First Contact - Spectrum Visits The Rings of Orbis
Captain James Raaker swallowed audibly, his throat suddenly dry as he realized that they were being pulled steadily into the Wormhole that loomed menacingly in front of his starship, Spectrum.
“Get us out of here!” he shouted to his frantic pilot, as the ship began to buck and shake, almost throwing him to the deck.
Cash Wayne had his hands full trying to wrench control of Spectrum back, reminding himself that he wasn’t considered an ace pilot for nothing.
“Working on it, Captain!” he yelled as he struggled with all his considerable might to break free of the Wormhole’s unyielding pull.
When it became clear to the captain that they would soon be sucked into the Void, he grabbed the comm link and shouted a warning to his crew, “All hands, brace for extreme turbulence!”
“Cash, get those shields up!” he ordered, as he threw himself into the co-pilot chair, strapped himself in and began to frantically check on the status of his ship. It certainly wouldn’t do to break the cruiser on their maiden voyage!
The ship’s engines screamed in protest as it was pulled ever closer to the menacing darkness. Cash valiantly fought a losing battle against the wormhole’s constant pull. As his vision started to fade to black, he said a quick prayer to any deity who might be listening. Then he blinked, and gasped along with the Captain at their sudden lack of turbulence.
“What...is...that?” Captain Raaker pointed in disbelief at what appeared to be giant hoops or rings floating in space before them. His voice lowered to a whisper when he saw what was piloting a bubble-like craft dangerously close to Spectrum’s port side.
“Is that...an alien?” he asked of no one in particular.
Cash and his Captain could only stare at the two-headed being that peered in at them. The comm system sounded its burbling alert, and when the Captain clicked the switch, a calm male voice asked, “Permission to come aboard?”
“Two...two...heads?” Cash stuttered as he looked over his shoulder at Captain Raaker, his blue eyes wide open.
James Raaker shook his head in wonder, still staring intently at the screen. He suddenly remembered his First Contact training, and ordered Cash to do a bio-scan of the alien before he replied to the request with a hesitant, “Permission granted?”
Soon, the alien was aboard their vessel, standing very tall before them. For a few moments they all assessed one another in silence. At length, the being offered one of his long, spindly, shimmering grey hands toward Captain Raaker. In a deep voice, resonant with warmth, he said, “My name is Theylor. Welcome to the Rings of Orbis.”
Gathering his composure and again recalling his First Contact training, Raaker drew up his 6′2" frame and extended his hand. He greeted their visitor with a hearty shake, somewhat surprised that the alien was even aware of the custom of shaking hands, “Welcome aboard the Spectrum, Theylor. My name is James Raaker, captain of this ship. And this is my pilot, Cash Wayne.”
“Yeah, welcome!” Cash managed to say when Theylor then offered his hand to him.
“It is very nice to meet you, “ Theylor replied as Cash pumped his hand vigorously.
Theylor’s kind demeanor put the humans at ease, but a lingering wariness could be seen in the Captain’s eyes when he glanced at Cash and then out the front view screen. “Your Rings are an amazing sight to behold,” Raaker said, turning back to Theylor, “and quite welcome after being sucked through that Wormhole. We thought we were goners!”
Seeming to sense their chagrin, Theylor spoke in a comforting manner: “The most excellent pilots in the universe have not been able to escape the Wormhole’s powerful gravitational pull.”
A look of relief spread over the faces of both Cash and Raaker. As they all turned to look once more at the view screen, Cash noticed a great amount of activity in the atmosphere around the Rings and decided to voice his curiosity.
“Are all these ships piloted by beings of your...race?” he asked, hoping he wasn’t making a cultural mistake with his question. He tried not to stare at Theylor while attempting to read the expression on each of his faces.
One head remained still and calm as the other gave a gentle smile and said “No. We have many races living on the Rings.”
His two heads then addressed both Captain and Pilot simultaneously. “And I think you will find many pleasant surprises here,” he added with a knowing smile.
“I believe the traditional human welcome includes an offer of food and drink?” Theylor continued, “Please come with me, I know just the place to make you feel a bit more...comfortable.”
Captain Raaker and Cash exchanged wary glances and hesitated to follow the large being. Again, Theylor seemed to be reading their minds when he said, “We on Orbis have long studied and observed Earth and her inhabitants. We’ve become fond of many of its customs.”
After a moment’s consideration, Raaker gave a slight nod of acceptance, but stopped at the comm unit before disembarking with Theylor. He flipped a switch and announced curtly over ship-wide communications, “Cash and I will be off-ship for approximately 2 hours - lock it down while we’re gone. Raaker, out.”
Raaker and Cash soon found themselves in the luxurious seats of Theylor’s shuttle. They were surprised at the size and comfort of the alien craft, and that it was completely silent as Theylor expertly sent it into a smooth glide. He guided his shuttle along a skyway, dodging craft of all shapes and sizes while heading toward the heart of a city nestled on the floating Rings.
The eyes of both Captain and his pilot went wide when they saw a glowing sign ahead declaring, in English no less, their approach to the “Earth News Cafe.”
Theylor landed the shuttle with an almost imperceptible bump and turned one head to address the two men gazing intently out the window. “I trust you will find the food here acceptable. I understand most humans on The Rings find it quite tasty.”
Raaker’s head snapped around at Theylor’s announcement.
“What do you mean by ‘humans on the Rings’?” he demanded, knowing full well that humankind had not yet encountered any extraterrestrial life forms in their space explorations.
Theylor’s heads turned toward each other and for several moments appeared to be in silent communication. Presently, one of those heads turned back to address Raaker, “I’m afraid I do not understand, for we do indeed have humans living here. There is one inside the Earth News Cafe called “Charlie” who might offer some enlightenment.”
As Raaker and Cash followed Theylor into the general cacophony of the eating establishment, Cash tilted his head to the side as he noticed another anomaly. “Theylor, how is it that you’re speaking English, but I can’t understand these other…folks?”
Cash was interrupted by a hearty, and very American, voice, “Well look what the cat dragged in!” came the shout from behind the service counter.
Both Captain and Pilot stopped and stared in unison at the bright eyed, merrily grinning, and apparently very human man as he beckoned them toward the seats in front of the counter with a sweeping gesture of his arm and a brief bow of his head.
Both visitors relaxed their stern expressions, seemingly relieved at the sight of the human before them. After a moment, Raaker stepped forward to sit at the counter. Cash gave a little shrug as he followed suit.
“Name’s Charlie,” the man said as he offered his hand to both of them.
With a deft flip of his wrist, he handed them both menus and asked with a wink, “What can I get you started with? Because, judging by the look on both your faces, I’m guessing something a bit stronger than a Coke!”
He chuckled as he brought two foaming mugs up from underneath the counter and plopped them down in front of the surprised men. “Now, this has quite a kick!”
Raaker eyed the brew before him as he cautiously brought it to his nose and sniffed. He hesitated for only a moment, then drank deeply from his large glass. “This is good stuff,” he said, “but what I want to know is what you are doing here, Charlie, when no humans have ever been known to have contact before with alien life?”
Charlie thought for a moment, eyeing the two newcomers and noting their antiquated (as far as he could tell) flight suits. Then he gave a shrug. “I’ve lost track of how many rotations I’ve been here...maybe 15?”
Then Charlie’s eyes opened wide as if an idea had suddenly occurred to him. He turned quickly to address the tall being beside him, “Hey, these guys can’t have...I mean, exactly when did the wormhole open to Earth travel, Theylor?”
“This is as yet unknown to us, Charlie, given the infinite nature of wormholes,” answered Theylor.
Raaker’s eyes lit from within as he caught on. He asked, “Is it possible we’ve traveled through time?”
“Wha...?” sputtered Cash as he nearly choked on his ale. “That’s not possible...is it?” he asked in a bewildered tone. His eyes searched each of their faces for a sign that they were joking.
Almost to himself Theylor replied, “I believe it may well be.”
Charlie burst out laughing and then clicked everyone’s glasses with his own as he said, “Well, a toast to you two for your first adventure as time travelers!”
Raaker looked thoughtfully into his mug for a moment and muttered under his breath, “Seems to be a day for firsts.”
He then shrugged and tossed it back, slamming the glass to the counter.
Cash, however, considered himself a practical man, and was less calm about the announcement. “Oh, hell no! How are we going to get back?”
Raaker put a calming hand on Cash’s shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, Buddy. We’ve been in worse jams.”
Cash looked silently at his friend, and nodded. It was true.
“I lay no claims to being all-knowing,” Theylor nodded reassuringly to Cash, “but there may be an explanation to be found in the records at the Department of Wisdom, Culture and Comprehension.”
“What’s that, exactly?” asked the curious Captain.
“It is the depository for all our accumulated knowledge, from the Ancients to present time,” explained Theylor. So, if Charlie would be so kind as to give you a tour of the local area,” he continued with a questioning glance at Charlie, “I will leave you in his capable hands to start the research immediately.”
Charlie stepped out from behind his bar, gave a short bow, and swept his hand to the side in a gallant gesture, inviting them to follow him. “My pleasure!” he said with a grin.
“Good man!” Captain Raaker slapped a hand on Charlie’s shoulder, commandeered his pilot’s half full glass and drained it, then nudged Cash, who still had a bewildered look on his face, toward the door.
All three humans followed Theylor out into the sunlight. They arranged to meet later and then watched the tall, gentle being give them a wave of his long, spindly hand as he glided away from them.
“Hang on...” Raaker attempted to snap his fingers. He then eyed the offending digits in disgust as several attempts failed.
After a moment’s more distraction, he remembered the rest of his shipmates. “I need to contact my crew before they start thinking we’ve been shang…(hic)..haied.”
Lifting his left wrist, Raaker squinted at it, somewhat drunkenly, and tried to tap a button on the communicator strapped there to hail his ship.
Cash shook his head in wonder. James was normally a man who could hold his liquor. Whatever Charlie was serving must be stronger than the average ale! He stepped up to lend a hand to his increasingly inebriated friend to steady him, and pushed the button on the comm unit.
At first, Raaker and Cash heard only static over the comm, but then...“Captain? You’d better get back here, pronto. We’re surrounded by...well, I’m not sure what they are!”
“We gotta get to our ship,” Raaker slurred, as he jolted forward in the direction of the Spectrum, but his feet didn’t follow the rest of his body. He flailed his arms in a hopeless attempt to keep himself from falling, but Cash caught him before he crashed to the ground.
“What the hell was in that ale?” Cash snapped in Charlie’s direction as he cradled his Captain’s head.
“I- I knew it had a kick, but I’ve never seen it have that affect on anyone before,” Charlie stammered, his brow knit with concern.
“My crew…” Raaker struggled to regain his legs under him, but they felt almost gelatinous to him. His eyes closed and his head lolled.
“Don’t worry, James. I’ll take care of them,” Cash murmured as he slung Raaker’s arm over his shoulder. Then with a grace that revealed his considerable physical strength, he got his friend to his feet.
(To Be Continued…)