Pilot 01: A Saucerful of Secretsbypast_perfect©
A Saucerful of Secrets
Author's note: This is the first part of a series of stories that will be continued with The Dark Side of the Moon - the titles will sound familiar to many and are indeed intended as an homage to Pink Floyd.
Chapter One - The Homecoming
The headlines you noticed about a UFO crashing in the African savannah, weren't a hoax for once. I can attest to it, since I was the pilot of the craft. I am neither Martian nor a "Grey", I am human, born and bred in Acton, London, England. Sixty-six years ago, I had left Earth; recruited by the Aliens you call "Greys". Their actual name is Scnrgsis by the way, the craft that created the massive crater somewhere in Africa had been built by them. They are intertwined with the human race in a fashion that would make your mind reel, but that is another story.
I was born on the 2nd December 1921, and picked up by the Scnrgsis when flying a patrol mission in Southern England at the end of May 1943. My radar showed me something of immense size and ridiculous speed and before I could radio in my discovery, which I then thought was probably one of the secret weapons of the Krauts, I found myself in a blinding white light and then a hangar of enormous size, next to four other planes, to my dismay three German Messerschmitts and a Japanese plane, the model was unfamiliar to me though. I could not move; something had paralysed me. The engine of my Spitfire had stalled; it was unnaturally quiet, as if time stood still.
Then they came, slender grey figures that moved with an astonishing grace and ease, big heads with black, abyssal eyes. I was transported through the glass of my cockpit, without breaking it, I just passed through it. I would have screamed if I had the ability to move any muscle. Something strange and soothing entered my mind, reassuring me, telling me to relax, but not with words, rather with a feeling, although that doesn't quite describe it properly either.
Contrary to the ideas of writers of Science Fiction, telepathy doesn't work as easily between members of different races as they had imagined. What telepaths can express, however, is a tendency that might be understood if the brains are similarly wired. They did just that to me, and escorted me, hovering in mid-air mind you, through corridors of spectacular dimensions full of amber lights and incomprehensible mechanical contraptions, until we reached what looked like a mad scientist's laboratory.
The soothing mind-wash soon lost its calming effect when I was strapped to a metal bunk and felt an iron band pressing down my head. A long spike with a glowing tip descended from the ceiling and then I lost consciousness.
I awoke in a small room with no windows and a rather Spartan interior. A "bed", which appeared to be stuffed with some gooey substance, adjusting to my body in every position almost as if lying on water, a table and a chair. It was hot in there, humid, and it smelled funny. I touched my head, where I recalled the spike to have entered it, but apart from a small bump, there was no discernible injury. I noticed that the light in the room increased as soon as I moved, although I could not see an actual light-source. The memories of the events leading up to my awakening returned with a vengeance, and with a rush of panic I noticed that there was no door in this room, just odd looking matte metal that was slightly warm and strangely energising when touched.
Before I could adjust to what then felt like the weirdest imaginable nightmare or start to explore my cell, the wall opposite me lost cohesion and glowed in mellow amber, through which one of the frightening figures I recalled from my first encounters stepped. The wall immediately reverted to its metallic state.
"Do not be alarmed."
Who would be alarmed by a tall grey alien coming through a solid wall and speaking to you in flawless English? I noticed that I had heard no sound, just a high pitched whisper, so I really couldn't have heard that sentence. What was going on?
"We have implanted a device that makes communication possible. I am Shneet, my function is to inform you about our intentions and help you adjust to your new environment, if you so wish. You are not our prisoner, but our guest and you will be treated as such."
"Who are you? Are you working for the Nazis? What do you mean by 'implanted a device'? What the heck is going on?"
The creature rubbed its chest, which as I later learned was a gesture of impatience and resignation, not dissimilar to a sigh.
"I appreciate that you have many questions. Some I will answer now, but to comprehend the full extent of your current situation, a somewhat more involved procedure will be necessary. You will have to be patient."
Patience wasn't exactly one of my dominant traits, but I could see that my situation was way beyond the realm of what I knew and understood.
"Good. We are the Scnrgsis, one of many evolved races living in the galactic community in peace and harmony. We are what you would consider scientists. Your planet is part of a controlled experiment we are conducting on behalf of the Salarmorn, the benefactors of all sentient species in this part of the galaxy."
"What kind of experiment?"
Shneet rubbed his chest again.
"You will get a full account of that later, if necessary. Please do not interrupt me."
"Go on then."
"The Salarmorn are amongst the oldest civilisations in this galaxy, and, contrary to others, they found the ideal way for evolving and influencing their neighbours, sharing technology and wisdom whenever they found a species to be ready to leave their isolation and come into the fold of the galactic community. To give you an idea – their civilisation is approximately two hundred thousand of your years old. Ours in comparison just a mere thirty thousand. There are roughly five hundred different space-faring species belonging to our community, all of which have benefited from the wisdom and technological superiority of the Salarmorn. The galaxy was a peaceful and productive place, a community of enlightenment and progress."
"Yes. It was. Then the strangers came. We don't know where from exactly, but we surmise they came from another galaxy. We call them the Pret."
"Pret – it is the Salarmorn word for dangerous stranger. They came with a small fleet of forty ships and annexed several planets, none of which was inhabited by sentient beings. All attempts to communicate with them ended in disaster. Contrary to our community, they are vicious, war-like creatures. They fired upon our ships and destroyed them without warning. While the community considered the options to deal with them, they stripped the planets they had annexed of materials and constructed massive industrial complexes as well as what we suspect to be a gateway to their home."
"So the initial fleet was like pioneers."
"Yes, that appears to be an accurate observation. Their technology is almost as advanced as our own, but we had never had to construct or use weaponry, as our community lives in harmony and cooperation. Aggression and war are concepts found in child-races in the early stages of their development."
"So we are children?"
"In a fashion, yes. You are evolving, more quickly now than before, and in a few millennia your species will also be ready to join the community, unless it self-destructs."
Shneet's mouth formed an O, which I later learned was their equivalent to a grin. They have a weird sense of humour, but at least they have one.
"That wasn't meant to belittle your species or its achievements. You have come far in a short period of time. You are being isolated from the community until such time that you are ready to join – it is a procedure that has served the community well. The process you call evolution is a natural force, which can only be furthered through minor adjustments, but in essence has to play out by itself."
"I see. And now your benign community is faced with predators that don't fit into your pipe-dreams of controlled evolution."
"A crude but not altogether incorrect statement. The Pret are an anachronism, at least by our galactic standards. We know next to nothing about them. They simply ignore all attempts to communicate and spread like a virus. Their base already encompassed hundreds of systems, before we had found a way to contain them, which could be only temporary."
"You mean you started fighting them?"
"No, we are containing them at present. We have erected a psionic field around the area they control – a field they have not been able to penetrate as yet. However, probability assessments indicate that this is just a question of time."
"A field of energy generated by hundreds of generators that is being charged by the mental abilities of the Salarmorn. It would take too long to explain it to you now in detail, but suffice it to say that the Pret cannot fly through it due to the impact on their vicious little minds. Sooner or later they will find the means to protect themselves from its effects. In the meantime they are building a fleet that will overrun our galactic civilisation, unless we find the means to stop it."
"I see. And because that involves fighting and war, you are recruiting children who still have a taste for it."
Shneet flailed his arms in a gesture of despair and resignation.
"You cannot grasp our reasoning, or what it means to go against everything we know to be right and true. However, in essence you are correct. And even your word 'recruiting' is close to what we have in mind. We are giving you a choice to become part of the struggle to rid ourselves of that virus. which would destroy everything we have built in thousands of years. Your solar system is but eight-hundred light-years away from the psionic field now – your planet will be amongst the first to be overrun, if we do not find a way to stop the Pret. You would not be fighting for a community you are yet to learn about – you would actually be fighting for the survival of your own species."
"Eight-hundred light-years? You mean they might come here in more than eight-hundred years?"
"No, they are capable of travelling faster than light, as all evolved species are. Their technology is in many ways different from ours, but based on similar principles."
"Faster than light? That is impossible."
"By your limited understanding of the nature of the universe, it would appear so. My people for instance live on several planets roughly three thousand light-years from here towards the galactic centre."
Now it was my time to sigh in frustration, getting a glimpse of how backward and uneducated I really was according to Shneet's standards.
"Long way from home, chap. Does that mean anything to you, home? You know, there is a war going on here, don't know if you noticed. Right now I was defending my country against the greatest threat the world has ever seen, and with my country I mean my home, my family, my friends. And you are asking me to abandon all that and go off to fight some space Nazis?"
Shneet rubbed his chest again.
"I appreciate that this might look important to you. But, to put this into perspective with an analogy, you are worried about the outcome of a pub brawl while at the same time someone is about to drop an atomic bomb on your city."
"That is actually something your scientists are developing right now. Do not concern yourself with this war; our probability assessments are favouring your side there anyway. The Germans are defeated already, they just don't know it yet."
I bit my lip and tried very hard to digest all the information Sheet had given me.
"How long ... do you think it is going to take? Am I ever going to see my family again? You know, we are not engaged as yet, but I have a girl ... "
"I am sorry, but you would probably not see her again. I would surmise the struggle will take several hundred of your years. You would not return before its end."
"Several hundred years? Um, you seem to have neglected to inform yourself about our life-span, which is ... "
" ... which is shorter due to your inferior medical knowledge. If you decide to join us, we would implant yet another device that will slow down your ageing process considerably, approximately ten times slower than what you consider normal. It will also enhance your physical and mental capabilities."
"I see. So, if I understand you right, the only human beings I am going to see are those Krauts and the Japanese fellow, whose planes I saw in your hangar for several hundred years? Doesn't sound overly exciting a prospect to me ... "
Shneet's mouth formed an O again.
"Actually, you wouldn't be seeing them at all, since you will be posted on a star ship with a mixed crew comprising several species, some which might in fact be human. We have relocated some of your people in the past, which was part of our experiment. In fact, one human colony is already situated in the Pret's domain. So if you fight for us, you will already fight to liberate your kind, or at least, your distant cousins."
"Wow, other planets inhabited by humans? Fascinating. How many are there? Do they look exactly like us? Where are the other planets? Can I go and see some of them?"
"All in good time. I don't think these questions are relevant at the moment. Many of them would be answered during your initial training. Does that mean you want to stay with us?"
Thousands of thoughts rushed through my mind. Images of Emma, my girlfriend and my family appeared before my mind's eye. My friends, my brothers in arms, our house in London, even my favourite pub. Space ... memories of my childhood, gazing at the stars, wondering what was out there. All interspersed with the one question that still moved and confused me.
"We have scanned millions of your kind. You are gifted, not only do you possess the potential for considerable intelligence, but also an intuitive, almost instinctive approach to flying and fighting. We are assembling a small, but exclusive force of extraordinary beings, all with very special talents, according to our estimates what will be required for them to succeed. The Salarmorn have very specific plans, and you can be part of them."
"But wouldn't it be more efficient to approach our governments and let our race join the struggle as a whole? You could unite our world this way, and you'd certainly get a fighting force that could cope with your Pratts."
"No, the fact that we have to engage in activities alien to us and our philosophy doesn't mean we are going to abandon all our principles. Your race is not ready yet to join the community; your race armed and space-faring would be a threat almost as great as the Pret."
Shneet was probably right. Of course, I had to think about a decision that would change my life forever for a while. Thirty seconds later, I shook his strangely moist hand and told him I would sign up.
"Emma, time to impact?"
"Hold on to your knickers, sweetie. I hope we'll both make it."
"So do I Jon."
Emma's approach vector and the velocity with which we hurled down to Earth made this a pious hope. Emma generated a protective form-energy bubble around me, which should shield me from any harm for as long as she managed to keep it up.
By now, Emma was a blazing fireball in the sky, followed by hundreds of pairs of eyes in horror and amazement. Her hull screeched and vibrated before we dug deep into African soil.
'Home at last', was my final thought before I lost consciousness.
Emma's hand helped me out of the mechanical safety-ribbons attached to the pilot's chair, as I regained consciousness. The cockpit was filled with smoke and the smell of burned insulation. She had extinguished all minor fires at least in this area already.
"Thank you sweetie. How are we doing?"
"Badly, Jon. I have lost my other hand, and I am still bleeding. The energy reserves are down to eight percent now and falling. I suggest that you leave me immediately in case I cannot maintain the shield I have erected around me."
Emma's "hands" were in fact two perfect androids, constructed for emergencies and away-missions initially, but since it had been me programming Emma's personality, she had served different purposes also. In fact, her hands weren't the only features that gave me an awful lot of pleasure during the sixty years of our relationship.
"I'm sorry sweetie."
"I have to go to the generators; the Nanos cannot stop the bleed."
The bleed she was referring to was what brought us here. We had engaged the Pret roughly a hundred light-years from here. Yes, as you will indubitably deduce from that, the war against the Pret was not going well. They had advanced, and the psionic field was about to fail. Emma had two engines, one photon drive for sub-light speeds and the shifter-drive, which allowed us to travel faster than light. Both drives were dependent on massive amounts of energy that was drawn out of subspace via a funnel. We had been hit in the generator section and escaped narrowly by jumping into shift.
The shifter-engine basically followed energy lines that emanate from and converge in stars and planets. They are like ripples in space-time, more pronounced in and around stars, but also present around and on planets. You slingshot around a star and catch the next line on a planet to orientate before shifting out to the next star. All this happens within nanoseconds, and it has to be computed in real time, as the lines and their vectors aren't precisely constant and the progression and expenditure of energy to hang on to the lines is critical. We had managed to slingshot around the star that turned out to be our good old Sol, but lost the line when approaching Earth, as we had not had enough energy to hold on to it. We managed to engage the photon drive to slow down, but not enough to avoid the crash.
The Nanos were tiny machines that repair any damage to the ship as it occurs. However, if they couldn't get through to damaged sections, Emma's hands had to take over. There was nothing I could do to help. Although I had learned more less everything about the principles and the design schematics of my ship, I was not an engineer. I was a pilot. And a bloody good one.
"Do we have communication? Did you send a distress call to Mother? What about the kids?"
"I sent out a distress call before entering shifter mode, but I am afraid communication is down now. I witnessed three more of our kids being destroyed before we shifted."
Our kids were thirty-one fully automated units virtually identical to Emma – controlled by me and Emma, but fully capable of acting independently from us. Eight of them had already been destroyed by the Pret before we had been hit. Mother was our carrier ship; its real name actually was Snay. The Snay was the type of vessel Shneet had been talking about when recruiting me, with a crew of seventy-five, all specialists from different species of our galaxy. When we were ambushed by a large contingent of the Pret, I had taken out Emma and the kids to keep them busy long enough for Mother to escape.
I had to leave Emma. She had erected a force-field around herself that would keep curious Earthlings from prying into this saucer full of secrets mankind was still not ready for. However, if she couldn't manage to keep that up, she would self-destruct. That is why she wanted me out. I quickly gathered an emergency kit, knowing full well that I would have to look for some more inconspicuous attire as soon as I was out. My flight-suit made out of pitch-black poly-saturated alloy certainly didn't look anything like the current fashion here on Earth.