FLIGHT OF THE HIVE:
Chapter 8 - The Silence (before the storm)
Garret picked up his coffee mug and tossed it into the box with all the rest of his stuff. He remembered getting that on a Company business trip to New York years ago. His office hadn't held a lot that he needed to take with him. He straightened up and surveyed the bare desktop as if he could make another item appear to delay this. Watching him from his office door, were two of the Company’s goons, security guards from downstairs. They were there to make sure he didn't take any of the company's property or designs with him.
Seeing that he was looking at them one spoke. “Are you done? We still have work to do, Mr. Sawyer, and we have to walk you out. You know how it is.” That statement says it all, Garret thought. I’ve known how it was here for years and still I stayed. Too comfortable for his own good, even when he knew it wouldn’t last. Well, he knew it wasn’t their fault.
“Yeah. I guess so.” Garret gathered his last box up and headed out. The guards let him pass, then fell into step behind him. As he walked along he could see other employees looking at him. Of course, they’d all know he was fired. Word got around fast in the office. Some probably had some sympathy for him, but to most he was just one of those engineer-types who they only saw now and then. I should have gotten out of my office more, he thought. At least I'd have a few more folks here that I'd miss.
Funny, as he went down the hall to the elevator, he never remembered it was such a long walk. Man, I sure screwed up with that prick, Jeremy. I was probably headed to this anyway, he consoled himself. At least I got to punch Jeremy. The guards looked at him sharply as he barked a short laugh. Yeah, it had felt good to hit him. Especially now that he’d found out that Jeremy had stolen the credit for his work. He almost regretted making it so good. The stupid gadget worked better than any of the old ones had before. And Jeremy took all the credit. Garret shook his head as they stopped in front of the elevator. Jeremy probably would have gotten the credit anyway. If he’d complained it would have just left him looking like he was not a team player. He knew how it worked here.
The elevator opened up, but it was going up. There was only one person inside. Garret could see it was Linda McBride getting out with her usual armload of files and paperwork. Her eyes caught his. He could see the sympathy in them. He smiled, but it was a little crooked. She paused as she went by and whispered, “I’m sorry, Garret.” She looked away trying not to cry, then looked back up into his face.
“I am too, Linda.” He felt a few tears welling up. He cleared his throat. He wasn’t going to get soft here. Not in front of the guards.
“We still have a rain check to cache. Call me?” Linda smiled up at him.
Surprised, Garret smiled at her. “Sure. I will. I’d like that.” Damn, he felt like he was babbling. But she’d made him feel so much better. He watched her walking away. She still looked good no matter what.
“Get in,” one of the guards ordered interrupting his thoughts. He saw the guard was holding the door open to prevent its closing.
“But, it’s going up.” Garret complained.
“Naw. We’re going to pre-empt it. It’s empty now that she got off. We just have ta get you outa the building, Mr. Garret. Nothin’ personal.”
“Of course not,” Garret replied. It never is, he thought bitterly to himself.
Malen checked her data plate again. They were coming in slow, taking their time. The lead ships of the flight were inside the orbit of the last gas giant. There was a minor asteroid belt ahead, but the rocks were so widely scattered that there was little chance of a conflict. And in any event they would detect any possible collision well in advance. At this slow speed there was plenty of time to alter course and miss it, or send a mining vessel to deflect it.
She looked over to the bridge conference table where Faylon was busy with the latest Recon findings on the planet. Faylon had plenty to do between the ships of the flight, the wasp-fighters, and the landing groups. She would have her hands full until the subjugation was accomplished. Malen smiled. With Faylon completely absorbed in planning, it gave her plenty of opportunity to prepare her own ship for the assault.
And there was plenty to be done. The stresses of jumping through worm space had a way of loosening bolts and straining seams. And they had deferred maintenance for several jumps now due to the Enemy and their need to put distance between them. Her mechanic clones were going over every portion of the ship starting with its hull and engines, followed by weapons systems, before working their way through the decks. Malen was finding the slow approach to be a luxury that she was determined to take every advantage of.
Her weapons crew had already made sure the ionized metal powder and the pulse flares, used to confuse enemy targeting weapons, were loaded into their ejectors. She'd had the crew set the electromagnetic pulse bursts to low instead of high. The plan was to disable their electronics, not melt them down. Despite orders to the contrary, she had authorized keeping one thermonuclear device prepped and ready. Malen always kept an ace in the hole.
"Galeta forgive me if I am intruding, Ship-Mother," came a voice.
Malen frowned. Whoever was, was interrupting if not intruding. She turned to see Recon-Mother Banelet standing to one side. Startled Malen responded, "'Galeta forgives all who ask'. You are not intruding, Mother."
"Your response is proper, Malen, but I am intruding. There is much to do," Banelet said. "And so little time to do it."
"As you say... there is much to do. How can I assist you, Mother?" Malen was curious. Recon seldom had much interaction with her. Banelet 's attention indicated that something would be requested.
The Recon-Mother stepped closer. "Faylon does not wish to hear more about these subjugates, but I am concerned about them."
"Your concern is in the nature of your function," Malen responded noncommittally. "As my concern, and my function, is for this ship." She hoped Banelet would take the hint.
But instead, Banelet went on as if too preoccupied to notice Malen's answer. "These creatures are almost frenetic in the pace of their society. There is currently at least in oct-tillian different goals being pursued down there. The chaos is palpable and one can almost discern order in it." The Recon-Mother was clearly disturbed, but Malen was not sure of the cause of her disturbance.
"The flight mother has directed us to not discuss these subjugates until we have secured the planet. My khree would suffer if I did not honor that. I suspect we are jumping in that direction."
Banelet getting the hint look alarmed. "Galeta knows this is not my intended course." She looked across the bridge to where Faylon was planning strategies as if to confirm she was beyond earshot. "You have your ship to tend to. My duty and function is to study these creatures in preparation of subjugation. I cannot put them from my mind," with a look of appeal, she rubbed her forehead.
Malen felt some sympathy. "I do not think I can assist you in your quandary."
"I appreciate your ear. I have a bad feeling. Without the drones, who knew the mission, or the Psych-clones we lost with them, there is no one trained in pacification. Generally, I would not worry excessively. Subjugates are subjugates... but, with these creatures..."
Malen nodded thoughtfully. "I see your reasoning. Let us hope Galeta reveals to us our course before a die is cast that cannot be retrieved."
“They have a confirmation of still more black-body ships, Mr. President.” The Secretary of State looked frazzled. “De Havland thinks there’s two dozen or so ships out there, but keeps saying there could be more. I’d have said they were using too many inexperienced students, but the Graham Binocular Observatory in Arizona has similar findings. They say there could be a hundred. Amad Hazarian’s in charge there. Remember him? He disproved Stephen Hawings theory on black-holes and replaced it with his own. He says there are as many as a hundred ships out there.”
The President sighed loudly, “Somewhere between 25 and 100 alien ships out there. Two dozen of these "non-reflective" ships makes me nervous. A hundred makes me scared. You know, a few days ago, I thought it was easy to understand visitors having a lone exploratory vessel, maybe even two or three. Columbus had three. I thought it made a certain sense that they may be doing some scientific exploration of a nearby solar system that they had spent years preparing and paying for. But two dozen ships, or a hundred? They’d have to have resources beyond what we can conceive of. It makes you wonder. Any feedback from the analysts on that?”
Bob scratched his head. “Yes sir. The analysts are all over it. They suggest it may be a survey team. You know, scouting the area, recording detailed information on our system and, I expect, on us. Our TV and radio stations are broadcasting 24-7 into space. They may be watching us, literally, right now. Those signals could be what drew them here in the first place. That leads me to another possibility. This could be a planned and organized long-term diplomatic mission. A hundred ships could give them the resources to establish a space station in orbit with an embassy. Or they could land a ship in the capitals of most of the major nations in the world. We need to expect them to have the resources to stay for years and get to know us pretty well. Maybe even a permanent embassy.”
“A permanent extraterrestrial embassy? Sounds like something off a science fiction show on TV. I expect they are watching our video broadcasts though. I wonder what they make of us?” The President became quiet and introspective, thinking. Almost a minute passed in silence.
“Sir?” When the President looked at him, he went on, “The military analysts are cautioning that these aliens may have motives that are not in our best interests. This many ships could be prospecting for resources. Or . . . scouting for a later military action.”
The President laughed nervously. “A military expedition? Are they serious? What kind of sense does that make? No, I can’t believe that. Coming all this way for resources? I don’t know. I’d think that every solar system has plenty of resources without trying to ship ore across the galaxy. Every other system out there must have at least several planets and hundreds, or thousands, of asteroids that could be mined. ”
“I see you’re well informed on our latest discoveries about the planets around our neighboring stars, sir.”
“Informed? Maybe. I still can’t believe that this whole thing isn’t some elaborate hoax.”
“NASA JPL informed us that the last probe they were sending to the outer planets has been reprogrammed. It’ll be looking with all its instrumentation. It is just past the orbit of Jupiter and is going to pass quite a ways away, but it’ll be as close as we’ll get. You know . . . There is the possibility that they may just leave as quietly as they arrived.”
“Ha,” The President laughed again. “Considering that explosion, they didn’t arrive quietly at all. I’d hope they’d leave quieter.”
Chertok had found her again. When he showed up, she'd insisted Peta show him into the library. He began as usual, abruptly. "Madame Prime Minister, we have verified the data I gave you earlier today. The Wise Observatory confirmed what the both the Americans and Russians are seeing is there. Once they knew where to look, they were able to fairly quickly see the evidence the Americans saw at Atacamba and Graham Observatories.”
“They are certain? We cannot have a mistake in this.”
“Yes. They are certain. The astronomers we have verifying the data are very experienced. Just so you know, Prime Minister, Tel-Aviv University has been using pictures taken by the orbiting Kepler space telescope ostensibly to find earth-sized planets in the habitable-zone around other stars. But those pictures have had a second purpose. The university astronomers were also scanning those photos for eclipses of stars by objects in the Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt. It was simple to shift their study to the area the Americans are focusing on. Their first review of photos showed exactly what the Americans were seeing in Chile.” He positively gloated at this announcement. Yes, she thought. She did not like him. Shalda took an interest in astronomy and already knew that for years now, the university scientists had been using the data from those pictures to chart well over a thousand objects in the outer system. Their goal had been to determine more precisely the extent and size distribution of both the spherical Oort cloud and the more planar Kuiper belt. It was to provide support in preparation for an Israeli mission to those areas that was intended to leap frog the other major space exploring nations.
“A good astronomy lesson, Chertok”, Shalda replied dryly. If he hadn’t done his homework on her interests, she was certainly not going to inform him. “So they used these photos from the Kepler telescope to find our aliens?”
“No. Your pardon, Prime Minister. Let me explain better. The pictures from the Kepler could not help us because the instrument is pointed in the wrong direction at the time of the flash. But using the same procedures that they have perfected to an art, and then quickly looking through the Wise Observatory here in Israel, they found many identical eclipses to the ones the Americans are seeing occurring inside our solar system.”
“Eclipses of stars that mean space ships and aliens . . .”
“Yes. Well over a hundred ships are estimated by our astronomers.”
“But no visible pictures of these ships? Surely we have the technology to see small planets around the near stars. But inside the orbit of Neptune we should see these aliens waving to us through their windows. Why can’t we see what the Americans are claiming is there?”
To her pleasure, she saw discomfort on Josiah Chertok’s face. Defensively he said, “We are told the ships are stealth. The astronomers call them black-bodies. Non-reflective. Camouflaged.”
“Camouflaged?" Shalda snorted. "That means they do not want to be detected.” It was a statement, not a question. Chertok nodded solemnly. The Prime Minister was disturbed. Too many years of too many wars. Was she just being paranoid? Jehovah knew she deserved to be. Israel deserved to be. Aliens hiding from us within our own solar system. Shalda shook her head, “Is there any idea how long they have been there?”
“As near as we can tell from searching old photo records, they were not eclipsing stars prior to the explosive event recorded by the Americans.”
“So,” Shalda rationalized, “These aliens have not been here for long conducting an observation of us. They would only have time for a shorter term reconnaissance while camouflaged and maintaining a radio silence. I take it they are still ignoring all attempts by the Americans to communicate?” Chertok nodded again. That did not make her feel good at all. Her stomach churned again as it always did now days when she was stressed. She mused, maybe she was being paranoid. Maybe… Maybe not. In Israel, they lived in the middle of their enemies continuously. Paranoia was a survival trait.
“So . . . What does Mossad say?” She asked suspecting she already knew.
“We find ourselves nervous of their intentions. We recommend preparedness. If they go away or make peaceful contact, no problem. It’ll make a good exercise. Otherwise, we will be better prepared for potential trouble. Though with their technology, I am not sure how we will fare. But we have driven off vastly superior forces repeatedly in our past. Jehovah is with us. We are not afraid.”
“Can we continue our surveillance of the aliens quietly? We do not want this getting out to the public or to our Arab neighbors.”
“Wise Observatory is located on a high plateau in the central part of the Negev desert. It is 5 km west of the town of Mitzpe Ramon, which is about 200 km south of where we are in Tel Aviv and 86 km south of Beersheva. Basically, it is in the middle of nowhere. Yes we can continue our observations without any leaking of information on our part.”
“Good. As you know, with four Arab armies massed at our borders in their latest threat, we are already on the brink of being an earthly war. The Syrians are in their newly annexed Lebanese Golan Heights; the Egyptians are sitting on the Suez Canal where the 2021 War left the border; and then there are the Jordanians who are now on the West Bank with the Palestinian army. At least that one was split between the Gaza Strip and the West bank. Be glad Iran is no longer a credible threat these days, or they’d have troops here, too. Tell me what the current assessment is should they launch a surprise attack.”
“It will be a poor surprise,” he retorted. “But if they strike first, they may gain an advantage of momentum in the first 6 to 12 hours. The IDF, our Israeli Defense Force, will suffer serious casualties. This will not be a Six-Day War, Shalda. But neither will it be as bad as in 2021. We may lose all of Jerusalem again, and certainly good portions of the Sinai in the first week, before we can bring their advance to a halt in perhaps the second week. They’re using older Russian Ka-50 attack copters and T-90s tanks, both were new in the early 2000s, but are dated and aged equipment now. But they have a lot of them. The last modernization of the Russian military dumped a couple of hundred Ka-50s and 500 T-90s into our adversaries’ hands. This does not take into account several more hundred older tanks and hundreds of older helicopters.
They will have a split command, which helps us, but the T-90 and Ka-50 has given them an increase in firepower, mobility and armor. Our own latest Merkava series tanks will be fighting at odds of 3 to one as well. Our Apache Longbow 2’s and Super Cobras will also be outnumbered, but we will be clearing the air of fighters and air-threats by the third day at latest. Surface-to-surface missiles will be a nuisance, but our latest generation anti-missile defenses should reduce that threat to just that. A threat.” Chertok paused for air.
Then he plunged on, “Our technological advantages have been marginalized by the French supplying sophisticated missile systems into the T-90s. They will have a number of smart missiles and will pose a threat even to our aircraft. We will be forced to fall back these first critical days because we cannot afford to trade tanks in a war of attrition. They would win.”
“Two weeks… ,” the Prime Minister muttered. “
“Mossad recommends retaliatory strikes on their cities within the first twenty-four hours to dishearten their public. We expect that by the end of the second week, our infantry with the new mini-stinger shoulder-fired AI-missiles will have reduced the T-90s to wreckage. Isn’t artificial intelligence a great invention? That will allow us to begin to move our Mervakas forward again. We anticipate the IDF will have suffered a thirty percent casualty rate by the end of the second week.” Chertok almost sounded cheery with all this bad news.
Shalda paced the floor, her drink left behind on a table. “Thirty percent! We will still be viable?”
Chertok responded with some pride, “Yes, we project the IDF will have 53% of it’s tanks and copters and 68% of the fighters still operational. The bright side is that the combined Arab forces are projected to have a nearly seventy percent loss of hardware and troops by then. The tide of war should turn and we will mop them up in another two weeks, perhaps three. Unfortunately, overall civilian losses are expected to possibly top twenty percent.”
Twenty percent of the entire Israeli nation! Shalda stared at him. “Not acceptable”, she declared. “What is Mossad’s prognosis if we go for a first strike?”
“At your direction we have been reassessing that scenario every 4 hours. The last projection was that in the first twenty-four hours, we will eliminate 54% of their tanks and 80 percent of their airpower. Incoming surface to surface missiles will be stopped with our defenses. If we attack first we will be able to use planes we would otherwise have lost to run long range air strikes. We will neutralize all the missile launch sites in 48 hours at most. Mossad still encourages the first strike option.”
“Intervention is a possibility if we succeed too well”, Shalda warned. “But these aliens may give us just the distraction we need. If the superpowers are focused on them, we will not have to fear any outside involvement until the matter is resolved.”
“True. Should we arrange to leak the news of aliens to the American press and create a public outcry?” Chertok raised one eyebrow. Shalda suddenly remembered why this habit of his seemed familiar all these years. The old 2-D actor Sean Connery used to raise one eyebrow just like that in his James Bond movies. She wondered if Chertok practiced it in front of a mirror at night.
“No. Our populace will suffer from the same distractions. It would be hard to keep the country motivated to fight a war if you knew that superior beings were landing on your planet. No. Prepare our forces now, but quietly. Quietly," she reiterated. "If Mossad has any indication the Arab armies are moving, we launch our attack. Otherwise, we wait until the first public broadcasts of the sighting of the aliens. Then, we strike.”
All the discussion in the boardroom ceased as Carter Hilton walked in through the glass door separating this grandiose conference room from the outside offices. A half-dozen, “Good morning, Mr. Hilton's were offered to which he merely nodded. He brusquely sat at the head of the table and opened his chrome briefcase to take out some folders. The dozen others in the room sat immediately. They all watched Carter Hilton. What they saw was a man in his mid-forties, born to wealth and power, who took it all for granted. He was dressed for this corporate boardroom and wore a pair of $1,200 Gucci shoes. His hair was jet black and his clean-shaven face was all business this morning as usual.
After laying out his folders, Carter looked up. “Good morning.” Everyone at the table replied making a jumble of “good mornings” for the second time. “Steve, let’s go over our takeover of Merc-Rydell, shall we?”
“Yes sir,” one of the men at the table stood and began to speak pointing at a chart that had been on the side of the room. Carter Hilton seemed to ignore the subject and everyone there. When will he finished, Carter nodded and said, “Finish the acquisition and bring me a list of who we’re firing once we own it. Margaret, you’re next.”
Margaret stood up about half way down the table and began to explain how the latest crop failures in India were creating an opportunity to expand into the New Delhi manufacturing of magnetic resonance devices. There was an Indian firm whose Hindu owner was selling its assets s to cover food for the country. Margaret showed how his act of charity provided an opportunity to buy into an otherwise closed market. When she was done, Carter looked up and said looking around the table, “We don’t have to feed them to buy them. Go ahead Margaret. I want to see that firm in our hands in a month.”
A third speaker stood up to make a presentation, but a young man rushed into the room and whispered in Mr. Hilton’s ear. Carter looked up at the people at the table and said, “Thank you all. That will be all today. And I've got it backwards I want to see all the progress and budget reports by Friday.” With that, they all stood and gathered their own folders and notebooks and left. When they had gone, Carter signaled to the young man who had rushed in. The young man opened the glass door and gestured to a small crowd of dark suits outside. They all hurried in.
Once they were all in the room, the young man exited the door and closed it firmly behind him. Carter gazed at the new group. They seemed an unlikely group. Several academics, a pale thin quiet man, three who looked to be likely military, uncomfortable in their civilian dress suits, and a well dressed young woman in a dark pant suit. “Kyle, tell me what you have so far.”
Kyle Gentry was one of the uncomfortable military types. He sported close cropped hair and a uniform dark tan over his face that spoke of time in the field. Kyle stepped forward and said, “Mr. Hilton. There are at least a dozen governments who are aware of the arrival of the alien ships. Russians and Americans have taken over all the available observatories and at first were spreading stories that they were looking for an asteroid on a near miss course with earth. The Americans started that story and the Russians jumped on the bandwagon saying they were assisting in the search in a spirit of cooperation between nations. Then recently they changed their story to include a missing space probe. Neither will call the other a liar and both are scrambling to locate the aliens and contact them.”
“The funny thing is that NASA’s last interplanetary probe actually has stopped functioning rather mysteriously and appears to no longer be travelling on course. Their lie about a missing probe appears to now be a reality. There is even discussion that the aliens have disabled or collected the probe for their purposes. The French are launching their latest and greatest Arianne rocket and with their newest probe. The final stage will be driven by an ion drive for speed and a nuclear power source for its energy. The target of their probe and the use of a nuclear reactor are not yet widely known. They are sending straight into the center of the area being searched for the ship. The launch is sure to create tensions since the use a nuclear power source in space is forbidden by the final Helsinki accords in 2023.”
“It could cause tensions if the aliens feel threatened by the Earth sending a nuclear power source in their direction.”
“Maybe, sir. But the size and duration of the flare of light indicates our little toy is probably not going to concern them.”
“Ok. What else?”
“Israel has been on alert for months. As you know, the Arabs are trying to pressure them with their combined armies into pulling out of East Jerusalem. That was one of the areas they refused to secede to Hamas when they formed the permanent Palestinian government after the Iranian War. Private sources in our government have indicated to us that Israel is seriously considering a first strike against the Arabs. If that happens it is going to destabilize the region, again.”
“OK. So another money making opportunity arises. Other than Israel, none of that is particularly new information, Kyle,” Carter Hilton said calmly.
“This is. Our astronomer friends here,” he gestured towards the academic looked pair, “have some new proof that the alien ships are more than 200 and are moving towards the inner system slowly. There is also some indications that they are spreading out and that they are headed straight towards us.”
Carter watched the professors nodding vigorously behind Kyle. He idlely said to the goup, “It would appear that the aliens are either intending to make contact, or they are planning a pretty intensive inspection of the Earth. In either case, they are probably here for the long term.” He watched for a response from the professors at his words.
Surprisingly, Kyle spoke. “I don’t think so, sir.”
Carter blinked. “Are you expecting them to cruise right by us and keep going?”
“No, sir. Not that either. There is the possibility that they are here for a purpose detrimental to our planet’s welfare.”
“How so? Are you expecting them to turn out to be the invaders from Mars?””
“No, sir. Not Mars. Most likely, they’ll make contact and then they’ll look to maximize their gain. We expect that they may try to throw their weight in with one or more planetary governments, to buy bargaining power.”
“Bargaining power for what?”
“Now that, as Groucho Marx used to say, is the $64 thousand dollar question.
Carter Hilton rubbed his chin before saying, “Well, we need to study which of the world governments we think they’ll contact. Then we’ll want to make as many connections as we can as high as possible. Our ability to stay on the top is going to mean we need to be ready to move our allegiance to whichever country the aliens pick.”
“Any more enlightening news?” Carter asked. “All this good news is making my digestion suffer.”
“Nothing else, sir.”
“Ok then. Get back with me as soon as you hear anything. I suspect that events are about to start happening faster.”
As the rest of the group shuffled out, Kyle stepped up to Carter Hilton and shook his hand saying, “The President sends his regards, Mr. Hilton.”