
Everyone chuckled at Moltke’s remark.