The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 46

Back on the alien vessel

Here’s the thing.

I personally believed that we wouldn’t be sitting on this alien vessel unless we had some value, or there was something about the group of so-called criminals that the alien captain didn’t have the authority to take decisive action.

“Hold that thought,” I said to him.  Then, “Number one?”

“Sir?”

“Are you still with the alien group?”

“Yes sir, awaiting orders?”

“Is the spokesman for the prisoners nearby?”

“A moment, sir.”  Silence for a minute, then, “He’s here, sir.”

“You wish to speak to me?” 

An odd thought, they all sounded the same.

“Yes.  I find it odd that the alien captain of this vessel hasn’t just destroyed our vessels and moved on, after all, if they have determined you are all criminals, what would be the difference between being left in a prison, or being executed? 

“I’m not sure what you are getting at.  For all intents and purposes, we are dead, to them and our homeworlds.”

It wasn’t the way he said it, but the way it was spoken.  And what was left unsaid.  It was a moment when you didn’t get the answer you wanted because you didn’t ask the right question.

“Now is not the time to be keeping secrets, because when our host comes back, the situation is going to end badly for you, and just as badly for us.  We’re all still here because you have something they want.  What is it?”

There was silence, but it was not generated by a refusal to speak, but more than the answer might have worse consequences than no answer.

Then, very quietly, he said, “Jai Ti.”

There are only three reasons that drive people to do the unthinkable.  Money, power, and a woman.

“She is not a so-called criminal, is she?”

“No.  She was indiscreet and found herself banished to the same detention center like us.  We are high-level detainees, rather than prisoners, who live in far better conditions than the more common criminal classes.”

“Let me guess, she was a so-called friend of one of the high council or someone of consequence in the political power structure.”

“In a manner of speaking, yes.”

“And they’re worried if she gets free, she might denounce the injustice?”

“She feels she did nothing wrong.  She claims she did not tell anyone, as per her agreement with the individual in question.  The situation is exacerbated by the fact they people have a very strict moral code, and relationships, shall we say, that is extra, and severely frowned upon, and for a leader who is expected to set an example.”

“And this leader…”

“The rules don’t necessarily apply depending on who you are.  Unfortunately, it is a problem across the many homeworlds here.  An enlightened society doesn’t necessarily mean what we and others are led to believe.”

“We have the same problems.  Thank you for your honesty, it may help, it might not.”  I had all I needed.  “Number One.”

“Sir.”

“No need to stay, I have no intention of getting between the passengers or the alien captain, so get back to the ship as quickly as you can and be ready on the bridge.  General?”

“Sir?”

“You are ordered to defend the ship by whatever means at your disposal, without regard to that personnel not aboard.  Do you understand?”

I expected a but because I was basically telling him that if he had to fire upon the Russian ship or the Alien ship, both senior officers and some crew would be in danger.

As far as I was concerned, the ship and 2000 others were more important.

“Under protest, but I understand.  Sir.”

“Number one?”

I also expected to get the standard lecture, which was well within his purview, but instead, “Understood, sir but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“Second?”

“Sir?”

“You have the bridge until either Number One or I return, otherwise you know what the standing orders are.”

“Understood.”

It was the precise moment the alien captain returned.

“I’ve spoken to the high council.  We are also monitoring a high level of activity on your ship.”

“If it’s a war you want, it’s a war you’ll get.  I think it’s time for the truth, something you have been playing, as we say, fast and loose with.  I told you exactly why we’re here, you haven’t.  I don’t approve of my compatriots’ actions, but he has, as anyone from our world would grant preliminary asylum to anyone who asks for it, pending a thorough investigation.  That investigation starts and ends with two words, Jai Ti.”

For a man with an expressionless face, it wasn’t hard to tell I’d hit the nerve.

“Alas, as you may or may not appreciate, we are in a difficult situation.”

“Dare I say it, but for an enlightened civilization, you seem to have all the same problems we do.  We could have resolved this much earlier had you just stated the facts.”

“Then you are prepared to return the prisoners.”

“Prisoners, yes, but with a suggestion.  The princess, no.  Unfortunately, you’re going to have to censure the leader that broke the rules.”

“And if that’s not possible?”

“Then I will take her home, and whatever happens after that is on his head, and to a lesser extent, yours.”

“Even if it means your ship is destroyed, and all those crew members die needlessly.”

“More have died for less, but noble cause.  Do as you wish, but I strongly advise you not to test our resolve.”

The alien captain turned to the Russian captain.  “If you hand over the prisoners, all of the prisoners, you will free to leave.”

“Sorry.  It’s a tempting offer, but it doesn’t solve the problem for future explorers.  Eliminating us will just bring more, in the not-too-distant future, only they will be hostile.  You might be able to live with the short-term consequences, but given what we are learning about your relations with other worlds, who are they going to blame for the problems you caused in the name of short-term expediency?”

A few seconds later four new aliens appeared, each in a particular style of dress.

Members of the high council?

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 45

Back on the alien vessel

If asking for and getting what you wanted was the technology of lesser beings, what was the other world’s technology like?

It was a question I asked myself, or perhaps a moment after, if the alien people we were currently talking to had difficulties with other more advanced people in their galaxy, where would we fit into the picture?

It was a worrying thought, because through time those that were inferior, in our world, were always subjugated by the more superior.

Granted we had spaceships making us seem reasonably advanced, but theirs were not like the one I was on.  We thought we were very clever getting the ship we were on into space, but out there, now, I certainly didn’t feel clever, or superior.

There was also the revelation that we had been observed for a long time, our progress monitored, and basically rejected as likely candidates for being welcomed.  Or being told we were not alone.

It must have been a dock to see us turn up one their proverbial doorstep, but not so great as out that they knew about us.  It was a case of our reputation preceded us, and it wasn’t the good, only the bad.

It would be true to say, given everything we’d done to our world through greed and selfishness, that finding off-world destinations for colonization was a definite requirement rather than an option, and along with that, to find and learn from other civilizations, especially those that had been in the same plight.

And having found what we had always believed, well, a lot of us anyway, that there was other life in the galaxy, it wasn’t going to sit well that we were basically in the ‘cane man’ stage of development as a civilization.

It was not much of a starting point for any sort of negotiation, diplomatic or otherwise, along with the prospect of meeting the other civilizations in this quadrant if it could be called that, basically from behind that proverbial eight-ball.

We were still no wiser as to where these people came from, or that it was near our first intended destination, Proxima Centauri.  We had a list NASA had compiled, earth-like exotic plants that were thought to be able to support life.

Several of the meetings between the world’s greatest scientific minds, when they were not off on one of their theoretical rants, all concluded that there should be life out in the universe somewhere, that all the known explanations of our existence were wrong, and we were descendants of aliens, possibly more than one species. 

It was a fanciful notion that drew interesting reactions from the Darwinians who believed we descended from the apes, the church, still stuck on their Adam and Eve theory, and others that we evolved after the ‘big bang’, or that our DNA arrived via a colliding meteor, which had me puzzled.

Now, I was not sure what I believed.

The Russian captain, now free of being threatened with an alien weapon, had completed a full circuit of the bridge, taken a moment to stare out into space, and where our ships were standing off, then come and join us.

I had a hundred questions, but the first was, “What was your mission?”

“Beat you lot into space.  To be honest we never expected you’d ever get that ship out of the space dock”

A year late, and people still arguing over staffing, fittings, weapons, technology, even bragging rights, if it hadn’t been for the Admiral, we might still be there.

“You didn’t answer the question, not specifically.  No one just wants to be first, and especially not brave about it.”

“Not yet.”

“I assume you’ve been in communication back home?”

“Communication wasn’t one of the strong points since no one really knew how to make instant calls work, so not really.  We’re basically flying by the seat of our pants.”

“I can see that, applying earth mentality to alien relations.  I would have thought you and your superiors would take a more diplomatic approach.”

“We tried.  You do realize were are technically inferior to this lot, and they don’t view us as being worthy of their time and effort.  Apparently, they knew exactly who we are, and where we were from, something I find hard to believe.”

“Did you visit the planet?”

“We were stopped by a patrolling ship, and they actually fired on us.”

I was not surprised.  We would have done exactly the same, in reverse.

“So, you started on the wrong foot and it only got worse from there.”

“What would you have done in the same situation?”

“Be less confrontational, but then, we’re on an exploratory mission, not one that takes whatever we can steal or in your case kidnap.  Did you realize who those people were?”

“They approached us.  Before we got to their planet we got a distress signal from what looked like a space station, quite a distance from the planet.  We didn’t know it was a prison, only that there were people in distress.  We rescued them, as anyone else would.  That’s when the proverbial hit the fan.”

“Did you know they had specialist knowledge?”

“Eventually, when the aliens came after us, I told them I needed to know why they were being so angry about a few criminals.  I offered them sanctuary if they were willing to share their knowledge.  They agreed.”

“They didn’t want to go home?”

“No.  They said they’d be killed by their own people.   We call it treason, they call it something else, but its more or less the same thing.  Now they’re going to kill all of us.”

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 43

Back on the alien vessel

The ‘ooh’ from Nancy was unmistakable the moment we rematerialized in the alien’s ship’s bridge.  It could be one of those awe-inspiring moments, had it not been for the circumstances.

The second time on the bridge, I realized that it was a little more sparse than it had been before, with a wall of control panels missing, along with a panel that stretched across the front of the Captain’s chair, but with no crew members present.

It was now a blank space.  The whole space could have been a large empty room with windows overlooking empty space, except in the distance, our two ships.  Beyond that, there seemed to be a thin streak of light, or colored lights, flickering.  At a guess they might be a long, long, long way away, but whether it was in the direction we had come, or where we were going, or somewhere else, I couldn’t tell.

On the other side of the bridge, the female alien was still holding the Russian Captain, some sort of weapon at his throat.

I was still feeling the tingling sensation that was the effect after re-materialization.  The first time it was disorientating, I was prepared this time.

I was also not sure what to expect, now that it was clear the aliens were not what they portrayed themselves to be.  Of course, it was naive of me to expect that others in the galaxy would be better than us.

“An explanation of what this is really about might go a long way towards preventing tragic consequences.”  I thought I’d throw out the opening gambit.

“Agreed.  I had hoped the problem could have been resolved before your arrival.  As you might be aware, we have the ability to transport our people, and I had hoped to recover the missing citizens that were taken by this,” he pointed to the Russian, “captains ship.”

“They asked for asylum, we did not take them.”

Another piece of the puzzle, the female must be one of the Aliens crew, and had beamed aboard, taken the captain hostage, and demanded the release of the citizens.

Question: why hadn’t he simply beamed them back?

To the Alien, “Is this true?”

“Semantics “

Note:  this alien had a very good grasp of the nuances of the English language.

“Semantics or not, if you know anything about earth culture, it’s that we look after those who need help, and if people come to us asking for asylum, we generally give it.  You will also be aware that those who ask for asylum generally are in fear of their lives.  The question is, why would these people ask for asylum.”

“The people aboard that ship are criminals who were serving their sentences in one of our remote facilities.  Your captain apparently came across this remote facility and assisted in setting the criminals free.  When we sent a ship to apprehend them, they were taken aboard the earth ship and it attempted to leave.  We were going to stop the earth vessel from leaving when your ship appeared, and it seemed prudent not to display hostility.  There was also the possibility you were working together.”

“We are not, as you are now aware.  Nor would I be willing to interfere with your internal matters, except that it involves another of our ships, one I didn’t know about, which only complicates matters.

Why do you have the captain.”

“He refused to set the prisoners.”

“If you could beam your operative and the captain here, why not just beam the criminals too.”

“They are currently protected in a special part of the captain’s ship that does not allow us to bring them back.  They obviously told him what our capabilities are.”

Criminals, if they were criminals, seeking asylum.  If it was me, I would be happy for someone else to take away the criminal element and make it someone else’s problem.  The unfortunate truth in our world is that criminals didn’t go to jail anymore, they were shipped off to remote mining planets where they spent the rest of their days working in very harsh conditions.  Over time it had proved to be a very good deterrent, so much so, that off plant mining operations now had to pay large sums of money to get people to work there.

“Number One.”

“Sir?”

“Find the so-called criminals the captain has stowed on his vessel and ask them what their side of the story is.  Quick as you can.”

“Yes, sir.”

I looked over to the Russian Captain.  “You might want to tell your second in command to make things easier for my crew.”

A look from me to the alien, and back, time to consider my request, then gave the order.

“On my way, sir.”

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 42

We seem to have a spot of bother

The next statement from Number One, “Sir, it seems we have a hostage situation.”

A glance back at the main screen showed the Russian ship’s bridge minus the captain and flickering on, the alien ship’s Captain.

“I didn’t open a channel, Sir,” the comms officer said quickly.

I glared at the alien representative for a few seconds, hoping to convey my displeasure, but I doubted it would have any effect.

Nor was it any surprise to discover that something indeed didn’t add up. 

Potentially we had a very bad situation, facing off an alien vessel with unknown capabilities and weapons, and a ship that was not supposed to exist, having reputedly committed unknown criminal activities.

“General, you might have to make an instant decision, so if the potential threat is life or ship threatening, don’t wait for confirmation.”

“Sir.”

“Code Red, and everyone, report anything no matter how trivial.”

“Number one, a hostage situation is only a hostage situation if the hostage-taker has a hostage.  You get a clear shot, shoot them.”

“There may potentially be casualties, sir.”

“Then at your discretion, but hold that thought until I have a word with our new, so-called, friends.”

“Sir.”

To say I was annoyed was an understatement, but I had to remember that our underlying mission was to make new friends, not enemies.

“Captain,” the alien commander decided now was the moment to speak.

“You have not been quite truthful with us, have you?”

“They did commit crimes, that is the truth.”

“Then why is one of your people holding the captain hostage?”

It only just struck me then that the alien vessel had beamed one of the people onto the Russian ship after the alien ship arrived with us.  But to what purpose?

“To force them to return to the planet where the crimes were committed.  I had no reason to believe you would force the issue.  Our experience with humans is they support each other before they do the right thing.”

“Your experience is narrow-minded, generally supported by few instances, and basically does not define the human race.  Like everyone, we have a bad element, but it doesn’t define who or what we are.  You obviously heard my instructions to my boarding party.  Your turn now to give me a good reason why I should not shoot them?”

“I assume you still want to open diplomatic relations between our worlds?”

“Not at the expense of gunboat diplomacy.”

“I could destroy both your ships.”

“You could try.  If you know as much as you claim to know about humans, you’ll know that we are at our most formidable when our backs are to the wall.  My ship is an unknown quantity to you, which means you have no idea what we are capable of, but if you want yo find out, by all means, try.”

It was hard to keep an even tone when you are terrified.  Our first encounter had been nothing but threats and violence.  Was I no better than the worse of our kind?

Number one was back in my ear, “Sir, the alien and the Captain just disappeared.”

“I would like you to join us on my ship for discussions, Captain.  I’m sure this situation can be resolved amicably.”

“I’d like a skilled diplomatic negotiator with me, and not agreeing will be considered a hostile act.”

Just in case he was intending to beam me aboard his ship.  A nod in the General’s direction showed he knew what to do if the alien tried.

“Send a message to our diplomatic representative to cone to the bridge urgently.”

I preferred this to be done privately so as not to alert the crew.

I had read the file on Margaret Simpson, and it was, to say the least, extraordinary.  Her achievements at getting the most disparate parties to the table spoke for itself, and it surprised me that she would go on what could prospectively be a one-way trip.

I had not yet spoken to her since boarding, but it had been on my list before we ran into an alien species.  Now, that introduction was lost.

She looked exactly as I’d expected, just in the prime of middle age, diminutive, but not overly imposing, but distinctive enough to stop and look when she walked into a room.

“Captain, I can’t say what comes next doesn’t excite me.”

“You got a brief description of events?”

“An alien race, hostile or not, is exactly why I came.”

“Things could go pear-shaped very quickly.”

“You are exactly as described Captain, refreshingly honest, but somehow I don’t think I need to worry too much if you’re coming with me.”

“A perk of the job, I’m afraid.”

I looked at the alien captain on screen.

“Ready.”

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 40

Sorry, but it was the only option at the time

“What’s the situation with the other ship?”

Number one had come up to the bridge and was standing over the navigator, looking at the screen.

“Sir, might I remind you…”  Nancy began.

“We’ll discuss the ethics later, but right now we don’t have much of a choice.  I expect you to keep what just happened to yourself for the time being.  Am I understood?”

I wasn’t silencing her, it was a matter for reports and discussions in due course.

“Understood, sir.”

“Very good.  Just be ready to be in the boarding party when we catch up with them.”

Her expression told me that she was far from impressed with my decision, but, I wasn’t about to test our ship’s defenses against an unknown quantity.  That might come later, after a discussion with the military commander.

“Later, then.”  She gave me a last witheringly look, then left.

Number one turned.  “What happened over there?”

“Not for discussion right now.  The ship?”

“About fifteen minutes at maximum speed.   They seemed to have stopped.  No indication if they’re having problems.”

“Lay in a course and get us there, maximum speed.”

A moment later the navigator said, “Awaiting the order, air.”

“Go.”

A slight shift inside the ship as it gathered momentum, then the dampeners kicked in.

“Time to target 11 minutes, 35 seconds sir.” 

He didn’t add the “give or take” at the end signifying that it was a serious situation.

“Code Red, military commander to the bridge.”

The lights dimmed and a hush came over the bridge.

“Have we had time to analyze the data on the Russian ship or the alien vessel?”

“For the Russian ship, yes.  Schematics, vulnerabilities, propulsion.  A scaled version of ours, no doubt stolen by their spies, but without some of the modifications we think. It appears its maximum speed is about 60% of ours.”

“Then we can catch them if they try to escape?”

“If we need to, but I’m not sure why we’d want to?”

“There are reasons which at the moment you don’t need to worry about.  Just get us there, and be ready to go after them if they try to leave.”

“Sir.” 

He was also unhappy because our remit was not to be attacking our own ships, but there were always extenuating circumstances, circumstances that I needed to take up with the Admiral before I took any sort of action.

The military commander stepped on the bridge.  “You want to see me?”

“Come with me.  Number one, keep me posted on progress.”

I ushered the commander into my day room.

“I hear we’ve just made first contact.”

“You could say that.  They are following us, on our way to the Russian ship.  At the moment I don’t have the luxury of knowing whether or not the Russians committed atrocities, but the commander of the alien vessel says they did.  To prevent this ship from being destroyed I told him we would apprehend those involved and jointly sort out the mess. It was the best plan I could come up with in the time frame, and we don’t know much about the alien vessel.”

“A sticky situation then.”

“Not even the half of it General.  Our first encounter and already we’re behind the eight ball.  This is not exactly how I envisioned it, but our fellow humans have managed to let us down badly.  Now, you’ve got about 10 minutes to prepare for various outcomes, but that ship can’t be allowed to leave, and, if the alien vessel attacks us, you have to defend us.”

“Battles used to be so much easier, on the ground. Very well.  I’ll see you on the bridge.”

While I had a great deal of autonomy aboard the ship, because we were a long way from home and the sheer distance over which communications had to travel through subspace would make them difficult at best, I didn’t have high hopes of getting hold of the Admiral in the time I had available to me. Of course, the relay satellites we dropped along the way would help boost the signal, but when you’re hoping to rely on something in a crisis, it invariably will let you down.

The situation was one that fell within the guidelines where I needed to brief the Admiral of intended actions so at the very least if there were consequences, he would be in a position to comment, defend, or more likely apportion blame.

This would not be an issue if we were the only ship out on the edge of space, but we were not.

While talking to the General I had started the call but was not expecting to raise him. Given the parameters needed on a good day, and because this was urgent, I wasn’t expecting anything.

I was surprised when a blurry picture of his office appeared on my screen, before it crystallised into the Admiral sitting on the front of his desk. It was almost as if he had been expecting a call.  There would be a lag, but a lag I could live with.

“Captain, we calculated you must be getting close to Pluto’s orbit.  How are you?”

“Everything is fine, and you’re right, we are close to seeing what’s beyond our galaxy.  But, there’s a problem.  There’s another ship out here from earth, been over the border, one that’s neither alien or in our ship register.”

I waited.

“The infamous Russian or Chinese ship?”

“Yes.  But more significantly, we have made contact with an alien race, as have these other humans, and the experience has left the aliens with a severe mistrust of our intentions.  So much so, when we met, I was presented with an ultimatum.  Suffice to say, I’m left in a position where I have to oversee justice against some of that crew.  We don’t have time to discuss the details, it’s a situation where I’ll have to find a mutually beneficial resolution, or our exploration aspirations will be over before they start.”

It was a lot for him to digest.

“Is it likely to cause a problem with the other human ship?”

“The alien captain demanded we detain the guilty crew members, and have them face a judiciary.  I’ve negotiated a presence, but I’m not sure just what the limits of participation will be.”

“How long have you got?”

A look at the top of my screen told me we were on station with the other earth vessel, with the alien ship not far away.

“We’re there, now, so it’s minutes rather than hours.  For the moment it’s simply a heads up.  I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.  You might want to ask some hard questions as to who is out here, sir, because they’re not helping our cause.”

It was exactly the situation the Space Alliance had predicted would happen if we were to present a fractured front to whomever might be out there.  Armed with the knowledge I’d just passed on, the data file the scientific team had assembled, he would be able to ask the hard questions, and hopefully get answers

“It would seem not. But, just so you know, we have just had a conference with what appears to be the command center of the Russian vessel, which, I can now tell you, is a joint venture between the Russians and the Chinese. Further, they claim their ship is being unjustly harassed by the alien who, according to them, simply took exception to them for no apparent reason. Someone is not telling us the whole story.”

“What do you make of it?”

“Since they lied about building a ship, and then sending it out into space without telling us, and given the arrogance shown during the conference, I’d say, from the body language of the Chief of Operations, they have something to hide. You have the authority to take whatever action you deem necessary while walking that very thin line of diplomacy.

“We have a diplomat in the crew.”

“Of course.  Keep me informed of developments, and remember, you are representing the whole world.”

No pressure then.

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 39

Talk fast, and hope like hell!

Oh, to be back on a cargo ship with three other crew members and a robot that wasn’t trying to destroy ships and murder crew members.

On the cargo ship, the captain could hide in his or her cabin behind the bridge and never come out except to tell the robot he or she was doing a good job.

Sometimes you’d see the crew in the mess hall.

No major life-changing decisions.  It was point A to point B without drama, hold-ups, or anything really.

Not like being the captain of a brand-new class of explorer’s vessels with over 2,000 crewmen on the outer edges of our galaxy, on the verge of being destroyed.

“So, for the benefit of a human without the resources of countless generations of knowledge, and experience of countless alien entities, who or what are you that can make such a life-changing decision?  Especially after you said that we would be safe.”

“If you are inferring that I am a robot programmed to not look rationally at the pros and cons of any case you put to me, or that I am devoid of any empathy, you’re wrong.  That I should make such a threat, in our experience, you humans tend to do one of two possible actions, you retaliate with violence, or you make a rational argument. As for who I am, I have a living body that requires nourishment and ages not unlike your own, hosting a fully cognisant member of our race.  The only difference is that I do not appear in my true form, in deference to making your interaction simpler.  I could take any one of a hundred different forms, depending on whom we hold discussions.”

That cleared several questions that had formed in my mind.  This race was very advanced, being able to put their consciousness into another, or any, body.  Did that mean they never died?  Not the time to ask.  The fact they had found a way to assess human reaction to stress, or life or death situations so simply showed they had been observing us a long time.

“We chose not to shoot first.  You will see we might be at a battle state, but that’s only for our protection.  You cannot hold us responsible for the actions of that other ship because as far as the whole of our planet is concerned, we were the first to come here, and as the first, our mission is not to shoot first and ask questions later, as much as it is to explore, and learn.  The keyword is learning.”

“These are words, and our experiences with humans have taught us that what you say and what you do are quite often two entirely different things.”

My experience too, and it was an all too familiar scenario.  I suspect that the motives of my masters might equally be received with some skeptics, because not everyone in the alliance was on the same page, and decisions were sometimes based on possible shifting alliances.

Space travel still had a gloss on it, and everyone was looking to get a seat at the table.  I had no doubt my new friend, I’d I could call him that, would be equally aware of the situation, as it appeared he did, and it spoke volumes about the levels of their penetration in our world.

“I think, then, our best course of action is to prove we mean what we say.  You were chasing that other vessel, the one you say the occupants committed crimes upon people in your galaxy.”

“They did.  We were, but there was a measured reluctance on the part of the other crew members to pursue them beyond the limits of our galaxy.  Exploration is one thing, an offense that might cause conflict is something else.”

So, they had problems with being the instigators of actions that might be misinterpreted.

“Then let us apprehend them, and we will render the justice together.  I have no trouble bringing people who have criminal intentions to justice.  I would prefer it to be ours, but for the sake of creating at least an initial relationship between our worlds, I will accept the responsibility.”

I could see Nancy looking at me with a look that would kill mortal men and understood her concern.  This was going to be a tough sell all round

“It would be acceptable as a preliminary basis for discussions.  My people would consider your input if or when any or all of those responsible for crimes were arraigned.”

Good enough, for the moment.

“Excellent.  Now, could you lift the block you have on our communications so I can get the first officer on to finding where their ship is “

“You may have a hard job catching them.  Their ship is, as far as we are aware, the fastest your galaxy has.”

“Not quite, but that’s a discussion for another day.”

The green bar on my communicator returned.

“Number one.”

A moment later he came back with, Sir, you are OK?”

“Fine.  Have you been monitoring that Russian vessel?”

“Yes, sir.  It’s about a half-hour from here.”

“Good.  Ready the ship for pursuit.  We have a few questions that need answering.  I’ll explain more when I get back.”

“You can come with us, on our ship, or in yours.  I will communicate your existence with my superiors, just not the fact you’ve infiltrated us in deference to your people if you want to get them out, or declare their presence, a situation we can control if you agree to sit down and talk about it.  I suspect that they’ve been helping more than hindering, other than just keeping you informed of our progress.”

I didn’t get a smile, but that invisible change in expression was an interesting indicator.

“I’ll stay, we’ll follow discreetly.  Your actions will be judged, Captain.”

“No pressure then.  Could you send the names, or if not, photos, of the offenders?  How many are there?”

“Six.  We shall.  Good luck.”

The next instant I was back on the deck of my own ship.

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 38

On the alien ship

It looked like the bridge on any other spaceship, and for a moment it had me thinking this was another earth ship, in concert with the fleeing vessel, running an operation to separate the captain from his ship.

But, why?

“Why did you bring us here?” I asked, trying to keep an even tone.  I was working overtime suppressing the fear I felt and regretting being so impulsive.

This was not how I expected first contact with another species, at least for me, would go. 

What did I expect?

Certainly not the red-carpet treatment.

“A private discussion, Captain to captain.”

He looked at Nancy Woolmer, and I said, “anything you say will be in strictest confidence.  is our on-board police detective, part of the security team.”

He gave her another long stare, as if he could see into her mind and knew what she was thinking, then just shook his head.

For an alien, he had a lot of human attributes.

“You speak very good English for, if you’ll pardon the expression, an alien.”  Nnnn decided to throw in her on the question.

I didn’t think my captain’s severe stare would silence her or re-establish my authority over the proceedings.

But it was a good question.

“We speak many languages.  You have, in your planet, hundreds.  We have the same in our corner of the galaxy, so we use what we call a universal translator.”

One thing the space age introduced, was to unify countries into blocs and reduced the number of languages.  It had been touch and go for a few years that we’d all be speaking Spanish, the most widely used language on our planet, but somehow English won the battle.

“We’ve tried to unify it to just a few.  It’s not easy.”

“We had the same problem until the translator was created, not only for us but for communicating with other species, like yourself.”

“Nevertheless, how is it you know of us, and how we speak?”

“That’s easy.  We have been visiting, even living among you, for many thousands of your years.”

“And you’ve chosen never to introduce yourselves or make contact.”

“We tried, a number of times, but you are, always were, a primitive and violent people.  We have waited for signs that you had changed, become peaceful, shown unity, but instead, you continue to kill each other and destroy your world through greed and utter stupidity.  Now you have spaceships, albeit limited in technology and travel distance.  Now, unfortunately, we can’t ignore you.”

“The other ship?”

“It was as we expected.  We had hoped they would be peaceful and curious explorers and adopting a cautious approach, we decided to observe, not contact, see if our assessment of your people had changed.  Unfortunately, it had not.  First habitable planet, not far from here, they visited, the scientists examined the world for technology, resources, and then the people.  What they couldn’t take, they stole.  They treated the people badly, getting into disagreements, fighting, and killing.  The other captain was like you, saying they were explorers.”

That’s the thing I hated about first impressions, you do the wrong thing, it’s all you are remembered for, and the other ship had just made the whole of earth look bad.  Not that we hadn’t done that already ourselves in other ways.

Something else to note, aliens had been visiting us for a long, long time.  I didn’t think it was an appropriate moment to bring up Roswell.

OK, we’ve established that humans are not the nicest people in the galaxy but why was l here?

“I can’t answer for my fellow humans, nor will I apologize for them.  The only way they can improve, we can improve, is the get out there and learn about how others have overcome the obstacles we still face.  But, aside from all that, what was so private that I had to come here?”

“Oh, that.  You have about ten of your earth minutes to convince me not to destroy your ship and everyone in it.”

So much for the alien Captain’s promise no harm would come to us.

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 36

A Russian ship?

The navigator had left the object on screen allowing it to materialize as we got closer. 

I had to marvel at the magnification the scientists had managed to produce for the scanners on this vessel, the first of a new class, and based on our experiences, no doubt later ships would have less of the quirks we had found so far.

Not that any were serious, or if they were, that common sense and prior experience couldn’t resolve.  It was the reason why we had this chief engineer.

He had retired and was happily spending the rest of his life with the woman who had put up with all those absent years, until she died suddenly, and left him without purpose.

This ship had changed that.

I could see the outline of the distant ship and although it might not follow a standard design, it showed all the signs of coming from our planet.

Was that because we had no idea what a ship might look like from another planet or alien race?  I still wanted to believe there were other life forms out there, but how much of that was hoping they looked like us?

“The system still cannot identify what type of ship it is, sir, but it doesn’t look alien.”

It didn’t, now that it was much clearer.

“Would you know if it was?”

“No, sir.  Not really.  Time to intercept, just under fifteen minutes.  If they are intending to intercept.”

Number one just came out of the elevator and onto the bridge.  He wasn’t rostered for this time, but I suspect he had been watching the drama unfold in his cabin.

“Suggest we go to code Red, just in case their intentions are not friendly.”

We had a weekly meeting of department heads to discuss what we would do in an alien encounter, other than shoot first, and talk later, usually the military first response to any problem.

Some ground rules were implemented, one of which was to keep fingers off the triggers of our weapons, until we had justification.  It was noted we had no idea what kind of weapons they would have, or how good our shield systems would be, that would come after the first encounter.

But we did know the ship could withstand any attack from an earth-origin attack, from the nuclear bomb to cutting edge lasers.  It was a little more problematic for the humans though.

“Agreed.”

Code Red, our highest alert, meant that Number one and I could not be in the same place, for obvious reasons.  He would go down the attack room, where the bridge systems were replicated, along with an array of other units.  It would be from there where a relation, or attack, would be managed.

And no, the lights in the bridge did not turn red, just dimmed.  The only indication was a red bar running across the top of the viewing screen, on which the oncoming vessel was now clearly visible.

“It’s from earth, the scanners have identified the propulsion system, and from the scan analysis, it appears to be more advanced than just about everything back home.”

“The infamous Russian ship, do you think?”

“Doesn’t have to be.  Anyone with enough money could have financed the project, though it would be hard to hide something like that.  The question has to be, what’s it doing this far out, and, for all intents and purposes, returning.”

“We’re assuming again.  Perhaps they were just going to the outer edge of our known galaxy so that they could say they were the first.”

There had always been that great space rivalry between the Russians and the Americans.  Later, the Europeans and the Chinese had also thrown their hats in the ring, and it was possible this ship could be Chinese.  They too had a burning desire to be the first, and there’d be no surprise if we found a Chinese or Russian flag on the first liveable planet outside our solar system.

But, right now, that was all ahead of us. At this moment, it was a little disconcerting to discover we would not be the first outside our known galaxy.

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 35

There’s something on the long-range scanner

I didn’t make it back to the leafy suburban late-night stroll, as much as I wanted to have that relaxing moment, going back to the bridge.

It was quiet, if not a subdued atmosphere, in other words, normal for the hour.  It was a skeleton crew, mostly volunteers, those without partners or couldn’t sleep. 

Sleep was one of the first problems because there was no real differentiation between night and day, a sort of hangover from those who worked night shift back on earth, only it extended to everyone.  I’d long since given up the notion of getting a good night’s sleep.

“Where are we?”  I asked, after sitting in the chair and casting a glance over the bridge in semi-darkness, and the view of empty, inky black space outside the ship.

The answer to the question, I thought wryly, was ‘in space’, but I doubt any of those on duty would have the desire to use humour in such a situation.

“In direct line with Pluto’s orbit.”

Salaman, the navigating officer, was not a man with a sense of humour, a just the facts sort of person.

“Any chance if seeing the planet?”

“If we sit here for the next 68 years, maybe.”

OK, so Salaman did have some humour in him if a little dry.

“Engineering.”  The Chief Engineer’s voice came over the loudspeaker.

“Good news, I hope?”

“Problem sorted.  Another item to take up with the inspection crew when we get home.  You’re free to resume.”

“Thank you.”  Then to the helmsman, “Let’s take it slowly, quarter speed.”

“Quarter speed it is, sir.”

There was a barely noticeable movement, then it was as if nothing had happened.  That was the disconcerting part, the fact we had no discernible way of knowing we were moving.

“Quarter speed, sir, all systems nominal.”

“Give it five minutes, then move to half, and so on “

“Yes, sir.”

I leaned back in the chair and closed my eyes.  I often tried to remember what it was like back home, before the weather changed for the worse, before people changed, not necessarily for the worse, but not as friendly or happy we once were.

That was a long time ago, though, and I’d spent more of my life in space than on earth now and wasn’t sure how I was going to survive once I had to retire.  That was, hopefully, a long time away.

“Sir, we have a long-range contact, not sure yet if it’s a meteor or a ship.”  The navigator’s voice cut into my reverie.

Did she just add the ship to the report, hoping to make a boring night into something more interesting?

“Should we hold off going to full speed, Sir?”

Probably a good idea until we identified the problem.  “OK.”

I stood, walked over to the window, and looked out, symbolically looking for the object.  Long-range meant, beyond a million or so earth kilometres, barely discernible to the scanners let alone a human eye.

“It’s moving at about half light speed, coming towards us.”

That might be a stretch assuming that we could possibly be on an intercepting course.

“Change our heading five degrees and see if it changes too.”

There was a slight movement as we changed course.  I remained by the window, watching and waiting.  There were a few flecks in the blackness, and I wondered if this was the outer rim of a meteor shower.  Were they too small for the sensors to pick up, or was the navigator concentrating on the one large object?

Five minutes passed, then ten.

“Object still on a collision course, sir.”

Which missed stating the obvious, that whatever was out there had also changed course.  Whoever or whatever was out there wanted to meet us.

“Revert back to the original course.  When will we have a clearer picture of this object?”

“Fifteen minutes, sir.”

I had read the specifications of the long-range sensors and scanners, the former mostly do we could avoid space debris that could damage the hull, though that would take a relatively large chunk.

It was our speed, and that of incoming objects that were the problem, and that’s why we had sn autopilot to help avoid these issues.

The scanners could see objects, magnify them, from a reasonable distance, so we could identify them if we had previous knowledge of them.  Alien spaceships, if we were to encounter one, might make that identification difficult but not impossible.  But, on the other hand, the specifications of every ship in space, that we knew about, of course, was in the database.

Anything else, it could be added.

Nothing more to see, I sat down again.  We were still sitting at half speed, and from what I could see on my console, everything was fine.

Then the screen switched to the long-range scan of the object.

It was a ship.

The scanner was going through the known ships list, looking for a match, until it reached the end, bringing up “unknown”.

The navigator stated the obvious, “it’s a ship sir, but not one in our database.  Do you think it might be the prototype the Russians were talking about making a dozen or so years ago?”

Everyone knew about the famous, if you won’t share we’ll build our own, bigger and better ship when the space alliance at the time baulked at bully tactics the Russians tried to use to take over running the alliance.

They had backed down in the face of a world united against them, but had they really?

“We’ll soon find out.”

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 13

Our first contact didn’t go so well

As soon as I stepped off the shuttle in the cargo bay, the third officer was waiting for me.

“The captain asked me to escort you up to his day room.”

Unusual. The captain could have just called me on the private communicator if there was a need for secrecy, if that was what this was.

“Any reason why he would send you?”

“Didn’t want you getting lost, sir.”

I knew I should not have admitted to him that I had got a little confused finding my way around, but that was because the dockyard people had blocked off several passageways.

“No. I guess not.”

The Third was a man of little humour, and particularly didn’t think any of my jokes were funny. On station, he was all serious and unamused.

Now, he had his serious face on, and I thought it best not to ask what to expect.

He took a different route to the bridge than what I would have taken, a much shorter and more direct route. It was obvious he had studied the plans of the ship and knew it backwards. I on the other hand, was not that prepared, but it meant I would have to.

He went as far as the door to the day room, and left me there. I didn’t need to announce myself, the doors just opened, whisper quiet, showing me the room I could expect one day when I got my own ship.

Or at the very least, I could dream.

The doors closed behind me, and I walked forward into the room proper, and first saw the captain sitting at his desk, and then a figure standing beside and back a step, behind him.

There was a weapon in his hand, but it was by his side.

And something else I noticed, the figure looked just like the three I’d seen on the other ship.

The captain saw me looking at him.

“This is the captain from the vessel that just arrived as those assailants on the cargo ship were ‘rescued’.

He, or she, looked human under the clothes and helmet, but could be almost anything.

“Does he…”

“Speak our language, yes, and a lot of others. And he would like our help.”

© Charles Heath 2021