Stranded in a Foreign Land
Chapter 12: Motion Sickness and Other Disturbances
Copyright© 2014 by Vincent Berg
"Alright, let's get out of here," Cynthia suggested while their teammates were still scrubbing up. "Don't forget, we're on a military base and they may change their minds about allowing us to leave at any moment."
"Just a minute, there's something I want to try first." Josh took a moment to examine the console in front of his chair, searching for something. "I want to try one more thing. I need to find a city but I've got no way to explain where it is. It's basically east-north-east of here, but that's not likely to help."
He issued a command—which no one understood—and suddenly the wall in front of him showed the view outside, and since the ship was facing the rest of the base it showed that nearly everyone was still there, waiting to see what happened. However the view was spectacular. It looked like they were outside themselves, aside from the fact their view ended at the corners of the craft.
"Wow!" Becky exclaimed, reaching forward and running her hand along the display, noting that it didn't disturb the display at all. "Can you imagine watching TV on any surface in a house?"
"Again, we really need to get out of here," Cynthia emphasized. "We aren't protected from direct observation or radar without the storm to hide us."
"Hold on," Josh told them before rattling off another few short commands. Before anyone could figure out what he was doing, the ship jumped straight up. It was one thing knowing it travelled fast, but it was another to actually see it happening. It took everyone's breath away.
"Holy shit!" Becky exclaimed, clasping her chest and gasping. But she hadn't seen anything yet. Reaching the cover of the scattered overhead clouds, the craft suddenly launched full speed in another direction without a moment's hesitation. However, instead of speeding in a single direction, it constantly shifted, jutting one way, dipping down into the trees, rising to the clouds, changing directions without any warning. "I think I'm gonna be sick!" Becky said, turning away.
She had a point. Josh had to look away too, as did everyone else. The motions were just too intense, too jarring. By the time you're eyes started to adjust to what they were seeing, you'd already have transitioned through another couple of jarring scenes. But Josh needed to keep watch, even if only intermittently, to guide the craft to its unnamed destination.
Everyone else turned away from the giant display, but Josh kept glancing up, only to look away again. Cynthia stood beside Josh, seeing how much trouble he was having, she turned away from the display as she massaged his shoulders.
"What the hell?" Molly asked as she exited the sanitization room.
"Don't look," Fred warned her, looking queasy himself.
"This is amazing," she reflected, moving forward to get a better view. "Jeffery, you've got to see this," she said as she pounded on the door of the sanitization chamber. "This is the craziest shit I've ever seen!"
"More amazing than what we've already... ," he said, the words melting away at the sight he encountered rejoining the others.
"Damn. That's fascinating!" he said, staring at it for as long as he could stand. "I can see why the CIA is after it. Just think what they could do with it!"
"That's exactly what I'm afraid of," Josh replied, looking like he was about to lose his lunch while issuing a series of short commands in a foreign tongue. "I believe in a balance of powers, and if there is no balance, then there's no protection against the one ultimate power. At least with Roswell they didn't know how to utilize what they uncovered. But even so, it powered the US economy for the next 50 years. Just think what would happen if they captured only this one craft?"
"I can see your point," Jeffery said, having trouble keeping his eyes off of the disturbing visage. The image captured every single detail as if you were only inches away from the approaching clouds. Everything was perfectly focused and clear, even as it was being projected at you at an incredible rate of speed. It was clear they were traveling much faster than the fastest supersonic jet! "I know a hell of a lot of military commanders who'd love to run wild with this thing."
"So are you just providing us with a show, or are we supposedly heading someplace?" Molly asked, having no idea what was going on.
"Hold on," Josh replied, holding his hand up as he issued a few more brief commands. "We're heading east, which means we're heading back into the storm, so hopefully ... urp ... we won't need to fly like this for too much ... longer."
"That doesn't improve the view much," Becky complained about the continually shifting viewpoint, unable to look away from the captivating but disturbing view for long. You just don't see something like that every day.
"And why is it flying like this?" Cynthia asked. "Are you showing off?"
"It's trying to avoid potential surveillance," Molly answered, as if she encountered this kind of thing all the time. "Either seeking the cloud cover, or if it detects some kind of directed radar signal, trying to avoid it."
"Does it have to change direction constantly?" Becky whined.
"Apparently it's picking up a lot more than we'd ever notice," Josh observed, thinking out loud. "Some of it may be harmless, like cell phone towers, but much of it may be dual purpose, utilized by the government without us knowing about it."
"You're getting paranoid again," Cynthia warned, turning to regard him partially to keep from looking at the display.
"Really?" Molly asked, cocking her head. "Josh gets arrested, the police ignore the fact the CIA plans to torture him, roadblocks are set up on every road in Arizona, the authorities shut down an entire news station because of one innocuous broadcast no one took seriously, and you still claim he's a overly paranoid? Sorry, but I've seen what the government is capable of, and I know what people do when they don't have any restrictions on their behavior."
"OK, OK," Cynthia said, waving her previous statement away. "I get it. Stupid comment. I guess I forgot where I was."
"You never notice how big a problem is until you're facing it dead on, looking up at it from underneath," Peter commented, though he delivered it without the humor it implied.
"OK, it's locked on," Josh said, shutting down the sickening display and turning around to face the others. "I agree, it seems like it's avoiding certain things. I don't know if they are transmission signals, specific objects, like maybe nearby towns or passing airplanes. But it's trying to avoid detection and I imagine it's based on having to continually adjust its trajectory in outer space to avoid free-floating obstacles, like comets or general space 'junk'."
"OK, if you have that all sorted out, how can the ship just jump into the sky like it does?" Becky pressed, trying to understand what no one there had any real qualifications to answer. "That kind of acceleration would require a massive expenditure of energy, rockets, jet fuel, lots of heat. Yet this ... thing does it without breaking a sweat."
"It's got to be some kind of anti-gravity device," Molly ventured. "It essentially cancels the effects of gravity, making moving away from the Earth much easier."
"I imagine that would be useful for space travel," Josh responded, cradling his head in his hands as he leaned back, trying to erase what he'd just been through from his mind. "Without such options a ship like this would have a very hard time escaping any single solar system it visited, especially if it ventures too close to any sort of asteroid belt."
"OK, let's say that explains how it shoots straight into the sky without huge explosions, but how can it change directions so quickly?" Becky pressed, her forehead crinkling in confusion. "I mean, don't the laws of momentum demand that it takes a lot of energy to stop your forward momentum before you can change direction?"
"I can't say I understand it, but again I can see its usefulness," Josh reflected, enjoying the chance to contemplate something as innocuous as speculation on future technology that none of them understood. "Any fast moving ship in outer space would need to avoid rapidly approaching space debris from moment to moment, and thus any ship would probably require this kind of functionality. If you're only traveling from the Earth to the Moon, then you'll generally be OK traveling in a straight line the entire time. But if you zip into a new solar system every couple weeks, fly in fast, decelerate rapidly and zip out again, you'd need some way to get around all those small unplanned obstructions in your way."
"It may be tied into the whole anti-gravity thing," Molly suggested. "If forward momentum is tied into the same laws of physics that control gravity, maybe they've found a way of temporarily blocking or actually reversing them somehow. We'll never understand how they could do it without decades of study, but it seems like a logical assumption. After all, they're maintaining an artificial gravity inside the ship independently of what's happening outside."
"It's odd that the escape pods they originally arrived in didn't use it," Cynthia noted. "From what you said before, they had to use more conventional engines to slow their descent. What's more, I've never understood why they immediately opened up, instead of sheltering those inside the pods."
"I suspect the escape pods were too small to utilize these more advanced techniques," Josh guessed. "Plus, they probably had fewer resources. That would also explain why they immediately opened. If they had limited air they may not have had a choice. And if they knew the aliens were unable to function on their own, they may have been programmed to automatically open so someone could provide assistance. Remember, they each landed near a single isolated residence.
"I also noted that this shuttle landed on a muddle field as delicately as a flower. Given how heavy Barbara is and the gravity she's used to on her home world, it must be able to sense local gravity norms and make adjustments automatically."
Peter whistled. "That's pretty friggin' advanced technology!"
"Well, if this technology is so important, then maybe we should turn it over to the government to study?" Becky suggested. "After all, it would allow us to use it in future space missions."
"I don't think Josh is going to appreciate hearing such talk," Cynthia ventured.
"No, he certainly isn't!" Josh barked. "Look, it's one thing if it was volunteered. I'm sure these people know how useful it is, but they also know how easy it is to misuse. If they thought it was safe enough to freely disseminate, they'd probably offer it to everyone they encountered. But it's a little like offering gunpowder to small tribes in the middle of the Amazon. A single tribe with access to such overwhelming odds can change the entire local balance of power."
"There are also other risks," Jeffery offered. "While it seems simple enough watching it functioning so smoothly, we have no idea what complications it presents. Just think of all the drugs we keep developing, only to discover decades later just how deadly they are. What effects might canceling gravity have on humans? We know that astronauts suffer from brittle bones for the rest of their lives from only spending a few weeks to a few months in outer space, so what effect would this have on them? If we don't know the processes they use to achieve these techniques, then we really can't evaluate the risks they pose either. Plus the people who developed it may have protection against many of the things that space travel would expose them to. For example: species as sensitive to the effects of radiation as we are might never make it as spacefarers in the first place, whereas one resistant to the background radiation of space would be better suited to it. Giving this technology to those with no clue as to how it actually functions is like handing a loaded pistol to an infant, it's just plain stupid."
"You think this ship might cause cancer?" Becky asked, glancing nervously around as if she expected to find the specter of cancer lurking behind the seat somewhere.
"No, but we have no way of knowing. And it's that lack of awareness of the risks which is so problematic."
"No, again I think it's one thing if it's freely offered, but we can't assume that simple possession guarantees us the unlimited use of the technology, especially if we have no clue how it operates," Josh warned, shaking his head. "These people gave it to me so I could help rescue them, not so I could personally profit from it. I suspect they knew how risky trusting me was, but had little choice in the matter. I'd feel it was an incredible betrayal of that trust to just turn it over to someone who didn't have their best interests at heart.
"I suspect, once everything is done and these aliens have returned home, we could write about our experiences outlining what we saw and experienced. If that prompts future research where scientists slowly uncover the scientific principles behind the technology we describe, then that's a more natural progression and wouldn't carry the same risks. Then everyone could learn it gradually enough to understand the attendant risks. But Jeffery's remarks of it being like handing a baby a loaded gun are wrong. In that case it's only a risk to the infant. Instead it's like handing a baby the launch codes and a direct line to the nation's missile defense silos. The damage they could cause by playing around with what they have no hope of understanding is just too difficult to imagine."
Just then the ship said something causing Josh to spin around and begin speaking to it. When he paused Jeffery was unable to contain his curiosity any longer.
"Just where the hell are we?"
Grinning, Josh commanded the display to turn on again, but it revealed nothing but dark wispy clouds, pouring rain and the frequent flash of lightning. "We're a couple miles directly over my college. Flagstaff, Arizona, is more or less directly under us."
"It's amazing that with all that lighting, the storm doesn't have more of an impact on us," Fred said, staring at the violent scene just outside, standing in stark counterpoint to the calm atmosphere they found themselves in.
"I suspect it's the same antigravity we were discussing earlier," Josh ventured, glancing like the rest at the fascinating view outside, "or rather, it's an artificial gravity superimposed on the ship. Again, in outer space in order to avoid long-term degradation of their bones, muscles and other organs, they'd need to maintain something to simulate their native gravities. If they can cancel or even reverse gravity in a ship this size, then recreating it inside the ship would seem ... well, logical, I guess."
"That would make sense," Jeffery jumped in. "The fact that we feel nothing at all, even when we know the ship is accelerating rapidly straight up or from side to side, would imply they're somehow negating or countering what's really happening outside."
"Not just that, but if a large ship did that kind of constant maneuvering, life on a space ship would be incredibly hellish," Josh reflected. "I suspect they devised all of their ships to reflect a consistent 'feel' to make life more comfortable aboard them. That, along with the health benefits, would go a long way to making life in outer space bearable. What's more, the rest of you didn't notice it as much since you weren't watching it as closely, but when we were flying the ship's perspective was changing constantly. We certainly weren't travelling level, instead we were pitching and yawing, which is what helped make it so difficult to stomach."
"So then a constant feeling of a secure environment with a stable floor would enable the ship to take whatever actions it needed to without impacting its occupants?" Molly stated, marveling at the complexity of the ship's simplistic design.
"All right, so you've figured out why they require artificial gravity," Cynthia said with hands firmly planted on hips. "What the hell happened to the inertia? Why is it we're not thrown against the wall every time we change direction? The G-forces alone would be enough to rattle our teeth at the rate of speed we're traveling."
"If I knew that, I'd be looking for funding to start my new research business," Josh replied with a laugh. "I'm not going to venture a guess, as I've got no explanation. Whatever they're using works incredibly well though. If they didn't have it, there's no way any earthborn creature could stand to remain in a vehicle like this."
"They might apply a local counter thrust inside the ship," Becky guessed.
"Wouldn't work," Josh replied. "That would be like being hit from two directions at the same time. It'd be like having two bruisers punching you at the same time to counter the effect of being hit once."
Becky didn't look pleased to be corrected by Josh, especially since he didn't even seem to be bothered by it. It meant he didn't take her ideas seriously. She'd need to step up her game if she wanted to impress him.
"OK, I hate to ask a stupid question," Jeffery said, derailing the current discussion, "especially when we're discussing such high-flying concepts, but why the hell are we camped out over Flagstaff instead of escaping back to our hideout?"
"I needed to make a call," Josh said, reaching into his pocket to pull out one of his spare disposable phones.
"Colonel Whitacre?" President Atkinson asked finally picked up his phone in the Oval Office, "I understand you've got some news for me. I'm hoping you've resolved the situation by now?"
"I'm sorry, Sir, but as I said before, that just wasn't possible," the base commander answered, speaking softly but firmly, trying to walk a delicate balance between telling his Commander-in-Chief what he wouldn't do while still being polite and non-challenging. "We lost the entire team at the research facility and our protective gear proved ... inadequate. The disease we released doesn't seem to be travelling any farther, so we haven't had any further deaths, but birds continue to drop from the sky over the building, so I'm not willing to risk my men trying again."
"I told you to recover the target," Alan insisted, his voice rising in frustration at potentially losing such a valuable resource.
"We were working on possible ways of accomplishing that," Whitacre answered carefully, "but ... another issue has rendered the entire subject moot."
The President sat up, not liking the sound of that at all. "What exactly happened?" he asked cautiously.
"A strange craft landed, completely invisible to our radar. We were outside, observing the situation at the lab while remaining outside the limits of our established safe parameter." Whitacre could hear the President groan over the phone, but he continued on, hoping to get everything out before he was interrupted. "There was a delay, but soon four figures emerged. They were ... apparently regular civilians," he said, not wanting to draw the obvious comparison, even over a secured line, "and they didn't appear to be wearing any protective gear other than backpacks, and they had a ... floating platform."
"Floating... ? Never mind, what did they do?" President Atkinson pressed, enunciating each word as his patience ran short.
"They entered the building, removed the 'target', sealed it in a protective cover and removed it from the premises. It removed the biggest threat to the base but didn't remove the existing threat of exposure, as birds continue to drop whenever they fly over."
"And you LET them just wander off with the only useful intelligence we've managed to recover?" the President demanded, his voice—and blood pressure—rising in volume.
"There wasn't really anything we could do since we couldn't advance on them, and they did remove a risk to everyone remaining at the base," Whitacre tactfully informed the President. "We may have lost the resource, but we couldn't access it anyway, and by removing it they negated the risk of future exposure to the general population. As of now, everyone exposed to it is dead and unlikely to spread the disease any further."
"I'm not concerned with a few isolated fatalities," Atkinson stressed. "We needed the Intel the resource could have given us. By allowing the interlopers to gain our safeguard you've effectively left us unable to defend ourselves!"
"If I may speak honestly, Sir, they didn't threaten anyone and spoke to us of removing the contagion in order to safeguard it from further exposure. They certainly didn't appear hostile."
"Oh, so you just allowed them to happily prance through your safeguards and make off with our most precious tool without resisting? No wonder they didn't fight. You gave them no reason to!"
"I'm sorry, Sir, but it was a command decision. Since we couldn't advance and try to hold them, there wasn't really anything that we could have done to restrain them."
"How about opening fire? I'm assuming you've got a couple weapons handy, and bullets aren't at risk of exposure."
"No, the bullets aren't, but if they disturbed the environment they could have released the settled contagion and exposed everyone. Also, if we'd opened fire they'd have likely returned fire and still taken the resource."
"But we'll never know, will we?" Atkinson pressed before changing tactics. "You say they were 'normal civilians'? So I'm assuming they wouldn't have access to any advanced weapons?"
"They had access to the others' technology. They just appeared in the affected area and weren't hurt by their exposure. We have to assume they have access to the full range of their technology but are choosing not to use it at this point."
"That's a lot of assumptions," Atkinson snarled, "and frankly, you aren't far enough up the food chain to make them. This is much too important for a simple field commander to decide. You may very well have condemned all of humanity by your cowardice! We had a proven resource, something we know could kill them and that they have no protection against."
"That may be, but we don't have any protection against it either, and if the virus escaped the base you could be blamed for a widespread plague. It may still occur. All it would take would be a good stiff wind from the right direction and there would be no one left alive at the base. If anything lived after the initial exposure, it could potentially spread the disease to more populated areas, say a crow flying just outside the fatal range or a stray fox eating something that landed outside of the affected zone?"
"All right, I'll admit we didn't know how to utilize the 'resource', but it may have been our only option."
"If your only option is something you don't understand, can't control and with the potential to kill thousands of people, to combat someone who hasn't attacked us, then maybe you need to reconsider your options."
"Col. Whitacre, I'll remind you who you're speaking to," President Atkinson sternly rebuked him.
"I'm sorry, Sir. I didn't mean anything by it, but the decision not to attack was mine alone and it was made to protect the men serving under me," Whitacre formally responded, speaking softly but quickly to prevent being interrupted. "As such I take full responsibility for my decisions and officially offer my resignation for my actions."