Cold Contact

Cold Contact, short science fiction by Torn MacAlester

Writ­ten for: The Fic­tion Foun­tain 4 Aug 2019

 

Pho­to by Min An from Pex­els

 

Frank ‘Coot­er’ Ross looked at his books, try­ing to find infor­ma­tion about first con­tact. Where the hell is it? He thought. I know there is some infor­ma­tion here somewhere.

“What’s going on Frank?” said the female voice over the com­put­er line. “You went qui­et and start­ed grum­bling.” The voice belonged to Cathy Soren­son, the space­craft mechan­ic at the far end of the dri­ve sec­tion of the Hootie Bird.

“It’s a book,” Coot­er said. “Details the pos­si­bles fer first contact.”

“Oh,” she answered. “Part of your alien’s on the Moon conspiracy.”

“Evi­dence was there.”

“Nev­er mind,” Cathy answered. “What’s the urgent need for the book?”

“Ya’ heard them transmittin’.”

“Yeah I heard it. But don’t you think it’s a cou­ple of spac­ers with too much time and too many choic­es of drugs.”

“What if they’d been sober?” asked Cathy.

“Low oxy­gen, maybe.”

“It’s impor­tant that we find it way out here.”

“How so?”

.

“Well,” Coot­er start­ed. “We’re beyond our first con­tact signal.”

“First con­tact signal?”

“Yeah, it’s the ini­tial trans­mis­sion of sig­nif­i­cant pow­er that could be detect­ed by an alien civilization.”

“What?”

“The minus sev­en­ty-three Olympics broad­cast from Berlin or the minus sev­en­ty two coro­na­tion of King George the sixth of England.”

“Cap­tain Coot­er can you explain for all us Earth­lings? Those are over two hun­dred years old,” Cathy said.

“Do the math Cathy. We’re about two hun­dred and fifty light years from Earth, the sig­nals have not made it out this far. Its Y+145 now, the sig­nals would have reached a max­i­mum of two hun­dred and eight light years.”

“Oh. I for­get that sig­nals trav­el slow­er than the warp dri­ve. We’ve out ran the radio waves from back then. So -”

“We’re out in the cold zone,” Coot­er said.

“Cold zone?”

“It’s the zone where any con­tact with aliens will occur with­out them hav­ing pri­or knowl­edge of our existence.”

.

“Cold,” said Cathy, “since we’ve not giv­en them any time to warm up to the idea.”

“Exact­ly. It’s a cold contact.”

Coot­er heard Cathy laugh as he adjust­ed the high gain anten­na to point direct­ly at the Union Transat­lan­tique des Nations ves­sel, as the low gain point­ed at the only inhab­it­able plan­et in the sys­tem. They had been sent their to check out the plan­et and pos­si­ble UTAN colony being built on the plan­et. Many oth­er nations had their eyes on the plan­et, but want­ed the extents of the UTAN colony estab­lished before com­mit­ting their own resources. Con­se­quent­ly, Coot­er was hired to take a look.

Hootie Bird made for a good scout­ing ves­sel. Many Moon based spac­ers had tak­en to build­ing and oper­at­ing them after the dis­cov­ery of Alcu­bierre met­ric based FTL warp dri­ve. The basic aster­oid prospec­tor ship design that had been oper­at­ing for decades pro­vid­ed the per­fect design that could use the dri­ve. Many were ful­ly auto­mat­ed, sur­vey­ing the thou­sands of sys­tems brought into range by FTL. Few, like Hootie Bird, were clas­sic crew-of-two roid-rompers.

Coot­er had hired Cathy and com­mis­sioned a new ves­sel short­ly after the dis­cov­ery. He decid­ed that he would go to the stars to look for aliens rather than scour the lunar sur­face to look for the alien base he believed was there. He’d spent decades with noth­ing to show for it, so he opt­ed for a dif­fer­ent search.

“Frank?” Cathy asked, con­tin­u­ing to refuse to call him ‘Coot­er’.

“What?”

“I’ll need at least thir­ty min­utes before I can restart the reactor.”

.

“Okay,” Coot­er not­ed. “Anoth­er forty-five before the dri­ve is ready, then.”

“Yes, but I’ll make it twenty.”

Coot­er looked at the poten­tial mis­sile launch­es and trav­el times from the UTAN plan­et and ves­sel. He not­ed that they were safe from the plan­et, but some of the pos­si­ble shots from the ves­sel were mar­gin­al. It all depend­ed upon the fuel in the vessel’s tanks. They could make a large burn and put Hootie Bird into a missile’s flight envelope.

Coot­er ner­vous­ly mon­i­tored the clock and lis­tened. No news was good news. He wait­ed, hop­ing for some more chat­ter from the UTAN. He want­ed to know more about these Aliens the ves­sel had report­ed. Could it be true? Had they made contact?

“Navire six, aller au silence radio,” said the radio chan­nel from the UTAN colony. Coot­er didn’t need the trans­la­tion to under­stand they want­ed the UTAN ves­sel to go silent. A moment lat­er a very large radar pulse hit Hootie Bird.

“DAMN IT,” yelled Coot­er. “Firin’ up the RCS. Hold on Cathy, we need to Burn hard.”

“Don’t kill us.”

“I won’t,” Coot­er said, burn­ing a sig­nif­i­cant part of their fuel. “You’ll get a bonus if you can make the twen­ty min­utes on the reactor.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“That pulse came from the plan­et,” Coot­er explained. “That burn will put us out­side of any of their fir­ing solu­tions. They’ll have to tell the ves­sel to tar­get us – they’ll have to maneu­ver to shoot. I hope to engage the warp dri­ve before that happens.”

“You’re crazy, Frank.”

.

“Obvi­ous­ly,” Coot­er grinned, and fell silent watch­ing the displays.

After five min­utes, silence con­tin­ued on the radios. Laser com­mu­ni­ca­tions, he thought, the tight beam would be impos­si­ble to inter­cept. They’d be get­ting instruc­tions from the plan­et. Maybe ten min­utes, they’d burn to get a fir­ing solution.

Coot­er looked through the scope, point­ed at the last posi­tion of the UTAN ves­sel. – still there. No evi­dence of a burn.

The min­utes ticked off…

Coot­er glanced at all the con­trols. No mes­sages from either the UTAN ves­sel or colony. No flare of engines engag­ing, nor the launch of a missile.

“Nut­tin’ Cathy,” Coot­er said at length. “Sta­tus on the reactor.”

“I can fin­ish or talk, Frank, your choice.” Cathy said.

“Keep workin’,” Coot­er said. “I get nut­tin’ from them. It’s like they’re ignorin’ us.”

“Hmmm.”

Coot­er looked again. There was no activ­i­ty. “It’s just like I would do it.”

“Do what?”

“Make us doubt every­thing that had occurred.”

“Three more min­utes on that reac­tor.” Cathy said, “Give me time to get out of here before you fire up.”

“Sure,” Coot­er said. “They just made us believe and dis­be­lieve the alien first con­tact at the same time. A true cold contact.”

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