02 March 2012
SO THEN I MET THESE ALIENS
By Curtis C. Chen
"I've been doing a lot of pre-FTL colony digs. Private collectors pay decent money for human artifacts, especially ancestral objects. It's not as exciting as the gun-and-run jobs, but I can't do too many of those anyway, now that I'm some kind of celebrity."
He shoots me a dirty look. I glare back at him. It's not my fault if people like to hear my stories, and he happens to feature in many of them.
"Anyway, some of those old colonies didn't fail because of natural disasters or tech malfunctions. I started finding the evidence two years ago, out in Omega Centauri. Raided settlements, pieces of spacecraft hull that didn't match any human designs. But never any actual remains, no non-human skeletons or anything.
"Then I hit the jackpot. You know the theory that Omega Centauri is not a native star cluster, that it used to be the core of a dwarf galaxy which collided with the Milky Way—"
"Skip to the end," I say.
"Well, that's where the aliens came from. Another galaxy, but a long time ago." Driftis pulls out his mobicom. "I found a habitable planetoid which didn't match the geology of anything else in its star system. I followed this energy reading"—he holds up the mobie, showing a multicolored spectrograph—"to a cavern hiding a three-meter-tall cube with one open face, made of an unidentifiable metal alloy and still drawing power from a geothermal source."
I frown. "And you went in there alone?"
"Who was going to come with me?" he says. "I couldn't even convince you to stay, Cathie."
I look away from his sad eyes, not wanting to have this conversation, and see Lirrina watching me intently. I scowl at her and pull myself back to the current topic.
"So you found this cube," I say, "and it turned out to be, what? A communications device?"
"Even better. A teleporter." Driftis grins. "It took me two days to dig up all the equipment around it, and three more to figure out how to operate it. There were all these symbols etched into the metal—"
"Skip to the end," I say.
"Well, I probably shouldn't have been standing inside the cube, but activating it the first time was an accident. It transported me into another cube, inside a spaceship several thousand light-years away. The aliens there were just as surprised as I was. They looked like—well, like huge, bipedal lemurs. Big round eyes, giant ears, creepy as hell.
"We couldn't communicate at first, of course. They took away my equipment and threw me into a holding cell. I fell asleep, and when I woke up, I was back in the cube on the planetoid.
"Turns out there was a timeout on the sending cube—an auto-retrieve function, a safety feature. My mobie said I'd been with the aliens for about three hours." Driftis shrugs. "I probably should have left the planet at that point, found some backup before returning—"
"You went back?" I shake my head, frowning.
Image: lemur by Andrey, September, 2009