The Encounter Challenge
The following story refers to my original hub, "The Encounter ... A Writing Challenge" ...
For decades, alien visitors to our planet have captured the imaginations of readers and film audiences, causing them to reflect on real-world crises and what they reveal about humanity. These stories are often a product of the times in which they were created.
Certain questions inevitably come to mind when crafting such a story about encountering extraterrestrials visiting earth: Would their intent be peace, discovery and enlightenment, or conquest and annihilation? How would we attempt to interact with them? Was the late physicist, Stephen Hawking, correct in his predictions that the METI project (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) could have dire consequences? Could these signals sent into space actually endanger humanity?
Mike (Mckbirdbks) and I teamed together and have written a fast-paced, six-part story in answer to that challenge. Installments were published weekly, every Sunday.
The music videos accompanying each chapter convey elements of the story. Links to subsequent chapters appear at the end of each installment.
We hope you enjoy the journey.
Introduction (Culled from the original Encounter challenge.)
The year on earth is 2023. METI has been sending unsolicited messages to other worlds for nearly two years. The launch of the powerful James Webb Space Telescope signaled an enormous leap forward in the quest to probe far enough back in time to better understand the Universe and the very origins of humanity. Scientists across the globe were stunned with the giant observatory's detection of a super earth located three light years from earth's solar system. Rather than a lifeless rock or something resembling the fiery gates of hell, Jate 22c is an exo-planet that appears to have a similar terrestrial atmosphere, gravity, water, and earth-like temperatures, but with unpredictable, massive shifts.
What was not known is that the mega-civilization of bipedal humanoids inhabiting Jate were facing a crisis of survival. In desperation, the Jatites launched an interstellar craft to seek out potentially habitable planets beyond their own system by following the origins of earth's METI signals. Their ark-like vessel now orbits earth. The spacecraft is immense in size, measuring over two miles in diameter.
The world is in panic mode. Defense systems are on full alert. Every military observation unit had eyes on the giant spacecraft as it maintained a low orbit opposite the path of the International Space Station in a frightening game of hide n' seek with the six-person crew aboard the satellite.
All attempts to communicate with the alien travelers have failed. Fear that they were a prying, super-race intensified when a needle-like object dropped from the ship's massive underbelly. The pod utilized gravitational algorithms to chart its downward spiral as it evaded tacking by conventional radar. A honeycombed, friction-compression system enabled a soundless landing on the planet below. Several minutes passed before a portal opened. Alert and cautious, an alien slowly emerged to take his first steps on earth in a heavily wooded section of the northeastern region of the United States.
"Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed.” --- Stanislaw Lem
Twilight had ascended several hours earlier. Grateful for the cover of darkness, the lone Jatite gulped water from a woodland stream. The taste of the fluid was sweet, causing rivulets of bitter saliva to seep from the corners of his mouth. He continued to drink until a cast of moonlight caught his reflection. Staring at the strange figure in the water, he lifted a hand to his face. The pale image looking up from the mirrored surface was human, but alien to him. On the spacecraft, a laser immersion had removed layers of his normally coarse skin and reshaped the flared angles of his nose to his mouth. Eyelids -- once hooded and thick -- now were slender bands of flesh, setting off a pair of startling, luminous gray eyes.
Hearing a noise in the brush, his head twitched to the side. The rustling sounds grew louder as a rabbit darted through an opening, scurried across his feet, then rushed back into hiding. Emitting a whistling trill from the back of his throat, the Jatite leaned against a tree to marvel at the unexpected beauty in the secrets of the night that surrounded him. He sniffed the strong smells of the earth, and listened to the summer whistling of male thrushes, the pulsating clicks of cicadas, a squirrel's high-pitched chirps as it skittered across the bark of the tree. A sudden breeze caused him to shiver. He drew the bulky, earth-style clothing closer about his arms and chest. Looking up, he watched the stars and thought of home.
Fatigue soon caused the alien to slump into a sitting position beneath the tree. Gradually, night shadows faded into day. The morning sun of mid-summer was warm and generous. Enriched levels of oxygen in the atmosphere had a dizzying effect when he tried to stand. He rose slowly to his feet and began to walk uphill. Considered short for his species, the Jatite stood at six feet, four inches tall, lean and long-limbed with a graceful frame. His movements were measured and slow at first. With each new step, he used the fertile air to feed the energy he needed without looking conspicuous. He found his pace, and the inclined hike progressed through a striking sunrise.
An hour passed before the alien spotted the large, L-shaped ranch house he was sent to find atop the Kittatinny Mountain range of northwestern New Jersey. A flagstone patio rimmed the back of the house -- the ideal perch from which one could view the Wallpack Valley nestled below. The mountains of Pennsylvania formed a swath of pale blue smudge on the horizon that bordered the valley on the western side.
The Jatite had barely reached the patio when the owner of the home, Dr. Hannaford Kelly, emerged from the back door. In his mid-sixties, his tough, sun-weathered features set off a generous thatch of graying hair pulled back into a squat ponytail. In his hands, pointed at the Jatite was a double-barreled shotgun. A Brittany spaniel followed on his heels. Growling, he positioned himself between his master and the trespasser who calmly held up his hand to assure them he posed no threat.
"Good morning," he said. " My name is Ezra. Please forgive this intrusion. I am lost."
Kelly lowered the gun to his side as the dog's growl changed quickly to whimpers of greeting. Known as Hank to his friends, the research biologist taught graduate students at Princeton University before retiring that spring. When fate made him a widower the year before, his dog, Noah, became his constant companion. He and his late wife never had any children. He listened intently as the Jatite explained that he had been hiking and lost his direction.
The spaniel darted toward the stranger, his stumpy tail wagging in friendship. The professor studied him for a few moments more and said, "My name is Hank...Hank Kelly. You must be thirsty and tired. Would you like to come into the house for some iced tea? It's fresh made. And I can give you directions on how to return to the main road."
"Iced tea. Yes. Thank you."
When they entered the house, Hank released the latch hinge of the shotgun and placed it on the waist-high counter separating the kitchen from the living room. He then filled a glass with iced, lemon tea from a pitcher.
Ezra sat on the living room couch -- his posture, ironing-board straight. Noah jumped up alongside him to lay his muzzle on his new friend's lap. Stroking the dog's silky forehead, the Jatite gazed through one of the large picture windows. "Your view. It is beautiful, Doctor."
With a side-long glance, the professor nodded in silence and handed him the tea. The alien gave off a faint wince before placing the cold glass on the coffee table.
Hank seated himself on the edge of a chair opposite the couch. His kind and probing eyes grew serious as he leaned toward the stranger. "I must warn you, Ezra. Everything about you is wrong. And you knew who I was before you ever set foot on my property. So tell me...are you traveling alone or have you brought others with you from your space vessel?"
Earth Time Lapse View From the International Space Station (Hans Zimmer - Inception)
The Link to Chapter 2 ...
Written by Genna Eastman and Mike Friedman. All rights reserved.