I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream--Terrorist cows

Eight Minutes Before The End Of The World
by Judith Boyer ©2009

On the Tiridak ship, battle alarms blared jarring electromagnetic signals, sending Tiridaks scurrying on all six legs, rushing to correct the weapons system malfunction. Head of Tactical Il42 halted before Head of Operations, Ze948. “There was a massive failure in weapons systems. We had to eject the antimatter torpedoes.”

Electromagnetic brain waves from Il42 were painfully long, betraying her horror to Ze948. Not a good sign. “Can you fire proton matter to destroy the missiles before they hit the star of system 4789?” Ze948 thought furiously for a way to avert disaster to the infant system, pacing the command deck.

“Negative. We should flee the system,” Il42 responded.

Head of Communications added her wavelength. “Shouldn’t we try to warn the native intelligence?”

Il42 chirped a grunt. “We’ve been trying to communicate with them for weeks. They don’t understand. Besides, it would give them little advance warning, and would only delay our escape.”

Second of Tactical rushed up to them. “Impact is imminent! Permission to enter inter-dimensional space!”

Ze948 sighed, guilt and sorrow wracking her insides. “We were having such progress with the natives.” She directed her wavelength broadcast to the entire ship. “Flee.”

The Tiridak ship winked out of dimensional space as the missiles hit the star, disrupting the fusion processes in the core.

In the quasi-material state between dimensions, Ze948’s wavelengths radiated regret. “Sorry, earthlings.”

***

In the back office, working on NASA’s latest brain child, the Mercury Probe Orbiter, John Fanchett sipped cold coffee and rubbed bleary eyes, watching display after display flash past his wall monitor hooked up to the probe’s data link, sending the latest mission’s stats from just beyond Mercury. Stifling a yawn, he glanced at the time display in the corner: 6:12am Central Time in Houston. When he glanced back at the monitor, he dropped his mug in his lap.

Another pair stained, he thought at the back of his mind, but the data was giving him incredible information. Then the screen went blank, and error reports began sounding from every system in the lab. He knocked over his chair as he ran to check the printouts.

The probe was gone. He read temperature, radiation, and energy readouts from the last second before destruction, and gaped. With a curse, he dialed up the head of the project, Burt Langston.

“Sir, we got a big problem. The sun is going nova.”

Burt made a choking noise. “What?”

John considered hanging up on his superior; he couldn’t afford the time it was taking to explain this. “Sir, we may have less than eight minutes, if the sun is expanding close to the speed of light--” he broke off. What in God’s name did he think he could accomplish in so short a time? He might as well have a few Twinkies, a can of beer, and say goodbye to existence.

The line went dead, and John felt a stab of fear, wondering if the time was already up and the telephone lines were melting. He tore through notebooks of project data, and found the incident last week where they’d made contact with some organized electromagnetic fields outside Mercury, possibly a contact with non-Terran intelligence.

Could there be a possible escape?

The waves had complex mathematical patterns, but his buddy Dr. Alice White had been at work deciphering a basic syntax to break it down into understandable language. They were still in the beginning stages, but he might be able to use her research to send a simple alert message, a call for help. Of course, it would only travel at light speed. It might become the only indication that there once was intelligence here. At least it would be an epitaph. He set to formulating the message, forcing himself not to glance at the clock. Only maybe five or six minutes left . . .

He scribbled down the equation and grabbed the notebook, then flung open the door to run up to the communications array. He nearly ran into Burt.

“What the hell--” Burt began.

“No time! Outta my way, and I’ll explain as we go. You can help me send the message . . .” John didn’t wait, but shoved past his superior, running down the corridor past gaping astronomers.

He raced up the stairs and made it to the door of the communication room when Burt grabbed him from behind, panting heavily. “Now hold on a sec! We don’t have clearance.”

John wished he had a gun. “Burt, listen to me. The sun’s going nova, and all of us are about to die. I’m trying to get a message out--”

Burt laughed. “Why bother?”

John scowled, feeling the seconds ticking away. “In case there’s someone out there!”

Burt scratched his bald pate, a trait John found particularly annoying at this moment. “You’re crazy. You take one step in there and I’ll call security.”

John ignored him and burst into the room, heading for an empty terminal. He began formatting his message as Burt came up behind him. “Go ahead and call. It’ll take them ten minutes to get here. There won’t anything left of us by then. We’ll be inside the sun.”

Burt scowled at him but did not interfere with his typing, as others gathered to watch. “Our sun doesn’t have the mass to go nova, and it won’t run out of hydrogen for another several billion years.”

John’s fingers flew over the keypad as he directed the satellite transmission, away from the Mars colony towards the Jupiter probe, “I’m telling you our Mercury probe just burned up at several million degrees Kelvin. Only the sun produces those kinds of temperatures. Whether it’s nova or simple expansion doesn’t matter. It’s going to swallow us.”

“It won’t be at light speed.”

John grimaced, sending off the final command. “I can’t take that chance.” He checked his watch--only two minutes to go, figuring by when the Mercury probe exploded. His heart was pounding, making him light-headed and queasy, and his hands were shaking.

Hopefully there was something out there to hear.

***

The Tiridak ship materialized above ecliptic plane of Solar System 4789, and Ze948 clambered along the webbed corridors towards the communications base, ignoring reports from underlings of Tactical and Operations on the status of the ship. She entered the comm room and spotted Head of Communications, Ce101, in her relay matrix, gathering data on the star system below. A graph in the air indicated rate of expansion of the star.

“You want me to tell you your infant planet is going to survive. You know it is a hopeless case,” Ce101 sent.

Ze948 gnashed her mandibles, sending out a static dissatisfaction which made the other Tiridaks in the comm room cringe. “Is Gas Giant One’s watcher still functioning?”

Ce101 nodded her massive head. “Affirmative. It is possible it may not be swallowed.”

“Access it.”

Ce101 chittered to herself as magnetic relays performed her instructions, and soon the stream of quantum enhanced radio waves permeated the room, jumping across the space through a similar dimensional passage as the ship had traveled, so that they could have up to the millisecond accuracy of what GG1 was experiencing from the expanding star.

Ce101 reported, “Temperature rising rapidly; GG1 losing hydrogen through gravitational influences--”

“What of the watcher over ‘earth’?” Ze948 watched the graph as the sun expanded towards the second planet.

“Still functioning normally; it is in the moon’s shadow. I detect no difference it its movement, nor of the transmissions it is receiving from iron planet 3--earth. Wait. There is a new transmission, not radio.” Ce101 clicked in surprise, turning to Ze948. “It is electromagnetic. A garbled cry--I am working on deciphering.”

Ze948’s dorsal nerve network shuddered in anticipation. “Hurry.”

Ce101 muttered to herself as she worked, and Ze948 watched as the corona of the sun grew nearer to IP3. Its inhabitants were probably experiencing unusual weather phenomenon just about now. Such a waste of organic materials.

Ce101 chittered in satisfaction. “I have it. Translation: ‘No more strawberry ice-cream.’ Does that make any sense to you?”

Ironically, it did. One of the watchers they had sent to investigate the planet had sampled some of the complex sugary confections the natives seemed to produce in mass quantities. Strawberry ice-cream had been her favorite. “They must know more about us than we suspected. Trace the source of the transmission, then pull the sender.” She called up Tactical. “Il42: I have a project for you . . .”

***

John paced the communications room, wondering if there would be a response to his message in time to avert disaster, save at least some of humanity--anything. Burt had seated himself at the terminal to inspect the message he had just sent. “This looks like nonsense. And your eight minutes are up. I’m calling security, and throwing you out--I think you need professional help, John.”

Alice White burst through the door. “Have you been listening to the news?”

John paled. “What?”

“They’ve ordered the evacuation of Houston and every other city within a hundred miles of a shoreline. There’s massive weather disturbances happening globally, and they’re expecting tidal waves to start wiping out all major coastline cities. Some gigantic solar flare or cosmic radiation, by the sound of it.” Dr. Alice’s eyeglasses were fogged up; she set to wiping them off on her sleeve, quick agitated movements that betrayed her terror. She was a plain woman, but suddenly in her vulnerability, John found her beautiful.

Unfortunately, he had no time to ponder. “It’s happening. I assume temperature and humidity is rising?”

Alice nodded. “It’s already 116 degrees Fahrenheit outside. With the humidity, it’s becoming hard to breathe.”

John took her arm. “It’s going to get worse.” He glanced at Burt and the scientists and technicians in the room. “We don’t really have anywhere to run to. I suggest we go out to the satellite array--if anything’s going to save us, it will probably be there, the source of our emissions. Better hurry--this is it. The end of our planet.”

Burt called to him as he gripped the doorknob, “Wait! A response to your message is coming in!”

“Let me see!” Alice grabbed a rolling chair to sit down next to Burt, leaning forward to stare at the monitor. “It looks like words, sentences--possibly instructions, but it would take me weeks to translate.”

“I sent them just an approximation of an alert signal, something to get their attention. Should we send it again, or modify?” John stood over the two, as behind him he heard the station dissolving into chaos. Apparently the wave had struck the outskirts of the city. A few more seconds, none of this would matter.

“No time. I’ll send your same message again.” Dr. Alice said, as she and Burt worked together to send the command.

The air was growing hotter, John could swear. He heard a roaring noise.

“They’ll never react in time--” Alice’s voice faded suddenly into nothingness, and she vanished before John’s eyes. Burt’s jaw dropped, and he stood and reached out to where Alice had been seated . . . and disappeared himself.

“No! I’m the one who sent it!” John screamed, leaping at the terminal as if to enter the screen into whatever vortex Alice and Burt had just been pulled into. He never had the chance to see if the non-Terran intelligence would bring him too, for at that moment the tidal wave hit, shattering glass and decimating the building.

***

Ze948 inspected the specimens brought by Watcher IP3, which had emerged from its base on the back side of the terran moon. Two hominids, one of each gender, two bovine quadrupeds, again one of each gender, and a crate full of strawberries and sugar cane. “Excellent work, Il42. We have preserved the best of IP3. How long do you think it will take to form basic communication with them, so that they may begin their work?”

“If we got the right ones, they should have the basic concept of our language. Perhaps by the time we return home they can begin production of their confection.” Il42 reported.

Ce101 called from communications. “IP3 and our IP3 Watcher have been destroyed. The sun continues to expand; request permission to withdraw the remainder of our Watchers.”

“Granted. I will bring the specimens to you, Ce. Be gentle with them; they have a fragile exo-structure. Notify me when they can speak.”

Ze948 watched as the upright creatures began banging on the shell of their atmospheric containment, mouths moving and sending out unintelligible sound waves. It would be an enormous task to train them, but they should understand in time, that she had needed a viable reason to save them. Sale of their ‘strawberry ice cream’ would make her and her employer rich and revered; nowhere had they found such a wonderful mixture of complex sugar, fat and calcium compounds so necessary to their exo-shielding. The destruction of the system was regrettable, but at least she had preserved something. Ze948 put through a communication to headquarters.

“Have I got a business proposition for you.”

x x x

I like Jomocha Almond Fudge, myself . . . I also like this debut story by Ms. Boyer . . . a lot. How about the rest of you ice cream fanciers out there in anotherealm? Tasty freezes to our BBS, please. -GM

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