“Hello, Beijing. This is Lyra Patrovich, Elite Global Officer #9969, registering a standard transcontinental orbital patrol over controlled airspace.”
“Ni Hao, Officer Patrovich, you are clear for passage over Chinese space.”
Every few hours I have to check in with the territory below. The Chinese, Russians, and Americans all get jumpy when one of our patrols goes overhead. It’s no mystery why. Every single one of them breaks international law on a daily basis. They’d prefer we didn’t notice. Sure enough, as soon as my presence is received, clouds begin to accumulate ever more thickly in an effort to cover certain sites below.
Weather is easier to control than the Global Democratic forces, of which I am a part. Sworn to uphold order worldwide, that’s me, and their little tricks don’t make any difference at all. Cloud generation technology is standard over sensitive military sites. What they don’t realize is we’ve adapted technology to use water vapor as an amplification device. I can see troop movements, weapons plants, essentially everything a government might want to hide, and I can see them in much higher resolution through the cloud cover than I could if they left the day clear.
I set the feed to record as I glide through orbit, chasing the curve of the planet as I experience the glory of space and the eternal night that stretches from the small glowing bauble of Earth all the way to infinity. Light is an illusion, nothing more than cosmic radiation our bodies have adapted to illuminate the realm in which we live, but there is so much beyond the borders of our world and our understanding. Being on the verge of space reminds me of that, makes this moment hallowed.
Soon I’ll be back down on Earth. I’ll forget what it is like up here. You always do once you get swallowed by humanity, the day-to-day bustle of existence. There are thirty billion people below me. Hard to believe that once upon a time our species numbered in the thousands. There’s only a few hours left of my patrol, but I wish it could last longer. I’ve been trying to get transferred to one of the space stations for almost a year now, but they’re impossible to get onto. The waiting list for transfers is hundreds of people long, and only the very best and the most distinguished will ever set foot in them.
This far, I’m not the best, and I’m far from distinguished. I’m one of a thousand global patrol officers, which gets me close, but not close enough.
Bewwoop! My communicator activates. There’s a call from the surface. I punch the little black button and my best friend’s voice comes over the speakers.
We’re really not supposed to take personal calls while on patrol, but it’s impossible to stop Caddy from getting in touch when she wants to. She built the comms systems on these things, and no matter how many times the official engineers try to patch them out, she always opens new backdoors.
“Hey, Caddy, what’s happening?”
“Oh, nothing. Just watching television.”
“…and breaking international orbital protocol?”
“Yeah, that too,” she giggles. “Do you think Kim is a good name for a baby?”
I shrug, even though she can’t see me. “Do babies even need names? It’s not like they know what they are. They don’t have a concept of nouns. You could probably wait a few years before naming them and it would be fine.”
Caddy laughs. “It’s just me and Dez are trying to work out what to call this fetus kicking me in the liver.”
She’s due in two months, has been on bed rest for one month and I think she’s going stir crazy. She’s one of the smartest engineers space force has, and she’s stuck in bed watching telenovels. Suffice it to say, everyone is bearing the brunt of her boredom.
Bleeep Bleeep Bleeep
“What’s that?” She can hear everything going on in the shuttle. I wouldn’t put it past her to have sensor data as well. She’s nosy as hell and she doesn’t give a damn about things like ‘protocol’ or ‘matters of international security.’ She’ll patch into the shuttle from her apartment on the 140th floor of her building using the same connection everyone else is getting their social media on. It’s totally non-secure and she’ll probably be put in prison for it one day, but Caddy is one of those people who never seem to get in trouble for anything.
“Anomaly,” I frown, looking at the sensor logs.
“Yeah, it’s in upper orbit.”
“Go have a look.”
“That’s not protocol. Protocol is to call it in and let…”
“Go look! Please! I am so bored.”
“You want me to break protocol and risk my career to entertain you?”
“You have to! I’m pregnant!”
I roll my eyes, glad that she doesn’t have a visual feed. Caddy thinks the entire world revolves around her, including me, all the way up here in orbit.
I am curious though. We never see anomalies on patrol. The most exciting thing to happen up here is the occasional bit of space junk getting sucked into Earth’s gravitational field, or maybe a near miss with a satellite, but that’s very rare. Our passage is fairly low and stable, above satellite range, but not so far into space that the weird stuff is likely to happen. Except, now it is. The anomaly I’m reading indicates a distortion in what looks like utterly clear space.
“You’re quiet. Why are you quiet?” she pipes up impatiently.
“Because I’m trying to think.”
If I keep gliding, I’ll be past the anomaly in the next few minutes. Won’t be another chance to go back and look at it. I can radio it in, but that doesn’t mean they’ll find it. I should investigate. Maybe make a discovery. Maybe get my name bumped a little higher up the transfer list.
I shouldn’t be doing this, I tell myself as I tweak the controls enough to send me up and closer to whatever it is up there. These shuttles have very little thrust power once they’re up. We rely on a constant rate of fall toward Earth to stay aloft—essentially, I’m plummeting hundreds of miles every second. It just happens that the Earth is curving away at the same rate, so I stay up. They do have some propulsion though, to get out of orbit, and in case of emergencies. This isn’t an emergency, but I’m about to make it one.
“I think Kim is a good name,” Caddy chats away as my ship rises away from Earth. “It’s historical, you know? Kim Kaddashian?”
“You really want to saddle your kid with that legacy?”
“Uh, you mean, the legacy of the president of the United States?” Caddy raises her voice.
“The last president, I think you mean, before the United States was officially dissolved?”
“Right. It’s historical. My mother named me after them too. It’s tradition! My great-great-grandmother remembers the first episode.”
Honestly, I don’t care what she calls her baby. I have considerably bigger problems. The anomaly is getting closer and weirder. I squint my eyes at the display, which is reading out screeds of data ever faster, then look back out at the space beyond. The data does not match reality. According to the numbers, there’s something very, very large and very solid dead ahead of me, but I can’t see a thing.
Less than a thousand miles away, I see a slight shimmer in the sky. I don’t think the sensors were wrong. There’s something there. Oh, holy shit. There’s something there!
Caddy is still talking. I don’t know what she’s saying. I’m not listening. I’ve forgotten about everything besides the intense weirdness before me. The shuttle I’m in travels at over seventeen hundred miles per hour, which means I am flying toward this anomaly at a rate that will propel me directly into it in a matter of seconds. I suddenly realize that it’s too late to adjust course. I don’t have enough power to radically alter my trajectory. I am going to fly right into it.
Space is shimmering and twisting and…
“See how she draws the seed toward her,” the medical officer breathes with husky reverence. “Thousands of small genetic cells propelled by instinct and will toward the egg.”
We are watching a live feed of a conception occurring in real time, a mating occurring between one of our finest males and a female caught in an outer atmospheric sweep.
She was resistant at first, kept insisting that she was an astronaut and not interested in mating with a male she’d never met before, but our seductors are well versed in their jobs, and soon she was spreading her thighs and welcoming him inside her as willingly as any female has ever taken her mate.
Beneath the looking glass, the swimmers reach their target—the ovum, a globe of potential, sitting adrift in the female. She has little concept of it, no feeling of it, and yet from that little speck, billions of lifeforms may directly arise in a chain of life stretching through time and space.
We watch with reverence as the swimmers find the outer wall. There is no obvious way in, and yet they persist, their tails flagellating behind them furiously. One, or perhaps two of them will pierce the veil. Not the first ones to arrive. Those will inevitably spend themselves in vain. It will be the one with the right timing and whatever spark of cosmic fate selects those who will go on, and those who will end their journey inside the womb.
I admire and empathize with the little specks of existence. Many millions were sent on their mission. None will survive the journey, but one will sacrifice itself and become something more.
We pan around the ovum. The surface is now covered in seed, each seeking to implant themselves with all the energy and determination coded into their simple forms. Theirs is the noblest battle, and though they are unaware of it, they fight it bravely.
The moment of the breach is almost undetectable. It would be possible to miss it entirely if we were not watching so closely. One of the many thousands wriggles a little faster and a little harder. The tip penetrates through the membrane and thereafter the rest of it slips through, the tip of its tail disappearing into the interior.
In a fraction of an instant, the membrane hardens to an impenetrable state. The rest of the seed continue to swim, but they slip from the surface finding no purchase. They will continue to fight, though their actions are now futile. A seed has been chosen, and new life has begun.
“There,” the doctor breathes. “The moment of perfection. Fertilization. Life springs anew. Somethingness from nothingness.”
“Excellent work, Doctor.”
I pat him on the shoulder. A breeding is a beautiful thing. The VSS Virility is on a ten-year mission to travel the known galaxy and mingle our genetic material with as many species as possible. It is a mission we take great pride in.
We are currently in orbit around a planet we have not been in contact with before. Earth. It contains a great many lifeforms, one fully sentient. They call themselves humans, and they are certainly enthusiastic procreators. The planet holds nearly thirty billion of the bipedal creatures who share sufficient similarities to our own genetic profile to allow conception to occur.
In a few minutes, a contingent of two hundred men will beam down to the planet, find willing mates, and engage in penetrative coitus culminating in insemination. Fifty females from our ship will likewise accompany them, seek out mates and collect their seed. Each of them is currently cycling at peak fertility, ensuring a high conception rate. They are instructed to discover as broad a selection of mates as possible. Each of their genetic profiles will be added to our own, and we will engage in cross breeding with further species we encounter later in our travels.
The aim is simple: a galactic citizen. One who has no one planet of origin, but can claim heritage from across the stars. There are many reasons to undertake such a task, but above all, we come in peace. War will not be possible when all of creation shares the same ancestry.
Races, species, these are concepts that have only led to chaos and conflict. The VSS Virility is crewed by chimera. We carry the blood and flesh of many lifeforms in our bodies. We acknowledge no borders. We have no allegiance to narrow notions of identity.
Earth is in a relatively quiet corner of the galaxy. We are unlikely to run into any conflict here, but the human capacity for chaos is well documented. Handling them one on one is likely to lead to some kind of trouble. I want to be ready to beam anyone out who needs it, put out fires, potentially quench a rebellion or two. We try not to come across as an invasive force on a planet, but it isn’t easy. Some species are more closed, protective, and paranoid than others. We suspect humans will resist us.
“Will you be joining the spawning party?” the doctor asks me.
“Not this time,” I say. “This species is advancing quickly and may cause trouble. They’re already space faring, to a limited extent. I’ll stay on the ship in case I’m needed. The others will do their job.”
“A pity,” the doctor replies. “Human females are particularly enjoyable to mate with by all accounts. The spawner in the footage unleashed his seed in record time and was able to rebreed within a matter of minutes.”
“Good for him. Not so good for her,” I smirk.
Some spawners pride themselves on speed. I focus on technique. It’s not enough to merely conceive. Our mission is part sexual, part diplomatic. Ideally, the female should be left in a state of satisfaction with vague memories of a male who was not quite of her world.
“Captain Talon!” My pilot’s voice breaks over the communications system. “We’re detecting a shuttle off the port side.”
“Another one of these orbiting humans?”
“Yes, sir, but it is moving faster than any of the others. It seems to have detected us.”
That’s not possible. We have advanced cloaking technology that keeps us hidden even from hyper-advanced civilizations. Humans are yet to discover the basics of interstellar flight. There is no way any of them should be able to make contact of their own accord.
“Has to be an accident. Activate slip shields and they’ll fly right by us.”
The slip shields are an important part of the cloaking system. No point being invisible if things bump into you anyway. Our slip shields operate by deflecting incoming ships at a slight angle several hundred miles from our ship, ensuring that they leave collision course before they realize they’re on it. And of course, we adjust our own trajectory in order to avoid collision when necessary.
I turn to the doctor, preparing to farewell him for the moment, but the pilot breaks in again. “Captain, the shuttle has penetrated the slip shields and is making adjustments. Impact in approximately thirty seconds.”
“Transport me to the bridge.”
The world flashes. I find myself in the captain’s chair.
“Twenty-five seconds, sir,” the pilot updates.
There’s no time to ask why the shields aren’t working. Maybe they’re malfunctioning. Maybe that shuttle is somehow resistant. It’s about to turn to metallic paste against our hull, so we may never know.
“Any life signs?”
“Bring her aboard.”