It was over an hour later before Jon came to let them out of their seats. To her own surprise, though apparently nobody else’s, Petra had gotten sick almost the exact moment they had broken through the atmosphere. The change in pressure as they lost gravity and then the artificial system kicked on was enough to make her insides turn and send her breakfast back up.
“We’ll have a few hours to rest before we need to start preparing for our first jump,” Jon informed her as he released her seatbelt. Petra decided to use that time to clean up. Then Stanford had planned their first on board meeting. She brushed her teeth, changed her clothes, and took a moment to lie down. She could feel a pang welling inside her, a fear that she had gotten herself in over her head. She was terrified of going into space and didn’t know what had compelled her to ever set foot on this ship. But she was going to have to bury those feelings. There was nothing she could do about her situation now. After her short rest, she spent several minutes trying to find the dining room, the room Stanford had designated for their meeting. When she finally found it, she saw that the professor was already sitting there, surrounded by a pile of book disks and hand-written notes, waiting for her arrival.
“Sit, sit,” he said, gesturing to the chair across from him.
“What is all this stuff?” Petra asked as she lowered herself into the seat.
“This is everything I have collected on the Voyn up to this point,” Stanford replied. Petra could sense an air of pride in this accomplishment and wondered how long he had been working on this collection.
“So this is everything I need to know?” she asked.
“Exactly,” Stanford said. He slid an open notebook across the table to her. “This is a transcript from the first formal contact we had with the Voyn in 2098. The Voyn we spoke to then is still the ambassador for her people and our main contact with the race today. Her cousin is who will be meeting us when we land. We will be staying in his village. It’s all been arranged.”
“So they were okay with allowing a team of aliens come and live in their village for a while?” Petra asked. It seemed odd. All the old movies about first contact with outside races depicted hostile meetings. Though it hadn’t been quite that bad in reality, many other lifeforms, and humans for that matter, were still hesitant about the idea of getting too close to each other. This was one of the barriers Stanford’s projects were working to tear down.
“They, like us, are just beginning to explore the rest of the galaxy they live in,” Stanford explained. “But they have not yet developed a ship that can get out of their atmosphere. So playing host to those they can’t go visit on their own sounded like a good trade off to them.”
A fear came over Petra. “If they can’t get out of their atmosphere, will we be able to?”
“Of course,” Stanford said. “We’ve already run our ship’s capabilities through the figures they’ve given us regarding the gravity and density of the atmosphere. We’ll have no problem coming back home. In fact, while we are in the Voyn village working on our research, Jon and Mina are headed to the capital to meet with engineers from the Voyn space program to work on developing a ship that will be able to take them into space. NASA set them up with all kinds of files to share with the Voyn engineers. So they’ll be keeping busy and close by while we are on Nochva.”
That was at least somewhat comforting. “So what can you tell me about the Voyn?” Petra asked. “Why did you choose to work with them?”
“The Voyn are very much like us in their curiosity of the rest of the universe. They are also a culture which is currently experiencing a struggle between new science and old religion, just as our own culture went through. So I think there is a lot we can learn from each other and we might even be able to get new perspectives on the same old debate, so to speak. But, most interestingly,” Stanford added as he leaned in across the table, “I think our two cultures have had contact before.”
Petra perked up a bit at this. Everybody knew that there had been rumors of interstellar contact for centuries, but nobody really believed those stories. However, the look on Stanford’s face suggested he had evidence to prove it. He passed a folder across the table toward her. She opened it to find that it was full of copies of ancient drawings depicting amphibious looking humanoid creatures. There were a dozen of these drawings, each depicting a different scene. After flipping through the images, she turned to Stanford for an explanation.
“Those drawings were found just outside of Rome several hundred years ago,” Stanford told her. He placed a disk from his pile on the desktop sensor and a video blinked to life between them. “This is the recording of my most recent call with the Voyn representative on Nochva.”
Petra held the drawing up to the video screen. There was no doubt the figures in the drawings shared physical similarities with the alien in the video.
“So if they’ve been to Earth before, why can’t they get there now?” Petra asked.
“No idea,” Stanford said. “That’s one of the things I’m hoping to find out.”
Petra spent a few more moments looking through the ancient drawings. She noticed that there was one figure that seemed to be in all of them. “Who is this?” she asked, indicating the figure.
“The script around the edges of the drawings refers to her as the ‘lost one,'” Stanford said. “I don’t know what that means, but it’s another mystery I’m hoping to solve during this trip.”
“So our main goal is to figure out who this ‘lost one’ is and how these depictions of her got to Earth?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” scoffed Stanford. “Our goal is to learn everything we can about these people and the way they live and what they believe. We’re anthropologists after all. That’s what we do.”
“Right,” Petra said. “So what do you think happened for these drawings to get to Earth?”
“Well,” Stanford said, assuming his arrogant tone of superior knowledge, “based on what I’ve learned from many years in this field, I would say that some Voyn traveler—explorer, diplomat, what have you—made it to Earth once before. Keep in mind, just a hundred years ago people were not viewed favorably when they claimed to have made contact with otherworldly beings. Such encounters were covered up and denied by governments with the fear that if people knew about other worlds and other beings, it would cause widespread panic. So we would have never heard of the encounter. There would be no record of it. However, it might not be that way for the Voyn. They seem more accepting of communications with outsiders. They don’t cover up these things. Intuition tells me, the Voyn have not forgotten their first contact with Earth, even if they don’t know it was Earth they made contact with. They know some representative of their people has made it off planet before.”
“Did your representative tell you that?” Petra asked.
“No,” Stanford said. “It’s just a gut feeling based on the way the ambassador seems to understand our world so easily. But I suspect that I’m right about this. I usually am when it comes to such things.”
“Of course,” Petra said, unconcerned that Stanford might hear the sarcasm in her voice. He was too busy being wrapped up in himself to notice the subtleties of her tone.
“Anyway,” Stanford said as he seemed to come down from his cloud, “I have put together a reading list for you to complete by the time we get to Nochva.” He removed the video disk from the sensor, returned it to the others, and slid the entire pile of disks and notes that was sitting on the table toward Petra.
She raised her eyebrows at the gesture. “You want me to view all of this?” she asked.
“Yes,” Stanford said in a tone that suggested he saw no reason for her to be surprised. “It’s everything I’ve collected on the Voyn in the last fifteen years. Your knowledge of this race needs to be as complete as possible before we encounter them. Trust me, it will make the transition into their world that much easier. Now, you might want to move those things into your cabin and get them stored away. I assume Jon will be calling us to prepare for the first jump pretty soon. It’s usually a bit of an ordeal and he gets pretty testy about it, so you want to be ready to go when he calls.”
“Right,” Petra said as she picked up the stack of information from the table. It was much heavier than she had been expecting, making her fear that several of the handwritten documents were much denser than she had originally assumed. “How long do I have to get through these?” she asked.
“As I said, our journey will last roughly six days,” Stanford said. “So you might want to get started on it pretty soon.”
“Sure,” Petra said flatly. “I’ll get right on it.”