2947-06-25 – Tales from the Inbox: Red Carpet for Reachers

I am told that a decision about Cosmic Background’s War Correspondent role has been made and that an announcement is expected in the next few days. That is all the information I have; evidently the techs have already prepped a text feed announcement and a segment to insert into one of the vidcast episodes that will be released in the next few days. 

Despite the electrifying news last week, there is no news on the war situation worth remarking on here. As far as I’m concerned, that’s good; leave the war-reporting job to the professionals. 

Today’s entry features an alleged sighting of a rare sapient indeed; though I have been sent several accounts of this species since the beginning of this text feed series, none of them have been credible enough or specific enough to publish. This account is well documented, though oddly enough none of the documentation sent my way has been published anywhere else on the datasphere. 

As usual for their kind, the visit was peaceful, but my source redacted all information relating to their appearance on the ground and about what they actually wanted out of a visit to a remote Terran colony. He would not say why. Perhaps at a later date this information will become available.

Raju blinked his eyes and stared at the screen. The orbital telsat network had finally locked onto the ship just entering orbit after inexplicable amounts of trouble doing so, and now he had a clear picture of the company to expect. He knew exactly what he was looking at; he didn’t know how it was possible. The glittering curves and fluted spines of the ship, more at home in a primordial sea than in the interplanetary firmament, could only be one thing. 

Sohvi!” Raju’s shout echoed oddly in the underground spaceport control room. On a colony barely one T-year old, the term “spaceport” remained aspirational at best, but a full orbital telemetry network had been installed before the first human had set foot on Harvey’s Penury. “I’ve got ID on the visitor. Call the boss down here.” 

“Trouble?” Sohvi emerged from the alcove housing the control room’s beverage synthesizer machine and hurried to one of the other two consoles to place a call. 

“Could be.” Raju could have done it himself, but that would require taking his eyes off the intruder. He had been hoping for a quiet shift on spaceport watch duty as a break from endless days of tending gene-tweaked crops and repairing an endless series of minor equipment failures. This was, in fact, the planet’s first unscheduled visitor in its colonial history. 

As his associate hurriedly sent a high-priority alert to the colony’s leader, Raju got more of the telsats to focus on the ship to improve the quality of the image, as if expecting the distinctive, organic shape of its hull to be replaced by the boxy outline of a light hauler with enough imaging resolution. He couldn’t bring himself to tell Sohvi what it was; if he said it out loud, or even thought it too forcefully, it might break the spell. 

“Stars around. Reachers!” Sohvi’s voice over Raju’s shoulder made him jump and dispelled the magic of the moment all at once. Still, after he settled back down into his chair, the ship was still there. She had said it, and it was true. The vessel now settling into orbit was undoubtedly of Reacher design. 

The automated satellites had been hailing the incoming ship without reply since it had been detected hours before, but suddenly the board lit up. “They’re responding to traffic control.” Raju stared dumbly at the display, afraid to touch anything. 

Sohvi reached past him to engage the console’s speakers. “...Request permission, one lander, spaceport facility designated Harvey’s Penury, use of.” The monotone voice of the Reachers’ translation equipment sent a chill down Raju’s spine. He knew that perhaps two hundred Terrans in all of explored space had ever spoken to a Reacher. “Settlement response, Terran, awaiting.” 

“They want to land.” Raju summarized. The words their translator used made perfect sense individually, but organizing them into the structure of a human thought took some effort. “When the boss gets here, he-” 

“Finally get the bogie to respond to hail?” Dr. Shahrivar clomped into the command center, still wearing mud-caked boots and overalls. Tall, broad-shouldered, and silver-haired, the colony’s manager never hesitated to get his hands dirty on days when there wasn’t much managing to do. “Damn well better not be the-” The big man stopped short as soon as he got close enough to see Raju’s screen. “It can’t be.” 

“They want to land.” Sohvi stepped aside to let him take her place behind Raju’s chair. “They didn’t say what for.” 

Shahrivar’s short beard didn’t hide the way he clenched his jaw in thought as he stared at the feed. “How big is that ship?” 

Raju tapped the controls to retrieve an answer. “Eight hundred meters on the long axis.” The ship being somewhat platter-shaped, it probably outweighed most Confederated Navy cruisers. Nobody had ever exchanged weapons-fire with a Reacher and lived to tell about it, but the rare and retiring sapients possessed a reputation for superior technology. Even if they were lightly armed for their size, they could probably glass the colony site quite easily. “I think they said they wanted to land a launch.” 

“Nice of them to ask forgiveness, but we can hardly stop them, can we?” Shahrivar shook his head. “Sohvi, get back to the compound and get everyone into shelter.” 

Without a word, the young woman clattered up to ground level at a dead run. Raju turned his head to look at his boss, waiting for a similar instruction. 

“Don’t just sit there, son.” Shahrivar hurried into the sanitation stall adjoining the control room. “Get them a de-orbit track.” 

Raju blinked several times before returning his attention to the console, finger hovering over the key which would transmit a reply. Taking a deep breath, he pressed it. “Reacher vessel, this is control. Landing permission granted. Stand by for course telemetry.” 

As soon as he’d sent it, Raju winced; none of them had remembered the standard procedure of asking a visitor’s purpose. As he set up a de-orbit vector and course toward the grass-covered spaceport field, he wondered whether any answer they would have given would have meant anything to Terrans anyhow. 

Dr. Shahrivar emerged from the sanitary stall in only his smart-fabric jumpsuit, cleaned up and reconfigured for a somewhat more formal but less practical cut. “How long until they land?” 

A quick check back to the board revealed that the Reachers, after asking permission to land, had neither waited for Raju’s course data nor made any attempt to follow it once it had been sent. Their launch was already thundering into the upper atmosphere, spinning at so high a rate that it seemed intent not on landing but on drilling its way deep into the planet. It seemed impossible that the sapients inside could survive such gee forces, but there was a terrifying regularity to its plummet which suggested the craft was functioning perfectly. “If they bleed velocity to land safely, five minutes.” If they didn’t, the impact would obliterate the landing field entirely, and shower the rest of the colonial outpost with finely ground debris. Raju hoped they would land. If they didn’t, he had about forty seconds to make his peace with the universe. 

“Come on, then.” Dr. Shahrivar beckoned. “Let’s go meet them.” 

Raju stood and followed his superior up into the hard-edged afternoon sun, immediately picking up the fireball and smoke-trail of the incoming Reacher launch. Sure enough, its arrow-straight smoke-trail became a helix, then vanished altogether, leaving only a red-hot mote spinning toward the ground. “Hell of a ride that must be.” 

Shahrivar’s thoughtful grunt suggested his mind was elsewhere, so they watched the craft’s remaining descent in silence. The closer to the ground the ship got, the slower it fell, and the slower it spun. It was bigger than Raju had expected – thirty meters long at least – and the seashell aesthetics of its mothership were repeated in miniature on the lander, though without the spines or fluting. 

At last, the ship’s belly came to a gentle rest on the field a hundred meters away, still hot enough to set the nearest plant-life ablaze. 

As the seconds ticked past without any movement from the ship, Raju cleared his throat. “Have you ever met a Reacher before, boss?” 

“No.” Dr. Shahrivar turned toward Raju with a distant smile. “If they’re anything like what you see in the the archive footage, this is bound to be interesting.”