A Problem in Translation

By J Alan Erwine

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

 

     Tensions were high aboard the Astrid.  Captain Takahashi and his crew had spent the last two months translating in and out of hyperspace.  Each time, they found at least one Lemec craft waiting for them.  Sometimes there were as many as half a dozen.

     Bowing to the influence of the Kulnar, the Lemec had rescinded their initial ban on human space travel, but they weren't making it easy, at least not for the Astrid and her crew.  Takahashi had no idea what the two headed creatures might have said to the unintelligible creatures, and he doubted that he would ever have any chance of finding out, or even understanding.  He was just glad that it had happened.  Humanity still had a chance, although Takahashi wasn’t sure how far he trusted the timid truce that had been hammered out by the Kulnar; a truce that humanity had had no part in…and that bothered Takahashi more than anything.  The truce might mean that the Lemec were willing to give a cautious second chance to humanity, but that chance didn’t seem to include Captain Takahashi and his crew.

     “Ready to translate to normal space,” Brenna Kincaid said from her place at the helm.

     Captain Takahashi tried to smile.  “I swear, if I see a Lemec ship, I’m going to blow it out of space.”

     “Translating,” Brenna said in the bored tone of a seasoned spacer.

     The blended lighting the computer used to represent hyperspace gave way to a steady, unmoving real star field.  Claxons immediately began to sound as the ship detected a Lemec cruiser two AUs distant.

     “Shall I prepare a targeting solution?” First Officer Inessa Alexandrova asked from her chair next to the Captain.

     He just glared at her.  There wasn’t time for her annoying games.  There was something he was obviously missing.  “What the hell are they hiding?” he asked, not expecting an answer, because he knew there was no way anyone on his ship could really know what the Lemec might or might not be hiding.

     “Maybe they just don’t like us,” Quent Regget said from the communications console.  Takahashi cast a warning glare at his communications officer.  He liked to run a lax crew, but he was starting to feel like Quent took advantage of that at times.  Right now Takahashi had to be “the captain,” or they might all end up dead.  Of course, Quent did have a point.

     The incidents at the Lemec and the Vintho homeworlds had left Takahashi and the Astrid as public enemy number one for the Lemec, and Takahashi couldn’t really blame them.  He knew he’d made a lot of mistakes in the moments leading up their meeting the Lemec, and he’d only compounded those mistakes on the Lemec homeworld.

     Now, the Lemec, because of the unexplained help of the Kulnar, were willing to let humanity explore, reluctantly, but the Astrid still seemed to be a wild card to them, and it didn’t seem like they liked wild cards all that much.

     “What are they hiding?” Captain Takahashi again asked.  “Quent, get the Lemec ship on com.”

     “Sir?”

     Captain Takahashi turned and glared at the communications officer.

     “Yes, sir,” Quent said, shaking his head and connecting his neural shunt.  “Coming on screen, Captain.”

     The image of the six-limbed bulbous alien looked to Captain Takahashi just like all the other Lemec he’d seen.  The creature was brownish green and nearly globular except for a slight protrusion on top that the captain now knew were the creature’s sensory organs.  Three of the multi-jointed limbs swayed in a hypnotic pattern, while the other three held the creature up.

     “Communications are not wanted/ needed/ allowed,” the creature said in its imprecise way.

     “We…” the captain was cut off by the screen suddenly going black.

     “They’re blocking any further transmissions,” Quent said.

     Captain Takahashi leaned back in his chair.  There was definitely something going on, but what it was he had no way of knowing, unless…

     “Brenna,” he said in the firmest tone he could muster, “Set course for the habitable zone of this system.”

     “Sir?” she asked from her control console.

     “You heard the order,” he said, pointing at her before he turned to face his first officer.  “Inessa, any sign of planets in the zone?”

     Inessa paused for a second.  The entire bridge paused for a second.  It was obvious that no one was sure what to make of the captain’s decision.  They probably all thought he was commanding them to their deaths.  Finally, Brenna broke the silence, “Setting course, sir.”

     Inessa began to nod her head absently.  Finally, she seemed to realize what she was doing and she began to punch commands into her console.  “One planet within the zone, Captain.  Spectral analysis shows high concentrations of water vapor, nitrogen, and oxygen.  It looks like it’s probably inhabited.”

     “Brenna…”

     “Yes, sir,” Brenna Kincaid said with a nervous smile.  It reflected a lot of what he was seeing, and what he was feeling as well, but he didn’t want any of them to be nervous about what they were facing, and he realized that he really didn’t want Brenna to be nervous.  He smiled back, realizing there wasn’t time for those thoughts right now.

     She didn’t see his smile, as she was busy inputting new commands to the ship’s engines.  He noticed that her hands were trembling slightly, and her back was so rigid that it looked like it would snap if she moved too suddenly.

     The Astrid’s ion engines flared as the ship began to accelerate towards the planet.  The Lemec ship seemed to hesitate in its actions.  An engine fired to take the ship towards the Astrid, but another on the opposite side of the ship fired almost immediately after, stopping the ship’s motion.  Then, without notice, the Lemec ship translated out of the system.

     “Interesting,” Inessa said.

     “Probably going to get friends,” Quent said.

     Everyone on the bridge turned and glared at him.  He threw his hands up in mock defense.  It would take many hours before they reached the planet.  More than enough time, Takahashi thought, for the Lemec to bring in reinforcements.

*          *          *

     The Astrid cruised into the star’s habitable zone where their instruments told them a planet existed.  “It’s an F7 star,” Brenna said.  “The planet’s a little more than one and a half AUs from the primary.  Atmosphere is somewhat toxic.  Sulfur levels are a bit too high for our tastes.  I’d recommend breathers if we go down.  The planet’s radius is about eighty-five percent of Earth’s, and it has a mass slightly lower, but it’s very dense, about one and a half times the density of Earth.  Gravity’s slightly more than one and a quarter of Earth’s…not a very comfortable place to live.”

     The crew stared at the screen, which showed the bluish-greens of the fast approaching planet, but it wasn’t the planet that held their attention.  “Look at that moon,” Inessa said.

     “Distance from the planet,” Brenna said, “is just over 13,000 KM.  If it’s not inside the Roche Limit, then it’s as close as it can be.  The moon’s radius is 1,350 kilometers, just a little smaller than our moon.  When that thing shatters, it’s going to be a mess.”

     “There’s life,” Quent said from the communications console.  His voice was excited and tense at the same time.  “We’re receiving a signal from the surface.”

     Captain Takahashi sighed.  This was probably going to be another first contact situation, he thought.  The last one hadn’t gone well, although the Kulnar seemed like they might have taken a liking to the humans.  That wasn’t for certain, however.  Captain Takahashi really wasn’t sure if the Kulnar liked them, or if they were just sick of the Lemec…the latter somehow seemed more likely.  Now he’d probably get to face another alien.  He could only hope things would go better here.  “Do we have visual, Quent?”

     “Yes, sir,” Quent answered, his toned lacked some of the cockiness it usually held.

     Captain Takahashi quietly sighed again.  Taking a deep breath, he tried to calm his nerves.  He couldn’t let the crew know just how nervous he really was.  “Let’s see it.”

     The image of the approaching planet was quickly replaced with the image of the most alien of the aliens they’d yet seen.  The creature appeared similar to a dandelion seed, although the alien was luminescent.

     <I am Avenay, of the Tul,> the creature seemed to say.  There were no tacky flashing lights like something out of the 2-D’s Captain Takahashi secretly liked, but neither could he figure out how the creature spoke.  <We are psi creatures, Captain Takahashi.  You need not speak, we can read your minds.>

     Several thoughts quickly raced through Captain Takahashi’s mind, none of them suitable for voicing.

     <We are able to read all of your thoughts, Captain Takahashi, although we don’t really understand some of what you think of as profane statements.  These seem to be species specific.  Explain please.>

     “Some other time,” Captain Takahashi said aloud for the benefit of his crew.  He wasn’t sure if the creature was speaking to them as well, either with the same conversation, or with individual conversations of their own.  Maybe the creature was even letting them hear what he was thinking, and that was more than a little unnerving.  Still, he had to admit that there might be some benefits to telepathy.

     He began to think that they would have been helpful with…

     <Yes, our abilities do make it easier for us to deal with the Lemec when we must,> the creature said to Captain Takahashi’s forming thought…maybe someone else was thinking the same thing.  <We would be honored if you would join us on the surface,> the creature said in his mind.

     They seemed to be reading his mind faster than he could form thoughts, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be surrounded by a bunch of mind reading aliens.

     <We will try our best not to probe your minds, if you so choose.  It is obvious that none of you are comfortable with this idea, and yes, you will just have to trust us that we can keep ourselves from doing this.>

     Captain Takahashi looked around at his crew, each of them had the same worried expression that he knew he was doing his best to hide.  They all looked to him for leadership, but he’d failed them on the Lemec homeworld, and now he had to admit that he was dreadfully afraid of failing them again here.  With no other choice, he sighed again.  There was really nothing else he could do.

*          *          *

     The Tul homeworld was like nothing Captain Takahashi or his helmsperson Brenna Kincaid could have imagined.  The buildings seemed to be built completely without corners, one wall blending into another with a curvature without seams, and yet the buildings were not spherical…they were still more or less rectangular, but not quite.

     The Tul were even harder to understand, floating along like dandelion seeds before the wind, but it wasn’t a predictable wind.  Each creature floated their own way, none of them seeming to be in a hurry, and Captain Takahashi could understand why as his body begged to be allowed to fall to the ground under the oppressive gravity.  Even worse, however, was the awful smell of the atmosphere.  Sulfur, Brenna had said, and Captain Takahashi could smell it as the odor passed his breather mask, apparently slightly overwhelming the mask’s scrubbers.  It wasn’t enough to kill in one contact, but prolonged exposure would do a lot of damage, and Captain Takahashi liked his lungs just the way they were.

     Most striking of all, however, was the immense moon filling nearly all of the Tul sky.  Captain Takahashi couldn’t help but stare open mouthed at the satellite seemingly ready to fall onto his head.

     <It’s quite striking, isn’t it,> one of the seed creatures said.  <I am Kachnia.  I am what you would consider the mayor of this city.  I am pleased to meet both of you.>  There seemed to be a pause as the creature waited.  Captain Takahashi thought it was fishing for their names, but he secretly thought the creature probably already knew…although how secret were his thoughts on a world of mind readers?

     He quickly introduced himself and Brenna, and the Tul was gracious enough to give them a tour of the immediate area.  As mind boggling as the architecture was, it was nothing compared to the artwork.  The Tul did with the electromagnetic spectrum what humans did in stone and paint.  Great “murals” decorated many of the buildings, creating imagery that the human mind couldn’t hope to comprehend.  They blended lights into colors that seemed to defy classification, and Takahashi was pretty sure that the Tul used wavelengths that they had no chance of perceiving. 

     What would this place look like to other aliens, he wondered.  The Tul, however, seemed completely oblivious to their creations.  No matter how mind boggling the artwork was, and no matter how much of it he couldn’t understand, Captain Takahashi couldn’t help but continue to glance skyward at the spectre of the moon.

     <You don’t have to be a mind reader,> Kachnia said in his head, <to know that you have questions.  Come, Avenay awaits us for a conference.>

     Captain Takahashi took a minute to figure out what Avenay might be before he remembered the name of the first Tul he’d ever seen.  He and Brenna quickly fell in behind the alien, noticing that doors opened for the creature and objects seemed to move mysteriously around all the aliens.  Captain Takahashi guessed that the aliens were also telekinetic.  They didn’t have limbs, so they had to move objects somehow.  He quickly forgot about the thought as he took another look at the intimidating sight of the giant moon.

*          *          *

     <It is at what you call the Roche Limit,> Avenay said in his head, at least Captain Takahashi thought it was Avenay.  He really had no way of telling the two apart, except for the fact that when they came in, Avenay had been on the left…at least he thought that was the case.  They really should have brought a diplomat.

     <Soon, the moon will be destroyed by gravitational tides, and it will most likely crash down upon our planet.>

     “Can’t you leave?” Brenna asked.

     <We do not have space travel.>

     “You’re part of the Lemec Empire, right?” Captain Takahashi asked, trying not to be distracted by the brilliant artwork done in lights that decorated all of the walls and the ceiling of the hexagonal room.  “Won’t they do something to protect you, to save you?”

     <That is not their way.>

     “But, you’re their subjects.”

     <Such as it is, although not in the way that you mean.>  Captain Takahashi thought the other alien had said that, but he couldn’t tell.  It seemed like there was a different “taste” in his mind to each of the creatures’ thoughts.  All he was sure of was that these aliens could be as vague as all the others they’d met.  Somehow he missed the easy to read expressions of humanity.  Brenna met his gaze with a look of concern.  That was at least something he could understand.

     “You mean they’d rather let you die than help you?” he asked, wishing he had a seat in case this conversation dragged on, but what would floating dandelion seeds need with chairs?

     <That is their way.>

     Captain Takahashi sighed yet again.  He realized he was starting to do that far too much.  However, he didn’t like the way this conversation was turning out, and he had a very bad feeling about where it was leading.  “What if some of you came with us?”

     Brenna inhaled quickly.  Good, he thought.  At least he could still surprise her.

     <That is not the Lemec way.  If we are to survive, we must bring about survival ourselves, otherwise we are not worthy to be a part of the universe.  If we are to die, we are ready.  Our scientists have spent a great deal of time trying to help us evolve into a state of pure consciousness in the hopes of denying destiny, but I’m afraid all their efforts have failed, and we accept this, and so must you.>

     “To hell with the Lemec,” Captain Takahashi shouted, knowing that his first contact skills were still in need of a lot of work.  “They don’t own you.  You can do whatever you want.”

     <No, Captain Takahashi, we can’t.  The Lemec insist on this, and it is not often that they can be circumvented.  That is the way of the universe, the way of the Lemec, as you will learn once you accept them.>

     “Don’t count on that happening any time soon,” Takahashi answered, wondering why the Tul’s thoughts had seemed to pause when it was saying the Lemec could not often be circumvented.

     <It will,> the alien he thought was Kachnia said in his head, moving forward slightly.  <It always does.>  It seemed like there was some hesitation in the creature’s last thoughts, but Takahashi wasn’t sure, and even if he was, he’d have no way of figuring out what the creature really meant.  He didn’t think he’d ever understand any of these aliens.

*          *          *

     “It’s like they worship the Lemec as god figures or something,” Captain Takahashi said over a dinner of synth-steak, frowning at the pale brown meal as he said it.

     “The Lemec are their benefactors, or something,” Brenna responded.  “Who knows what the Lemec have done to earn their respect.”

     “Maybe nothing,” Inessa said.  She pointed her fork at Takahashi.  “We analyzed the readings you took while you were on the planet.  The Tul seem to be genetically engineered.”

     “What?” Captain Takahashi asked, momentarily forgetting his dreadful meal.

     “Not only that,” Inessa continued, “But the technology has the same bio-chemical signatures as that of the Kulnar bio-engineering.”

     Captain Takahashi remembered how the Kulnar ability to levitate had impressed him so much when they were first on the Lemec homeworld.  Later, they learned that the various types of Kulnar were engineered for specific tasks; engineered by Kulnar scientists.  “Wait a minute.  You’re trying to tell me that those mind-reading dandelions were designed by the Kulnar?”

     Inessa shrugged.  “I don’t know if they were designed.  They may have been genetically manipulated along the way.  Who knows what their species was like before the Kulnar came along.”

     Captain Takahashi smiled.  “Then we need to enlist the Kulnar to help us save the Tul.”

     “What?” Quent blurted out, spitting synth-steak everywhere, much to everyone’s dismay.  “We can’t get involved.  What about the Earth?”

     Captain Takahashi sat back in his chair, distractedly scratching at his thickening beard that still barely covered his chin.  “You might be right, Quent, but why don’t we get the Kulnar to do it?  We don’t have to be directly involved.”

     Quent sighed.  “Captain, the Kulnar have almost the same reverence for the Lemec as the Tul.  What makes you think they’d go along with this?”

     “They intervened on our behalf, didn’t they?”

     Quent shook his head.  “Do we really know if they did that for us, or did they do it because they hoped to gain something from us, or from the Lemec, or maybe from both.”

     Takahashi frowned.  He really didn’t like where this was going.  “What does it matter?  They helped us when they really didn’t have much to gain or lose, and now the Lemec are willing to let some of these creatures die; creatures that the Kulnar helped create.  Surely they have some stake in this.”

     Quent stared at the captain, obviously unsure what to do next.  He just shrugged and began to eat again.  Captain Takahashi took his silence as acquiescence, but he could see Brenna watching Quent with concern.

     “Something has to be done,” Captain Takahashi said.  Quent just continued to eat.  Brenna’s lips grew thin as she stared at the two men.

*          *          *

     Captain Takahashi and Brenna sat quietly drinking brandy in his quarters, staring at the display wall.  The giant image of the Tul moon enveloped the entire screen.  It was a beautiful, and yet horrifying image.

     “Shiro,” Brenna said, using the Captain’s first name as she often did when they were alone.  The captain happily took note that she was using the name more and more every day.  “There might be trouble.”

     “Huh?”  He was too busy staring at her striking blue eyes to have heard what she said.

     “Quent doesn’t agree with you,” she said, “And I think Inessa has her doubts as well.”

     “So,” he responded, suddenly becoming Captain Takahashi again.  “It’s my ship.  I’ll do whatever I think is right.”

     She took a long drink, obviously pausing to compose her thoughts.  “Even if it’s wrong for Earth?” she finally asked.

     Captain Takahashi stared at her for several seconds, suddenly doubting her loyalties.  Of all the people in his crew, she had never had her doubts about him.  Many others had made it obvious that they doubted him after the fiasco on the Lemec homeworld, but not her.  “How can doing something humane be wrong for Earth?”

     “Shiro,” she said, taking his hand in hers.  The captain momentarily forgot the conversation, but only momentarily.  “Quent thinks the Lemec will do something against Earth if we interfere.”

     Takahashi shook his head.  “Don’t you see?  We can’t leave them to die,” he shouted, pulling his hand away from her, and trying not to glare at her at the same time.  “The Lemec just want to let these creatures die because they can’t save themselves.  How can that be right?  You saw the artwork those things made.  They have a very high artistic culture.  I think we’re obligated to help them.”

     He took a few minutes to let her think about what he’d said, but she didn’t say anything.  Finally, he decided to talk about what Quent had said.  “Do you think Quent’s right?”  He stood up and began to pace the floor, running his hand through his hair as he walked from one wall of his small quarters to the other.

     “No,” she answered slowly.  “I think we have to do something to help those creatures, but I don’t know if we want to go up against the Lemec.”

     Captain Takahashi stopped his pacing.  “Don’t tell me you’re beginning to worship them now too?”

     “No, but consider this…the Lemec run an empire that’s bigger than all of the space mankind has explored.  That has to say something.”

     Captain Takahashi nodded.  She was right, of course, but it still didn’t sit well with him.  He didn’t like the idea of leaving creatures to die just because they couldn’t help themselves.  That seemed so inhuman to him.  With a shake of his head, he realized that mankind had done that very thing to creatures on their own planet.  History was even replete with accounts of mankind doing that to others of their kind.  Humans didn’t have a right to judge another species after all they had done in their history, but given that history, didn’t mankind have justification for helping others avoid the mistakes they’d made?

     The captain shook his head again.  There were certainly no easy answers.  No matter what he decided it would be wrong, but it would also be right.  The only thing he was certain of was that he wasn’t going to get much sleep that night.

     With a sigh, he said good night to Brenna, and sat down to think even more about the decision he had to make, and he had to make the decision soon.  His scientists were telling him that the moon had already reached the Roche Limit and was undergoing huge tidal stresses.  Fractures were popping up all over the surface of the moon.  It was clear to all of them that the breakup could occur at any time.

     Maybe it’ll just form a ring around the planet, he thought to himself.  Even if it did, that wouldn’t give him the right to stand by and watch.  Something had to be done.

*          *          *

     As Takahashi strode on to the bridge, he found the crew sitting around telling jokes like they often did when duties were light.  Takahashi never begrudged them that, but something about it was bothering him this time.  Granted, the only real duties they had were making an occasional course correction made necessary by the strange gravitational interplay of the Tul planet and its soon to be dead moon.  Of course, the crew also had to watch for Lemec ships.  He, and the rest of the crew, had no doubts that the hard to understand aliens were bound to come back soon, and probably in large numbers.  Takahashi was actually surprised that they hadn’t returned already.

He pointed at Quent, “I want the Kulnar in one minute.”

     “Sir?” Quent asked as all eyes of the crew turned to stare at the captain.

     “Do you have a hearing problem, Mr. Regget?  I said, I want the Kulnar on ansible in one minute, forty-five seconds now.”

     “Are you going to try to enlist their help, sir?” Quent asked.

     The Captain shot a quick look to Brenna who shook her head slightly, obviously denying responsibility.  Captain Takahashi believed her denial.  She might question him, but she’d never do anything to hurt his command.  If he ordered the ship crashed, she’d pilot it down herself.  “Excuse me, Mr. Regget, but I believe that I’m the captain of this ship.  That means that I don’t have to explain my orders…unless of course you’re planning a mutiny?”

     “No, sir,” Quent said, casting his eyes away from the Captain’s stern gaze.  “It’s just…well, it’s just that the ansible is down.”

     “Down?  How?”

     “Uncertain, sir,” Quent said with none of his usually cockiness.  “I think it was some kind of electrical surge.  I should have it back up within two days.”

     Captain Takahashi glared at his communications officer.  He knew what kind of electrical surge had occurred, and he had no doubt that Quent actually had damaged the communication systems himself just to make sure there was no way of communicating.  It was the kind of stupidity he didn’t think anyone under his command would be capable of, but people always had a way of surprising him.

     “I see,” Captain Takahashi said.  Did his crew suddenly think he was an idiot?  There was no doubt in his mind that Quent had done something to the communications system.  Did they really think he wouldn’t be able to figure that out?  It didn’t matter.  He would do whatever it took to prove Quent’s guilt, and even if he couldn’t, he’d put him off the ship as soon as they reached Earth, assuming they survived the next few hours.  Captain’s prerogative for crew choice always took precedence over anything the military might try to force on him.

     Captain Takahashi stared at each of his officers on the bridge.  How many were in on this, he wondered.  Brenna, he trusted.  The rest of them weren’t above suspicion.  Inessa turned away from his gaze when he looked at her…obviously she was guilty as well.

     “I want you all to know that in the past I’ve been very proud of this crew,” Takahashi said.  “You’ve served me, this ship, and our planet with honor.  What I’m about to command, many of you might not like.  You are free to leave the bridge if you so choose, and I will make note of that in the ship’s log so that if there are any repercussions, you will not be held responsible.  But know this, anyone that leaves will not serve on this ship again.”

     He waited to see what kind of reaction he would get.  Many of them stared at him with anger, but he didn’t care.  Sometimes you have to do a thing because it’s right.  “We’re taking as many of the Tul off the planet as we can.  I can’t sit by and watch them die.”

     “What about the Lemec?” Quent asked.

     Captain Takahashi turned and glared at Quent.  “I didn’t say we were going to have a discussion, but since you ask, I don’t give a damn about the Lemec.  It’s wrong to allow a race to die off because they can’t help themselves.”

     “Isn’t that evolution?” Quent asked.

     “Like I said, we aren’t having a discussion.  If you have a problem, Mr. Regget, I suggest you leave the bridge and confine yourself to your quarters.  I won’t allow any more sabotage.”

     The accusation seemed to sting Quent quite severely.  He stood up and faced Captain Takahashi, tears brimming his eyes, and his lower lip even quivering slightly.  “Sir, rather than leaving of my own free will, I would ask that you discharge me from the bridge, and confine me to quarters.”

Takahashi was a bit stunned.  He’d expected more resistance from Quent, but somehow his communications officer actually seemed bothered by what he had done.  It shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise.  Quent had always been one of his best officers, but obviously even good officers could make career ending mistakes.  He gestured for an ensign to take Quent off the bridge.

     “Anyone else?” Captain Takahashi shouted, turning back to face the rest of his crew.

     No one moved.  “Inessa?”

     “I’m with you, Captain,” she said, taking a deep breath.  “I may have reservations about your commands, but you are my commanding officer.”

     “Good.  Brenna, set…”

     His words trailed off as the dark blackness of space suddenly began to shine with what looked like novae as hundreds of Lemec battle cruisers translated out of hyperspace to within one AU of the Astrid.  One ship quickly fired.

     “Evasive action,” he shouted.

     The crew of the Astrid did everything they could, but motion is slow in space, and the Astrid was hit amidships.  The reflective hull dispersed some of the energies, but far from all of them.  Sparks flew from consoles as fires danced across the bridge.  A stifled scream echoed off the walls for a second, but only a second; quickly damped out by pops, crashes, cracks, and other noises of a ship in serious trouble.

     Captain Takahashi pulled himself up from the deck, blood running down his face from several small cuts.  “Inessa, what else are they throwing at us?”  There was no answer.  “Inessa?”

     Still no answer.  “Brenna?”

     “No more incoming, sir,” she said, her voice edging on controlled panic.

     “Get us the hell out of here,” he shouted, hoping he could be heard over the death cries of his ship.

     The Astrid’s mighty ion engines fired as the hulking ship tried to escape through hundreds of battle cruisers.  Surprisingly, the Lemec let the ship through.

     “Inessa, damage report,” Captain Takahashi said, wiping at one of the small streams of blood flowing from his scalp.  “Iness…” He was again cut short as he saw his first officer’s body crushed under several steel beams and her own display console.  Blood ran out from below the twisted steel; more blood than any human body should be able to hold.  From all around him, he could hear the moans of his crew, but he couldn’t take his eyes off of the broken body of Inessa.  This wasn’t what he’d signed up for.  This wasn’t what any of them had signed up for, especially Inessa.  Captain Takahashi did everything he could to calm his stomach.  He’d killed his first officer.  He’d killed his friend.

*          *          *

     “There was nothing you could do,” Brenna said, placing her hand on Captain Takahashi’s arm as he stared down at the churning brown atmosphere of the Tul homeworld.  It had been a month and a half since their arrival.  The moon had broken up, with most of the debris falling into the atmosphere.  What was left in orbit would slowly fall to the surface over time.

     As the massive pieces of dead moon had fallen on the mind-readers below, the Lemec ships stood vigil, warning off any approach of the Astrid, and ignoring any calls from the ship.  Many of the crew glared at him whenever they saw him, but as always, Brenna stayed by his side.  “There should have been something I could have done.”  He couldn’t get rid of the image of Inessa’s broken body lying beneath twisted steel.  And the blood.  There had been so much blood.

     “They were prepared for death.  You saw that,” Brenna said.  “The Lemec may indeed be too powerful to resist.”

     “To hell with the Lemec,” he said, turning and walking away.

     “Where are you going?” she asked.

     “I’m going to get some sleep, and then we’re headed back to Earth.  I’m too tired to keep this up.”

     “But…”

     “I’m just tired,” he said, turning to face Brenna.  There was a slight glint in his eyes.  “I could never leave the service, but we are headed back to Earth.  Something has to be done about the Lemec.  I don’t know if we can ever hope to understand them, or any of these other aliens, but something has to be done.”

     “How do you think they knew what you were planning?” she asked, a grim look of concern crossing her face.

     “They’re the Lemec,” he said, a hint of a smile appearing on his lips.  “They know everything.”  With that, Captain Takahashi turned and left to get some sleep.  He’d spent the last few days watching an entire civilization die as their planet’s moon crashed down around them, but deep down, he was afraid it might not be the last civilization he would see destroyed.

     The Lemec weren’t going to chain humanity in, or destroy it.  Something would be done, and he was going to be the one to do it.

 

 

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