The sun had only just risen, but the streets of Ikthryll were alive. Galash were coming from everywhere on the moon and converging on the frustum-shaped city. Just west of Ikrthryll was a pair towers which were almost entirely submerged in water. These towers were binding Amanth, the great ship that would be the first to leave the solar system.
Second mate Rena appreciated the sight of the pink moon Roa hanging over Ikrthryll as she boarded the steamship. She looked down to see dozens of people swimming up, out of the submerged half of the city. She looked forward to where the boat was taking her. The sight was sublime. Behind Amanth and beyond the horizon, Rena could see the first layer of Hevar’s turbulent atmosphere. The gas giant’s enormous ring was a golden streak across the upper left region of the sky. Below the ring, far off, but just above the horizon, the orange moon Zantar was visible as a small crescent.
The ship itself was immense. Its cabin was seven stories, each one about 240 strides in length and 120 in width. The balloon seemed to be nearly the size of the dry portion of Ikthryll. It was blocking out most of the sun, but there were still rays being cast over it, lighting up the low fog, and shimmering on the surface of the water.
This was by no means Rena’s first genusinc mission. She had been to all three hospitable moons of Hevar. This ship dwarfed, both in size and purpose, every other one she had been on.
Astronomers had calculated that the passengers weight on the new world would be just less than twice that of their weight on Moikrol. Because of this, everyone who was going to be part of the voyage had to spend a year wearing an increasingly heavy weight-suit while they walked around and went about their daily activities. Their daily activities, that is, except for swimming. The suit covered to much of their bodies; their skin couldn’t breath enough for them to drag the extra weight through the water.
This had been a huge disappointment for Rena; she loved exploring the underwater caves of Moikrol and Sevna. At the point where she was constantly lugging around 1.5 times her own bodyweight, she wasn’t even allowed to board airships.
But it was worth it because now the weights were off. She felt as though she could sprint across the surface of the water if she wanted to. This solidified her confidence and amplified her excitement.
“So do you really think the ship will be able to withstand the new world’s atmosphere?” Asked first mate Muav suddenly.
Rena gave him a somewhat annoyed look. “You’re aware of the small portal that was already opened to the world. The researchers found that the atmosphere is very much like ours, only slightly more dense. We’ll be fine.”
“And what about giant flying creatures?” questioned Muav.
“The strong gravity makes large animals less likely to evolve, and less likely to fly very high. And besides, the ship is steel-plated,” replied Rena dismissively.
“Suppose something goes fatally wrong, Muav. Won’t it have been worth the experience of laying eyes on the surface of an entirely new planet?” added Captain Ulam.
“Maybe so, I just wish we had some way to send an unmanned ship there before we go ourselves.”
“Unmanned ship!?” Ulam asked incredulously. He could hardly believe the things his friend thought up sometimes. Both Ulam and Rena were looking at Muav with a mixture of humor and confusion. They both started making a glarping sound, the Galash equivalent of laughter.
Muav was slightly embarrassed, the idea of an unmanned ship being of any use did seem pretty ridiculous.
Their steamboat was now passing through one of the three channels in the enormous semi-circle shaped stands which had been constructed for an audience to witness Amanth take off. The crew was visible to certain parts of the crowd, who began cheering as soon as they saw the boat.
Upon arriving at the loading platform, they disembarked. Ulam, Muav, Rena, and the two pilots Stan and Lopuk walked towards the side of the platform nearest to the crowd. Ulam stepped forward to stand next to the Governor of the Apur continent.
They began their dialogue to the crowd.
“Say, Governor, was it not but twenty two years ago that the great Alfada Amanth brought disbelief to Moikrol when she used her genudec engine to open a portal to Sevna? How is it that I already stand in front of the ship that will carry me past the stars?”
The stands erupted with cheering, and excited gurgling could be heard from the spectators who preferred to stay in the water.
“Indeed, Captain, and in those years our people have spread across the moons of Hevar! We now see all the planets and stars from three different perspectives! Our understanding of life has already been revolutionized! Yet the bulk of the worlds already accessible to us remain largely unexplored! And now, thanks to the multitudes of engineers, architects, physicists, and astronomers, a ship has been built which will take you far beyond the comforting shadow of Hevar and into the atmosphere of a world invisible to the naked eye!”
“What a privilege it is to embark upon such a journey! I will witness the process of charting a coastline which could never be discerned by telescopes, the documentation of lifeforms of an entirely new evolutionary history, and the maintenance of the most marvelous machine ever to be produced: the genusinc engine!”
“It is our priviledge to be able to witness your grand departure!” the Governor responded with gusto. With that, the tail on the back of the Governor’s head stood straight up and started wriggling quickly as he faced Ulam. This was the Galash gesture of sincerest praise and approval.
At once, Ulam saw hundreds of tails in the stands and the water raise and begin wriggling for him and his crew. Coupled with the shouts of delight and revelry, this blew Ulam’s excitement, anticipation, and pride up to a magnitude that he had never before experienced. He turned to face the Governor and they exchanged a double-high five, the greatest symbol of comradery between two individuals.
The Captain turned towards the entrance of the ship, and was followed into it by his mates and pilots. They were greeted by the executives of the engineering and science teams, who had come on board earlier to prepare their observational equipment and run last minute maintenance checks.
For Muav, all the preparations for the mission had seemed like an anxiety-inducing dream. But after the long walk to the bridge, he felt like he could finally relax. It was just the bridge to another airship, like the countless ones he’d been on before. His anxiety about the new world was probably misplaced. After all, there were at least sixty people on board who knew the ship’s systems inside and out. All he had to do was help Ulam make sure things went smoothly.
The system of hooks which had been binding Amanth to hover just above the water were released, and the wires that they were attached to were retracted into the underwater towers. The ship began to lift off. Everyone on the bridge could momentarily see the crowd cheering saying their last goodbyes. Then the ship steered to the right and all that could be seen was the sea, the sun, Hevar with its great ring, and the moon Zantar. Everyone took a moment to appreciate the sight of their homeworld.
“Has the genusinc engine checklist been completed?” Ulam pronounced into one of the many wire-phones that surrounded his desk.
“Yes, sir!” responded a voice from the other end.
“Open the portal!” dictated the captain.
Everyone watched in anticipation as the beam of green energy was fired from beneath the bridge and across several hundred meters of ocean. The beam halted, and at the end a bright ball of white light formed, which then exploded into a warping of space so dangerously huge that it nearly touched the surface of the water. It was impossible to make out what was on the other side of the portal. Light behaves in strange ways when passing through, so all the crew could see was a lot of morphing shapes on the surface of a sphere whose colors spanned the entire spectrum.
“Brace yourselves!” shouted the captain. It was excellent advice, suddenly weighing nearly twice as much as you usually do is never a good feeling, especially if you weren’t anticipating it.
The portal now loomed in front of the cabin. Everyone who wasn’t seated had taken a low position and was holding onto something with both hands. They waited.
Finally, the ship touched the portal. Everyone was jerked by the acceleration of the ship being sucked in, then blinded by an intense flash of light, and finally slammed to the ground by their new weight.
For a moment, everyone was stunned. The wind had been knocked out of them and they could barely see.
After several seconds, “We made it!” Muav shouted hoarsely.
In an instant, everyone regained their breath and started cheering and glarping. The entire ship rejoiced, there wasn’t a single crew member who didn’t feel an intense sense of accomplishment.
It was night on the new world, and they had appeared above one of its oceans.
“Captain, I think you might want to see this.” said a voice from one of the telephones.
“I’ll be there right away,” replied the captain cheerily.
On the observation deck, most scientists and their assistants were gathered near the front of the cabin. Ulam wouldn’t have thought much of this, except they all had confused looks on their faces and seemed to be discussing something that they found very curious.
“Ah, there you are, captain. We’ll be approaching the coastline shortly,” explained one of them, “Now come here and have a look at what I think you ought to see.”
Ulam was directed to the telescope at the front of the ship. He peered through it. What he saw baffled him: in the dead of night, there were innumerably many yellow, steadily glowing specks of light that dotted the landscape just a few kilometers ahead.
The airship's bridge was buzzing with activity. Science officers were carrying in handwritten reports from the observation deck for their assistants to transcribe via typewriter, the head engineer was briefing the first mate on the state of the genusinc engine, and all of the crew members were discussing the magnificence of what they had accomplished.
"What has been discovered about the indigenous life?" Captain Ulam asked second mate Rena.
"The world is mostly covered by water. The oceans do contain life, but we can't tell how much. The land is mostly covered in immobile plants. The most noticeable mobile organisms which have been spotted appear to be mammalian; one particular species appears to be vastly more advanced than its co-inhabitants."
"How advanced, exactly?"
"More advanced than us, sir."
"Is that possible? Wouldn't we have met them before?"
"The scientists are speculating that they've been waiting for us to make contact with them. They have more electric lights than we thought possible to manufacture with all the resources of our world, they've built structures which nearly touch the clouds, and aircraft that travel at a hundred times the speed of our airship."
As Ulam was thinking this over, first mate Muav approached the two of them. "We will be ready to open a home-bound portal in eleven Moikrol turns, which corresponds to about 8 turns of this world."
Ulam would've been fine with this. After all, the data the scientists were collecting would revolutionize the study of biology back home and story of the voyage would act as a great inspiration for generations to come. However, the presence of a highly advanced civilization bothered him. Had they ignored Moikrol so as to let it develop on its own? Or was his world so insignificant to this race that they had simply never bothered to investigate it?
His pondering was cut short by a loud buzzing noise from outside the ship. He stood up abruptly and walked briskly over to the viewing window to see nine strange aircraft hovering a good distance away from his ship.
. . .
"Tell me what you see," ordered Colonel Bradworth.
"Not much," replied the captain, "Just an ordinary blimp. Well, maybe not so ordinary: it doesn't have the Goodyear logo, it's just brown and old-timey-lookin."
"How in the hell did it just *show up* above the East coast of Florida last night?" thought the colonel, "The military had used several frequencies to try to make contact with it, but to no avail. Whoever was piloting it didn't appear to mean any harm, they hadn't dropped any bombs or anything. But *who* were they? And *how* did they get there?"
"We need to signal them to land," he dictated to the rest of the channel, "shouldn't be too hard for them to find a suitable spot, plenty of wide, flat spots in the southeastern US."
"How do we signal to them to land if they aren't responding to radio?" Someone on one of the helicopters asked.
Bradworth groaned to himself. It was a perfectly reasonable question, and he had no idea how to answer it. Not yet, at least.
. . .
An anxious air now filled the bridge. It had been half a day, in terms of this world's rotation, since the strange aircrafts had approached them.
The one thing that almost everyone in the chain of command had agreed on was that the ship's speed should be minimized, so as to not agitate the unknown beings that were observing them.
"They're backing off!" exclaimed an assistant whose eyes had been glued to the viewing window for almost the entirety of the ordeal.
Rena assumed it was just wishful thinking, but glanced out the window anyway. It was true! "Captain!" she shouted.
Ulam abandoned his conversation with the head of the science team and ran over to where Rena was standing. He felt relief flow through him. "But what's next?" He thought out loud.
He didn't have to wait long to get an answer. Soon there was another type of aircraft in front of the ship, it had wings and appeared to be propelled by a pair of spinning blades. It dragged behind it an enormous blue rectangle of fabric with a single red shape printed upon it. The shape looked like a short, wide spear with the tip pointed towards the ground. The message was clear to everyone on the bridge: land the ship.
. . .
Bradworth was absolutely exhausted. His day had been spent managing the squad of helicopters that had been surrounding the blimp, convincing pentagon officials that things were under control and that the stupid balloon didn't pose a threat, and giving a few sparse comments to overly inquisitive journalists.
Now he stood before the massive ship, in a miraculously larger field. It was a good scene for concluding a stressful day. The sun was beginning to set behind the trees at the edge of the field. Hot pink clouds striped the magenta sky, and a cool breeze blew across his face and caused a satisfying ripple in the dandelions that covered the field.
He and his subordinates approached what appeared to be the door to the giant cabin. As the door opened, Bradworth was partially distracted by enjoying the fresh air and watching one of the clouds being blown to the side to reveal a beautiful crescent moon. He lowered his eyes to give a stern look to whoever emerged from behind the door.
He was confused for half a second because, although he was looking straight ahead, he saw a waist. Then this confusion turned into disbelief as he looked up. What he saw was a stumbling, twelve-foot giant with blue and green scales. Small spines which jutted out from the front of its forehead continued onto the tail which protruded from the back of its head and waved back and forth as its four eyes looked around frantically in four different directions.
As he heard one of the officers behind him faint, Bradworth realized that the stress of his day had just begun.
Ulam looked at the small, beige creatures. He observed each of the vehicles that had brought the natives to the landing site, he scanned the trees at the edge of the field, and then focused on the human that had just fallen over for an unknown reason.
Ulam was unsure of how to greet these new beings. He thought about raising his arms to show that he was unarmed, but he realized that the gesture might be frightening considering their difference in sizes. He settled for bowing, but he had neglected the fact that the planet’s gravity was much too strong for him to bow safely. He fell on his face. Some of the beige creatures made a strange huffing sound. Embarrassed, he pushed himself up and decided to sit in front of them. He heard Muav and Rena do the same behind him.
The human closest to Ulam hadn’t moved. Both of his eyes were fixated on Ulam. He wondered whether or not the creature could move his eyes independently.
Finally, Bradworth said something: “So, ahem, is this a costume that uses some kind of animatronics? Is this a tribute to a TV series? Or a prank. . .” He wasn’t really sure what kind of motive someone could have for such antics.
Ulam cocked his head in confusion.
He could only imagine that the small creature wanted to know where he was from and how he got to Earth, so he tried his best: “I am Ulam, of the Galash. We come from Moikrol, a moon of Hevar,” he paused and made a grand gesture towards the ship, “We were brought here by the great airship: Amanth!” he said proudly.
Bradworth’s expression had changed, but it was still impossible for any Galash to read.
“Stop with these shenanigans,” Bradworth demanded, “identify yourself.”
Ulam wasn’t sure how to respond. He glanced back at Muav and Rena, who both expressed uncertainty.
More humans were approaching quickly. They pointed what looked like combustion-based projectile weapons at the Galash. This made Ulam very nervous. He wasn’t sure how express his inhostility.
Bradworth growled. Some of the humans started shouting and gesturing upwards with their weapons. Ulam took this to mean that he should put his hands up, so he did. Muav and Rena did the same.
Bradworth was thoroughly confused. If these were somehow people in costumes, they surely would’ve given up the act as soon as guns were involved, yet he wasn’t sure how else to explain what was going on. Magical creatures? Aliens? Preposterous. Perhaps he was dreaming. He looked down at his hands and counted his fingers. There were exactly ten of them, and they looked perfectly normal. He wasn’t dreaming.
“Search the ship.”
A few of the humans circled around the Galash and entered the ship.
Ulam’s anxiety was visceral. He would’ve been more than happy to let the beings aboard his ship, but he could only imagine how one of the crew might react to seeing them on board uninvited, or how any of the natives might react to seeing a plethora of creatures much larger than them.
“Alright, you’re coming with us,” said Bradworth.
Humans encircled the Galash and gestured with their weapons again. Ulam was unsure about what they wanted until he saw Bradworth walking away from them. He struggled to his feet and followed, as did Muav and Rena.
The sun had set and darkness had fallen. As he reached the edge of where the great balloon blocked out his view of the sky, Ulam looked up. He stopped in his path and gazed up with awe.
This new planet had only a single moon, a tiny crescent in the vast sky. But it certainly wasn’t the moon that had stopped Ulam, it was what the lack of a moon revealed about the sky. Every Galash new about stars, there were about five or six visible every night, up to twelve if you were lucky. Most Galash were also aware that there were actually thousands of stars, and that most of them were invisible due to sunlight reflected off of Hevar’s ring and moons. This had never struck any Galash as disappointing. After all, what good was a few dozen pricks of light in the sky to several colorful moons and a great golden ring? Yet, every Galash on Earth was taken aback by the sight and stood staring up at the sky with Ulam.
Bradworth wasn’t sure what to make of this. As much as he loved stargazing, he needed to take the creatures . . . somewhere . . . Were they even going to fit in all of the paddy wagons?
“It will sort itself out, I suppose,” he thought to himself, “In a few hours, I probably won’t be the one in charge of this situation.” And so he stood with the Galash, staring up at the cosmos.
. . .
The next few days were a flurry. A large set of pavillions had been temporarily constructed for the Galash’s lodging. They were constantly being guarded by the military, not just to make sure they didn’t try to leave, but to keep out the plethora of journalists, photographers, and general spectators who wanted a peek at the strange creatures.
Once it had been determined that they could genuinely not understand English, the only humans that were allowed to interact with the Galash were part of a team of the most renowned linguists on Earth. They had developed rudimentary communication and learned about the food rations being kept aboard the ship, and the pain the Galash experienced from the continuous subjection to Earth’s strong gravity.
The rations were brought to them. Some of them were removed so that biochemists could discern what nutrition the Galash required.
The Galash were told to spend much time laying down as possible, and were subjected to x-ray scans to study their skeletal structure and determine what could be done to alleviate the burden of high gravity.
When asked where they came from, all the Galash had pointed to the sky. Out of curiosity, the linguists decided to provide a map of the Earth’s night sky. The Galash team of astronomers was able to identify the location of their home sun, within a few degrees of error.
Word made it through every news outlet in the world that the mysterious blimp which had appeared above the US had brought aliens. This absolutely baffled everyone with any scientific background; how in hell could you make it across the stars in an aerostat?
The biochemists succeeded in creating food that the Galash could eat. With this, swarms of physicists and engineers were allowed on board Amanth to reverse engineer the ship. Not by the Galash, but by the US government. This was, of course, because the pentagon wanted the technology for interstellar travel without the risk of letting the Galash die stranded on Earth (not only would this be a PR disaster, it might provoke whatever civilization lay back on the Galash homeworld).
. . .
The task of developing communication with the humans was an extremely difficult one, yet it saved Muav from suicide. Upon being take from the ship, he had assumed the worst: that they were going to be slowly killed by the gravity or the natives’ experiments. Hence, he fell into deep depression. He was completely unresponsive at times, and it had greatly concerned the rest of the crew. However, upon learning that the humans wanted to communicate, he had become one of the most enthused and lively Galash among them. Muav had always delighted in the study of linguistics. Once the opportunity to create an entirely new language presented itself, he had become one of the two most influential individuals in the creation of the intermediary tongue that the humans and Galash used.
The human most responsible for the creation of the intermediary tongue was Dr. Lilya Lewis. The middle-aged woman had already been at the height of her academic career, and being one of the individuals most responsible for the creation of a new language which allowed humans to communicate with aliens had solidified her position as one of the most renowned social scientists to ever contribute to her field.
She was intensely fascinated by the Galash. She knew that they understood arithmetic and some amount of plane geometry. She wanted to grasp the extent of their problem solving ability. As a simple experiment, she sought out an alien assistant that wouldn’t have as strong of an education as the scientists that had been on the voyage. Using the language they had created, as well as a number of diagrams, she expressed the following mathematical problem:
“Suppose I place n points on a circle and draw all the line segments between all pairs of points, but restrict the positions of the points so that no more than two of the line segments intersect at a single point in the interior. In terms of n, how many regions would such a configuration of line segments divide the interior of the circle?”
She had expected the young Galash to think about it for a bit, maybe, then give up or claim it was too boring. Too her great surprise, he seemed delighted by the challenge. After a few minutes of drawing diagrams and scribbling in his native language, he was able to explain the correct formula to her. She hadn’t regarded the solution as terribly easy, so she was taken aback. After he had finished explaining, he exclaimed a few syllables that confused Lilya at first. They translated to “More play!”
That is how Lilya first discovered the Galash’s love for puzzles and games. They didn’t just love playing games, they loved inventing them. Lilya and her group of researchers provided a few of them with a blank board, blank cards, a marker, a set of multicolored stones, and told them to make a game. The experiment lasted several days. The group would focus intensely on the game for hours on end before one of them would suggest an elaborate modification to the rules that would make the game “more fun,” which always resulted in extensive debate.
She was sure they would be stumped by the infamous Rubik’s Cube. She provided each individual Galash with a cube of their own. After about eight hours, one of them shouted gleefully that they had solved it. After explaining his thought process to the others, all the cubes were solved within a few hours. With time, it was found that their methods could be used to solve many variants of the Rubik’s Cube. The Galash’s childlike love of puzzles, coupled with their aptitude for reason, astounded the researchers.
The team published a series of papers about the Galash’s puzzling abilities. Soon after, their inboxes exploded with messages from various puzzle and board game designers from around the world. They were all asking if their products could be presented to the Galash. The team agreed that there was no reason to deny these requests.
The Galash were delighted by the influx of puzzles, and were even more delighted by the fact that it took days for a few of them to be solved.
Many board games bore the label “Galash approved!” A difficulty rating system emerged amongst puzzle designers that rated puzzles by the number of hours it took for a Galash to solve. This lead to the widespread collection of such games and puzzles, and the development of fierce competitions between people who were able to tackle high-rated puzzles. In addition, it forced puzzle designers to become much more creative and ambitious with the mechanical tricks they employed to fool the user.
Naturally, many mathematicians became eager to interact with the Galash. They were allowed to, on account of the team’s limited understanding of the Galash’s mathematical prowess.
A team of sixteen mathematicians learned the intermediate language. After months of dedicated discussion, the humans and Galash came to understand each other’s notions of shape, quantity, continuous change, and proof. It was discovered that the Galash had different words for “spherical distance” versus “Euclidean distance.” Psychologists speculated that this was due to the fact that a species on a small world would probably be accustomed to distinguishing between short distances and distances long enough for an object to disappear over the horizon.
The Galash had a supreme understanding of curvature and connectivity. Everything in geometry up to the Gauss-Bonnet theorem was trivial to them. The mathematicians were delighted to find that the Galash had a mysterious method of quickly computing the Euler characteristic of any shape presented to them.
As both party's understanding of each others’ mathematics grew to this point, the humans became curious about Galash physics. The mathematicians inquired about this, but the Galash only provided them with some convoluted notions about causality and continua. Perhaps this explained the inability of Earth’s scientists to reverse engineer the genusinc engine. The government had decided that it was best not to ask the Galash about this because they didn’t want them to know that their ship had been destroyed in the process. However, many of the Galash already suspected that their ship had been dismantled, and some had lost hope of ever seeing Moikrol again.
Rena was not satisfied with her new life. Countless days had passed and all she did for most of the days was lay on her back, talk to her fellow Galash, talk to the humans, play games with both parties, and solve puzzles. The humans that she spoke with were kind, and developing communication with them had been an interesting task, but she hated being unable to explore. She learned that yet another new team of humans was going to be allowed to interact with them; this one was going to be interested in Galash history. It piqued Rena’s interest.
Rena, together with Muav and a few other members of the nearly forgotten expedition, conversed with the historians. To the historians’ surprise, the Galash seemed to have a pretty clear understanding of evolution, but estimated their species to be only four thousand generations old.
The modern Galash had first appeared in a large cove in the continent called Apur; they had inhabited the vast network of submerged and unsubmerged caves along the coast. It hadn’t taken long for them to realize that they could use the land, sea, and caves to travel to new environments. The first form of communication that they were equipped with was through the use of the tail on the back of their head. Verbal language developed soon after the birth of the species. Before writing was used to document events, it was used to portray the way cave systems bent, branched, and converged.
The Galash had developed tribes, some of which developed into nations. They’re agriculture became more effective, they invented the wheel, and learned to mine. There was a period where wars were common, followed by a great plague that wiped out nearly half of the Galash population. After this, wars seemed silly because how little the race new about its own nature and the nature of its environment. Nations eventually became more cooperative with each other. More was learned about chemistry, mechanics, physiology, and astronomy. The Galash began to build ambitiously large structures: giant cities which would begin at the ocean floor and tower up out of the water. They created the steam engine, as well as a way to communicate over long distances using current running through a wire. Finally, they created aerostats, and it was around this time that their description of physics seemed to diverge from that of Earth’s.
The historians were taken aback at how swiftly the Galash had developed. “They could just be giving themselves too much credit,” some of them would often say.
. . .
The US military had set up several bases off the East coast of Florida. There were now ports, airstrips, and observatories searching for anomalous airships. One night, an intense electrical storm was suddenly detected, and then ceased after only two minutes. The watchmen thought this was strange. They sent out a submarine with the orders to breach momentarily and scan the skies. As soon as the submarine reached the region below where the storm had occurred, its radar detected something enormous moving ominously through the sea nearby. The object was so large that the crew was too terrified to stay out any longer.
News of the detection was quickly relayed to the pentagon. They decided that a fleet of ships would be sent out early in the morning. They would bring the Galash and try to make peace, but would also be ready to engage the enemy if necessary.
Ulam was surprised to be awoken by a human, they usually didn’t care when the Galash slept. He looked around and saw that all the Galash were being directed to leave the facility. This was a surprise.
“Where are they taking us?” he asked the woman who had roused him.
“They wouldn’t tell us,” she replied.
In a few hours they were being loaded onto a massive boat. They were told nothing about where they were going. In another few hours, there were a few Galash being kept in one of several rooms on board the ship, and all they could see was the ocean from their windows.
Most of the day was spent at sea, and it was mind-numbingly uneventful. When the first mate of the ship announced to the captain that they were only ten nauts away from where the electrical storm had been detected, they were both losing faith in the idea that the Galash had come for a second visit. If they had come, they were certainly being much more inconspicuous this time.
“MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!” Both humans jumped at the sound of a distress call.
“What’s going-” started the captain, but the sight before him prevented him from finishing. One of their companion ships was several hundred yards starboard, and was now visibly tilted towards them.
A minute ago, nuclear-powered pumps had begun pushing high-pressure water out of three spherical, elastic membranes hundreds of meters below the surface of the water. The immense vehicle, with its decreasing density, began floating towards the surface, and it’s positioning was no coincidence. The leviathan breached, and its front end caught the port side of the ship nearest to it. The ship's inertia kept it from tipping over immediately, but, as the Galash had intended, the fluid sacks changed. A configuration of bars materialized throughout the mesh that made up the deflated balloons, they forced the two halves of the membrane apart, creating a vacuum encased inside an enormous geodesic sphere. As humans scrambled about on the deck of the ship, not sure how to react, the Galash ship decreased in density once again. The humans on board the unfortunate boat felt the floor beneath them becoming more inclined. Some of those who on deck saw a huge sphere rising up out of the water. A belt of pressurized tunnels wrapped around the equator of the sphere and extended behind it to form a section of the cabin, which engulfed the second sphere that had just begun to surface. The humans from the rest of the fleet watched in stupor as the aircraft carrier capsized. The first aerostat rose out of the water diagonally, the other two membranes became vacuum cases and the ship leveled out once it was several hundred meters into the air.
It had begun to cast a huge shadow over the boat with the Amanth crew inside when the humans finally reacted. There was still another aircraft carrier left and all of its fighters were in the air in less than a minute. Four smaller Galash aerostats surfaced. The jet pilots became unsure of which ship to target, but backup was already on its way.
Many on board the human fleet lacked an understanding of the square-cube law and were baffled at how something with such high volume could float so high in the sky. Some of them were so taken by the sight of the Galash aerostats that it took them a moment to notice the Galash climbing out of the water and onto their ships. They wore pressurized suits that provided them with armor and mechanized exoskeletons, which they certainly needed for climbing in high gravity.
The Galash who had been kept in captivity by the humans for so many years were rushed to the deck of the ship that was carrying them. It was a desperate attempt to appease the enemy. The old pilots, Stan and Lopuk, were the first ones forced out of the cabin and into broad daylight. The humans who had done this had little foresight, for each of the captives stumbled under their own weight and fell to the floor as soon as dozens of Galash climbed over the rails of the ship. Upon seeing the long-lost crew of Amanth get pushed around by their tiny captors, the soldiers who had boarded the ship assumed the worst of the humans.
Meanwhile, jets tore through the atmosphere overhead. The Galash aerostats didn’t seem to be penetrable by bullets, and they were armed with high-powered mining lasers that had neutralized three pilots already. The leader of the soldiers who had boarded the ship containing the captives contacted the generals on board the airships above and informed them of the situations. Within a minute, all five aerostats were tightly surrounding the single ship, isolating it from the jets, the rest of the Navy fleet, and even the light of the sun.
A mad brawl ensued on the deck of all the ships which had been boarded. It was especially passionate on board the ship with the Amanth crew. The Galash, who hadn’t practiced war for several generations, were not well-equipped to participate a fire fight with the humans. Each of them carried the laser equivalent of a musket; these weapons were only able to burn a small section of human flesh.
The humans had superior guns, but the Galash armor was remarkably tough. In addition, the assistance of the mechanized exoskeletons allowed the amphibious giants to gain a dangerous amount of momentum, allowing them to knock aside their human adversaries as if their were nothing. All they needed to do was make sure the humans weren’t firing in their direction when they were to close. This was difficult, but not impossible. Several humans were quick with their guns, and would kill a charging Galash right before impact. Many of them however, got too distracted by an overwhelming number of laser burns coming from all directions. It wasn’t long before the soldiers had the human ship subdued.
Stan and Lopuk were fascinated by the speed of the aircrafts that the humans had used to defend themselves. Even more so, they were astounded by the power of the aerostats that had come to their rescue. Piloting a ship which appeared indestructible and had invisible weapons was appealing, but piloting a ship which could change its density as a means to transition from submarine to aerostat sounded like the most thrilling thing imaginable! As they gazed up at the magnificent triplets of spheres, they realized that the humans’ effort was not yet complete.
A swarm of new jets arrived, these ones with much heavier ammo. The engineers aboard the Galash aerostats quickly realized that their hulls were taking substantial damage. The metamaterial composing the vacuum cases was unaffected, but the three-story cabin where the entirety of the crew operated was at risk. Additionally, nine out of twenty of their lasers had already been destroyed by the new jets.
The Galash had not failed to account for the possibility of hostile lifeforms on this new world. The hangar doors on the sides of each aerostat opened, and twenty four planes flew out. These were not nearly as fast as the jets, so the humans were not intimidated. One pilot had targeted a Galash plane and was ready to shoot it out of the sky. Half a second before he pulled the trigger, there was a flash of colorful light and the plane was gone. The pilot only had a second to be dumbfounded and notice that the plane had appeared behind him. An intense beam of thermal radiation tore through his fuel tank before he had time to eject.
Sentetta, a Galash pilot known for her reckless trickery in the sky, glarped lightly as she watched her fellow pilot pull off the most textbook maneuver. She was pleased to notice that a human pilot was now on her tail. The human started firing, but Sentetta angled the nose of her plane upward at just the right time. The human continued firing and Sentetta continued to climb. She knew what the human was thinking: that the Galash aircraft was going to stall right before his superior aircraft was, which would put Sentetta right in his line of fire. Milliseconds before the human got his wish, Sentetta increased his pitch further, turning his plane upside-down. The human plane tried to follow, but Sentetta opened a portal just as the human began to stall. Appearing at the same altitude as the human, Sentetta rolled her plane over and gunned the enemy down.
Sentetta was exhilarated. She noticed that one of the rookie pilots wasn’t dealing very well with a human who was chasing him down. She had a wonderful idea. The rookie was weaving in between the airships to try to shake the human, uncreatively irresponsible, but Sentetta could see where they were going to fly around next. They were about to fly in between the two front vacuum cases of the Grand Aerostat. Sentetta positioned herself to fly over the front case and into the gap at the same time that they would fly through it. She knew she was going to be heavily reprimanded for what she was about to do, but she also knew that her calculuations and timing were perfect. The human pilot who had been chasing the rookie was temporarily blinded, he felt the direction of gravity move from below him to in front of him, and then saw the surface of the ocean rushing towards them at almost a thousand miles an hour.
“Damn it Sentetta! You could’ve put a hole in our hull!” shouted one of the generals on board the Grand Aerostat.
Everak took note of his friend’s stunts. He also took note of the human jet that had already eliminated three Galash planes. It was time to one-up Sentetta.
The overly successful human was now targeting a fourth Galash. This one had tried to out-smart the human using his portal multiple times, but the human wasn’t falling for it. The Galash was about to try to escape by flying through a series of clouds. Everak saw this. He fired a portal that took him to the other side of the cloud. He saw the Galash plane exit the cloud, and immediately fired another portal right behind it. The human pilot fell right into the trap, and was teleported directly into the line of fire of one of the remaining mining lasers.
Sentetta saw the human ship come out of the portal and get fried. She knew there was a competition now.
“Oh, you think you’re cool, huh?” she asked the pilots’ radio channel.
She managed to snag another human aircraft. It followed her through the clouds and around the giant airships. Finally, she saw another human incoming. Right when she expected the human in front of her to fire, she fired a portal whose mouth opened behind her. The human behind her flew right into the portal and was met by a barrage of bullets from the oncoming jet. Sentetta took a nosedive to avoid the pilot in front of her, then opened a portal to appear above him. Finally, she fired another portal directly in front of the jet, teleporting high into the atmosphere, where it soon stalled and fell to the ocean after the pilot ejected.
“If you hooligans stopped messing with your damn portals and used your real weapons, this fight would be over!” screamed the general.
Sentetta and Everak glarped. They decided to not take any more unnecessary risks during the fight.
The last of the human jets was soon destroyed, and the long-lost crew was brought on board the Grand Aerostat, whose volume absolutely dwarfed that of Amanth. There was a great amount of celebration once the crew was recovered, and even more so as soon as they returned to Moikrol.
So much had changed since the crew had left; it was mind boggling. The airships that they had left in were now considered antiques. The Galash now used thorium to obtain immense amounts of power, they had satellites which allowed for the fast transmission of information across the Hevar system, and incredible machines which could be instructed on how to solve specific types of mathematical problems.
The crew would not return to Earth, of course. They had experienced their fair share of intense gravity and synthesized food.
A war effort was being prepared. If the Galash had finished their preparations, the humans surely would’ve been decimated. However, the crew of Amanth intervened. Muav spoke of the lovely Lilya Lewis and the language that they had developed together. Stan and Lopuk expressed interest in the humans’ combustion engines. Rena told of the humans’ endless curiosity about Galash history, and every member of the voyage was enthused about the humans formidable capacity for producing puzzles. Upon learning that the humans had not actually intended harm for the crew of Amanth, the war preparations were called off. Peaceful contact was made with the humans.
Soon after, the humans’ difficulty in understanding the genusinc engine became a common joke amongst the Galash: “How hard can it be? It’s as simple as traveling through the caves below spacetime!”