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|Old Friends: A Starflight Story (standard:science fiction, 8783 words)|
|Author: Brockleigh||Added: Aug 20 2001||Views/Reads: 1931/1284||Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)|
|Gault and the crew of the Phoenix are sent as an escort on a diplomatic mission. What he finds is someone from his past with ulterior motives.|
Click here to read the first 75 lines of the story "Much the difference," Qynzhqylyh answered, "they talking the funny. But nice. Much the pretty buildings." "'Talking the funny'. You don't say. And what about this guy?" Gault pointed to Apiphotex, "He wasn't stalking the Grand Lovely or anything? I was worried about him." "I the good!" Apiphotex was indignant, "Not making nuisance. But that Grand Lovely, she the being one hot queen. Cap'n, we bringing you the something. You the liking, I think so." Apiphotex handed Gault what looked to be a silk bag, with red writing all over it. He turned it around and around, past the Thrynn markings, past the Elowan markings, and finally came to the Terranprime that he could read: "My lieutenants went to Votiputox and all I got was this lousy cocoon." "Cute. Thanks, guys. I'll put this up here in the great room of the cabin. Hixon, how was Vistrel 1?" Hixon scratched his head, "Okay I guess. Lots of great scenery, but after one week I was, I dunno, kinda..." Gault helped him out, "Bored stiff?" "Yup." Gault smiled and sat down on the front step of his cabin, "Well I don't think it's gonna get any better on our next assignment. The Phoenix is going on some official mission, so we aren't gonna be doing much of anything until whoever it is we are escorting finishes yaking away. Everyone ready?" The three subordinates in front of him all nodded, and they made their way to the Phoenix. Upon boarding, the two humans and Qynzhqylyh headed to the bridge, and Apiphotex scurried aft to engineering. Each of the crew privately smiled to themselves as they took their stations, all believing that they were exactly where they were meant to be in life, sailing amongst the stars. The crew went through it's pre-flight check, and upon seeing that everything was in perfect working order, The Phoenix shook gently as it's synthenium powered engines sprung to life and lifted the ship off of Heaven's surface. Gault changed the viewscreen to look down on his property as they left the atmosphere of the planet. He smiled knowing that he would see it again soon. *** The flight through the Heaven-Arth flux and back to Starport was quiet and relaxing, and all were looking forward to reuniting with the two Elowan members of the crew. The Observation Lounge was the designated meeting point, but the actions of the Elowan gave Gault the distinct impression that they were unhappy. "Greetings friends, welcome home," Lor E'aye said through the translator box. Both Gault and Hixon marveled at how a translator box could vocalize the Elowan language of movement, and it did so with a voice that reminded both of orchestral music. "We trust that thy respites were truly relaxing?" "Hello, Lor and Kel. Yeah, I think we all got enough rest." Gault said cheerily, and then changed his tone to one of concern, "You two don't seem yourselves. Something wrong?" "Aye, Mark," Kel said, "It would appear that for this next assignment, that we shalt not be accompanying thee. The mission wouldst be one of negotiations with the Thrynn." "Huh?" Gault was perplexed, "Why would they send us on a mission like that? Interstel knows I have Elowan crewmembers. For something like that they should send the Binary." "Well and true, Mark," Lor spoke up this time, "The Binary is present. Interstel has also recalled other Mark One ships. The Hyperion and the Belfast Windfall have arrived, and the Intrepid is due tomorrow," "The Belfast Windfall? Biggs Hillsfar's ship? He has an Elowan communications officer too, doesn't he? This doesn't make sense." Gault mind was racing, trying to understand the contradictions in what he was hearing. Kel dropped his head, and replied, "Verily, Captain, we know not the full intentions of thy superiors, we only know what we have observed. It wouldst appear, as I have mentioned, that this is a mission for which our inclusion would be most inappropriate and unwelcome. Nevertheless, the mission briefing is to occur at 1500 hours, ninety minutes hence." Gault shook his head and sat down, as did Hixon. The Veloxi stood by around the table, as was their preference. Gault changed the subject to the archeological study that Kel and Lor had been on, and to Hixon's terrain mapping expedition. When the topic turned to Qynzhqylyh, Apiphotex, and their trip to Votiputox, they couldn't stop talking about how wonderful it was. Then Gault just had to ask about Apiphotex and the Queen. Qynzhqylyh spoke up about this, as Apiphotex seemed a little despondent, "We not seeing the Grand Lovely. Grand Lovely granting the audience most times, but she the mating soon, so she the meditating now. Apiphotex much the sorrow, most certainly. Squires handing out the baddick stalks instead, I the liking, but Apiphotex not the wanting." Hixon was a little confused, "Okay hang on a second, Veloxi are like most hive culture insects right, you have worker females, drone males, and a queen?" The Veloxi were not happy being compared to garden-variety bugs, but gave an affirmative response. "Okay, so in most hive cultures, the queen mates with a drone by ripping out his sexual organs and killing him. Is that what happens here?" Apiphotex cheered up at that, "Yes, yes, most certainly. Grand Lovely is sacrificing the drone, but much the honor. Veloxi greatest honor for the drone. Plus, much the pleasure before the sacrifice for the drone, delirious. Drone the going out with bang." It occurred to the four non-Veloxi that it was a perverse pleasure that Api took from the act of Veloxi reproduction. Then they all seemed to turn to Qynzhqylyh, who also didn't seemed interested in copulation. "What about you, Qyn, you don't look forward to it as much as Api does?" Hixon asked. Qynzhqylyh shook his head, "Not the liking, Enjoying life too much, I not the hurrying to die. Much rather the dying in space than for Grand Lovely. I liking my job." "Fair enough," Gault said with a chuckle, "I'd hate to lose you just because you got some. You too, Api. Seems like a steep price to pay just to get lucky, but hey, who am I to say." He looked at his watch, and realized it was time to go, "Okay, briefing time. I guess it's just me and Craig going to this thing. Everyone else back to your quarters here and get some rest." And with that the Phoenix's crew dispersed, with Gault and Hixon heading to Operations for the briefing. Gault and Hixon were the last two to enter the briefing room. Already there were Captain Thyrrthynnn of the Hyperion, Eshhh-ahhr of the Trafalgar, Hillsfar from the Belfast Windfall, Ihsss T'lara from the Intrepid, and walking up jovially with his hand outstretched was T.C. Lee from the ISS Binary, Interstel's flagship. "Captain Gault, good to see you again," Lee said, shaking Mark's hand, "I was so glad to hear about your re-instatement. Let me be the first to welcome you to the Honor Guard." "...Right, well T.C. I'm... uhhh... only too happy to be back... and... ahhh... well, y'know." Gault never felt very easy around Captain Lee, but gave him his due. "So what's this all about?" "Well, Commander Axelson will be here shortly, I shouldn't spoil the briefing. It's going to be a diplomatic mission, though, very exciting stuff." Lee was genuinely excited to be on this mission, and Gault now saw that maybe Lee and his ship were perfect for these kinds of assignments. Axelson did come in shortly thereafter, and everyone sat down at the semicircular table in front of the podium that Axelson came to stand behind. He opened the folder he carried with him, said a simple thank you and began the meeting. "Captains, you have all been assembled for a prestigious and ceremonial duty. Interstel, on the behalf of the Arthean government will be conducting territorial negotiations with the Thrynn Confederacy as to the territory we have claimed as ours. Let me illustrate," the lights came down and a map of the immediate area around Arth, including all the borders, appeared on the wall behind Axelson. "As some or all of you are aware, Interstel claimed the unowned space between the races surrounding us in 4622, including the Windward Passage. We laid claim to all this space outside the cultural borders, with the coreward boundary being on a line extending out from the Mechan border along the 100th parallel, down the 160th meridian, and along the outward edge of the Seedling Nebula to the Elowan border at 78, 155. Now, we did this without much resistance. We had already annexed the Mechans space, with their permission. The Veloxi, with Votiputox and Sphexi being located at the upspin portion of their space, aren't really concerned what happens at their downspin border unless it affects their economic interests. The Elowan had offered no objection, and frankly, we didn't care if the Spemin or Gazurtoid had any problems with our claim. "The only race that did raise an objection, and have for the last four years, have been the Thrynn. Their claim has been that we are obstructing their access to the intermediate zone, and any financial interests they may have there, including a trade route to New Scotland. They initially demanded that we take a spherical portion of space as all the other races have done. Now, however, they seem to have accepted our claim for the most part, and have asked only for free access through a three sector wide stretch along the Elowan border. Tomorrow, we will convoy, carrying Ambassador Kramer, to the point of the Thrynn border at the 130th meridian. There, the final negotiations will take place to end this dispute and set the Arthean border once and for all." Biggs Hillsfar put his hand up immediately, "Sir, this gives the Thrynn a foothold to attack the Elowan from our space. With this treaty, it looks like we are sanctioning an invasion. Have we made any assurances to the Elowan on security efforts?" Axelson fumbled for a second, and then answered, "Those details have still to be worked out. The Elowan have not been involved in these discussions at this point. Concerns have been raised but nothing has been finalized to this point." Eshhh-ahhr, an Arthean Thrynn, next spoke up, "Sssir, we are about to ratify an agreement without already having in place clausssesss that might prevent putting us at war? Wouldn't you classsify that asss premature?" Axelson was not happy with the way the questioning was going, "Should the Thrynn wish to attack, they could just as well make an effort on the downspin or coreward side of Elowan space. Look, Captains, this is outside your scope. This is a just briefing to let you in on the purpose of an honor guard escort. We will depart at 0800 hours tomorrow morning, and we should arrive at the rendezvous point twenty hours later. That's it. There is nothing further that should concern you in terms of the body of the treaty. Are there any questions of an operational nature?" "Yeah," Mark Gault put up his hand, "Commander, you've chosen two ships with Elowan crewmembers to be part of an escort for negotiations with the Thrynn. Wouldn't that be an issue that might cause the talks to collapse?" This was a question that Commander Axelson was prepared for, "Interstel wishes to show off the best of the best of its ships and Captains. That's why we've chosen six of the remaining Mark One starships to provide the escort. Your Elowan communications officer and your doctor, Captain Gault, will be granted leave for this sortie. This is straight piloting. We will go there and we will come right back. Ambassador Kramer will be aboard the Binary with a Thrynn communications officer and a Thrynn doctor, and will conduct the negotiations via conference call from the Binary's bridge. No other personnel will be needed. Any further questions? No? Then we will see you all for Pre-flight at 0700 hours tomorrow." With that, the meeting was adjourned. Axelson left the briefing room quickly, while the captains all filtered out of the room at their own pace. With each glance between the captains, there was either a shrug of the shoulders or a shake of the head. No one truly understood the way this treaty was negotiated, but then that wasn't their job. Gault and Hixon stopped as soon as they left the briefing room. "Now what, Mark?" Hixon asked. Gault shrugged his shoulders, "Go back to your quarters and get some sleep. Tomorrow is gonna be a long day." *** Gault and Hixon arrived at the airlock on the Starport docks at the same time. Qynzhqylyh was already waiting, and Apiphotex showed up a couple of minutes later. Gault looked over his flight crew of four, and shook his head. "Just doesn't feel right, taking off without the marigolds, does it?" he asked the other three. All three gave some version of a shrug, and then they quietly filed into the Phoenix. They stood in the main corridor, wondering what to do. According to Honor Guard protocol, they had to accept an order to do their pre-flight check, so that all ships could do so in unison. As it was they were early, so Gault showed them into his quarters, to the meeting table inside. "Please excuse the mess, it's the maid's day off," he said, tossing some stray garments on his bunk. "Have a seat, gentlemen. Alright, any questions?" "Yeah," Hixon said, again admiring the décor of the inside, "when do my quarters get to look like this?" Gault chuckled. Hixon's remark lightened the mood. No one really wanted to leave without the Elowan. Although this was only Hixon's second flight, even he had come to appreciate the presence of the plant people. "I'll put in the request to Starport for the building materials. You can start to work on it at any time. Seriously however, as Mark and I were told yesterday, this is strictly a fuel-burning mission. We steam to the Thrynn border, hang out there for a while, and then come right back. Nothing fancy, completely boring, and we get paid well for it. So lets try not to get too upset about everything and enjoy a peaceful ride." The four-foot by six-foot computer terminal on the wall signaled that the rest of the convoy was ready to begin the pre-flight check. Wordlessly, Apiphotex headed aft for engineering, while the other Veloxi and the two Humans headed for the bridge. Once at their stations, they received their instructions for pre-flight, and were all maddened by the slow and overly methodical process that Captain Lee used for the procedure. After all the ships proved their spaceworthiness, they idled and waited for the Ambassador to arrive on the Binary. Gault nodded off in his Captain's chair. Hixon nudged the Captain awake fifteen minutes later, "Skipper...Skipper! The Ambassador has arrived. We've been given the go ahead." Gault straightened himself out in his chair and cleared his throat, then gave his order, "Okay, Qyn take her out, then form up on the left wing, 300 meters off the port aft quarter of the Hyperion." "Okey-dokey, Cap'n." Qynzhqylyh replied as he launched the ship. The Phoenix was the last to slide out of Starport, and once clear of the approach/depart lanes, entered formation. The six ships traveled in a boomerang shape, with the Phoenix and Trafalgar on the outside wings, the Belfast Windfall and Hyperion on the inside, and the Binary and Intrepid front and center in the formation. "In position, Cap'n." reported the Veloxi navigator. "Very well, tie navigational control to the Binary and engage the autopilot system." Gault ordered. Qyn knew the order was coming, but didn't like it all the same. He was the navigator, and loved piloting the ship. He performed his instruction, and stood back from the nav console. "Now what I the doing? I not having the thumbs to twiddle." Gault couldn't help but laugh aloud at that, and it also brought a smile to Hixon's face. "Well," Gault thought for a minute, and checked his display, "I don't know... I see Apiphotex is performing some routine maintenance and diagnostics of the engines, you can help him with that, or you can head to the Mess hall or you can head to quarters. There's nothing any of us can do right now, really." Gault thought for a moment and then said, "Y'know what, Craig, you and Qyn are relieved. I'll handle the bridge myself. The ship is required to have all hands on duty during the negotiations, so grab something to eat and catch a nap. I'll tell Api to take a break too." The science officer and navigator liked that idea, thanked the Captain and headed for the Mess hall. Gault settled back in his captain's chair, and watched the Starfield on the viewscreen. He found this rather relaxing, and made a note he should relieve his crew more often on trips inside Interstel space. *** Hixon and Qynzhqylyh headed into the Mess and each selected something to eat. Hixon saw that Gault had stocked up on beef, grabbed a filet mignon and popped it in the heating unit. Qyn, as per usual selected some baddick stalks, and sat down with a bowl. Hixon watched as the Veloxi chewed a stalk, swallowed, spat it up into the bowl, and then sucked it down again. Hixon wasn't really repulsed but found it a little unsettling. "You have to do that? Upchuck whatever that was you just ate?" he asked. "Yes, Craig. Not the sitting well in tummy if I not doing. Good stuff though." The Veloxi said, chewing a little more, downing his mouthful, vomiting, and sucking back up the pile from the bowl. Hixon picked up a stick, examined it, sniffed it, and then gnawed a chunk off it. "Careful, Craig, not the swallowing. Human tummy not digesting the baddick, and we not having the doctor aboard to pump you out." At which point, Hixon spat the baddick out into the garbage. "I don't know if I could swallow. I could hardly chew it. Not bad tasting, though." Hixon rinsed his mouth out, and spat into the sink. His steak was now ready and he sat down away from Qynzhqylyh, so he wouldn't get any Veloxi spittle on his food. Apiphotex came into the Mess just as Qynzhqylyh regurgitated a mouthful of baddick into the bowl. Apiphotex grabbed the bowl and sucked down the contents, which earned him a slap from Qyn's top right and middle right limbs. "Brzz'cx", Qyn said to Api. The translator would not interpret the cuss word, but Hixon knew that it roughly translated into: 'The queen that bore you is a Spemin's consort.' Apiphotex clicked rapidly, which was the way Veloxi laughed, and got his own baddick stalks. He sat down beside his fellow bug, and they both spat up into their bowls while Hixon slowly ate his steak. The human gave up after a while, and retired to his quarters. Apiphotex looked at Qynzhqylyh, and said, "What being his problem?" *** Hixon woke up a couple of hours later and headed for the bridge. Upon entering the bridge, he found Captain sitting quite comfortably in his chair reading something on his console. "What's that, a copy of the treaty? Or is it an intelligence report?" Hixon inquired. Gault looked up and pulled himself away from the screen, "A novel. It's something from the ICA library, from the Old Empire days. Elowan fiction, with an historic background. Rather interesting, but makes you wonder how a marigold could hold a pen to write this stuff." Gault looked at the bridge clock, and then flipped his display to a starmap, "We are almost at the rendezvous point. I'll get the bugs." He pushed the page button, which woke the Veloxi from their slumber in their shared quarters. A couple of minutes later, Qynzhqylyh and Apiphotex appeared on the bridge. Gault smiled as the Veloxi trudged tiredly onto the bridge, "Good morning gentlemen. Seeing how close it is to 0400, I thought I'd have everyone on the bridge for the ceremonies." "Not the funny, Skipper," Api said, "We having to be here, you the knowing." "Yeah, I know. Craig and Qyn, man your stations. Api, I know you aren't trained as a comm officer, but you do know how to have us listen in to the proceedings on the bridge speaker, don't you?" "Aye, Cap'n, none the problem." Apiphotex reconfigured the communications control, and through the bridge speaker, they could hear the chatter on the bridge of the ISS Binary. Routine commands were all that could be heard at first and then the motion sensors alerted the crews of both ships that the Thrynn had arrived. The crew of the Binary could be heard shuffling about as they prepared for the conference, and then Ambassador Kramer arrived. He spoke with a few of the Binary's officers, and then instructed the comm officer to hail the Thrynn flagship. The voice that responded to Kramer's hail was familiar to Gault, but he couldn't place it. "Who is that," he muttered to himself, "I know that voice." Hixon checked the manifest, "It's Admiral Hoss V'nn, head of the Thrynn Border Committee. He's been the chief negotiator for these meetings." Gault stood up and walked to the center of the bridge, looking over the Thrynn formation on the viewscreen. The Thrynn's six ships were arrayed in an arrow shape, and according to Thrynn custom, the ship conducting the negotiation would be the one directly behind the point of the arrow. "The ship Hoss'Vnn is aboard is a modified transport..." Gault mused. Hixon looked at the manifest again, "That's right, Captain, it's the... Strrronl. Formerly a troop carrier, but now it's modified as a luxury ship for diplomatic missions such as this." Gault shook his head slowly, "I know Hoss V'nn, this isn't like him. He's an old battlesnake. Even on a mission like this, he'd be aboard his frigate, the Ngassstr. I can't imagine him mellowing so much he wouldn't take his own ship." Hixon looked over the manifest again, "Cap'n, the Ngassstr is present. It's the last ship in the formation. Shall I scan it?" "No!" Gault turned to Hixon quickly, "Don't do that. That's an insult in a conference like this with the Thrynn. It makes it look like you are scanning them for weaknesses so you can ambush them." Gault went back to his chair and sat back down, and continued, "No, we're just gonna sit here and do what we are supposed to do. A whole lotta nothing. Api, put Kramer and Hoss V'nn on screen." Apiphotex complied and the Phoenix's crew watched the dry, unexciting discussions between the Human and Thrynn representatives. *** The discussions continued for hours. Apiphotex and Qynzhqylyh practiced a meditation technique to pass the time, while Gault leaned on the arm of his chair, his eyes getting heavy. Hixon kept himself busy by doing complex sensor scans of the space around the ship. He ran just about every scan and analysis of the void around the Phoenix, just to pass the time, and each time came up with the same result; nothing. The nearest star was nine sectors away, and although it was a big blue giant, they were to far away to receive any residual radiation signatures or anything else that would register on the sensors. So all Hixon ended up doing was conducting a detailed scan of nothing. At long last, the discussions wrapped up, and the two delegates sealed the deal with a sip of Veloxi Mead. The representatives bade each other farewell, and the Arthean team turned their ships upspin for the flight home. Hixon watched the departure on his screen, when something alarmed him. "Cap'n, one of the Thrynn ships is really firing up it's engines." He motioned Gault to come over and look at his screen. Gault came over to looked at the science console and all the strange readouts on its display. "What were you doing?" "I was bored," Hixon replied, "So I was doing all sorts of scans in space to keep myself busy, and I had a tachyon scan running when the meeting concluded. What you are seeing is a tachyon scan of the rendezvous zone, and one of the Thrynn ships is really turning its engines like it's gonna just zip out of there. Hold on... It's the Ngassstr, sir." "Has the Thrynn delegation left yet?" Gault inquired of Hixon. "Just now, sir, the ships seem to be turning outward, and then downspin." "What about the Ngassstr? "She's turning coreward and upspin." Gault's eyebrows arched upon hearing that, and his response was immediate, "Apiphotex, get aft to Engineering. Qynzhqylyh, resume control of the navigation system, break off formation, and plot a course to intercept, full speed ahead. Hixon, transfer communications operations to your console, and scan the Ngassstr as soon as it gets within range." The crew all gave a collective "Aye, sir", and then Qynzhqylyh had a question that Gault hadn't considered. "We the going to Condition Yellow, sir?" Gault paused and thought that one over. "No, Qyn. Keep the shields down. Let's see what they are up to first." "Cap'n," Hixon reported, "The Binary is requesting a reason why we have broken formation." "Advise them to hold position and standby," Gault answered, "We'll have an reason for them soon enough." The Phoenix came within hailing range of the Ngassstr within a few minutes, and Gault had Hixon open a channel. "This is Captain Mark Gault of the ISS Phoenix, hailing the TCS Ngassstr. Please respond." The Thrynn ship waited a few long seconds before responding to the hail. When the Phoenix's viewscreen did wink on to the Thrynn's commanding officer, Gault gasped when he realized who he was speaking to. "Thisss isss Commander Ssslosss Prrrann of the Thrynn Confederate Ssship Ngassstr. It hasss been a long time, Mark." Slosss Prrrann smiled coldly on the viewscreen. Gault felt an icy finger run up his spine hearing the words of the Thrynn the Elowan call 'The Harvester'. He shook off his initial shock, and consulted his personal console for the agreement the Thrynn and Artheans had just sealed. "Slosss, I'm disappointed. This treaty is all of six minutes old, and you've already violated it," Gault said, quoting the text on his display, "'Section 14, paragraph b: All Thrynn ships navigating the corridor shall maintain a distance of no less than three sectors from the Elowan border.' Your current position places you less than one sector from the border. Do you have an explanation, Slosss?" "Old friend," Prrrann replied, "this well traveled frigate is not what it once was. I was only to make an hissstoric first flight through the Arthean Corridor on a journey to New Ssscotland, when I encountered a sssmall NavCon malfunction..." "Oh, well then," Gault said, again referring to his console, "Section 23, paragraph a: Any ship of Arthean registry that should encounter a disabled or malfunctioning Thrynn vessel, shall immediately tow the distressed to Thrynn space or an Interstel Repair station, whichever is closer. I would be more than happy to take you back to the 130th meridian, Slosss." "No," Prrrann almost spat at the screen, "...our malfunction ssseemsss to have righted itssself. You assssissstance will not be neccessssary. You may return to Arth with a clear conssscience, Captain Gault." "Well, 'old friend', at least let me accompany you to the Seedling Nebula. You wouldn't want to fall victim to a stray Elowan craft, now would you?" Gault wasn't giving him much in the way of options. "Again!..." Prrrann lost his composure for a moment, but quickly regained it, "Your help isss not required, Captain. I turn your attention to Sssection 2, paragraph a: No Arthean vessssel may detain or delay a Thrynn vessssel legally in the corridor without due caussse. It would ssseem you are in violation of the treaty too, Mark." Gault knew that he was unable to do anything more than he had, and gave up. "Have a safe journey, Slosss, and get an engineer to look at your NavCon system. Phoenix out." He then turned to Hixon, "Did you scan him?" "I'm not sure he has noticed yet, but yeah I did. Look at this," Hixon beckoned Gault over, and the Captain leaned in, "Plutonium is normally part of the composition of a Thrynn ship, but not this much." "Geez, that's was off the scale," Gault looked up and into space for a moment, as though he just had an epiphany, and then looked over to Qynzhqylyh, "Qyn, plot a course to the Elan system, maximum speed." He then keyed the squawk box, "Api, gimme everything those engines have got and then some. If you can squeeze 110% out of them, I want it." "Aye, Cap'n, whatever you the saying." Api squawked back, obviously unhappy. He didn't like overtaxing his engines. They were his babies. Gault shrugged off the annoyance of his engineer, and looked at his starmap. He knew Prrrann would find the shortest point from the border to Elan. He found it; Prrrann would make his turn at 138, 78, and then sprint to the Elan system from there. Gault stroked his beard, "I'm going to my quarters, Craig you have the bridge." "Cap'n, you mind if I come with you?" Hixon asked. Gault looked at him strangely, and shrugged his shoulders, "Okay, sure. Qyn, you have the bridge." Gault and Hixon headed off the bridge, into the captain's quarters, and grabbed a seat at the meeting table against the far wall. Gault grabbed beers out of the refrigerator for both men, and sat down. "What's on your mind, Craig?" Hixon leaned forward and asked, "What did Prrrann mean when he called you 'Old Friend'?" Gault had a quick look of surprise, and settled back in his chair, "Oh, that." He paused and took a deep breath, "Slosss Prrrann used to be an Interstel captain. He used to command the ISS Izvestia. He's an Arthean Thrynn, and had always talked about going back and meeting his ancestors. We ran a mining shuttle to Arth 1 and back, and when Interstel built the first Mark One ships, he applied right away, so he could make a pilgrimage to Thoss. He didn't get in the first group, but he did get in the second. "Anyhow, once he got the Izvestia, he headed straight for Thrynn space. He headed to Thoss, they told him all about the Elowan, and he went out to prove that he's a real Thrynn. He made several raids into Elowan space, killed many and got a reputation and his nickname, 'The Harvester'. "The Izvestia's crew mutinied, and marooned him on a planet in the Thrynn/Elowan Neutral Zone. He apparently was rescued by the Thrynn, they gave him his own ship, and he continued his reign of terror until Interstel set up the android ships in the Neutral Zone. Since then, he's been looking for a way to get around the ships. I didn't think he'd be brazen enough to use the treaty as his way in." "Do you think Hoss V'nn knows about this attack?" Hixon asked. Again Gault looked surprised, and looked out the viewport into space. "I hope not. It would mean the whole negotiations were a meaningless deception. That would also possibly create tension between Arth and Thoss, and that wouldn't be good. I'm gonna try not to think about it." Gault sipped his beer and tilted his head back, "No, what I'm more concerned about is what Prrrann is going to do. He used to liven up our shuttle runs by practicing evasive maneuvers and playing wargames with other shuttles. He developed some amazing maneuvers for combat, so much so that Interstel copied our flight logs to teach navigation to cadets. If we gotta fight him, it is gonna be one expensive battle." Gault finished his beer, set it down on the table, and stood up. He looked out through the viewport and said, "Time to head back. We'll be in position soon, and I wanna be ready when he arrives." With that, he headed out of his quarters and towards the bridge. Hixon quickly swallowed his mouthful of beer and scrambled after the captain. The two men entered the bridge and assumed their stations. No sooner had they sat down, than the proximity sensor went off. Hixon watched the light turn from white to yellow, and activated the identification program. "It's the Ngassstr, Cap'n," Hixon said, confirming what everyone already knew. Hixon had more news, "We are also receiving a hail from the Elowan fleet. They are aware of the Thrynn ship and are informing us they are coming to intercept." Gault stood up and stood in the center of the bridge. "Instruct the Elowan to maintain their distance. If we require their back up, we will signal for it. Tell them to standby." He turned to Qynzhqylyh, and said quietly, "Go to Condition Red. Raise shields, and arm all weapons." He tensed himself as the Thrynn ship grew larger on the viewscreen, looked down, breathed deeply, and instructed Hixon to hail the invader. "This is Captain Mark Gault of the ISS Phoenix. You are illegally in Elowan space. You will respond!" Gault voice was as hard as iron, and although Hixon could only see the Captain's back, he knew that the look the Captain was giving the viewscreen was just as cold. The viewscreen flashed and Slosss Prrrann's face appeared, and he was visibly agitated. Gault's question was very simple: "Slosss, what are you doing?" "Captain Gault, again you interfere in mattersss where you have no ssstanding. Ssstand down and leave this sssyssstem, or you shhhall not live to regret it." Prrrann softened almost imperceptibly, and added, "Do not make me forget our friendshhhip." "I can't let you do what you are about to do, Slosss. Interstel has a duty to protect the Elowan, and so do I. Turn around and leave Elowan space the same way you came in. I won't tell you again... old friend. As your people would say, do not incite trouble between our races." Slosss looked displeased by that last remark, and leaned towards his viewscreen, "Mark, you won't fire on me. Your loyalty to your friendsss is far too deep to allow that. I know you like you know yourssself. Ssstand assside. Thisss isss not your fight." Prrrann then leaned back, an almost taunting grin crossing his face. Gault stiffened momentarily, and then his shoulders sagged. He looked up to the ceiling of the bridge, and then spoke in a tired voice, "Mister Qynzhqylyh..." Gault looked back at the viewscreen... "Fox one and two! Fire lasers! Evasive maneuvers!" The Phoenix shuddered as the missile launchers and laser cannons fired in harmony. The crew saw the gaping stare of Slosss Prrrann before the viewscreen winked off and over to the battle. The missiles crashed into the Thrynn ship and the lasers found their mark, and with that, the Phoenix had scored first. The combined firepower of the volley from the Phoenix decimated the shields of the Ngassstr, and before they could regenerate, the Phoenix fired another salvo. The second volley impacted the hull and while they did not hit any vital systems, the blast collapsed a power conduit, causing a minor short circuit. *** Aboard the Ngassstr, Slosss Prrrann had already relieved his navigator so he could pilot the ship himself. The lieutenant instead monitored a console and relayed the damage report to Prrrann. The captain hissed his acknowledgement of the small electrical disruption, and initiated evasive maneuvers. *** Gault, in the meantime, sat in his chair and watched the battle on the viewscreen, fully trusting Qynzhqylyh's piloting skills. The two ships danced around each other, not giving the laser targeting systems much time to lock on to the other ship. The two pilots each guessed when the targeting system would light up for a fraction of a second, their battle skills telling them when would be the time to hit the fire button. For several minutes the two ships twisted and weaved around each other, firing off laser bursts when the opportunity arose. *** Back on the Ngassstr, the damage from the collapsed power conduit took its toll, and the ship's navigator saw the effect on his screen. He winced before reporting to his captain, "Sssir, the inertial dampenersss are failing. We mussst break off from combat, or our maneuvering will tear thisss ssship apart." Prrrann shot his navigator a look that would cut glass, fired three more laser bolts and scanned his nav monitor briefly. He was too far away from Elan: the planet was on the other side of the solar system right now. His plan was to fire his Plutonium bombs on the headfruit plantations of Elan, and possibly eliminate the Elowan for good. The plan could not, however, be completed until he was rid of the Phoenix. There was another option, a gas giant planet was relatively close. He smiled his cold dead smile, fired two more lasers for cover fire, turned his ship towards the planet and dropped the hammer. *** The last salvo hit the Phoenix near the stern. The first hit a weakened shield grid, temporarily deadening it, the second nailing the port engine well. The Phoenix rocked with the impact, and Gault yelled into the squawk box for a damage report. Apiphotex took a long moment before reporting back, "Big bang on port engine. It working the okey-dokey but it not being the 100 percent." "Very well, Apiphotex, fix it when you get the chance. Qynzhqylyh, come around and pursue the Ngassstr, as fast as she'll go." Gault watched the viewscreen and his own console, trying to get inside Prrrann's head. His mind raced as he went through all the possibilities. "He knows he can't land on it..." "He's not heading straight for the planet," Hixon said as he projected the Ngassstr's course, "He might be trying a gravitational slingshot maneuver." "By going around the planet..." Gault thought it over, and Hixon saw recognition and terror in Gault's eyes. Gault's next order came as a shout... "ALL STOP!" "All stop, aye, Cap'n." Qynzhqylyh acknowledged the order and brought the ship to a halt, almost fifty thousand kilometres from the planet. Gault came over to Hixon's station and punched some figures into the terminal. An image came up on the monitor projecting where Prrrann was right now, and how the Phoenix would come around the planet, "Prrrann's not trying a slingshot. He's waiting on the other side. He'll be able to see our tachyon signature before he can even see our ship itself, and will target his weapons on where we will appear. He'll blow us to kingdom come before we can even get a shot off." The image showed the Ngassstr firing weapons before the Phoenix even made it around the planet, and destroying her. "With the damage to the engines, he can probably see us from here," Hixon mused. Gault looked at his science officer. "What did you say?" "The last shot we took from the Ngassstr hit us on the port engine well. While we aren't badly damaged, the engine is venting tachyons like a Spemin scout." Hixon showed a readout on engine efficiency, and indeed the port engine was exhausting a significant amount of tachyons. "That's it!" Gault headed for Qynzhqylyh, "Okay, here's what we are going to do. Qyn, remain all stop, but come about so that the stern is facing the planet," Gault then keyed the squawk box, "Api, I want you to rev the engines. Don't move us, just make them hum for a bit. Hixon, keep that tachyon scan up on your screen, maximize its scope if you can. We're gonna give them what they wanna see." Gault received a collective 'Aye, sir', and the orders were carried out. Gault headed for Hixon's science station and watched the readout from the tachyon scan. The Phoenix turned around, and the engines were lit up. The scan on the monitor showed a large trail of tachyons streaming from the Phoenix to the planet, and then being deflected around the planet in all directions, including behind it. The sensors reported several missiles being launched from the Ngassstr as they fired on what they thought was the Phoenix, and that was all Gault needed to know. "Qyn, round the planet by its southern polar axis, triangulate the Ngassstr's position from its missile fire and plot a firing solution. Battle stations!" Not only did the tachyon spread confuse the Ngassstr's sensors, it also provided cover for the Phoenix's attack. As luck would have it, the Phoenix rounded the planet towards the underside of the Ngassstr, not giving the Thrynn ship any time to see them before the firefight started again. Gault's voice was confident as he gave the battle order, "Qynzhqylyh, fox one and two, fire lasers, reload missiles, fox one and two!" Four missiles and six laser bolts screamed for the Ngassstr. The confused ship did not stand a chance against the onslaught, and the lasers easily cleaned out the Thrynn's shields while the missiles were free to hit the hull unhindered. Three of the missiles slammed into the engine compartment, the last of which ripped a portion off the starboard aft quarter. The fourth crashed into the fuselage, cutting power to the rest of the ship. The Ngassstr pitched and yawed involuntarily as all maneuverability was lost and she began to drift. An emergency generator kicked in, providing life support and communications for the Thrynn, but nothing else. A distress beacon was automatically released from the Ngassstr, and began emitting its signature, calling to any other Thrynn ships to render assistance. Hixon foresaw this, and was quick to jam it's signal. Then Hixon had a report of his own for Captain Gault, "Captain, the Ngassstr is hailing us." Gault's eyebrows were raised by that little bit of news, "Respond to him. Let's see him, as well." Hixon patched the feed into the viewscreen, and the three officers on the bridge were shocked at what they saw. Emergency orange lighting was all the Ngassstr's bridge was illuminated by. The body of two Thrynn were lying on the deck. Broken monitors and burnt out terminals littered the bridge. Slosss Prrrann was slumped in his chair, semi-conscious, but still defiant. Gault shook off the visual, and responded to the hail, "This is the Phoenix. Are we done here, Slosss? Do you surrender?" Slosss Prrrann laughed lightly, "Never. According to the treaty you mussst tow usss back to Thrynn ssspaccce. Sssection 23, paragraph a, I believe." Prrrann smiled back into the viewscreen, self-satisfied. Gault weighed that for a second, and replied, "Slosss, I would do that, but you aren't in the Windward Passage anymore. You are in Elowan territory, and therefore the treaty doesn't apply." Gault did not smile, only stared coldly and unwaveringly into his viewscreen. Prrrann's face fell, and anger replaced the smugness, "Then finishhh the job! What are you waiting for? Kill usss now. We do not fear death!" Gault dropped his eyes and shook his head, "I can't do that either Slosss. You were right, my loyalty to my friends is too deep. I won't kill you. However, according to Section 3, paragraph a of the Arthean-Elowan treaty of 4621, I am required to tow your ship to the nearest Elowan military ship, take you and your crew into custody, and transfer you to the Elowan authorities for your arrest. I am to inform you that you will be treated well on Elan, and that capital punishment is not sanctioned by the Elowan. That's more than you would offer them, I'm sure. Enjoy the ride, old friend. This is your last trip among the stars. Phoenix out." The Phoenix's grappling hooks grabbed a hold of the crippled Thrynn ship and made its way towards the Elowan fleet. Gault had one more order, "Mr. Hixon, signal the Elowan. Inform them we have The Harvester, and we are transferring him into their custody. I'm going to my quarters. I am not to be disturbed until we get back to Arth." *** The transfer was uneventful. Slosss Prrrann was uncharacteristically meek as he was arrested by the Elowan and taken away. Hixon had Qyn plot a course back to where the Honor Guard was holding position. Upon forming up with the rest of the delegation, Ambassador Kramer demanded to know the details of the encounter. Hixon was cool and calm in declining, and replied that he and Captain Gault would be making a full report of the incident to Interstel, and that Kramer would be free to attend. From there, the journey home was as quiet as the initial trip, but there was a pall hanging over the ship. Qynzhqylyh tied his navigation controls to the Binary, and silently left the bridge as he went aft to relax. Hixon was alone on the bridge, left to wonder what the fallout would be. *** Qynzhqylyh returned to the bridge following Hixon's request. The formation had returned to the Arth system, and the Veloxi navigator piloted the ship back to Starport, and then expertly put the Phoenix into its berth. He then bade Hixon farewell, met up in the corridor with Apiphotex, and the two Veloxi disembarked the ship. Hixon finished powering down the ship systems and walked to the Captain's quarters. The door opened for him, and Gault was inside, sitting at the meeting table looking at historical reports of Slosss Prrrann's career on the computer terminal. "Mark," Hixon said, "we're home." Gault looked over for a second and then turned his attention back to the terminal. "Thanks." Hixon sat down beside his captain, "So what happens now?" Gault leaned back in his chair and looked at the ceiling, "Well Prrrann will be tried and found guilty of his many invasions including this one. He'll be sentenced to a labour camp for life, probably make an escape attempt, and get himself killed in the process. Kramer's ambassadorship will be terminated, and he will go back to whatever he was doing beforehand. The Thrynn will decry Prrrann's arrest, cancel their end of the treaty, and go back to just being the Thrynn. We will receive some other meaningless commendation for saving the Elowan or avoiding getting Interstel into a war, or however they wanna word it, and get even more diplomatic missions I don't want. And I, " he stood up, "am going to the observation lounge and get drunk." "So the treaty is worthless?" Hixon asked. "Pretty much," Gault replied, "the Thrynn aren't gonna hold up their part of it, and that was the whole point of getting them to sign it, wasn't it?" "That's also the last time you are going to see Prrrann, isn't it?" Hixon's question further deepened Gault's already melancholy mood. "Yeah. He's never gonna make it out of the labour camp. I can't go see him. He wouldn't want to see me anyways. Y'know, I looked over mission logs and records of the mining shuttle I was on with Prrrann. We had some really good times. He was a hell of a guy to work with..." Gault shook his head and left it at that, and walked out of his quarters to disembark the ship. Hixon stayed behind, and looked over this mission logs and records of the mining shuttle, and reviewed the death of a friendship. Next, Part 3: Tides Of Change Tweet
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