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Commodore Henry Gallant
Unidentified Flying Object
Lieutenant Rob Ryan was bored.
He hated the mundane tasks of being a squadron leader. He liked ‘fast’—the faster, the better. But that wasn’t happening today as he cruised over Earth in his Viper.
He was stuck with the tedious job of training his new wingman, Glenn Holman, in strafing maneuvers against the Antarctic target range.
As he executed a simple wingover in his starfighter, he was about to comment on the poor performance of his novice companion when out of nowhere, the world changed, shifting with shocking suddenness.
That’s not possible!
He instinctively flung an arm across his face to ward off the seemingly endless wall of steel that had materialized in front of him.
I must be hallucinating!
Heart-throbbing fear gripped him.
But there is something delicious about fear. It starts with bitter panic and grows into sour excitement—until, at last, comes sweet courage.
Ryan pulled his arm down, tightened his grip on the thruster, and yelled, “Hard to port! Max thrust! Flip gyros!”
Over the next several seconds, he concentrated on avoiding a collision with the mountain of metal.
In the first second, he felt the chest-crushing weight of 14 g’s as his Viper began the pivot.
In the next second, he fought down the blackness of his vision, narrowing into a tunnel as 20 g’s tested the limitations of his pressure suit.
By the third second, he felt as if he was being squashed like a ripe tomato—right before he blacked out.
Several seconds later, he came to, blinking against the glare of the sun. Even as he aimed his ship toward it, he heard Holman gasp, “I can’t . . . make it . . .”
Almost immediately, Ryan saw the brilliant red-white explosion of Holman’s Viper as it went splat against the steel wall.
He sighed with relief when he saw an escape pod spiral toward Earth.
The July blizzard howled across the high plateau of the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Antarctic Station, leaving a record snowfall of crystalline ice in its wake, and blustering so hard that the Earth defense sensor arrays were blanketed under the full fury of the whiteout. So powerful was the blizzard that sharp flecks of ice pierced the multilayered protective gear of the technician sent to investigate some minor static interference. As the man crawled toward the besieged sensors, his hands lost feeling despite the well-insulated flex-gloves. A large scavenger Skuas bird dive-bombed him, causing him to grab hold of the lifeline tether to keep from falling off the sheer rock cliff.
Against the howling of the wind, he could barely hear the question. During the six-month southern hemisphere ‘night,’ the wind blew at 160 km/h, and the temperature dropped to minus 89 °C. Despite the harsh conditions, the dry atmosphere and extended darkness made the station the Earth’s best location for astronomical observations. It had every conceivable type of sensor from microwave telescopes to neutrino detectors. The sensors were so accurate and dependable that the people of Earth rested reassured of their absolute safety.
The man gripped the taut cable as he spoke into the mic, “Why do I always get the crap jobs?”
“Just do it. And better hurry. Something big is brewing.”
Inside the station’s geodesic dome, a sensor operator screamed, “Contact! Contact over Melbourne. It’s massive!”
The duty officer came over to the operator’s station.
“What’s the problem?”
The operator pointed, his finger trembling in shock at the image that filled his screen.
Flabbergasted, the duty officer asked, “Where did that come from? No unidentified contacts have been reported!”
“It just popped up out of nowhere.”
“I’m telling you. Everything was normal, nothing but standard traffic patterns, and then WHAM! There it was.”
“Have you run a diagnostic on your equipment?”
“Look at the other sensors. They all show the same thing. We have a man outside checking some minor glitches, but nothing that would explain this.”
“It isn’t a colossal malfunction? Do you think this is a bona fide contact?”
In the stunned silence, the senior chief operator said, “Designate contact as Tango 101, in geosynchronous orbit over Melbourne.”
Still unable to grasp the situation, the duty officer asked again, “Why didn’t you spot this earlier?”
“I’m telling you; it wasn’t there before. It came out of nowhere. As if it dropped out of cloak.”
The dark eyes of the duty officer met the senior chief’s gaze. “That’s impossible. Even in a blizzard, our active sensors can penetrate any cloaking device within a million kilometers of Earth.”
As he shook his head, the chief’s white hair fell across his grizzled face, but his eyes stayed steady. “Until now.”
The officer asked, “What type of craft is it?”
“Nothing in our databases even comes close. Visual images are starting to come in now. Man, it’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.”
The officer’s eyes bugged out. “Oh, my Gawd! That’s incredible. It’s enormous. What the hell is it?”
His hand smacked the red alert button, and his voice echoed over the base-wide intercom.
“Activate planet defenses. Scramble standby fighters.”
A second later, he said into the emergency radio, “Put me through to Admiral Devens, immediately.”
When Admiral Devens responded, the duty officer said, “We have an unidentified flying object over the capital.”
“Notify all missile and laser batteries to target the contact, but hold fire until further notice,” said the admiral, unruffled. “Have fighter command scramble all fighters and intercept the UFO.”
“Fighter command, this is Lieutenant Ryan flying Constellation’s Viper 607. I have Tango 101 in sight.”
Like a minnow swimming next to a blue whale, Ryan flew alongside the alien craft examining its features.
He said, “Tango 101 is a monster ship that looks like a giant squid. It has an ellipsoid body thirty kilometers in diameter with protruding spikes seventy kilometers long. This Great Ship is beyond the combined resources of all the planets.”
“Is it broadcasting?” asked the command center.
“Negative, according to my sensors. It has not responded to radio communications, and I can detect no emissions at all, hostile or otherwise.”
“Shadow it, but do not engage.”
Twelve hours later, President Kent addressed the nation. “My fellow citizens, what you have heard is true. We have detected an alien vessel over Earth, but there is no immediate cause for alarm. Planetary defenses are on full alert. Our space fleet and fighters have surrounded the unknown spaceship. We do not know who these beings are, but they are not our Titan enemy.
And though victory against that enemy may still seem a long way off, we are prepared to face any challenge they set against us. This new arrival has so far taken no hostile action, and our hope is that they will prove to be a benefactor rather than an adversary.
“So, we must be patient until our visitor decides to speak. Until then, I am certain that you will all remain as brave and resolute as our proud space navy that stands guard protecting us at this moment.”
Over the next several hours, news stations maintained uninterrupted coverage around the world. Opinions were divided over accepting the president’s optimism. Some listened to the vitriolic counterargument made by presidential candidate Gerome Neumann. He advised swift and total annihilation of the aliens who had violated Earth’s space.
When it seemed that the tension couldn’t get any greater, an astounding event occurred. A shuttlecraft departed the Great Ship and landed at the Melbourne spaceport.
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