When It Rains


by John Steiner

Only 42 light-years away, the exo-solar planet, Henry Draper 40307G, has yet to be visited by humanity. That changes, when the Mockingbird arrives with an astronomical survey team. Deploying probes and deep space telescopes, the science team stumbles upon intelligent aliens on sixth planet. Colonel Rama orders the crew onto alert. Captain O'Connell and his Seti team, clash with ISO scientists while studying the surface life. The crew is shocked again, when a derelict spacecraft is found in a Lagrangian Point beyond the planet's moon. How many S.E.T.I. encounters they face is uncertain.


Chapter 1

A Fine First


Out of empty space grew a blue and white speck that blossomed into a Flipspace-capable Raven class Intra-System Vessel. The ship flipped from Sol forty-two light years away. For the first time, the ISS Mockingbird wasn’t following up on mission targets of the ISS Astraeus.

Colonel Ramachandra struggled to leash her excitement when briefing her crew. The mission was to a star never before visited, Henry Draper 40307. Around it, six super Earths closely circled, the outermost holding an eccentric orbit within the K-type star’s habitable zone.

That would be just the start of breathtaking discoveries.

* * * *

“Ops to OCS, geo-stat orbital insertion now,” the Operations officer announced.

“Copy,” Rama answered, and then addressed the chocolate-toned woman at Station Four. “Dr. Perry, when we’re in orbit, coordinate with Weapons for satellite launches, but hold off deploying surface rovers. We need a preliminary read of what’s down there first.”

Prior to leaving Earth, the Mockingbird had undergone re-modulation again, and taken on a five-member survey team from the International Space Organization. The left of two major spaces in the front half of the diamond shaped main hull concealed an array of instrumentation and sensors along with an observatory station. The Raven’s liquiplastic nano-scaffolding armor receded in a patch to reveal the array of high power instruments and sensors. The space to the right, similar in size to that of the left, housed labs for the survey team’s analysis on samples and other work without crowding regular crew.

“Understood,” Janice Perry responded. “Weapons, open Launch Bays Three and Four and run diagnostics. Then plot solutions for polar orbiter, GPS deployment vehicle, and telescope sats.”

“Roger that, Station Four.”

Altogether four launches took place. Two satellites burned for Lagrangian orbits outside the two larger moons, and the set of rings maintained by the gravity of those moons’ orbits. Albedo from Planet G wouldn’t interfere with their observations. The telescopes also would avoid collisions with ring debris. A new generation GPS system, deployed from a single launch, established itself in half the time of previous designs. In three hours, they had established a remote orbital presence. Over the following day, the polar orbiter mapped the entire planet. It also took XD video of the surface and plotted cursory weather projections. The findings caused shouts of jubilation from the labs.

When Colonel Rama entered main lab, which branched off to two others, she saw Perry’s team gathered around a central display table. The projection showed mostly dry terrain and, as Sumitra reminded herself of how sharp her augmented eyes were, complex flora and fauna.

“Atmospheric pressure’s over twice that of Earth at sea level,” one of them said. “The composition’s so close people could go down there without suits if necessary.”

“I wouldn’t have expected to see life forms with that size on a super Earth,” spoke another.

“It could be that the high O two content allows for stronger collagen,” the first speculated.

“Congratulations, Dr. Perry,” Rama said, as she maneuvered to the table.

“This isn’t just any find,” Kenji Kimura said through a broad grin. “Look here.”

The Japanese topographer and geologist worked projected control icons to zoom into a particular spot. He looked to Rama as she stared at the scene of several similar appearing animals clustered together. However, the smoldering campfire site froze her in place.

“Maggie, take us to Threatcon Alpha and have CIC log any and all signals detected,” Rama ordered. “Captain O’Connell, Mr. Goddard, and Mr. Ash, come to the lab module please.”

Kenji’s face soured at hearing the fight surgeon’s name. In contrast, Perry brightened.

“Excuse me, Colonel,” Perry interceded, raising her hand. “I don’t think we’re in danger.”

“Sorry Doctor,” Rama apologized without sounding like it. “This is procedural until we establish with certainty there’s no threat.”

“I’ll start crew health inspection when we’re at low orbit,” Sumitra heard O’Connell talking to someone, before he entered. “Yeah Colonel, what do ‘ya need?”

Goddard and Ash came in half a minute after, as the flight surgeon approached the rest.

“Take a look and tell us we’re seeing what we’re seeing,” Rama requested.

The captain was about to say something, until rendered speechless. His left and right hands of SETI Protocol, Goddard and Ash, also gaped at the sight.

“Ah...” O’Connell managed to say and paused before resuming. “Stanley, get on these controls. Start with the burn site, and examine the arrangement of the rocks around it.”

“Yeah, I’m on it,” the Logician said, as he maneuvered over in free-fall.

“Todd,” Malcolm addressed the genetic hacker. “Split this display, and review the movements of those kinda lion-looking animals there.”

“Whoa,” Todd Ash exclaimed like a kid on Christmas morning. “Two of them got some killer coloration goin’ on. It’s like someone took highlighters to them.”

“Well guys,” O’Connell said to the science team around the table. “It’s your find. Got a name picked out for these critters?”

“Neon lions,” Kimura suggested. “How about we call them Leons?”

“‘Knew a guy named Leon back in the United States Army,” O’Connell reminisced. “He showed me a photo of his hair before he joined. Serious punk music fan, so that works for me.”

“I think their body covering’s more like feathers,” Todd said, zeroing in on the surreally high-resolution video taken from over two hundred kilometers up. “Yet the body plan suggests a specialized predatory animal. Their forelimbs look pretty good for...”

Todd stopped without explanation, and panned around the animals that appeared to be eating something they’d killed. Rama glanced over to see a Leon forelimb ending in four fingers similar to a bird of prey, but for the downy covering and pads under the fingers and palm. That it held an iron chisel reaffirmed her prior assessment for bringing in O’Connell’s team.

“It’s using the wedge to split open bones,” Todd observed. “Not much in the way of clothing, which makes sense. They’re wearing some kind of buckskin armor with some interesting plating. Mostly bone, but there are a few iron plates here ’n’ there. He also has a gun.”

"FLIPSPACE: When It Rains" by John Steiner


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