Space 2315, Chapter 9

Inside the command center at the Copernicus Lunar Base located on Luna, Commander Marcy Border was busy looking over the crews in the pit below with a steaming cup of coffee in her hand. She stood in front of the railing and kicked at an invisible something for her legs were tired of sitting for the last hour in the commander’s chair.

The base’s job was to monitor the space around Luna and the space between Earth and Mars. The base collected all the data from the sensor station platforms between the two planets, this included the sensors on the shipyards, space stations, and even the sensors on the space habitats at the Lagrange Points. The base took all the sensor data from every point to show what was happening around Earth and Mars. Was it redundant? You bet your ass it was. Each one of those places, including every warship between, could just as easily fire off a sensor report if anything strange came up, but the Space Force wanted one data collection point to paint the big picture. That may have been needed in the days before FTL comms and where sensor platforms couldn’t broadcast in near-real-time but now Marcy Border figured that the base’s usefulness was waning. Not that that kept the Space Force from repurposing the base. Someone must’ve thought so as well though, for they didn’t even send admirals to command the base anymore; they were lucky that they were assigned a captain as head of the base.

Today was like any other day for Sensor Spaceman James Rutgard. He was staring at his computer terminal while reaching for his energy drink like he did any other day. He needed the drink if he wanted to stay alert on-duty at this depressingly boring assignment. He often wondered what the hell the point of the base was when a computer could do the same job. When Rutgard had arrived at the base one of the Marines he’d met told him, “Welcome to the Copernicus Base, the most boring assignment in all of the Human Federation Space Force.” At first, he hadn’t taken the Marine’s word for it, wanting to believe that he was doing bigger and better things after graduating from his tech school for his first assignment. That was five Earth months ago and now he was rather jaded toward the assignment. Good thing he only had another seven months until he could put in for a transfer.

He heard there were worse assignments out there, like the base on Pluto, but right now he was disinclined to believe that anyone had it worse than him. By all accounts, Pluto was where they sent the fuck-ups of the Space Force. It was the armpit assignment of the Sol System and everyone dreaded being sent there. For the Marines, the worst assignment was, as Rutgard had heard, the Olympus Mons Spaceport in the capital city of Mars. Rutgard didn’t know why, but all his friends who joined the Marines called it the dungeon.

He tapped a few keys on the keyboard in front of him and moved the mouse a bit and clicked on the OK button on the dialog box that popped up. He chuckled when the dialog box came up and read it. Stupid idiots, I told them to fix that last week, he thought. It was a problem with the tertiary sensor processing computers. They’d told him that it wasn’t too high of a priority to fix those systems because, as they put it, “they are tertiary systems and we still have the primaries and secondary systems.” He shook his head and thought that once again he was going to have to look at that dialog message box again in an hour. Yes, it was a tertiary system, but the computers acted like they were a lot more important than that.

Lieutenant Commander Lisa Desota, James’ watch commander came up behind him and tapped him on his shoulder. James looked up. “Nothing to worry about ma’am. Just another one of those messages about the tertiary sensor processing computers being down.” Lisa nodded her head and walked back over to where her seat was.

Rutgard was the only junior enlisted man on duty at the time along with only one noncom. This was the night shift rotation on the base so most of the other enlisted personnel and noncoms were asleep or knocking back a few in the on-post bar. Rutgard wished he was one of them, wishing that he was asleep and not on the graveyard shift. He hated this shift. The operations room, normally able to seat upwards of thirty people, now only held eight. It felt too empty to him. Unlike aboard warships that had a full crew for a night shift, dirtside bases could only afford to have a skeleton crew for nights. The Space force figured that during the night shift there wasn’t much to monitor since most heavy commercial traffic in and around Earth and Mars kept to normal business hours, 9 AM to 5 PM GMT. Outer space traffic kept to GMT to help minimize confusion as to when shuttles and ships were launched which if you asked James, made sense.

James was about to grab hold of his energy drink when a massive blip on his sensor screen appeared out of what seemed like nowhere. He immediately sat up from his slouching position and brought many various windows up on the screen and dispersed them over the triple monitor setup that he had at his station. He wanted as much data as possible at a glance without having to minimize various windows to bring up the window he needed. During normal times he simply kept a summary window visible, but this was a time he wanted access to all available data.

He then accessed the sensor processing computers to start processing every single byte of data that was coming in from the various sensor buoys that were in the vicinity. Terabytes of data began pouring in as he directed the sensor buoys to start active scanning. It was then that his sensor data windows were filled with dots all marked with the blinking amber and red-light codes that indicated unknown, possibly hostile targets. “Commander,” was all he could say as his jaw just about hit the floor when all three of his screens had windows that were filled with red dots.

Lieutenant Commander Lisa Desota, the Sensor Officer for the watch, walked up behind James and looked down at his screen. “What do you make of it, James?”

“I don’t know ma’am, at least not yet. I’m still scanning the area in question with everything we have between Earth and Mars. I’m trying to resolve it better to give us a better picture, but I won’t have much in the way of individual signatures until they light off their drives.” He looked at his station again and then back up to his commander. “I’ve got terabytes of sensor data to analyze here, the computer is still trying to make sense of all of it. I don’t know what it is yet ma’am. I’ve turned on active scanning mode on the local sensor platforms to try and get an idea of what we have here.”

“Alright, good call; in the meantime, I’ll report this to the XO.” With that Lisa Desota walked out of the pit and approached the XO, Commander Marcy Border. “Commander, we have several sensor blips in sector 29 by 14 by 36, possibly hostile targets. Active sensor systems are now scanning the area in question.”

“That would put it closer to Mars than Earth or Luna, but still way too close for comfort,” Commander Border replied and started walking towards the back to the pit with Lieutenant Commander Desota close behind. Commander Border walked to the computer station where Rutgard was stationed. Border leaned down and looked at the screen and then to James. “What is it?”

“It’s a fleet consisting of anywhere between forty and seventy ships, unknown configuration ma’am. No IFF recognition either. I won’t know more until they engage their drive systems, which should tell me what kind of reactor systems they use.”

“Were you able to track the direction from which they came from?” Commander Marcy Border asked.

James shook his head. “No ma’am,” he shook his head again. “They appeared out of nowhere.” He looked back at his computer terminal and glanced at a window on his third monitor and switched it to raw telemetry view mode as versus computer interpreted view. He wanted to see the raw data, not just what the computer thought was important.

“From what I can see now is that they have anything from destroyer sized ships on up to ships half again as big as our super juggernauts. I don’t know how they dropped in on us ma’am. One moment there was nothing there and the next… this,” he motioned and pointed at to his primary screen that had the “big picture” view of the system.

“From nowhere?” Commander Marcy Border asked as she saw the Mars Defense Fleet and the Lunar Fleet already getting in motion to intercept the unknown ships.

“Yes ma’am, nowhere. No space-time anomalies indicative of a wormhole, artificial or otherwise were detected either. It’s like wherever these ships came from, according to our sensor systems, they appeared out of nowhere. That suggests that these guys have some seriously good stealth technology in order to evade every sensor we have in-system.”

Border tapped a series of buttons on the console and the base’s general quarters klaxon blared out, filling the base with a harsh electric sound designed to rattle bones that only the dead could’ve ignored. All over the base personnel flew out of bunks, left cups of coffee or tea where they lay, threw down playing cards, dice, or datapads, and leaped from tables in the mess halls.

Captain Joseph McNealy was in the operations pit a few minutes later. “What’s going on here?”

“Take a look for yourself, sir, there it is,” she pointed to James’ screen where the sensor blip was.

“I see,” the captain replied, looking up from the screen. He tapped his headset and called for the communication station. “I want a direct link to the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff immediately. I don’t care what the hell time it is down there! This is an emergency!” A few minutes later a communication link was established with the Situation Room in the basement of the presidential residence in Abu Dhabi.

“Mr. President, we have a situation of utmost importance.” He paused for a second or two. “A fleet of unknown configuration just appeared on sensors near Mars.” He paused again. “No sir, according to my reports it appeared out of nowhere.” He paused. “No space-time anomaly either. It’s like it appeared out of… simply nowhere.” A moment passed. “Yes Mr. President, I’ll keep you apprised of any new information. Copernicus Base Actual, over and out.” He called to the communication department. “I want a direct communication link with Fleet Command.” A second later he had an open channel. “If it isn’t happening five minutes ago I suggest that the Mars and Lunar Fleets move to intercept that fleet.”

“They’re already moving to intercept, sensors scanning as well,” Border replied. “The Earth Orbital Fleet is holding station.”

Just as Captain McNealy closed the communication link with Fleet Command, the communications department commander, Lieutenant Ricardo Perez, came running into the pit. “Captain, we’re being hailed!”

“Hailed?” he questioned. “By who?”

“That,” Ricardo pointed to the screen where the massive amounts of sensor blips were. “We’re being hailed by that… whatever it is. Should I open a channel?”

“Yes, open a channel and put it on the main view screen.” The captain and the XO walked out of the pit and onto the main bridge above. The captain nodded his head in the direction of Lieutenant Ricardo Perez to tell him to open the channel.

The main viewscreen turned on and what appeared to be a humanoid figure with light purple skin with pronounced elfin features. Commander Border whispered to the captain. “Whatever they are, they look like us, other than the purple skin and the long-pointed ears. They look like Vulcans straight out of Star Trek. Also, I’m no exobiologist but I think it’s a female, captain.” The captain nodded his head and called out to the communications department. “I want all real-time translations systems online and operational. Send our language codes ASAP so we can talk with them.”

“Greetings from the people of the United Kingdom of Zalta. We come in peace, I say again, we come in peace.

Commander Marcy Border spoke up. “Was that translated? That didn’t sound like it. It seemed too in sync with lip movement. Our language codes couldn’t have been sent and processed that fast.”

“No, ma’am. I haven’t started to send the language codes,” Lieutenant Ricardo Perez answered, as confused as anyone as his hands hovered over his console. “That was spoken in English, Received Pronunciation no less, no translation was needed for that.”

“Received Pronunciation?” Border asked him.

“The Queen’s English ma’am,” Perez answered. “I’ve studied different accents while learning to be a linguist. She,” he looked up at the alien woman on the screen, “is speaking the Queen’s English.”

The captain and the XO looked at each other in bewilderment. The captain turned back to the viewscreen. “Zalta? You said that you are from the United Kingdom of Zalta? Wh… What’s that?”

“Yes, we’re from the United Kingdom of Zalta. We call our species Zaltaens. I’m here to make peaceful first contact with the Human Federation. We’re not here to attack you; we want to open peaceful dialogue with the Human Federation and the United Kingdom of Zalta.”

“May I ask how you are speaking our language?” McNealy asked, starting to feel really creeped out that aliens were talking to him in English without the use of translators.

“That’s easy. Most of our people in our kingdom learn English at a very young age. For academic purposes, of course.”

“Why? How?” Captain Joseph McNealy asked. “How is it that you know our language?”

“All will be explained in time, but know this, we’ve been watching your race closely over the last four hundred of your years.”

“Four… hundred… years?” McNealy asked slowly, swallowing hard at the implications of that.

“Yes, for four hundred of your years we’ve been watching you, getting to know you as a people. It’s just now that we feel that it’s long overdue for official communications and contact between our peoples.” The alien humanoid figure paused. “If you would allow us, we’d like to send a diplomatic dispatch to your base for more face-to-face talks.”

“Yes, that would be acceptable but please, give me a private moment with my crew. That is if that’s alright.”

“That would be quite alright,” the alien on the screen said as the screen went blank.

Commander Marcy Border spoke up as the screen turned off. “Permission to speak freely captain?” The captain nodded his head. “Is anyone else as disturbed as I am about all of this?” Everyone on the bridge looked to her. “I mean really, they know our language, at least English. And then they say that they’ve been watching us for nearly 400 years.” Everyone nodded their heads.

Sensor Spaceman James Rutgard spoke up. “I’m with her, I’m officially creeped out here.”

“Alright,” the captain spoke up, “we knew that this day would come sooner or later, that is, meeting aliens. It’s a damn big galaxy out there and an even bigger universe. To think of us as being the only species out there among the stars is…”

“I don’t mean to cut you off, captain,” Commander Marcy Border spoke up, “but all of us knew that that would eventually happen, but that’s not what disturbs me. It’s the fact that these aliens know so much about us, yet we know nothing about them. I mean, they know one of our languages for God’s sake! And they say that they’ve been watching us for 400 years.” She shook her head incredulously.

“What else have they been doing? Think about it, humanity has made more advances in the sciences in the last four hundred years than we have ever made in the last millennia and a half. During the early 2000s, we made massive improvements in computer technology and machine learning which gave rise to artificial intelligence. Not only that but in the last one hundred years, we’ve gone to the stars. We’ve developed FTL, jumpgates, artificial gravity, weapons technology, and God knows what other stuff that’s still in the R&D phase that we don’t know of yet. Hell, does anyone really know how those jumpgates work?” Everyone on the command deck shook their heads. “What if these aliens haven’t just been watching us but pushing us along as well? And if they have been pushing us along, why?” The rest of the crew looked to her. “God knows what these aliens have been doing among us during these last 400 hundred years. Not only that but we could have aliens among us and we would be none the wiser. The implications are scary.”

Lisa Desota looked about the deck worriedly. Meanwhile, the rest of the people looked at each other with suspicious looks on their faces wondering who the potential alien might me.

“Damn,” the captain replied, “I didn’t think about all of that. Now that you’ve brought that all up I do kind of have that creeped out feeling as well. But the last thing we need to be doing is pointing fingers at one another and accusing each other of being an alien. Anyways people, we better push aside whatever thoughts we may have about this current situation; we have a mission ahead of us. We have an incoming alien delegation to meet and I want to be ready for them.”

“Commander Border, please prepare for the arrival of their diplomatic dispatch.” Commander Border came to attention briefly before promptly walking off. The captain called back to her. “I want you and all officers with you to be in your service dress uniforms, no NWUs. I want to make a good impression on these people.”

“Yes sir,” the XO nodded her head and command deck. The captain turned back to the viewscreen and gave the communications officer the order to reopen the communications channel. “You may send your diplomatic dispatch. Please give us a few moments to prepare for your arrival.”

“Yes, that will be quite alright. We must prepare our shuttle as well. I look forward to our visit, RZNS Chogengriff, out.” With that, the communication channel closed.

“Lieutenant Commander Lisa Desota,” the captain called to the pit, “you have the watch.”

Desota nodded her head, walked up the ramp to the main bridge and promptly saluted her captain. “I have the watch.”

“Sir,” Lieutenant Ricardo Perez from communications called to the main bridge. “I have the president on the line waiting, what should I tell him?”

Lieutenant Commander Lisa Desota looked to the captain who just exited the bridge. She looked back to the lieutenant in communication. “Open a channel and send the communication to my headset.” A second later the president was on the line. “Mr. President, I’m Lieutenant Commander Lisa Desota,” she explained over her boom mike, unable to believe that someone like her was talking to the President of the Human Federation. Her, a mere lieutenant-commander from northern England.

“Captain McNealy put me in charge while he prepares for the arrival of an alien delegation.” She waited for the president to stop speaking. “No sir, the alerts have been called off. The captain and the executive officer have gone to meet the diplomatic dispatch the aliens are sending. They left me in charge of the command center.” The president spoke again. “No, they come in peace. They call themselves the Zaltaens.” Lieutenant Commander Lisa paused. “They very much look like us, except for their purple skin and pointed ears.” A moment later. “Yes Mr. President, I’ll keep you apprised of the situation. Copernicus Base out.”

With that, she sat down in the captain’s chair and thought about what transpired. She began to think, I didn’t think that they would be this… suspicious. I would have thought that they would be more welcoming to aliens. I mean we were, we were excited to know when we weren’t the only intelligent species in the cosmos and these humans are meeting us with suspicion. Then again, telling them right away that we were watching them for 400 of their years was probably not the best of things to say. But it has the benefit of being true. I wonder how things will go when my peoples’ officials get here.

Captain Joseph McNealy and Commander Marcy Border were waiting while standing in the middle of the fighter bay observation room. Both were dressed in their Human Federation Space Force Naval Dress uniform.

Marcy looked down at herself and noticed a lone thread hanging down from her uniform’s skirt. She reached down and picked it from herself and stuffed it into a pocket. It was a very long time since she last had to wear the dress uniform. Normally she wore the NWUs when on duty which consisted of pants and a blouse that was of a white and gray digital print along with black boots that had to be shined daily. It was the standard working uniform. She personally hated wearing the dress uniform, she always thought of them as being too stuffy and uncomfortable; most other officers agreed with that. She knew other officers that didn’t mind wearing it, but she always thought that they were crazy for thinking that.

“Can’t stand these uniforms too I see?” the captain asked her.

“Yeah, the last time I had to wear this fashion disaster was…” she paused for a moment, “two years ago when I got assigned here. Not much stuff goes on at this base to warrant the use of this uniform.”

“I know that Marcy, I hate this thing as well.”

The door of the fighter bay observation room opened and Major James Monroe, the commanding officer of the base’s marine company, stepped into the room. Normally a marine company would be commanded by a captain but to avoid confusion as to which captain someone was referring to a marine captain was generally given a temporary promotion to major. Joseph looked at him. “You’re late.”

“I’m sorry sir. It won’t happen again.” The captain looked at him with that kind of look that told you that it better not happen again. “I couldn’t find my uniform; I think I forgot it back on Earth. I had to go to the clothing store and buy a new one along with all my medals and have the rank sewed on too. Luckily they had my size and were able to do all that in a rush job.”

The captain looked over James’ impromptu uniform and nodded his head. “Not bad, not bad at all.” He looked at the “fruit salad” of medals on the major’s chest and then pressed his lips together. “Not bad on the alignments. Every medal is in its place, perfectly I might add.”

“Yes captain,” James nodded his head. “You should’ve seen me, measuring and re-measuring with the ruler. Took me nearly ten minutes of painstaking measurements to make sure that these,” he pointed to the medals on his chest, “were in the exact right place.”

“Ten minutes?” The captain’s eyebrow rose. “About the same for me.”

James shrugged his shoulders. “Yes sir, but you have a lot more to put on yourself than I do sir.”

Joseph nodded his head. “That’s very true.” The captain then turned around and looked up to see a Human Federation shuttle arrive alongside an alien shuttle. The two shuttles settled into the docking buffers and personnel tubes ran out to meet them. The captain watched as the lights above the tube flashed from red to green to indicate good seals. The Human Federation shuttle’s door opened first and out stepped his friend from the Russell Lunar Base, Leslie Scott from the State Department.

Leslie Scott came forward to McNealy and she gave him a quick embrace. “I haven’t seen you in a long time. How have you been all this time Leslie?”

She smiled as she looked Joseph over. “Not bad. I see that you put on some weight.”

“Yeah,” Joseph laughed. “When you’re stationed here there’s not much at all to do. It’s not like being aboard a ship. This place has got to be the most boring duty station I’ve ever been assigned to. I guess I need to hit the gym more often.” Marcy chuckled but tried hard to keep it from being noticed.

“I see,” Leslie looked to whom she assumed to be Joseph’s executive officer. As soon as Leslie looked to Marcy she snapped off a salute and stood at attention. “Commander Marcy Border, ma’am. Pleased to meet you.”

“No need to stand on ceremonies Marcy, I’m not military; I’m a civilian.”

“Thank you,” Marcy stood at ease. “You know Captain McNealy?”

“Yes, I’ve known Joseph for years. I used to be his girlfriend back before he joined the Space Force. We’ve kept in touch ever since. The two of us talk and get along so well that we might as well be married.” She laughed lightly.

Joseph laughed too. “Yeah but you know you’d never leave your job Leslie, the both of us know that.”

“Yeah, that’s the thing that really separates us; our jobs. Both of us like our jobs too much.”

“And I can only imagine that your job is going to get even more complicated from here on out,” Joseph added. “Having actual aliens to communicate with is going to be quite a job. I imagine that you’re going to be going back and forth from Earth to wherever these aliens call home for quite some time setting up diplomatic channels.” Leslie nodded.

Just then the Zaltaen’s shuttle door opened and they started to come down the tube. When they first landed on the deck the side party the XO pulled together snapped to attention, the Marines raised their rifles in salute, and bosun’s pipes trilled. Both Joseph and Marcy recognized one of the Zaltaens, the one that they met on the view screen. The other two were much like the first, except with dark purple and light blue skin respectively.

Leslie looked at Joseph and asked, “Anything I should know?”

Joseph shook his head. “That’s why you’re here. They speak perfect English too. Queen’s English to boot.” He paused for a moment. “Nervous?”

“I have to admit that I’m a little nervous. The State Department prepares us as much as possible for situations like this. But to be fair, we’ve only had to deal with diplomats from Sirius, Midas and the Vatican; never actual aliens. To say that our department is underused is putting it lightly. Real-life is so much more different than some simulated first contact situation in which one of your classmates is dressed up like some bizarre alien imagined up by someone who’s read or watched a little too much classic science fiction.”

“Yeah, I imagine so,” he chuckled.

The three watched the three Zaltaens come forward and Leslie stepped forward to meet them. She opened her mouth but at first, words didn’t come out. She closed her mouth and swallowed hard in hopes that she’d find her voice. “Greetings,” she nervously spoke, “I welcome your people to… our corner of the galaxy. Please accept our hospitality.”

One of the Zaltaens extended her hand, the one they had initial contact with on the view screen. Leslie looked at it and at first, she didn’t know what to think but then it dawned on her; the alien wanted to shake her hand. She extended her hand forward and the alien took hold of it and did a very good job of imitating the traditional human custom of shaking hands. This surprised the hell out of Leslie, she kept thinking just how she knew how to perform that welcoming gesture. Joseph, she thought, I think you forgot to tell me something.

“Thank you, my name is Regina of House Sharloc; I’m the Zaltaen ambassador that my queen has sent to meet your people. I’m pleased to meet you and to make formal first contact with the Human Federation. I hope that this meeting will prove fruitful and that future negotiations will be as well.” Regina looked to the person standing at her right. “This is Admiral Lana of House Mora, the commander of our fleet.” She looked to her left. “And the security guard that the captain insisted on accompanying me, Sergeant Major Quera of House Monet.”

Joseph thought they’re all women. Where are the men? This seems strange. One would think that they would have at least some men in their delegation. He thought back to when they first opened communications with the aliens, he saw no men in the video feed. That made him wonder even more about these aliens.

“Thank you,” Leslie looked to the three people standing behind her. She pointed to the captain, “the person standing in the middle is Captain Joseph McNealy.” She pointed to the woman standing next to him. “She is Commander Marcy Border, Joseph’s executive officer.”

The captain pointed to the man standing on the other side of him. “This is Command Master Chief Petty Officer Austin Kim, our senior navy enlisted. We also have Major James Monroe, commander of the marine company assigned to this base. Next to him is Lieutenant Jeffery Higgins, the company’s XO. Finally, next to him is First Sergeant Talia Wright.” His CMC and each of the Marines nodded as the captain ran down the list of names.

Regina spoke, “I’m pleased to meet all of you.”

The captain gestured with his hand toward the waiting lift. “If you would please follow us, we’d like to give you a tour of our facilities. After that, we’ll be boarding a shuttle to take you to Earth to have an official meeting with the President of the Human Federation. We’ll take the shuttle to the orbital elevator since the elevator would be faster. We’ll post Marines to block off the terminals we’ll need to use to secure us clear access both in orbit and on the surface. We don’t want private citizens reacting to seeing aliens for the first time until we’re able to go public with this news in an official broadcast. The last thing we want is to start a panic.” The captain shrugged uneasily but the ambassador nodded her head in agreement.

The door of the operations room opened and as soon as the captain and the executive officer stepped onto it CMC Kim announced, “Captain on the bridge.” The person stared in disbelief as the three aliens stepped forward. Everyone in the room stood and came to attention before the captain said, “As you were.”

Lieutenant Commander Desota came forward to the captain. “Will you be taking back the watch?” The captain shook his head. “Please, carry on.”

Regina looked about and quickly smiled before looking again around the room. “Today is a great day for the people of the Human Federation and the United Kingdom of Zalta. I hope that today’s talks will bring about a peaceful dialogue between our great peoples. Like I said before in our remote communication link, many of my people have been monitoring, watching, and listening to the people of the Human Federation to get to know you better as a people. It’s only now that we feel that it’s long overdue for official contact between our two peoples. Well past time in my own opinion. However, I am but a humble ambassador for my queen and not able to set policy. It’s only recently, due to the Queen taking back control over our government, that our people have decided to open official dialogue. In fact, it’s our Queen that suggested it.”

“When you say that you have been monitoring our people, to what extent do you mean?” Leslie asked. “How close have you been watching us? What exactly have your people been doing?”

“If I may demonstrate,” Regina looked to Commander Lisa Desota. “Lona of house Sorrta, you may now show your true face.”

Leslie along with the captain and his executive officer looked to the officer in question. She pressed something on her belt, and as if an illusion dropped, there standing in the place of Lieutenant Commander Lisa Desota was a Zaltaen. As quickly as the illusion was dropped the two marine sentries at the back of the operations room almost raised their rifles but froze with their rifles only halfway up. Getting over their stunned disbelief they returned their rifles to the low-ready position.

“What’s the meaning of this?!” the captain asked, clearly with anger in his voice. “I demand an answer to why there’s a Zaltaen among my people here at this base. This is a serious breach of security.”

“I am sorry,” Regina apologized sincerely. “I should’ve prepared you better for this. But as I tried to say before, many of my people have been planted among your people throughout your star nation. Many of them are in your military, some of them are in your government, and many more live among your average citizens. All of them hide among your people in plain sight using our optical camouflage. This is an effort to learn more about your people and your culture. What better way to learn about your people than to learn about them as they go about living their everyday lives?”

“So, you’re telling me,” Marcy thought for a moment, “that anyone, just anyone… could be a Zaltaen in disguise.” Regina nodded her head quickly. “Is there anyone else that you’d like to reveal here that is in disguise?”

Regina shook her head. “There’s no one else on this base.”

“I’m going to have to bring this up to my superiors.” Joseph thought for a few moments. “Hell, I’m going to have to get a new commanding officer of Sensor Ops.”

Lona stepped forward. “How does the fact that I’m an alien change anything about my position? Haven’t I proved that I can be trusted? I perform my duties to the best of my ability to safeguard the safety and security of the areas around Earth.”

“That’s not the point,” Joseph sighed. “It’s the fact that you were among my crew in a covert manner. Hell, you obtained at least a secret clearance to get this position. A security clearance that you obviously lied to get.”

“Sir, if I may, I never once saw or heard anything that said that one needed to prove that they were human to obtain a secret clearance. They don’t ask such things.”

“If I may add,” Regina stepped forward and in front of Lona, “one of the talking points I have on my agenda when I finally do get to speak with the leaders of your world is that we initiate a Status of Forces Agreement. I do believe that our two peoples will have a lot to learn from each other. So eventually Captain Joseph McNealy, you will indeed see more of my people among your crew. I may not be at liberty to tell you this but Queen Raina IV of House Greenfeather has expressed a desire to allow Humanity to establish a base on our home planet as a part of a joint forces agreement with Humanity as well as having basing rights for your ships in our star systems. The queen has assured me that you’ll be allowed to bring your own equipment in order to build the facilities that your ships will need.”

“I understand that, in fact, I’ll have no problem with that at all when that happens. But until then she is a security threat. She must be removed from her post.”

“If I may add,” Lona stepped up. “If I was indeed a security threat as big as you think because I’ve been in the service of the Human Federation Space Force for nearly fifteen years, I would’ve had a lot of time to do damage to the Space Force. I took an oath just like you did, to defend and uphold the Constitution of the Human Federation. The fact that I’m an alien shouldn’t make an ounce of difference.”

Marcy looked at Joseph and whispered to him. “She’s got you there, captain.”

Leslie Scott spoke up. “May I have the floor?” All four nodded. “Thank you. What I believe Joseph is trying to say is that the decision regarding Lona and her continued service under Joseph’s command is not a decision that he can make. It’s a decision that’s far above his pay grade. Like it or not, he does have to report it.” She paused for a moment. “Now if in the future a joint forces agreement was to be enacted Joseph would have no problem having Lona serve under his command.”

“Thank you, Leslie,” Joseph replied. “As Leslie so eloquently put it, I would have no problem having Lona serve under me. I see the idea of Humans and Zaltaens serving together as a way for our two peoples to learn more about each other. But as Leslie said, the decision isn’t mine to make; that decision is for those who are…” he looked to Leslie, “paid far more than I get paid.” Leslie rolled her eyes as he had said that. “Hey, you don’t go into the military to get rich you know; if you want that you go into the Ambassadorial Corps.”

“Joseph.” Leslie looked to him with a look of disgust.

“Hey,” he shrugged his shoulders, “it’s the truth.” Leslie just rolled her eyes, she knew he was right.

“With that said, I understand,” Regina replied. “Military and political bureaucracy. We have that in our own kingdom as well. I believe that a lot of our own people detest such things too.”

“I’m glad that some things are universal after all,” the captain muttered none too softly.

“Indeed,” Regina agreed as she nodded her head.

“Lona,” Joseph turned to her. “I mean this as no disrespect, in fact, I’d go so far as to say that you were one of my best officers under my command. But again, I still have to dismiss you until such a decision is made regarding your stature.”

“I understand captain.” She understood the situation but that didn’t make her feel any better. And who would in the current situation?

Regina looked to Leslie. “But enough about that. When will we be departing for Earth? I look forward to meeting with your leaders.”

“I’m already in contact with the leaders of my government. They have told me that an official diplomatic shuttle will be landing at this base soon to take you along with your ambassadorial staff as well as myself to Earth. In the meantime, my XO will have command of the base. I’m sure the base will be in good hands. There the soon-to-be outgoing President Mark Adams will meet us. I do encourage you to have Lona come with us though. I believe that the president will be very open to the idea of a Status of Forces Agreement.”

“I hope so.”

“Our forces have also taken the liberty of moving some of the Lunar Fleet into position near your own fleet.” At the ambassador’s concerned expression, he continued “We’re only moving some destroyers, cruisers, and a few battlecruisers in place to help screen your ships against anything.”

“As much as I appreciate the gesture it is not needed. Our warships can take care of themselves.”

“Madam Ambassador, the decision wasn’t mine,” the captain explained. “Fleet Command just wants to ensure that your warships are given adequate protection within our star system. It’s a gesture of protection toward your ships. Our warships have been given strict instructions to approach your ships with their gun ports closed, their weapon systems powered down and with no targeting systems active. You won’t see so much as a lidar blink in your ships’ direction. In addition, they have been told to move to a position around your fleet to put your fleet outside of their own active missile engagement envelopes.”

The ambassador thought it over for a few moments before smiling. “This is agreeable. I’m sure if our positions were reversed our own would do the same for your ships.”

The flight over to the closest orbital elevator went about as uneventfully as could be asked for. Two destroyers from the Lunar Fleet had shadowed the small craft until it linked up with two destroyers from the First Orbital Fleet. Nobody wanted to take any chances with an official delegation with Humanity’s first contact situation. That it wasn’t a first contact scenario to the Zaltaens wasn’t lost on any of their human hosts. It felt dreadfully unfair that the Zaltaens had a four-hundred-year head start. In those years the aliens studied Humans and their culture, language, and ways of life whereas Humanity knew next to nothing about them.

The shuttle winged its way into one of the many cavernous docking bays of the orbital elevator. They were called docking bays here instead of the usual name of fighter bay since these spaces dwarfed anything that could be put into even a super juggernaut. Each of Earth’s four orbital elevators boasted docking bays so large that one could fit a destroyer in there if one were to empty that bay of all other traffic. It would be a very tight fit, but it could be done; not that any Fleet helmsman would ever want to try and park their ship in there.

The Zaltaens watched the structure growing in the viewports as the shuttle neared it. Each was comprised of two geostationary rings supported at 10 and 40 thousand kilometers above the equator by four 50-thousand-kilometer-high towers ending in ballast satellites. The top rings were covered with photovoltaic arrays that captured the nearly limitless energy being pumped out by Sol. The elevators acted as both a method of transportation to and from the surface as well as means of transferring solar energy. The amount of solar energy produced by the elevators was enough that Earth barely needed any fusion plants on the surface.

The shuttle moved on reaction thrusters toward a waiting docking collar and the mild thump of it latching onto the hull was barely felt. A personnel tube ran out to mate with the shuttle’s airlock and soon everyone was proceeding aboard the massive space station.

A company of Marines was on hand to escort the officers and their official alien guests. Many of them simply stared as the Zaltaens passed by, unable to believe that they were a part of such a historic event in Humanity’s history; an event that they were given strict instructions not to talk about. Their superiors told them that what was happening was top secret and was on a need-to-know basis. By them being there they were given temporary need-to-know status. It was told to them that they wouldn’t speak a word of it until the government went public later.

The naval and Marine officers led the alien delegation through the docking areas, through a maze of corridors and security checkpoints, and finally to the terminal which supported the passenger areas of the station. A clearly marked train was waiting for them to take them to the surface. The train rocketed out of the station and toward the surface after everyone was settled. The acceleration pressed them back into their seats lightly but was otherwise hardly noticeable. Unlike earlier versions of orbital elevators, all new ones were built with dedicated tunnels for passenger trains running to and from the surface. This reduced drag and didn’t expose the trains to the heating effects of atmospheric reentry. The tunnels themselves were pressurized and thus able to sustain passengers in the case of a rare emergency.

The terminal on the surface was also vacant except for security guards at the checkpoints. Several limos awaited the group on the streets of Abu Dhabi, which were also vacant now. Clearing ground traffic from around the orbital elevator station hadn’t been easy, especially in a heavily populated city such as Abu Dhabi. The police had set up cordons for at least a three-block radius around the elevator ground station but once they were past that they’d only be under police escort to the palace.

The palace itself was the old Abu Dhabi Presidential Palace which had been home to the Al Nahyan family and several Presidents of the United Arab Emirates. The family was still around today and still very wealthy and powerful in business and local government. The palace was built upon a small stretch of land that jutted out into the Persian Gulf. The palace grounds itself was over 160,000 square meters filled with the main palace, smaller palaces, gardens, villas, and other facilities including a shuttle pad for the president’s use.

The convoy of limos drove onto the palace grounds and was greeted almost instantly by secret service agents who quickly escorted them into the safe confines of the palace itself. The Zaltaen ambassador herself marveled at the interior of the entryway they stood in, commenting that it reminded her of the castle back on Zalta that the queen resided in, although different in design. The queen’s castle, she explained, was more reminiscent of European castles.

A rather tall man dressed in a business style suit came out to greet them, “In the name of the Human Federation and all of Humanity, I greet you.”

The naval and marine officers stiffened to attention, but the man quickly waved at them to relax. The Zaltaen ambassador spoke up, “President Mark Adams, it is an honor to meet you. However, I rather much doubt that you speak for all of Humanity.”

“You’re right of course,” Adams replied with the barest traces of a smile. “There are other independent human worlds out there that don’t fall under the jurisdiction of this star nation. Will you join me in my office? I apologize, but it is a bit away from here.”

“Of course,” Regina replied amiably, “It is no trouble at all.” She fell into step behind the president as he turned to walk back through the door he had come through.

“Officers,” Adams said, “you’re welcome to join us.”

“Thank you, sir,” McNealy answered.

The group mounted a central staircase and went up one level before continuing down the hall. Regina spoke up while they were on the stairs, “You spoke of Sirius, Midas, and of course the ACF.”

This time Adams frowned rather deeply but hid it from his guests by staying a step ahead of them, “Yes, of course, them too. A group we hope to bring back into the fold of a united humanity.”

The Zaltaen ambassador darted quick looks at the other Zaltaens with her before continuing, “A united humanity is indeed preferable Mr. President, but bear in mind that the longer your war goes on the more damage you do to each other. Damage which costs you much in terms of lives and materials.”

“I understand this all too much,” Adams replied with a shake of his head. “This is why I hope that our forces will deliver a decisive victory soon so we can put this miserable war behind us and move forward as a people. Already too much has been lost in this war and I can’t imagine that we can continue to lose any more than we already have. We probably look foolish to your people,” he stated as he looked back to Regina.

Regina shook her head quickly, sending her short purple hair waving with the motion, “Not at all really. Our people too fought a war very similar to yours, but it was only on our own planet before we went to the stars. Out of that war came our United Kingdom of Zalta. We understand what it means to have a united front but at the same time I would much rather see your people come to terms with the ACF by peaceful means.”

“We will, after our victory.”

“You seem very certain of that Mr. President.”

The president pursed his lips in thought before answering. “You yourself said that you fought a war to create the kingdom you have now. It created a world nation for you that you eventually took to the stars. I’m hoping for a victory such as that as well. I firmly believe that the Human Federation will win though, no matter what the so-called Allied Colonies for Freedom do. They are renegades and rebels, nothing more.”

Regina narrowed her eyes at him, unable to believe the level of hate that oozed in his voice. From what she could hear in his voice the president didn’t just want to win against the ACF, he wanted to crush them utterly and completely. She thought back to the recent election which saw Mark Adams losing. People blamed him for the war and for the colonies that seceded from the union. They blamed him for the failures. But that was no reason to feel such contempt and hate for those who broke away and to this day still said that they wanted to be left alone. He was taking the war against the Human Federation as a personal insult and that was dangerous in a leader. It could lead to very unfortunate consequences which couldn’t be predicted.

Suddenly Regina wasn’t so sure about working with the Human Federation, but her queen gave her the task of opening a meaningful dialogue with them. Surely not all people in the Human Federation felt the way the president did. She was hoping that the president-elect and the new congress would be more open to reason and less hateful.

Shaking such thoughts from her head as they entered the presidential office she looked around at the calm simplicity of the room. In such an elaborate palace the room looked decidedly out of place. There was a battleship of a desk from which the president carried out his duties. Behind it was a high-backed black leather chair. In front were three more such chairs and directly in front of the door were two couches that faced each other perpendicular to the desk. Between the couches was an end table with a large vase upon it with bright sunflowers set in it. The carpet was blue and in the center of it was the large seal of the Office of the President of the Human Federation. All-in-all the room was almost a near replica of the Oval Office in the White House in Washington D.C. with the exception that the room was square.

The president waved the human officers and the Zaltaens to the couches and chairs while he himself went around the desk to sit in his own chair. He leaned forward and running his hands over his face he took a deep breath. “I guess this isn’t at all how I expected the first contact with an alien species to occur.”

That evoked a chuckle and a smile from Regina. “I guess it isn’t. Most of your science fiction literature and movies depict aliens coming down to Earth on one of their ships or a human ship stumbling across an alien ship somewhere in deep space.” Regina turned thoughtful for a second or two. “That actually happened to us one time. We found another race by accident.”

President Adams and the officers in the room stared at their alien guests. “You mean there are more aliens out there?”

“Of course,” Regina answered casually. “It would be the height of hubris to think that there are only one species in the universe that the Creator has made. There are many, many other races out there.” She reached into her pocket and brought out a device. She laid it on the table and with a touch of a button, a hologram leaped into being above it. The Milky Way Galaxy almost filled the entire room as the Zaltaen ambassador manipulated the controls. It was a much smaller holographic device than any human one. Regina pointed out a spiral arm of the galaxy and an area that extended a bit inwards toward the galactic core. In the areas she was pointing to, bright blue dots appeared. “This is Human Space as I’m sure you’re aware of from your own star charts. Some of these star systems are of course uninhabited but they’re still a part of Human Space.”

With a few more touches of the buttons, a set of bright green dots appeared further out into the galaxy, stretching to the galactic northwest along the rim and in deeper toward the core. “This is Zaltaen Space along with that of our allies. As you can see we control an area much bigger than your own.” One dot was brighter than all the others and she pointed to it. “This is the Zalta System, about one light century from the Sol System. With our hyperdrives, we’re able to transit from Zalta to Sol in about three of your weeks.”

She reached out again to touch the dot that indicated the Zalta System and in much the same way human holographic systems worked it brought up an inset window to display more details about the system. A bright F6 star was orbited by seven planets and two large asteroid belts. Regina indicated two planets in the system, both directly across from one another separated by the star. “We’re still not exactly sure how our star system formed in the way it is but Zalta Four can actually be thought of as two planets. Zalta IV-A is our homeworld and the capital world of the United Kingdom of Zalta.”

“Zalta IV-B wasn’t discovered by our people until we achieved space flight because all year round one cannot observe the one planet from the other. The two planets have a strange orbital pattern that keeps the two in an almost perfect one-hundred-eighty-degree line with each other around the star. Zalta IV-B is half a light minute closer to the star and has more water on it. The much more favorable climate there turned the planet into a resort world that was at first only for the rich and powerful but has since been opened to all. The royal family maintains a large palace there as a ‘summer home,’” Regina ended that with a chuckle as well.

She reached back up into the hologram to touch the inset window to close it. “I’ll get back to that later but for now it goes without saying that the Zalta System is the most heavily fortified system in our kingdom and has the largest shipyards for the Royal Zaltaen Navy. What I really want to show you is this,” she reached across the hologram to where many more stars glowed a bright angry red color. Those stars were to the galactic northeast of Human Space although Zaltaen Space did come between them except for about three or four that edged close to Humanity’s holdings. The three or four edging toward Human Space alternated between red and green to indicate that those systems were being fought over.

“This Mr. President and officers, here is Vonosh Space. The Vonosh are our mortal enemies and as you can see for yourselves they occupy a much larger section of space than we do. They’re more numerous than us but we’ve held our own against them through a technological edge.” A few touches of buttons and the hologram of the galaxy disappeared to be replaced by two humanoid figures, one male and one female. They were feline in appearance, almost like lions or tigers that stood upright on their hind legs. They looked particularly vicious with their fangs and claws and what appeared to be battle armor on them.

“This is the Vonosh themselves. They are very prideful people. Most of our negotiations with them have been frustrating, to say the least, because of their own sense of superiority over all other races. All we’ve managed to achieve with them are ceasefires for a few of our years. They are physically stronger than we are, and before you ask most Zaltaens are physically stronger than the average unmodified human. They are monsters on the ground in combat and have keen senses that make them more dangerous in space combat. The Vonosh are ruled by Nal’ah’Shan Bonebreaker who holds the titles of Empress and High Priestess of the Vonosh and Chieftain of the Bright Sun Clan.”

A touch of a button and the two figures disappeared to be replaced by a lone figure dressed in very ornate and tough-looking armor with a jeweled scepter in hand. The helmet on her head was frightening in appearance with horns atop it that gave it the look of a demon head. “They are a clan-based society, more of a vast confederation rather than a truly united empire but when the empress speaks she speaks for the whole of the Vonosh. The clans themselves have great amounts of autonomy for their own affairs but when it comes to things that affect the entire race the empress speaks.”

“The empress isn’t the commander-in-chief of her military except under certain circumstances, as strange as that sounds. We don’t pretend to understand their political setup, but their armed forces are under the command of what they call a Warchief of the Vonosh. He or she, we don’t have much intelligence on the current warchief, is appointed by the empress and approved of by their Council of Warlords. In turn, there is also a Council of Chieftains and both councils advise the empress. The councils use a form of democracy for internal matters of state, but they aren’t democratically elected by the Vonosh people. The title of chieftain is hereditary, and the House of Warlords consists only of the highest-ranking warlords from every clan.”

The president spoke up. “What’s the status of your relationship with these…? Vonosh?”

“We’ve been at war with the Vonosh for a little over two hundred of our years.”

Adams paused for a moment to think. “What may I ask makes these aliens so dangerous? If you’re technologically superior to them, what has prevented you from making quick work of them? I imagine that if you have such technology you could wipe them out.”

“Ship-for-ship we have an edge over any of their warships, with better ECM, decoys, and shields. As for weapons, we’re about on par with one another. However, the problem is that the Vonosh do outnumber us. They’re able to out-produce us in terms of tonnage. In actual numerical terms for every ship that we build they’re able to produce something like one and a half, almost two. They can recoup losses faster than we can.”

“Alright, what about simply bringing all of your ships to bear and go on a full-on attack run?”

“Mr. President, we did that in the past and we, as you Humans say, nearly had our asses handed to us. We staged a campaign toward Vie Ossa and got within two or three systems of it before their navy forced us into a slow, grinding retreat to our space. Then just for good measure they pushed into our space and seized about five star systems before the lines settled. It’s been back and forth between us since then.”

All the president’s advisors looked around the room worriedly; the president looked to them as well, trying to project a calm that he didn’t really feel. Here was a race that was obviously superior to the Vonosh on a technological level and they got their asses handed to them. How? Numbers alone shouldn’t be able to win.

“If you’re so technologically superior to these Vonosh as you say you are, then how were they able to defeat you?” Adams asked, not really wanting to know the answer but felt that he needed to know it.

“As I said before, they have keen senses and a warrior’s instinct. They have been able to overcome even our best tactical plans. I already mentioned their numerical superiority.” Regina paused while she watched the human president and his advisors look about the room. “As I said before, they control more space than we do. They also have far more people than we do, far more planets than we do, and far more resources to build warships than we do. That isn’t to say that they outnumber us at every engagement, far from it.”

“Is there any talking or reasoning with these people? There’s got to be a way to convince them that we are no threat to them.”

“To admit to them that you are no threat is to admit that you are weaker than they are. They already consider themselves superior to all other races. So, Mr. President, trying to say that you are no threat would be a grave mistake. That would only open yourselves up for them to conquer you and kill your people. If they’re lucky, your people would die a quick death, if unlucky… they’d be enslaved and forced to build the war machines that they would use.”

“What about talking to these people?”

Regina shook her head sadly. “There is no talk, well mostly. As I’ve said before there have been ceasefires drawn up. Mostly for us to pull back, lick our respective wounds, rebuild, and go back to war a few years later.” She drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It’s their belief that their gods have given them a divine duty to enslave or rid the universe of all inferior species. And of course, all other races other than their own are inferior in their eyes. So, you see Mr. President, there’s no room for true peace with them. They see it as their divine destiny to rule the galaxy. Peace with them will only come at the point of a sword.”

The president sat back and thought about what was said. Slavery? Death? There’d be no way Humanity would stand for being enslaved, none whatsoever. Humanity believed in freedom, democracy, and manifest destiny even. They’d rather die than be enslaved. Humans tended to accept death before dishonor; better to die free than live as a slave; forward the Light Brigade, and all other such sentiments.

“What about hiding from them?”

“If our intelligence reports are correct Mr. President that would be a futile effort.” Regina shook her head. “They already know about you. Your only saving grace at this moment is that according to our intelligence reports, they are building up to attack both of us. They’ve begun small raids into your space, probing your defenses. I’m sure you’ve received reports of ships disappearing, never heard from again on the edges of your space.”

Regina looked about the room at the worry on everyone’s faces. “This is the biggest threat that humanity has ever faced. You’ve got to put your differences aside with the Allied Colonies for Freedom lest you make yourself even weaker than you already are. Every day you fight amongst yourselves makes yourselves easier targets. There are bigger things to worry about than the petty differences that you have with the ACF. The future of your race hangs in the balance, Mr. President.”

Adams stood up and walked about the room with a thoughtful look on his face and his chin in his hands. He came back to Regina and asked. “So why tell us all of this if you know that we have no possible chance for victory against these Vonosh? Why tell us this if you know that we’re going to be dead either way you look at the situation?”

“Because Mr. President,” Regina replied. “There’s still a chance for victory. We come to you, not just you, but Humanity in general, to help us rid this galaxy of the biggest threat it’s ever seen. Humans and Zaltaens, as well as our other allies, united in arms, maybe enough to push the Vonosh back and force them to surrender.”

“But you said they have more resources, more ships. Am I correct in stating that?”

“Yes,” Regina nodded her head, “I did say that. But there’s one thing that we’ve observed about Humanity over the past four hundred of your years, and that’s your tenacity to overcome all odds. We watched you as a race nearly destroy yourselves during World War Two and Three. We watched you ravage your planet and nearly turn it to dust around you. But, despite all that, you managed to pull yourselves up by your bootstraps and rebuild yourselves. That, Mr. President, is what we need for a victory against the Vonosh; that tenacity, that zeal, that strength, that raw determination to overcome all the odds against you. Mr. President, Humanity’s greatest strength is what will make such a victory possible.”

“That and the fact that I am here to say that regardless of what happens to your people, your people will be safe. My Queen has given me the authorization to state that we will allow for human military bases and quite possibly human cities for civilians to live in on our homeworld of Zalta IV-A. In fact, we have a great many of our other allies living on our planet; sad to say that many of whom are the last of their people.”

The president and his advisors looked at each other. What was once an atmosphere of doom and gloom now looked not quite so bad; maybe Humanity had a chance.

Regina looked about the room at everyone else, making eye contact with each of them. “Mr. President, it’s the belief of my Queen and the government of the United Kingdom of Zalta that it would be in the best interest of both of our peoples to formally sign an alliance. Not only would that solidify our friendship but it would also send a message to the Vonosh that you are united with us. One such agreement is being proposed to the Allied Colonies for Freedom as we speak, the Corporate Republic of Sirius, and the… I believe that it’s called the Free Republic of Midas.”

“Excuse me? An alliance with the Allied Colonies for Freedom?”

“Yes Mr. President,” Regina replied. “When I say Humanity, I don’t mean just the Human Federation. In fact, right now we have others contacting the ACF, Sirius, and Midas as we speak.” She paused for the murmurs of shock to die down.

They’re talking with the ACF as well? Well, why shouldn’t they, Captain McNealy thought, the Zaltaens are their own people and free to talk to whomever they please. It’s not like they need our permission to talk with the rebels or other independent powers.

“The Human Federation and the ACF will have to put their differences aside and come together as one force if you expect to come out of the inevitable war that will start between Humanity and the Vonosh. The future of Humanity depends upon you putting all of that aside,” Regina said.

Adams shook his head and held a hand up palm out. “Regina, not to be insulting or anything of the sort but right now I don’t think the ACF or our people will lay aside our arms that easily. Many of our people have lost friends and loved ones in this war already.”

“I’m not trying to downplay the sentiments between your two governments. I understand that you’ve been fighting for over a year and that putting your differences aside is going to be difficult. But know this, if you don’t you’ll be looking at the destruction of Humanity as you know it.”

“Alright,” Adams sighed, already sensing the enormous amount of work ahead. “I’ll have to bring all of this before Congress. Everything you’ve told me, as well as make a public statement that Humanity isn’t alone in the universe. That’s a lot to do right now. Congress has to be the one to draft a peace treaty between us and your people.

“Although I do think that even with this threat peace with the ACF may only come through war. The fighting has reached a level in which we just can’t simply call it quits and return to the status quo antebellum. To do so would actually be to make them return to the Human Federation.” Adams grimaced and went on with a touch of the anger he felt toward the ACF creeping back into his voice. “The way I see it, and I do apologize in saying this, this war will only end in one way. Either we win or they do. It’s as simple as that. No outside power is going to convince both sides to just stand down from the fighting and say, ‘Well, we’re done.’ Alien threat or not.”

“I understand that all too well Mr. President,” Regina answered with a deep, regretful sigh. “A united Humanity would be best but I can see how… difficult it would be for both sides to just put aside everything at this point, however favorable it would be for both sides.” Regina sighed again and went on, not wanting to say what she had to say next, knowing what it would imply. “I almost don’t want to say this for fear that it may only prolong the fighting. But our reports suggest that the Vonosh won’t be ready to make any decisive moves on Human Space for a few of your years. They’re still focused on us and we’ve just launched an offensive against them to take back two of our systems. They’re too concerned with us right now. As for your Congress, our parliament works in much the same manner.”

“I thought your government was a monarchy.”

“It’s a constitutional monarchy actually. We have two houses of our government that serve purposes, not unlike the House of Commons and the House of Lords.”

“I see,” Adams paused, “so you have an idea of how government bureaucracies can be and the inefficiencies they have.”

“Sadly, I know all too well about those inefficiencies. Getting this alliance idea and the details of the alliance, hammered out as you Humans put it, was like trying to… tell me if I am getting this right, like trying herd cats.”

Adams chuckled mirthlessly. “That’s correct. The decision to sign such an agreement is ultimately up to the Secretary of State and the Senate. Putting my signature on it is but one step in the signing of the alliance. Obviously, I’d like to know what kind of situations that signing such an agreement would get the people of my government involved in. What would you ask for in return? Will there be an exchange of technology? Will you be setting up some form of official representation on this planet? An embassy perhaps? Will we have embassy rights on your planet?”

Regina sat back and thought for a moment. She was there during the agreements in the two governmental houses while they were writing the proposal. That didn’t mean that she remembered every finite little detail, or was even privy to such details. She thought back to when they were arguing in the two houses and had to filter out the bickering.

“Yes, a series of embassies will be set up for the Human governments on our planet. We’ll also have embassies on your capital worlds as well. We’ll also extend basing rights to all parties and allow for each member state to establish space facilities in some of our star systems, along with bases and civilian cities on the ground. At first, there will be no exchange of technology but I’m sure that will come with time. Right now, we’re disinclined to share any technology with a divided Humanity, seeing as how you’d probably turn that technology on each other in your war. But that won’t stop us from seeking a Status of Forces Agreement.”

“I see,” Adams replied. “Anything else that you think I should know about?”

“Well, since our two peoples will eventually be fighting side-by-side in an inevitable war between the United Kingdom of Zalta, its allies, together with Humanity against the Vonosh, my Queen has asked for a form of crew exchange.”

“Crew exchange?” he asked. “What do you mean?”

“Sir?” Captain McNealy spoke up. “I do believe that Regina is talking about a form of agreement in which Humans will serve on Zaltaen ships and Zaltaens will serve on our ships. I’ve personally seen what they have in mind. Although I think what the Zaltaens really mean, is that we’ll see formal exchanges of personnel that’ll serve in each races’ armed forces, but maybe not on the same ships. Ground-based assignments on well-guarded planets would be ideal.”

“Oh,” Adams replied as he turned back to Regina. “I see,” the president thought for a moment. “As Commander in Chief, I don’t see a problem with that kind of agreement. I think many would welcome the chance to see how the military of another species functions.”

“Speaking of an exchange of crew, I would like to introduce you to one such person that has served among you in the Space Force ranks for nearly fifteen years.” Regina looked to Lona who was sitting in the back. “Lona of House Sorrta, has been among your ranks for fifteen of your years.”

Everyone looked to Lona who looked a bit out of place for she was a Zaltaen but she was wearing a Space Force uniform.

The president spoke up. “You mean to say that you have had your own people serving among our ranks? How so?”

Regina looked to Lona and she nodded her head. She pressed a button on her belt and suddenly she looked very much human. “We call this optical camouflage. With this technology, you would be completely unaware of one of us among you.” Regina nodded her head and Lona dropped the disguise.

“As you saw, you would not have even known that one of my people was among you. We have hundreds of my people in your ranks, your government, and even some living among your typical civilians.” She paused. “Lona has been serving as an officer on the Copernicus Lunar Base. I am here to request that she, despite that she is an alien among your people, be reinstated as an officer on that base.”

“I see,” the president thought. “She was removed from command?”

Captain McNealy spoke up. “Yes sir, she was removed from command for I did not feel that it was up to me to decide her fate once her real self was revealed.”

“I see,” the president thought again. “Well, as the Commander in Chief of the Human Federation Space Force and of the other many military branches that make up the whole of the Human Federation military, I have decided that perhaps it would be best to reinstate Lona as an officer on the Copernicus Lunar Base.”

Lona breathed a sigh of relief; she had gotten to know many people on that base and would have hated to not be part of the team that protected the world that she had adopted as her second home. Lona spoke up, “Thank you, Mr. President. I promise to you and your people to uphold the same duty that I swore to do fifteen years ago. That is, to protect your world which in some ways, has become my home away from home.”

Captain McNealy looked to Lona. “Well then, I can’t argue with my Commander in Chief. He has reinstated you. When I and my other officers disembark to go back to the Copernicus Lunar Base, you will be on that shuttle. Though I do warn you, you may encounter some apprehension among my other officers. You are, after all, an alien.”

Lona nodded her head. “I understand sir, I will do what it takes to regain the trust of the other officers in your command. Though I don’t think it will be as difficult as you say it will be. I have gotten to know a great many of your people, they’ve come to trust me. Even though I am an alien, I am still the same person that they’ve known for the last year that I have been posted to that base.”

“Well then,” Regina stood up and extended her hand for the president to shake. “I’d like to say that this meeting has been productive and I look forward to the official signing of the alliance between our two great peoples.”

“As do I Regina,” the president shook her hand again. “But now, more pressing matters of State have come up and I will have to bid farewell to you for the time being. Although, I do have one final thing to add about this first contact situation we have on our hands now.” The president wasn’t sure if the Zaltaen ambassador was going to like what he was about to say. He’d been having a nagging suspicion about the aliens ever since he’d been told that they’ve been among Humans in secret all this time.

“Madam Ambassador, I don’t think that it’d be exactly wise to tell Humanity that your people have been hiding among us as you’ve been. I can see it now. There would be mass panic, hysteria, paranoia, fear, maybe even outright anger and hate.” Adams spread his hands apologetically when Regina looked back at him. “You’ve seen Humans at our best and our worst. If your people studied us for as long a time as you claim, then you already know that Humans can be an awfully bigoted and close-minded people. Don’t get me wrong, as individuals Humans are great and would probably be very welcoming of your kind but people and society are two different things. We can inform certain aspects of our people that you’ve done so but I don’t think the average man on the street needs to be told this.”

“Mr. President, your words are sincere and for that, I do thank you. Don’t think that we cannot be the same. To insinuate that my people are above such things would be arrogant and self-serving. But you’re right; I don’t think we need to tell everyone that we have watched your species in secret.” She chuckled mirthlessly. “I can already think of the problems we will have when we do go public that we exist at all.” She turned to face him and gave him a smile. “I have to talk to my government as well and inform them of the progress that we’ve made.”

“I’ll have someone show you to a set of quarters in the palace that you can use.”

“Thank you.”

Hours later the president was in a meeting with Carl Templeton, his Secretary of State, going over details of how they were going to start accommodating an alien embassy on Earth. It wouldn’t be easy and of course, the Zaltaens would have to provide their own embassy guards within their compound. Human police could patrol outside of the facility to deter anyone from gaining entrance to the place. The biggest problem the two of them saw was the question of where to put the embassy itself. Abu Dhabi was probably the most logical location, seeing as how Sirius and Midas kept their embassies there as well. New York City, however, did have the benefit of being one of the most secure cities in the entirety of the Human Federation. Its immense size and proximity to Congress made it a close second choice.

There was a quiet knock on the door to the Square Office as it’d come to be known among staff and visitors to the presidential palace. The two men looked up at the sound before the president’s secretary, a woman by the name of Jennifer Tillman, opened it. “I’m sorry for disturbing you Mr. President but there are three people who say that they have urgent matters to discuss with you.”

Adams looked to Templeton, “Well, I guess this can wait for a bit while this ‘urgent’ business is attended to. Stay though. We can continue planning after whatever this is over.”

Adams rose from his chair behind the desk as Tillman ushered in Erica Thurman, the Secretary of Defense, Greg Compton, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and a man by the name of Herman Fischer from the nametag around his neck. He came around the desk, mildly curious how someone like Fischer could get such an immediate meeting not only with the president but the Secretary of Defense as well, completely unannounced. Thurman didn’t keep him waiting long at all as she began, “Mr. President, I bring you Doctor Fischer, Ph.D., from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.”

Adams extended his hand to the professor who returned the handshake. “Hello Mr. President,” the man said as Adams directed him and Thurman toward the two couches in the room. “Thank you for seeing me at such short notice.”

If the president’s response wasn’t as tactful as it could be that was because nobody informed him of what this was all about. “May I ask why I’m seeing you?”

The professor’s cheeks flushed with the knowledge that he wasn’t forthcoming with what he was here for. “Mr. President, I was sent by the director of Astrophysics at Caltech in response to the…,” he cleared his throat briefly before going on, “visitors that we have in lunar orbit.”

Adams’s breath briefly caught in his throat before he leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees and peering over the top of his folded hands at the professor. “How is it that your colleagues already know about the visitors? It hasn’t been announced, our fleet and installations are under strict orders to not discuss it over coms, and the fact that they’re even in lunar orbit has been kept top secret and highly compartmentalized. Only a few in my cabinet even know of it yet.”

Fischer flushed even deeper red before he responded. “Well Mr. President, you may or may not know that your Science Minister also holds tenure at Caltech, particularly in the Astrophysics Department. Mr. Bergman knows that what he revealed to us is highly classified but he went through the proper channels with the Defense Intelligence Agency to get us read in on about the visitors, therefore Mr. Compton has also joined us. It was rather quick to be read in mind you, but Bergman wanted as many people looking at these alien ships as possible. It doesn’t help that just about every freighter, shuttle, space yacht, and anyone with a telescope can see them.”

“To get to the reason I’m here is that we’ve been pouring over the sensor data that your Secretary of Defense provided us.” At the president’s alarming expression at Thurman, the professor went on before Adams could say anything. “Again, we were cleared for it by Mr. Compton. That took a little more time with the DIA. However, because your office will most likely be going public about the aliens in due time it was only logical that we get a head start at working on the sensor data that would’ve been provided to us by private means after you went public with the knowledge that we aren’t alone in the universe. Admittedly the military-grade sensors are a lot better than what civilians have access to so we’ve got a treasure trove of information.”

Compton laid out a folder from his locked briefcase with the proper security clearance tags on the front and back and out came numerous documents and actual images of the alien ships. Almost everything in the folder was marked TOP SECRET with proper caveats on the tops and bottoms of the pages. The professor picked up one and started reading. “Mr. President, what I and several other professors have seen is that these alien ships are capable of generating energy fields around their ships which are not only capable of blocking out particles, but energy as well. It’s sort of like how our own warships are able to generate a low-level magnetic field to deflect space particulates and keep dust from collecting on their hulls.”

Adams shook his head which got the attention of Fischer, “I’m sorry Mr. President, did you get all that?”

“Yes, I did professor,” the president admitted. “However, I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean. I’m not an astrophysicist after all. So please, can you explain it again with the help files on?”

The professor gave a very academic look that gave the impression the professor just realized he was talking to a mere mortal, not some ivory tower intellectual back at Caltech. The president was about to comment on that but Fischer shook himself and started again. “Simply put Mr. President, these aliens are capable of producing honest-to-God shields around their ships. These shields can keep anything from lasers to nuclear weapons from striking their hulls.”

The president sat back on the couch heavily. “You mean to say that our weapons can’t touch them?”

Fischer shook his head, almost violently. “That’s not what I said. I mean to say that their ships can produce these fields using… let’s call them shield generators for lack of a better term. These shields don’t make their ships invulnerable. The concept of that is silly. Rather, it would take a significant amount of energy to pierce their shields and produce hits on their hulls.”

“How much energy?” Thurman asked. Her military mind was already processing this new information to try and see if she could spot a weakness.

“On the order of some of our lasers and grasers of course,” Fischer replied easily. “The sizes of their ships also determine the strength of their shields. You could only put so big and powerful a shield generator into a ship’s hull and not consume an unacceptable amount of energy and space.”

“If our ships were to fire enough of their energy mounts or missiles at the alien ships it would be enough to knock down their shields.” Fischer then shrugged, “although, without proper testing, real-world experiments, or any other data to go off of we’re only making what some in the academic field refer to as a SWAG.”

“A SWAG?” the president echoed.

“Yes,” Fischer answered, “A Scientific Wild Ass Guess.”

Silence dropped over the entire room for about two seconds before everyone in there started to snicker and then laugh at the professor’s joke. Not that what he was talking about was funny in the least, but rather at how even scientists could find humor.

Three weeks after the official meeting between the Zaltaen Diplomatic Envoy and the President of the Human Federation, the vice-president, the secretary of state, Regina of Zalta, and Congress were scheduled to meet. Regina was impressed with New York City when they arrived in the legislative capital. She’d seen pictures of the megacity, but it was another thing to see it in person.

“Am I to understand that your Congress hasn’t been told of the arrival of my people?” Regina asked as she stood in front of the giant door that led into the halls of Congress. The president turned to her and replied, “Yes, they haven’t been told yet. At least not through official channels. The same goes for the average citizen.” Regina frowned. “As soon as we have the alliance signed and it’s all nice and legal, we will be officially informing the people of the Human Federation that we have made first contact with an alien race.”

“I see…,” Regina replied slowly.

Inside the halls of Congress, there was a call for silence. She was still confused as to why the president held off on announcing first contact for so long. She’d have thought that he wouldn’t be able to wait to do so but instead put the Zaltaens up in one of the smaller palaces within the Presidential Palace complex for the past three weeks. It was a luxurious time and the president went out of his way to be as good a host as could be, inviting the group to enjoy fine dining and touring Abu Dhabi while using their optical camouflage.

Meanwhile, in the halls of Congress, someone spoke into a microphone as the doors to the chamber of the House of Representatives were opened. It was the only chamber large enough to accommodate all of Congress in a joint session. “The President of the Human Federation.”

“You ready Regina?”

“I have done this kind of thing for years on my planet. This is no different and long overdue if I may say so.”

“Alright,” the president replied, ignoring the verbal jab the ambassador had delivered. Together with the vice-president, the Secretary of State, and Regina walked into the hall. As soon as Regina stepped in, gasps could be heard from everyone in the hall. All eyes in the room were on Regina who soon found herself, even though she’d said that she did this kind of thing for years on her planet, nervous for the first time in her life.

“I thought you said you wouldn’t be nervous?”

“Yes,” Regina looked about the hall where hundreds of people were staring back at her. “Yes, I remember telling you something like that. But, I’m not afraid to admit that yes… I’m quite nervous right now.”

“Is it because of all of the stares that you’re getting?” Regina nodded her head. The president looked to the members of the Congress and then back at Regina. “Yeah, I can see why. If stares were lasers, you’d be dead right now.”

“If you were trying to make me laugh, you’re doing a bad job of it,” Regina replied sharply.

“I was just trying to lighten the mood.”

Regina sighed and looked to the president. “Nice try.”

The president then walked forward towards the podium, adjusted the microphone and began his speech. “People of the Human Federation, today I’m very pleased to tell each and every one of you that we are in fact, not alone in the galaxy. Approximately three weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting with a diplomatic envoy from the United Kingdom of Zalta. Today I present to you, the good people of the Human Federation, the official ambassador to Earth from the United Kingdom of Zalta.” The room fell silent. The president motioned for Regina to come forward.

Regina silently approached the podium and began to speak. “People of the Human Federation, I’m Regina Sharloc, and as the president of your great nation told all of you before, I’m the official ambassador to the people of the Human Federation. I would like to extend to you and your great nation the hand of friendship to form a long and lasting dialogue between our two peoples. I’ve been in talks with the president and it’s the belief of your president that the Human Federation and the people of the United Kingdom of Zalta should enter into an official alliance that will bring our two peoples closer together.”

The president came forward toward the podium and the ambassador politely stepped aside for him. “Members of Congress, I assure you and those of you all over the Human Federation, there is no need for panic. These people who come from the United Kingdom of Zalta only want to form a lasting peace between our two peoples.”

Speaker of the House, a Conservative by the name of Michael Benton came forward to the podium. “As Speaker of the House, the presiding officer of the House of Representatives, I’d like to welcome you, Regina, to our hallowed halls of Congress. For hundreds of years, even before we set foot among the stars, we wondered if we were alone in the galaxy. Today we’ve learned that we aren’t alone in the galaxy. And today,” he turned back to Regina and then back to the microphone, “I’d like to extend the hand of friendship from the people of Congress and the people of the Human Federation. I’m sure that I speak for everyone in this room that we’d like to form a lasting friendship with the people of the planet Zalta.”

Continue to Chapter 10…