Trying out Young Adult reading level and tone. This is just a prologue and first chapter, the connection between them won’t be immediately clear. But if anyone is reading, let me know what you think. I’m trying to make it more fun and easy to read than the Final Fall of Man and Oræl Rides to War books.
This wasn’t exactly the Young Adult series I was planning on writing, but that might come later as well. This was the one that demanded attention, so here it is. I may post more chapters as I write them. Or I might not.
If anyone had told Fellandra ten hours ago that she would spend her duty shift carrying Ogre luggage from one end of a Worldship to the other, she would have laughed. That was before she found out it was really a thing that was going to happen, and how massive Ogre luggage could be. Fortunately, most of it went on a set of mechanised trolleys. Unfortunately, the flagship Enna Midzis was huge. And some of the luggage smelled bad.
She found the Captain in the aft viewing gallery, gazing down at the alien world spread out below them. It took Fellandra a few seconds to wrestle the trolley-train to a halt and put down the two additional cases she was carrying, all of which she did as quietly and politely as she could. The gallery was otherwise deserted.
She thought she heard the Captain murmur something. You’re still beautiful. Something like that. Fellandra assumed the Captain was talking about the Earth, or possibly to it. It was a Captain thing.
And the Earth was beautiful, she supposed. It was a mess, but it was a beautiful mess. The trick was to be far away enough that you couldn’t see the horde of angry monkeys that lived down there.
“ … we are not going anywhere,” the Captain murmured a little more loudly.
“Captain Char?” Fellandra spoke up, worried that the Captain might think she was standing listening in on her dramatic little private Captain-monologue.
The Captain turned and regarded Fellandra solemnly, taking in her harried appearance, her stained uniform, the teetering caravan of boxes. “Yes?”
“The – the – our visitors’ … our new crewmates’ luggage, Captain,” Fellandra said. And gestured to the boxes.
Captain Char frowned. “The humans?” she asked.
“No, the – the Ogres,” Fellandra replied.
Captain Char’s ears flicked in surprise. “The Ogres had luggage?” she looked down at the gleaming little blue figurine she was holding in one hand. It looked like a souvenir, Fellandra thought. And a pretty tacky one at that. When you went to an alien world and made contact, you should get a nicer present than that. “I thought – aside from the pack they had with them … ”
“This all came up on a separate transport, Captain,” Fellandra explained. “Apparently there was a bunch of stuff they simply couldn’t live without,” the Captain was walking back along the train of carrier trolleys now, staring. She stopped at one battered, bulky metal object, gazed at it, then turned to look at Fellandra. “I believe that is called an air hockey table, Captain.”
“I was thinking, nobody seemed sure, perhaps you could direct me to the Ogres’ living quarters and I could deliver this to them,” Fellandra said hopefully.
The Captain had returned to her study of the luggage. Now she aimed another polite stare in Fellandra’s direction. “The Ogres are gone,” she said, and pointed out of the viewing window, into space. “They left just now.”
“Oh. When will they be back?”
“They’re not coming back,” the Captain replied.
“Oh,” Fellandra repeated. She joined the Captain in looking at the mass of junk. “What happens when they want to play air hockey?”
“I assume at that point they will remember that they had a bunch of luggage that included an air hockey table,” the Captain said, “and they will either come back for it, or go on without it.”
Fellandra waited, but it didn’t seem as though the Captain had any useful advice or orders to give concerning the luggage. “Perhaps we should place it in storage, Captain,” she suggested, “in case they ask about it.”
“Only … ” one of the largest boxes, a towering black metal thing with a row of holes along the top, gave a timely boom and shook the trolley it was sitting on. Something inside the box went aaarghahhumpgrnk. “Only that box,” Fellandra said weakly, “is … occupied.”
“Occupied?” the Captain finally got surprised enough to do more than flick her ears. “It’s not an Ogre, is it?” Fellandra shook her head, and Captain Char lowered her voice. “Is it a human?”
“No, Captain,” Fellandra said, and handed her a pad. It would be a lie to say it was a complete list of all the junk the Enna Midzis had taken on board from the world below, but the main stuff was there.
The Captain read the list. Her eyes widened and her ears went up. She looked from the pad to the crate, then back at the pad.
“Seriously?” she said.
Fellandra nodded. “The inspectors actually opened the box at the dock, Captain,” she told her. “I saw it myself. It … ” she gestured at her grubby uniform. “It was difficult to get it back in there.”
“How are we supposed to – what do they eat?” the Captain demanded.
“So far, Captain,” Fellandra replied positively, “it seems like pretty much everything.”
Captain Char shook her head and sighed. “Alright,” she said, “I suppose we’re pet-sitting. Leave that trolley here, I’ll allocate some deck space and resources to this. You can take the rest to secure storage.”
“Yes, Captain. Would you like me to take … what is that?” she pointed at the little ornament in Captain Char’s hand.
“It’s … Mygon,” the Captain said vaguely, then visibly shook herself out of her daze. “No,” she went on, “I was asked to give this to one of the other Captains. Just store the rest of it and we will deal with it later.”
Relieved, Fellandra unhitched the trolley in question and reconnected the others. The crate gave another boom and a low hnaaarghblort as she picked up the cases and trundled the rest of the luggage away, leaving Captain Char standing and staring at the box with a look of clear shock on her face.
Things like this were the reason Char was Captain.
Galana Fen (Crewmember #1)
About Four Thousand Years Later
The last thing Galana’s mentor said to her before she went into the grand hall and got in a bet with the Fleet Ambassador was I pulled a lot of strings to get you into this thing. Don’t do anything embarrassing.
It wasn’t her fault some people had a stupid idea of what was embarrassing and what wasn’t. Surely, standing and smiling while the snooty old dork in the ridiculous suit waffled on about the general superiority of the Molran species would have been more embarrassing. Listening to his horrible insulting speech and not voicing some kind of objection would have been more embarrassing.
And besides, she didn’t exactly heckle the guy. All she did was ask a couple of questions about some things the ambassador said that were clearly at odds with what Galana had been taught at the Academy, the Fleet Edutorium, and in the course of her … well, life. She had just been trying to figure out if she’d missed something really important, that maybe they only told to Molren over the age of three thousand. Because the only other explanation she could think of was that Ambassador Kotan was the most ignorant and obnoxious dimwit she had ever encountered. And that definitely would have been an embarrassing thing for her to say out loud. Wouldn’t it?
After the speech and the short round of questions and answers, she found herself in conversation with Kotan and a little pack of his closest admirers.
“So,” the Ambassador said, speaking to Galana but looking at the glass of fruit wine in his upper right hand instead. “You are the little human rights activist who was asking all the clever questions. Is your class studying Müllick this year?”
“I’m glad you thought they were clever questions, Ambassador,” Galana replied as nicely as she felt Kotan deserved. “Since there didn’t seem to be any humans – or in fact any member of any of the Six Species races other than Molren – invited here tonight, I thought it was probably only fair for someone to ask a few of the questions they might.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Kotan smiled widely. “In fact, considering how many questions humans ask, I should thank you for letting us off so lightly.”
“I have more questions if you’d like, Ambassador,” Galana offered.
Some of the Ambassador’s followers chuckled at this, but stopped when their master didn’t join in. It was very sad. Galana wondered if any of them had been warned not to be embarrassing before coming along to the event.
“Humans,” Kotan declared, “are a primitive species. They have their charm, and they have their uses – as do the Fergunak – but they need constant control and guidance.”
“Yes, you already said so in your speech,” Galana said. “It just seems strange to me that … well, we call ourselves the Six Species and we’re all so pleased to be part of this amazing union of intelligent races, building an interstellar civilisation. The Six Species has been our official identity for a thousand years. And yet a lot of the Molran Fleet seems to be of the opinion that it’s all a big misunderstanding that will be cleared up soon.”
“Oh my dear child,” Kotan chuckled. “Has nobody told you this yet? The Six Species is a publicity stunt. It’s a joke to those who know better, and a sweet inspirational lie to those who do not. The Six Species may have endured a thousand years, but it has never actually been more than just the Two Species,” he raised his two left hands, palms up, moving first one and then the other. “The Molren, and the aki’Drednanth. And then there are our four charity cases, our little fixer-upper species. Our improvement projects.
“The Blaren. As finished as they’re ever likely to get, their wild natures tamed, their cultures reduced to colourful decorations. Their sole purpose is to act as a warning. Behave, be a good citizen, contribute to the wellbeing of the Fleet … and if you can’t do that, we’ll toss you out and replace you with someone who can.
“The Bonshooni. Those poor, misbegotten souls who slept in storage while civilisation went on without them, only to be dragged out and forced to live in a Fleet, in a galaxy they don’t understand and never will. It would have been a greater kindness to let them remain in their pods and never wake. They contribute nothing, and yet our compassion makes us try, again and again, to fix what cannot be fixed.
“The Fergunak. Need I say more? They’re part of our union because we’re afraid of being eaten the second we turn our backs on them.
“And the humans,” Kotan clucked sadly and shook his head. “If we’d invited one human to this event, all the others would have been offended. If we’d invited more than one, they would have been screeching and throwing poop at each other by now.”
To be honest, Galana had more or less stopped listening to him after he’d said my dear child. It was true that, at a hundred and seventeen years of age she was little more than a child, but if she’d learned one thing over and over again in the course of her life it was that being old didn’t make you right, it just made you more certain. She returned her attention to the Ambassador as he concluded his little performance.
“Oh, I don’t think they’d be throwing poop at each other,” she said sweetly, and smiled. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to smile at the pompous fool, but it got easier when she saw her words wipe the smug smirk off his face.
“Well, by all means go on believing in the intelligence and nobility of the lower species, and see how far that gets you,” Kotan said stiffly, and now he finally stopped looking at his wine glass and gave a meaningful look – not at Galana’s face, but at the tips of her ear-ribs. And the pearly spines that were a clear marker of her youth. “Like I say … it’s only natural to be an idealistic dreamer when you’re young.”
“Apparently some old people are still idealistic,” Galana replied, “unless you think this unified exploration and military force for the millennium is a publicity stunt as well.”
“AstroCorps?” Ambassador Kotan snorted. “It’s not a publicity stunt. It’s a catastrophe. And it will never be granted full powers without my voice on the Fleet Council of Captains. The Six Species is not ready to replace the Molran Fleet. It isn’t ready at a thousand years of age, it won’t be ready at five thousand, and it may never be ready.”
“What if I were to ask you,” Galana was surprised to find herself saying, “if there was anything that might change your mind about that? Your mind, and your voice,” she added, when Kotan started to shake his head. Something made him hesitate, and study her curiously. Finally, she noted with satisfaction, looking her in the eyes rather than the ears. “Are you a betting man, Ambassador?”
“A betting man?” he said in some surprise. “What foolishness is this?”
Galana shrugged. “You seem very certain there is no way the Six Species can prove itself. No way AstroCorps can stand with the Fleet as its equal. I have graduated from the AstroCorps Academy – I was one of the first Molren to do so – and I am telling you you are wrong,” Kotan’s little cluster of admirers tightened their nostrils and flared their ears and muttered angrily at this, but Galana waited for the Ambassador to respond. His response, after all, was the only one that mattered in this conversation.
“I see,” he said eventually. “You are expecting me to … bet … with you, perhaps by setting your AstroCorps people a task that would normally go to the Fleet. If you succeed, you expect me to admit that the Six Species is more than just a publicity stunt, and throw my support behind this ridiculous dream,” Galana, who hadn’t actually thought that far ahead in the conversation, opened her mouth but the Ambassador continued. “Your AstroCorps crew, let us say, will complete a standard Fleet tour of the boundaries of Six Species space. The outer boundaries. The map is very big and very empty, my child. A lot of things could wait out there in the dark. Without the Fleet to hold your hands ‑ ”
“No,” she once again surprised herself by saying. “No, I intend to show you that the Six Species is a reality, and that it is greater than the sum of its parts. And to do that, the challenge has to be greater than one the Fleet would face. I will show you that Molran, aki’Drednanth, Blaran, Bonshoon, Fergunakil and human can act as one unified culture. I will take a crew, Ambassador Kotan, and I will circumnavigate the galaxy.”
Kotan’s flock were staring now, silent and open-mouthed. But the Ambassador was smirking again.
“So be it,” he said. “We will meet in twenty months at Declivitorion-On-The-Rim, which will be your starting point. You have until then to put together your crew. We will meet back there again when you return – if you return – and I will offer you my full and public apology and throw my full support behind AstroCorps and the Six Species. If you lose … ” he smiled and looked into his wine. “Well, chances are you will be dead. If you make it back alive but without completing the circuit, then you will be relegated to the Blaran species for the remainder of your natural life. I will lend my voice to the Five Species damage control initiative as planned, and we will stand back and watch while the Wild Empire bites itself to death. Let the rushing monkeys finish exterminating themselves. Oh, and because you seem so sure of the power of unity … ” he raised his eyes once more, and his smile widened. “Your crew will be six. One member of each species, and no more.”
Ambassador, I spoke without thinking and I am sorry if I offended you in my enthusiasm, Galana tried to say. Instead she found herself spitting on her upper right palm and extending her hand to the staring Kotan. She also became aware that a large part of the hall had fallen silent and were watching intently.
“This is a human thing,” she said, “I suggest you just go with it.”
Ambassador Kotan stared a moment longer, then spat on his own hand and slapped it to hers.
“Poor foolish child,” he said, “you have a bet.”