The Talperno came in over the pole, dropped straight down to a height of seven thousand feet, then flew a line down the center of the Atlantic Ocean. They clearly showed on every missile warning and defensive screen on the face of the planet but they were moving slowly, on a course that presented no apparent threat, so they triggered no attack by the military.
God alone knows how long they had hung there above us-out of reach of our detection systems and studying us before coming down into the atmosphere. When they finally did come in though, they knew exactly what they were doing. They were cruising along at a high enough altitude to be seen on every radar set pointed in their direction. And believe me, there were plenty of those.
When they finally reached the equator they stopped, and just hung there, waiting. For what, no one could say, but there were plenty of people and a nice assortment of hardware headed in for a look at what had come visiting. Satellite cameras were hastily diverted from programmed paths, and almost anyone who had aircraft capable of reaching the area launched them.
"Okay, Mother, we have the target in sight. Itís big, whatever it is, and there appears to be nothing holding the damn thing up." Mel Kominsky squinted through the fighterís canopy as he tried to make out visual details on the object, still several miles away. "No wings, no visible engine structure, and no exhaust plume that I can make out." He glanced at his display panel before adding, "The camera view isnít much better." Other than acknowledgement of his transmission there was no response from the carrier.
Now that they were within striking range Mel signaled his wingmates to reduce speed, and reminded them to be sure not to make their weapons systems active. Whatever it was that had come visiting could probably detect the targeting radar and might not think that painting them with a targeting beam was a friendly thing to do. He also altered course a bit so as to pass close, but not so close to be thought a threat.
Studying the thing from a half mile distance wasnít much of a difference, so far as understanding what he was looking at. That meant he needed to get closer, an idea that brought mixed feelings. Curiosity and orders from the carrier dictated that he take the next step, but mental images from a host of late-night horror movies urged him to power up his weapons. But that was out of the question, and probably futile, in any case. The beings in the ship he was now circling could apparently ignore the effects of gravity, and not worry about the cost of the fuel required to do that. And were he to shoot at the damn thing he hadnít a clue as to what he might target.
Iím in control of the best weapons system we have, but powered up or inactive, I might as well be unarmed... damn.
The urge to just wait a bit and let the ship make the next move was at war with curiosity in his mind, but that mattered little. The top brass on the carrier were in charge, and they said to move in, so, reflecting that nothing is impossible to the man who doesnít have to do the work Mel pushed his doubts aside and said, "Okay guys, they donít seem to mind being circled at this distance, so do some sightseeing from here, while I ease in for a closer look." Trusting the other pilots to hold station, Mel switched to the carrierís comm channel. The odds were that whatever he might say would be on loudspeaker throughout the ship, and if it wasnít being heard throughout the world, too, it was being recorded for rebroadcast. It appeared that whatever he said, for good or evil, would go down in the history books.
"Okay," he said, as he banked toward the visitors, reducing speed to little more than enough to remain airborne. "You can see it on camera view, but Iíll give my own impressions as I close with the ship."
"Do that, Snowbird, and remember that we can only see whatís in the field of view of the gun camera." Then dropping formality he added, "And captain? Good luck. Thereís no one on board who wouldnít change places with you, but still, be careful."
"Roger that, and thanks." Closer now, he took a steadying breath and eased into a closing spiral around the thing to get a view from all directions. It was big-far bigger than anything Earthís engineers had ever gotten into the air.
But people were waiting and it was time to stop dithering, so he said, "Okay, from what I can tell the shipís outer shell isnít constructed of metal, it has more of a... well, a masonry look, like weathered granite, though that might simply be the effect of collisions with micrometeorites, over a long period of time." Now within a few thousand feet he turned almost directly toward the ship, to bring it into his camera view for a moment, then resumed course as he continued his slow spiral inward, dropping a bit to verify that the bottom surface matched the side in appearance.
"Itís hovering with its long axis perpendicular to the sea, as you probably saw, and Iíd guess the length at about a thousand feet. I canít see any visible engines, and the fuselage-if you can call it that-instead of being cylindrical or oval appears to be cubic-other than that one long dimension, maybe one hundred feet on a side."
"Are those ports lining the walls? The view wasnít clear." That was a new voice, someone of a much higher rank, Mel suspected.
"Yes. They appear to be... well, windows, and-holy shit!" For the moment Mel was speechless.
"Say again, Snowbird. What were you reacting to?"
Mel banked heavily, pulling back on the stick and goosing the throttle for enough power to keep from falling out of the sky. For a moment he was pointing directly toward the ship, engines screaming, virtually hanging motionless in the air, before he swung around and resumed his course around the ship. The primary result was a video of the ship for the benefit of those viewing the feed from his gun camera. The secondary result was that he now held a position closer to the ship, one that placed him only a football fieldís distance from the visitors. He hadnít mistaken what he was seeing, and he devoutly hoped the people watching the view from his camera saw what he was seeing, but in case they missed it he said, "Those are windows, all right, and there are people watching me from some of them. Theyíre waving, but... Well, they either have some sort of artificial gravity in that ship or those people prefer to walk on their walls rather than the floor, because every one of them is sideways to my axis of flight."
"Snowbird, whatís your fuel status? We show you as about ready to head home."
"Roger, the guys are taking turns playing tourist, and as soon as the last one does a flyby weíll have to head in... Unless you want to send a fill-up?"
That brought a chuckle, and, "Refuel you? No chance of that. Anyone who can wangle a seat is suited up and pacing by their ride. Your relief is already in the air, and should be arriving about the time you leave."
That was a disappointment, but wasnít unexpected. He suspected that heíd already had the fifteen minutes of fame everyone is supposed to be entitled to.
Reluctantly, Mel keyed the comm channel. "Okay guys, Momma says we have to head home, so form up on me and lock in." When that was completed Mel took a last look at the ship, then turned his planeís nose toward the carrier and keyed in the course instructions. Five minutes later, as Mel was reviewing what he would say at the debriefing, a voice from the carrier brought him back into the world.
"Say Snowbird, have you looked at your readouts lately?" In truth, he hadnít. Busy with his musings he had the plane locked on course and flying itself. Now, a glance showed that while five aircraft had left the carrier on his trip out, on the trip home there were now six.
"Well Iíll be damned."