The telescope Walsh was straining to look through with his bad eye suddenly revealed something very odd. He switched to his good eye, now that he remembered he should. There was metallic motion everywhere he looked, from the vast cities to the remote tips of the poles. Reluctantly, he gave up on the scope and turned on the digital display. It was easier to read, but like watching a vid instead of being there, experiencing space. There was no sign of organic particles independent of a lot of metal molecules. Readings showed everything in motion had a small number of DNA molecules and a lot of iron, gold, copper, nickel, and trace elements.
Time to get onto the bridge, he thought. As much as he’d love to delve into the research on this in detail, what they needed right now was basic info that his staff was well qualified to give him. With an inner sigh, he left his sanctum under the stars to head to where he had to direct all the action. Gone were the days when he could fly amongst the twinkling lights with only his instruments and samples of space debris. He was responsible now for a hundred and ninety nine – no, they’d lost a couple – ninety-seven lives.
“Panther,” he said as soon as he’d lighted from the stairs, “there are some kind of mobile beings down there. Possibly working closely with androids, drones, or machines. See what you can do about contacting them.”
An hour later, Panther said, “Ah hah! Sir, I found a frequency delivering a generic message. It’s the only one they’re listening to besides the Poid frequency. Odd. I’ll work on translating.”
Walsh looked over his shoulder with interest. “Good work.” He moved away to let him work, sitting on the bench circling the central holo display.
It was two hours and twenty minutes before Walsh, who was forcing himself not to hover, got more.
“Bad news, Captain. The message basically says they have an AI controlled planetary defence system that will disintegrate any Tasla or Poid vessels who don’t heed the warning to leave immediately. It doesn’t say what happens to anyone else who hangs around.”
Walsh grimaced when, as he’d predicted, there was the familiar clicking steps and faint floral scent from behind. He turned. “Yes, yes,” he said to his boss. “Before you make a big inspirational speech, I agree. We need to contact these beings, which means going down there. May I suggest we send an S6 party to reconnoitre before you go to try to talk?”
The Ambassador slowed her gait, a little nonplussed. “I wasn’t aware I gave that many big speeches, Captain. You’re right, though, except I was planning to go along with Woon’s Sixer force.”
Panther interjected, “Sir. One plus to their obsession with those two frequencies. They should be unaware of a Hygiea cruiser going in and landing.
Walsh frowned. “Panther, are you taking sides?”
Panther put up his hands. “No, sir! I’m just giving information! The Taslamin, as the Poids call them, are only looking for specific ship profiles. One of them is of the Poid ships we encountered. Two of the others are the Tasla Shadowstar and Crescent ships we spotted from the Earth Coalition Space Center before the Tasla bot invasion.”
“Thankyou, Panther,” Walsh said. “Ma’am,” he said, turning back to the Ambassador, “Can we add an Emergency Medical Technician to your planet party?”
“Good idea,” Karen said. She thumbed through her Pocod. “I’ll message Jasper Grass.”
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