Gabrielle Station

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Gabrielle station was the farthest orbiting satellite in the solar system. It was little more than a giant gas tank, a little ways past Eris. There were a variety of sensors recording various bits of data, but it’s primary purpose was to refuel ships before they made FTL jumps out of the system, and to give returning ships the necessary fuel and co-ordinates to get them back home.

The station only had one resident at a time: an engineer who spent most of his or her time making sure the green light stayed green. Everything on Gabrielle was fully automated, and the engineer was only there in case something went wrong.

When the station was first established, numerous people volunteered. The idea of living at the edge of the system, helping astronauts explore the galaxy sounded romantic. However, an engineer would be lucky if even on or two ships stopped at Gabrielle during a six month post. Many of the earlier candidates were unprepared for half a year of solitude, and needed counseling upon returning to the inner system.

After that initial surge of romanticism wore off, Gabrielle was mostly manned by young engineers looking to pad their resumes, or in some cases, find time to work on post-graduate theses without interruptions. Nobody ever served more than once.

Except Mary. She was on her seventh post on Gabrielle. If regulations didn’t require that astronauts spend at least three months on Earth after any extended time in space, she probably would never leave.

Mary was, simply put, antisocial. If you put her in a room with another person, she would mumble some vague sort of greeting and avoid eye contact. If she found herself in the presence of a dozen or so people, she’d immediately gravitate towards the quietest corner. Any larger congregations tended to send her into panic attacks.

She was a nice enough person, if you were communicating to her over email. She even talked to a few people over instant messengers while she was on Earth.

The time she spent on Gabrielle was her favorite, though. She never had to worry about running into somebody. No co-workers wanting to complain about work, no old college friends and their periodic attempts to “get her out of her shell,” and none of that perpetual fear that someone would remember her from somewhere and want to talk about something. Any missions were scheduled years in advance, so she had plenty of warning, and what little communication was required was usually very formal.

Every “day” she’d inspect the station, and do her mandatory exercises, then she spent the rest of her time reading. Her eBook was loaded with the latest books on aerospace engineering, theoretical physics, and several dozen novels of varying genres as well. She passed the hours in a quiet bliss, calm in the knowledge that there was no chance she’d have to talk to anyone in the foreseeable future.

So when the computer chirped out the “incoming communications” signal, she was understandably confused.

She waited, wondering if it might just be a hiccup in the system. It was possible, however unlikely, for some random bit of static to fit the patterns of a communications symbol.

The signal repeated.

She looked at the monitor. It was a short range radio signal, but it had no identifier code.

Nervously, she pulled the headset on, and accepted the comm.

“This is Gabrielle Station. Please identify yourself.”

“Hello,” came the reply. It sounded tinny, like an old recording that had been copied too many times. “Hi. Good morning. Greetings. Yo.” Each word was in a different voice, all with that re-recorded sound.

“Please identify yourself.”

“Hello, my name is,” it said, then the signal suddenly became clear as an alien voice made a strange sound unlike anything Mary had ever heard before. If she had to reproduce it, she’d have said something like “Greyolik”, but she had the feeling that there were probably entire registers of sound involved she wasn’t hearing. Then the tinny sound came back, again with a different human voice. “Hi, I’m – Greyolik – what’s your name? This is – Greyolik – reporting for duty. My name is – Greyolik – You killed my father. Prepare to die. I’m – Greyolik – pleased to meet you.”

Mary had no idea what to say to that. So, like she always did when presented with a confusing social situation, she turned to her computer.

It had finished running it’s initial diagnosis on the signal. It was simple analog radio, and it originated from less than a hundred miles away. The scanner, however, insisted that there wasn’t anything within a light minute.

She sincerely hoped that the scanner was right, and the diagnostic was encountering some bug.

Clips of Chinese started coming over the communicator. She guessed it was running through strings of greetings.

“They did not train me for this,” she muttered to herself. More Chinese phrases came, now interspersed with that strange “Greyolik” noise.

“No,” she said quickly. “Go back to English. Can you understand me?”

“Hello,” came the same recordings from before. “Hi. Good morning. Greetings. Yo. Hello, my name is – Greyolik. Hi, I’m – Greyolik – what’s your name? This is – Greyolik – reporting for duty. My name is – Greyolik – You killed my father. Prepare to die. I’m – Greyolik – pleased to meet you.”

“My name is Mary,” she said.

There was a pause, then her name was repeated in various voices over the comm. Finally, that strange voice said it. “Ma-ry.

“Are you aliens?”

“Help me!” came across a woman’s terrified scream. “Help! Somebody do something!”

“I can help… I think. What happened?”

There was silence.

“Hello?” she called through the microphone. “Are you still there?”

When the spaceship crept into view of her tiny little window, she toppled backwards out of her chair.

It was made of a dark green metal, porous and uneven. It was shaped in a semicircle, with a large sphere held in the middle by thin struts. Judging from several struts that merely ended, and the ragged edge at one end of the semicircle, there used to be more of it. The lack of anything to compare it to made it difficult to gage its size, but it was definitely as big as any space shuttle Earth had ever sent up there.

Half a dozen alarms went off as various systems argued about it’s distance, lack of identifier codes, and more. The long-range scanner still said there was nothing nearby.

The surface of the alien ship lit up as thousands of tiny purple jets of fire burst out from pockets in the metal hull. They adjusted angles, sending ripples down the ship. When they receded, the ship sat perfectly motionless (at least from Mary’s perspective) a dozen yards away.

“This is is,” and there was another strange sound that could, at best, be described as “Urveki.” It then continued, “Have you met – Urveki. I’d like to introduce you to – Urveki. Urveki – Mary, Mary – Urveki. This is my good friend – Urveki.”

“I don’t understand,” she said, despite her increasing realization how futile this was. The aliens clearly didn’t truly understand English. They couldn’t have more than a broad idea of what they were broadcasting. They had no way of communicating anything beyond whatever basic concepts they had picked up.

Something emerged from the ship, slowly slipping through the vacuum. It was coming directly towards her. The thought that it might be a weapon passed through her mind, but she dismissed it. They wouldn’t have gone through all this trouble if they were just going to kill her.

As the object came closer, she began to make out more details. It didn’t look like any kind of weapon. It was tear-drop shaped and made of that same porous metal the ship was. A circle of what looked like dark glass was in the middle and It had six long, triple-jointed appendages spaced evenly around its sides.

It wasn’t until it had grabbed on to the side of the station that it dawned on Mary that this must be one of the aliens. Urveki, she supposed.

A pair of thicker arms, much shorter than the spider-like legs, unwrapped from the alien’s middle. One of them held a small, round device up to the glass.

Light shone from it, playing a movie on the far wall of the cabin. There were odd gaps in the images – colors outside her vision, she assumed.

The camera sighted down the curved edge of the green ship and out into the star-filled reaches of space. A burst of light, coming seemingly from nowhere, shot past the camera and everything began to shake. Another flashed past, and another, causing the ship to lurch violently to one side.

The scene cut to what she assumed must be the interior of the ship. It was smooth, unlike the outside, and ribbons of light ran down the walls in odd patterns.

She saw more aliens, some covered in metal like the one outside her windows, but others were not. They had quill like fur covering their bodies, and where the dark glass circle was on the space suits, they had one large eye, surrounded by a dozen smaller ones.

They scrambled on those long legs of theirs. Most were fleeing, the panic obvious even in their alien features, while others appeared to be trying to repair patches of the wall, where the lights, or wires, or whatever they were had apparently blown up.

The scene changed again. This time it clearly wasn’t a recording. It looked more like a cheaply done animation. It showed their ship, with stars zipping by at fast speeds. Then, the stars suddenly stopped. The ship lit up with purple flames, and the stars began to move at a much slower speed.

The purple flames disappeared and a round, gray object appeared next to the ship. Mary frowned. She was pretty sure she had followed this so far. The aliens had been attacked and damaged. They had run on FTL, or something very fast, at any rate, but then had to use those slower jets of fire. Then they had run into a planet?

“This is Gabrielle Station. Please identify yourself.” She heard her own voice say from where Urveki had the projector placed against the window.

“Oh,” she said to herself, even as the projector played through the rest of her disjointed conversation with Greyolik. That was Gabrielle Station.

A hexagon came out of the picture of the station and moved on to the alien ship, where it disappeared. The station disappeared and the stars were racing past the ship again.

Turning her headset back on, she called out to the ship. “Mary help Greyolik. Yes. Help me! Yes.” Then, thinking this might possibly help on the off-chance this would happen again, she added, “I will give you fuel. Mary will give Greyolik fuel.”

She had extended the fueling prod, before she realized that the alien ship probably didn’t have a T7 Receptor for it to plug into.

Well, she told herself, If aliens can talk to you in scribbles, you can do the same. She grabbed her tablet and drew a rough sketch of the station and the ship. She showed it to Urveki who tapped an odd pattern on the glass.

“I’m going to assume that means you understand.” She pointed at the extended prod outside the window, then drew a much more detailed picture of it on her tablet. She held it up, tapping on the emergency fuel hose. More tapping.

She cleared the picture and drew what she hoped wasn’t an unflattering picture of Urveki holding the hose, then drew a line connecting it to the ship. Deciding it was safe to assume the hexagon was their symbol for fuel, she drew several small hexagons next to the line with little arrows.

Urveki rapped out another pattern, then pushed off the window to the prod. She raced to enter in the commands to release the hose before he got there.

All in all, it went pretty well. At least, she thought it did. They took almost half of the reserves before Urveki leaped back to the window and started tapping again. She shut off the pumps, and Urveki returned the fuel hose.

The comm lit up again. “Good bye. Bye. Good night. See you tomorrow.”

“Good bye, Greyolik.”

Greyolik’s response was slow, and sounded difficult. “Goood. B-bye. Ma-ry.”

The ship’s purple jets fired up, and it began to move away. It left sight of the window quickly, but she watched it on the short-range scanner until, with a burst of noise, it disappeared completely.

As she started writing up the report to send back to Earth, she couldn’t help but smile at the irony of it. Mary, who had problems talking to her own family, had successfully made a friendly first contact.

Her smile faded when she realized that everyone on the planet was going to want to talk to her when she got back.

Prompt: First Contact at a Refueling Station

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I usually specifically avoid taking prompts from Writing Excuses, but this week’s prompt (provided by listener Bill Housely) sounded so interesting, I’m going to have to steal it.

“A lone woman who runs an orbital refueling post makes first contact when some aliens arrive in desperate need of fuel.”

Good luck and good writing.