|TOO MUCH INFORMATION
(A Tale of the Unisis Universe)
TOO MUCH INFORMATION
Copyright © 2012 1 Picture 1000 Words Publishing. All rights reserved.
Illustration by Carolyn Edwards
This story is played for humor. Our stories range far and wide
from drama to comedy, action to romance, and
“Captain? Incoming hail, source unknown.”
Martha Magellan looked up from her examination of a data screen report, looked toward the main viewport, saw nothing but the asteroid field through which Embassy One was slowly moving and the bright stars of The Cluster beyond. “Acknowledge and respond in kind, Comm. Standard friendship greetings.” She looked to Menlo at the Science Station. “Where...?”
“Not in visible range, Captain,” came the squeaky, rapid-fire voice of the tiny Tibulu, “but I don’t think it’s a Smelg ship. The Smelg are fully familiar with all Uni standard frequencies. I will begin scanning.” He adjusted his goggles, turned his attention to the holoscreen beside him.
“Not the locals, huh? Okay. Is that hail for us specifically or a general greeting? Can whoever’s out there see us?”
“It appears to be a general hail, I think,” said Alut. The Bentaral intern was spelling Sarah Brace at the Communications Station. “The language isn’t in our databanks.” He hesitated only a moment. “Sorry, I can’t be sure.”
“Alut?” Martha rose from her chair and walked over to the intern. A change of personnel had apparently taken place while she had been engrossed in her reports. She looked around the bridge. Most of the usual staff and interns were present. The background hum of the ship’s systems, the bleeps and pings of the computers all seemed normal.
“First, never be sorry when speaking with your Captain. Just deliver the information you have as best you can. Second, where is my Comm?”
“Medical check, she said. She’s in her seventh month, as you know.”
“You did give her the time off, Captain,” put in Ed Foster from the Helm Station. “We asked you at lunch last week.”
“Right. Thank you. I’ve been at those reports too long.” She shook her head as if to clear it of something unpleasant, then signaled an intern to bring her a cup of coffee.
“Speaking of databanks,” the Tibulu Science Officer added as his fingers played across his holoscreen, “whoever’s out there is trying to access ours.”
“They may be trying to learn our language.” Alut said. “It looks like the files they’re trying to get at are language files. And they’re not being very subtle about it.”
“That means that they can see us, Captain. Or at least they know our position.”
“Wouldn’t they try to hide what they’re doing, if their intent was hostile?”
Martha fought the urge to check the readings on Alut’s datascreen. The young Bentaral was bright, almost gifted, though he lacked practical experience. She knew she could count on him to do his job to the best of his ability. “Even if it is an attack of some sort, talking with them - whoever they are - might do some good. Grant access to our language files, Alut. And keep trying friendship replies. As soon as they can understand us I want them to understand that we’re not hostile.”
Martha moved closer to the forward viewport. “That light, there,” she said, pointing toward the lower left. “It appears to be moving. Very slowly.”
“It’s a ship of some kind, Captain,” Menlo stated. “Unknown design.” He paused, then added, and all could hear a touch of amazement edging into his voice. “And it’s huge. Five times our size at least.
“Five times? Embassy One carries tens of thousands of people.” Martha was equally amazed.
“That ship also seems to have a lot of computer storage capacity if I read these signals right.”
“Okay. Everybody, keep monitoring that ship. Watch for trouble but if everything goes fine, be ready to extend full diplomatic courtesies when communication is established.”
Martha crossed to Pama Firelake’s Nav Station, spoke softly. “Do those Siasl senses of yours tell you anything?”
“No, Martha. ThisOne senses nothing unusual.”
“We’d better alert Erin. Any idea where she is?”
“She mentioned she was going to visit her mother. That was about an hour ago.
The Captain crossed again to Alut at the Communications Station. “Apprise the Ambassador of the situation, would you? She’s probably at the library with her mother.”
“If she’s not there, should I put out a ship wide call?”
“No, just ask around. See if anyone knows where she is. No need to disturb the whole ship.”
As Martha sat again in her central command chair, Sarah Brace stepped breezily from the port lift. “I miss anything?” She gave Ed Foster a quick peck on the cheek, headed for her station. Suddenly it hit her. The bridge was quieter than usual. Tense. “Something’s wrong.”
“There’s an unidentified ship out there, trying to communicate with us.” The answer came from Alut who stood as the Tellurian took her place at the Comm Station. The ergonomics configured the chair and data screens for Sarah’s profile, and she began working to decipher the incoming message.
“How are you, Sarah? Still fit for duty?”
“Mama and soon-to-be baby are doing just fine, Captain,” said Sarah. “Just two months to go.”
“Two more months?” Menlo was clearly surprised. “How can you stand it? Tibulu pregnancies last only about two months.”
“Men just don't get it. I feel wonderful. I love having this life inside of me. Though it does feel like she’s already ready to come out. But I can do my job.”
“I know you can,” said Martha.
Alut took the cup of coffee brought by another intern, and delivered it to the Captain. “Should I go to the library, or just call the Ambassador?”
“Use one of the free stations. Just apprise her of the situation.”
“I’m getting something,” said Sarah. “It’s not only the language. The signal is on a low frequency band and is weak, really weak.”
“Navigation? Helm? Can we move closer to the ship?”
“Difficult enough to navigate through these asteroids without additional changes,” Ed stated from the Helm. “Even with Pama sensing things for us. She’s already plotted the safest route through here.” He turned in his chair to see Martha, and, past her, Sarah. “But we can do it.”
That was Embassy One’s current mission: establishing a safe course through the asteroid field between the two Smelg worlds. Martha weighed the value of a First Contact against the delay, though there really was no decision to make. United Systems diplomatic protocols for ambassadorial cruisers were rather lax by Tellurian standards leaving much discretion to the Captain, Chief of Staff and, of course, the Ambassador, but First Contact generally took precedence over other matters and required the nearest Unisis ship respond to any First Contact hails.
“Imagine. Two planets separated by the destroyed debris of a third, a third so large that its fractured fragments prevented contact for decades after both worlds had developed space travel.” Menlo was clearly more awed by this unusual phenomenon than he was of the unknown ship. Or Sarah's pregnancy.
“And they can’t go around the debris field, because...?”
“That’s what you get for missing my peerless presentation earlier, Sarah. If you’re pregnant personage had been present you would have known about the dark matter anomalies surrounding the debris field.” The more excited he got the more alliterative the Tibulu's speech became. “It was probably contact with one of these anomalies thousands of years ago that destroyed the middle planet.”
“I wouldn’t have left for my med check,” said Sarah, “in the middle of something important. Communications didn’t seem a priority while setting nav beacons.”
“It’s fine, Sarah. Fine. But let me know if you get anything more on the language.”
“Of course, Martha.”
“If we alter course, we’ll have to discontinue placing the nav beacons,” Menlo stated. “The next one’s ready to be deployed in less than two minutes. I’d advise waiting until that one’s launched and in place before changing course.”
“Okay,” said Magellan. “It should be simple enough to resume placing the beacons after we see what that ship out there wants. We’ll deploy the current beacon and then move closer. Nav and Helm commence when ready.”
Alut spoke up. “Captain, I’ve contacted the Ambassador and informed her of the situation.”
“Thank you. And let’s send a message to both Smelgs, Sarah. Let them know we have a possible First Contact, but that it shouldn’t delay us too long from deploying the nav beacons.”
“Course plotted to take us closer to the alien ship. We will have to move even slower than we are now.”
“That’s fine Pama. We don’t want to alarm them, whoever they are.”
“Whoever they are, they’re certainly taking a long time to understand our language, any of our languages.” Sarah was clearly annoyed. “We should be able to communicate by now.”
“Yes,” agreed Menlo. “The technology with which they accessed our linguistic logs is amazingly advanced. Why they’re not communicating, I don’t know.”
“Are they trying to access any other files?”
“Not that I can tell,” said Sarah.
“Beacon now deployed to proper position.” Menlo pushed his goggles up to his forehead, rubbed his tired eyes. The special lenses allowed the Tibulu to see in the visible spectrum, but also caused his eyes to appear abnormally large in proportion to his head. Though normal sized, his eyes were of a deep crimson color unlike that of any Tellurian or Siasl. He refitted the goggles and returned to studying his datascreens.
“Alright, let’s see what happens. Helm, take us to that ship.”
The Captain sipped her coffee, watched the main viewport as Nav and Helm brought the great ambassadorial cruiser closer to the alien ship, still only a spec of light miles away.
“I’m getting something now,” Sarah said. “Yes. Yes, incoming message in Uni standard.”
“That was quick!” exclaimed Alut.
“As soon as they knew that we knew their position they started talking,” added Menlo. “And videoing as well.”
“Right,” confirmed Sarah from the Comm. “We have audio and visual.”
“Let’s not jump to any conclusions.” Martha felt the attention of the bridge staff upon her. She was the Captain, the focus of all bridge activity. The staffers relied on her to receive the information they provided, and then make a decision. The right decision. “We’ve encountered many people, many races of diverse cultures and manners. This could just be their way. But if it’s something else, let’s be ready for it.”
The Captain looked around the bridge, made eye contact with several of her staff. She nodded to Sarah. “Okay.”
Several bridge monitors were suddenly filled with the image of a vaguely humanoid being looking as if composed more of printed circuits than flesh and blood. Behind the being, in what appeared to be a rectangular room that was apparently the control center of the alien craft, were a half dozen more like it.
“‘Allo, ‘allo, greetings. ‘Ailing you, ‘ailing ‘allo. I am ‘Artoi of the ‘Altek peoples. ‘Allo? ‘Allo?” Various strands of the circuits on the alien’s skin glowed as he spoke; a few even seemed to spark.
“This is Martha Magellan of the ambassadorial cruiser Embassy One. I greet you in the name of the United Systems.”
“‘Allo, Marthamagellan. I am ‘Artoi. I am ‘Altek. We are ‘Altek.” The being’s left arm swept around to indicate those behind it.
“Hello....” Magellan looked to Sarah, a question in her upraised eyebrows.
The Comm whispered “Arr twaa” to the Captain’s unspoken question. “Maybe Harr twaa?”
First contacts were often difficult. And with some races, even after years or decades of contact, communication could still be difficult. Looking again at the cam on her monitor, Magellan said: “Hello, Hartoi.”
“Yes, ‘Artoi. ‘Artoi of the ‘Altek. I make you formal greetings in the name of the ‘Altek peoples.”
“Accessing our language files has given you some information about us. Will you grant access to your files that we may learn about you?”
“I tell you this about us, about the ‘Altek. We are information merchants. We take knowledge, information, science, learning, we take secrets, pass them from one race to another.” The being rubbed its hands together creating a small flurry sparks. “We will now take all of your secrets Marthamagellan of the United Systems.”
The Captain laughed. “Secrets? Unisis keeps no secrets. We share openly with all.” Tension on the bridge had been rising. Martha now felt the staff return to their customary, calm efficiency.
Clearly, laughter was not the response the alien had expected, not the response it was used to. “We shall see Marthamagellan. We shall see. Even now we are drawing information from your science and ‘istory files. We already ‘ave the technical specs for your ship.”
Martha rose from her chair, crossed to the Science Station. She did not hurry. “Menlo?”
“A moment, Captain.” Menlo studied the data on his holoscreen. “Yes, they are drawing data, lots of it. It seems that while we were concentrating on the communication channels, the Altek — I mean Haltek — used a completely different technology to gain access to our other files.”
“Can we safely break the connection, either connection?”
“Possibly, given time. But not any time soon.”
“Thank you, Menlo.”
Martha looked over to Alut who was standing nearby, flashed him a smile. The young intern understood. Menlo was not at fault. He need not apologize. He’d given the Captain what she’d asked for, given her information that clarified the present situation. And he’d know to check for alternate connections in the future if a similar situation again occurred.
“So, Alut. What do you think we should do?”
“If they want information, Captain, let’s give them information.” He almost seemed puzzled by the obviousness of the question.
“Absolutely right.” She crossed back to her chair, stood beside it. “But to be fair to Hartoi, we should give him the opportunity to disengage the connection.”
“Marthamagellan of the United Systems?” Hartoi’s voice called out. “We can ‘ear you, but not see you. We ‘ave ‘eard all you and your peoples ‘ave said. We will not break our connection. And you cannot break it.”
“We can. Just not safely. You really should pay closer attention to what’s happening, Hartoi.”
“Please sit where we can see you. I so love looking at the faces of those from whom we take as we take from them.”
Martha sat, not in response to Hartoi’s request, but because she wanted him to see her. “You’re not from Centre Cluster are you? Not one of the native races?”
“We ‘Altek ‘ave traveled far. We ‘ave found much good ‘unting in this new territory.”
“I didn’t think you were native, because you didn’t stop your attack when I mentioned the United Systems. You did hear me say that we were from the United Systems?”
“I ‘eard that.”
“And you’re not willing to disengage?”
The Captain shook her head. “For information thieves you sure are stupid.”
Before Hartoi could respond, Martha closed the comm channel with the touch of a button on her command chair. “Okay,” she said to her staff, “if they’re going to be stupid about this....” She paused, considered. “If there are no objections, I think we’ll let young Alut open the Interface.”
Alut straightened up, chest out, hands behind his back. “I’m honored, Captain. But I really think a senior bridge staffer should handle such an important task. Menlo is the Science First. Perhaps he should open the Interface.”
“Oh, I’m always doing these things. True, it’s sort of in the science department’s purview, but really, I think Sarah should do it. This did begin with Communications.”
“Ah, but I wasn’t here then,” arah reminded everyone. “Alut was at the Comm Station, so I guess this brings it back to him.” She smiled, weakly, but she smiled.
“Well, I suppose, unless Pama or Ed....” Alut let his words trail off as he watched the Nav and Helm turning their heads left and right in unison.
Martha stood, hands on hips. “You’re playing with me. My bridge staff is playing with their captain, right?”
“Well, now that we know there’s no danger from the Haltek, it seemed like we could have a little fun.” Menlo’s bug eyes beamed at Martha from behind his goggles.
The captain smiled. “Okay. Fun is fun, but would somebody open the Interface, please?”
“Already done, Captain,” said Menlo. “Alut did it on the screen behind him when you asked him to. After your order had been carried out, that is when we started joking.”
“Then let’s see the results of that order. Has it been long enough?”
“More than enough,” said Menlo, soberly. “More than enough.”
“Then open a comm channel to the Haltek ship.”
Sarah had no time to say “Channel open” before Hartoi’s voice came screaming over the bridge speakers. “Stop, please, stop! Too much information. Too much information! Our circuits are fusing, systems locking up, shutting down. Please stop.”
“I thought you wanted information.”
“Too much, Marthamagellan, too much.”
“I see, you probably thought Unisis computers stored data in some kind of digital form, held it in, kept track of it. You should’ve asked first, and then I would have told you that our computers can tap into the information of the dark matter universe, a universe fourteen times greater than the visible universe. Yes, that’s right, fourteen times greater. Now, when we opened the Interface to that universe, all that information just began streaming through. Guess it was too much for you wasn’t it?”
“Yes, too much, too much information.”
“If we close the Interface, will you disconnect your connections from us? All of them?”
“If we can, yes. Many systems have fused, have locked up. Can’t you now disengage from us?”
“You haven’t been listening, Hartoi. We could disengage at any time, as I said, but not safely. For you that is. We’d be fine. We don’t want to harm you, so you must disengage.”
Magellan turned away from the cam. She took another sip of her coffee, began studying the nails of the hand that held the cup. “Y’know, I think I should have my nails done. We’re going to be in the Braxis system next week aren’t we? Yes, there’s a nice salon on Braxis Eight, as I recall. Maybe I’ll get my hair done, too. Oh, would someone close the Interface, please? Thank you. Yes, I think I’ll do that. I’ve got some leave time due me, so yes, I think I’ll do that.”
“Marthamagellan? Marthamagellan of the United Systems?”
“Oh, Hartoi, hello again.” She turned back to the cam, smiled. “How are things?”
“Things?” Hartoi shuddered. Sparks flew from his ears. “Almost every system on my ship is overloaded, life support is minimal, navigation is — ”
Martha leaned closer to the cam. “I mean, have you disengaged from us?” She was not smiling.
“We are trying, we are trying. Please please no more information.”
“You didn’t get a micro-fraction of what we could have channeled. Even the information channeled by one of our handhelds would have exceeded the storage capacity of all the computers on your ship. Now, disengage or I let it all through.”
“Wait wait, please. We’re getting it.”
Martha watched closely as Hartoi and other Haltek adjusted various controls.
“Yes, we can disengage. Doing so now. Confirm it is done, I have done as you ask, confirm. Please?”
“The only channel between their ship and ours, Captain, is our comm channel,” Sarah stated. “And we have complete control of that.”
“Okay, Hartoi, I confirm that you have disengaged your theft programs from us. Thank you.”
“Thank you... for sparing us. Clearly you could have destroyed us if you wished.”
“We’re Unisis. We have no wish to harm anyone. And we would still like to learn more about the Haltek peoples, er, people.”
“Learn more? I’m afraid it will be some time before we can transmit any information. Most of our circuits were badly damaged.”
“If you’ll allow, we can mit you a repair program. It knows what to look for in such situations and make rudimentary repairs, enough to get your basic systems running. Your own technicians will have to do the bulk of the work but this will get you started. You’re not the first fools to try to hijack information from an ambassadorial cruiser. We knew what opening the Interface would do to your systems, and we know how to fix it.”
“We will have to trust you. We could not block any signal with our systems so damaged.”
“Pama, would you send the repair program?”
“Yes, Captain.” She pushed a button on her holoscreen. “Done.”
“If you’ll check your systems now, Hartoi, you may find some of them already repairing themselves.”
“So quickly? You are truly an amazing peoples, Marthamagellan.” Hartoi looked at a monitor screen to his left, pushed a few buttons. A delighted clapping of its hands brought a shower of sparks. “Our systems are repairing themselves. Impossible, but true.”
“You have a choice now, Hartoi. Think carefully. We cannot allow you to continue to plunder other races for information. So we give you a choice. Go back from where you came or formally apply for membership in the United Systems.”
“Join you? You ‘elp us and ask us to join you after what we tried to do? I do not understand your ways, Marthamagellan.”
“Join, or leave Centre Cluster. Your choice.”
“We will join. It is no choice.”
“Very good. Then we will open formal diplomatic relations shortly for your probationary membership. Our ambassador, Erin Starfox, will contact you.”
Martha switched off the comm signal. “Let’s notify the Ambassador that we have a First Contact. Sarah, if you would call her. Make it ship wide. First Contact is news everyone will want to hear.”
Sarah sent the message throughout the ship: “Ambassador Starfox, please come to the Bridge. Ambassador Starfox to the bridge. We have a First Contact, I repeat, we have a First Contact.”