October 2, 2056
Saturn Space
Titan Complex

A lone figure emerged from a side corridor and rushed across the dimly lit warehouse where the miners stored their heavy equipment. Her rubber-soled shoes squeaked on the concrete floor as she hurried past giant digging machines and equally large mobile drilling platforms. Like everything else, the materials used to construct the machines had come all the way from Earth and had been assembled there on Titan. Janet Washington, Science Advisor, was glad to be part of the end product of all that work. At the moment, she was immersed in her own duties.

She glanced at her watch. It would be hours before the regular shift was up and around. That was fine, it would take awhile to make an analysis of whatever Murdoc had found.

At the far end of the warehouse, she opened a sliding hatch and stepped into a hallway. Blaring music forced its way from the open door of the lab.

Janet found Murdoc in a high state of activity, running from one console to another, tapping his feet in time with the music. "So," she said in a commanding voice, scaring Murdoc in the process, "what have you got for me?"

For a second, the smile dropped from the young man's face, "You practically scared the pee out of me, Janet! But look what I found!" He moved toward a console, motioning for her to follow.

"I was doing the series scan as usual..."

"What sequence?"

"The three-niner something or other, I don't know, it's in the log. Anyway, just look at this." He pointed at a digital display board.

The window which showed the radar glide path for optimal entry into Titan space had a large blip in the middle. Next to it were the identifying characters. In this case, the letters UNKNOWN.

"What is it?"

"Well, I don't know. We're not scheduled for another visit this year. It's not one of ours, that's for sure. And it's not an asteroid. It checks out. It's a vehicle of some kind, self-propelled, but almost big enough to be an asteroid."

"There's only one thing it can be. This is the object the deep space observers told us about. But it's way far away from where it was headed." Janet looked at Murdoc.

"Turn the music down so I can think."

"Then I can't think."

"Do it anyway."

With a shrug, Murdoc slouched to where the music blared from a portable player and lowered the volume to a tolerable level.

"Who else have you told about this?"


"Not even the watch superintendent?"

"Nobody. I was waiting for you."

"Good, that gives me a little time to..."

"Hello," a voice interrupted from the door. Janet turned around. Two young women stood at the entrance to the lab dressed in party clothes as if they'd just come from one of the after hours' lounges. The young woman who'd spoken looked uneasy. "We just wanted to see the UFO, that's all."

Janet turned back to Murdoc. He looked from her to the young women.

"I told you to keep it to yourself."

"Thanks a lot, Murdoc," said Janet just as the phone rang.
News traveled quickly. By dawn, the lab was full of people speculating as to the significance of the events unfolding before them. Janet had given up and retired to her desk, where she monitored the vessel from her data console. The head of Admin, an African man named Joseph Al-kohab, sat across from her desk. He bit his fingernails as he looked from Janet to Chet Holcomb, the lead engineer. Holcomb looked even more worried than Joseph.

"If it's manned," said Holcomb, "why haven't they answered our calls?"

No one answered.

"And nobody has said anything about how close it's getting. What is it now?" He called across the lab, "Murdoc, how close is it now?"

Janet rapped on her desktop. "Never mind, Chet. I can tell you. Essentially, it's here. It looks like it's moving into a parking orbit."

"We need to do something."

"We don't have any procedures for this."

Joseph's deep voice commanded attention. "All right. Look, this could be the biggest thing in human history and we've got to handle it accordingly. What if this is it? You know, where we make contact with another species?"

"Now that's really getting ahead of ourselves..."

"Maybe not. In any case, it makes sense to send the shuttle up to take a look. Can we at least all agree on that?"

The others concurred and arrangements were made. Two hours later, the shuttle was on its way.

Like the others, Janet sat before a monitor, watching the momentous occasion in real time. There was a festive atmosphere in the room, excitement was etched on everyone's face as the small craft from the Titan colony approached the UFO.

The shuttle's video feed showed a huge, odd-looking ship, its rough hull pitted with holes and burn marks. Like conventional spacecraft, it was longer than it was wide, but unlike craft from Earth, its exterior was not uniform; rather, it was like a crookedly grown tree trunk, tapered at one end and blunt at the other. It looked organic, as if it had been grown instead of constructed.

When the shuttle closed to within three hundred meters, something ominous was detected. A telescoping gangway emerged from the darkened alien hull and began to worm its way across the expanse of space toward the shuttle.

Alarmed, the shuttle pilot requested permission to move away and continue observation from a greater distance. Joseph, sensing a chance for first contact with an alien species, decided against such action. He instructed the ground controllers to advise the shuttle pilot to maintain his position and continue to transmit greetings via radio channels. Expressing his misgivings, the pilot reluctantly agreed.

The gangway stretched across the gap between the two ships and gingerly attached itself to the shuttle. Upon contact, massive electromagnetic impulses coursed through the small ship. Before the controllers lost contact, the pilot dryly commented that it appeared the shuttle was being assimilated by the alien craft. That was his last message.

In the hours that followed, ground controllers on Titan vainly continued to send their communications skyward both in an attempt to express offerings of friendship and to raise the shuttle again. Someone suggested military action, but the idea was quickly rejected.

"It makes no sense, " Janet argued, "for them to come millions of miles from God knows where only to start a hostile action. A military response? Don't be ridiculous."

By the time the aliens ejected the first node and sent it on its way toward a landing on Titan, the colony leadership was in gridlock.

"I've done all I can do," said Joseph. "I've drafted a recommendation that procedures for handling this sort of thing should be drawn up by the proper authorities."

"Who are the proper authorities, Joe? This has never happened before."

"That's not our problem."

"Well, what are we going to do now? We've got something on radar that's about to land within kilometers of the complex!"

"Now, calm down! I suppose we should send out a greeting party. Chet, do you want to lead it?"

Chet shook his head. "It's not my place to..."

"I'll lead it," volunteered Janet.
Janet shook her head inside her helmet as she thought about the political indecisiveness of her co-workers. They were cowards, she thought, passing up a chance to mold themselves into historical heroes, not to mention the thrill of being involved with the first face to face alien encounter.

Accompanied by a science team of three technicians, she sat in the back of the tractor as it bounced along the rough terrain toward the spot where the alien shuttle had landed. When they drove over the rise that hid the ship from sight, the driver reported a visual sighting.

"It blends in well, like camouflage. Funny-looking thing, too. There's steam coming off of it. Jan, you want to come up here and take a look?"

In seconds, Janet was squeezing into the seat beside the driver. "It's big, but it really doesn't look like much, does it? I mean, I was expecting something a little more high-tech."

They pulled up to within two hundred yards of the steaming hulk. Using sensors, they determined the amount of heat coming from its exterior as well as a cursory determination of its dimensions. When she was finished recording the data, Janet turned to her team of technicians.

"Anybody want to go for a walk?"

"We're ready when you are."

"Well, let's go take a look. Remember everybody, stay together and follow my commands. Bring your instruments and don't forget to record everything! Got it?"

"Got it," they said in unison.

Even though they were in a hurry, it took an additional twenty minutes to don their environment suits. Once outside, they walked over frozen ground toward the alien craft.

Janet stopped. "It doesn't look the same as it did."


"It doesn't look like it did when we first got here. Look along the top edge, it looks like it's... sagging, almost as if it's deflating or something."

"I see what you mean," one of the techies responded.

"Some of you go around to the opposite side and take pictures. I want to get a little closer." She started walking toward it again, not stopping until she was only fifty yards away. Only one technician accompanied her and he was noticeably ill at ease.

"I don't feel right about this."

"It's all right."

"I'm not even sure it's a ship. It looks like it's organic, maybe it's alive."

Janet shrugged. The possibility had already occurred to her. She called into her intercom to see what the others had found on the opposite side. Static filled her earpieces. She called again, but no one answered. The static was strong and Janet immediately surmised it was coming from the object.

She signaled to her techie. "Let's walk around to the other side."

Although the radio transmission was broken up, he'd understood enough of it. He signaled his agreement by touching a gloved forefinger and thumb together.

They'd only gone a few feet when the techie stopped Janet. She turned to him and he pointed at a spot on the side of the thing. In a small area perhaps six feet across, the hull rippled like water when a pebble is tossed into a pond. Forming in the center were what looked much like a pair of puckered lips bulging outward.

"What the hell is that?"

As they watched, the lips expanded as if pushed from the inside, giving the appearance of something being born. Subconsciously, Janet took a step backward. The techie warily remained where he was and watched as a blob of indistinct protoplasm squeezed from the aperture and fell to the ground. As soon as it hit, it started to move toward them.

Janet was transfixed. This was it, the pay-off, first encounter with an alien being. It was thrilling and not a little scary. She took another step backward as she realized that the thing was considerably larger than a full-grown man. It crawled along the ground in an undulating fashion, much as a giant slug might. When it came to within ten yards of the techie, it stopped and raised itself up. Now Janet could see that it had haunches to walk upon, although she had never seen anything like it. It was hard to tell what its features were or what they did. There was an arm, or a tentacle, Janet couldn't tell which, that projected itself from the thing's body.

It seemed tentative at first, as if it were as unsure of itself as the humans were.

Janet noticed more of the puckering apertures forming on the alien hull. She was about to point it out when the creature casually reached out and slapped Janet's techie across the helmet. It knocked him to the ground where he sat upon his knees and struggled with his helmet. Janet started toward him but the beast turned to her and she saw an eye at the end of a stalk protruding from what could only be termed its forehead. It looked at her and began coming toward her. The techie, hands on either side of his helmet, fell to the ground. She then saw that the helmet seal had been cracked from the blow. The technician was dead.

She staggered backward as it came for her. The static from her radio had grown in volume. She called for help, but there was no answer. She threw a glance over her shoulder and saw the driver of the tractor through the window. He frantically motioned for her to return.

Forgetting about the others, she turned and ran in the awkward environment suit. It was slow going but she made it to the tractor, falling into the airlock and shutting the door just as the creature lunged for her. It banged against the titanium alloy and hammered its frustration. When she climbed back into the seat next to the driver, she saw that dozens of the things were out and some of them were headed her way.

"Where are the others?"

The driver shook his head. "I don't know."

"Drive around to the other side."

He put the tractor in gear and they started to move, getting the attention of even more of the creatures. They drove to the far side and found that the remainder of their team had disappeared.

"Where are they?"

"I don't know. Maybe we better get out of here." Panic had crept into the driver's voice.

"Call the complex, they need to know what's happening!"

"I tried already. There's too much radio interference."

"Where's it coming from?"

"I'll give you one guess."

The tractor hit something and dipped to one side. Its engine strained against a load as it tried to torque its way out of the hole it had partially fallen into.

"Get this thing turned around!"

"I'm trying!"

For a moment, the tread caught and re-gained its traction. The tractor moved forward a few feet, almost righted itself, then fell back.

The hammering at the hull renewed itself.

"Try reverse!"

"I am. We're stuck!"

Janet looked from the control panel to the driver and back out the window again. More of the things were coming. One was under the window and pulling itself up to their level. Janet had never felt so helpless in her life. She couldn't think, her mind raced as she fought the rising panic. The driver shouted into the radio, calling for help.

When the windshield cracked, Janet was on the floorboard, praying for help to whatever god might be listening.

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