Story Snippet: Out of Our Depth

I’ve had a story idea rattling around for quite a while. I’m not sure if I want to develop it into anything, but I did want to get this intro scene written down.

I paged through the report again, not really reading it any more. More trying to distract myself at this point, page after page of text fading into a slow dance across the screen of my pad.

They could crush us if they wanted to. That’s what it really said. They are so far beyond us that we are only still here because they want us to be. Seventy six pages of how hopelessly outclassed we are.

I reached the end without having read a word. The pad helpfully showed a neat list of links to annexes I could check if I needed more detail not to read, breaking up the dense blocks of type that preceded it. The distraction had somehow failed to make me arrive any faster.

I folded the pad up and stowed it in my pocket. “Ship,” I barked, “estimated time of arrival.”

There was a pause.

“It wouldn’t kill you to say please, you know.”

I winced. Right. Their AIs are actual people.

“I apologise, Ship. I’m used to… less sophisticated voice address systems. Please forgive my rudeness.”

“Now you’re laying it on too thick. Really, Major, you’re far too tense. But since you asked, we are exactly seven minutes and six seconds from final approach, after which we will spend between eight and forty seconds docking, depending on local conditions.”

I couldn’t help flattening my ears at its tone. So much like a scolding parent, rendered perfectly in a language the aliens could never have heard before they visited us, using our time measurements, our usually unspoken rules of social etiquette.

They could crush us if they wanted to. Why were they even bothering with us at all?

I decided to try a little humour. “You know, that’s almost exactly two and a half minutes since last time I asked. Weird how time works.”

Was that sound it made a chuckle? “Time is one of the very weirdest things the universe has ever thrown at us. Something you’ll learn as you take your own steps out into the universe.”

“We already had a pretty good idea.”

“You did, didn’t you?”

Apparently that was all the Ship had to say about that. I sat in the lingering silence for a moment, then flipped my pad back out to continue not reading it.

It had been assumed going in that anything that appeared on that screen would be immediately seen. The pad didn’t contain everything we thought we knew, and there had been arguments about even providing this much. I’d argued that we might as well put everything in there anyway for our agent’s reference, since the aliens almost certainly knew exactly what we’d been able to figure out about them already.

I hadn’t known then that the agent would be me. I still wasn’t sure why I was the one taking the trip out here. But it would be my job to learn as much about their technology as possible while serving as our military envoy.

As if our entire military would amount to anything in the face of that giant starship now looming on the screen in front of me. They could crush us if they wanted to.

Tags: writing, out of our depth