First Contact Last
By D. R. Crowley
I was lying in the wet grass behind our eighteen-inch tall sandbag fire line with my seventy-millimeter autocannon snugged up tight to my shoulder. The buggers stood a little over two hundred yards away, an easy shot. Three-legged, three tentacled, weird looking creatures that scintillated like a hyperactive aura borealis, just standing out in the open. Easy targets. Either they weren't afraid of us or they weren't the brightest bulbs in the pack.
My squad was spread out to either side of me, five men on each side. Corporal Heath squatted beside me and patted my shoulder. I looked over at him and said. "Remember Heath, no one shoots until I give the order." The Corporal was a good soldier. I knew he would keep the squad calm and cool, and that was how they needed to be right now. The last thing I wanted was for one of my squad to get itchy and start a shooting war with a species we knew nothing about.
This was supposed to be an easy run for us. We were to drop on Algol 2, a nice Earth-like planet ninety some light years from Earth, and set up a forward military base. The idea was to try and flank the rebel colony on Iota Persei 4. As plans go it was a good one, but, as is so often the case, it fell apart.
Within hours of our arrival, nine alien ships showed up. I had never seen anything like them but they reminded me of some kind of three-sided tent stake. They were long, thin, and beautiful, shivering in an endlessly moving pattern of iridescence.
I'm not sure what all the old men tried. I know they tried to talk to the aliens and my guess is they would have used every known radio frequency and probably even coded light beams. Nothing worked. Either the buggers didn't understand us, or they never even heard us, or they just weren't in the mood to talk. We wasted two weeks orbiting the planet trying to talk to them before the old men decided that maybe we should just go ahead with our business. We were sounded into landing position and my squad and I gathered with the rest of the grunts and got ready to do our job.
Closed up in our disembarkment bay we felt the landing start. The ride got rough, like it always does as you enter the atmosphere, and then suddenly we were slammed down in our seats and the ship rose back into orbit. Twice more the landing started and was suddenly aborted, and then we were all ordered out of the bay and back to our stateroom.
Ten minutes later our lieutenant briefed us. Seems that every time we tried to land the aliens would move one of their ships in our way. They didn't fire on us; we didn't fire on them. They just blocked us so that we couldn't land.
We spent the next six days double-timing between the D.B. and our staterooms while the navy pukes tried everything they could think of to get us on the ground. The theory was if we could get on the ground and maybe see the aliens face to face maybe we could figure out a dialog. I personally wasn't big on hope, but that is why I'm a sergeant and they are officers, right?
Finally, on the seventh day, we made it down. Three ships managed to land out of our twelve, two transports and a light cruiser. Lucky me, my squad was on the second transport to land. As soon as we hit dirt we were out and digging in. The aliens showed up five minutes later and we already had our eighteen-inch sandbag fire line established around the three ships. A hundred and forty trained men can accomplish a hell of a lot in five minutes when they don't know if they're about to be killed or not.
So there we were. We stared at them and they ... well hell, I don't know what they did. To me it seemed they just stood there. They didn't build embankments or defenses, and I didn't see any weapons at all. They never approached or made any threatening moves toward us. In fact, there were only about twenty of them outside the ship at any one time, and they seemed to just come out, mill around for a while and then go back inside.
We tried to talk to them via loudspeaker, using every trick our officers could come up with, but this was the first time we had encountered an intelligent alien species. Oh sure, humans had found life on other planets. The galaxy is teeming with life of every shape and size but up until then it had all been primitive, nothing that had developed intelligence to any degree. I guess after being in space for nearly a hundred years, we had become so arrogant as to think we were the only intelligent species in the galaxy. That's why we were so completely unprepared for a first contact situation. It probably didn't help that we were military. If we'd had a few eggheads aboard then maybe we could have figured out how to talk to the buggers. Maybe not though, the eggheads still haven't figured it out.
We were on that planet for forty-eight hours and hadn't made any progress so finally Major Whitman decided to try a more direct approach. He had the ship mechanic build a stand on wheels with six rows of colored lights. I guess he thought that since they shimmered different colors all the time maybe that was how they talked. The Major and two captains rolled that little cart out about halfway between our ships and theirs. My squad was a little to the left of center and we had a good line of fire at the aliens if they started something, but we had orders to hold our fire until fired upon.
When Major Whitman turned the machine on the aliens spun to face us and stopped shimmering. They all stood completely still for a good six seconds and it looked like we finally had their attention. The Major flipped a switch, starting some kind of mathematical progression with the lights and the aliens suddenly got all excited and began to bounce up and down. I swear every single one of them lit up like a laser light show and then a wide green beam flashed out of the alien ship and covered Major Whitman and the two captains, freezing them instantly.
Those three officers stood out there in the green beam, eyes raised to the heavens, arms hanging limp at their sides, mouths gaping open and none of us knew what the hell was going on. Then from behind us a young lieutenant named Bell, started screaming, "Fire, fire, fire!"
At the order to fire, we opened up. Those seventy-millimeter autocannons can make a mess of just about anything, and within a few seconds there were twenty-one dead buggers lying in shreds in front of us. But we didn't stop, we just kept pouring fire at that beautiful alien ship, ripping jagged holes in the outer hull. Then this odd glimmering started. It surrounded their ship and stopped our autocannon slugs cold. The shells didn't ricochet, or disappear they just slowed down until they dropped to the ground. It was an eerie sight and we all just stopped firing, and laid there behind our guns staring like a bunch of schoolboys. A few seconds later a high-intensity red laser flashed out and swept across our fire line. Anyone who had anything important sticking up a little too high died in an instant. We lost sixteen men with the first sweep but at least the laser was only targeting the men on the ground, not the ships.
Behind us, I heard our cruiser's particle accelerator begin to whine. It only took a few seconds for it to ready, but I wasn't sure that it would get through that glimmering shield. It was our only hope though, with the bugger's laser methodically cutting us to ribbons.
Laying there just waiting for that laser to sweep by and cut us in half, I kept telling my men, "Keep your heads down, boys. Stay calm." And I have to give it to my squad they all kept their heads, figuratively and otherwise. Finally, after what must have only been three seconds, but felt like three lifetimes, the cruiser fired. We saw the bugger's shield light up like it was on fire and then collapse and disappear.
Particle accelerator weapons are really designed for space warfare. They accelerate a very small amount of mass to near light speeds. This gives the small mass almost unlimited kinetic energy that easily drills small holes through the hulls of any ship that is in its way. When you are in vacuum explosive decompression does the rest. Here, on planet, there was an atmosphere and the visible effect on the alien ship was negligible. It was probably hulled though, and not able to go back into space, but that didn't do us a lot of good.
With that shield gone, though, we could open fire again with our autocannons. I hollered at my squad to concentrate their fire on the laser weapon and then leaned into my cannon.
There ain't nothin' like the feel of a big seventy bucking into your shoulder as the shells eject over your shoulder. At twenty rounds a second you can do a lot of hurt in a very short time, even to something as big as a light cruiser and that alien ship in front of us was more the size of a small corsair. In just a few seconds we managed to knock out the laser, leaving the buggers basically defenseless. Almost instantly they tried to lift off, but either the accelerator or the hits they had taken from our autocannons caused something to go wrong. The alien ship only rose about two hundred feet or so before it tilted sharply and slammed back into the ground with a massive explosion.
The blast lifted me and threw me back a good twenty feet. Sandbags, guns, and ammo boxes flew into the air as well and something cracked me on the head hard. I almost went out right then, but somehow managed to hold on. When I landed I tried to roll with the impact, but my body didn't react fast enough and I ended up flat on my back. I laid there gasping for air, wishing that I'd died, for several seconds before the cobwebs cleared a little and I was able to roll over and crawl to my feet. The rest of the men in my squad were standing up too and we all just stood there looking at the burning wreckage of the alien ship less than two hundred yards away. Up above us we could see the fight still raging. Several ships were burning and at least one was coming down in a fiery streak.
Major Whitman and the two captains were wandering around the area like they were in shell shock and I swear they were all three crying. Big tears streamed down their faces, and they kept grabbing men and shaking them saying "No. No. No. It's a mistake. It's all a mistake!"
Most of the men were more interested in the battle going on upstairs than three men with their brains scrambled by concussion but when the Major grabbed my arm I turned and looked into his eyes. I tell you, I have seen men stumbling around the battlefield with parts missing or their minds blown away by concussion and these were not the eyes of a man suffering shell shock. He was as lucid as a Sunday librarian.
"Sergeant we have to stop them. It's a mistake! It's a mistake!"
But he and I both knew it was too late to stop the battle, or the war. Maybe it had been too late the day we first walked on the moon. Hell I don't know about things like that. I just know that we did everything we could to talk to them. I think they did everything they could to talk to us. We just didn't have any common ground to start a dialog. It really wasn't anyone's fault, just fate I guess.
The doctors put Major Whitman and the two captains in sickbay as soon as we got back into space and I never got a chance to talk to them again. I understand they are keeping them in some kind of military hospital. They say the buggers scrambled their brains, but I know that ain't true. I think that green beam was the buggers trying to talk to us, maybe even succeeding. It doesn't matter now though.
That first battle lasted less than an hour. When it was over we had lost sixty-one men, out of a hundred and forty on the ground. The fleet up in orbit had lost six ships out of twelve and had four more that would be in space dock for months being repaired. We had won the battle, or at least survived it, and we limped back home to earth with the story of what happened.
Now it's all out war with the buggers. Three months after Algol 2, they wiped out the colony on Iota Persei 4, left nothing but burning wreckage and dead bodies. Eighty thousand human beings, men, women, and children died there. Even though we had been at war with the colonists when it happened, they were still humans and that was all it took to unite all of humanity. This is a war of genocide. The aliens don't take prisoners and we can't keep the prisoners we take alive long enough to learn anything about them other than basic physiology. We can't stop until they are wiped out because they won't stop until we are.
Still, I can't help but think, how different it might have been if our first contact had been made under different circumstances. Maybe it wouldn't have changed anything. After all, we have no common point of reference to even start with, but maybe...