First Contact

A story rejected by Asimov's so you get to read it for free!
A young girl looks up to the night sky wistfully dreaming of all the wonders above

"Tell me about the aliens, Daddy." Juliya was a young girl, maybe six years old, perched on the seat of her father's combine, with her hands on the steering wheel like she was ready to drive off into the field herself. She was bright for her age, or at least her daddy and her teachers said so.

Her father rolled out from under the combine on a creeper and looked up at his daughter's shining curious eyes. "Which ones? The green ones from Xarzex? Or the gray ones with the big eyes? It's the gray ones you gotta watch out for. They come in the night and tickle little girls who annoy their parents while they're working." 

No adult could have given as exasperated a look as Juliya gave her father. She rolled her eyes in such an exaggerated gesture it almost looked cartoonish. Her dad's wink and poorly covered smile and the way his left cheek wrinkled when he was trying too hard to look serious gave away his joke and she was just too grown up to have patience for it. "No, Daddy, the real ones. The ones that are coming."

Her father sighed a sigh that was much deeper than it looked. "Where'd you hear about them?"

"Billy at school told me. All the kids are talking about it. I even heard Mrs. Carpenter talking to Mr. Dickenson about them. We all know they're real." She brushed a hair from out of her face as she leaned over the side of the combine to look her dad in the eye. "Billy said they have big ray guns and are sending an army to take us over and turn us into slaves."

Dad stifled a chuckle at that one. "No, dear, there's no army. We don't think so, anyway. We don't know much about them at all, so what you hear people saying is just their imaginations."

"But we do know they're coming." She said it so matter-of-factly it was a statement of surety and not a question.

"Yes, we know they're coming."

Dad gave a heavy grunt as he scooted out further from under the combine so he could sit up. "When I was about your age, we saw their probes fly through our solar system. A hundred little tiny umbrellas flying so fast they were here and gone again in a day."

The exasperated look was back. "Daddy, that was a long time ago. Why is everyone talking about it now?"

"Well, we caught a few of the probes that came close enough. And our scientists looked at them and figured out that the aliens are a lot like us. They learned where the probes came from and figured out how long it would take the people who sent the probes to send a bigger space ship to come meet us. They said it might happen this year."

"But we don't know for sure?"

"No, kiddo, we don't know for sure. But we know that they know we're here. And if we were the ones who sent the probes, we might send people next. So we guess they'll do what we would do."

This all seemed to satisfy her for a few minutes. She just sat pondering. It was one of the things she did that made her father the most proud - his little girl was a thinker. After several minutes of staring off into space while her dad watched with admiration at the wheels spinning in her mind, she spoke up again.

"Why didn't anybody talk about it last year? Did everyone forget about the aliens?"

"That's a good question." He waved a wrench at her, a gesture to point out how clever she had been. "People talked about it a lot at first. But then there were combines to fix," he gestured to the giant tractor she sat on, "And fields to harvest," he waved the wrench towards the young grain sprouting just outside the barn, "And we all went about our business of living. For most people, aliens that might come someday aren't as important as the work that needs done today."

She shifted around so she was laying on her stomach on the seat with her head sticking out sideways. "But we're not most people, Daddy."

"No we're definitely not." was his reply with a smirk. "But we still have a combine to fix." He smiled and winked, then rolled back underneath the machine. A moment later he reached his hand out, "could you hand me my wrench?"

It was a few more weeks before Juliya brought up the subject again, this time at the dinner table. "Mr Dickenson said we saw the aliens." The comment came out of nowhere as they were eating and making family small talk. Juliya wasn't one for small talk.

Her mom glanced over at her dad before responding, "Oh? And what did he say?"

"Just that we saw them out in space. It means they're almost here."

Dad glanced back at mom. "Well, kiddo, we saw an unusual light at the edge of our solar system. But we don't know if it's the aliens, it's still too far away. It will be a while before that light is close enough for us to say for sure what it is."

"I think it's the aliens." Juliya was quite sure of herself. Her father wasn't exactly pleased with this personality trait - oh he loved that his daughter was confident, but sometimes she would jump to conclusions too quickly and he was worried about the trouble that might get her into in the future. She was right, of course. They couldn't see what the light was, but it was definitely an extrasolar object moving at incredible speed on an unnatural trajectory. Most telling of all was that it was decelerating.

"Well you definitely know best," he said with a smile. Then his wife chipped in: "It very likely is the aliens," she said, "but we aren't totally sure yet so we wait until we know more before we decide if it's them or not."

Juliya poked at her plate and kicked her legs for a moment, thinking as she did. "I want it to be the aliens." She put a bite of food in her mouth and halfway through chewing she blurted out, "Do you think they'll be nice aliens?" spitting bits of dinner all over the table, much to her parents' chagrin.

Mom handed Juliya a napkin with a gentle disapproving look as she replied, "Well, we don't know if they'll be nice aliens. But we want them to be nice."

Dad helped his princess clean up her mess while she finished chewing. When her mouth was empty she said, "Can we talk to the aliens? I want to say hello. Maybe they'll be nice aliens if we're nice to them." Oh how her mother beamed.

"Well, dear, I think you would make the best welcomer for any aliens who want to visit. But they probably look and speak very differently from us, so it will take a long time for us to understand each other." Then Dad added, "I'm sure people in the government are trying to talk to them right now. And when they've learned how to speak the aliens' language, they're going to call us and ask you to be the official greeter."

Juliya giggled, "Daaaaad" and the rest of the evening went on as normal.

Of course the questions kept coming. Months passed, right up to Juliya's 7th birthday, and with each day the light came closer and the little girl with the shining curious eyes wanted to know more and more. Soon her parents just let her watch the news with them, and it wasn't long before the whole world watched as satellite video poured in of the alien spacecraft entering orbit. Juliya sat, enraptured by the broadcast, whispering to herself, "I *knew* it."

A couple days later her father was busy tilling the straw into the field to compost when the sky began to thunder. It started as a low distant rumble and grew steadily into a great roar that shook the house. Juliya bolted out the front door, across the dirt driveway and straight into the field to see what was happening. Her father had stopped the tractor and a couple of the neighbors had gathered in the field to get a look.

"What is it, what is it? Let me see!" she shouted as she ran towards the group with her eyes aimed skyward.

"Up there, do you see it?" cried Shamus, the neighbor from the next farm over, his finger pointing skyward.

Juliya tried to follow his hand, straining  to see what he was pointing at. There! "I see it! I see it!" she shouted joyously. "It's the aliens! They're coming to visit!"

Nobody tried to correct her; they all knew she was right. There in the sky overhead, a great long trail of cloud with a burst of light and screaming flame below a tiny shiny dark spot. The dark spot grew bigger and shinier, the roaring of the engines growing louder and louder, until it was deafening. In minutes the dark spot was recognizable as a long, towering ship with several great rocket engines thundering beneath it.

"Do you see it, honey?" Juliya's father stepped up behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders. Her mother came up next to him and put her arm around his waist and rested her hand on her daughter's shoulder atop her husband's. "You were right, it's the aliens."

"Will I get to meet them, daddy??" The aching yearning in her voice was tangible.

Her mother answered a moment later as the great ship began to descend right into their field, not a quarter of a mile away, "Yes, dear. I think you'll get to meet them."

Juliya's response was barely a whispered "yes!", as her excitement grew to overwhelming. This was it! She was going to meet the aliens! As the rocket landed and the engines began to shut down, Juliya broke away from the group and raced across the field as fast as she could to greet it. Her parents almost tried to yell for her to stop, but there was no stopping her, so they only followed.

She stood at the base of the rocket as the loud whirring and buzzing and clicking of the ship slowly calmed down, with dust and smoke billowing from beneath it as it settled. Her parents caught up with her, but stayed a couple steps back as a hatch on the side of the ship opened up. A ladder slowly unfolded from the hatch all the way to the ground. Juliya held her breath - she was about to be the first person to ever see an alien!

A moment later, something emerged from the hatch. A foot, and then another, followed by a torso and soon the alien figure, clad in a large, almost puffy suit, began to descend the ladder. When it reached the bottom and turned to face the small crowd, Juliya stepped up to it and extended her hand. The creature paused for a moment, then reached out a great gloved arm and shook her hand, and she beamed, smiling brighter than she had ever imagined smiling before. Taking a moment to think, she said to herself, "I should give them something" then patted her pockets trying to think of what she might have to give. Then she perked up and took off a small necklace her father had given her as a birthday present, a simple chain with several stars hanging from the pendant, and offered it to the alien.

The figure in the thick padded space suit knelt down in front of her and reached up to its neck, pulling some toggles and removing its helmet. The strange creature it revealed looked like it was trying to smile as it accepted her necklace and put it around its own neck. Then it reached over to its shoulder and ripped a piece of fabric from its suit, a patch of some kind, and handed it to the little girl standing before it.

Juliya could not have been more happy or more excited at anything she could ever have imagined. She was nervous and shaking as she took the patch in her small hands. She looked at the strange images - a planet she didn't recognize in one corner, her own home world in another, and the figure of this rocket riding a beam of flame between the two worlds, with some unrecognizable figures beneath it. Confused by the symbols, she pointed at them, showing the alien kneeling in front of her, trying to ask what they meant.

The alien again looked like it's otherworldly face was trying to smile as it made sounds, slowly pronouncing each symbol so Juliya could repeat the sounds. She was talking to an alien!

"N-A-S-A", she read out loud.



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