A FAILURE COMMUNICATE
By Jeff Robinson (5.991 words)
(published SFN Anthology from AKW Books 5/2009 "More Alpha Dreams")

Dr. Jeremy Stokes, the President’s Science Advisor, waited until his escort opened the door and announced him before he entered the Oval Office. At thirty-two, he was the youngest person to ever fill this position. Nervously, holding his heavy leather briefcase, he waited until the secret service agent left before he opened it.

As Jeremy reached into the briefcase, the President rose and offered his hand. “Dr. Stokes, I’m sorry to keep you waiting. I know you said it was important, but I had to finish another call. Please, have a seat and tell me what’s so urgent.”

Jeremy shook President Donald Griffith’s hand, without saying a word, and removed a large stack of photographs from the briefcase. Handing them to the President, he sat in the plush chair on the other side of Griffith’s large desk.

“Mr. President, what you’re looking at is an object detected more than a year ago by the Hubble II telescope in lunar orbit as part of NASA’s StarWatch project to scan for potentially dangerous killer-asteroids. Two unusual aspects of this object attracted our attention to it, its size and trajectory. While it’s only about a mile across, it was headed toward our solar system at an incredible speed. It was approaching our Sun from interstellar space and is thus not a re-entrant object like a comet. The second strange thing about the object is that it was radiating a strong electromagnetic signature, which was later identified as akin to Cherenkov radiation.”

“Cherenkov?” said Griffith as he leaned forward to examine unrevealing photo. “What’s that?”

Jemermy smiled and said, “Cherenkov radiation is energy that’s emitted when a particle moves faster than the speed of light in a given medium.”

“But I thought that was impossible… moving faster than the speed of light,” said the President.

“No,” grimaced Jeremy slightly, “actually it is sometimes possible. For instance, it’s common in water-moderated nuclear reactors. You see, neutrons from nuclear fission move faster than the speed of light in water, because light travels slower in water. When the particles slow down they emit photons and Cherenkov radiation manifests itself as a deep blue glow.”

“So, if this phenomenon is common, what’s unusual about this object?”

Jeremy sighed. “Because, Cherenkov radiation is theoretically impossible in free space. Such radiation would indicate super-luminal speed of some sort.”

The President furrowed his brow.

“That means this object might be traveling faster than the speed of light. This phenomenon may be evidence of an extra-terrestrial spacecraft.”

President Griffith’s eyes grew wide and he examined the photograph again. Frowning, he asked, “Why wasn’t I notified of this immediately? You say this was discovered more than a year ago?”

“Sir, the StarWatch program tracks many thousands of objects. This one wasn’t approaching Earth so it wasn’t considered a threat by StarWatch protocols.

Technicians logged and recorded the unusual luminal properties, but didn’t analyze or review them until yesterday morning, when something unusual happened.” “What was that?” asked Griffith.

“The object stopped.”

“Stopped?”

“Yes, one moment, it was moving at, or near, the speed of light and the next time we looked, it wasn’t moving at all.”

Pulling out a chart, Jeremy pushed it toward the President. “This is the object’s course as it approached the Solar system. Here,” said Jeremy, pointing to a line on the table of numbers, “is where its relative velocity to the Sun went to zero.”

Leaning back Jeremy continued. “We now have evidence that the object is under some sort of powered flight. It can apparently change its speed and direction, even though there’s been no sign of rockets or propulsion systems.”

“So?” asked Griffith. “What’s it doing now?”

Jeremy looked disappointed. “Ah, nothing, sir. It’s not doing anything. The object’s been motionless for two days.”

Handing the meaningless chart of numbers back to his Science Advisor, Griffith asked, “So, what are your recommendations? What should we do?”

“Nothing, sir. There’s nothing we can do right now. Basically it’s parked itself about 5.6 billion miles from the Sun. That’s about twice the orbit of Neptune. All we can do is watch. We don’t have any probes nearby and nothing that can reach it in a reasonable time. I just thought you should know.”

The President looked at the photos again and then handed the entire packet back to Jeremy. “Fine. Keep me informed of any changes and let me know if you come up with any recommended actions.”

Jeremy nodded politely, took the materials and returned them to his briefcase. Turning toward the door, he knocked once. The guard opened the door and gestured to him to proceed down the hallway.

*****

Nexal woke when the proximity alert went off. He hurriedly shut off the noisy alarm, sat up, and looked around.

Damn, he thought. His ship had come to a halt at the edge of a tiny system Nexal didn’t recognize. Checking his charts, he swore again. He was well off course.

The drive from the nova fields in Andromeda was long and boring, so Nexal had decided to take a nap, leaving his ship on cruise control. As a result, he’d missed the main turnoff that led toward the refueling depot on the Rim. Now he was nearly a tenth of the way across the galactic arm away from his planned route.

Grunting, he checked his charts once again and smiled. By following a geodesic path directly toward the galactic core instead of following the main trade route, he’d cut nearly half a cycle off his anticipated trip time. The load of magnetic monopoles onboard his ship was extremely valuable and this unplanned shortcut could reduce the time of his trip and earn him a bonus. Checking his systems, however, Nexal noted his fuel was low. If he diverted back toward the main supply route and the nearest service depot, he’d lose the time he’d gained and likely be late instead.

Querying his navigation logs, he frantically searched for someplace nearby where he could refuel manually. Almost immediately, he found a reference to a suitable location. Checking quickly, he found his luck was turning out to be pretty good after all. The stellar system his navigation system recommended was the one directly in front of him. It had several gas giants, which would be suitable to refuel his cargo ship.

Relieved, Nexal gloated that he’d installed the alternative fuel unit on his ship. Although he’d never actually used it before, if he refueled here and brought his load in early, the bonus he’d receive would pay for the upgrade several times over.

Over the past dozen cycles, the company had encouraged all the regular drivers to install hydrogen processing units on their ships. Most of them, however, resisted the suggestion, even though conservationists lectured them that anti-matter wasn’t a non-renewable energy resource every time they arrived at the Galactic Core with their payloads. Since the price of anti-matter was still low and it was far more efficient than fusion power, most drivers ignored the recommendations. Also, the hydrogen units were bulky, awkward to use, and expensive to install.

Glancing at the navigation entry for this system, Nexal noted there were predators swimming in the methane seas of the gas giants here. They weren’t large or dangerous, but they would be a real nuisance during refueling.

Damn, he thought again.

Just on a whim, he turned on his short-range gravimetric scanners to survey the other gravity wells in the system. All he needed was an abundant supply of hydrogen. Methane or even ice would do. Planetary sources were far better than diffuse gas clouds. It took forever to gather enough gaseous hydrogen to fill his fuel cells.

Nexal waited for the analysis to complete and then reviewed the results. When he saw the survey readouts, he was shocked. At first, he thought there was an error so he cross-referenced the navigation entry again.

His scan reported a planet in the system that wasn’t listed in the navigation database. Most importantly, the planet was a rare water world.

This is great, he thought. Water in liquid form is far easier to process than methane. Still, he wondered why the charts didn’t show the presence of the tiny planet. Looking more closely, Nexal noted the source of the nav-entry. The star system hadn’t been surveyed by an official patrol. A driver like himself had submitted the entry.

Nexal smirked, realizing what must’ve happened. Another trucker had logged the solar system when he went through it, but had deliberately omitted the data on the water planet. Since his employer would’ve noted that the ship had refueled here, the driver would have had to log an entry into the Trader’s Guild navigation database. However, the driver must’ve decided to keep the water world a secret so he could use it as his own private refueling station on the long runs out here to the Rim. Since the system was so remote, no one else had noticed.

The date on the entry showed it had been logged only ten cycles ago. While that was quite recent, it still corresponded to more than 5,000 orbits of this tiny planet around its star.

Well, thought Nexal, now I know the secret, too. With smug confidence, he started up his ship and set course toward the third planet of the nearby star.<

*****

Dr. Jeremy Stokes turned on his computer and began his presentation to the Joint Chiefs.

“Gentlemen,” he said, gesturing to the projected images behind him. “The pictures you’re seeing are of Object EO-1. Since its arrival at the edge of the Solar System, more than nine months ago, the object has remained motionless. All attempts to identify it failed. Spectral analysis hasn’t been useful in determining the object’s mass or composition, since it’s so small and so far away. It’s highly reflective, but we haven’t been able to get a decent picture of it. All we’ve been able to do is to monitor the object.”

A new series of images popped up and the display tracked the position of the tiny dot as it moved across the star field.

“As your briefing materials explain, the object started moving three days ago. The trajectory’s been plotted by both orbiting and ground based StarWatch facilities and we’ve confirmed the object is now on an intercept course with Earth.”

Mutters and whispers swept through the audience and, after a moment, Jeremy continued. “Calculations indicate the object will rendezvous with the Earth on October 3rd of this year, a little more than five months from now.”

A general in the back of the tiny auditorium raised his hand and spoke. “Doctor, you used the word rendezvous. Does that mean the object will impact the Earth, or not?”

Jeremy nodded. “The trajectory does indicate the object would strike the Earth. However, since the object has now twice changed its speed and direction, we’re assuming it’s under some sort of powered control. If that’s true, it’s not likely to strike the Earth. We currently believe it will change its course again, when it nears Earth.”

“But you can’t be certain of that, can you, Dr. Stokes?” said another voice from the audience.

“No, sir. We are, of course, continuing with StarWatch protocols just in case this object does collide with the Earth.”

The same voice called out again. “If it doesn’t change its course, where will it impact the Earth and how much damage would it do?”

Jeremy answered, “While we don’t know the object’s mass, we estimate that it’s more than a mile across and would impact somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. If it does strike the Earth, its effect would be devastating. However, we have considerable time to evaluate our options. Five months gives us some time to prepare.”

“Dr. Stokes,” asked the first general, “you stated this object is under powered flight. Does that mean you saying you think it’s a ship belonging to an alien intelligence?”

“Personally, sir, I do. However, there’s no evidence to that effect, other than its ability to move. We’re hailing it constantly in every way we can and have transmitted every message we can think of, using radio waves, light, even modulated X-rays. However, we haven’t been able to solicit any response from the object.”

“Maybe it’s an automated probe then,” someone suggested.

Jeremy nodded. “We’ve considered that. Some researchers feel we may be dealing with an alien ship without any intelligence. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

“Can’t we send out a probe to investigate it more closely,” asked the President’s Chief of Staff.

“Yes, sir. When the probe was first discovered, nine months ago, we began designing such a mission. A launch of a planetary survey probe, which was originally scheduled to go to Saturn, will be rerouted to object EO-1 instead. The probe has been reprogrammed will be ready for launch in four weeks. It will take two and a half months to reach the object, if it maintains its current trajectory.”

Jeremy stopped talking and waited for more questions.

Several of the attendees whispered to one another. Finally, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs stood and addressed him. “Thank you, Dr. Stokes. You may leave now. We have other matters to discuss on this issue that don’t require your presence.”

Jeremy turned off his computer and turned to leave the room. Yeah, he said to himself. You’re going to discuss ways of blowing it up or destroying it. Disgusted at their lack of intelligence, Jeremy left the conference hall.

*****

Nexal coasted to his new re-fueling point and scanned the system for intelligent life. If life were here, however, the driver who logged it would’ve detected it and the discovery would’ve sparked a lot of official interest in this out of the way little system.

Although life was abundant throughout the universe, intelligence was incredibly rare. Only seven intelligent civilizations had ever been discovered and three of those were now extinct. Despite the low probability, Nexus transmitted standard mathematical first contact signals on all imaginable gravitational frequencies. He even overlaid the messages with long wave magnetic modulation.

As expected, there was no response, only an annoying electromagnetic buzzing. The most intense E-M transmissions were from the large gas giant, but the third planet was also noisy.

As he passed the outer planets, Nexal verified numerous life forms deep in the thick liquid depths of the gas giants nearby. All were tiny little creatures. None of them had the size necessary to sustain the complex magnetic fields associated with higher life forms or intelligence.

After a nearly a milli-cycle, he shut off the standard transmissions and turned his attention back to his destination. Passing through the asteroid belt just inside the fifth planet, the largest gas giant, he swept the debris aside and hurried on. Nexal was anxious to finish refueling and get back on his way. The sooner he got home the greater his bonus would be.

*****

The NASA Director phoned Jeremy in the middle of the night with the bad news.

“Jerry? Sorry to wake you,” he said. “I just got a report on the EO-1 probe you’ve been waiting on.”

Jeremy rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and grunted, “Okay…uh…go ahead.”

“The probe got to within 700,000 miles of the object and then stopped transmitting. Still, we got a good photo of the bogey. It’s spherical and perfectly reflective. That’s why we couldn’t figure out its composition. The surface may simply be a reflective force field of some kind. Anyway, before the probe could approach the object more closely, something destroyed it or fried its circuits. We’ve had no contact with it now for more than twelve hours and mission control has given up trying to re-establish contact.”

“That’s it?” asked Jeremy. “That’s all we got? Eighty million dollars on an expedited launch and all we got was a single photo?”

“Hey, look Jerry, I’m as disappointed as you are, but unless you’ve got another probe up your sleeve, we’re not getting any more info until the object gets closer to Earth.”

Jeremy sighed and said, “Thanks, then. I’ll write up a report for the President in the morning and copy you. I guess you did all you could.”

Hanging up, Jeremy turned off the light and went back to bed.

Geez, he thought, the Joint Chiefs are not gonna be pleased. He tossed and turned uncomfortably the rest of the night, but never managed to get back to sleep.

*****

Nexal slowed his ship and looked down at the tiny world. The surface gravity was insignificant, barely enough to hold onto its thin atmosphere. He did note, however, the abundance of life on the small planet. You always find life like this on water worlds, he thought, particularly ones with shallow water like this one. This is a real find.

Tiny objects swarmed around him harmlessly. He waved them away.

Space gnats, he thought with disgust. That also occurred a lot near stagnant water. He swept more of the annoying gnats out of his way and activated his ship’s landing mode.

As he descended, he looked down at the intricate hives the tiny creatures on the planet had built and the beautiful web connecting them, which covered most of the world’s surface. He often wondered whether such detailed constructs might be an indication of some sort of intelligence.

Considering the idea, he realized the life spans of the surface dwellers were simply too short. Why, in a single cycle, dozens of generations of these creatures would have passed away. None of them lived long enough to develop any sort of sentience. This harsh reality just reinforced to Nexal how precious intelligent life was in the Universe.

Turning back to matters at hand, he thought, Let’s see, I’ll want a configuration that’s got a flat base for stability and increased surface area for hydrogen processing.

Nexal selected a tetrahedron and promptly settled into the water near the edge of one of the major bodies of water. Then he reached over and activated the refueling system.

For a moment, he thought about getting out of the small one-man supply ship, but without taking the time to perform a comprehensive survey of local life forms, he’d just be asking for trouble. Since, he’d already spent eight full cycles inside the cab of his vehicle, all he had to do was endure quarter-cycle more and he’d be home.

Anticipating a delay while the local water was collected and converted into fusionable hydrogen, he stretched out as much as he could in the cramped cockpit of his ship and drifted off to sleep.

*****

Jeremy watched the video monitors in the Joint Chiefs strategy room as US and Mexican militaries reinforced their positions along the western coast of Mexico, near Cihutlan.

As he’d predicted months before, the object EO-1 had changed its flight path when it neared the Earth. Altering its course, it assumed a stable orbit whereupon it had destroyed almost all of the satellites in near Earth orbit, using intense magnetic fields of some sort.

The resultant loss of the satellites caused chaos down below, since the world’s nations and businesses had grown dependent on the orbiting geo-synchronous communications network. Even though the object seemed to be completely inert, economies shuddered and threatened to collapse. Eventually, however, they slowly recovered.

Still, the world’s governments couldn’t decide how to respond. No probe ever got close to the alien visitor. The magnetic fields surrounding it disrupted all electronics that approached it. Military missiles were as ineffective as all attempts to communicate with the object.

The US made a big show of its military forces, but it was more to appease the general population than anything else. The alien ship simply didn’t notice. Finally, after several months of inactivity, the ship began to change shape and slowly morphed from a sphere to a four-sided pyramid. The world watched in awe as the perfectly reflective alien ship floated high overhead like some giant Egyptian god that had returned to Earth.

The press immediately took up the idea and re-popularized stories about ancient alien astronauts. One tabloid even portrayed the Egyptians as some sort of ancient “cargo cult” that’d based its religion upon inaccurately copying visiting aliens from thousands of years ago.

Terror briefly swept the world. Doomsday religious groups promptly appeared and, for a while, it seemed every crackpot and lunatic had a different interpretation of the ship’s presence and purpose.

The ship, however, did nothing. It simply drifted in orbit for three more months and things gradually returned to relative normalcy as people began to take the alien craft for granted.

Then, after everyone began to recover from the shock of a gigantic spaceship in orbit, the ship moved again and began to descend. Panic ensued once more and military forces around the world prepared themselves as everyone speculated where the ship would land. After a slow methodical descent, which lasted two days, the ship settled into the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Mexico. It effortlessly lowered itself into the ocean and came to rest half-submerged in the water. Despite the depth of the water, the top of the pyramid still extended more than 2500 feet above the ocean surface.

Mexico immediately requested help from the United States and, in the two months since, the armies of both nations had staged forces along the coastline. The world’s foremost military weapons sat a mere two miles from the giant, featureless ship. Reinforced bunkers housing the largest assembly of artillery and firepower in history waited ready to repel aliens. In a single volley, more explosive ordinance could be delivered on the alien than had been used during the entire Second World War.

The ship, however, remained inert just of the coast, oblivious to the hostile forces nearby.

President Montaigne, Griffith’s successor, sat next to Jeremy, who watched the unmoving tableau. “Have you figured out what it’s doing yet?” he asked. “Not really,” Jeremy said. “We can’t tell anything for sure. It’s no longer emitting strong magnetic fields like it did when it descended and there’s still no evidence of the propulsion system it used to land. The only unusual features we’ve noted are unusual oxygen readings near the object. They’re much higher than normal.”

“What does that mean?” asked the President.

“Well,” Jeremy said, “I asked the Navy to send underwater probes near the ship and they reported strong currents nearby as though it was drawing in massive quantities of water. Underwater cameras, however, show no sign of any openings though which the water could enter the craft. My scientists think the ship is drawing in massive quantities of water right through its surface, like osmosis. The unusual atmospheric readings might mean the ship’s drawing in water and discharging oxygen. The ship might be stripping hydrogen out of the water and storing it inside the ship.”

“That’s what my military people told me,” nodded Montaigne. “But why would it do that?”

Jeremy shrugged. “We don’t know. Hydrogen’s a universal fuel. It can produce energy chemically through oxidation or as the result of controlled thermonuclear fusion.”

“How much hydrogen is the ship collecting?”

“Massive amounts,” Jeremy replied, “cubic miles of the stuff, if it was compressed into solid form. We can’t figure out how it can store than much hydrogen in such a small volume.”

The President squinted at Jeremy. “My advisors tell me that all that hydrogen could create a hydrogen bomb large enough to split the planet apart. Is that correct, Dr. Stokes?”

Jeremy grimaced. “Yes, sir, but if it was hostile, it could’ve destroyed the planet from orbit. You saw how easily it destroyed all our orbital military installations. It wouldn’t need to come here to the surface to do the same to us.”

Pausing Jeremy folded his hands. “You know, there’s another possibility we’d considered earlier, but disregarded. Since there’s been no evidence of intelligence, however, it may be a viable possibility.”

Intrigued, the President waited for Jeremy to continue.

“What if this thing isn’t a ship, or a probe, but rather a life form?” Jeremy asked.

“What...you mean a living creature?”

“Sure,” said Jeremy. “Why not? The universe is a big place. Who’s to say whether different life forms might not evolve that could travel between the stars? Maybe, this is just a huge, space-faring creature that’s come here to feed.”

“You mean it’s come here to eat us?” asked President Montaigne.

“No, no, it don’t meant us. What if this creature eats hydrogen and, as it travels across the stars, it stops when it finds a nice food supply.” “But, look at it,” said the president. “It’s obviously a ship, what else could it be?”

“Actually, maybe, it’s not a ship. What if the entire thing is a giant creature? What if it assumes one form in space and another on a planet’s surface? We have species that change their form. Maybe not as dramatically, but they adapt to different environments. Maybe this is the same sort of thing on a much larger scale.”

“But wouldn’t something like that have to be intelligent?” “Why?” shrugged Jeremy. “Size doesn’t necessarily imply intelligence. Giant redwood trees, elephants and whales are much bigger than humans. Are trees intelligent or sentient? This thing could simply be a large, mindless, space-faring animal that wanders around searching for food.” The President mulled this over silently.

“There’s only one problem the worries me,” said Jeremy. “If a creature wanders around and finally finds a nice source of food, what does it do?” “It... it stays, doesn’t it?” suggested the President.

Jeremy nodded, “Yes, and like other life forms, one of the reasons it feeds and stays is so it can reproduce.”

“You mean it could breed? It could make more things like itself?”

“Yes, sir. That’s what living things do.”

“But... that’d be disastrous. What if there we dozens...hundreds of these things? They’re so huge. They could crush entire cities without even noticing. What could we do?”

Jeremy smiled. “Well, if you have a large animal that takes up residence in your home and decides to stay, you only have two real options. You can give up your home or make it so uncomfortable it decides to leave.”

Jeremy and President Montaigne turned back to the monitors and each of them began imagining a variety of different scenarios to find out if they were right.

*****

Nexal had barely fallen asleep, when the ship’s alarms sounded again. Shaking himself awake, he looked at the ship’s monitors and realized what was wrong. The refueling was only about three-quarters complete, but he was under attack.

There were swarms of tiny creatures crawling all over the surface of his ship and buzzing about. Moreover, they seemed quite hostile.

Tiny explosions burst around him. Even through the hull, the intense bursts of magnetism stung him. Damn, he thought. I hate insects. That’s the problem with water worlds like this. They’re breeding grounds for these nasty crawling creatures.

The very thought made him shudder.

Reaching through the hull, he brushed away the closest ones crawling nearby and then turned to the ones stinging him. Most of the attacks were from under the water, where the ship’s magnetic fields were weakened and where he had been drawing in water for fuel processing.

Nexal terminated the refueling process and checked the status of his energy cells. All the hydrogen he’d collected had already been converted directly to energy and stored in his ship’s interior magnetic field storage cells. With more than adequate power reserves, he immediately lifted out of the water.

At first, he looked around for another place nearby to finish refueling, but the insects redoubled their assault. Flying bugs flew at him from all sides.

Nexal swatted at them, but they moved too quickly, and the swarm around him thickened. Finally, he reconfigured the ship for space travel, morphed the ship back to its spherical form, and rose out of the atmosphere. Surprisingly, the insects followed and kept on stinging him.

Oh shit, he thought, fliers. This was serious. Regulations required him to report hives of flying insects. If they could fly far enough, fliers could leave the gravity wells of their hives and infest other worlds where they could become a real hazard. He remembered an infestation a hundred cycles ago which caused a lot of problems. Before the hives were eradicated, several people were actually killed.

He thought briefly about eradicating some of the nearby hives, but decided he might just stir them up more.

Checking his fuel reserves again, Nexal decided he didn’t need to stay any longer. He already had more than enough to finish his trip. Activating his main drive, he set a course for the galactic core and quickly transitioned to faster-than-light drive. Steering manually, he wove through the uncharted star systems in his path and daydreamed about how he’d spend his bonus.

*****

Jeremy Stokes bowed low as President Montaigne lowered the ribbon and medal over his head. Then the President shook his hand and together they turned to face the photographers who recorded the moment for posterity.

At forty-seven, Stokes looked quite distinguished. Even with graying hair, he still radiated an aura of youthful energy.

As the ceremony finished, his escorts hustled him to a podium arrayed with microphones so the press could interrogate him. Flashes from dozens of digital cameras blinded him briefly and he resisted the urge to raise his hand to shield his eyes. Finally, the onslaught of strobes lessened and someone shouted a question.

“How do you feel being awarded the highest decoration given to a civilian for your efforts in driving away the space alien?” shouted someone.

“It’s a great honor and privilege,” he answered, “but I was only doing my job.”

“Weren’t you the one who first came up with the idea that the ship was just a dumb Space Beast, which came to Earth to feed? And weren’t you the one who proposed the strategy that finally made it leave?”

“Yes, but it was President Montaigne’s leadership, which rallied the world’s nations to drive the Beast away.”

“Is it true you’re being considered for a Nobel Prize for saving the Earth?”

Jeremy laughed. “No, that’s the first time I’ve heard that one.”

One eager reporter waved her hand excitedly until Jeremy pointed at her.

“Dr. Stokes, how sure are you, now that everything’s over, that the alien really wasn’t intelligent?”

“Very certain,” said Stokes. “Never once did the alien make any effort to communicate. Not once did it react with anything beyond simple conditioned response. It came when it found food, and it left when it experienced pain. Any intelligent life form would have recognized us as another intelligence civilization and would’ve attempted to establish lines of communication between our two races. It would have at least investigated us to find out more about us.

“The alien was simply a large, dumb creature that came to feed and learned that it had better go elsewhere instead.”

People across the room cheered enthusiastically. As the din faded, someone shouted, “What will be done now with the new weapons you helped develop to drive the space beast away?”

Clearing his throat, Jeremy said, “All of the non-ferrous smart missiles, the anti-matter particle beams and tactical neutron bombs have either been destroyed or placed in a United Nations arsenal. The UN has proscribed the weapons and banned them under revisions to the Revised Geneva Convention. All UN charter members have ratified these accords and no nation need fear that these weapons will ever be used in war.”

“What are your plans now, Dr. Stokes?” one last reporter asked.

“I plan on retiring as Science Advisor. I’ve served under four administrations now, twice under President Griffith and twice under President Montaigne. I really haven’t decided what I’ll do next, except take a long vacation, though I confess I’ve been offered several university positions and the head position at the National Science Foundation. After more than fifteen years, I’m ready to leave any new space aliens for the rest of you to deal with.” Laughter rippled across the crowd and, as he waved goodbye, applause broke out for the nation’s newest hero.

Once out of sight, security personnel escorted him to a limousine, which would take him to a dinner scheduled in his honor. Sighing, Jeremy reflected that it had been a long fifteen years. The final assault on the alien had gone on for more than a year before the beast finally awoke. It was another year of constant assaults before it finally fled. Many soldiers and aviators had died, but they’d achieved victory easier than he’d hoped.

Jeremy was grateful he’d finally be able to relax. While he was excited to review some book offers, he was more anxious to go to his cabin up in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. He loved the rustic wilderness, even though he hated the insects by the nearby lake.

More than anything else, he simply looked forward to a long overdue vacation. While resting at his cabin, he could work on his memoirs and consider other offers as they filtered in.

*****

Once clear of the uncharted Rim star systems, Nexal headed toward the nearest major star route and turned on his automatic pilot. The beacons along the trade route would guide his ship without his attention.

While driving back toward the trade route beacons, Nexal changed his mind. He decided not to report the nest of flying insects to the authorities, after all. Except for the bugs, the place was a virtual paradise. It was clean. It had a mild climate. It had an abundance of natural resources, and most of all, it was quiet. There were no neighbors around for light-cycles.

If he reported it, the authorities would clean up the nests and soon everybody would know about the place.

Besides, he thought, I’m overdue for a vacation. After my next run carrying magnetic monopoles from the Andromedan nova fields, I’ll make arrangements to meet my wives there and we can all enjoy the beautiful scenery as a family.

Still, he thought, there’s the problem of those stinging insects. Mulling over the problem, he made a magnetic shrug. Heck, all I have to do is stop by a merchant when I drop off my load and purchase one of those bug bombs, the kind you can set off and come back later when all the insects are dead.

Yeah, he said to himself. I’ll just drop one off on my next outbound trip and meet my family there on my way back. After a few cycles, the air will have cleared up from the insecticide and the place will be bug free. I’ll garner another bonus and grab a nice family vacation in the process.

Pleased with himself, Nexal leaned back and stretched. I might even be able to take the children fishing on one of the system’s gas giants. Daydreaming, Nexal nodded off to sleep once more.

 

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