A/N: Hey all! Yes, I'm working on Adrift in a Sea of Stars, but I've been having this plot bunny in my head for a while, and it demanded to be written. It's an AT where asari/salarian explorers discover Earth in the 2020's. I won't make this a long series or anything, but I might be doing some one-shots in this continuity in the future. I apologize if this is lacking in polish-I just want to get this out there. See what you guys think of it before I put too much effort in. I plan to continue it for at least one more chapter.
EDIT: Changes made with regards to the Mars Mission for more accuracy. Again, not going for total realism here-it's not the point, especially since accuracy for that part isn't critical to the story.
EDIT2: Fixed a subtle-but-important grammatical error.
"Houston, go for Destiny." Jason Mayfield rolled his shoulder back in a vain attempt to ease the tight muscles. They'd been in this relatively small craft for days, with significantly longer to go—by design, they were going to have to endure barely-adequate living conditions for the trip, as bigger modules required exponentially larger rockets to launch.
"Roger. Routine check in. Any problems?"
Jason ran a hand through his short black hair—he wasn't nervous, but just uncomfortable. One didn't get the best sleep aboard a craft like this for such a long journey. "Negative, Houston." Their discomfort wasn't a real problem—it was accounted and practiced for. The details would come with the mission debriefing.
"Morning!" A relatively short, brown-haired woman floated into the compartment next to him, sealed food in hand. Kate Ricefield—the main pilot (they were all trained for the task, but she specialized in it)—wore an unceasing grin on her light-skinned face. She was constantly energetic and upbeat—Jason supposed that was part of the reason why she was handpicked for this mission.
"Breakfast?" she questioned, offering a stick of egg-flavored protein mix. With a grumble, he took it. "You're awfully pleasant this morning," she remarked with a smirk.
"I just haven't gotten back in the right mindset yet. Too early in the morning." It was what they had all trained to do—think of things from a different perspective. They weren't living in tight, uncomfortable conditions, but hurtling towards Mars on the first ever manned mission. Every minute, they traveled further than any human being in history from Earth.
The joint NASA-ESA venture had proceeded mostly on schedule, launching in July of 2034. The massive Ares VII rocket—larger than any rocket ever launched—carried the new Enterprise capsule/lander (dubbed Challenger) and service module into orbit, quickly followed by a second launch containing the large, 123,000 miles-per-hour plasma engine. The craft, officially dubbed Destiny 4, was on its way to a rendezvous with history.
"Is Keigo up yet?" Jason inquired. The third member of the crew was a Japanese-American of average height and build, with short black hair typical of his ancestry.
"He's freshening up," Kate answered.
"As much as one can in a place like this," the mission commander quipped.
"It's almost time for the scheduled burn," Kate reminded.
Jason gazed out one of the viewports, examining their red target. "Almost there," he whispered.
Morlon stared as his console with anticipation—his favorite part of mission was coming up. Every time the ESV Sialara jumped to a new system, their sensors would be flooded with new data. Within 30 seconds, he could tell if there was a planet definitely capable of sustaining complex organisms. While the exploration vessel's mission was to find new resources and astrological phenomena as well as life, everyone aboard hoped for the ultimate discovery of a new civilization.
"All hands, prepare for jump."
The Rachni Wars had resulted in a ban from exploring new areas of the galaxy, as well as activating dormant relays. But recently, a Council-commissioned think tank had concluded that they were better off establishing contact with new species sooner rather than later, in the hope that peaceful integration would be smoother. Besides, the report had mentioned, if a hostile race was out there, it was better that we found them, rather than they found us.
Just like the dozens of times before, the Sialara completed the jump without incident. "Scanners?" Captain Wavela—an asari matron bearing simple, curvy white facial markings—looked tense. This window after each jump was usually held as the most revealing.
Morlon roved over the data readouts and imagery with vigor. "Large gas giant, typical healthy star, red planet with thin atmosphere and ice-form water… " his eyes bulged in realization. "I've—I've got a positive result here! Vast amounts of liquid water, thick atmosphere, large moon…scanning further."
All eyes were on him now on him, waiting with bated breath—this was by far the best result they had yet. The Sialara was equipped with advanced sensing equipment, but simple math about the vast distances to cover made his effort moot. "We need to get closer," he concluded with a sigh.
Wavela nodded. "Ensign, take us into FTL. Bring us to within scanning distance—but not too close. I don't want to be detected yet, if there's anyone out there."
Ensign Nolera, another asari, though much younger, plotted a course.
It only took an hour to get within reasonable scanning distance, but it felt like an eternity for Morlon. And, he surmised, the rest of the crew as well. Even if no sentient life was found, it was likely a garden world ripe for colonization. Even if they found nothing else of particular value, this planet alone could justify the entire mission.
"Exiting FTL in 5, 4, 3, 2…" Nolera remained steady despite the slight lurch as the ship decelerated.
Once again, everyone looked upon the salarian officer. Morlon brought all of the long range scanning systems to bear, gathering as much data as possible. "Adjusting for solar glare…visuals show clouds, continents of land. Varied colors, and…" Morlon smiled. "…large amounts of radio signals."
The entire bridge crew drew a collective breath. "You're certain?" the captain asked, her voice low, almost in reverence.
"Unless the sensors are malfunctioning," the salarian responded. "I could get more definitive readings if we got close the plan—wait." A sharp beeping tone emanated from his console. "I've got a heat emission reading. Quite far from the planet, too!"
"Is it heading for us?" Wavela asked.
"No," Morlon clarified. "It's heading somewhere else…it's difficult to tell where, though. It's small."
"A comet, maybe?" Nolera suggested.
"Impossible," he countered. "Far too much heat for such a small size, and is distant from any planetary mass. Only logical explanation is artificial construction. Spacecraft."
Wavela smiled. "I think the radio signals combined with this make the likelihood of sentient life extremely high."
Nolera couldn't contain her excitement. "Can we get closer? To the planet?"
"One step at a time," Wavela soothed. Inside, however, she was giddy herself. It was exactly what they'd hoped for.
"Hold on," Morlon called. "The heat emission is gone. Scanning…target reacquired. Craft is small, but still traveling in roughly the same heading. It's certain, a spacecraft is the only possibility."
"Then let's contact the Council. Let them know we have a first contact scenario coming up," Wavela ordered. Her mind raced. A new sentient species, and a space-faring one at that. As far as timing went, it was ideal—the people of the world were obviously interested in space, exploration, and science. They were dependent on the Citadel Council government to interact with the galactic community, and would come to be comfortable with it over the years. Integration would be slow and steady, with both sides knowing about each other for decades before meeting in person.
Still, the questions came immediately. What were they like? Were they relatively peaceful, or violent like the krogan? Were they short and stout like the volus, or aquatic like the hanar? Did they have art? Music? Could they even hear sound? Were they insectoid? When it came to new alien species, hardly anything could be taken for granted.
Enara, the ship's communications officer, worked away at her console a few moments before looking up in alarm. "We've got a problem. I'm not detecting a relay to connect to."
Damn. Without an in-system relay, they would have to travel to adjacent systems to get back to Citadel space. However, the Sialara was equipped with tight-beam FTL transmitters to allow for communication in such a situation. Still, without a comm-buoy network to link into (an obvious problem for deep-space explorers), she would have to keep the message brief. If the worst-case scenario were to occur—the new species killed the delegation and destroyed the Sialara—the Council would at least know the gist of what had happened and could send a containment force.
"Follow the spacecraft while I compose a message for the Council," Wavela directed. First contact was always tricky—landing in the wrong place could have serious repercussions on first impressions. It could even start a war. But the spacecraft offered a unique opportunity: the risk of disease would be nil out in space, where both parties would be in environmentally sealed suits. It also gave the impression that the new species discovered the advanced aliens, as opposed to the latter just landing at the former's home unannounced.
Her message was short and to the point. New sentient species discovered. Space-faring, though in early stages. Will attempt first contact with alien exploratory spacecraft if permission granted. System also lacking Mass Relay.
Waiting for a reply would take time, though the captain supposed data about the spacecraft and its destination would satisfy some curiosity. With luck, they could even tap into its communications.
"Anything?" Wavela asked. They had gotten as close as they could while avoiding detection.
"Almost—got it. Broadcasting their communications on speaker," Enara triumphantly replied.
"—ger that. Begin AEA checklist."
"Copy that. RCS is green, fuel at 96 percent capacity. Retrorockets are green. Parachutes—main, auxiliary, and reserve are green."
Enara listened, fascinated. However, knowing that they couldn't actually understand any of what was being said, she cut off the speaker mode and allowed the crew to speculate about their findings.
"They obviously communicate verbally," Morlon observed. "No audio distortion. Aquatic species highly unlikely. Insectoid not likely either."
"They can't be that big, either," Nolera added. "Their ship isn't large enough for an elcor."
"But it's definitely large enough for us," Wavela pointed out.
"Really?" the young asari asked. "Traveling for days in that tiny thing? With no a-grav? Must be terrible."
"Our people did too, once," the captain reminded. She turned to Enara. "Can you get video feeds?"
"I'm trying," the communications officer replied. "Give me a minute."
Wanting to make the wait bearable, Wavela turned to Morlon. "Any new data?"
"Indeed," the salarian replied with a smile. "I detected dozens of satellites in orbit around their planet, as well as two small space stations. Both are solar powered." His grin faltered slightly as he conveyed the first bit of bad news, though. "But…large amounts of orbital debris. Dangerous to approach without kinetic barriers. I wonder how they manage."
The asari captain looked concerned. "Debris…from combat?"
"Impossible to know for certain," he replied. "Could be from short-sighted procedures in launching and operating satellites. Could be that satellites were destroyed by surface-based weapons. Or yes, it could be from space warfare. Or something else entirely."
Wavela sighed. Of course she had to stop being so blindly optimistic—civil wars were at least somewhat common in the histories of all sentient species. Some more than others, she added, thinking of the krogan.
Her thoughts were interrupted by an announcement from the communications officer. "No video feed. Looks like their ship isn't equipped with it. Or they're not transmitting. Either way, there's nothing to see."
Morlon sighed in disappointment. "Could you turn their audio back on? It's better than nothing."
A nod later, and the voices returned.
"—y again? Second object?"
"Affirmative. We are tracking a second object in your general vicinity. We're looking into it, but keep an eye out."
"Any idea what we're dealing with?"
"Negative. We'll pass along the details as we get them. In the meantime, run an entry system diagnostic."
"Roger that. Destiny out."
Wavela turned to Enara, curious about the silence. "What happened?"
Checking her console, she answered. "Nothing on our end. They've just stopped transmitting."
They sat in silence for over a minute, wondering when they could next get an insight into this new species. Finally, Enara broke it. "Incoming message on the comms."
Wavela walked over to the console, reading the message. A moment of analysis confirmed that it was from the Council.
Permission granted. Adhere to protocols where you deem applicable. Good luck.
Enara was resisting the urge to jump in her seat. First contact!
"Continue our present course," the captain ordered.
The younger asari gaped at her captain. "What?"
"We're hardly in a situation to conduct first contact," she explained. "We'll wait until they land."
"That could take days." Her protests nearly died on her lips, but she couldn't help but voice them.
"Then we'll wait. We've got plenty to study in the meantime."
Jason turned to Keigo and Kate the moment he finished his transmission. "What do you think?"
"Asteroid," Keigo replied. "They should be able to track it effectively in time for us to maneuver out of the way if we need to."
"I'm not so sure," Kate said. "Wouldn't they have just told us if it was an asteroid?"
"Come on," he chided, "they have to confirm it first. They don't make assumptions. You know how it works."
"Just saying, it might be something more exciting than a rock."
"I think our mission is plenty exciting enough," Jason interrupted. "Alright. We're supposed to be running a diagnostic."
"Work, work, work…" Keigo muttered, though his smirk belied his tone.
It wasn't until the Destiny neared Mars orbit that they received an update on the mystery object.
No new details about the object itself were found, except that it had maintained a steady course—parallel to the Destiny.
Unless it was an asteroid on a one in a million trajectory with highly coincidental timing, NASA concluded that they were dealing with something artificial.
The news wasn't kept secret—live coverage of the mission was being broadcasted world-wide (though most of the time, only mission control was shown). Soon after, heated discussion about aliens dominated the news cycles.
The crew of the Destiny were told to proceed with the mission as planned—but also received a hastily-written protocol on first contact.
Still, they couldn't help the darker jokes from being told. "You think they're just trolling us?" Keigo asked, after the protocols had been received.
"How so?" Jason asked.
"I mean, they could have blasted us out of the sky at any time. Maybe they're just waiting till we land, for shits and giggles."
"Or," Kate suggested, "they aren't out to kill us."
"That'd be nice," Jason joined in. "Maybe we ought to thank them for not killing us simply for existing."
Keigo shifted his head over to the mission commander, a mischievous glint in his eye. "Why don't we?"
Kate shifted her head back and forth at the two men. "You're serious?"
Jason maintained eye contact with his crewmember for several moments before relenting. "They're never gonna go for this..." Switching the transmitter, he began his request. "Houston, this is Destiny. Requesting permission to transmit a greeting to unidentified object, on all frequencies."
"Uh, copy that, Destiny. Stand by."
"They're gonna have to get permission from the president for that, right?" Kate asked, still in disbelief.
"Probably," Keigo answered.
"What are we even going to say? 'Hello'?"
"It's not like they could understand what we're saying," Keigo countered. "Or, if they've been observing us for a long time, they can, in which case they already know what's going on. Either way, it's not like it matters what we say."
"Oh? And what do you have in mind?"
"Maybe, 'look, baby, this whole silent stalker thing is really creeping me out.'"
She stared at him, dumbfounded, for several moments. "Sure. Why the hell not. And if it doesn't result in war, then maybe it will be the most hilarious thing in the history books."
"That's what I'm going for."
Morlon had occupied himself over the hours by analyzing everything else in the solar system, as well as the visual scans of the alien spacecraft.
Enara merely listened in on the transmissions. Occasionally, she'd broadcast them over speaker when something new—such as new tones, or new speakers—came up. The rest of the crew was extremely excited. In a matter of hours, they'd establish first contact with a new species.
So when Enara announced that they were receiving a transmission broadcasted on all frequencies, activity skyrocketed.
"They actually know we're here?" Wavela asked, shocked.
"Apparently. Here, I'll put the broadcast on speaker."
"This is Destiny 4, transmitting to whatever alien presence might be listening, if you're out there: Look, baby, this whole silent stalker thing is really creeping us out. When are you going to come out and play?"
There was a brief pause before the voice continued. "…I can't believe I just said that."
"Any idea what they're saying?" the captain asked Enara.
"None," she answered. "Though it sounds like one of the voices we've been listening in on."
Wavela paced across the bridge, thinking. "How did they detect us?"
"Perhaps their sensors and satellites are more advanced than we thought," Morlon offered. "We are traveling parallel to one of their ships. If they're monitoring the ship, they might have picked us up as well."
"Shouldn't we respond back?" Enala suggested. "First contact protocol says that silence in response—"
"Could be construed as hostility. I know," her superior finished. "Very well. Prepare to send a return message. Record…now. 'This is Captain Wavela of the ESV Sialara. Welcome to the galactic community. We look forward to mutual advancement and cooperation in the millennia to come.'" She signaled an end to the recording, and Enara sent the message off.
"This is Captain Wavela of the ESV Sialara. Welcome to the galactic community. We look forward to mutual advancement and cooperation in the millennia to come."
Jason didn't move. He still couldn't comprehend the monumental event that had just transpired. Though it came through as nothing but gibberish, it was clearly an alien language…alien.
Keigo, however, took it in stride. "See? Told you it would work."
"Uhh…," Kate scratched her temples, trying to wrap her head around it all. "What now, exactly?"
"Houston," Jason spoke, "please advise."
"No shit," Keigo whispered.
"Uh…Destiny, your directive is to the keep talking. Try and sound friendly."
Not that they'd even understand our tones, Jason mused. "Copy that, Houston." He shrugged, turning to Keigo. "Alright, your turn. Have fun."
"You know, one day we're going to look back on this and laugh, once we realize what we were saying to each other. If you even can laugh. Or maybe laughing is a sign of hostility for your species. Guess that's why they call it 'alien', right?"
Wavela smiled—they were communicating back and forth now. Even though neither knew what the other was saying, communication itself was a great sign.
"I really wish I could understand what they're saying," Enara said for the twentieth time.
We have to keep replying. Diplomatic, Wavela reminded herself. "Time for another message. 'We are glad you are communicating with us. Though we cannot understand each other yet, this is an important step towards building a healthy relationship between our species.'"
It only took a minute for another reply.
"Your language sounds interesting. Kind of like French. And you know what they say: everything sounds sexier in French. I went to a French club in high school for that reason. Some pretty cute girls there. I sucked at the language, though. Spanish was always easier for me."
"Maybe they're sending their first contact protocol messages, too?" Enara asked.
"That is what I am guessing," Wavela replied. "I can't wait to get a translation."
Kate and Jason could barely contain their laughter. It was all so…so wrong for first contact to be going like this. But at the same time, it felt like the human thing to do. Still, they couldn't imagine what the people back on Earth were thinking of this.
Keigo was, as usual, taking it in stride. "I bet you guys have artificial gravity on that ship. And big rooms. And good food. Don't get me wrong, zero-g is pretty fun, but it makes sleeping a bit difficult. This craft isn't exactly spacious, you know what I mean?"
A/N: Yeah, it kind of had a silly undertone. Though really, Keigo's logic was sound-if they had been observing humanity long enough to understand their language, it wouldn't matter if they were silly or serious (in reality, being silly would be disarming too, it's certainly not hostile). And if they hadn't, then they wouldn't understand any of what was being said. And they just improvised.
Please let me know what you think! Should I continue with this?