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Returning Excerpt No. 3





Sagan Space Platform

The three pods rested solidly on the airlock deck. Rather more solidly than made sense to [Captain Charles] Sebastian, as they weren’t tied down. It would be more normal for them to simply float in place. Only the first had its viewport open, and from up close the woman inside looked to be quite attractive.

Sebastian watched as she did something just out of his sight below the viewport. After a moment she seemed satisfied and, reaching down, retrieved a small facemask, which she put on over her nose and mouth. Then the front of the pod opened and she stepped out.

Or tried to. In the weightless environment of the platform, her first step simply propelled her upwards.

She lifted her arms, got her hand on the overhead, and pushed herself back down. Grinning, she manipulated a small instrument packet on her belt. There was a metallic click as she seemed to be abruptly pulled the last few centimetres and the soles of her boots slapped against the deck.

She looked, Sebastian decided, very human indeed. She was about 170 centimetres in height, with a very good figure. Her costume looked military. Her feet and calves were encased in highly polished black boots, very much like riding boots. Her legs were covered by snug, white trousers, rather like riding breeches, but without the patches and flared thighs. Above this she wore a deep blue military tunic, with a standing collar. The tunic was single breasted, fastening up the centre with gold buttons.

Her red hair was gathered at the back into a pony tail, and she wore a blue peaked cap, similar to a French ‘kepi,’ with a highly-polished leather peak surrounded by gold-wire embroidery in a curious pattern. The gold emblem at the front of the cap consisted of two crossed anchors surmounted by a crown. The same insignia was on the oval, gold buckle of her black leather belt.

Four rings of gold lace, remarkably like those on his own dress uniform, but slightly wider, and without the executive curl, circled each sleeve near the cuff. Where the curl would have been on his own uniform, she wore an embroidered gold crown device. A sword was attached to her belt at the left side, with a straight leather sheath with gold fittings, and gold quillons and pommel. Sebastian wondered if it was a practical weapon or, like his own sword, an unsharpened ceremonial weapon.

She said something he didn’t understand, but a moment later he heard, “No gravity generators, I see.”

It took Sebastian a few seconds to realise that he was standing there, holding himself down by hanging onto a handrail, with his mouth hanging open. The unintelligible words had obviously come, slightly muffled by the mask, from her mouth. The ones he understood came from the instrument pack on her belt.

“How did you do that?” he asked.

A pause, more gibberish as she tapped the instrument pack, then, “There’s a translator built into this.”

“Both ways?”

“I hear you through an earpiece,” she replied.

“Not instantaneous, though?”

“Faster from your language to mine, I think. Your grammar is very different from ours. More flexible. Ours is very formal, and the verb is always the last word in a sentence.”

Which, Sebastian realised, would certainly make simultaneous translation rather difficult. The same problem existed with German and Japanese.

“So, you don’t just stick a fish in your ear, then?” he said.

She looked at him curiously. “What?”

He shrugged. “An old story. Fiction. Sorry.”

“What language are you actually speaking?” Jenkins asked

“Gehunite. Well, that appears to be what you would most likely call it, at least. In our own language we would say ‘Gehunkili.’” She smiled. “The language of Gehun, that means.”

“I see.” Sebastian didn’t, but he figured that was to be expected.

“In any event,” she said, “my name is Kimewe Romiwero, and I am the captain of His Imperial Majesty’s Starship Warrior, over there.”

“Kind of a belligerent name, isn’t it?” Jenkins commented. “The ship’s name, I mean.”

“There were twelve before her with the same name. We’re very traditional about that sort of thing.”

“Twelve starships?”

“No, just twelve ships. Eight were sailing vessels, one a heavy cruiser, the next two were submarines, and then a system patrol ship. Mine is the first starship to carry the name.” She frowned suddenly. “Very likely she’ll be the only one.”

“Imperial Majesty’s Starship? You have an emperor?”

“You don’t?”

“My country has a king, but he has no real power. Doctor Jenkins here is an American refugee, and her former country has a president.”

“Or dictator,” Jenkins muttered. “Take your pick.”

“We had an emperor when the ship was commissioned,” Romiwero said. “That was a very long time ago, and a great deal has obviously changed, so I rather doubt the House of Salmik even exists today.”

The other two pods had opened by now and disgorged their occupants. One was an extremely short man, no more than 150 centimetres in height, but built like a power lifter. Though his height certainly placed him within the dwarf range, there was nothing out of proportion. If you put him in an empty room, with nothing around him to indicate scale, you’d presume he was of normal stature until you got close.

His uniform was the same as Romiwero’s, but without the sword, and there was no gold-wire ornamentation around his cap peak. The three rings of gold lace around his sleeves had scarlet bands between them, and Sebastian wondered if the significance was the same. Before he put his cap on, Sebastian had noticed that he either shaved his head, or was completely bald.

The other man was a good bit taller, perhaps 183 centimetres, and powerfully built. He was darker than the other two, but not black. More of a Mediterranean type, Sebastian thought. His hair was very light brown, cut short, and he wore a similar uniform. But his trousers were blue instead of white, his boots were of a different style, more like Wellingtons than riding boots, and his belt buckle was rectangular and appeared to be brass rather than gold. His cap device was smaller, also brass, and had a circular backing. Instead of cuff rings, he wore a sky blue, rectangular patch on either side of his collar. The patch was bordered by gold wire, and a gold disk was centred in the patch.

The strangest thing about the man was his face, for his forehead was strong and rather square, with a very pronounced brow, yet he had a rather weak chin.

Captain Romiwero did the introductions. The short fellow was Surgeon Commander Grekim Vordik, Warrior’s chief medical officer. Sebastian smiled at that, for it seemed to confirm his speculation about the man’s rank insignia. The tall chap was Arik Brynnazen, Warrior’s master at arms, and by rank a Commissioned Warrant Officer.

“Do you do any medical research aboard this station?” Vordik asked.

“Some. Why?”

“Bacteria. Viruses. You’ll notice we’re wearing these masks?”

“Of course.”

“They’re for protection from microorganisms,” he explained. “The atmosphere here is certainly breathable, but we don’t want to breath in anything contagious. It’s been a very long time since the last time this ship was here, and no doubt the germs have continued to evolve, so it’s very likely we’d have limited or no immunity. If you have blood and tissue sample aboard, we can analyse them and come up with vaccines.”

“I’m not sure if we do. I’d have to ask our doctor.”

“I’d be very grateful if you would, Captain,” the doctor said.

Sebastian floated over to an intercom panel and pressed a button. “Doctor to Airlock Echo,” he said.

“Thank you,” Vordik said. “If I can run proper samples through my equipment, I can create vaccines for just about anything your crew members are immune to.” He smiled. “Of course, I can also create vaccines to immunise you against anything we might be carrying, though your risk is considerably lower than our own.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“Any germs we carry are likely to be less evolved forms of the ones you’re normally exposed to. There’s a fairly strong chance you’ll already be immune to most of them.”

An attractive, middle-aged blond woman floated into the airlock. “Are these the visitors?” she asked.

“This is our doctor,” Sebastian said. “Joanna Phillips.”

Phillips was staring at Brynnazen. “Wow,” she said.

Brynnazen raised an eyebrow. Did this doctor see something Vordik had missed?

“Uh, sorry. It’s just that you look…”

Sebastian broke in. He had a feeling he knew what she was going to say and this was no time for possible diplomatic kerfluffles. “Jo, Doctor Vordik wants to know if we have blood and tissue samples aboard. He wants to make vaccines for their crew. I guess he feels they might be vulnerable to human diseases.”

Romiwero looked at him curiously. “Well, naturally…”

“Naturally?”

“The Yanks are going to hate this,” Phillips said. “Our first real contact with space aliens and they look just like us. I suppose President Gordon will claim this is proof of Jesus or something.”

“If he does, it will just confirm he’s an idiot,” Jenkins said. “But more likely he’ll just say the whole thing is a hoax.” She had no use for the people who ruled her home country, which was why she’d escaped to the UK when the opportunity presented itself.

“Aliens?” This was Brynnazen.

“Well, you’re not from here, are you?”

Brynnazen looked at her as if she were simple minded. It had been a very long time, but still…

“The doctor isn’t,” Romiwero said. “He was born on New Barzak, but Arik and I were both born on this planet. It’s changed a lot since we’ve been gone, but this is where we’re from.”


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Excerpt No. 4