Marona Tinini, captain of the FTLSS Unification, modified the ship's course slightly to keep on track. It was the monthly FTL speed-check, where they had to do a lap around the sun, Tagilora, at a certain distance within 1 aio (1.5 hours). He opened up the infracom. "Is everything working?" he asked the various people on the ship. The screen showed that most of the people were fine, but a couple of urahobs had a problem. He opened the infracom and set it to these people. He noticed that they were at the intercom. "What's the problem?" he asked. "Captain, we hate to bother you, but an unrecognisable signal has been picked up," Snild Haet (Chief Communications officer of the Unification) replied. Marona thought about this. After careful thinking, he said, "I'll go and get the scanners set up. Pass the signal to the scanner-workers." He set the infracom to the same place, and said, "You'll be recieving a copy of a signal. Scan Ageriul for where it's coming from."
The reply came.
It was not from Ageriul at all.
Middle-Captain Vahek grinned, revealing the pointed teeth all along his snout. A new race! A first contact, perhaps! Definitely the kind of thing that got you promoted.
Standard first hails had already been sent- a signal of 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 units following each other. The prime numbers. This was followed by an information sequence which, if arrayed as a 100x100 grid, would show a picture of the Zyrothan ship and a Zyrothan.
The FTL of these people hadn't been what had alerted the Zyrothans to their presence- instead, it was the weak radio shell that extended for many light years around their planet. A treasure trove of information about their recent history- but, of course, the Zyrothans could not decode it without the correct keys.
"Manto, what does first analysis show?"
"Prelim scans indicate their FTL is quite primitive, reaching only a few times the speed of light. However, their power source is formidable- antimatter-based- and their armament is heavy. We'd have to do active scans to tell more, but that might be taken as hostile behaviour. Their homeworld is a few light-secrends over to our fifty-forty."
"Interesting. Has the translator got anywhere with the signals?"
"We believe so. It's figured out syntax and the majority of their frequently used words, but you can expect mistakes if they use technical vocabulary."
"Good to know. Are they responding?"
"Nothing yet, sir."
A message was sent up from the infracom. "We've decoded the signal," Snild's voice said. "It shows a picture, and the first part is composed of prime numbers. We're sending the picture up." The picture came onto the screen.
Marona looked at this strange figure with a sense of wonder. It had no scrafs (nostril-jaws), and the skull and jaws were fused into one piece! It also had some antennae. The limbs were just as incredible, sort of like an insectomimid's, with six limbs and a tail. It had an endoskeleton, though, like an archogigian! After investigating this, Marona commanded, "Return a picture and the prime numbers in the same format they did."
The command travelled through the infracom. As the signal was coded and sent out, Marona wondered about the aliens. He made his next commands.
"Be prepared for anything. Signal Ageriul, and tell them of this. Prepare the antimatter asteroid-breakers. We don't know if they're peaceful or hostile. They probably won't have a clue on our language, but we're going to reply."
His next command:
"Snild, open the communications. These aliens, whoever they are, are going to meet their first urahob."
"They sent back our signal. No changes."
"But- sir! I think they're trying to open a two-way channel!"
"Can you do it?"
"Yes, but the quality will be very low. Our encoding specs are very different from theirs."
The vis-screen turned on, and was at first only jumbled static snow. However, slowly, forms began to take shape. Lights, silhouettes... a living being! And an unusual one... it had a long, avian form, bipedal and with two arms held close to its body. The face, too, seemed very alien to Vahek. Perhaps a little like an Alxen's, but bizarre nonetheless.
"Greetings!" Vahek began.
The alien said something incomprehensible. Perhaps there was a hint of amusement in it.
"I am a Zyrothan, from the planet Yeseg. We detected your radio signals and traced them to this system... we come in peace."
"Hello!" the alien began.
"Well, it seems that E.T can say something!" Marona chuckled. He listened again as the alien continued.
"We am some Zyrothan, entering the moon Yeseg. We found you phone letter and followed the towards this computer... I arrive in joy."
Luckily, Marona had it on record. He replied, "For your translator, I am going to repeat a corrected version of that sentence."
"We are the Zyrothan, coming from the planet Yeseg. We found your... radio... signals, and followed them towards this system. We come in peace."
The captain opened his scrafs and removed the mucus with the bristles on his hand. It was an instict to clean scrafs when nervous, as an urahob with a snuffly nose might be heard by a predator.
Marona continued. "We are the Urahob, from the planet Ageriul. We are testing our light-speed drive. We have yet to venture beyond our solar system. This is the FTLSS Unification, and we welcome you to our solar system."
Vahek watched expectantly as they discussed his opening sentence. He also saw the alien who he assumed was the captain of the ship put his hand in his nose, and was a little disturbed.
Finally, a reply.
"We are Urahob. From Ageriul. In process of testing engine that lightspeed. We have not left our system star. This is FTLSS Joint Project, and you are welcomed to our system star."
Vahek turned to Manto. "This is actually quite good for a first time."
Manto shrugged. "I guess, sir."
He turned back to the screen. "We thank you for your hospitality. The Zyrothans were brought drives that let us travel the stars by another race, the Salsenes. We have colonies in many systems and have encountered many species."
Marona cleaned his scrafs again. Gosh, this was nerve-wracking! The urahob couldn't tell that the aliens were disturbed, though, due to no knowledge of Zyrothan body language.
The aliens turned to each other. "The is almost bit great for an first repeat." "We guess, sir."
Then they went back to talking to the Unification. "We thanks you for you friendly. The Zyrothans were brought engines that let us move the stars because also race, the Salsenes. We own houses on lots systems and did meet many kinds."
Marona continued his translation-fixing. "We thank you for your friendlyness. The Zyrothans were brought engines that let us travel the stars... by... another race, the Salsenes. We own colonies on many systems and have met many species."
Then the reply. "There's another race?" Marona asked. "There's multiple races? Now, I might be skipping rocks without shoes," (equatable to 'Now, I might not be looking before I leap,') "but does this mean that there's been a whole galactic community we've been unaware of?" The captain scratched his vocal organs. "This is hard to (word meaning 'to freely accept an idea')..." he said to himself.
"There is more race? There are more races? Presently, perhaps the stones jump with shoes, but could it be that a complete galaxy family exists that were not visible?" The alien scratched his strange vocal organs. "The thing is difficult to capture without trouble in the head..."
Vahek smiled at the translator's strange nuances. "Yes, there are dozens of races that we have found, and hundreds more in this galaxy alone. We have even met races from other galaxies, like the Aians. It's something I grew up with, but it may have a greater effect on you."
Manto finished some typing. "There. The translations will make a lot more sense from now on."
"How on earth are you supposed to cross an entire inter-galactic space!?" Marona shouted at the reply from the aliens.
"Captain Tinini, you're getting a little stressed..."
"Oh, sorry," Marona said. "I apologise for that outburst," he replied to the aliens. "We hope that the Urahobs and the Zyrothans will enjoy good relations and peace in the future."
Marona smiled to himself. Minus that little bit, First Contact had gone better than expected. No war-mongering terrors, no orange-and-blue morality. Instead, they got a people who were calm and friendly. The antimatter missiles weren't going to be used today.
Then the infracom came up.
"BLOW IT UP IF IT'S NOT THE ALIEN SHIP!"
Okay, so the antimatter missiles were being used today. Just not on any aliens. "Phew. Crisis averted," Marona said with a sigh of relief. He looked back to the aliens. "Sorry about that, I got a bit distracted by First Contact. There may be a small shockwave and some remaining asteroid bits coming your way, but that is an unwante-"
"an unwanted side effect."
There were numerous 'THUNK' noises as the asteroid bits hit the Unification.
"How on Ageriul are you going to go across the intergalactic space?" The alien seemed irate. Vahek recoiled slightly.
"Captain Tinini, you are becoming a small amount distressed..."
"Sorry. I apologise for that explosion. We hope that the Urahobs and Zyrothans will have fun having good relationships and peace in the future."
Vahek relaxed a little, but was still wary.
Then, some kind of alarm came on in the alien ship.
"BLOW IT UP IF IT IS NOT THE SHIP OF THE ALIENS!"
Manto looked up from the display. "Captain, they're firing antimatter missiles at an asteroid. Don't know why they didn't just move out of the way."
"Ah. Disaster deflected." The alien made a strange kind of sigh. "I apologise for that, I was a little distracted from the First Contact. A small shockwave may hit you and there may be some space rock pieces heading towards you, but that is a unneeded-"
A number of little chunks hit the alien ship, but did little.
"Unneeded side consequence."
A few pieces of the asteroid came at the Audacity, the Zyrothan ship, too, but the Repulsor Shields stopped them in their tracks.
Vahek nodded slowly.
"Don't worry. You could not have predicted that. Can I ask whether it would be possible for us to go on board your ship?"
"Do not worry. You could not have guessed that. May I ask whether it would become possible for us to go on board your ship?" the alien replied.
Marona thought for a second. "We shall send some records on the composition and temperature of common objects on the ship, in case any of them are poisonous or unsuitable to your kind," he replied. He told the communication and database workers what to do.
Some asteroid bits continued thumping as the ship travelled. Marona removed some of the mucus from his hand-bristles off-screen, putting it in a bin. The urahob opened the various jaw-like things on his head in a yawn, jaws moved downwards and open and the skrafs separated from the other by a 90-degree angle.
Marona opened the infracom. "Is the data there yet?" he asked. "It should be," came the reply.
Receiving the data, the Zyrothans immediately got to work.
"They put it in an easily decryptable format. We're scanning it now."
"...nothing, sir. All fine. But you hardly expected them to have plants which make cyanide or something."
"In this galaxy, Manto? Anything's possible."
Vahek now spoke to the alien again. "I don't think I have told you my name- I am Captain Vahek. We could not find anything in the data that might pose a hazard."
"I am Captain Marona Tinini, and I guess we both forgot about names," the urahob said, slightly embarassed by the total forgetting of names. "I'm glad that our ship is suitable for you."
Marona turned on the infracom. "Prepare the ship to let the aliens on board," he said. The ship started to slow down, until it was at a speed that Marona believed would be reasonable for docking at. The docking bay (usually used for satellites) moved to docking position.
"Is this okay for docking?" the captain asked. "While we are getting this prepared, maybe we should trade information on our kinds. Seeing as your kind appear rather different to our kind, it should be interesting."
"Indeed. Javen, get us in."
"Yes sir." The ship began to glide over towards the Urahob ship, drifting lazily through the star-studded blackness.
"Well. We are a democracy, and currently have a coalition in power. We have over eighty colonies, each with its own government, though they are all answerable to the coalition on Yeseg. One of the representatives on Centro- that's a hub world, with many dozens of species living on it- is a Zyrothan."
"Sir, we're ready to attach to the Urahob ship."
"Very good. Dock, and then open the bulkhead."
The two ships met smoothly, and the bulkhead on the Zyrothan ship opened up. A number of personnel lined up behind it to accompany the captain, once he was there.
The captain gave orders to the other control operators to operate the ship while he met with the aliens. He brought a couple of different urahobs who might be useful in the situation. Marona and his group walked to the docking bay. He opened the door, and Zyrothan and Urahob met, face-to-face, for the first time.
"It's a pleasure to meet you face-to-face," Marona said. "I brought an (electronic book) on our biology, in case you want to read that. If the translator can't translate written language, we can read it out."
There was a thump behind the group.
Apparently, someone had fainted.
In a motion equivalent to a face-plant, a couple of urahobs ran their hand-bristles along the sides of their faces. "Someone send Aaph to the med-bay," Marona said after checking who it was.
Vahek looked worriedly at the prone Urahob. "Does this happen to him a lot? Will he be okay?"
Around six other Zyrothans followed him in. Daero, the doctor, accepted the e-book. "Thank you."
They looked around at the interior of the Urahob spaceship.
"Yes, it's a bit of a tendency that Aaph has," Marona said. "The act of fainting doesn't harm an archogigian, and the only damage that comes about from it is the damage of falling over prone. He'll be fine. By the sand of my bones, he's one urahob that should never meet a alhtuputh..."
"Now, to the ship," he said. He opened the door again, and led the Zyrothans through it. Most of the ship had a carpeted interior, with a small bit of gel inside, as that was what was best for urahob feet. The walls were a beige colour, with some swirling patterns on it. There were a couple of plaques near each door, showing what the room was. Some gecko-like insectomimuses had stuck themselves near a fluorescent light.
Marona turned to the Zyrothans again. "What do you think? Ship or biology," he asked.
"Very nice." Vehak studied the patterns and the insectomimids. "These are interesting animals indeed. Could we take a few for study?"
Daero spoke up. "How large is the ship? In terms of rooms, metrons, and crew."
"Thank you," Marona said in reply to the compliment. "We have some spare live sgarpos and a few recently-dead corpses," the Urahob's scientist (Klowf Aent) replied. "I can take you there later."
"The ship has around 300 rooms and 600 crew," the captain said. "I'm not quite sure what a metron is, but I'm presuming it's length. It's around 40,000 times the length of my own body, if that helps."
Someone's stomach rumbled, and Marona looked back again. "Umm... I guess I'm a little hungry," Klowf said. "Anyone up for lunch?"
"A metron is indeed a length- it's probably approximately one of your paces. Lunch sounds good- but are our diets compatible?"
"I checked when they sent us the data- chiralities are the same, and they use 19 of the same amino acids as us."
"Ok, good. Let us lunch."
The group walked towards the cafeteria. "May I ask your skeleton composition?" Klowf asked Daero. "Archogigian bones aren't very good for creatures with a skeleton like the insectomimid's, what with all of the sand." One of the sgarpos dropped on Klowf's head. "Hello, Aned," the scientist said in reply to the sudden exoskeletal creature.
"It seems that relations are off to a good start," Marona said to Vehak. "I guess the compatible biochemistries make it a lot easier, since we can meet in person and eat the same foods. If Urahob tastes are similar to a Zyrothan's, I would recommend the gorow for dessert. It's quite sweet, but with a hint of sourness."
Daero nodded. "Zyrothan bones are formed from spongy tissue, mineralised with calcium phosphate. They also contain collagen and polysaccharides, and a kind of glue-like material. They are very strong and capable of some degree of self-repair."
"I'll have that, then!" Vehak liked mixtures of tastes. "I can't wait to see what's on offer- even though we're on a ship, you seem more than adequately stocked. The last time I had a proper meal was eleven standard days ago."
"Then I would recommend not to eat bones from internal skeletons," Klowf replied. "Archogigian bones, including an urahob's, are formed from calcified keratin and collagen layers reinforced with naturally-occuring small hard particles, usually sand."
"The ship usually restocks at the OSpSt Terra, which is restocked itself every few days," Marona replied. "We make sure that we're stocked enough for comfort aboard the Unification, as we're regulary at the Terra. Feel free to use Ageriul to restock, as long as it's within reason and we get warning, since you appear to need more food."
The group entered the cafeteria. There were many Ageriul plants, mostly ones with efficient photosynthesis. "If any Zyrothan wants to test the foods before the others do so you all know what tastes good, feel free. If you want to know what you're eating, ask," Marona said. "Plates are over there," he added, pointing in that direction, "and foods are already prepared unless stated. Enjoy!"
Lunch had begun.
The Zyrothans all sat down in their way at the tables, with Urahob between them. Taking the plates and substantial helpings of pretty much everything, they gorged themselves on the food.
"It's very good." Was all that Daero had to say.
"Hey, Marona? I think this first contact has been a success."
And when it came, Vahek did have the gorow for dessert.