Really, all things considered, the first 24 hours were the worst.
This is from both the perspective of the crew aboard The Three Stones but also all of Humanity; the dread weight of the problem just floating right above you hung around everyone’s neck, plunging them into the icy cold ocean of anxiety and despair.
Granted, The Three Stones spent most of this time orbiting over the planet, scanning it and parsing as much information as possible to try and figure out what to do. They were hailed by various militaries – or military factions – as well as what they assumed were multiple leaders, religious icons, cults, and scientists. Surprisingly there wasn’t much they could glean from them, other than physiology and what these species’ “concerned face” looked like; it’s not like their AI was magic and could parse what they were saying. The engineering team really really appreciated this species’ science division, as learning about their base 10 number system and how they expressed complicated mathematical ideals went a long way to plugging gaps in their translation matrices.
Unfortunately, it also reaffirmed that this was the homeworld of a brand-new, primitive species. Honestly, you’d think it would be all the rioting that would’ve tipped them off, but to be fair, we kinda just do that sometimes.
The first 24 hours for Humanity was… let’s say “interesting”. All supermarkets were empty, all churches were full – and their parishioners armed – and the roads, well. For the first time, people were quietly and urgently moving forward everywhere, and Sunday drivers didn’t exist. The greatest benefit to the first 24 hours, as was unanimously agreed upon once the dust settled, was that pretty much every boss that deserved to get got got got by a mass of employees who were wholly convinced that they weren’t going to live to see the next Monday Morning Meeting.
Then Tuesday rolled around, the Earth collectively unclenched it’s asshole just a little bit, and began to wait for their visitor’s next move.
– – – – – – –
“|YOU WILL FALL IN RIGHT NOW OR SO HELP ME I WILL SEND YOU TO SEE THE SPIRITS OF YOUR ANCESTORS IN SHAME.|” Bellowed Security Chief Ri’tiki, standing at perfect attention as his small army collected itself and formed into companies. When it came to security drills and training the next generation of warriors, at the best of times Ri’tiki was stern if not kindly, and at the worst of times…well. Feathers did grew back.
However, today of all days Security Chief Ri’tiki was not taking any shit from anyone. He stood upon a raised dais, unmoving, unblinking, as his soldiers collected themselves underneath him. His mood was markedly different; the weight of the debriefing he was about to deliver had fully settled upon him, and it was with that same gravitas that he was about to present to his charges.
Behind him, the planet appeared on-screen, and a few excited murmurs rippled through the crowd.
“|Pay attention to this mission briefing; I will not repeat myself, and deviance from these orders will be met with summary execution.|”
“|Approximately 17 hours ago we began orbiting the planet you see behind me, which we are designating CRADLE. Multiple scans of our equipment have allowed us to determine CRADLE’s infrastructure – it’s primitive at best, and dangerous at worst. Here, Here and here-|” Parts of the planet lit up, highlighting various population centers. “|Are major centers of habitation, and from what we’ve been able to parse from the clusterfuck of raw data coming at us every second, are local centers of government.|”
On one landmass above a center of government a second habitation center was highlighted; a picture of a building, some flags, a picture of their own world with a blue background emblazoned various vehicles outside.
“|We believe this is their global seat of government, in which representatives of all their territories work much like our own Senate. We will not be going anywhere near this city, nor the capitol city of the host territory-|”
Another image, a Red, white and blue striped and starred flag popped up and landed on multiple locations on the planet.
“|We believe this is the symbol of their unifying territory, or of the territory that is directly managed by CRADLE’s unified government. We’ve determined this symbol is on multiple landmasses and islands all across this world, so it’s safe to say that they are the ones we will be negotiating with initially.|”
The selected cities dimmed out, and a new civilian center was highlighted.
“|In 2 hours we are going to load out and land at this civilian center, codenamed GATEBELL, in unarmed survey dropships. 4 ships will touch down; First and Second squads shall be disembarking and escorting our negotiators and ambassadors in these two ships, while Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth will wait in the other two. We are going to land here-|”
A mass of woodland and open space appeared, nestled close to the city – but not so close as to be in it’s heart.
“|Disengage, and wait. Once the ambassadors signal they are done – or tell your Lieutenants what to do next – then you will either move back into the ship and return to The Three Stones, or will do whatever is culturally appropriate for CRADLE’s population.|”
Security Chief Ri’tiki looked over his troops with a hard eye.
“|We are going to be following all the rules of war with some significant additions. For starters, you will not take any lethal weapons on you; If you are found to be carrying anything lethal, including pitknives, you will be summarily executed. You will not be aggressive towards CRADLE’s populace; do not blink, do not move, do not scream or yell or fucking speak, or I or your Lieutenants – the only ones landing on that planet with lethal weaponry – will summarily execute you. You will not fire upon CRADLE’s security forces if and when they appear, and no, forget what you learned in training – you will be summarily executed if you attempt to move out of their line of fire. If you are fired upon, you will not make any aggressive movements towards your nonlethal weapons until you are cleared by your Lieutenants to defend yourselves; if you do so without order you will be summarily executed. If you are forced to engage in self-defense, you will be retreating back to the ships – not advancing. If the thought of being a hero pops into your head, you will be summarily executed. Do you understand me.|”
“|YES SIR.|” a thousand voices chorused at once. Their cry echoed around the hangar, and Ri’tiki let the ringing die down before he continued.
“|You may be asking yourself if I’ve lost my mind, or if we’re marching to our deaths, to which I say you may be right. However, we are on an uncut path; Never before has first contact been made with a species so primitive, never before have we met a brother on such uneven ground. They are scared, they are confused, and they are hoping that we come in peace. We do. I will not slaughter these innocents, even if they end all our lives – and I would rather be excommunicated for venting everyone out into the void before I burn their world to the ground. Have I made myself clear on my position?|”
“|YES SIR.|” a thousand voices chorused at once, no meeker than the first time. Ri’tiki allowed himself a small, flicker of pride to warm his heart; The young recruits before him realized the gravity of the situation, and were willing to follow him – even to death – to make this right.
…It would be right in the end, Ri’tiki decided to himself, as he dismissed his soldiers for their final preparations.
– – – – –
“|Calm down, calm down, calm down-|”
The dropship rocked back and forth as it was cradled for the first time in a long time by true atmosphere; the high-altitude winds began to buffet the smaller craft as it lazily began drifting down to GATEBELL, performing obvious, lazy arcs to their target.
“|You alright there, Tr’chr’’?|”
“|NEV-never better. You?|”
Aq’rel’a smiled softly, playfully elbowing her squadmate as much as the dropship harness would allow. “|Ah, I’m fine. You know, the locals are gonna love us! Where else would they see such shining examples of peak Karnakian performance-|”
“|The insane asylums, atmo-venting drug dens, the morgue-|”
“|I hear you back there Ckr’rri’li, and I’m ignoring you.|” Aq’rel’a quipped, bringing a smile to Tr’chr’’’s face. “|Look, it’s – it’s going to be fine. I mean it.|”
“|You said that about the obstacle course-|”
“|Well you finished it-|”
“|And the live-fire exercises-|”
“|Everything grew back-|”
“|And sneaking food from mess hall.|”
“|That… was an oversight. But you have to admit, my track record is stellar excepting that-|”
The beep of a warning alarm interrupted all conversation, before the pilot quickly shut it off. “|We’ve been intercepted… They’re not firing.|”
“|S-see? F…fine.|” Aq’rel’a smiled shakily. “|If they were hostile they’d have done something by now.|”
“|Yeah, I uh. I guess…|”
“|Just remember. You and I stick together, we go left out the gate and stop under the wing, and then zone out until someone yells at us.|”
“|Just like in training.|”
The ship rocked a bit back and forth as more atmosphere surrounded it, punching through clouds and wind and sky, slowly and quickly making its’ way to the designated landing spot. It did so in relative silence; the soldiers on board reflecting on the weight of being a willing meatshield, and the few volunteer – and voluntold – “ambassadors” going over their gifts, their attempts to communicate peaceful intent, and their desire to not piss anyone off and have to fight off dozens, if not hundreds of these strange, unknown aliens.
“|Landing Approach.|” The Pilot said, breaking everyone out of their silent reverie. “|Pray for us, Ili’Ntwrek. Unlatching Piths.|”
The cascading sound of dozens of magnetic locks released, and the interior of the dropship bathed the crew in a sickly green as the harnesses slid open. The soldiers began to sway a bit more, gabbing hold of various handles, latches and straps to secure themselves in place as they prepared to disembark; the ambassadors’ grip on their still-locked harnesses turned white.
“|Begin, O’ my soul, the rapture of innocence, the song of my heart-|”
“|Grandfather, I ask thee, the distilled blood of my flesh-|”
“|The Great Spirit speaks to all, and to all who listen, she protects-|”
“|By the fire that burns behind our eyes, an oath; To you who bear witness-|”
A few grunts interrupted the cascade of prayers as the dropship bled speed, it’s gravitational dampeners long since turned off. The ship shook fiercely for a few moments before a still settled on it’s frame.
With a heavy, mechanical thunk the two largest magnetic locks released, and the hot Georgia sun bathed the crew for the first time.
“|OUT OUT OUT REMEMBER YOUR POSITIONS-|” Cried Lt. K’uree, as the dropship disgorged it’s contents.
– – – – – –
Hank reflected on the absolute absurdity of it all.
You see, the world might be ending… sure. The aliens could be here to enslave us, or steal our water, or take our habitable planet – the news had every self-proclaimed “xeno-(insert title here)” making the rounds, trying to whip up a frenzy for one reason or another. There were an equal amount “xeno-” people who said they may be benevolent; a star trek federation, perhaps, or a survey vessel from another empire, or here to help us ‘ascend’ – whatever the hell that meant. The real reason would sort itself out soon enough; if they were kind at least he kept his cool, and if they weren’t, well
…it’s not like he or Sarah could do anything about it.
The real absurdity was, after that first day where half of the people of the planet camped out in the woods and went apeshit and the other half just called in sick to work, was that…life continued. Babies needed to be changed, food needed to be cooked, gas needed to be pumped-
“Rrrrrrraar! Yip yip yip yip yip yi-”
-and little asshole toy dogs needed to go out to take a shit.
Hank for his part was a simple man; he found a good woman, they married – no children yet, but a little girl was on the way – and he lived an average life. So as to why an alien dropship had decided to pick Piedmont Park to land, and had decided to do so near him while Mipsy was taking a shit was something that could not be parsed by any sane mind, and quite honestly, was just absolutely absurd.
“Yip yip yip yip yip yip yip-”
“Goddamnit, Mipsy.” Hank sighed as the alien ship’s bay door dropped. “I’m not dressed for this.”
“Yip yip yip yip yip-”
“…I’m taking you out with me, you little shitrat.”
– – – – –
The fans on the combat suit kicked in immediately, pumping purified, recirculated air through the helmet to stop it from fogging up and to provide Tr’chr’’ with enough breathable air to not hyperventilate. His booted feet hit the dirt of CRADLE, and he instinctually snapped hard to the left, moving forward with his battle-buddy behind him. As the Dropship’s wings rotated up along the body into a locked position he stopped – his combat suit’s HUD notifying him that Aq’rel’a had stopped a scant few meters to his right.
Everything was… wrong.
Yes, the grounds of this park were manicured, and the buildings nearby were obviously built by intelligent life. The streets, although small, were laid out to some design known only to the occupants, and the various cylinders and metal boxes that lined the streets were put there with care – everything had a purpose and was crafted to that purpose, but it was all wrong.
Tr’chr’’ looked up, slowly, and met eyes with a native.
It was… Tr’chr’’ blinked away a few status indicators, clearing his helmet’s visor to get a better view. It was bipedal, with no tail for balance – it tottered unsteadily on two spindly limbs. It had light cropping of downy feathers – no, hair, Tr’chr’’ decided – in patches over it’s body. No shell, no mat of thick fur or hide, no scales… nothing but bare, smooth skin.
Now, none of this was news to Tr’chr’’; he had been engrossed over the parsed footage from this world like everyone else. However, it was one thing to see it on-screen but a totally different thing entirely to see it up-close and live. The object of his gaze was staring intently back at him with two small, shocked eyes; whatever tiny, squirming creature he had in his hand he dropped into one of the cylindrical containers with an unceremonious thup.
They stared at each other; The Karnakian overlooking the pajama-clad human, and the Human staring at the jet-black featureless outline that is a Karnakian fully-sealed combat rig. They remained as such, unmoving, as mechanical sirens began to blare from all around them. Almost as an afterthought Tr’chr’’ engaged his rangefinder and started slightly at the response.
But that’s wrong. If that’s the case, then these aliens couldn’t be any taller than a chick after their first molting. That would mean they’re-
Tr’chr’’ dared to turn his head to Aq’rel’a, silently trying to scream with his eyes through their helmets to shutupshutupohAncestorsshutup-
Soulsight all Karnakians were born with, but apparently true psychic powers were still out of their grasp, as Aq’rel’a turned bodily towards him and tilted her head in the alien’s direction. “|I mean… look at it. I thought they looked silly just moving about, but…|”
“|Aq’rel’apleasebequietIdon’twanttodie|” whined Tr’chr’’ in as light and quick a tone as possible, his suit beginning to dispense relaxants to stop his heart from exploding in his chest.
“|I mean… it’s kinda cute, yanno? Here I was thinking they were going to tower over us because they’re always reared back, but to find they’re not even shoulder-height-|”
Tr’chr’’ wordlessly screamed, his body standing perfectly still, unintentionally freezing his Human counterpart across the way. The creature seemed to collect itself, and inhaled deeply.
“?@B—* ^^$##w%, ppbt!?”
They inhaled sharply; Tr’chr’’ because he was being hailed, and Aq’rel’a in order to let out the longest, softest peep.
– – – – – – –
“Uh, hello! The little bastard deserved it! Um.”
Hank absentmindedly wiped his hands on his rumpled t-shirt, acutely aware that he was not dressed in any way, shape or form to welcome family, let alone probably alien diplomats from another planet. In his haste to be as presentable as possible to the creature staring a hole into him – and also to not offend anyone – he went on autopilot. Step one when guests are over was to put up the dog. He spared a glance at the yipping trashcan.
…so, step one completed.
Step two was “stop looking like a damn hobo”, and that’s where he was running into some real issues. Since he very well couldn’t change out of his early Saturday morning attire, he was doing his best to make it work… and to be honest, he wasn’t under any impressions it was working. This pushed him automatically into Step three: Apologize.
“I um. Y-You know you’re uh, parking on the lawn? I mean, you probably can, I don’t think… it’s illegal. Uh.”
One of the aliens, clad in the same black suit but somehow holding itself different, rounded around the craft to his side and stared at him – or at least, stopped moving and kept it’s “head” pointed in his direction.
“But ah, Welcome? I-ignore the steel plates on the road, we just kinda, uh, do that, um. Hi?” Hank tentatively raised his hand and gave a little wave, only to have it slowly mirrored by the three aliens on his side of the ship closest to him. He repeated the gesture again, only to have it mirrored again.
“Well, that’s som..eth…”
Hank trailed off as two more aliens got off their ship – these were wearing much less intimidating, much more “open” suits; they were still very much sealed off, but around their heads, neck, arms and tail the suit was clear. It allowed Hank – and the now assembling police who were forming a hasty and panicked perimeter around their guests – to see exactly what they were dealing with.
“SIR – GET BACK NOW SIR.”
Hank turned his head to look behind him – blocking the intersection nearest him were two police cars, and behind the engine block and wheel well of each, an officer holding either a pistol or rifle.
“SIR! PLEASE GET BACK, NOW!”
Hank – for some reason unknown even to him, repeated the gesture once more to the fucking dinosaurs before him. He watched with detached bemusement as the officer’s expressions changed – the aliens must have repeated the gesture once more.
“I think we’re talking, sir!”
“. . . STAY THERE.”
– – –
“|I thought they spoke like that because we couldn’t figure out their language.|”
“?N$@@ F-b -/ -* x*wA!?”
Aq’rel’a kept cooing while Lt. K’uree stepped in line with the two recruits, mimicking the greeting gesture the local who hailed them performed.
“|Hm? What, yes – you can talk, I’m not going to actually kill you if you talk, recruit.|”
“|O-oh, I just thought-|”
“|That’s what a grunt isn’t supposed to do, recruit.|”
“|Y-yes sir. Should we be worried about those reinforcements?|” Tr’chr’’ said, nominally dipping his head towards a larger, splotch-painted vehicle pulling up and rapidly disgorging more aliens.
“|Not yet, I think. They’re still trying to establish a perimeter, so we have time before they bring out the heavy stuff.|”
“|Absolutely fascinating.|” Qur’rra’ra murmured, stepping up behind her security team. “|Their species absolutely refutes multiple biological theories we had about Intelligent life!|”
“|Qur’rra’ra, pull it back. You’re an ambassador right now, not a xenobiologist; don’t spook them.|”
“|Sure thing, Lieutenant. Ah, we have on-board some… trinkets. Mostly woven cloth, but, do you feel… like we should present it now?|”
“|To our little friend?|”
– – –
Hank let out a low whistle, mostly to himself, as he looked over the fucking dinosaur that was standing before him. Well, “before” – it was still a ways away, but he could tell that it was a big sucker, and didn’t look friendly at all. He spared a look back to the closest police to him, who were (1) exasperatedly on the radio with someone, (2) rapidly exchanging their smaller arms for apparently some military-grade weapons if (3) the national guard troops taking up positions with them were any indicator.
“Um…Well.” Hank turned back to his new guests. “I uh. Welcome back! I guess? We kinda… evolved……while you were gone.”
The clear-helmeted dinosaur tilted it’s head and said something only to itself.
“I mean. Really, uh… it’s not our fault! Um. We’ve also kinda grown attached to Earth? So if it’s alright with you, you can’t have it back? Or you can take Australia if you want.”
Another semi-clear bodied alien made it’s way out of their ship, holding in it’s arms a shimmering, almost incandescent cloth of the most beautiful blue Hank had ever seen. It stood beside the other clear-hooded alien, and very slowly held the fabric forward.
Hank pointed at himself, and the alien shook the cloth just a little in seeming confirmation.
The megaphone gave a little feedback before clearing, a soldier leaning into the open door of the police vehicle. “WHAT IS YOUR NAME.”
“Uh, HANK!” Hank hanked at the police car, “HANK HILLSBERG. YES, I KNOW.”
“YES.” Hank sighed for the millionth time in his life.
“LISTEN. THEY SEEM EAGER TO WORK WITH SOMEONE, AND YOU GOT THEIR ATTENTION. YOU ARE GOING TO DO EXACTLY WHAT WE SAY, OK?”
“UNTIL OUR NEGOTIATORS COME HERE, YOU’RE THE STAND-IN. DO NOT MAKE ANY PROMISES, DO NOT TALK TO THEM, OK?”
“RIGHT.” The megaphone experienced a little feedback, and there was a pause, before the soldier continued. “WE WANT YOU TO ACCEPT THEIR GIFT AND THEN COME DIRECTLY TO THIS VEHICLE. DO NOT PUT THE GIFT ON, DO NOT GO WITH THEM INTO THEIR SHIP.”
“WASN’T PLANNING ON IT, CHIEF.” Hank yelled, rolling his shoulders. “ALSO, I SEEM TO REMEMBER SOMETHING IN HISTORY-”
“I SAID I SEEM TO REMEMBER SOMETHING IN HISTORY CLASS ABOUT TECHNOLOGICALLY ADVANCED EXPLORERS GIVING NATIVES BLANKETS. DIDN’T TURN OUT SO WELL FOR THE NATIVES.”
There was instant feedback from the megaphone, and then silence – well. Not true silence, as Hank could hear the indistinct whisper-yelling of someone on the phone with multiple important people far above their paygrade, but compared to what was happening earlier it was close enough.
“…what even is happening with my life today.”
“Yip yip yip yip-” The trashcan began to protest.
“Look, Mipsy, I’m certain the ATF is somewhere nearby-”
– – –
“|What seems to be the problem, do you think?|”
“|Hmm… They probably don’t want to offend us, for one. For two, I think our initial idea of showing we mean no harm by being kind to their civilian may be backfiring. It looks like their military is giving him orders now.|” Qur’rra’ra mused, as her counterpart Rkk’tkt shook the cloth once more.
“|Poor thing.|” Aq’rel’a cooed, watching the alien suddenly tap the cylinder next to him with his foot, causing him to wobble a bit.
“|Well. The best thing we can do is just wait it out; let’s not make assumptions.|”
– – –
“We’re gonna be here forever, aren’t we? This is hell. I died and went to hell.”
Hank sighed, rubbing his forehead with his hand. “YEAH. YEAH?”
“WE’RE NOT SURE IF YOU SHOULD TAKE THE BLANKET YET, SO JUST SIT TIGHT.”
Hank looked up at the alien, who shook the blanket once more – and decided then and there to take his life into his own hands.
“Nothing ventured nothing gained – FUCK IT, WE’RE DOING IT LIVE.”
“HANK? HANK- STOP!”
Hank squared his shoulders, prepared his best swagger, and began to jog forward.
– – –
“|Okay calm down calm down calm down-|”
“|This is unreasonable-|”
The assembled Karnakian explorers watched the alien make his way forward in what looked like a natural wobbling, bouncing, completely off-balance gait. His head was held high, maintaining eye contact with Rkk’tkt, who was now standing perfectly stock still, but his legs had to move so fast to cover… not much distance at all.
“|Lieutenant this is wrong-|”
“|Just… they are… a proud and noble spe…species worthy of our respect, recruit.|” Lt. K’uree said, doing his damnest to hide his obvious smile. “|That is how the Great Spirit made them, and we sh-, we should respect that.|”
And Lt. K’uree did respect that for the next few seconds; it was when the alien wandered into range of his second sight that he absolutely gave up any pretenses with a groaned “|Come on.|”
“|It’s… their soul is full of starlight – it looks exactly like a hatchling’s! That’s not fair at all-|” whined Aq’rel’a, and the entire squad immediately agreed. Positively vibrating with energy, the 5 of them waited, patiently, for the alien to make it’s way to them on it’s own, sweet hurried time.
And everything was going as smoothly as one could expect it to, which is where the Georgia DOT comes in. You see, unique amongst metro regions in the United States is the GDOT, because for some unknown reason the entire organization has a horrific fixation with metal plates. Have a pothole? Not with a plate covering it you don’t. Uneven root-bump in the road? A plate turns that sucker into a uniform speedbump. Part of the curb just ceased to exist? Plate that sumbitch up and go get some wings, fam, cause you deserve it. Who gives a shit if the steel juts up a good 2 inches from the rest of the ground, or that it’s got little off-putting handles on all corners that absolutely shred tires, it’s fine. It’s fiiiiine.
And it was fine, until Hank didn’t see one of those handles, tripped, and faceplanted about 50 meters away from his goal.
“|Oh no!|” chirped the entire away team, as one they all flinched at the sound of impact.
“Oh no.” Deadpanned the soldier, as he watched Humanity’s first impression literally fall flat.
“Why, God?” Groaned Hank, as face-down he blinked away the stars in his vision.
“|Aq’rel’a! J-Just pick him up quickly and we’ll continue as if nothing happened-|” Lt. K’uree barked, the radiating embarrassment from the civilian taking it’s sweet time getting back up in-front of them hitting him full-force. “|Let’s help them save face at this moment-|”
“|Aye, sir!|” Aq’rel’a said as she ran forward, skidding to a stop above the prone, small, wobbly starlit-soul’d alien. “|Hey, hey, it’s ok – It’s ok. We’re all… out of our depth here.|” She cooed, as she gripped him firmly – but gently – underneath his arms. Her talons sunk into his soft clothing with relative ease, and in one swift motion
She ripped both of Hank’s arms clean off.