An Arrow for an Olive Branch, Sci-Fi Short Story, Part One
An Arrow for an Olive Branch
Dr. Ruth Billings and her pilot, Joe Spencer, analyzed a boulder, about the size of a pickup truck, perched on the rim of Erlanger crater near the lunar north pole. The sun flirted with the horizon at a severe, permanent angle that sent long shadows of the man and woman over the brink, into the perpetual darkness.
On July 21, 2025, a month before their thirty-six-hour voyage, NASA had conducted an impact experiment by driving a two-ton booster deep into Erlanger like an eight ball in the corner pocket. The result was a plume of debris that soared forty kilometers into the lunar sky. The agency had remotely analyzed the rising fragments but wanted a visual assessment of larger pieces that would have landed at the crater's edge.
Ruth struck the boulder with her rock hammer, once, twice, three times. A piece the size of a teacup saucer drifted to her feet with a coating of fine gray dust that clung to the outer surface as it did the entire boulder. She retrieved the sample and turned it over in her palm. Pure ice crystals glinted in the light of the sun like tiny stars for the first time since their formation.
Ruth's face beamed with pride at being among the first to identify a source of recoverable water on the moon. Joe saw her smile freeze like the ice she held in her gloved hand. She gazed into the sun. Her green eyes widened. The bright reflection on her visor dimmed as darkness engulfed the entire moonscape. Joe turned, and the two stood motionless for precious seconds, overcome by mesmerized fear.
The Lunar North Pole and Erlanger Crater.
The object, silhouetted against the backdrop of the sun, bore down on them while Ruth fumbled to respond to an incoming communication from NASA.
"Dr. Billings,” said David Martin, the executive director, “An object showed up on our detection systems about five minutes ago. I realize how impossible that sounds. Can you describe what you're seeing?"
"This is no asteroid or comet; it has to be a spacecraft. It's going too slow. Too round. We have to take cover, it's coming in low, right at us!"
Ruth and Joe scrambled over the rim of the crater. The conical wall created a steep grade. About forty feet down, they both found foot and hand holds which they hoped would anchor them while they waited.
The front of the sphere shot out over their heads. Seconds later, the the bottom curvature struck the rim. Debris drifted out over the crater. Chunks of rock fell toward Ruth and Joe going six times slower than on Earth, so they were able to dodge the large, threatening pieces.
Sound does not travel through the vacuum of space, but the waves flowed through rock to the pair clinging to the crater's wall. Their arms, legs, and suits transmitted the vibrations to their ears and radio microphones which, in turn, translated them into the deafening shriek of metal dragging across rock.
Ruth craned her neck to look over her shoulder. Half the spacecraft had already cleared the opposite side of the crater as the back of the sphere flashed over their heads. The entire ordeal had occurred in less than half a minute. With fatigued arms and legs, they struggled up to the rim and peeked over the jagged edge. Seeing no more surprises on the horizon, they climbed out and watched the spacecraft travel low over the moon's surface, the blue Earth visible over the top arch.
"Were they trying to run us down or is that thing completely out of control?" Ruth rubbed her aching arms.
"I don't know, Dr. Billings, but it looks like its next target is Earth."
"Damnit, why was there no warning?" President of the United States, Alec Golden rose from behind his desk in the Oval Office. “What have we been able to see through our telescopes?”
"Sir, it is a metallic sphere about ten miles in diameter,” said National Security Advisor, Mike Romsky.
The President strode around the perimeter of the room, then crossed to the center. He stared down at the Presidential Seal, embossed on the carpet, and spoke without looking up. "Has there been any direct communication?"
"Does it look like they will attempt to enter our atmosphere?"
"Dr. Martin, at NASA, says that according to its current trajectory and slow speed of twelve hundred miles per hour, it will pass by in about eight days, barely missing us."
"They bounced off the Moon! Is it possible the spacecraft is in trouble?"
“That was Dr. Martin’s conclusion.”
"Let’s keep trying to communicate. Have all branches of the military ready with whatever they've got, but no one is to act without my authorization.”
"Yes, sir. I'll let the Chairman know immediately."
President Golden walked Romsky out of his office and stopped at his secretary's desk.
"Janet, please get Dr. Richard Smith at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore on the phone."
"Of course, Mr. President. Will there be anything else?"
"Yes, another one of those energy drinks."
"Sir, you've already had two."
"This one will be the last for the day, I promise. But first, the call, please.”