“This man claims to have built a wormhole,” said Mark Mason, pointing to the paper, then glancing back at the video camera.
“I seriously doubt he has,” said Doctor Vogelmann. “Such a thing would be highly unstable and require massive amounts of energy to produce. One does not produce such a thing in one of the biggest laboratories on Earth, let alone in the basement.”
“He claims to have one and is willing to have me look at it.”
“Then, sir. I recommend you bring me along to evaluate it.”
“That’s what I prefer,” said Mark, leaning closer to the camera.
“There is a however coming. I sense it.”
“Very perceptive, Doctor. There is a however.”
“I knew it,” she said.
“It’s a matter of financial security, Doctor.”
“I get it. You won’t want investors or competitors to be aware of your activities yet. You’re afraid that they’ll pull the rug out from under you if they get a hint of what you are doing.”
“That’s the gist of it,” said Mark.
“You really need to give me an explanation someday. With your money, I suspect success is enough to keep the money flowing.”
“Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Success means that the investors become risk adverse.”
“True,” the Doctor said. “Your investment with me will raise some eyebrows regarding risk. Few believe that FTL is possible.”
“You’ve already said that you know it is.”
“I do. In fact, it is a well-grounded the theory.”
“A fact you always bring to my attention,” said Mark, feeling the irritation cross his nerves. “Though you’ve yet to prove any of it.”
“You know, I’ve explained why that will take some time. You are persistent and I now have some tools we need to prove it available now. It is only a matter of time.”
“Yes, it is,” she agreed.
“In the meantime. I need to know what to look for to evaluate this man’s supposed wormhole.”
“Well, I expect to see a face staring back from the bottom of a well.”
“You’re joking,” exclaimed Mark.
“Yes. If there is a face staring at you, I’m certain it is a scam.”
“Why in the world would he do that?”
“He heard the rumor,” she said.
“The one about you seeing a face in the mine when Yellowstone blew.”
“Doctor,” said Mark, suppressing the urge to get angry. “I appreciate the attempt at humor, but you don’t know what you are talking about.”
First contact is one of the mainstay themes of science fiction. In fact, it would not surprise me if it was the most common theme in all science fiction. To the scientist in me, I’d like to understand many of the aspects of first contact and figure out what the most likely case of contact would be. Thus, I undertook this analysis to estimate what I might do for my world building for my stories. First off, in science fiction, we have cases where there are both slower than light travel and faster than light (FTL) travel. So, I will need to make assumptions about FTL that are not supported under our current understandings that would allow us to build one. The Alcubierre warp drive is a captivating theory rooted in Einstein’s general relativity equations. However, whether this is possible has yet to be determined. Another solution that is rooted in general relativity is the so-called wormhole, or Einstein/Rosen Bridge. This is literally a portal to another point in spacetime that remains theoretical. So, for the FTL cases, I will assume either warp drives or wormholes exist.
In some respects, this is a direct consequence of the articles I’ve written about the Fermi Paradox, the Kardashev Scale, and the Drake Equation. The Fermi Paradox is the question about the lack of evidence for alien life as proposed by the physicist Enrico Fermi in the 1940’s. The Kardashev Scale measures the technology level of alien civilizations based on their available power. And the Drake Equation is an estimator for the number of alien civilizations present in the galaxy. These three articles help establish a starting point for a discussion about first contact. The Fermi Paradox could mean that alien civilizations are scarce, or humanity is among the earliest to communicate in the galaxy. The Kardashev scale will help establish detection limits in first contact situations. And the Drake Equation will help answer how many civilizations might be out there! For me, wearing my scientist hat, understanding these numbers was as important as putting an alien in a story.
Whether FTL is possible or not, the advantage goes to the civilization that hears the other civilization first. The key thing to remember is that radio signals from any civilization always move away from that civilization at the speed of light. The initial radio broadcasts indicate the advancement of a civilization’s technology. Early radio experiments may not have a strong enough signal to be detected over the universe’s background noise. The ionosphere of the Earth reflects signals back of certain frequencies. To make an announcement, we need a powerful signal that can penetrate a planet’s ionosphere and be detected above the background noise of the universe.
In the book and movie Contact by Carl Sagan, the first powerful signal detected by aliens is the 1936 Olympic games TV broadcast from Germany. The 1936 Olympic games broadcast has traveled through space for (current year minus 1936) years. Prior to the development of FTL capability, the furthest reach of humanity will always be behind this announcement. To generalize the above to an alien race, we replace 1936 by y0, where y0 is the year of the significant broadcast.
There are five different cases in which first contact can occur. The first three assume that there is no FTL type of travel. The next two occur because of the implications of FTL. In all cases, humanity always assumes that they have yet to be contacted and we place them in the situation outlined by the case. Any case can apply to the alien race X by replacing humanity with X. Here are the five cases:
I. Humanity detects alien transmissions or alien artifacts:
- Contact by Carl Sagan starts as a typical first contact story of case I, but it soon turns into a case II contact. Arthur Clarke’s books Rendezvous with Rama and 2001: A Space Odyssey include stories about alien artifacts. Perhaps the discovery of the protomolecule in S. A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes is a case I contact.
II. Aliens detect humanity and respond to their transmissions:
- The story Contact is an excellent example of aliens detecting the transmissions of humanity. Their solution for the response is to send humanity’s signal back to us heavily amplified and an additional message encoded.
III. Aliens detect humanity and visits:
- This one will go back to some of the earliest science fiction. War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells, is a violent example of a case III first contact. Arthur Clarke’s Childhoods End has provided another example of a case III first contact that is more peaceful.
IV. Humanity detects aliens, then visits them:
- Case IV contact is well represented in the Niven’s and Pournelle’s Mote in God’s Eye.
V. Humanity or aliens are not aware of each other’s existence, and they meet in deep space or on a neutral planet:
- Murry Leinster beautifully described the case V contact in his story First Contact that first appeared in Astounding Stories in 1945.
My next articles will explore the five cases in science fiction and their scientific aspects, including how they relate to Fermi Paradox, Kardashev Scale, and Drake Equation. Ultimately, after this exploration, I’ll undertake a challenge to write a first contact story for each of the five cases.
Mark Mason glanced at his phone. The messages were still in the positive despite the board taking their time. The dragging of feet favored his father, Morris Mason. If Mark was going to wrest control of the company from him, now was the time. Morris had out maneuvered him several times before, but this time Mark was sure that he held the upper hand. However, the longer the meeting took, the more he worried his father would find another trick to prevent it.
“My son seems to think I am going to cause trouble.” Morris sneered, folding his hands on the table. “He should find me very cooperative if given the proper motivation.”
“Just like you were cooperative when you stole Lab 18 from me,” Mark countered.
Why are you full of such bull-shit old man?
“You merely left yourself vulnerable.”
“The family and Mason Oil had no interest in that project. You stole it.”
“To teach you a lesson.”
“One that I have learned really well,” Mark snarled. “Never trust family.”
“Gentleman,” Vinny Dillon, the lead Mason Oil council, interrupted. “If we can get back to the business at hand.”
Mark glanced at him and noticed his father holding up his hand.
“Just a minute, Vin. My son and I have a few more things to say to one another.”
“I have nothing more to say to you, old man.”
“Mark!” Morris barked, “Even though we are clearly not business partners, I still expect courtesy when addressing your father.”
“It’s a two-way street.”
“Fair enough.” Morris slid his hands from the table into his lap. “I would like to exercise my options as CEO and sell out.”
“Sir.” Vinny set his pen down on the table in front of him. “Your options allow you to only sell out to a family member.”
“What the hell?” Mark exclaimed.
“What do you think, son?” Morris grinned. “Care to buy me out?”
“What’s your game?”
And why should I listen to any more of your shit?
“No games.” Morris said as he set his hands back on the table. “I will simply step aside and let you take control of the company. It is what you want?”
“Yes,” Mark seethed.
“I’ll even agree to thirty cents on the dollar.”
Mark nodded, keeping quiet.
“And one more thing,” Morris smiled.
“What?” Mark snapped.
“I want your shares of Orbitdyne.”
“Why?” Mark felt confused but held his composure.
“Let’s just say that it is a bet, given you acquisition of KG Aerospace.”
“Orbitdyne is a long-shot man.” Mark dismissed.
Besides, you won’t have a controlling interest in Orbitdyne, anyway. Ernie and Ava McDermott control Orbitdyne. Mark knew that his father and the McDermott’s had a history of disagreement. It was not likely that Morris could ever control the company with them in charge.
Nils departed Conrad Lunar Station, driving his pressurized crawler. He imagined the station would become the hub of lunar activity associated with the Lunadyne Corporation. His hab wasn’t far off, allowing him to be away from the center of activity and on his own. The whole point of his being here had been to build up the Moon. He knew Lunadyne was an excellent group to be associated with, but he didn’t work for the company. He was an independent–one of the first.
The crawler was the center of his life on the Moon. He knew it was necessary for transportation and work. Nils knew that without the crawler, it would limit him to Conrad Station and the company would either conscript him for work or send him back to Earth. Neither of which appealed to him. He planned to do freelance activities. Before he arrived, Nils knew there would always be someone on Earth that needed a pair of hands on the Moon. The crawler enabled him to travel and offer his skills wherever they were required.
As he drove, he considered the list of jobs that had arrived through his broker. Using the broker had been a last-minute consideration. He wanted to handle it himself, but connections to enough people would prove impossible on the Moon’s surface. The broker would send a list, Nils would review it and select a job, negotiate a price, and pay ten percent as a fee. He’d worked through the last list, enabling him to make a down payment on the delivery of supplies.
Scanning the list while the crawler automatically drove the path toward his habitat, Nils noticed one that he realized he needed to avoid taking. Someone wanted to hire him to look for diamonds on the rim of Copernicus Crater. He knew that was impossible. The geology for the Moon was all wrong to form diamond. There wasn’t a sufficient source of carbon on the lifeless Moon. Knowing the answer beforehand, he didn’t want to spend a significant amount of money on conducting the survey. He called the brokerage firm.
“This is Nils Carmike,” he said once he reached the voice of a human operator. “I need to review one of the potential clients that is on my list.”
“Is there a problem with the price of the job, Mister Carmike?” asked the Broker in her smooth voice after the two second delay to Earth. “We established the prices based upon the work instructions that you provided to us.”
“Regardless, the price is outrageous for this job. Obviously, someone has deceived the individual who made the request at this outrageous price. There are no diamonds on the Moon, other than the once we brought with us.”
“That’s a shame, Mister Carmike. We have no processes to deal with this kind of discrepancy.”
“Tell you what,” said Nils. “We need to fix this, or I will end my contract with your firm. Because of my reputation, I cannot exploit someone’s lack of knowledge about the Moon on purpose.”
“Hold on a moment, Mister Carmike. I will arrange for you to discuss this with the client.”
“What is wrong with diamonds?” asked the man, called Herald.
Nils could tell that he was elderly but did not know how old.
“Sir, you don’t know me,” said Nils. “But I’ve been working on the Moon already more than anyone and been studying it far longer. Believe me when I say that the Moon doesn’t have diamonds.”
“I’m afraid that my nephew insists that this is correct.”
“If I may, how much did the mineral rights to the area cost you?”
“I think it was about three million,” said Herald. “I’ll have to look at my accounts to get the exact amount.”
“Did you get the rights because the seller insisted there were diamonds?”
“Yeah, I’m no fool. I wouldn’t have got rights without a sample.”
“You have raw diamonds that they claim came from the Moon?” asked Nils.
“Yes. I have them in a baggy in the drawer. One second, let me get them.”
“Yeah,” said Harald. “I have them here.”
“Can you describe them to me?”
“They are little rocks, mostly clear.”
“Are there any inclusions that are colored?” asked Nils.
“I see some color. What was that word you said?”
“Inclusion. It means that it’s buried inside the crystal.”
“I can’t really tell,” Herald said. “Some look on the surface.”
“What color are the stones?”
“Mostly gray, maybe slightly green.”
“Herald, I can tell you that these rocks might not be diamonds. I would get them tested. The cost of the survey means it will take me a day to complete. That cost covers all the expenses of me being on the Moon for that day.”
“That means that covers the cost of shipping all the water I drink, the food I eat, and even the air I breathe. That is a roundabout way of saying my services are expensive. I’d like you to have your samples checked first. If your samples are legitimately diamonds and the examiners will verify that they are not from the Earth, then I’ll go out to your site and look for diamonds.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes Harold, I fear that they have duped you and I don’t want to add to your financial burden to prove that to you by taking a day at your site and finding nothing. I would call your local police as well and report the fraud. You can give them my number.”
Nils closed the connection after reassuring the man that the situation was serious. Even though the money would have been easy, he knew someone other than him might take it. He hoped Harold would take his advice and verify those diamonds.
After examining his offices in the L5 station, Mark Mason ultimately determined that he was pleased. The O’Neil cylinder was years away, so the tiny space made sense. At first zero G disagreed with him and he feared he would need to abandon his quest. He built Selene Corp for the quest, but the Moon was not the goal. It was another distraction among many. Most notably trying to keep his chief financial officer from selling Mars as the next goal.
“I don’t understand why you are so obsessed that we don’t go to Mars,” said Gina Simon, the Selene Corp CFO. “It’s the next obvious destination.”
“I agree it’s obvious, Ms. Simon, but it also is a trap,” said Mark.
“Let me explain.”
Mark adjusted the video camera so that his picture was more centered on the video screen.
“Mars is a nice destination,” Mark continued. “However, it has several drawbacks. It is not a source of materials. Its borderline for habitability. The atmosphere is far too thin. It has no magnetic field. It will be a resource sink for little benefit.”
“Isn’t Mars as resource rich as the Moon?”
“Oh yes, it is. But some argue that it’s twice as hard to export those resources from Mars. They will be perfect for building on Mars. But those same resources will give us little benefit for the rest of the solar system.”
“But isn’t it the only habitable destination?” asked Gina.
“Not exactly. Mars is only borderline habitable. The atmosphere is insufficient and made of the wrong stuff. The habitats we’ve built for the Moon and the vacuum of space will almost be required for use on Mars.”
“What about terraforming?”
“Again possible,” said Mark. “But the business is unappealing to me. It’s as big of a dead end as ending all space programs and staying on Earth.”
“What do you mean?”
“Stellar evolution, Ms. Simon. Over the next fifty to hundred million years, the Sun will evolve and eventually swell into a red giant. That inevitability will consume both Mars and Earth. There is an uncertainty concerning Jupiter, so Saturn is the first place that we might consider safe.”
“So that’s the reason for all the plans for Saturn?”
“No, I have other reasons for Saturn that are more immediate than surviving the Sun’s life cycle.”
“Can you let me know what those are?” she asked.
“No, I’m not ready to open up the Saturn discussion today.”
“Aren’t you pushing Mars aside for the Saturn activity?”
“No,” said Mark. “I’m pointing out that we have better destinations than Mars, such as Near-Earth Asteroids. Even Phobos and Demos are better destinations than Mars itself. We have access to resources that aren’t at the bottom of a gravity well. That gravity well is the reason I call it a trap.”
“What’s our next goal?”
“I want to move an asteroid.”
“You’re kidding,” said Gina.
“We’ve got a couple of years, but that is what I think is our best option.”
“Why the best?”
“We need materials to build the O’Neil cylinders,” said Mark. “An asteroid provides a rubble pile of material that we can spin up.”
“So, what in the meantime?”
“We’ll see if I can stir some things up when I go visit Nils Carmike and Deputy Miller.”
From his Texas Office, Nils fell into the routine since they landed the remote-control crawler on the lunar surface. For about two weeks, he’d work nearly fourteen-hour days. Then once the sun had set on the landing site, he’d spend the next two weeks relaxing and working only a couple of hours a day. He’d been through two full cycles, awaiting the sunrise on the third cycle, starting in two days when the sun rises on the landing site.
He grabbed the coffee from the convenience store across the street from the office. Even though he only planned to spend two hours in the office, he felt it would be a long day. He realized he needed more time to prepare the site at Mare Frigoris for landings and start building the road to the North Pole before he could go to the Moon. Based on their timetable after the accident, Orbitdyne won’t be able to send humans to the Moon until next year at the earliest. Meanwhile, Nils prepared everything with automated rovers and a remote-controlled crawler. There was four months.
Once in the office, Nils dialed the vendor waiting for the teleconference to start between him and the KG vendor.
“Nils,” said Zia Hill, the woman who appeared on the screen. “I hope the Texas summer hasn’t totally wiped you out.” Zia was the flight director for the KG launch services in Savanah. She was the technical face of the company and provided Nils a powerful level of confidence in KG’s abilities. Zia never sugar-coated an issue, but she didn’t dwell on trivialities that meant nothing to the overall operation.
“Hi Zia,” said Nils. “It cooled off overnight, so it’s been quite pleasant this morning.”
“That’s good. Georgia summer hasn’t been too bad here either.”
“What’s the status?”
“We’ve got your payloads secure. Your partner is overseeing the final lockdown of the fairing. We expect to complete the stack tomorrow.”
“How is Milt?” asked Nils, wondering about his business partner, Milt Johnson. Milt had been mostly absent from the office during the past two months since landing on the Moon. He left Nils in charge of the daily operations of the Moon landings while he dealt with funding and technical issues across the country. “I haven’t spoken to him since last week’s telecon.”
“You know Milt—always on the move. We spoke just enough this morning that he could verify the crates and the rovers. Then he was off to another meeting.”
“Did he say where he was going?”
“No,” said Zia. “But I didn’t ask.”
“Okay, that’s fine. I was just wondering. What do you have for me?”
“We’ve completed the trajectories. We’ll land sunrise plus 27 hours at the landing site at Frigoris. The lander will need to be unloaded so we can launch it back into lunar orbit in five days.”
“That doesn’t give me much time,” said Nils. “That’s a lot of cargo on this run.”
“We can’t do anything about it. The agency has another payload that they want delivered to Shackleton by the seventeenth of the month. They are very insistent and spend a lot to make it happen. Offloaded or not, we launch five days after landing.”
“I got it. We’ll get her unloaded.”
“On another note, I have the preliminary time of landing based upon current estimated launch time,” said Zia. “I’ll send that out with the morning report.”
“Are we going to increase the pace of the meetings after launch?”
“We can provide you with a twice daily briefing, but it will offer little more than our twice a week briefing.”
“Okay, we’ll forget that for now,” said Nils, realizing the extra expense wouldn’t be justified. In fact, delays associated with Orbitdyne’s accident had seriously compromised their venture. Since Milt had handled most of the funding side, all Nils did was to worry about it and keep operations going. But there had been this persistent nagging in his mind that he was overlooking something.
Nils drove out of Richardson and headed to his apartment in Dallas. He was planning to take everything and put it in storage months ago as he felt he’d already headed to the Moon. Now, the landlord sought him to sign another six-month lease. It was damn inconvenient. He had to handle a dozen things, including getting ready for his own voyage to the Moon. The necessities of Earthbound life just never seemed to make sense to him. He planned to leave, so tying himself financially or otherwise seemed non sequitur.
He continued driving, heading toward the apartment office. And he got caught in another traffic signal. It turned out unfortunate, but the signals weren’t in sync during that time of day. In fact, he knew better than to try going home this time of day. It would take close to an hour to make a twenty-minute drive. As he came to the stop, his phone rang. He touched the button on his earpiece.
“Yup,” he said.
“Hi, this is Milt,” said his partner. “We’ve got a problem.”
“We always have problems. What kind do we have today?”
“Lunacorp wants to have a look at operations. Lunacorp wants to inspect our operations because of our delay. I promised their auditor a chance to look at operations.”
“When did you make this promise?” asked Nils, fearing the answer.
“Day after tomorrow.”
“Shit. That’s absolutely the worst day.”
“We can’t do anything about it. They think we are not using their investment effectively,” said Milt. “You will need to prove it.”
“This is going to be difficult,” said Nils. “But you are welcome to watch.”
“That is what I am here for,” said the auditor.
“The sun came up a few hours ago, and I am waiting until the ambient temperature reaches about freezing before I turn the heater on with the solar power.”
“I don’t want too large of temperature gradients across the electronics as things warm up,” explained Nils.
“Temperature gradients? I don’t understand.”
“Large changes in temperature over short distances between components. That creates a situation where it’s possible to crack wires or components because they expand unevenly. If it breaks, its dead until Milt and I get up there to fix it.”
“Assuming you can,” said the auditor.
“Yup, assuming we can.”
“You seem to have built a lot of your operation off of assumptions.”
“Not as many as you would think,” said Nils, realizing that the auditor was poking at their business plan.
“Well, I build my plans based on setting priorities. Those priorities are often to deal with an assumption that another piece of the construction depends upon.”
“Like you are working so hard on the solar arrays the past two months?” asked the auditor.
“Exactly. Without power, we are helpless to do much. Part of that power has to keep us alive during the long lunar nights. The first cycle presented the major challenge of providing enough power to keep the crawler alive through the lunar night. He set up solar panels and connected them to a battery pack, using as little power as possible.”
That first two-week lunar night had been frustrating. Nils couldn’t help the feeling of screwing up and leaving a dead rover on the Moon’s surface. The crawler had enough power, even more than he expected, when it came back to life after sunrise. To double the usable energy on site, he spent the next lunar day building a second power station.
“By doing this,” Nils continued. “We can bring AR1 and AR2 to Frigoris tomorrow on the third cycle’s cargo run after we settle at base camp for a bit.”
“Oh,” said the auditor. “That means you are too busy for this audit.”
“Yup. You could not have arrived at a worse time.”
“I’m sorry, but this is essential to Lunacorp.”
“Someone has said that,” said Nils. “If Lunacorp wants a scapegoat for the delay, it’s Orbitdyne. Their flyer has been out of service because of their accident. What I am doing is keeping us on some kind of schedule despite the delay in their system. Go back and tell Lunacorp whatever you want to tell them, but I’m really too busy to feed them a report because they are scared.”
“If that’s the way you feel.”
“Feeling has nothing to do with it. Those are the facts.”
“Well, I can say one thing,” said the auditor. “If you’re the one working on it, it’s likely going to succeed. However, I can say that you and your partner gave Lunacorp a line of shit a half million kilometers long. This plan is about a likely to succeed as putting a cork in Yellowstone.”
“Have a good day.”
Nils answered the phone.
“What the hell did you do?” asked Milt.
“What do you mean?”
“You know full well what I mean. That could lead to Lunacorp canceling the contract. We’re building the road for them, remember?”
“No,” said Nils. “We’re building it for ourselves, they are a facilitator.”
“How in the hell can’t you separate the two in your head?”
“If they can’t stay the hell out of the way of the work, then they are of no use to us. When that auditor started digging yesterday for me to justify what I was doing. He admitted I didn’t have time for it, but when he persisted. I laid it on the line. The facts were that his mere presence was putting the Lunacorp investment at risk.”
“Did you say it in those words?” asked Milt.
“Then you might have as well said nothing.”
“What the hell do you mean?” asked Nils.
“Exactly what I’ve been saying. You put the whole thing at risk over a few hours of your time.”
“No. They jeopardized everything by taking away my work time. I could have done it in two weeks, but you didn’t bother consulting with me.”
“I—,” started Milt.
“The schedule is too tight during the lunar day to allow for that kind of nonsense. You should know better. It’s what we spent years training for maximizing our use of favorable time.”
“With you not here helping me during the daytime, I’m left with trying to work sixteen to twenty-hour shifts on my own to keep the activity going,” said Nils. “Without you taking the other shifts, it puts us against the wall.”
“We need to keep the investors happy.”
“Yes, but not at the expense of the work.”
“Okay,” said Milt. “I’ll see what I can do about rescheduling.”
“Do it. Once the sun sets at Frigoris, I can chat with the auditor for two weeks. I barely have enough to do as it is.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“Now,” said Nils. “About my other concern…”
“You mean I can’t contribute because of all the investor meetings?”
“Yup. What are you going to do about it?”
“Nothing,” said Milt. “But before you get pissed off, let me explain.”
“I expect that during the better part of the next year, we’re going to be on the Moon. The investors and Lunacorp need to get a good sense of me before we put a screen and a quarter million miles between us. They need a sense of trust to keep us moving without me being here to hold their hand. Lunacorp is going to be tough enough, but we need to keep our construction company investors happy. And I’ve got to get into a meeting with them in the next five minutes so we can get this issue to blow over.”
“Okay, we’ll talk more later,” said Nils. Switching off the phone, he wondered why he still felt that Milt was feeding him a line of bull.