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Log Entry, Stardate Unrecognized [Raw input: "who the fuck cares"]

It was Andrews.

Fucking Andrews.

He was the most stable out of all of us, I thought, the one we would have voted as the one least likely to implode. He was as nostalgic about leaving as any of us, cracked all the right jokes as we went past the Kuiper belt, and was super meticulous in his log entries, always. If anything, I would've thought it'd be Louis, buckling under the pressure as the ship's shrink, or me, who in all of the sci-fi books I read when I was young should've been broken by the weight of command.

Instead, it was Andrews. Thirty-six year old aerospace engineer Thomas Andrews, with NASA for twelve years, five spacewalks under his belt, and selected to join a long, long trip to a world far, far away. Perfectly normal astronaut Andrews, except for his forty-third watch, where he got up, overrode the autopilot, and burned just about all the fuel we had to 'get to Alpha Centauri faster', according to the message he left on the console in his chickenscratch.

Nevermind that we obviously wouldn't get there any faster, which he had to have known as the flight engineer. Nevermind that there was no reason to change from the autopilot, which hadn't erred at all. Nevermind that he should've woken the rest of us if he thought anything needed to be modified.

Nevermind that we needed the damned fuel to LAND WHEN WE GOT THERE, so that we could harvest native minerals for the journey back.

And then having fucked us completely, he decided his best bet would be to dance out an airlock, merrily as anyone could be. He literally danced out, can you believe that?

I fucking can't.

Oh, and the icing on the cake: of course, I was the one to discover this. I woke up out of cryo to relieve him, saw that we were down to six percent fuel, overrode the overriding, and caught Åndrew's wave on the monitors, his punching the airlock cycle sequence, his being incinerated by the port side engine.

Fucking Andrews.


Log Entry, Stardate Unrecognized [Raw input: "shit, just record"]

I...calmed down some, and then woke the others and broke the news. Louis took it stoically, Danielle less so, though to her credit she kept it together in front of the two of us, probably because she thought it'd set us off. We sat there for a while (it wasn't like we had anything better to do), running the numbers (including once by hand, even though it took hours), and we confirmed what we knew from the moment I saw the tank readings.

Six percent thruster capacity means about four seconds of burn.

There's this old game called lunar lander, right, where you're tasted with this goal of landing an sort of Apollo LEM on a couple of platforms or something. It was developed a long time ago, ancient history of ancient history, but it was sort of an unofficial competition among us NASA pilots who were training to get the high score.

This was like that, except that the computer started you with enough fuel to tap the thrusters once. Oh, and there was also an atmosphere that you burned up in, if you came in too shallow. Oh, and the gravity was seven times what it was on the moon.

Five hours of figuring, and we tried every single approach. Head on means we land with a nice thunk at about three hundred fifty miles an hour, at which point we impact with about the force of a medium sized bomb. If we slowly decrease orbit and try to use the atmosphere to slow us down, we roast as the heat plating immolates in a tenth of the time we'd need to spend in the atmosphere.

All of the options in between are worse. Some end with us burning up and /then/ smashing into the planet, which as far as things go, sounds really shitty.

[long pause]

I know now how the earliest explorers must have felt, trying to circumnavigate the globe and running out of food, or having a mast destroyed by a storm. It's simply a sense of... waiting.

Waiting for the end.


Log Entry, Stardate 27991.133 [Sixty-two weeks since launch]

Louis has been walking us through this - thank God for him. He's still as stable as a rock, and can calm Dani and I down with a few words, though I don't know how he does it. Part of it is that he simply stays calm and doesn't try and glorify our deaths or gloss over it; he just... tells us everything, straight. He's talked to both of us about what is going to happen, let us know what we would probably feel, and gave us a few ways to deal with it. Even when he's not in his official role, though, he's warm and kind and... well, without him, I'm not sure any of us would still be alive, to tell you the truth.

...though sometimes I wonder if it makes a difference.

We still stand watch. Habit, I guess. A lifetime of training means that we go through the motions as if our mission will be successful. There's actually a checklist for just about anything to go wrong, except for this. I guess no one thought that this would be a possible failure state. If someone did, maybe we'd have some sort of checklist to go through.

Shut down the engines. Turn off the power, sector by sector. Turn off life support. Gather on the bridge. Say goodbye. Wait for the oxygen readings to fall. Pass out. Drift forever.

But there isn't, so instead, we obey the first law of motion.


Log Entry, Stardate 27998.494 [Sixty-six weeks since launch]

We're getting close to arriving - only two more weeks, and we'll be in range to get a visual lock. We haven't picked up too much so far on the E & M spectrum, though I don't know how careful we've been in sifting through the information that our scanners have been providing. The reports are still being sent out, at least. There's a moon, slightly smaller than ours, for what it's worth. Still a presence in their night sky and on their tides.

Regardless of whether anyone's doing it out of scientific interest or simple inertia, our impending arrival has caused us to be more active; Danielle's back to a version of her former self, instead of the shade the she has been for the last two weeks. Louis is as steady as ever. We'll see what this world holds, even if its secrets die with us.


Log Entry, Stardate 28000.000 [Sixty-eight weeks since launch]

Oh, my god — there's life down there, living, carbon-based life forms.

We're not alone in the universe.


Log Entry, Stardate 28000.010

I'm reminded of an old adage - if a tree falls in the forest but no one hears it, does it make a sound? A Earth-changing, ground-shattering scientific discovery is made, but no one, in this most bittersweet of moments, will ever know about it.

Discovered, only to be forgotten.

Nevertheless, there is life down there, on Alpha Centauri's sole planet, and the life not only exists but is flourishing. We are not the lonely stewards of this universe, my friends, and finding this planet means that we may very well live in a galaxy with many, many other intelligent species.

This particular species (we haven't named them yet) is advanced enough to use tools. They're in the late bronze age, it looks like, though the metal they are using may have little in common with what we had in our own Bronze Age. The differences, though, are minor in light of the indisputable fact that they are intelligent. They have formed societies, formed cities, and one day - by the time the next ship arrives, perhaps - they will have joined us in the stars.

And on that — it may fall upon us, Danielle noted to us earlier, to establish first contact.

First Contact.

Those words mean a lot to me, and, I suspect, to any who has ever thought about what it means. It is impossible to disconnect our thoughts as astronauts and as representatives of humanity from the science — and science fiction pieces — that inform us. The Prime Directive, primarily, has passed through my head perhaps hundreds of times since the first moment that we knew that there was life outside of our own.

And why should it not? These men and women have thought about the situations that we find ourselves in and have reasoned through these moments with no less information than we three envoys of the human race have today.

That said, though, I suspect that those showwriters and philosophers from centuries ago did not have the burden of knowing that their interactions could set the tone for a civilization's future, spanning an indeterminate amount of years.

This is momentous, and we must consider what we do very carefully.


Log Entry, Stardate 28010.132

God, I'm an idiot.

I started talking about the responsibilities that we had and the concerns that there were and everyone was nodding and then Louis raised a hand and then asked me a very simple question.

"How are we going to contact them if we don't survive the trip down to the surface?"

I'm an idiot, and this is all pointless.


Log Entry, Stardate 28015.188

We're currently holding orbit around the planet - We've called it Chiron, following the lead of a few authors of the past; it seems fitting as he was the first among centaurs.

We have been discussing a way to contact them, but time and time again we conclude that they are not yet ready for such contact, which would, in any way that it were accomplished, irrevocably change them. If only we could delay it until they are ready to receive such contact, but we will certainly not live so long, and even in the best of cases, there is not enough energy to keep the electronics going for so long, even if the regular asteroid showers did not knock us out of the sky.

And yet, in the blackest pit of despair, there is yet hope. This evening, I realized that there may be a way to complete this mission. Our fates — Louis, Danielle, and I — will be no different than they were before, but perhaps there is a chance that will not simply be a footnote in the annals of history.

But I can not make this decision alone; we will put it to a vote.


Log Entry, Stardate 28015.910

The vote succeeded. Once I explained what I intended, I saw that they would accept it, despite what it represents. We make our preparations now, and have started boosting already. It will take a few days for the orbit to become elliptical and to allow us to escape this world's pull.

We'll impact the moon in three days.


Log Entry, Stardate 28015.910

This will be my last entry.

I told Louis I loved him; he smiled at me and told me the same. We hold hands as I engage the thrusters, one last time.

Danielle had retreated to her room, but as our retrorockets fire and the collision warnings blare, she joins us in the command module.

I hold her hand, too, and together we watch as the moon grows larger and larger in the viewscreen.


Handwritten Laser Etched Entry on Metal Plates.

Preceding this entry are translations to the natively observed language. Following are plates of microscopic etches containing subsets of human history and knowledge.

Stardate 28018.750

To those that will read this, whether they are from Chiron, Earth, or the Infinite Worlds:

We come in peace from all mankind, and here we lay down our lives. We were a deep space exploration vehicle, the first of our kind, on a mission to gather information about another world. We suffered a mishap on our way and knew that we would not be able to complete our mission as originally intended. We chose, instead, to leave this record on the moon to be found by those who will come after.

If you are from Chiron, you will be reading this after you have achieved spaceflight. Congratulations on joining us in the stars — we hope only that your path to the heavens was easier than ours. As a gift from our civilization to yours, our history and knowledge is written on the plates that follow. We welcome you again, brothers and sisters, and we hope to soon meet you in person; our only regret was that it is cold metal that teaches you of us for the first time.

If you are from Earth, we hope that you will see that we had few choices, and we chose the one that we thought was right. The black box recording will tell you what happened; our only suggestion is that you make use of this knowledge for future exploratory missions. Beyond that, if you are discovering this before the Chirons do, you have the power to erase our choices. We hope you will not.

And if you are from the Infinite Worlds - we are humanity, and we will be taking our place among you shortly. Look forward to our arrival.
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Our parents' histories say that they fell upon us like shadows in the dark. The stories told — for there are no surviving written records of the encounters — say that they came upon us and demanded land, resources, and finally, when we gave them all we could, our obedience. The elders speak in low voices and look around them with darting, furtive eyes, and say that the Others came in advanced ships with advanced technology and never gave humanity a chance. They say that the enemy destroyed much of the planet in anger before forcing us to become their chattel.

This I have seen with my own eyes: in the middle of the Amazon, there is a trail — a scar — that cuts across the rainforest, where the land is absolutely barren. The greenery flourishes on both sides, rising above the dead land like the parted waters of an olden sea, but it never comes together to close the gaping wound. It is a sign of their power, a testament to their victory. When it rains, the ground absorbs the water far more quickly than it should; when the seeds fall over an unmarked line, they shrivel and die, never to sprout. No animal ever crosses the barren divide, a place where we may never learn to reverse their actions, where nothing looks as though it will ever grow again.

But the stories told exist to do more than inform us of places where they first walked across our land, leaving death in their wake. They sustain the resistance and feed the flames of anger that keep our will to fight alive; they nourish the youth that never knew anything but the occupation, and they create dreams of a time when we still controlled our own destinies. It is a powerful need, that one; our stories from before the time of Them are filled with myths and legends of those that break free from oppression and fight for freedom at any cost.

But much like all myths and legends — and absolutely true of all propaganda — the stories we are told of the first war are not the absolute truth.

The shallow mischaracterizations and deeper lies had always been there, but a man dying of thirst in the desert does not care if the cup that gives him water is cracked. Our thirst was for vindication of our wrongs and a promise of a different future, and so we eagerly ate up all the stories that quenched that deep belief. As children, we were raised seeing the hatred that our parents directed at the 'official' speeches on the television — they had assumed leadership positions as the human governments more or less collapsed under their own impotence, and from time to time, broadcast messages about peace and certainty, along with making general policy changes. We ate up every story about how we were wronged, and most especially about how our armies had attempted to fight damned cowards that never engaged us on the field of battle.

But the truth has a way of asserting itself, and from time to time, there would be an incongruities in the diatribes against the occupation. One of the adults would mutter, "It all started with the Tarkin incident," and there would be muted agreement, a grudging acceptance of a statement that differed greatly from the righteous anger that the other stories instilled. The elders, when pressed with questions on why the Others took over but never annihilated us, could never give any reasons — though they speculated, of course, that they wanted to 'play with' us, establish us as their slaves, or more malignant or nefarious reasons. Some answers were so flimsy the questions became quietly discouraged: why they had chosen to give us medical technology that lead to a better quality of life all over the world, for example, was explained by their wanting to keep around as many of us as possible to 'experiment with'.

"They're controlling everything, isn't that bad enough?!" was common the rejoinder to someone that asked too many questions about the past. And if that didn't do it, the ugly accusation of being a traitor was enough to discourage even the most curious from peering behind the curtain. But as time went by, it became more and more obvious that there was something ugly behind it, and myths and legends were no longer enough to sustain us. Or perhaps, more bluntly, lies and propaganda will never outlive the desire for truth.

The Others simply watched as the curious started to unearth the past and properly judge the future.


Twenty years after their victory, there was a study published by the census organizations of various world countries, all over the world. It showed that on average, lifespans were longer, people earned more, and violence was down. In every single quantitative measurement, people were doing better than they were before the Others had come down.

The only negative finding was this: people were more unhappy. They lived longer, were more successful in their endeavors, and learned more than any generation before them; they were healthier and better read, they were less violent and more skilled... and they were, without a doubt, more dissatisfied.

The Others had come in and changed a handful of policies in a handful of places and brought what would have been judged before their coming as amazing achievements, ones that presidents and kings could not imagine doing in centuries of power. They had brought peace, prosperity, and health to millions that would not have seen it.

And in the end, they were hated for it.
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"We are like salt, from earth," he says the first time, a cloaked figure that stands forward from the others, in the shadow of their ship, on the edge of the African plain. It's a male, the biologists unanimously agree. He is bipedal and has long, thin claws that remind too many of Freddy; none of the hundreds of reporters draw near.

The claws are too long to obey the Golden Ratio, the biomathematicians say, and wonder what insights they can give us. Perhaps a deeper understanding of the universal constants, perhaps a different way of looking at the fundamental basis of math entirely. But they do not share; they only ask for us to respect their land, a few small enclosures on various continents that they pay various few governments generously for, though not in the advanced technology they surely hoped for.

The line is studied and debated endlessly. 'Salt? of/from earth?,' flies across chatrooms, research labs, thinktanks. In the public, it becomes a greeting: "We are all salt of the Earth," the President starts in his State of the Union; in the military, it becomes a curse: "Those fuckers think they're going to salt our Earth?". In academia, the scientists are as divided as the rest of the world, with as many hypotheses as there are stars.

Was it the shared carbon-based biological structures they were referring to that made it so that they could easily consume the same resources we did? Was it a psychological statement on how they saw themselves, plentiful and common, an essential part of everything?

Then, the Tarkin incident, which taught us two very important lessons.

Fifteen military cameras observed a jeep crashing through the fence that had been the separation between the two species. Five spy cams, previously smuggled into the enclosure, caught various footage of the young men shooting indiscriminately through the compound, yelling out xenophobic slurs. Most of the damage was superficial, as the aliens knew enough to hide from the bullets, but two of the xenos were less fortunate.

They had been walking through the streets and were unfortunate enough — or distracted enough — to step out in front of the charging jeep; the footage reveals that the male never saw it coming and was thrown fifteen feet by the initial impact. His cloak was torn away, giving us the first look of their translucent torsos, their arrowlike heads, their long, long claws. The humans brought the jeep to a screeching stop, and as the female stood there, emptied their clips into her fallen companion. Around the world, analysts and advisors watched the blood flow — red, of course, because of the hemoglobin.

And then, when the footage leaked, the world saw it too.

When the male died, the female collapsed, registering no signs of life on the biomonitors, even though she was completely uninjured. It was an effect we would only come to understand much, much later, but it was the most important thing learned in early contact.

The second lesson was that they could be killed with conventional force.

"We will be the salt sown across the fields of Earth," he says, precisely five years after the Tarkin encounter. With each claw, he casts a fistful of dull crystals before him. There are no reporters now, and the world watches through the lens of a single videocamera placed five hundred yards away.

His gesture is unmistakable and his words leave no room for misinterpretation; everyone understands the mal-intent. After the xenophobic incidents, the widely broadcast protests, and the gradually aggressive border skirmishes, there were few that didn’t think a struggle was inevitable, an open struggle to establish the dominant species of the planet.

They were never caught unprepared again, after the first loss of life. When a lone pilot in a small, single—engine Piper made it through the military blockade and crashed into what the analysts thought was a school in one of their towns in Asia, they saw it coming and evacuated the building. As soon as the fire stopped, they started rebuilding the school, right over the plane and the unfortunate pilot. The next day, there was no sign it had ever happened. We never had a chance to negotiate for the return of the body.

When the President decided it was too dangerous to have an exo-town in America and ordered the military to "gently but promptly" relocate Colony 6, the soldiers reported finding nothing but buildings; the aliens had taken everything that could be moved and vanished sometime during the night before. In another unmistakable gesture, all the cameras and sensors we felt that we had so intelligently smuggled in had stopped broadcasting during the night.

Containment, the committee on military affairs recommended. No one knew what they could do, except that they could do things we couldn’t. In the words of a maligned but honest defense official, “We simply don’t know what we didn’t know.” And in that atmosphere, no one wanted to be the first to commit troops to what could easily be a snipe hunt — or significantly worse, a massacre. The various world leaders agreed, even the most militaristic, and the blockades were doubled or tripled in strength, with walls built, guns pointing in, jet fighters continuously on standby.

It was a week later when we collectively realized that our blockades had the same effect as trying to bail out the Titanic with a child’s toy bucket. Civilians from every single part of the world — the first reports came from Brazil, the Pacific Northwest, New South Wales, the Alps, and the Serengeti, simultaneously — reported seeing single Xenos stalking through the land. It was always only one, and many called it a ruse to draw us away from their towns, towns that still went through their normal schedules. At first, we ignored it, until the secondary reports came in, a day or two after the first sightings.

Where they went, everything died.

Our best scientists confirmed the practical findings, slowly piercing together how it happened. Everywhere they had been, there was a zone of death in the ecosystem. A biological weapon, a parasite or virus of some sort, some suggested, but the biologists didn’t agree — preliminary studies indicated no infections or foreign presences. Then someone put a slide of the Brazilian fern cells under a microscope and we saw the cytorrhysis and crenation, and we finally, bitterly, understood the meaning behind the alien’s words.

They weren’t just a declaration of war; they were a blueprint of the exact actions they would take.

The cells died, you see, because of the pressure difference. They had learned how to locally affect the osmotic pressure, and twisted it so that the outside was significantly more concentrated than inside the cells. The water floods, out, the cells collapse, and the organism dies.

We knew the basics — we had known for years the application of it and used salt water, sometimes, to kill weeds. We knew how important it was to keep the balance of salt in our bodies. But this weaponization of a chemical property itself, this ability to effect such changes and then simply walk away; it was something we could never counter.

We couldn’t just roll over and die, of course. But when we attacked, as one, globally, there was nothing there, again. The tanks rolled into empty buildings, the bombs fell on ghost towns that no longer held the Xenos that we had seen walking through the streets days before.

And then the reports came: they were coming closer and closer to our major cities, our population centers. The hearts of our countries...

“We are,” he says, “the salt of the Earth,” His skull is now round instead of flat, his hands still long and thin, but with stubby fingers instead of claws, his chest pale instead of translucent. He stands before the United Nations and smiles, and it is a chilling smile, lacking any grace whatsoever.

They walk amongst us now, absorbed into the waters of humanity, and it is very, very hard to tell the difference between us.

They have won.


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March 2017

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