Goldie fired up the engines.  The gravity waves coming from the previous planet were still going strong, but they were pushing her away from the next planet in the system.  She began to cut across the gravity fields and eventually dropped into orbit around the planet.  Some preliminary surface scans showed a vast ocean, with hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of small islands.  Some of them were only centimetres across.  She brought up a more in-depth scan and studied the results.

The largest island was 45 metres wide, 60 metres long, and surrounded by waters deeper than they had any right to be.  Goldie couldn’t imagine the type of geological processes which caused that to happen.  Perhaps it had something to do with the gravity waves coming off the larger planet next door?

Whatever the reason, the fact remained that none of the islands were large enough for her to land the ship on, and the water was too deep to risk landing partially on an island.  She would have to skip this planet and move on to the seventh, and final planet in the system.

“Ah well,” she thought philosophically, “at least it gives me more time to work on my NaNoWriMo entry.”

 

Just kidding.

Here’s the real story:

 

Goldie fired up the engines.  The gravity waves coming from the previous planet were still going strong, but they were pushing her away from the next planet in the system.  She began to cut across the gravity fields and eventually dropped into orbit around the planet.  Some preliminary surface scans showed one massive super-continent covering most of the planet, and a vast array of different species of plant life.  The most exciting thing was a collection of buildings near the equator.  They seemed to be made of complex materials, mostly metal alloys.  Definitely constructed by intelligent hands!

This was the first true proof of alien life that Goldie had come across.  There were rumours of other explorers, other employees of the Company, who had encountered aliens.  Some claimed that if you met aliens the Company would take you away and question you, and you might never see daylight again.  Others claimed that finding aliens got you a huge reward, so large that you retired to live out your life in luxury.  Nobody really knew.  Goldie suspected that nobody had ever actually met aliens before.  Surely they wouldn’t be able to hide it?  Wouldn’t everyone know?

But here was proof of alien intelligence.

These buildings, on a planet which no human had ever set foot on, meant that the human race was no longer alone in the universe.  Provided, of course, that they were inhabited.  Suddenly anxious, Goldie re-examined the scan.  The buildings didn’t show any life signs, but they were, as far as she could tell, complete.  No crumbling edges or caved-in roofs, and the vegetation around them was well-controlled.  Perhaps they were still inhabited.

If that was the case, what should she do?  What if the aliens were primitives and thought she was a devil coming from the sky?  Or what if they were unfriendly?  She wasn’t trained in first contact – but then who was?  Humans had been out in the universe for hundreds of years now, and not encountered any other life forms, how could anyone be an expert in meeting aliens?

The chances were they wouldn’t even recognise her as a life-form.  Her sensors weren’t picking up life-signs from the planet, after all.  If they were that different their sensors probably wouldn’t pick her up either.

Maybe.

Enough dithering.  Her job was to explore the planets that she found, just a quick preliminary survey, and send the data back to the Company.  She couldn’t do it from up here.  Quickly, before she lost her nerve, she punched in a course for the computer to land the craft near the buildings.  While she was waiting she packaged up the data she had gathered so far and sent it off.  The Company didn’t like incomplete data sets like that, normally they insisted on a full system review before any reporting, but if there were aliens, and they were unfriendly, she wanted people to know about it.

The spaceship gently touched down a few hundred metres from the buildings.  Goldie pulled herself into her spacesuit and loaded the bot up with supplies.  Before she stepped out of the airlock she carefully checked the outside conditions.  Reasonable temperature, a nice, non-toxic atmosphere, and gravity well within the expected norms for this planet size.

“Looks like the aliens are all I need to worry about on this planet,” she said to the bot.  It looked at her, but didn’t say anything.  Once more she wished for a decent conversation-bot.  It would make the loneliness much easier to bear.

The airlock finished cycling, and she stepped out onto the planet.  Almost immediately the suit’s external microphone relayed a loud buzzing noise.  It sounded like… crickets?  Or maybe mosquitoes.  She always got those two muddled up in her classes at school.  It’s not like she encountered either of them very often out here.  The source of the buzzing seemed to be the buildings.  Maybe it was the sound of the alien language?  That could make communicating hard.  She set off to walk the short distance to the structures.

As she approached she examined them closely.  They were relatively small, obviously designed for individuals or small groups, rather than huge numbers of people.  The structure seemed to be mostly metal, with small amounts of some other substance mixed in.  She would have to look closely at it when she got there to find out what it was.  She drew closer, and more details began to emerge.  There was no sign of a door on this side of any of the structures, but there were small holes at various heights with a hazy field around them.

She arrived at the nearest structure moments later, and began to circle it slowly.  No matter which side she looked at, there was no sign of a door, or entrance of any sort.  There were only the small holes.  She looked closer at the hazy field and noticed that it was made up of millions of tiny particles, all moving around.  As she watched, she became convinced that there was some sort of purpose to the movement.  Some of the particles were going into the holes, and some emerging.  Every so often a group would go off around the building.  She followed one group and watched as they passed into another opening further around.

It was when a large group of the particles floated past with a small branch held in the midst of the group that she realised what she was seeing.  The particles were alive.  They were working together, somehow transporting things and, presumably, building these structures.  Amazing.

Amazing, yes, but there was no way she was able to do more than observe here.  There was no first contact to be had when she could barely see the creatures.  She couldn’t even say for certain if they were intelligent or not, although the presence of buildings seemed to indicate the possibility.  She took a cursory wander around the rest of the structures, finding them all the same, and then knelt to take some samples of the earth.  With luck there would be some dead creatures in the samples.  That would make the boys in the labs happy.

Disappointed, but slightly relieved that the burden of first contact wouldn’t be falling on her today, Goldie made her way back to the spaceship and left the planet.

 
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