First Contact – Prologue and Chapter 1

We are traveling in an equidistant line with twenty other ships identical to ours; objective, to colonize Mars. Initial trials indicate that there is a good possibility that successful habitation of this planet is conceivable. We are here to prove that life can exist on the red planet, although it won’t be easy. Then again, pioneer life never is. Best-case scenario? That, until we can find a way to establish better atmospheric conditions, we will be forced to live our lives under a dome while an agricultural base is established on the surface of the planet. We have reason to believe that the activity and growth of our presence on the planet will help establish a thicker atmosphere, one capable of eventually sustaining life outside the shells of the domed cities being transported in the shape of the ships we travel in. We are all aware of the fact that no one who is traveling in the mother ships will live to see the planet come to life. We are making this sacrifice for the future of our children.
Five ships have already traveled to the planet to establish home bases and each ship has landed successfully on target to unfold upon the surface. The results have been a string of five cities that are totally functional and beginning to produce tentative signs of becoming self-sustaining. Eventually, trade could be promoted between the cities and eventually Earth. Communications between Earth and Mars are good and everyone is intent on making this work.
The Noah’s Arc will make up the sixth city in the network and expectations are high, as are spirits. We are an agriculturally based unit and the ship has been equipped with all the essentials we believe will be needed to make this community viable. All initial reports have come in on a positive note. We are all looking forward to the completion of the trip, for as breathtakingly beautiful as space is, it is not something most aboard can learn to be comfortable with. The consensus is that mankind was never meant to live a lifetime in space. Most of us have decided we were meant to be a landlocked species. The lack of solid land under our feet has affected everyone; even one of our officers has suffered a minor mental breakdown. Her mental breakdown led most to believe that although short-range travel in space is fine, prolonged voyages are not something we want to consider for long-range projects. Perhaps this will change in the future, but definitely not until we know more about what we are facing.
Lieutenant Noble was the officer who was affected first by the mysterious malady. She claimed she heard a voice calling out to her to change course. This voice reportedly warned that our coordinates were wrong and we would miss the adjustment window to establish a landing pattern unless we saw to the problem immediately. The Lieutenant was taken to sickbay for evaluation with the fear that she could be suffering from a form of space sickness. We have lost almost a dozen members of our crew in this way already. If the Doctor clears her and finds nothing wrong, she would be allowed to return to duty, but that still doesn’t explain the voice. If there is nothing mentally wrong with Lieutenant Noble, does that mean the voice is real? If so, where did it come from? We will look further into that detail at a later date, should the need arise.
It is time to report back for duty on the bridge. We are preparing to start final adjustments to the landing sequences the ship will need to establish our base. Mars looms before us like a giant reddish colored ball and the viewing galleries are filled with spectators. Everyone is excited about the upcoming end to our journey and I agree it will feel good to touch solid ground again.


“We have a slight miscalculation showing in the data banks that will cause a major problem Captain.” Ensign Latimer addressed his superior officer.
Ensign Latimer had been one of the members of the crew who had been drugged and left in a state of suspended animation for over seven months and he was still adjusting to being awake. The error didn’t register on Ensign Latimer’s sleep fogged brain at first, however, as the results of the drug induced coma cleared from his consciousness he noticed the inconsistencies someone had entered into the computer base. This was serious.
“Make the appropriate adjustments to the components to correct the problem.” Captain Tremont responded.
“Already tried Captain Tremont, the ship is not responding.” Ensign Latimer reported.
Captain Tremont stared at the picture on the screen before them and wondered what to expect. Ensign Latimer hadn’t given him the details of what the problem was, or what result it would cause.
Nine months earlier, Captain Tremont had walked onto the deck of the newly crafted spaceship to proudly accept command of the vessel. It had been the sixth of twenty sleepers that were built expressly to colonize Mars. Each ship was scheduled to leave exactly a month apart and, as they were going to sleep through the greater part of the journey, all the information needed to guide the ship through open space was programmed into the navigational computer that would control the ship.
Over fifty thousand people were aboard the ship. Fifty thousand were settlers, people who had placed their blind trust in his ability to land the ship safely upon the planet they planned to colonize. They were the pioneers of this new world, or the new architects of an old world. The debate of whether or not Mars had once been a habitable planet where people lived continued to be an ongoing argument.
They were determined not only to find out the answer, but to develop the surface of the red planet into something that would sustain life.
Each ship was designed to transform into a domed city when it was landed on the surface and every person had undergone rigorous training so they would know what to do when they arrived. There was water under the Martian surface that would help build the foundations of their world. Millions of plants and seedlings had been sent with them; thousands of animals, all chosen specifically to develop the new world. All these things would help create food and a future, though many were housed in the ship that followed in their wake.
The report from the first ship that traveled to Mars had come to them two months earlier. That ship had been named ‘Garden of Eden’ and had landed successfully on the planet’s surface. From that point onwards, they began to get progress reports that they considered promising. The ground they thought virtually sterile was quickly proving to be fertile and that was a big cause for excitement, it held promise for the future.
The first settlers reported that trees which took years to develop and grow, were taking root in the red soil covered by the dome of their city and were flourishing. As rich as the soil of the Earth was, the red landscape of Mars was matching it for productivity. Outside of the dome it was another matter, there the water didn’t flow to the surface to feed the world around them and the cold temperatures froze anything that ventured outside of the walls within moments, for this was the time of the Martian winter.
“These coordinates are wrong Captain,” Ensign Toledo reported as he double-checked Ensign Latimer’s tabulations to make sure no errors were being made on their part. “Either someone has tampered with them or they were wrong before we left Earth.”
Captain Tremont got out of his chair and made his way to the ensign’s station so he could see if what he was beginning to suspect was right. He didn’t panic or rush. He didn’t want to give the impression he was worried. He was concerned, that much was clear, but the last thing he wanted to show the crew was the type of fear the ensign was exhibiting.
Captain Tremont looked over the panels, mentally tabulating the numbers before them. He had expected to find a small error in the readings that would have resulted in a different landing place on the planet. That would not have been the end of the world. Mars was an open planet with lots of potential landing sites that could be chosen. What met his eyes was a glaring mistake, surely the computations were wrong. This wasn’t true, it couldn’t be. He double-checked the numbers even though his instincts told him his suspicions were right on the mark. He stared blankly at the control panel and felt his mouth go dry as his limbs threatened to shake. He knew the numbers he was supposed to be seeing. These were not those, these numbers told him that they were off course by a whole ten percent. That meant they were going to miss Mars altogether. They were headed for deep space. No wonder the ensign looked petrified.
Without saying a word, the Captain reached over the ensign’s shoulder and tried to adjust the coordinates. Nothing happened. He looked at the panel to see if the controls were set on automatic or manual, they were on manual. That adjustment; he knew, had been done by the ensign only moments before he had been alerted to the problem because he had seen them before and they had been on automatic. The ensign had attempted to adjust the ship’s path to get it in line with their landing and to do that he had to place it on manual, everything had been seen to in a correct manner. So what had gone wrong? He stood, slowly made his way back to the Captain’s chair and ran a hand over his face as he tried to think of a solution.
It was a Captain’s worse nightmare and he wondered where they were going to end up. They were about to travel into uncharted space with no control over the direction they were headed. He felt like he was living in an old television series. This was something a screenwriter would think up to make a show exciting, but this wasn’t a fantasy, it was real life, and the possible repercussions scared the hell out of him.
Pressing the intercom button between the control deck and the engineering department, the Captain hailed his service staff. Maybe, he thought, they had time to salvage the mission.
“Captain to head engineer Craddock.”
“Craddock here.” The head engineer replied.
“We have a bit of a problem.” Captain Tremont reported.
Craddock snorted, giving Captain Tremont the indication that he was well aware of the fact. His following comment confirmed it.
“Captain, we have issues that make the sinking of the Titanic look like a walk in the park.”
“Any ideas how to fix it?” Tremont asked.
“I am working on them, maybe if you get everyone aboard ship to get down on their knees and ask God for a miracle I will find a solution, or he will grant us an option.” Craddock replied with more than a touch of his usual brand of humor.
Tremont wasn’t amused and didn’t try to hide the fact.
“Do what you can. With no control of this ship we are dead.”
“Working on it. Over and out.” Craddock grouched.
So now what? Tremont wondered as he considered Craddock’s suggestion about holding a prayer meeting. At this point he was willing to try anything. He knew he was going to have to hold an assembly to tell everyone on the ship what was happening. It was something he was afraid might cause wide spread panic, if not outright mutiny, not that either of those actions would solve anything. They were royally screwed and he had no answers. Or did he?
For some reason his mind focused on Lieutenant Noble’s telepathic message and suddenly it seemed plausible where it had only made her sound crazy before. Could she have actually made mental contact with an alien creature? If she had could they help? Would they? Would they be friendly? The thoughts coursing through his mind seemed preposterous, yet they made sense and the possibility that they were right almost was enough to make him feel giddy. It was something he was quick to control or everyone would think he had cracked under the combined pressures of space travel and what was happening. The thought of what could happen to him under those conditions came close to being preferable to the reality of their situation. He couldn’t afford the luxury of allowing himself to let go. He was the only one on board who was qualified to handle the situation.
Screw that idea, was the next thought that crossed Tremont’s mind as he rose to head for sickbay. No one was qualified to handle this situation. This was mankind’s first foray into deep space where there was a serious issue. This was what those on Earth would consider a precedent and no one had any experience with it to base an opinion on. Of course, as a first time scenario he would be expected to closely monitor the situation and log the essentials carefully into the ships computer banks in case they were ever found, dead or alive. Those who came after them would want to know all the details and what had been done to correct them. They would be looking for impressions as well as the results of his actions. He was tempted to give them what they wanted, but not in the way they expected it. Unfortunately, he had to do it their way.
“Ensign Toledo, if anyone needs me I will be in sickbay, talking with Lieutenant Noble. In the meantime call a general assembly to be carried on through the intercom system, all screens open. When I return, I might have some startling discoveries and revelations to pass on and I don’t want to miss anyone.”
The Ensign nodded an acknowledgment at the Captain as he wondered what was going through the commander’s mind. He quickly decided they would find out soon enough and he doubted if anyone was going to be happy with what they learned. If the expression on Tremont’s face was anything to go by, he probably felt the same way.

First Contact Book 1 of The Tantalus Series
First Contact Book 1 of The Tantalus Series

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