ONE DAY HUMANS WILL MEET ALIENS...
Sapience, sa ´pi-¶ns, n. discernment: wisdom: judgement
The Sub Lieutenant
sat strapped into his console and stared out at the star
field. Over the months this view had lost most of its
excitement. At the Naval Academy, he, like most Cadets
Officers, had dreamed of graduation and a first tour on
board a Battle Cruiser. When the postings were announced,
he, like most of the graduates, was disappointed. His
posting was to an Earth orbit space station and there
wasn't much glamour in that. He supposed that it had something
to do with his qualifications in electronics, or the lack
thereof. Still, it could have been worse, much worse.
He could have got a downside posting. If you got 'downside'
on your first tour your naval career was over before it
had even begun.
At first he hadn't thought this posting too bad;
space station tours were usually short, normally one year.
On these 'weightless' stations the tours were even shorter,
usually four months. He was only seventeen; he had four
months to show how bright he was. At the academy he hadn't
really had a chance to shine and, anyway, at least he
was in space, clocking up space hours, he felt confident
that he would get a Battle Cruiser on his next tour.
He had been in space before of course, all cadets
had space training. His first time as Officer of the Watch,
had been the first opportunity he'd had to marvel at the
beauty of the Milky Way. It was the first time he'd been
in space without someone looking over his shoulder and
assessing his every move. He used to enjoy staring out
into the cosmos, thinking of the time when he would get
out there amongst the stars in a Battle Cruiser. But he
didn't do that any more. He'd quickly discovered why the
weightless tours were only four months long - boredom;
crushing, unending boredom. In zero G recreational activities
were limited. Even movement around the station was regulated.
When he asked why the station had to remain weightless
he was told that an artificial gravity, or one induced
by spin, would affect the delicate sensory instruments.
It wasn't as if he had a lot to occupy him. There
were often days, sometimes even weeks when there was no
traffic except one or two transit craft. Occasionally
a flotilla or even a strike fleet would come in, then
there would be round -the -clock activity. Unfortunately,
that happened all too infrequently and, usually, all he
did was count off the days until his posting ended. He
no longer cared if he went to a Battle Cruiser; he wouldn't
even mind a downside post. Anywhere, as long as it wasn't
here or on another weightless.
The mass detectors' lights started flashing and
an audible warning sounded. It had picked up a non-random
motion at maximum range - just inside Jupiter's orbit.
The Sub Lieutenant lazily turned to the console and absentmindedly
waved his hands over the console. 'Scanning' identified
the mass as a small vessel, still too far away to identify
its class but it was heading towards Earth at trans -light
Trans -light speed? Trans -light velocity inside
the plain of the solar system was 'verboten'; it caused
massive gravitational disturbances. If a naval Captain
did that he would step out of his ship to find the shore
patrol waiting and then he would step straight into a
court martial. This could only be some Air Force jockey.
He dialled up the emergency frequency, he was going to
give this Flyboy a statute warning...
“Hello Space Con Four. Space Con Four, this
is X -Ray Tango One Five, squawking 200765. Request vector
for entry Earth downside, over,” a voice crackled
over the super -light comm.
XT? That wasn't a standard call sign. It could
be one of these 'irregular' flights; flights that no one
was supposed to know anything about. However, the squawk
code was correct; he'd keep the statute warning up his
sleeve. "X -Ray Tango One Five, this is Space Control
Four. You are identified. What is your destination downside?
"One Five. Destination AFB Oymyakon, over."
AFB Oymyakon? So, it was probably an Air Force
ship, but he wasn't yet 100 percent sure. "Space
Control Four, Roger. Destination Air Force Base Oymyakon.
Wait." He checked his screens. "Wait."
He checked his transit schedule. "One Five, zero
space traffic for Oymyakon. You have priority over air
traffic. You are clear for direct reentry. Decelerate
and steer 0021/5628/1431. Oymyakon Control on 373 decimal
"One Five, roger. 0021/5628/1431, 373
decimal 5. Thank you Space Control Four, have a nice day."
He was now pretty sure that it was an Air Force
ship. Why should he give some pilot, who had been cooped
up in bucket for God knows how many months, a hard time
because that pilot was in a hurry to get downside? After
the ship decelerated it would take about seventeen hours
to make the Jupiter to Earth jaunt; seventeen hours before
the Flyboys got some well deserved R&R. He had almost
taken his eyes off the screen when something in the pilot's
tone made him look again. Suddenly the ship disappeared
off his screen... then reappeared at less than a quarter
its original distance. It had made a super-light hop!
Even in the Air Force that was an instant Court Martial.
Super-light transit near a solar mass was dangerous to
the point of being irresponsibly reckless. He stabbed
wildly at the comms board and hit it on the second attempt.
"One Five, you are too hot. Too hot! Decelerate,
decelerate! Acknowledge, over!"
There was only silence.
His fingers fumbled as they punched in 373, decimal
5. "This is Space Control Four. Override emergency!
X-Ray Tango One Five decelerate, you are..." he stopped
in mid sentence and watched open mouthed as the ship made
a minor trans -light course correction. If he hadn't been
strapped in he would have jumped out of his seat. The
ship was now heading directly for the station!
Before he could say or do anything the collision
warning sirens started wailing. It might have been just
the sirens, but he could have sworn that he heard hysterical
laughter coming over the comm. Three seconds later the
ship passed the station at a distance of less than two
hundred metres. A minute fraction of a second after that
Space Control Four was hit by a gravitational shock wave.
Gravitational waves, like other wave forms, affected
everything in their path. Even the smallest subatomic
particles were individually disturbed. The disturbance
was similar to the effect jumping into and out of super-light
had on the crew of spaceships. But on a weightless the
effects were greatly amplified, it played havoc with the
central nervous system. Being caught in the wash of a
trans/super-light ship was known in the generally understated
parlance of spacefarers as 'having your day buffed'.
The Sub Lieutenant and the other six hundred and
fifty-seven crew of Space Control Four were blasted insensible.
Approximately one hour later they would regained consciousness.
It would take another six hours or so before their vision
returned to normal and for their pounding headaches to
subside. It would take a further twelve hours before they
could fully control their bowels or fine motor functions.
The Air Traffic Controller was most surprised
when Space Con Four crashed his control frequency. The
Space Con Four controller came on with an emergency override
and was screaming a warning to some ship, X-Ray Tango
One Five. There wasn't any X-Ray Tango under his control,
so he checked his screen but there was no 'unidentified'
in his sector. The Space Controller had stopped babbling
in mid sentence. The Air Traffic Controller waited for
further information. None was forthcoming. Had that Space
Controller flipped? It wasn't unknown for these naval
types to crack up whilst serving in a weightless. Because
there was no immediate conflicting traffic with the aircraft
under his control the Air Traffic Controller decided to
devote some of his time to this 'situation'. A renegade
controller wasn't just a danger to the spacecraft under
his control, he could talk a ship in anywhere downside.
The Air Traffic Controller pressed 'call', this
alerted the Control Officer that there was a possible
difficulty in his sector. He knew that on the other side
of the huge underground control room several Watch Officers
would tap into the information displayed on his screen.
Before he could explain the reason for the call, detectors
picked up gravitational shock waves emanating for the
upper stratosphere, so he punched into the ground and
satellite based infra-red network.
As he'd expected, the infra-red detectors picked
up a 'burner' - a ship had hit the atmosphere at high
speed. It must have been the ship that Space Con Four
was warning. He locked the infra-red monitors onto the
ship. The detectors showed a streaking object, glowing
white-hot, that had dived deep into the atmosphere. The
Air Traffic Controller had witnessed a few burners in
his time, but never one like this. This ship was moving
fast, yet it didn't appear to be out of control, it was
definitely being flown. The pilot was scrubbing off speed
- using the atmosphere as a brake. Whoever was piloting
that ship looked to be in a hurry to lose speed and get
The ship squawked 200765 for only four seconds,
then pulled back out of the atmosphere. The Air Traffic
Controller checked the aircraft in his sector, they were
all still OK. On its next orbit the ship came down to
90,000 feet and squawked 200765 for six seconds, then
pulled out again. At 100,000 feet a vessel came under
Air Traffic control, so he prepared to hail the ship on
the emergency frequency on its next pass but flashing
warning lights on his console distracted him.
It was an 'all stations alert' from Naval TacCon.
The Navy was telling every man and his dog that there
was a full naval sector scramble on. Naval Air Station
Bandar in the Persian Gulf, and the Maldives station in
the Indian Ocean were putting up point defence space ships
and supersonic aircraft. As the Air Traffic Controller
got very busy steering the aircraft under his control
out of the path of the Navy ships, it occurred to him
that this wasn't a routine training scramble. Naval Air
Stations didn't normally launch simultaneous scrambles.
Plus, they were putting up nearly five times the normal
number of ships. Was this scramble connected with the
The burner came back on screen, it had slowed
to Mach 19.3, and dived to 60,000 feet. Again it squawked
200765, this time for nine seconds. The infra -red detectors
showed its deflector shields glowing at the very limit
of their tolerance. He was about to press the transmit
"Three Eight. Without transmitting, I
want you to hand over all your aircraft to Six Two. I
think this bird is one of ours and I want him brought
in soonest. Do you copy six two?" the Control
Officer's calm voice came over the headset.
The Air Traffic Controller heard Six Two acknowledge
and then, having been relieved of his responsibilities,
turned to look across the dimly lit control centre. A
large group of people were standing over the Control Officer's
console. At this distance the Air Traffic Controller couldn't
make out who they were but he guessed that they were Officers.
More personnel in various states of getting dressed were
rushing into the centre. The Air Traffic Controller's
surprise grew as the Base Commander came in and went over
to the Control Officer. The Base Commander was a pilot;
she rarely came in here. After a few moments the Base
Commander started walking directly towards him. The Air
Traffic Controller suddenly felt self-conscious and nervous.
What the hell was going on?
He turned and focussed his attention on his screen.
The burner was climbing back out of the atmosphere. The
Air Traffic Controller would wait until the burner's next
orbit before trying to raise them. He could feel the base
Commander's presence as she came to stand behind him.
Sitting back to wait, as calmly as he could, he noticed
that the Navy ships were breaking up their formation.
They were fanning out along the expected trajectory of
He punched into the Naval Fighter Control frequency.
The Fighter Controllers were going through the 'weapon
armed' checks with their pilots. Once the checks were
completed, they then told the rocket ships to hold station
just outside the ionosphere and the supersonic fighters
to cruise just inside. If the burner stayed on the same
trajectory he would fly through a gauntlet of Navy ships.
And, he would have to stay on that trajectory unless he'd
had lost enough speed to be able to execute high -G atmosphere
manoeuvres. Even if he managed to accomplish that, he'd
have to be a red -hot pilot to evade that many Navy ships.
The Air Traffic Controller went back to his own
control frequency and waited for the burner to reappear...
but it didn't. He tapped into some other control sectors,
it wasn't on their screens either. He went back to the
infra-red detectors; a ship that had reentered at that
speed couldn't hide. It would be a blazing white fireball,
visible to the naked eye in daylight. There was simply
no way that it could go undetected by the strategically
positioned super sensitive instruments... nothing. He
couldn't find it on the ultraviolet network either.
Had the ship flitted back into space? He returned
to the Naval Fighter Control frequency. The controllers
were asking their pilots the same question. The rocket
ship formation commander was adamant that the burner hadn't
got past them and was hopping mad that the fighter controllers
had lost it. There followed a full blown shouting match
until someone senior downside told them all to shut up
and check for gravitational shock waves from a super-light
If the pilot of the 'bogie' had jumped to super-light
this close to a planetary mass, and survived, the grinning
Air Traffic Controller swore to himself that he'd personally
seek him out and buy the guy several drinks. However,
there were too many residual shock waves registering from
the burner's initial entry to tell if it had jumped. The
Navy controllers confirmed the Air Traffic Controller
deductions, and the normally disciplined Navy crews started
cursing like there was no tomorrow. The Air Traffic Controller
was about to request further instructions from the Control
Officer when the Base Commander gently tapped him on the
shoulder and leaned over the console.
"Stay with it son. I don't think this party
is over yet," she said kindly.
Base Commander or not, she should realise that
the burner must have gone to super-light or it would be
showing up somewhere. But, saying nothing, he dutifully
sat back and punched up a few other sectors as if he were
actually looking for the burner. The Base Commander had
now been joined by several other people; they were having
a quiet discussion. Too scared to turn and look, the Air
Traffic Controller had no such fear about trying to listen
in on what was being said. Pretending to watch the Navy
ships as they returned and stacked up for landing at their
bases he leant back in his chair and scratched his head,
slipping the headset off one of his ears in the process.
The Officers were talking in that calm, unexcited, quiet
manner that Officers tended to. It was difficult for him
to hear clearly, but he did make out the occasional word
or sentence. From what he overheard he surmised that they
were talking about a possible 'goosing'.
Goosings were legendary, but they didn't happen
in this day and age. To the Air Traffic Controller's knowledge
it was at least two generations since the last goosing.
Back in the days when the Navy had sole responsibility
for the defence of Earth, the Air Force used to act as
'aggressors'. Air Force squadrons would run simulated
attacks against the Navy's primary, secondary, and fall
back positions. The hot shot pilots that managed to penetrated
the Navy's defences added insult to injury by 'goosing'
the Navy's weightless stations.
A space station full of puking, shitting and totally
disorientated people trapped in zero gravity must have
been quite a sight. And the cleaning up afterwards! Of
course, the Navy always lodged formal complaints against
the pilots. Nothing was ever done about the complaints.
The Air Force's response was always, 'If this had been
There was one particularly bad showing by the
Navy when a couple of stealth squadrons busted through
their primary defences, ripped up the secondary defences
and then sat waiting in the fall back positions. After
mauling the remaining naval fleets, every single weightless
in the solar system got goosed. The Navy lodged its strongest
ever protest, directly to Supreme Command. Supreme Command
made a few angry noises but took no action. The Navy promised
that if nothing was done it would take 'firm independent
action'. Nobody took them seriously.
The next Air Force pilot to goose a weightless
was bounced by two Earth launched naval fusion rocket
ships. Without warning they opened up with laser cannons
and blew him out of the sky. The Air Force made no formal
protest but within hours of this incident, seven fully
armed Air Force battle wings, commanded by a Star Officer,
appeared in the sky over NSMB1, (Naval Station Mars Base
1, the largest military installation on Mars). NSMB1 scrambled
everything it had and the Air Force battle wings allowed
all the Navy ships to get off the deck. What then followed
was the wildest and most dispersed dogfight in Earth's
The Air Force pilots each selected a Navy ship,
locked on to it with full attack array, and then stuck
to it glue. The Air Force didn't actually shoot down any
Navy ships, they didn't even fire at them, they simply
flew the terrified Navy pilots to exhaustion. Supreme
Command intervened and ordered all ships back to their
respective bases. From light-years around the Solar System
hundreds of Navy crews limped back to NSMB1. The Air Force
battle wings reformed and flew back to AFB Nereid, Neptune's
moon that the Air Force had all to itself. On open channels
they transmitted a continuous stream of abuse at the naval
truck drivers, 'The Air Force took a very dim view
of a Navy tub shooting down one of its unarmed spaceship
and murdering four of its personnel. This had better have
been the first and last time, “or else”.'
There was immediate censorship from the government
over this 'totally unacceptable conduct' from the military.
There was no Court of Enquiry and no Court Martial, but
scores of Air Force Star, and Naval Fleet Officers took
voluntary early retirement. Supreme Command issued the
DIDAC Convention - the new rules on the arming of weapons
and the discharging of munitions. What it basically said
was that no weapon more powerful than a standard 100-kilo
artillery shell could be armed or fired within 1.75 light-years
of Earth. The only exception to this was during a General
Public opinion of the military plummeted from
its normal low to a point where they were equated with
criminals. Inter-service liaison between the Navy and
Air Force was even lower than that. Goosings were never
outlawed, but it was taken as read that they were to cease.
Goosings were now associated with The Glorious Days; the
time when the military had 'freedom' and wasn't constrained
by a straight jacket placed on it by the government.
The Air Traffic Controller would concede that
the incident with the burner, had all the indications
of a goosing, regardless of how unlikely that might seem.
And that would explain the interest shown by everyone
in the Control Centre and the Navy's sector scramble.
Still, he really didn't believe it was; the pilot would
have to be insane. There was no way the Navy would allow
him to get downside, plus, Supreme Command 'the military
above the military' was almost exclusively made up of
ex-Navy Officers. This jockey could never get away with
Randomly the Air Traffic Controller continued
to patch into other sectors. In NS Corunna sector 21,
he saw something that made him pause and look closer.
An aircraft at 47,000 feet, doing Mach 1.8, heading east
in the Green 7 air corridor. There was nothing unusual
about the aircraft or its flight path. It was, however,
squawking 469000. Could it be? He ranged in on that aircraft
with the infra -red; its temperature was normal for an
aircraft at that height and speed. Losing interest he
was about to switch to another sector...
"What is it son?" the Base Commander
asked over his shoulder.
"It's nothing, Ma'am. I just thought that
ship," he highlighted its position, "might have
been our boy. But it's cold."
"Why did you think it could be him?"
He didn't want to feel a complete fool in front
of the Base Commander. "Just a wild guess, Ma'am.
It's squawking 469000."
"Well, the burner squawked for four, six,
and nine seconds on each of its passes, Ma'am."
"I see. You were very quick to pick that
up. Keep an eye on him," she encouraged.
"It can't be him Ma'am, it's cold. And anyway
it is under Naval Air Traffic control."
The Base Commander pulled up a chair and sat next
to him. "Is it heading in this general direction?"
"Not really, Ma'am. It's travelling along
Green 7, but Green 7 only just intersects Oymyakon controlled
airspace. I could go through to Spanish ATC and request
its flight plan from NS Corunna, Ma'am."
"Let's not draw the Truckies attention to
this one, stay with him."
"Yes Ma'am." The Air Traffic Controller
thought it was a waste of time.
As he continued to monitor the sector he noticed
that not all the naval aircraft that had scrambled were
returning to their bases. Some were flying high altitude
sweeps and then diving down for a visual 'ident', at random,
on air traffic. Turning to the Base Commander, he said,
"They're still searching for him, Ma'am."
"How long before that bird comes under our
control?" The Base Commander appeared to be getting
"If he maintains current heading and speed;
approximately three-hours-forty, Ma'am."
"Is it likely that they'll get a visual fix
on him in that time?"
He made some calculations on his screen. "If
they continue to fly the same pattern, those interceptors,"
he pointed them out on screen, "will be searching
in his area in about eight minutes."
The Base Commander reached for a handset and dialled
the Control Officer. "Uri, I have a hunch that our
boy is still around, so have the Truckies. They're continuing
to look for him. He's going to need top cover. Keep everybody
sharp." She replaced the hand set and sat back.
For five minutes he plotted the progress of the
ship that was squawking 469000. The naval interceptors
searched closer and closer to it. The fighters closed
to within 90 miles of 469000 but it continued at the same
height, speed and heading. This convinced the Air Traffic
Controller that it couldn't be the burner. An Air Force
spaceship had top line radars and would know that the
Navy planes were around. Two naval interceptors started
closing directly on 469000 from behind. 469000 didn't
react; it was probably an airliner...
"Stand by Three Eight. If this is our
boy, bring him all the way into the parking bays."
The Air Traffic Controller didn't realise that
the Control Officer was still on his screen. If the Control
Officer really did think 469000 was the burner, why was
he leaving him to control it? Maybe the Control Officer
thought him a better controller than he wrote on his annual
assessments. The interceptors closed to 30 miles... 20
miles... 10 miles. What was everyone going to do when
it turned out to be a false alarm? Suddenly, 469000 accelerated.
It was the burner! An aeroplane couldn't accelerate that
"Oymyakon control. This is X-Ray Tango
One Five. Position, twelve miles south of Kiel, flight
level four seven, squawking 46900, over." The
pilot sounded very relaxed in view of all that had happened
and was about to happen.
"X-Ray Tango One Five, this is Oymyakon control,
I have you. Stand by for evasive manoeuvres, over."
The nearest interceptors had gone supersonic and more
were closing. Oymyakon was scrambling its alert fighters!
"One Five, ready." The pilot
sounded like he was laughing.
"One Five, turn right, one-four-five. Two
fighters in your six, sixteen miles, flight level five-six-zero,
Mach 4 and closing."
"Roger, right, one-four-five, I have them."
"Roll out, one-three-one. Four fighters,
2 O' clock, seven-four-zero, diving. Will pass four miles
to your right."
"One-three-one... there they go."
The pilot was definitely laughing.
"Reverse, zero-eight-three, go to Mach 5,
climb to eight-zero-zero."
"Zero-eight-three, at Mach 5, passing
seven two zero."
"Continue, zero-two-five. Three fighters
11 o'clock high, turn inside them."
"Zero- two-five. Not seen. Turning."
"Tighten turn! Come round to three-four-eight!
Fighters now 1 o'clock level, six miles!"
"They've locked on. I'll take it from
The pilot was still sounding fairly relaxed about
the whole thing. The Air Traffic Controller sat and watched
incredulously as the moving dots on his screen seem to
merge. A spaceship could accelerate and turn faster than
any plane. But it couldn't use its anti-gravity inside
a planet's gravitational well, so the crew would feel
the full effects of a high-G turn. Nor could they use
the ship's massive speed advantage. If the pilot went
above Mach 9, he would need his deflector shield because
of the heat generated by the friction with the air. He'd
be flying virtually blind. In the dog fight the spaceship's
advantages were neutralised and there were three Navy
planes. Things weren't looking good...
"I'm in the leader's six at 1000 yards
and have the other two on multiple lock-on. Is there any
Wow! Some pilot! He was winning a three-on-one
and was looking to beat up some more Navy fliers. The
dog fight had drifted and was now over Norway. The Base
Commander crossed her legs and, full of amusement, said,
“Tell our errant scion that it's time to come in.”
"Negative, One Five. Other naval planes are
being entertained by friendlies."
"Roger. Will play with these for a bit.
Which door should we come in?"
The majority of the Navy planes were massing near
Oymyakon. They had calculated that Oymyakon was the burner's
eventual goal. The Air Force fighters were trying to disperse
them. "The Truckies are waiting on the front lawn.
Come in through the back door. Glide path three-five-five.
Your path is clear. Come straight in."
The Air Traffic Controller watched as X-Ray Tango
One Five broke off the engagement, turned north, and accelerated
to Mach 7. It came in over the North Pole, leaving the
Navy planes hopelessly outpaced. "You're on the glide
path. Fighters 150 miles behind. Decelerate."
X-Ray Tango One Five didn't immediately slow.
It looked like it was going to overshoot the base. "One
Five you're too hot. Break off for another approach."
"Negative. We're coming straight in."
In the depths of the Control Centre, the Air Traffic
Controller couldn't have heard or felt the vibrations,
but he could imagine the high pitch scream of a spaceship
under full sonic braking. There would be a deluge of complaints
from civilians all over North Eastern Russia. X-Ray Tango
One Five slowed from Mach 7 to 80 Knots in 41 seconds.
Now, that was some flying!
"Slow to taxi speed. Follow the trace lines.
Your bay is sixty-seven. Go straight in."
"Bay sixty-seven. Roger." On
the ground movement board the Air Traffic Controller followed
the ship as it taxied down into the subsurface hangers.
"In the nest. Shutting down."
"Roger One Five. Welcome home."
"Thank you, Scopie, that was very smooth
"Wait One Five. How did you manage to lose
your reentry heat?"
"Scopie, how is your geography?"
there was the same amused voice.
"Surely you were taught in school that
the Earth's surface is three fifths water?"
"We went for a little dip."
Both the Base Commander and the pilot started