A New Year's Tale
Fiction - Stories - Self-published

As soon as the starship enters the solar system, the board AI begins the process of thawing the crew.
Despite the powerful zero-point energy propulsion, the trip from Tau Ceti 4 has lasted almost three decades.

The ship coasts through the Kuyper Belt, while the crew endure the long and tedious rehabilitation exercises.
As boring as this period can be, it beats hands down being awake during interstellar transit.
Besides, there wouldn't be enough air and food to keep everybody alive for such a long time.

Ninety-five days after reaching the Sol system, the ship's trajectory takes it across Saturn's orbit, which unfortunately is on the other side of the Sun.
But Jupiter is not, and Xgpixcotl, the ship's captain, decides to alter their course and make a stop there, where they can top up their reserves of Helium-3.

From the continuous stream of information that pours out of the third planet, it is clear that it hosts a civilisation in its phase of technological explosion.
Xgpixcotl is quick to order the activation of the diffractive shields, which make the ship almost invisible to any electromagnetic sensor.

Finally, one hundred and fifty-two days after exiting interstellar mode, the ship reaches the third planet and takes station behind its unusually large moon.
Xgpixcotl and Zirxguntl, her most experience pilot, board a small stealth shuttle to explore the third planet from close range.

They enter a circular orbit with a radius of around 850 km, so that its duration corresponds to half of the planet's day.

"This planet is blessed with an incredible amount of water." Says the pilot.

"Indeed. And the air, although at 21% it is a bit too rich in Oxygen, is quite breathable." Replies the captain.

"Pity that this species is so disgusting." The pilot allows herself to say.

"I know. Four limbs instead of tentacles, no slime, non-faceted eyes, ... But, I suppose, we'll get used to them."

Below them, after the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Australia slides into view.
Telescopic images of a major city fill one of the two shuttle's screens, while the other one is tuned to a TV station.

"I have to compliment the chief engineer," says Xgpixcotl. "The translation matrix works egregiously."

From the TV screen, a loud countdown fills the cockpit: "Five ... four ... three ... two ... one ... ZERO!" After which all hell breaks loose.
The telescopic images show massive explosions in the middle of the city, which continue for several minutes. Everybody seems to have suddenly become insane.

"This is a disconcerting phenomenon," the captain mutters. "Very disconcerting."

For the following hours, the two explorers detect explosions of madness in every city they overfly.

"Sir, why do they suddenly get mad in the middle of the night?" Asks the pilot with a note of disconcert in her voice.

"I don't know, Mr. Zirxguntl. I also find it baffling. I have never heard of such a phenomenon before."

"Do you think that they could be dangerous?"

The captain assumes her professorial tone.
"Well, they have achieved a non-negligible level of technological sophistication. Therefore, they must enjoy a certain level of stability.
But we will have to evaluate them very well before taking any further step."

"It would be a pity if we had to return without making contact."

"I agree. Although, truth be told, their planet is very fine. It could be reclaimed..."

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