Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: CWS Abraham Lincoln, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Holy shit! I can’t believe this is happening.” Coop was practically bouncing up and down in his LACS armor.
“I know, right?” Mike stood next to Coop in formation.
They were standing on the flight deck of the assault carrier, which was nearly barren for the occasion, and it was one hell of a special occasion.
Coop still marveled at how fast the ship’s crew had gotten everything ready. He could feel the ceremonial atmosphere in the air. Normally, the flight deck of the three-kilometer carrier would be crammed with Spyders, their crews, supplies, and have a healthy amount of grease and sweat permeating everything. In the last two hours, the CAG had scrambled all of the aircraft in the carrier and transferred them to other ships, or put them on the ground. Only four remained.
“You could see Uranus with the shine coming off that thing.” Coop joked as he used the three-hundred-and-sixty-degree sensors in his helmet to watch the immaculate Spyders’ crews spraying some nanite-based polish on their birds, and frantically scrubbing the hulls under the watchful eye of a Chief. Based on the man’s constant yelling at the spacers, his attention to detail was extreme.
In front of the four Spyders, which were lined up wingtip to wingtip, stood two companies of marines at parade rest. One company had their CMUs on their dress settings, but they were still armed. The M3s were sitting with their butts on the ground, on its owner’s right-hand side, and extended out so the soldier’s arm was straight. The soldier’s left arm was behind their back and held firm against their lower spine. Coop hadn’t seen rifle drill without armor since Basic, and he thought the shit was pretty pointless.
NCOs were walking down the lines and correcting any deficiencies. The NCOs of the second company had already done their inspection. The second company was in perfectly polished Dragonscale armor. Their scales gleamed in the overhead lighting, and they each had their M3s angled across their chest with their muzzles down. The two companies were a powerful sight. Two hundred enlisted, NCOs, and officers dressed to impress with their Spyders standing guard behind them. Coop could see that pilots were sitting in those cockpits with their full flight gear. They weren’t meant to be seen, but their purpose was clear. Everyone might be dressed up all fancy, but Coop saw magazines in those M3s, and he was willing to bet a month’s pay that the cannons on those Spyders were ready to fire.
The HI contingent was no exception. They were loaded for war. Coop had a standard combat load of 125mm artillery shells. His Buss was loaded with lethal rounds, none of the non-lethal crap, and he had a full complement of extra magazines. His shoulder missile launcher was topped off, and his rail gun had been filled to just short of bursting.
<It’s tough to tell if this is a ceremony or planetary invasion prep,> he thought.
“Scrub a little lower, sweetheart,” Coop toggled the switch to communicate privately with the spacer currently giving his armor the same rub down as the spacers on the Spyders.
She didn’t respond, but she flipped him the bird with her hand holding the aerosolized spray can that contained the polish. Mike saw the gesture and laughed, and the spacer moved on with her polishing and specifically avoided the crotch area.
“Don’t ruin the moment, Coop. This is history.” Mike was right about that.
For the first time in human history, mankind was making contact with a legitimate alien. These weren’t the Arachnids on Arachna, or single cell organisms like the ones found on Saturn’s moon, Europa. This was a legit, starfarring alien race.
The ship that had come through the Launcher had nearly made Space Traffic Control shit itself, and Coop could see why. The ship had settled into position a million kilometers from New Lancashire. It was still well within weapon’s range, but the alien craft hadn’t made any attempt to engage. It just sat there. The word on the grape vine spreading through the ship faster than light was that the aliens were in contact with Admiral Nelson, and this pomp and circumstance seemed to confirm that.
<There no other reason a dozen HI, two companies of jarheads, and their birds would be sitting on an empty flight deck surrounding nothing but a large wooden table.> Coop’s sensors even told him it was real Redwood from Earth. <Fancy.>
At the table sat the Rear Admiral. He looked calm and composed, but Coop was pretty sure the old guy had to be having mild indigestion at a minimum.
“Fucking ET in the flesh is going to be walking through that door any minute now,” Coop relayed to Mike.
“Do you think he’ll look like us?” Mike asked.
“You mean a picture of masculine virility,” Coop shot back.
“No, a big dumb ape who keeps asking the polish girl to give him a handy in front of the senior military commander of the whole damn sector.” Mike shut him down hard and fast. “I’m wondering if it’s going to look human at all.”
“Hmmm.” Coop didn’t have a good comeback or answer to that, so he just grumbled and turned his attention back to the alien vessel.
It was definitely alien.
Abraham Lincoln was the biggest Commonwealth warship in York Sector. It was three kilometers long, had armor five meters thick, boasted thirty-five energy cannons – five of which were in the ten petawatt range, and two-hundred missile tubes. It was a beast, and could put a lot of firepower on target.
If the alien ship was a target, then it was the biggest damn target Coop had ever seen. The thing was ginormous. It was in a roughly crescent moon shape, but unlike the clean, metallic geometry of a human warship, the alien ship looked sloppy. It jutted out in places, was indented in others, and didn’t look metal at all. In fact, the hull of the alien vessel was shit brown in color. It was almost laughable, until you realized you could fit over six Abraham Lincolns between the two end points of its crescent moon shape. Coop’s HUD measured the ship nineteen point seven kilometers from tip to tip, and a third of that in width. The ass side of the ship started off thick and tapered down to a four-hundred-meter-wide point. That still made it thicker than a destroyer at it smallest point.
<That’s one hell of a boat.>
Abe had its gunboats out and collecting data on the ship, but Coop didn’t have access to that; even in his position as special protector to the RADM. That was the HI’s job in all of this. They were getting all pretty to look good for the alien ambassador that was going to arrive, but their mission was to protect the RADM. If shit went sideways on this first contact, which over fifty percent of the holo-movies said it would, Coop’s job was to kill ET and protect the boss.
“We have a craft incoming, places everyone.” The RADM announced, and the crews polishing everything made a beeline for the exit.
Coop’s polish girl hesitated just a second to wipe down his crotch area quickly. She’d made a point of avoiding it earlier after his comment, but she didn’t want to get chewed out when one of her assigned HI suits had a dirty crotch. She made it quick and joined her fellow spacers in disappearing from the flight deck.
“You all know the battle plan,” the MSG in charge of the dozen HI troopers relayed. “Two grab the Rear Admiral, two will be human shields, four advance and go blades hot, and four engage from a distance while covering the Admiral’s escape.”
Coop was one of the HI assigned to go blades hot.
It would be definite overkill against a human opponent, but they had no idea what the alien’s capabilities were. All they knew was they were capable of FTL travel and their ships were big as hell.
“Craft preparing to dock.” The next step of the phase began.
“Company…atten-hut!” The two units behind the HI and RADM snapped to the position of attention. Their job in the worst-case scenario was to encircle the enemy and take over if the HI failed. Of course, if a dozen HI failed then puny M3s weren’t going to do shit. The Spyders were the ‘break in case of emergency’ option. They were just supposed to open fire on the ET if all else failed.
While the grunts got squared away, Coop used his HI access to tap into the external cameras and watch the alien craft approach. It looked vaguely like a bulbous tear drop. He upped the magnification and saw that unlike the smooth hull of a human ship, the alien’s had more in common with sandpaper, and as it approached the docking port it…rippled.
<What the hell?> The craft’s front part seemed to open up like a giant maw before clamping down around the port. Coop expected to hear warning klaxons, but nothing rang out.
“Visitors docked. Disembarking and heading our way.” It was the nearest docking port to the flight deck, so it didn’t take long for the aliens to appear.
It only made Coop more confused. “Ugh, it looks disgusting.”
The alien was large, easily three meters tall, but it was stooped. To Coop it didn’t look like any animal he’d ever seen. In fact, it looked more like a gnarled old tree than an animal. Its skin – or bark – was bone white, but sections looked like they’d crumbled or fallen off over time. In place of the white material was something black, slick, and wiggling. If Coop had to put his finger on it he’d say they were worms. Thousands and thousands of thin, black worms that looked somewhat muscular if he zoomed in.
The alien didn’t look too disgusting until Coop caught sight of its back. Thin brown cilia the same color as the ship’s hull, covered the back side of the alien. It had no discernable face, ears, eyes or nose. Coop had no idea how it perceived the world around it, or communicated. Then he looked down and saw that the alien wasn’t even walking on the floor. It was hovering about half a meter off the ground.
<What the…> Coop looked closely under magnification, and it seemed like the space around the alien was slightly warped. Not enough to be perceived under the naked eye, but it was visible when Coop looked closer.
“You see that?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Mike was transfixed on the alien too, as was just about everyone on the flight deck. “What do you think?”
Coop was about to answer when two black objects moved around to either side of the alien. These looked something similar to what Coop expected of a technically advanced race. They were onyx black, seamless spheres, twice the size of a basketball, that hovered about a meter in a half off the ground, so about waist height if the alien even had a waist. Coop got the sense he was being watched by those spheres even though he couldn’t see anything but smooth black.
“Cooper, Enders, if things get FUBAR you take the sphere on the right.” The MSG assigned Coop and Mike to go blades hot against the unknown piece of tech.
That gave Coop a bad feeling. Attacking something you didn’t understand was the quickest way to get dead in this line of work, but orders were orders. Coop watched their assigned sphere very closely while the RADM got to his feet.
“Welcome to my ship, honored guest. My name is Rear Admiral Hank Nelson, and I am the senior representative of my government in this sector of space.” It was clear from the way the RADM spoke that he expected the alien to understand what he was saying. That confirmed that they’d been talking before, and everyone seemed to hold their breath waiting for the response. Coop knew he was.
“Salutations, Nelson. My research on your species indicates military males commonly refer to each other by their last name or rank. Would you like me to address you as Nelson or Rear Admiral? My sensibilities are not affected either way.” The voice that replied was computerized and obviously from some sort of translator device.
<Research?> Coop’s paranoia kicked into high gear. If this hovering tree-worm was doing “research” what did that entail?<Probing…?>
“Rear Admiral is acceptable.” Nelson replied back. “Please have a seat.”
“I cannot sit, Rear Admiral. My species does not have a vertebral column like Homo Sapiens, but my research indicates your statement to ‘take a seat’ is an offer to put me at ease and begin negotiations.” Instead of sitting the alien hovered over until it idled on the opposite side of the wooden table. “Very well, Rear Admiral, I am seated and ready to begin.”
“Thank you.” Judging by the look on his face, the RADM was finding this thing’s methods of communication just as confusing as Coop was. “How should I address you?”
“My species does not have names. We identify ourselves through physical markings and communicate through sounds waves generated by impacting parts of our anatomy against each other. My research indicates that nothing Homo-Sapiens do parallels this, but for this interaction I have adopted the human name, Bob.”
“Is Bob not accurate? We strive to be precise in our research prior to interaction with new species, but every sentient lifeform has ingrained cultural peculiarities, and margins of error do occur.”
Coop felt a shiver pass up his spine. It was weird to be reliant completely on verbal communication from something that didn’t even remotely look human. Coop didn’t realize until now how big non-verbal signals were to speaking with someone.
“Bob is fine.” The RADM clearly wanted to move on. “Welcome to the United Commonwealth of Colonies, Bob. We are honored to have you among us, and desire peaceful and prosperous relations between our two species.” It sounded like the RADM was reading from some kind of script.
“I am most pleased to be in your Commonwealth, and I wish nothing but a prosperous relationship between the human species and myself.”
Coop felt a collective sigh of relief pass over the gathered soldiers. <But…> Even though the thing was speaking over a translator, Coop just felt there was more coming.
“However, pursuant to Clause D of the Compact of the Hegemony of Peace and Tranquility of Sapient Beings, I cannot speak on behalf of the other member races.”
“Ah shit.” Mike cursed.
“And there’s the kicker.” Coop knew it all felt too easy.