Protocol Part I (A short story in three parts by Ruthanne Reid)

Protocol II

Protocol I Protocol III

“Jahns! We got a response! We got a response!” And ensign Saper laughed like a toy about to overheat and die.

Jahns leaned forward, scanning the readout, still breathing too fast, and dried her forehead on her sleeve. “This is it. This has to be it.”

The viewscreen still showed only the side of the alien ship – strange and smooth material, not a metal their system recognized, divided by bright golden wires and shiny black squares and sparks of light that leaped from square to square or raced along those wires.

And in the air, the message from these aliens stared Jahns in the face.

Come home
We will take you

That was all.

Jahns shook. She knew she shook, but she couldn’t stop. Nowhere had Iskinder or Yoon or any of the rest considered they might find intelligent life presenting weird offers like this.

People ran past the command room, shouting. Everyone could see this thing; perfectly round, sparking and strange, it hovered by the HOPE FOR HUMANITY II like a macabre disco ball, and all their communication channels were flooded with one message over and over.

Come home
We will take you

It could be a mistranslation. They were sending it in binary, which made sense in words when turned into English.

01000011 01101111 01101101 01100101 00100000 01101000 01101111 01101101 01100101 00001010 01010111 01100101 00100000 01110111 01101001 01101100 01101100 00100000 01110100 01100001 01101011 01100101 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101, said the macabre disco ball.

“Captain?” said Marsk quietly. “We need to do something. Now.”

“Have you been able to raise anyone?” Jahns said just as quietly. “Anyone at all?”

“No.”

“Earth? DYE? HOPE I?”

“No.”

They were cut off. Maybe they were the only ones who’d survived the journey. That wasn’t unlikely, given the risks.

Jahns had to decide.


The alien ship, meanwhile, seemed to have decided for them. An opening appeared in its round side, materializing as though the not-metal was vaporized in the process.

“They’ve changed their message,” reported the ensign.

01010111 01100101 00100000 01110011 01101000 01100001 01110010 01100101 00100000 01101011 01101110 01101111 01110111 01101100 01100101 01100100 01100111 01100101 00001010 01010111 01100101 00100000 01101011 01100101 01100101 01110000 00100000 01110011 01100001 01100110 01100101, said the disco ball.

“More binary?” said Jahns, palms up.

“It says, ‘We share knowledge’ and ‘We keep safe.’ That sounds promising?”

The entire ship suddenly rang with sound.

Jahns gasped and covered her ears, startled even though there was no pain. Voices – men’s voices – rang through the vessel, singing in naked harmony.

What were they singing? It was a little familiar, just vaguely, but what the hell –

“Oh!” said Marks. “Oh… oh, captain.” He teared up. “They found it.”

“What?” said Jahns, shouting above the weird acapella chorus.

“The Voyager! That’s from the golden record!” Marks shouted back.

The golden record? Jahns forgot to breathe, tears stinging her own eyes, a thrill shooting up her spine. “From Voyager?”

“Yes! The chorus! The one from Radio Moscow!”

The chorus stopped as suddenly as it began, replaced with a single male voice, saying three times: Silim-ma hé-me-en. Silim-ma hé-me-en. Silim-ma hé-me-en

“From Voyager?” whispered Jahns. “You’re sure?”

“Yes,” said Marks, no longer trying to fight his tears as he checked his hand-held. “My tab says they’re saying ‘may all be well’ in Sumerian.”

The message returned to binary.

Come home
We will take you

“It’s not home,” Jahns started to say, but the words died in her throat.

She’d known when they took this trip that home was gone, and new home awaited. That was the point, wasn’t it? That was why the HOPE OF HUMANITY existed. “One more time,” she said softly. “Try to reach the HOPE FOR HUMANITY I. Try to raise Earth. One more time.”

Moments passed. The ensign shook his head. “We’re alone.”

“No.” Jahn’s throat caught. She cleared it and spoke louder. “We’re not alone. Not anymore.” And she leaned in to press the comm button. “This is Captain Aadhvitha Jahns. I think by now all of you have seen: we are not alone.”

Those words held power.

Marks choked, making a sound that was half cry, half laugh. The ensign muttered oh my god over and over again.

“We are not alone,” Jahns rumbled, her voice gravely. “And we’ve been invited. Friends, we’ve been invited to go over to their ship.”

Everyone breathed, muttered, stared out the window or at their screens.

“I choose to go,” said Jahns, and meant it. “It may mean never coming back. It may mean death. It could mean anything. But by now, you know me. I will always choose to see more before I die.”

Marks and Saper stared at her.

Jahns smiled – truly smiled – for the first time since her sixth birthday, which was the day the Pakistani government finally announced that the Earth was ruined, destroyed without hope of renewal, and that the only survival would come through enslavement.

Not anymore. “Come with me,” she said, and logged off.

She was unsurprised to find the entirety of the crew joining her. No one qualified for the HOPE OF HUMANITY II was the type to take the known road.


The message she left on repeat should be enough – assuming anyone from the rest of the fleet survived, or anyone who could interpret Earth languages ever found the vessel:

Encountered alien life, from all appearances friendly. All other communication with humans have ceased. We aboard this vessel may be the only humans left alive. The aliens offer a new home, though they do not give many details. They have found Voyager, and have shown no aggression. We chose to accept their invitation. Readings to follow.

Attached was all the information they had gathered about the ship, including video, which may or may not help someone to find them later. She doubted it would, but there was no protocol for this situation. Improvisation was the thing.

That felt good, to be honest. Jahns had no regrets. Something else was alive in the universe – something that explored the stars as she’d always wanted to do, something that might be as curious as she was.

They all left messages or recorded diaries or whatever they felt like for whomever might come after.

Whoever came after wasn’t the thing. This was the future. This was what mattered.

Jahns was the last to cross over, spacesuit on, unblinking and barely breathing as she floated from her own airlock into the unlit opening of the black and gold sphere.

Hands or something like them reached from the shadows to guide her in, and she vanished into the dark.

Protocol I Protocol III

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