Rob Arndt and Eddie de Wit are farmers on neighboring farms near Colesberg in the Eastern Cape Province. They’ve been best friends since childhood. During their school years they both developed an interest in astronomy.
Eddie browsed an astronomical website’s latest publication: “Rob, look here! Hubble II has found a small comet within the same distance of the large planets from the sun, but too far for the naked eye to see… strange isn’t it?”
“What? That is strange. Nobody’s noticed it before?”
“Well… maybe it’s because it is so small and outside of the planetary level, or perhaps it’s a new one, recently intercepted by the large planets’ gravitational field and forced into a new orbit? People today are much more interested in deep space investigations… that’s where guys can make a name for themselves.”
“Well, I can understand if new comets far from Earth are not easily discovered, but so far into the planetary system? It’s extraordinary! “
“Maybe it’s a chance to test your new programs and equipment. Let’s track and follow it for a while and see exactly what its orbital path looks like.”
Rob hesitates for a moment: “Well, it could be a good experience. I assume they give the track coordinates in the article? Let’s see if we can actually find it.”
For amateur astronomers the two are very well equipped. They follow the comet’s path every night and predict that it will disappear behind Earth’s sun. They use their computer program to determine where and when it will be visible again. For some strange reason the newly discovered comet is not interesting nor important enough for the Hubble II team any longer. To them the comet is small and insignificant and just one of hundreds of objects floating around in space within the planetary system, and not a danger to Earth.
Soon the comet’s orbit is determined, and the Hubble II telescope again focuses on the deep space investigations for which it was built. Other professional astronomers still do not really show an interest in it. A few opinions are aired, but a closer examination can wait for later… for someone else. There are far more important and interesting things in space.
At dawn the comet disappears behind the rising sun, so the two amateurs are forced to wait impatiently for its reappearance. When it reappears again it is strangely observed later than expected. As the two friends have been observing the comet for a few days they notice that its orbit has inexplicably changed drastically to bring it even closer to the sun and the Earth. Rob and Eddie publish a story on the Internet and the comet begins to create more of an interest, including the mainstream media, and the comet’s new orbit is now carefully watched. When nothing significant happens, however, most astronomers one by one start casting doubt on the two farmers’ observations and return to their previous interests. The two amateurs insist, however, because to date no satisfactory explanation has been given for the change in course by any of the professional astronomers. A presumption began to systematically take root with them that everything is not as it seems.
Back on the ship the three captains met with the rest of the crew. Brato at the word: “According to the broadcasts some of them suspect that something is amiss. Some military authorities are clearly men itching to test out their new toys and might decide to attack us, so the time has come for us to say goodbye to the comet. The planet and its satellite’s tidal forces will break it up in any case and it is degassing rapidly now.”
“How are we going to perform such a task without being traced, Captain?” Asks a crew member.
Brato, Dant and Klem have discussed this at length: “One half of the planet consists almost entirely of a vast ocean with only small islands, apparently populated by relatively underdeveloped nations. This ocean borders on one of the planet’s poles. When we get to the pole’s edge between the planet and the star, the planet’s rotation around its axis will bring us right above that area, we will then send the comet on its last journey. They will not be able to see us because the star’s light behind us we will make us invisible. The ship itself will also be temporarily hidden by the comet’s tail and make it possible for us to change our course. Fortunately the ship’s designers had the foresight to provide the external hull with variable reflection to regulate temperature inside the ship. So far we have kept the reflectors on to save energy. But now it is time to make it dark on the planet’s side. At the star-side we will supplement the loss to the dark side by regulating it and varying the ratio of the reflective surface as necessary. “
“We will have to harvest enough water from the comet, so keep some in case of emergencies after we change orbit,” says Klem.
“It’s already been done during the previous shift.”
Nouki, one of the drivers, however, is still not satisfied: “The change in orbit will more than likely confirm our presence, they will find us, and then the risk is much higher.”
“They more than likely know we are here already,” says Brato, “their military men probably will have to work through the red tape, and right now they know exactly where we are. We also don’t know exactly what their capabilities are, but what we have seen so far, it probably is less sophisticated than ours. We do not have a choice as we do not want to hurt anyone. We therefore have to devise a strategy to thwart them, even if they know of us.”
“Yes, but how?”
“We’re going to use the comet to brake the ship so as to change its course and disconnect it,” said Dant, “Then we will use full thrust to change our own course drastically and at maximum speed quickly change to an almost direct approach between them and the star. There are large reflective metal balloons in a geocentric orbit around the planet, probably for communication purposes. We will hide the ship behind one of them. The planet is pretty cloudy. This will help us to hide when we need to brake again. We must start preparing immediately and loosen the anchors.”
“They will of course start looking for us at some stage. The space telescope we have traced is a problem. We will have to do something about that,” says Brato. “The landing craft with their radar and absorbing deflector levels is specially designed for such eventuality. Their radar image will be very small, if they are even to be found, and will not be recognized as vessels. “
Klem, the youngest captain, now has something to contribute: “We of course must remain between the star and Earth during the entire approach. The energy costs will be high because we will not have a free-fall path to follow. I hope they will initially follow the comet and not look for something else in the direction of the star.”
Brato is pleased to see that the junior captain was thinking ahead, “Well done Klem, I’ve already taken that into account. According to the computer we will have to make a series of adjustments, but the water on board is enough for maneuvering. It will take them a few days of observations to determine the comet’s new orbit. We should be in place by the time the comet has completed its mission. There is obviously a risk. I hope our vapor cloud has largely disappeared by the time they realize that they were fooled, but if anyone has a better plan, do not hesitate to tell me about it.”
After the comet was out of sight and then reappeared, the two amateurs were baffled that it is now on a new path that will bring it very close to the Earth. They are members of the global Space Watch Foundation which was established in 1996 when the danger of possible collisions from outer space, and after years of representations and arguments, were finally established by the authorities. Both professional and amateur astronomers were coordinated to locate, report and document objects with near-Earth orbits as well as those that would cross the Earth’s orbit. They of course report this phenomenon immediately, and a multitude of astronomers are now starting to concentrate on the comet again. Strange events in space have no end. According to the Hubble team, Hubble II’s communication is suddenly interrupted inexplicably and without warning a few days later. Wild speculation is buzzing around the world in all forms of media as dismay and concern worldwide is elevated to great heights. The comet’s peculiar orbital change, erratic movement and large vapor cloud in the tail are discussed in detail. After careful calculations by the best observatories, they decide that the comet is presently not a direct threat to the Earth and will pass just outside the moon’s orbit where it will then be drawn away by the moon and the Earth’s collective gravity into a path that will eventually take it directly into the sun to burn up.
Many people, especially UFO enthusiasts and the US defense authorities are suspicious and a theory becomes established that some intelligence may have been involved in the comet’s peculiar behavior. The last path change, erratic behavior and two large vapor clouds in the comet’s tail confirmed their suspicion. Various theories and speculations about alleged invaders become mainstream. Military men in the US believe that there is a substantial risk the world will be attacked. They began to alert the media promptly and political pressure for permission to fire nuclear weapons at the comet rises in case the comet gets too close. The main counterarguments are, first, that if the invaders from outer space have much more advanced technology than we have, and if they were planning to attack the Earth, our weapons will be of no use. Aggressive behavior then only provokes violence and a disastrous outcome. Second, such an attack will cause debris from the comet to fall on the Earth with unpredictable and possibly disastrous consequences. Most people think that as long as the comet stays on its path and heads for the sun, an attack would be justified only if it changes course and heads for Earth. The arguments become a vicious circle, and in the end it is too late to disturb the comet in its predetermined path. At night it is now clearly visible with the naked eye and worldwide interest and concern multiplies exponentially. The comet starts to break up when it approaches the moon, and then it explodes into formation like a string of beads, each with its own tail spectacularly in a row as it turns to the sun. Telescopes with special filters follow until they disappear into the glare. Most people breathe a sigh of relief. The danger seems to be over, and for the majority life again returns back to normal.
The two amateur astronomers, Rob and Eddie, however, are still not satisfied and make their feelings known. Their sudden fame has not gone past the broadcaster Hennie Malan, producer of the TV program “Truth and Reality.” He schedules a live interview with them on Rob’s farm. The program starts with some aerial imagery of Rob and Eddie’s typical Karoo farms and their telescope on top of a building’s roof on Rob’s farm. Also a short description of Rob and Eddie as typical Karoo farmers, old Agricultural College friends, and the events leading up to the interview.
“How is it that two farmers venture into astronomy, Mr. Arndt?”, asked Hennie. Rob’s parents, who were retired and living in the village, happens to be visiting Rob the day of the interview. His father laughs and volunteers to answer for Rob: “We gave him his first telescope on his ninth birthday and he could not wait for the sun to set.” “Oh yes, it was the most wonderful gift. In the Karoo with its clean air you can not do else but notice the stars,” Rob says. “We have a peaceful existence, enough opportunity, and a clear starry heaven here in the Karoo and it filled my childhood with wonder. We spent many nights laying on our backs on the lawn watching the stars… the Southern Cross, the Orion constellation and I learned to identify others, and occasionally saw a meteor or artificial satellite. Eddie and I later bought a bigger telescope and computers. It’s actually natural that we would take a more serious interest. Farming is still our first love, which of course also makes our hobby possible. “
“I understand you are not satisfied with the official assurances that all is back to normal. Can you give the viewers a little more information and explain why you feel this way, Mr. de Wit?”
“We are sure there’s something more to this, Hennie,” said Eddie, “No object in free fall acts the way it did. It’s against all the Laws of Nature. We are very sure that the public is having the wool pulled over their eyes. We agree with the UFO and military guys; the whole process indicates an intelligent approach to our planet. Let us show you what we mean. “
Rob brings a representation of the comet’s movements on the screen: “You see Hennie, the comet’s orbit has changed every time exactly where we could not see, even on the other side of the sun where it was out of sight and then again between us and the sun when nobody looked in that direction… and then the comet’s appropriate trip to the sun, like a well planned journey. Such course changes for a free-falling comet is impossible in nature. The unusual statement that emissions from the comet itself could have caused the orbital changes will not fool us. It is obvious, since we first noticed the comet there have been too many coincidences, too much accuracy, too much energy involved, and at exactly the right times. It is clear that this was all done in order to get closer to Earth unnoticed. Two drastic course changes both require a lot of energy, then, to turn the comet around that close to Earth? No way! We do not have all the answers, but somewhere a major screw is loose and we will not rest until we find an answer. “
“But the comet was still destroyed in the sun?” Asked Hennie.
“This can not be the whole story, it’s just not logical,” said Eddie, “It seems to us like a smart move to take our attention away from what is really going on. You might laugh, but there had to have been some very powerful drive, some spacecraft with tremendous energy to perform such precise maneuvers with such a large mass. How powerful the craft has to be to travel the way it did blows my mind, but it’s just too much of a coincidence. “
“Yes” said Rob, “we will be going through the entire process of unraveling every detail until we find an answer, because there certainly is an answer. “The truth is out there.” “
“If what you say is true, it gives us some real serious information to think about. We look forward to the two of you finding the answers.” Hennie says, concluding the interview.
Brato is upset. During a recorded TV interview coming from the southern part of a continent, the last few stages of their journey is clearly and graphically displayed on a computer screen.
“They will now look until they find us,” he said to Dant, “We have to hurry. I’m sure the military forces on the vast continent on the other side of the planet are itching to attack. We have seen what they are capable of.”
“Yes,” said Dant, “I think a visit to the men featured in the broadcast is necessary. They understand enough that people will perhaps listen to them.”
Brato turned to the hastily assembled exploration team. “Search for their location at the start of the broadcast. Let me know when you’ve got it… and hurry!”
The team immediately gets to work. They start a computer search of the farms with the two TV images and the direction of the broadcast as scan basis for the most likely area at the bottom of the mainland. Surprisingly they quickly find the two images in a relatively sparsely populated, semi-arid part of the country.
“It rather suits us that it is precisely there, in a sparsely populated part and not in a densely populated residential area,” Dant remarks, “I do not think we should wait any longer.”
Brato agrees: “One of us should meet them. This country does not have the kind of defense systems that we have seen in other countries across the equator, and the landing craft’s radar image will be poor. I do not think we will need the greens’ acceleration tolerance. It should be safe if accompanied by one of us. “
“Klem and I can go. Its your shift in any case.”
Brato thinks about this for a moment: “Okay, but be careful. Look, there’s some sort of road for their vehicles. I think you should land close to their homes so they can not escape easily. There are also wires strung on poles. The thinner wires are probably communication lines. They must not be allowed to get out any information, not even by radio. You will first have to take care of that… and wear your protective clothing. “
“Do not worry. Everything will go well. “said Dant.
A while later four of the ship’s landing craft leave with Dant, Klem, two exploration team members and a green pilot aboard each.
Rob’s wife, Melody is talking to Eddie’s wife Helga on the phone, when it suddenly dies. There are no severe weather warnings in the area, but farm attacks happen on a regular basis. She is immediately on her guard, “Rob! Notify the farm watch! There’s something wrong with the phone!” She called out to Rob and Eddie who were on the flat roof of their ‘observatory’ looking through their telescope, studying the sky. Rob storms down the stairs and ran to the radio in his office. A strong broadband signal blocks all wavelengths. He now realizes there is something very wrong, grabs his rifle and storms out. Eddie yelled from the roof, “Rob! Come quickly! Some flying object is approaching us! “
Melody stops the children as they start running after Rob. A large, oddly shaped vessel with shiny flat surfaces lands in the road near the entrance gate to the farm. Eddie climbs down from the roof head over heels: “If they wanted to hurt us, they would not have landed,” he called out to Rob, “What do you think you are going to do with that rifle? These guys are flying around in an advanced space craft!”
Robs’s three children, the oldest of which is in grade two, clutch wide eyed to Melody standing at the living room window. Rob hesitated, unsure what to do and lowered the gun, but remains on his guard. A hatch opens, stairs fold out to the ground, and a tall, well built caucasian man with a long white beard and long hair appears with outstretched arms, apparently to show that he was not armed. His clothing is clearly not from around here and Eddie immediately realizes what is happening: “Turn off the high voltage fence, Melody,” he cried. “Open the gate Rob, they’re not terrorists and we do not want war.” Rob quietly presses the open button on his remote control. The gate opens and the visitor approaches to meet the two surprised men. Standing before them he points to Rob’s chest, then to his own. His index fingers hooking together, he says something in a foreign language.
“I think he showed that we are the same, or in some way connected with each other,” says Eddie. Rob relaxed slightly and glanced in the direction of Eddie. “I think you’re right,” he says. “He looks like an ordinary person, but maybe not from here.”
“Do you think we should invite him in?” Rob asks Melody
“Why not? It does not look like he wants to do us harm. ” she replies, smiling at the stranger.
Rob thinks for a moment and then motions for the stranger to come in the house with them. The stranger pauses for a moment and looks back at his craft, then follows them. On the way he takes out a small communication device: “Klem, both men from the broadcast are here. Do not approach the house. Only keep an eye out.”
In the living room, he looked around with interest. Melody nods friendly in the stranger’s direction, sends the children to their rooms then leaves for the kitchen to get some coffee, while Rob and Eddie try to make sense of the stranger’s hand gestures. He points to his chest and says, “Dant” A light goes on for Rob. He points to himself and says “Rob!” The stranger nods, points to him and repeats “Rob” Rob points to Eddie and says”Eddie!” The stranger nods again and repeats the name. Rob gestures to the stranger to sit. Melody comes in with the coffee and is introduced in the same manner.
“I think it’s the people you spoke about in your interview, Rob,” she said.
“I think you’re right,” he says, “there is not another such craft on Earth.”
“Show him what to do with the coffee,” she said.
Rob points to the cups and says, “Coffee!” Dant repeated the word and nodded his head.
Melody gave them each a cup of coffee and a saucer. She already added sugar and milk for the stranger and seeing the men drink theirs he tasted the coffee. “Not too bad!” He says with a smile and a nod in her direction.
“What did he say, Dad?” Asked one of the children peering around the door frame.
“I do not know,” smiles Rob, “but I think he likes it.”
“Come its getting very late, off to your rooms!” Melody says strictly. The children, however, do not go far and peer out of the dark hallway to see what was going on in the living room. Dant stands and looks at the portraits and paintings on the walls. The scenery looks a lot like those in the ship’s archives.
There is a knock at the back door. Melody opens and a distressed black face with big eyes makes its appearance. “What’s that thing at the gate, Miss?” He asks.
“I do not know Jerry, it belongs to the man in here. It is none of your business. Come and see, he looks like my family. “She leads him into the living room. When he appears in the doorway, Dant frowns. He pointed to Jerry and looks at Rob. Rob does not know how to explain and looks at Melody for an explanation. Dant seems upset, swung his outstretched arm in a wide circle and put his other hand over his mouth.
“It seems he wants to keep his visit secret,” says Eddie, “I wonder what it is he actually wants from us. There must be a reason for their visit. “
Rob looks at Jerry “You see it’s ordinary people, Jerry. This is a new kind of plane they are testing. Go back home and tell the others not to say a word about it to anyone else.”
Rob sighs as he knows he’s asking the impossible from the black farmhand.
“Yes sir.” Jerry says, as he continues to stare at the man with the strange clothes. He reacts suddenly like he’d just woken up and walks out quickly. Eddie gestures with open hands and a questioning expression on his face. Dant points to him, then to the craft outside, and then motions for Eddie to come with him as he walks towards the doorway.
“He wants me to go with him,” says Eddie, “I think he wants to show me something.”
He walks with Dant out the door while the others curiously follow behind them. Dant presses a button on the small communication device and says something into it. They disappear into the vessel’s hatch and moments later it closes. Rob is worried: “Oh donner! He took him! “
A moment later the vessel takes off and disappears quickly. A second one appears out of the darkness and takes its place in front of the gate. “They are making sure that no one spreads the news,” says Melody, “I think if they wanted to take him permanently they would not leave a craft behind.” Rob is still worried: “I hope you’re right, Melody.”