Terran Dominion Warship Casa Loma
Frontier of Terran Space, Jan Mayen System
5 Jumps from Sol
Casa Loma hung in low orbit, her survey sensors tucked in alongside her hull as she rode above the grey planet beneath. Onboard, the squadron commander had his plate full of substantially more than he had ever expected to find after ‘recovering’ this misplaced colony.
“An actual first contact, Commander Roquefort?”
“And we just missed them by a few months, if Keflavik Down is to be believed.”
“Did the Keffies leave us anything?”
“Surprisingly, yes. They weren’t able to get much more going than a kind of pigdin translation, but the visitors did nothing if not pump a LOT of data down at the downport. Once the Keffies realized what was going on, the downport staff recorded everything they could. Kind of fortunate we showed up, actually. We can do a lot more with their data then they could.”
Jan Mayen had backslid some after the collapse war. Reliant on offworld imports for higher technology items, they fell back until they reached an early information-era society. Only the city-state of Keflavik had fought hard to maintain some semblance of high technology, and they’d paid for it over the years.
“To be honest, it’s clear that whoever these aliens were, this wasn’t their first contact.”
“This was all way too well organized and thought out to be something that just got thrown together. Take the first part of their data transmissions. Same signal, repeated clearly four times. Took a bit of analysis, but we figured out it was a video transmission signal. Analog. Primitive.”
“But easily decodable once you know what you’re looking at.”
“Better than that. The initial transmission was a just a test pattern. Various basic geometry overlaid. Made it actually pretty easy to work out the display settings. The next part of the transmission was the same pattern, but with a window in the centre to show some basic pictures. A spinning planet with a bar next to it. Planet spun so far, bar filled.”
“You got it. Next part after that was an overlay of spectral output, indicating several wavelengths that turned out to be the frequencies their main transmissions worked on, as well as some sidebands.”
“How’d you figure that part out?”
“They used Jan Mayen’s star as the baseline. Figure that part has to be recomputed, but it’s a fairly clever way to get that information across. The rest of the analog transmission was a collection of standards. Pretty much their syllabus for their SI units, and some more information on their communication standards. Once we had that, we knew where to look in the data dump from Kef to find what else they sent.”
“What else was there?”
“A lot of data. We brute forced the basic format, but we’re working to improve the codec. Even so, it’s fairly clear what the videos are. All of them are in an empty room with one or two of the aliens in it. Light grey walls, offscreen lighting, with the aliens pointing to an object, and then a… word, I guess, is displayed on the back wall. It’s like watching an art film. It’s boring, but also brilliant. We’re building up a pretty extensive vocabulary, but…”
“But what, Roquefort?”
The commander shifted a bit, like he had been asked to eat spoilt fruit.
“It’s all pretty basic. Based on what we’ve seen, we’ll be able to play tourist. But more substantial diplomatic contact, well…”
“Relax. It’s better than nothing. At least we’ll be able to ask where the fresher is.”
The mood relaxed almost as quickly as it had tensed, and Commander Roquefort exhaled audibly.
“There’s that, sir. There’s that. I suppose we’ll sound like a bunch of tourists. But nothing wrong with that, really. After all, we will be tourists if we ever go find them.”
Commodore Tvorok chuckled in turn, his thin mouth turning up into a smile. “Sooner than you think Commodore. Courier ship arrived two days ago. New orders from Mechelen. We’re going to find these aliens.”
“And when we find them, Sir?”
“We find out if they’re a threat or not. If they are, we call for the fleet and have them flattened. If not, well. We hand them over to the diplomats.”
The smile that spread across Commodore Tvorok’s face was thin and sharp indeed.