“Let’s see if we can raise the planet. We know they’re aware of alien life-forms but it’d be best if we can get permission before we go into orbit,” Manny said. “Earth Shuttle to Rhiava. This is Lieutenant Johnson Mannheim from the Interplanetary Explorer Ship Questor. We come in peace and wish to discuss trade with you. May we approach your planet?” However their only reply was static. “It’s strange, Jon. We’re transmitting and according to the readings they should be receiving.” He ran a check over the transmission system. “There’s definitely nothing wrong with our system, and as far as I can tell from up here, nothing’s wrong with theirs either.”
“Unless they choose not to reply,” Jon said. “Perhaps there’s some truth in the reports from Midea after all. Maybe the Rhiava are no longer as friendly as when the Mideans first contacted them.”
“Could be, if the captain’s experience with the Mideans is anything to go by,” Manny replied thoughtfully. “I’ll broadcast the message again, and if there’s still no reply I’ll keep sending every fifteen minutes.”
“Do you want me to slow my approach?” Jon asked his hands hovering over the controls.
“No, let’s just carry on. I’ll keep a close watch on the sensors though.”
An hour and a half later and they still hadn’t had any response. There was no change in the sensor information Manny was receiving. The entire system was extremely quiet and the planet of Rhiava was peaceful. There was no indication of any orbital satellites, or any space craft. Even though they were now much closer they still couldn’t even identify any energy sources in use on the planet’s surface, which seemed impossible. If it wasn’t for the information they’d received from Midea it would appear this race had no space flight capability.
However, as they approached orbit it was clear the atmosphere surrounding the planet was charged with some kind of electro-magnetic energy; an energy they couldn’t scan. Even this close Manny couldn’t obtain any sensor readings; but it was clearly visible to the naked eye. Manny had never seen anything like it. It could certainly be interfering with his scans. It was definitely interfering with communications. Perhaps the Rhiava couldn’t receive or send when their atmosphere was so charged.
“Mannheim to Questor.” He waited but there was no response. “Come in Questor, Mannheim to Questor,” he repeated, a little louder, as if that would help.
“Questor to Mannheim.” Commander Barlow’s voice came over the system, sounding distinctly muted. “There’s a great deal of interference, it’s very hard to read you. Come in, Mannheim.”
“I’m having trouble receiving you too; the same sort of interference at our end and it’s not the shuttle’s systems. I think it’s the planet’s atmosphere which is severely charged. We’re about to enter orbit. We haven’t been able to reach the Rhiava yet which I think is due to the atmospheric interaction. Will be in touch again shortly. Do you read, Questor?” His words had been interspersed with crackle and he wasn’t sure how much of his signal was getting through.
“Yes, Mannheim, we read you, just about. Let us know as soon as you—” the end of the message was lost in a burst of static.
“Mannheim to Questor, come in Questor.” There was no response. “Well, Jon, it looks as if we’re our own for the time being. Will the atmosphere prove a problem for the shuttle?” he asked, almost as an afterthought.
“No, I don’t think so. The hull is well protected against much worse than this. If you’re ready I’ll take us down now. Let’s see what happens shall we?” Jon suggested. Manny nodded his agreement and Jon flew the shuttle down from orbit on a well plotted gentle curve into the atmosphere.
Almost immediately the shuttle began to shake.
“What on earth,” Jon shouted above the sudden whine of the engines.
“What’s happening?” Manny called over the noise.
“I don’t know. Just a minute, Manny. I’m reading something now.” Jon concentrated on the console for a minute, then. “Damn. I’m not sure what exactly this is, but that electro-magnetic charge, whatever it is, is at a much higher frequency than we could scan from orbit.” He studied his readouts again, as did Manny on his own console. “Besides this damn buffeting, it seems to be bleeding the power from the ship, though I don’t understand how,” Jon yelled, louder now because of the sounds of the charge added to the whine of the straining engine and the scream of the ship’s hull.
Manny turned to one of the other consoles to begin his own more detailed investigation when it suddenly exploded in a shower of sparks. He threw up his arms to protect his face.
“Are you all right, Manny?” Jon asked perplexed. When Manny nodded assent, he continued, “Perhaps you should try again to contact Questor, see if you can let them know what’s going on.”
Manny turned back to the transmission console. “Mannheim to Questor, come in please. We’re in difficulty in the atmosphere of Rhiava. Come in please.” Manny waited but there was no reply.
“Are you sure we’re transmitting?” Jon asked as he desperately struggled with the controls. He tried every trick he knew, and a couple he invented out of desperation, but nothing helped.
“Well, as far as I can tell whatever’s affecting the shuttle is disrupting our transmissions as well.”
“I don’t know what this electro-magnetic source is, whether it’s natural or not, but it’s acting just like some sort of dampening field. It’s shutting everything down. I don’t think we’ll be able to contact Questor. Also, I don’t think I’m going to be able to get us down in one piece. The lower we go in the atmosphere the harder it is to control the ship.” Jon hesitated for just a second. “Strap in Manny.”
To be released shortly by Amber Quill Press