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Shepherd Moon, Chapter 10: Prelude to a War

 

The Tirosians and Detterex had pulled out of the fight early in the game, and were nowhere near the battle zone. Seeker's Phase-Wave sensors paced the Tirosian-Detterex fleet easily as it sped away on a curving course away from Earth. Though Commander Tomoguchi kept close track of them, he still breathed a sigh of relief as the immediate danger of the Empire was removed. He turned back to plotting the course of the retreating invaders on the map in front of him and continued tallying losses.

"Give me a damage report on all decks," he said.

"Five turrets on level three overloaded and are unusable,” Seeker’s comm officer replied. “We were hulled aft of the shuttle bay, but damage control got to it right away: all bays are usable. Shield generators at ninety-nine percent: power is currently off on deck seven, but the Chief Engineer's crew is working on it."

"Nothing major then. Never mind that now. How about our people?"

"Sickbay reports thirty-seven minor injuries, and none in serious condition. We have one casualty, thought - one of our fighters got taken out in the battle, but the others report all well. Our landing parties also report all well."

"It could have been worse. How about our other ships? How are the carriers from the Constellation and Hermes doing?" he asked.

"There are casualties there, I'm afraid, Commander. Captain Dupont has pulled his people out, but Hermes' ships can't lift off yet. Landing party says the battle's pretty fierce and they're going to have a hard time getting back to their carriers. One of them has already been blown away. They've requested fighter cover to protect the other carriers."

"Have our fighters responded, yet, Lieutenant?"

"The two squadrons from Constellation and Hermes are already on the way, sir."

"Good. Tell the Constellation and Hermes that as soon as all our people have vacated the enemy ships, to regroup on Seeker, and to start collecting damage reports."

"Aye, sir."

"Give me status on the aliens."

"The Empire fleet is retreating, Commander, and are now on a slow course away from Earth. We've taken out ninety of their fighters and damaged their mother ships. Three Tiros cruisers and one Detterex cruiser have been taken out. One tanker and three escort ships are damaged beyond use, no survivors reported. They still have nine cruisers, four escort ships and one tanker. Internal damage, we don't know, but I think we've hurt them."

"But not enough to make them go away faster."

"No, sir. The Tiros and Detterex flagships have taken substantial damage, but the others escaped almost untouched."

"All right, how about the Federation ships?"

"There are three Elyran cruisers left, and the two Dixx cruisers survived."

"The two Arachnian ships?"

"Just radioactive debris, sir, though we got some electronic activity in one of them. Our probes have detected a large sphere in the center of both wreckages. According to the readings, they're either very dense, denser than anything we have, or they're very heavily shielded."

"Let's risk a pulse and see just what we have."

"Aye, sir," the lieutenant said, and started working on her console.

"Seems like we have a live one, sir. Variable electromagnetic signals in one of the spheres, indicating electronics and machinery."

"Damn. Try to find a chink in their armor, Lieutenant, or at least a thin spot, so we can send a radio message to them."

"Aye, sir."

"Give me the chief engineer."

"Aye, sir. Chief Engineer on-line."

Tomoguchi turned to the ceiling mic. "Chief, we'll be making a ship-to-ship rescue. Can you rig four or five carriers for radiation?"

"Radiation, sir? Against how much?"

"As many R's you can shield against, Chief. We're going to rescue some aliens from one of the two Arachnian cruisers."

"Sir? Those two radioactive hulks? I cannot guarantee..."

"I realize that, Chief. Just do it."

"Aye, sir."

"Get me the Captain, lieutenant."

"Aye, sir. Captain on-line."

"Captain, this is Tomoguchi. We have detected some signals coming from a shielded area in one of the radioactive Arachnian derelicts. We think there are some survivors there. I've started rescue operations."

"Survivors? Good, Commander. Keep me posted. I won't be coming in with our other pilots. I'll be escorting some Elyran fighters back to their flagship."

"Aye, sir."

Mia switched off her mic and switched her headphones to the radio frequencies being used by the Elyran fighters. She listened to the alien voices. So humanlike yet so different. They were higher in pitch, she would have said like the voices of children, or at best young teenagers, but yet not like the voice of any human child she knew. Voices like the purr of kittens, and in moments like the growl of tigers. She wondered how her own voice sounded to the aliens.

Mia switched on her radio transmitter and hailed the Talon. Her request for a landing berth surprised the Elyran operator, but after a while, obviously after it was referred to higher authority, her request was granted.

"An escort ship will guide you in, Earther. Do not worry." Mia smiled. The operator sounded just a bit patronizing.

Shortly, a tubular Elyran fighter cut in front of her, rockets glowing at full thrust. There was an awkward moment as the pilot had to cut in her forward jets to stop her ship from shooting too far forward, causing the fighter to swerve violently left and right before settling down. She was obviously showing off, Mia thought. She gave her a wide berth.

"T'chahn, honored Earther," she said in an almost sarcastic tone, "I am of the Talon. I have been instructed to guide you in. Please follow me."

"All right, warrior," Mia replied. "Thank you."

It was an uneventful five minutes to the ship's hangar deck, and Mia took the opportunity to examine the alien cruiser a little more closely. As they coasted into the hangar, she noticed no one on the deck. Obviously the deck was in vacuum. She followed her escort further in until they coasted into an enormous hatchway. The hatch slid down behind her, and she heard air whistle into the bay and felt gravity grip her body. Her escort ship rolled gracefully into a sort of metal cradle, one of several already filled by other ships.

Already several Elyrans in what Mia thought were maintenance uniforms poured into the bay even as she guided her own fighter into a cradle, though no matter how much she jockeyed her ship on its anti-grav landers, she could not fit it in. Her ship was simply the wrong shape. She settled for moving her ship as close to the wall as possible, and shut off all systems.

After a short check on the atmosphere, she popped her canopy open and climbed down from the fighter. “Have to take chances on alien germs and things,” she thought, and trust that her nanobots would take care of her. She was glad she had that nanobot booster shot in her last checkup.

Mia's escort was already at the foot of her ladder, waiting. She had her helmet off. When she looked up, Mia felt a slight tingle somewhere in the middle of her head. She had never felt the sensation before, and wondered what it was. As she locked the cockpit and climbed off from the ladder, she unhooked her own helmet and clipped it to her belt. The Elyran warrior's eyes widened in surprise, but quickly caught herself. She gave a short courtesy bow, and Mia answered with a deeper bow, with her fist over her heart, a greeting reserved for Elyran royalty.

The warrior blushed to a deep pink hue, and Mia smiled.

"T'chahn, My Lady, welcome to the Talon,” she said in respectful tones – obviously, she assumed Mia was royalty, perhaps because of the bow. She started to say something more but stopped herself, forgetting for a moment.

"T'chahn, warrior,” Mia responded. “Thank you for your welcome. And thank you for your guidance. It was skillfully done."

"It was of no consequence, My Lady, but thank you. Does your spacecraft need any maintenance or resupply?”

Mia assumed it was just a courtesy. Or maybe she did assume that her Shrike fighter needs fuel or something. “You are too kind. No, my ship is quite fine. It does not use conventional Elyran fuel. Please ask your personnel to not bother with my ship.”

The pilot nodded and signaled to the maintenance personnel that were surrounding it. They nodded and proceeded to another ship. “If you will follow me,” the pilot continued, “I am to escort you to the Lady Tasha. This way, please."

They walked around her ship towards the main airlock, and passed five Elyran fighters in their berths. The Elyran technicians, and the warriors overseeing the work on their ships, paused to take a look at their visitor.

Mia politely nodded to the nearest ones, all female. And she had that tingling feeling again. “What are they doing to me?” she thought.

As they passed the exhaust ports of the fighters, she could still feel residual heat from their rockets and smell the faint acrid fumes from burned fuel. Kerosene?

As they neared the airlock, she could see Elyrans waiting there for them. By their accouterments, combat warriors - the Elyran equivalent to Terran Marines. The lead Elyran rested her hand deliberately on her ornamental dress sword, and walked to face Mia.

She bowed in the traditional welcome for royalty, her fist over her heart (Mia recognized it from CETI’s recorded Phase-Wave intercepts). "T'chahn, My Lady. I am Lena, swordmistress of the princess, Tasha Liaran-Kerr, who leads our fleet. I have been sent to escort you to our bridge, where you will await the arrival of our princess."

Mia bowed in the same manner. "T'chahn, swordmistress. Thank you. I am Captain Amelia Catherine Steele, from the Earth ship Seeker. I am at your service."

Lena gestured to a waiting lift and they all climbed into it. Mia found herself surrounded by small alien females, all wearing sidearms. Her close proximity to them made her aware of how they smelled. They did not exactly smell, but she was sure that these Elyrans needed a shower. “Or maybe it's a natural condition with them,” she thought. A slightly unpleasant idea.

She felt them close in around her, more than the cramped space could account for, as if they were intentionally crowding her.

And she felt odd sensations, like she was having unfamiliar thoughts. The tingling feeling was stronger. She tried to ignore the feeling and looked up at the elevator indicator. The flashing Elyran glyphs told her that they were nearing a level designated as One, presumably the bridge. And when the door dilated open, she was one of the first to escape out onto the bridge.

It was becoming uncomfortable in there. She felt like all the Elyran eyes were on her and that she was being mentally undressed.

She took a deep breath and quickly scanned the bridge, noting the people and equipment. She smiled in recognition when she saw O'Connell.

“Time to go into our act,” she thought. She gave a short bow in O'Connell’s direction, and gave her a small wink. "Hello, Commander," she said. "Everything all right?"

O'Connell remembered, and gave her a deeper bow, her fist over her heart. "Everything is fine, sir. And is this really necessary?"

"Yes, it is. Just play along, Commander. It can't hurt anything."

O’Connell gestured towards the short bejeweled male. "Have you met the prince?"

"No, not yet." She stopped by O'Connell’s side and acknowledged the bows of the rest of her people. One of the Marines was a bit slow, so Mike poked him in the ribs.

Lena, not missing the by-play between the Earthers, quickly moved forward and introduced her to Ren.

"My Lady, I present you Prince Ren Tevann-Reshanii of the Great Plains of Elyra, husband to the princess Tasha Liaran-Kerr, and our honored Chief Scientist. My Lord, this is Captain Amelia Catherine Steele of the Earth Warship Seeker."

"T'chahn, Captain. I and my people are greatly in your debt."

"It was but our duty, My Lord. Welcome to the Solar System."

"Your welcome honors us. But I am at a great loss to understand how you knew of our coming. We ourselves only knew of our time of departure a little less than seven standard months ago."

Mia did a little mental calculation. Approximately one year and five Earth months since the broadcast. "If I am correct, My Lord, that was about 1.2 standard years after we sent our transmission to you."

"The transmission. Ahhh, yes. We have several questions about that. Perhaps we can talk about it later?"

"Of course. Well, after we sent the transmission, we have been waiting for some sort of expedition from the Federation. We knew where the bulk of the Federation planets were, and were able to calculate the general area of space that you would be coming from, provided that you left the Federation almost immediately after the broadcast."

"The 'general area of space?'"

"Well," she smiled, "there was also a great deal of luck involved."

Just then, the lift doors dilated open. Tasha stepped out, still in her pilot's spacesuit. She went to Ren, and held his hand. She shut her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief and thanks. She turned and faced the Earthers.

Mia bowed and gestured for her people to do likewise. Tasha acknowledged them and turned to Mia.

"Welcome, Captain. You and your people fight well."

"Our thanks, My Lady."

"You know of our mission here? To your Earth?"

"We know of it, My Lady. In fact, that is also why we are here. I bring the greetings of the whole family of the Human Race, and I bring the invitation of the one who leads us all, to visit our mother world and meet with the leaders of our different kingdoms. It is her fervent wish that you accept this invitation and allow us to escort you to our world."

Tasha smiled, and bowed deeply. "In behalf of the peoples and races that I represent, I am honored to accept your invitation. If it pleases your people, we would invite you to partake of a few refreshments, although I am not sure that you might find them palatable." She laughed.

"My Lady. Forgive me if I offend, but I and my people must return to our ship right away. The battle was fierce and we, as you, must recoup our strength and tally losses."

Tasha smiled. "Politely spoken, Captain. And rightly so. But surely, you and your immediate staff can stay a while?"

"If you insist, My Lady. Commander O'Connell and one of our scientists, Nicholas, will stay with me, if it's all right."

The princess bowed. "We shall be honored."

"Then, if I may, I would like to escort my people back to their ship, and wish them a safe journey home - one of our customs. I hope you understand."

"Of course, Captain." Tasha turned to her swordmistress. "Lena. Escort the Captain and her people back to the hangar bay. See to it that it is speedily done. The Captain has a lot to do. Captain? I trust that I will see you soon."

"You may count on it, My Lady." Out of ingrained custom and reflex, Mia kissed her hand. Tasha blushed to a deep crimson. A dozen of the alien officers were taken aback, most especially Ren. It was too late when Mia realized her faux pas. She contented herself with an additional short bob of the head, and turned to walk out of the bridge.

The walk back to the hangar bay was uneventful. O'Connell’s carrier was waiting near the hatchway, with Marines near the open shuttle door, at port arms. O'Connell turned over her Detterex charges to waiting Elyran guards. Mia gave final instructions to her people and the shuttle co-pilot, surreptitiously handing over her suit’s recording chip, observing the same with Nick and O'Connell, went over to her ship, and pretended to inspect it for damage and got a fresh stick from the Miscellaneous Items compartment in the cockpit.

O'Connell’s Marines stepped into the shuttle, and they and her fighter (the carrier's co-pilot flew her fighter back) sped back to the Seeker.

"Okay," she mumbled, "back to the princess."

-----

"Well?" Tasha turned to ask Ren. "What do you think?"

Ren shrugged noncommittally and turned abruptly away. Tasha smiled and turned to her swordmistress. "Lena?"

"They seem to be people of good stock, though with unusual ideas about propriety."

Tasha raised an amused eyebrow, and Reena nodded in the direction of the prince. "I sense in them a strong will and a strong mind. One thinks of those of the royal blood when you meet them," she said.

"I agree, pilot. But most of them are like that," said Tasha.

Reena smiled. "A race of Bridges. The mind boggles."

Ren turned to face her. "A patent impossibility," he said heatedly. "Science tells us that the probability of conceiving a bridge is about one in three hundred thousand."

Reena bowed. "Of course, My Lord. But they are not Elyran. Who can say what is possible for them."

Ren glowered at her and turned to the princess. "My Lady, I find myself feeling a bit faint from all this excitement. May I be excused? I will retire to our quarters."

"Of course, my love. But make it a short rest. We have to meet with the Captain soon. Perhaps in less than half an hour." Ren bowed stiffly. They watched him leave with faint amused smiles.

"These past events bode well for the expedition, My Lady," Lena said.

"Well," the pilot-navigator murmured. "Much of the fleet has been destroyed, many of our people have been killed, and we have yet to account for all of our missing warriors."

"You mistake my meaning, pilot," Lena said. "I, too, grieve for our lost sisters. But the coming of the Earthers has saved us from an even worse fate. And here they are, apparently ready to talk. Does that not mean well for the expedition?"

"Indeed, yes," Tasha said. "And perhaps we will get to know more of them in the coming days."

Tasha left to change out of her space suit and the rest turned back to their work.

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About the author

Bobbi-C

  • Washington DC
  • Mistress of Confusion

Bio: Bobbi Cabot is a transgender girl in her thirties (35 y.o. as of 2016), who transitioned in 2005. She is known as "Roberta J. Cabot," "Bobbie-C," "Bobbie," "Bobbi" and "Bobbi-C" in the sites where she posts her stories.

Though not a professional writer, Bobbi is under the delusion that she writes passably well and indulges this delusion by sometimes posting stories, which is, thankfully, very seldom.

Bobbi's day job (the phrase "day job" is hereby stressed) involves being the big cheese of the overseas BPO practice of a Top 100 computer technology corporation.

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