WAIT: Don't read this one yet. Read the REVISED version. Then come back and read this one, and see how I incorporated the comments into the revision.
#FridayFlash: Pot of Gold
by Tony Noland
Captain Charlton absently thanked the deck steward and took a careful sip at the straw before he stuck the fresh mug of coffee to the side of his console. Floating out there in the silence, a quarter of a million miles away from the Barack Hussein Obama, the alien device was charging up; the telemetry said whatever it was supposed to do, it would happen soon. Hence the mug. Nothing helped calm down a nervous bridge crew like seeing the old man drink a cup of coffee. His crew was the best, but waiting was hard on young men.
They'd sent the signal more than an hour ago, in the exact sequence specified by the pictoglyphs on the original signpost artifacts. There was no way to know how long it would take for a response from the device, the one somebody had dubbed the pot of gold. It was clearly waking up, but it wasn't clear what would happen when it did. The pictoglyphs instructions had been incomprehensible on that point. Whatever it was, it was drawing a lot of power from somewhere. The readings on screens all over the bridge were starting to blink red. Charlton detached his mug from the velcro and sipped at his coffee, making a point to slurp audibly.
It had only taken a few years to decipher the signposts after they'd been discovered floating out at the Sun-Earth LaGrange points. They were inert, with no internal mechanisms even on a nano scale. They were just hollow dodecahedral blocks of diamond-coated titanium, with thousand of glyphs etched into the twelve faces - references to universal physical constants, mathematical relationships and astronomical data from the solar system.
The signposts were almost a million years old, and had been parked in a stable orbit that would be a natural stopping point for any technological culture that happened to develop on Earth. They were clearly a calling card, and they had used universal language to say that something even better and more wonderful awaited among the Trojan asteroids at the hindward Sun-Jupiter LaGrange point. It had even given the instructions on how to activate it, the radio frequencies and codes to use.
And so here we are, the Captain thought. Waiting for it to wake up. At that moment, his central control panel started to flash. He replaced his mug so it wouldn't float away.
"I see it, Lieutenant."
The pot of gold device was glowing bright blue and then a long line of sparkling plasma shot from it, zipping outward until it was more than two miles long. The line vibrated like a trace on some enormous EKG, then split along its length and opened up. Where there had been a line there was now a circle, a huge glowing disc.
And through the disc flew a fleet of spaceships. Ugly, bulbous things, spiked with gun turrets and missile launch tubes. Through the radio static, a blast of noise came from the ships, flooding the entire radio spectrum. The whining howl repeated three times before the translators kicked in.
"- claim this system for the Chiorran Empire! Your civilization now belongs to his Highness Emperor Urchtrekkk-ahn! You will live as slaves of the Empire or die as enemies of the Empire! We claim this system for the Chiorran Empire! Your civilization now belongs -"
"Turn that off, Lieutenant."
"Yes sir! We're being scanned, sir! Orders, sir?"
Captain Charlton's finger rested next to the red button on his console. He waited.
The Chiorran slaver fleet emerged and immediately turned to form ranks. As they did so, the engines of first one ship, then another, then all, flared brightly as they began to tumble and twist out of control. Two of the larger ships, caught in the grip of forces far more powerful than even their titanic drive units could overcome, crashed into each other and were torn to pieces. One by one, every ship that came through stalled, tumbled and fell into crushing destruction.
The translators couldn't keep up with the rapidly shifting shrieks and howls being transmitted.
After 30 minutes, it was over. There was nothing left of the fleet of would-be slavers and conquerors. Every ship had disappeared into the crushing depths below.
"It would appear they expected us to activate the device out among the asteroids instead of hauling in back here into a low orbit above Jupiter first."
"Sir, yes sir!"
"Send the missiles back through that gate or portal or whatever it is. Alternate conventional one hundred megaton warheads with thirty megaton fast neutron warheads, at one minute intervals. Follow up every tenth salvo with reconnaissance drones. Tell the marines to deploy immediately. Use a fast drop to get down there and get through. I want a beachhead secured on the other side."
Charlton sipped his coffee.
"Oh, and somebody tell the diplomatic attache to stand down. We won't be needing him for a few days. At least."
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