The Voyage of the Lizbet

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Chapter 12

While the Grapevine was undergoing repair Lt. Arden got caught up with some of his paperwork too. He also skimmed the report filed by Lt. Carstairs that she had encountered a technologically advanced, peaceful people.But he didn’t expect to meet them quite the way he did.These people were space faring and had just gone beyond their own solar system.So General Arden invited them aboard the Lizbet .Alexander was looking at maintenance reports while walking down a passageway when he nearly ran into one of them.“Oh,” he said.The look on the face of the large male was just as surprised.Alexander noted that, in accordance with the report he appeared to be bald and had a tail attached to the back of his head.It was wagging back and forth.If it meant the same thing that it did in a Terran dog, it meant that he was undecided about something.“Hello,” he said.“I’m Lt. Arden.”

“Arden,” the male said. Then the computer translated the rest of what he said as, “that is the name of the commanding officer is it not?”

“Yes,” Alexander said, “He is my father.”

The alien looked a bit confused about that. Then he saw something that surprised him even more, a Laokan.“What is that?” he asked.

“One of our allies,” Lt. Arden answered. “They are with us in this venture.”

“If my people had met them first, we would have attacked you,” the alien said. “We just finished a war with them.”

“I believe we encountered that species,” the Laokan Lt. commented. “We decided that they are still to warlike to contact.”

“I’m glad,” the male said.

“Would you like me to show you back to the visitor’s area,” he asked. There were certain areas of the ship that they preferred visitors stay.That was because it was safer that way.It also considered families’ need for privacy.

“That would be helpful,” the male said.

“And what may I call you?” Lt. Arden asked as he indicated a direction for the being to go.

“You may call me Dretch,” the male answered. They walked quickly back to the area where General Arden was talking to others of the same species.On the way Alex -ander could see that Dretch had skin the consistency of sharkskin.Closer inspection also revealed that he had some body hair about the size and consistence of a human.There was a female standing facing the General and listening carefully to what he had to say.She also appeared to be bald and had a tail attached to her head.Alexander had noticed that, while they were on their way, Dretch’s tail had stopped moving from side to side and was now resting curled slightly to one side.“Our leader is worried about some -thing,” he whispered to Alexander as the General continued speaking.“More import -antly,” Dretch continued, “so is General Verke.”

“How do you know?” Alexander asked. Dretch looked at him strangely and then seemed to realize that Alexander had never come across these people before.“By their tails,” he said.“They are straight down, indicating concern.”

“Well,” Alexander said, trying to sound reassuring, “I can imagine that they are all a little concerned, meeting aliens from another world for the first time and all.”

“You have done this before?” Dretch asked.

“Yes,” Alexander said. “Many times.”

“Well,” the General said, noticing Alexander and Dretch standing there. He raised his voice a little and said, “Leader Kierm, you asked to meet some members of our families.Here’s your chance.This is my son, Alexander.”

Alexander realized that he was being introduced and stepped forward and salut -ed. The female turned toward him and bowed.“I see that he has met our pilot.”Alexander’s eyes looked towards Dretch while his head remained facing Leader Kierm.

“That is interesting,” the General said. “My son is also a pilot.”

“Then perhaps he will enjoy engaging in some piloting games with our pilots,” Leader Kierm suggested. Alexander was still standing at the attention required for a salute. His eyes shifted over to his father, but no other part of his body moved.“Oh,” I think he’d like that,” the General said.

“Very well,” the leader said. “We would like to invite others of your pilots to join us too.”

“I’ll make that offer to those who are aboard,” the General said.

“Are they not all here?” the leader asked.

“No,” the general said. “Others of them are exploring other systems where we believe that we will find intelligent life.”

“Will you contact them,” the leader asked.

“Perhaps,” the General said. Alexander could almost feel the tension.They were worried about something.“Alexander, you may go on about your duties,“ the General said.“Leader Kierm, would you like to see more of the mother ship?“

“I would,“ the Leader said.

They toured some more of the ship and then the general took them back to hangar 1, where their ship was. “It has been an interesting visit,” the leader said to the General.“And you have given us a lot to think about.I will put your offer to join your Stellar Alliance before our leaders.In the meantime, feel free to join with our pilots in their exercises.I do not know if we will be able to get back to you before it is time for you to leave, but we will try.”

In the meantime, when Alexander was released by his father, he went in search of his friend and partner, Jabin Jones. “Guess what,” he said to Jones, excited. “We’ve had an alien delegation on board.”

“I heard,” Jones said. “They had a tour of the public areas of the ship.”

“Well what you didn’t hear but probably will is that we have been invited to fly with some of their pilots in some sort of exercise.” That was exciting to Jones too.

“Do they know that we fly in two man teams?” he asked.

“I suspect that they do,” Arden told him. “Cate Carstairs contacted them.”

“Then this ought to be fun,” Jabin Jones commented.

The official invitation came the next day. General Arden announced it.“The Kusai people and The United Planet Government invites the pilots of the Lizbet to par -take in games of flying skill and prowess with the best of their pilots.All pilots who wish to partake with their crews and ships may contact Major Tse Wei Lee or Major Mrissass.It is requested that you do so by 1300 hours ship time so that we will be able to forward a personal manifest to the Kusai government within their stated time frame.”Before he was finished the comm. board was lit up with pilots and crews calling in, wanting to do it.The General looked over and saw this.He continued on, “Only the commander of each ship should call in.”The comm. board quieted down somewhat.

Lt. Arden was one of those who called in before his father completed his announcement. When he was finally connected to Col. McCoy he said.“Lt.Alexander Arden.I and my crew would like to compete.”

“Right,” the Colonel said. “And your ship is?”

“The Grapevine,” Lt. Arden answered.

“Alright,” the Commander said. “I’ll put you on the list.I’m afraid that not all our pilots will be able to go.But since you are a wing commander, you are pretty sure to get on the list.”

“Thank-you sir,” Alexander responded. He disconnected so that another pilot wound get a chance to be put on the list.

Shortly after 1300 the General made another announcement. “To the pilots and crews of the ships, thank-you for your response.We are sorry that not all ships and crews can go.Since all the pilots volunteered to represent us in this, it has been decided that only the wing commanders from each of the wings currently aboard and one other ship from their wings will go.The names of the ships and commanders will be posted on the ships bulletin board which you can access on your computers now.Good-luck to all our ships and their commanders and crews.

The ships and crews that were chosen went to the surface of the planet. They met with representatives of the Kusai.Leader Kierm was also there.There were also news crews there and reporters covering one of the most momentous events in their history.“The exercise that you will take part in is a sort of obstacle course,” she said.“It will start at dawn our time the day after to-morrow.In the meantime your crews will be our guests.Please feel free to enjoy our city.”

Alexander found Dretch. “My friend,” he said.“How would you like to show myself and my crew, Sergeant Jones here, around your city?”

“I’d like that,” Dretch said. “Come, I will introduce you to my partner.”He showed them the houses of government.“We cannot go inside as they are closed now.Congress is not in session.”He also showed them places where sporting events were held.“This is where we have Trye matches,” he said.“Do you have athletic contests.This event involves kicking and throwing a ball of about so-o in size.”Arden estimated that the ball would be about 18” in diameter.“You have to do it with skill and cunning to get it past the members of the other team and into the goal to score.”

“We have similar games on Earth,” Jones said.

“What is that building over there?” Alexander asked.

“Ohm I don’t know,” Dretch said. “It is something cultural, nothing important.”

“That is where you’re wrong,” Jabin said. “Cultural things are very important.”

“Yes,” Alexander said. “We have constantly to pay attention to things like culture and religious taboos.”

“Taboos?” Dretch asked. The computer had not provided a translation for that word/

“Yes,” Jabin explained. “Things that you must not do according to the beliefs of the people because it would damn them in the eyes of their God.”

“I don’t think my people have any of those anymore,” Dretch said.

“I’m glad,” Alexander said.

They met Dretch’s partner, a man by the name of Samsik. He was somewhat taken aback by the appearance of Alexander and Jabin, even though he had heard that they were there.He’d missed the news of their landing and the coverage of the meeting with the government officials.

“Well I believe the next thing to discuss is the rules for the race. The name of your ship along with the call letters and a description of it should be given to the race officials no later than the end of the day today,” Dretch told them.“When you do that they will give you a chart of the race course.Over the next two days you will be allowed to fly the course to familiarize yourself with it.Most of our pilots won’t bother since we know the course so well.But I suggest that you take advantage of that rule.”

“Thanks,” Alexander said. “We will.Where can we find the race officials.”

“I’ll take you to them,” Dretch said. They were on one of the space stations.When Alexander got there with Jabin Jones they were told.“Thank-you but your Lt. Gen. Marcus McCoy already has you registered in the race with several other ships from the ‘Lizbet ’.Your ship is listed as the Grapevine .”

“But what about a map for him,” Dretch asked.

“Here,” a man named Eshar handed it to him. Alexander found, again, that certain standards tended to prevail when it came to making star charts.He found that he could read the charts easily.He and Jabin went back to the Grapevine .

“Let’s take a tour of this course on our way back to the ship,” Lt. Arden suggested.

“Right with you, boss,” Jabin said. Alex smiled as he launched.

Reading the map was easy. The distance calculations were a little harder.“Grapevine to Lizbet,” Alex called.“Do you have the conversions on those distances.”“Grapevine,” a male communications officer called back.“We believe that their planet is about the same distance from their sun as Earth is from its primary.Therefore the distance listed as suns should be about equal to a Terran AU.”

“Thank-you Lizbet. We will proceed on that assumption.” Alex signed off.He moved in closer to one of their gas giants.The race started in orbit around Kusari’s only moon, called Mori. The course called for them to go between a planet that reminded him of Neptune, and its moons.Then it was back out and a wide arcing turn around another planet which reminded him of Saturn.Then through a small asteroid belt to what reminded him of the multishaded golden gas giant in the Laokan system.Then, according to the map, he was to execute a tight turn and head to-wards the inner planets.They had to make a fast pass between the inner most planet and their primary.“Hopefully before we get fried,” Jabin said.Then they were to cross the south pole of the next planet and the north pole of Kusairi.Then back to the beginning point of the race.

It was when they made that tight turn that they had their first sign of trouble. There was a strange sound in the cabin and a loss of power.Then the power kicked back in again and everything seemed to be all right.As they headed toward the primary, other ships in the race began to pass them.Alexander called for more speed.The ship did not respond.They were able to maintain power, but that was all.

They continued on past the primary. But it did get rather hot in the cabin.The ships systems tried to compensate, and that noise was heard again.Alexander used the steering rockets to change the ships position relative to the primary so that most of its heat was deflected.But there was no way he could protect them against the radiation that would surly take their lives if they stayed there too long.He called the Kusai members of the crew to the bridge.

“We appear to have experienced some very unusual problems with our ship,” Lt. Arden told them. “I believe that some of you might know what the problem is.I would like to know what happened.”

Dretch looked bad. His tail was hanging straight down, tucked tight against the back of his head and neck.“I don’t know how to tell you this,” he said to Alexander, “but it seems that my people tried to reverse engineer your ship.”

“Tried to do what?” Alexander asked.

“They tried to figure out how it works by taking it apart,” Dretch tried to explain.

“I understand that,” Alexander said.

“In fact we expected it,” Jabin Jones added. “But we would like to know specifically what they did.”

“I don’t know, “Dretch told him. “Eshar was actually the one who did it.”

“Eshar,” Alexander called to the man who was sitting at some distance on the ship. “Please come here.”This could be touchy.They had to know what he’d done to the ship so that they could fix it.If he felt threatened, which was quite possible, he might react violently.Eschar approached.

“Look,” Arden said. “We are not upset or angry that you tried to take our ship apart.If you’d asked, we would have answered all your questions and showed you what you wanted to know.But now we need to know what you did to the ship so that we can fix it.”

Eschar turned and tried to leave. Dretch stopped him.“They mean what they say,” he said.“They expected that we would try something like this.They are not angry about it.But now they cannot move us away from this radiation.So show them what you did and they can fix it and we all go home to our families.”That showed how well Dretch could read human emotions.In fact Arden and Jones were very angry.But they knew enough not to let it show too much.They had lost the race.Without this man’s cooperation they might not make it back to the ship.

“I only did it because I was under orders from my government to do so,” Eschar said.

“We understand,” Alexander said. “Now show us.”“We have to leave the ship,“ Eschar said.Jabin Jones took him to the air lock.They were quickly suited up and ready for their space walk.Eschar took him back to the external engine access port.“Open this,“ he said.“Our people were working in here.”Sgt. Jones quickly found the problem and repaired it.“So you prefer that tight is to the right?” Eschar asked.“Does it always have to happen that way?”

“No,” Jones told him. “It is just that most of our people are right handed, so it is easier that way.”He worked for a while, checking and tightening connections.All the time he was worried about the radiation.He got lubricant flowing to the parts that needed it.As they loosened up fuel began to flow again.The cooling systems began to work again.“The ship is powering up,” Lt Arden informed Sgt Jones.The Sergeant began to pull out of the area where he had been working.He made sure that all the connections were secure and that every part of the ship that should be receiving fluids received them and every part of the ship that should have power had it.“We are go to resume the race,” he said after a few minutes.“Confirmed,” Lt. Arden reported.“We are go to resume the race at the end of your EVA.”

As soon as Jones and Eschar were back in the ship, that was exactly what they did. They did not quite catch up to the position that they had been in before the mishap.But they managed to make a good showing.

After the race, back on the planet, Dretch and Alexander were walking across the square towards the cultural center. Dretch asked Alexander, “Why did you say that you expected the ship to be reverse engineered?”

“This not the first time it has happened on this voyage,” Alexander said. “In fact it is standard procedure to allow it.If you think about it we did the same thing with our bodies in submitting to your physical examinations.A wise man once told us, he was one of the first humans to make contact with an alien species, that it is better to show that you have no weapons then to say you have no weapons.And how better to do that then to let your mechanics go over our ships.In fact if they had asked, it would have gone much more efficiently as we would have helped them.”

As they neared the building a small party came out, a young man and some older men. “There,” Dretch said.“Do you see the younger male.That is leader Traxis.He is with some of his guards and Admiral Tharn.”You should meet them too.He quickly escorted his friend over and got their attention.

“I have been wanting to meet you,” Leader Traxis said. “I have heard what Leader Kierm said about you.She has reservations about the contact.But I hope we can learn much from you.”

“We are also looking forward to the contact,” Alexander said.

“He told me that cultural things are important to them,” Dretsch said. “That is why we decided to visit the museum today.We saw it in passing the other day.”

“Please enjoy it,” Leader Traxis said. “We’ve just been the-re and found it interesting to say the least.”They moved off.Alexander and Dretsch with Jabin Jones and Eschar went into the turned out to be dedicated to the dead of their most recent war.Its object was to make war repellent to the citizens of this world.“Well it is definitely a step in the right direction,” Alexander said.“Over 2 centuries we found that war always costs more then it is worth.”

They returned to the Lizbet. General Evander Arden gave these people a version of his pep talk.Keep up the good work in working towards peace with their own people, with their neighbors, and with civilized worlds in general and the Kusai too will reap the rewards of contact with the United Stellar Systems.They went back to their planet and went to work on their own space fleet.

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