In the vastness of the Cosmos there must be other civilizations far older and more advanced than ours.
– Carl Sagan
Luís certainly had gotten a fair bit of work done while I was in the dome with Rudak. Walking back to our habitat, I saw that he’d set up the hydroponic greenhouse some distance away, and had already filled it with water. No small feat, considering that it was big enough to fit Penelope inside, and he’d done it by himself.
Walking up to it, I peered through the thin tarp and checked out the interior. Sure enough, he’d already put the seeds and some young plants in, their green leaves contrasting with the red landscape around it.
Just looking at it made me salivate. We had plenty of rations for our stay, but it’d be nice to have something fresh to eat, instead of rehydrated meals. We could even cook our own recipes, and we had plenty of spices for our stay. It was always good to have a renewable source of food, in case our stay proved longer than expected.
Besides, I could finally get some real tea out of it.
Luís was waiting for me at the airlock, arms folded as he leaned against the wall. His suit was a bit dusty, especially around his boots and gloves, but it was nowhere near as bad as it would’ve been on Luna or Mars.
“Soooooo,” he drawled. “How did your meet and greet go?”
I held up the heavy manuscripts Rudak had given me. “It was… interesting. Very informative, and he gave me some important texts to read.”
“Oh, it’s a guy, huh?”
“More or less. His species has two sexes, at the very least, and he’s the inseminating one. Aside from that, I have no idea how they reproduce.”
“Neat.” Luís pointed to the greenhouse. “I’ve already seeded the thing with some fruits and veggies, along with the bamboo.”
Luís cracked a grin. “Had a feeling you were going to ask that. I set aside a little corner for that; I think Val will appreciate that when she comes down tomorrow, even if there won’t be any results for a while. How long does it normally take to grow tea?”
“Years,” I replied. “Normally, anyway; there have been some gene-modded variants that grow much quicker.”
“I think we have that; I planted some of the shoots, so we might get some ripe leaves in a week.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Now, let’s head in so I can get on the radio. I have something to discuss with everyone.
“It wasn’t them?” Wilhelm asked.
I shook my head. “Unless Rudak is lying, then no. This is the first time a member of his species has even left the planet, let alone place a powerful beacon on another one.”
“It does make sense, I suppose,” he sighed. “We would’ve been able to detect their type of spacecraft, even from light years away. I used to think it was just a matter of not looking hard enough in the region, but this seems like the better answer.”
“Did you get any more information about it from Rudak?” Valentina inquired. “Perhaps his species were able to observe the ones who did place the beacon?”
“They thought it was us,” I replied. “They figured that, since we were capable of interstellar travel, we already visited their system and placed the beacon.”
“Must’ve been a shock when they learned the truth,” Luís said. “I imagine he’s probably reporting back home right now, having a very similar conversation with Alien-Houston.”
“You keep using ‘he’,” Valentina said. “Rudak’s a male?”
“Forgot to mention that,” I said. “I’ll send up the conversation he and I had.”
“That sounds good,” Wilhelm interjected. “But first, there’s a more pressing matter at hand. Unless Rudak is lying, which I don’t see why he would, then we have to deal with the fact that there’s another star faring civilization out there.”
There was a few moments of silence as we all considered that.
“Wil’s right,” Luís said. “Anyone else a little excited and scared at the same time?”
“I think you’re putting it mildly,” Valentina murmured. “It comes with a number of implications.”
“Like the fact that it’s probably far older than us,” I offered. “That’s the only way it could cross interstellar distances without us or Rudak’s species noticing; they came in and placed the beacon long before any of us had the tech to detect them.”
“Or they have a method of space travel that isn’t as flashy as ours,” Wilhelm said. “Although, that’s still a terrifying thought to consider. Is it that they just took much longer to get from star to star, or did they have a method of travel far more advanced than ours?”
“There’s too much speculation, and not enough concrete information to make any conclusions,” I said. “Perhaps none of our ideas are right. Why did the beacon only activate now, if it was placed long ago? Maybe it wasn’t, or maybe something else is at play that we don’t know about. I think the only way to get any answers is to investigate it ourselves.”
“You’re right,” Wilhelm said. “I think we might have to accelerate some of our objectives. Luís, I want you to take Penelope back up to orbit after depositing the rover tomorrow. Valentina and I will come down to better secure the landing sight, and we’ll start to send unmanned probes to the location of the beacon.”
“What do you want me to do in orbit, Wil?” Luís asked.
“Keep on surveying the planet. Look for anything that sticks out of place: unusual rock formations, high radiation levels, anything. If there was a civilization on this planet, we should be able to find the signs from orbit.”
“Try to look for anything that even hints of another drive. If there is a star faring civilization out there, and if they’re relatively nearby, then they most likely saw us heading for this system. They might decide to head over themselves.” Wilhelm paused, then continued. “There are five potentially habitable solar systems within range of the beacon, assuming that it did start broadcasting recently. Look along those parts of the sky; that’s where they’d most likely be coming from.”
“Got it,” Luís said.
“What about me?” I asked. “I’ll need to head down to the site of the beacon myself eventually.”
“And you will,” Wilhelm replied. “Of course, there’s still the matter of, well, the alien species we know is around. We can’t just ignore them while we launch an expedition to the beacon. Chances are, we won’t be heading down for another week. During that time, you need to continue cultural exchange with Rudak. Perhaps he might be able to help us, even; no doubt he’s just as curious as us.”
If Rudak’s reaction was any indication, he probably was. He came off as intensely curious, and a fast learner; perhaps he’d be able to piece together clues before we could. And it would be a good way to foster goodwill between civilizations, if they worked together to solve a mystery…
“Understood,” I finally said.
“Good. Now, I believe Valentina’s still waiting for your recordings.”
I turned my pad back on and transmitted the file. “You should be receiving it any second now.”
“Got it,” Valentina said. “My god… this is a goldmine. I’m going to need an entire day to study all of this, at the very least. Do you think Rudak would lend me samples to examine? Or perhaps he could give you their own biology textbooks to translate, assuming we can also transcribe their units of measurement…”
“I believe he’d be willing, especially if we reciprocate and give him data on our own biology,” I replied. “He expressed a lot of interest about Earth.”
“Now that would be interesting.”
Wilhelm cleared his throat. “In the meantime, we need to prepare for landing. We can discuss this tomorrow, when our heads are clearer.”
Odysseus signed off, and I turned to Luís. He rubbed his eyes and leaned back into his seat, letting out a sigh.
“That was intense,” he said. “I’m going to need a lot of time to think that over, and just generally decompress. And it’s not even noon on this planet yet.”
“We’ve gotten a lot done,” I offered. “I think we’ve earned a little off-time. Eat lunch, maybe we could pull up a movie or something.”
“Maybe we could invite Rudak along,” Luís offered, jokingly. “I’d love to see his reactions to invasion movies.”
I leaned back, absentmindedly scratching my arm. “I wouldn’t recommend showing them, in case he gets the wrong message.”
Luís eyes widened. “It was just a joke. Dear god, don’t tell me you’re seriously considering it.”
“Definitely not today,” I said. “It’d probably be incredibly confusing for him. But… I could see that happening once we’ve learned enough about each other’s cultures. Show him the starts of film, then show him various styles, and so on.”
“Only you could turn movie night into a boring lesson. Never change, Liu.” He got up, then grinned. “I’ll get started on lunch. Want anything specific?”
“Something light,” I said.
I watched Luís duck into the kitchen, then glanced over at the trio of heavy manuscripts Rudak had given me. I hadn’t had the time to start reading them, let alone start on transcription. They appeared to be bound in a thick fibrous material, almost like wood, and there were elaborate symbols on the covers.
Leaning over, I grabbed the top one and pulled it onto my lap. From what I’d seen of their writing system when working on a lexicon in orbit, they wrote from right to left, yet when I opened the book, I saw that the sentences appeared to be vertical. Did they read their books like notepads?
Turning it so that the spine faced away from me, I opened the manuscript again. Sure enough, I could actually recognize a few words in the script, though the writing style was far more stylized than before. It was definitely a curious way of reading and writing, though I shouldn’t have expected anything less from a truly alien culture. Flipping through the pages, I saw that there were a few illustrations thrown in; some looked rather realistic with their depictions of Rudak’s species and the landscape, while others were very abstract.
Grabbing my pad, I pulled up the lexicon, and began to read.