Attempting to avoid a line of rapidly developing thunderstorms, the Stratoliner Cassatt's flight path took it over an unexplored portion of the Barbarian Continent. Noting a glint of something metallic in the forested wilderness below, the helmsman took a series of solidos with the ventral camera as the liner droned on.
When developed, there was clear indication that something was down there among the trees. Could this be the long sought alien spacecraft of legend? A survey team was sent to investigate.
Lieutenant Freya Sondergaard of the Planetary Marines led her flight of Aerotanks in a loose formation as the forested expanses of the Barbarian Continent slipped away below them. They were serving as escorts for three armed and armored Aeroplatforms carrying a contingent of scientist's sent to investigate something spotted by a Stratoliner; there was talk of it being an alien spacecraft and soon they would know for sure.
She felt especially protective of the craft below her, since her soul mate Jared was commanding the trio of platforms. They had made love that morning both realizing that they might not return from the mission and wanting to die together in battle rather than live without the other.
"Objective sighted, flight leader," his voice crackled in her earphones. "There's no place to touch down nearby, so we'll hover on the fans until our crews can clear a landing zone, over."
"Understood, will hold formation and watch for intruders, over."
Men rappelled down from the platforms with chain saws and soon had a landing zone cleared for one platform, more men alighted and soon there was enough room to land all three platforms. The scientists on board gathered up their equipment and went to examine whatever was in the forest.
The interstellar spaceship, for that is what it was, was huge. The towering trees that had grown up around it spread their leafy canopies above it effectively concealing it from casual view. It was a quirk of fate that the crew member of the 'Cassatt' had caught a glimpse of it at all. The ship was ages old judging by the trees surrounding it, which must have been no more than saplings when it initially landed. Despite it's apparent age, it still shone with a metallic gleam.
When fully examined, it was of a design totally unfamiliar to human eyes. It's forward hull was ovoid in shape, with a line of protuberances on it's sides, attached to an elongated tube half the diameter of the ovoid, which was in turn connected to a larger pear shaped hull studded with protuberances of various shapes and sizes.
The scientists circled the alien craft warily, marveling at it's design and symmetry; fearful of any defensive mechanisms that could very well still be in operation. Finally, one of them came close enough to rap her knuckles on the ovoid hull and leapt back in surprise when, with a hiss, an opening appeared and a ramp extended to the ground.
It was clear that the ramp was never meant for human feet, rather it resembled the spiral configuration of a drill bit with blunt edges; as if intended to provide purchase to legless beings of unknown stature. It was all quite mysterious.
Ascending the ramp with some difficulty, the scientists found themselves in a hemispherical room, the walls of which were covered with blinking indicator lights and large blank screens. Consoles with rows of variously shaped buttons and toggles stood about the room with grooved pedestals behind them rising a meter high from the rough surfaced deck.
Additional compartments were aft of the bridge; some of which contained various instrument clusters fitted with pedestals, others containing what appeared to be low mounted shelving and mushroom shaped objects mounted on the deck.
The tubular section connecting the two hulls was little more than a featureless corridor with a deck of rough surfaced material. The pear shaped hull at the stern was equally intriguing.
Two convoluted chunks of metal filled most of the cabin, towering over the scientists, with control stations and pedestals clustered around each of them. If these were in fact engines of some sort, they appeared to be in one piece and featureless. Each control station had a blank display screen and a collection of buttons, touch pads and toggles; none of which were shaped for the human hand.
The scientists conversed excitedly among themselves while the Air Police and Planetary Marines assigned to their guard detail stood idly by, restless and bored.
After a number of trees had been cleared, Freya's Aerotank unit set down near the alien ship. She and the other pilots walked about stretching cramped muscles and breathing the forest air. She and Jared saw each other at the same time and smiled. He tilted his head at the dense forest, she nodded and soon, away from prying eyes, they embraced and kissed hungrily, rubbing their bodies together.
"How about a quickie in the bushes, lover?" Freya said teasingly.
"You read my mind, baby," Jared replied, caressing her.
"Hey Lieutenant," a voice bellowed, "Where'd you get off to?"
"So much for fun," Jared grumbled. "Better go see what the old warhorse wants."
"Duty above all, my love," Freya replied with a wry smile, "Sergeant Dugan's not one to yell for help unless it's something way beyond his pay grade or that he can't kill."
They separated reluctantly; Freya went to see what the sergeant wanted and Jared headed back to the Aeroplatforms.
When Freya strode briskly from the woods she was met by Senior Gunnery Sergeant Dugan, his leathery face creased in a frown.
"What's the problem, Gunny?"
"It's those civilians, ma'm. They're trying to order the men around and I won't stand for it. They think our men are their personal slaves. I told the troops to stand easy until I talked to you."
Freya grinned inwardly at his use of the word 'men' referring to his platoon. Over a third of the members were female, but they were all troopers as far as he was concerned. He took care of them and they took care of him.
"Let's go straighten this out," Freya said, heading for the ship with the Gunny at her side, swearing under his breath about "Those damn civilians".
Professor Gunderson looked up, startled, as a tall blonde woman strode into the starships control room, First Lieutenants bars gleaming on her tan uniform shirt lapels. Behind her was a huge man with broad shoulders and Sergeants stripes on the sleeves of his cammie fatigues.
"I understand you need my men for some duty of yours," the woman barked, making the Professor flinch.
"Y ... yes Lieutenant," he stammered, totally unnerved. "We have discovered what appears to be some sort of recording device and we need some help moving it to one of the Aeroplatforms. It may very well contain information on this craft's origins and how it arrived here"
"How big is this device?" was the reply.
"Allow me to show it to you," he babbled, glad to move away from the woman as she was a head taller than he and it made him nervous. He led them into one of the cubicles lining the forward hull and pointed to a wide rhomboidal panel that had been partially removed from a bulkhead.
"We didn't have the strength to move it any farther," he began, "We thought that maybe your men could..."
"Son of a fry cook," Dugan snorted, "It would be easier to lift this whole ship than try to wrestle that chunk of metal out of here."
"You may have something there, Gunny," Freya mused. She activated her comm implant and said "Jared, are you there?"
"Here," was the reply.
"What's the total lift capacity of those three platforms?"
There was a pause, then "Approximately 30 thousand kilos at three fourths power."
"What would you estimate the weight of this ship to be?"
Another pause, "Roughly 20 thou kilos, twenty-five tops, are you thinking what I think you're thinking?"
"Yep, would you have enough lift cables on board?"
"I think so, but I can have another platform here in an hour or two."
"Let's give it a shot so these eggheads can have a playtoy."
Gunderson frowned at the remark, but wisely said nothing.
"Sounds good to me, can I use some of your troops to help my crew fell the trees around that thing?"
"You got 'em. Gunny, assemble the troops and take orders from Lieutenant Burkhalter."
"Yes ma'm," and he was gone.
"Stay here or hop a platform Prof, were going for a ride."
Working together, the police and marines leveled the trees surrounding the ship allowing the platforms to hover over it and secure it with lifting cables.
In their haste to complete their work, no one noticed, or they ignored, the various sized stone cairns that encircled the alien ship; each festooned with flowers, carved wooden figures and necklaces of berries and pebbles.
The scientists, TriDee camera crews, reporters and spectators heard the drone of lift fans and drive propellers before they saw what was approaching in the sky over the Scientific Continent. Suddenly, a squadron of Aerotanks appeared, swooping in and hovering protectively over the area.
An excited babble of voices heralded the approach of three Aeroplatforms with the alien ship dangling below them on a web of titanium steel cables, swinging ever so slightly to and fro. The sight reminded some in the crowd of a fat fly struggling a spider's web.
The ship was lowered slowly to the plasticrete slab poured that morning to receive it, the cables were released and it sat there gleaming in the afternoon sun. The platforms landed nearby and the tanks next to them. The scientists on board came trotting down the loading ramps, eager to join their colleagues in further examining their treasure.
Jared and Freya stood together, chuckling at the excited crowd surrounding the ship, voices raised in a din of excitement. They were already thinking of the approaching weekend in their cabin hideaway where they would generate some excitement of their own.
Several months passed; Jared and Freya attended to their duties and enjoyed each other when they could get to their hideaway. Meanwhile, the scientists, linguists, anthropologists and other scientific disciplines swarmed over the alien ship determined to unlock it's secrets.
Not all attempts were successful. When a fuel cell that had been successfully removed from an engine and taken to the Planetary Marines Proving Ground for testing exploded; it created an impressive crater in the hard packed soil and broke any number of windows. Fortunately, no one was near, but the facility personnel's ears rang and popped for several minutes.
Those working with the recording device were more successful.
Jared was busy in his office at Sky Police Headquarters working on patrol zone assignments when the Telecomm officer Lieutenant Jameson (who everyone called Sparks in the ancient tradition) walked in.
"Hey Jared, you hear the latest about that alien ship the eggheads have been taking apart?"
"Nope, what's going on?"
"They've finally cracked the alien language on the recorders. Evidently it bears a resemblance to an ancient language of Earth called Sanskrit. There's more about linguistics, you know, diphthongs, phonemes and such, but that's the gist of it.
"They've scheduled a news conference for Thursday morning, and since you and Lieutenant Sondergaard ramrodded the mission and brought the ship in, you're both invited."
"Thanks for the info, Sparks," Jared replied, "Brews are on me in the Festhalle's Biergarten."
"See ya there, Jared."
"Did I ever tell you you look sexy in dress blues," Jared whispered in Freya's ear. They were seated in the front row of the lecture hall where the news conference was about to begin.
"You look pretty sexy yourself, babe," was the whispered reply. "What say we find a hotel room after this clambakes' over with."
"Yet another reason why I love you..." Jared began, when a tapping on the lectern interrupted him. A tall, thin man was standing behind it dressed in a gray suit, his bald head gleaming in the lights, calling the conference to order.
"I am Professor Augustus Haywood, Project Coordinator" he began. "I have called this conference to inform you of our success in deciphering the recordings found in the alien space craft. Our analysis is not yet complete, but what we do know has solved many mysteries concerning the aftermath of our ancestors landing on New Berne and how the Barbarian Continent came to be populated as it is today."
He paused for a moment as a buzz of conversation swept the room. Freya and Jared looked at each other with raised eyebrows and quizzical expressions. They had battled the Barbarian tribes before and wondered how they had fallen into such a primitive state. They were all descended from the original crew of explorers that had landed so long ago, yet inexplicably they had not participated in creating the present civilization.
"We have translated portions of the recordings that you will hear in a moment," Haywood continued, "There are words in the alien language for which we have no linguistic equivalent, so the narrative will be choppy, but you will be able to discern the overall context of what is being said.
"As yet we have not established a timeline for the events described, but the first contact between the aliens and the colonists would have occurred after Arnold Cushing and the other 'Back to Nature' adherents left the first colony."
Two men dressed in gray suits wheeled a rectangular device onto the stage and stood on either side of it. Haywood gestured, one of them activated the machine and a metallic voice began to drone through the hall. The assemblage sat quietly, hanging on every word.
" ... becoming more difficult to survive in this ... environment ... food stocks are ... depleted ... many of us have already ... expired ... losing ... hope ... propellants unable to overcome gravitational pull of ... unable to contact ... fate in ... digits/cilia ... of Great One..." The voice stopped.
"It is obvious the aliens were trapped on New Berne with no hope of escape," Haywood said, his voice slipping into a lecturing tone.
"I never would have guessed that," Freya whispered to Jared causing him to snort in laughter, and then he coughed to cover his outburst.
"What follows," Haywood continued, "Gives some insight as to the first contact between the aliens and members of the exploration ships' crew."
The recorded voice began to drone again.
" ... unsure as to beings contacted ... vibrations ... a higher form of life capable of reason ... fixed digits and strength ... exceeding ours ... initial contact ... sensing apprehension and curiosity ... vibrations ... what are slugs or snails to them ... more curiosity ... minds quick to ... comprehend ... problem solving ... may be of ... assistance/use ... trying a ... vibration contact ... reluctance ... soothing ... acceptance ... contact established ... unable to ... comprehend ... oral cavity ... noises ... mind/mental/cerebral vibrations preferable."
The voice stopped and the buzz of conversation among the assemblage rose perceptibly. Haywood stood silently at the lectern, a smile of satisfaction on his face, enjoying the moment. Then he tapped on the mike for order.
"As I stated earlier, much of the recordings are yet to be translated, however the next sequence gives us additional insight into the interaction between the humans and the aliens."
The metallic voice began anew.
" ... controlling vibrations being initially necessary to ... forming a symbiotic/interdependence ... tasks/duties that we are unable to ... perform/initiate ... food sources for mutual consumption ... periodic vibrations in pleasure centers of..."
Again the voice was stilled.
"It is apparent that the aliens used a form of mind control in order to bend the humans to their will..."
Haywood was in full professorial form as he rehashed the obvious to the group that were ignoring him and intensely conversing among themselves. Freya and Jared rolled their eyes at each other and shrugged; each remembering sitting through boring lectures at the Police Academy and Staff College.
"There are various discussions concerning the tasks performed by the aliens and humans for their mutual survival," Haywood continued, "Which are of interest, but would consume too much time today. Instead, there is one entry that is particularly telling in regard to the final fate of the aliens and their human charges."
All was silent in the room as the voice began " ... cumulative effects of gravity, diet and lack of... (a word sounding like 'vershosh') ... losing ability to function ... relying more on two leggers for ... several of us have gone to the ... realm of ... Great One ... others are failing ... two leggers are becoming less controllable as we can no longer focus our mutual vibrations ... many ... disappeared ... less foodstuffs available to us ... failing..."
There was a pause as the technicians made adjustments to the recorder, then... "Only five of us left ... unable to control ... berserk ... engine compartment ... death/oblivion awaits us ... doors being forced ... Great One..."
The room was silent.
Haywood leaned forward on the lectern, his voice low.
"Pending further deciphering of the recordings, it is safe in assuming the breakaway humans, captured and reduced to a state of primitivism by mental enslavement and no longer under the aliens influence, killed the remaining aliens and escaped into the forest.
"One and possibly two generations of the humans were under alien control before they were freed. They survived and reproduced, first in a Stone Age period of development segueing over time into a Bronze Age culture and then an Iron Age culture where they remain today.
"Are there any questions?"
There were and they flew thick and fast. Haywood and the other scientists did their best to keep order and answer them as best they could. When there was a pause in the questioning Jared stood up and asked "Were any weapons found on the ship?"
"Ah, Lieutenant Burkhalter and Lieutenant Sondergaard; would you please rise ma'm. Thank you. Ladies and Gentlemen, these are commanding officers that led the guardians of our expedition into the Barbarian Continent and it was their ingenuity that enabled us to retrieve the alien craft from the forest."
A sustained round of applause, cheers and cries of "Well done" arose from the crowd, TriDee cameras hummed and reporters jostled nearer for an interview.
Jared and Freya stood at parade rest, resplendent in their dress uniforms, her dark blue contrasting with his white and red, enjoying the momentary attention. Seated in the audience, superior officers from their respective services smiled and applauded, knowing their notoriety could only reflect well on them.
When the ovation died and everyone sat down, the Professor said "In answer to your question Lieutenant, no weapons were found on the craft, but emplacements for such devices were located in the forward hull."
Freya stood up, saying "We have already encountered alien weapons in the hands of a Barbarian tribe on a previous mission. Were those weapons from the ship?"
"Indeed they were," Haywood replied, "However they occupied only two of the emplacements. Eight are unaccounted for."
"Meaning the Barbarians are in possession of them?"
"In our opinion it is correct in assuming that this is true."
Freya sat down and muttered to Jared "If they do have them wouldn't you like to know what they're planning on doing with them?"
The answer would not be long in coming.