"Sister Saraya? Can you give me a hand in re-calibrating the scanners?"
"Why Sister Tinyla? We just did that this morning, after we scanned those gas giants. They shouldn't need work for months."
"Because they are reporting readings that can't be accurate. Take a look at Sol III. That can't be right."
Tinyla joined Sataya in staring in open-mouthed horror at the readout. The sensors had to be wrong. They had to be. Nothing should be able to survive down there, much less a population of over seven billion sentients and easily ten times that, if not more, in semi-sentients.
Saraya reached out and hit the auto-calibrate button. The sensors went away and did their thing, and came back with the exact same results.
> Temperature: 184 K to 330 K.
> Surface coverage: 71% Dihydrogen Monoxide [Expand List]
> Atmospheric composition: 78% Nitrogen [Expand List]
> Caution: Weaponized Atomics Present!
Tinyla gulped, "we're going to have to put in a preliminary report on these extremophiles, but this data is just too unbelievable. Command is going to have our heads over this."
Saraya shook her head, "not if we go all the way to a First Contact. Full documentation, linguistics, the works. We need a massive amount of data, verified from every sensor and every angle."
Tinyla put her head in her hands. "That is going to take forever, especially the linguistics. Take a look at the radio-spectrum readouts."
Saraya stared, hit another re-calibrate button, and stared some more. "This... will take some time."
> Languages present: 6909
> Cultures present: Overflow Error.
> Nations present: 196.
> Caution: No World Government Present!
Tinyla snorted, "and don't even get me started on the bureaucracy. Do we make one First Contact with each country? All of them at once?"
Saraya replied, "at least they are stuck on their home world for now. No sign of... is that an orbital station?"
Tinyla stared at the secondary sensor readout, showing details on the station. "Yes it is. Six sentients aboard, with communications links to at least three separate countries. Solar powered, negligible gravity, no hydroponics bay, no sign of fresh food storage. Are these sentients completely insane?"
Saraya shook her head, staring at yet another bank of displays, this one cluttered with hundreds of returns. "Looking like their first manned orbital station then. I've got upwards of 3,700 unmanned stations, but only 1,100 of them are showing active power plants. Plus the half million object debris field."
Tinyla leaned back into her chair, crossed her arms over her chest, and stared at the ceiling of the ship. "To recap then; no central government, atomic weapons, almost 200 independent countries speaking nearly seven thousand different languages. First Contact protocol has no contingency plan for that. And yet these sentients are putting things in orbit, lots of things. I don't know about you, but I'm scared."
Saraya put her head in her hands, "It's not the sentients' accomplishments or lack thereof that scares me. It's the extremes these sentients live in. Over a one hundred fifty degree temperature spread, and these things are everywhere, on a world that has the vast majority of its surface coated in the most toxic substance we know of, with an atmosphere that all of my education and training says should suffocate flora and fauna alike."
Tinyla blew out a long breath, "so what the heck do we tell command?"
Saraya stares at the deck for a long moment. "The truth, I think. We found something that is such an outlier from all known data that we want independent verification. Attach all of our raw data, pre- and post-calibration. Plus a third set from after we do a complete, by-hand verification and calibration of or sensors."
"And what about making a First Contact?"
"That gets put on hold. I think we play the 'ask for clarification' card here. Nothing in our First Contact contingency plans ever envisioned anything like this."
Tinyla is staring at the communications console, "well, it looks like the sentients may be trying to contact us. Raw radio signal, no encryption, unknown formatting. Translation software is chewing on it now."
A few minutes later, the communication console dinged and displayed a translated message. Both Saraya and Tinyla stared at the text is total disbelief.
It reads: "To the unidentified craft currently scanning Earth, greetings! Do you mind giving us a bit of time to get a proper delegation together? You caught us quite unprepared for company, I'm afraid."