There was a meeting of wing com-manders with the division comman-der. On entering his office Alexander Arden discovered that the wing com-manders were scheduled to meet with their pilots at various times through the rest of the day.There were announcements first at the meeting.“The first announcement is that tomorrow the Lizbet will slow to sublight speed.All ships must be sec-ured inside and out for that eventu-ality.All personal quarters should be equally secured.Also notice the launch schedule, which will begin right after that. As for your meetings with your pilots today, I want you to take the time to discuss with your pilots various aspects of exploration and acting as our representatives to other races that I did not have the
time to go over. You were chosen as wing commanders because all of you have gone through that experience at least once.Bring up the things that you experienced as examples to your people of how you want them to behave,” the D.O. told them.
Alexander Arden was doing just that with his people an hour later. “First there are announcements,“ he said. “The Lizbet will go sublight to-morrow.That means that all things that might become projectiles must be secured, both in the scout ships that you will be flying and your personal quarters.If you notice the schedule, we are the second group scheduled to launch right after that.The next item is that I have been asked to tell you about some of the things that you may have to deal with as a representative of the Lizbet and of the human race.You may have to submit to many indignities, and I want you to accept them with good grace.”
“What sort of indignities do you mean?” Sgt. Kunta Wilson asked him.
“Up to and including a physical examination by members of the opposite sex of another species,” he answered. “And including tests of your intelligence by persons who do not believe that members of your race or sex could possibly be intel-ligent.” He continued to explain how he wanted them to react, with tact and patience.
In the General’s office, Ev and Marc were talking. “So tomorrow we will leave the space lanes,” Ev said.He was referring to the known and traveled corridors between the different planets.They were used by civilian and military traffic and had sub-space buoys for traffic control and communications.“Then when we get back it will all be changed again.”
“Isn’t it always,” Marc agreed with him.. In fact the space service updated information about where the space lanes were in a particular area of space monthly.Captains of space ships checked with them when they began their trips and regularly thereafter.But the Lizbet would send reports on their progress as regular-ly as she could, to the Space Service, not requests for updates on the space lanes for the next 5 years.The bits of information would take a very long time to arrive, each bit taking longer than the one before it did.The computer would collect the bits and, when it realized that it had the whole message, would regurgitate the message for the people at Space Service Central to understand.
Back in his meeting, Lt. Arden was discussing something else with his pilots. “Before you actually make contact with a civilization, you will be expected to evaluate their war like tendencies.This will begin by observing the same broadcasts which first gave us the indication that they might be ready for con-tact.We will be looking especially for video broadcasts that we can pick up and see. Look for pictures that appear to be recent of fighting. Battlefield broadcasts should be given priority.”All of the more ex-perienced officers were aware that the first coherent pictures were likely to be of war or of violent crimes happening.What they were looking for was the later ones that were easier to make coherent pictures of.The ones that arrived almost simultaneously with the sound were of the most interest. They wanted those to show little or no fighting.
Sgt Campbell asked, “What if we can’t pick-up video.”
“If we can’t that is a pretty strong indication that the Lizbet should not contact them. They are either not carbon based life forms or not ready for contact.” The Sgt nodded her head.She could understand that.
“If we do pick-up video and it shows what I have said,” Lt Arden contin-ued, “It demonstrates that they are too warlike for us to contact.” His pilots and crews all knew what that meant.People just had to overcome those warlike tendencies before they could make much progress in space.
Later that day, Alexander Arden was walking through one of the public access corridors, on his way to lunch in the O club, when he saw Arben Jones playing with a Laokan child. “Hi, Lieutenant,” he said.“I’d like you to meet a friend of mine.This is Tiress,” he said.
“Hello Tiress,” Lt. Arden said.
“Lt. Cress is his father,” Arben said.
“No Arben,” Alexander gently cor-rected him. “Lt. Cress is the mother. And Tiress is not the Lieutenant’s son, she is her daughter.”
“But they are the big guys,” Arben said, sounding confused.
“I know,” Alexander said. “But you must remember that among other species, it is sometimes the females who are the larger of the two. Pleased to meet you Tiress.I’ve heard a lot about you from your father, Lt. Eviss.”It was true.Eviss liked to talk about his children almost as much as he liked playing poker.
“Yes,” Tiress hissed. “Do you know him?”
“I do indeed,” Alexander said. “Well I have something to do, so I will leave you to your play.”
Arben seemed a bit down cast. “I thought you were a boy,” Alexander heard him say as he walked on.
“Does that mean that we can’t play that fascinating game of baseball?” she asked. She liked it because she was capable of much greater speeds because of the flexibleness of her body.If she did get a hit, it was almost always a home run.“No,” Alexander called back over his shoulder.“The reason you can’t do that is because they are counting everything and securing it against our going sublight tomorrow.”He walked on out of earshot of the children.
He checked the ships bulletin board and found that he had inspection duty in the morning. That is he was responsible for inspecting the quarters of his pilots as well as their ships to make sure that they were secured against the transition to come.That also meant that he would have to be up early in the morning to have his own things secured before then.He contacted Sgt. Jones.“I’m on inspection duty tomorrow,” he said.“Mind carrying the clipboard for me?”
“Not a bit,” Jones said. Again it wasn’t really a clipboard any more.It was a palm top with forms for all the areas that they would inspect and all the things that could possibly be wrong and what would need to be done to correct it and wither or not it had been done.They would do it in the uniform of the day.
At lunch, he observed that they were offering a special on steak that night. He called Cate.“What you doing tonight, beautiful?” he asked.
“What you got in mind, Mr.?” she asked, saying that mister in that sweet, but not too sweet way she had with a slight southern accent. He loved that so much.After all she had come from that area of the North American Union called North Carolina.
“Steak at the O club with me,” he suggested.
“Dancing afterwards?” she asked. He noticed that there would be a band playing.“Why not,” he said.
“Then it’s a deal,” she said. “1900?” he asked.“I’ll be hungry,” she said
That night he was as good as his word. He checked billeting and got her quarters number.He showed up there dressed in a sport coat and she wore a skirt and blouse.They did not have much for civilian clothes, usually one work outfit, one casual outfit and one more formal.They enjoyed their steaks and ran into Dr. McInnis there too.
“Having a nice dinner,” he asked.
“Yes,” Alexander said. “Looking forward to hearing the band too.”
“So am I,” the doctor said. “My boys are in it.”
When they began to play, Alexander recognized the two young Ensigns who had been in the O club the night he’d had dinner with his father and sister. “Those are your boys,” he said to the doctor.
“Yes,” he said. “Following in their father’s footsteps too. They’re Life Sciences .”The boys came over on their break and laughed about the fact that they had not recognized their some time boyhood friend, Alexander Arden. He didn’t mention that he had not recognized them either. There was some dancing too.Alexander was not gifted in that area, but he managed not to make a fool of himself either.Cate managed to make him look better then he was.
“So when do you launch?” she asked him. “Probably the same time you do,” he told her.“Do you have your target stars?” she asked.“Yes,” he said.“According to the star charts we have been given three systems right next to yours as the Lizbet flies.”
“So,” she said. “With a little luck we will see each other every few weeks at the worst.I like that idea.”
“So do I,” Alexander said. They talk-ed more about the ships, the crews, and the systems they were going to visit.“Just watch yourself around those beautiful alien females,” she teased.“I’m the jealous type.”
“Right back at you,” he said. But they both knew what the possibili-ties were likely to be.There was very little sexual interest between different races, even if they could work together or be friends.They were usually just too different from each other.In the Space Service they used to joke that butterflies and birds might be beautiful, but who wanted to mate with them.
They left the O club just about the time 2nd Lt. Clearwater and his date arrived.“Not too late a night,” Lt. Arden called over his shoulder.“We launch tomorrow.”The 2nd Lt. nod-ded that he had heard the advice.
Alexander walked Cate home. “Darling,” he told her.“It was so great to see you again.You look wonderful.”
“I can’t wait to do this again,” Cate said. “And you know I’m not refer -ring to the menu.”They heard snoring sounds coming from within and realized that Cate’s roommate was already there.“Who is it?” he asked.“Nurse Owens,” she said.“Not a very heavy sleeper.”They kissed a kiss that was satisfying to both of them, and yet somehow left them both wanting more.Cate closed her door with a lingering glance. Alexander headed to his quarters humming an old earth love song, “Red is the color of my true love’s hair, in the morning, when we rise,”
“Aren’t those words, ‘blonde is the color of my true love’s hair’?” Lt. John Ree said.
“Trust me,” Alexander said, “her hair is red.”
“Whose,” Ree asked as he climbed into his bunk.
“Lt. Catherine Carstairs,” Alexander Arden said.
“Sure is,” Ree commented, “She is assigned to my wing.”
“You assigned with her?” Alexander asked.
“No,” Ree said. “I have a Sergeant Ying and 2nd Lt. Ferguson.” Alexander stripped off his clothes, secured them, and was ready for bed in a few minutes.
“Well good night,” he said as he leapt into his bunk. In less than 5 minutes both men were asleep.Life was like that in the service.If you were not on duty you trained your-self to be asleep that fast in any sit-uation.If you were on duty, you trained yourself to stay awake in any situation.
The next morning, reveille woke the men. Then, one minute later the warning signal sounded.“Better secure everything for sublight,” Alexander told his roommate.“My father likes to be prompt. ”Everything was in drawers and closets and locked down before the men went to breakfast.Everyone was on time for breakfast too, since they knew that anyone who was late would go hungry.
Alexander began his inspection right after that. He was glad that he did not have to do the married quarters, only the bachelors quarters and the ships.As he knocked on one door after the other they knew that they had one minute to admit him or provide a reasonable reason why they could not.Most of the quarters were well secured since all the pilots had been through this since their cadet days at the academy.Then on to the ships, which were in the same condition.They were all locked down to their places in the hanger.Inside the ships, all equipment and sup-plies were in their proper stowage lockers, closets and drawers and locked down.Then the announce-ment came over the PA system, “Make all secure for shift to sublight. Col McInnis report to sickbay.All personal prepare for shift to sub-light. School begins at 1000 today only.”The next shift to light speed would not take place for some time. The Lizbet would not go to light speed without knowing what lay ahead of her.
At the school, Jamie thought she had her room all in order. Every-thing looked nicely put away.Then she checked out some of the other rooms.She helped some of the teachers put some of their equip-ment away for the change.Right on time the shuddering wrenching change from subspace and light speed to normal space and sublight speed came.
When he got to sickbay, Dr. McInnis found a couple of Laokans waiting for him. One of the orderlies was bring in an egg stasis cham-ber.“What happened,” he asked his chief nurse.“She was socializing,” the nurse informed him.“He says that he knew she was close to laying, and tried to get her to stay home, but she wouldn’t hear of it.”Her mate was actually bleeding, and his color was a worried shade of gray. Female Laokans could become very unpredictable when they were ready to lay their eggs.They also could not control when this would happen. Fortunately it was possible to freeze the eggs for almost any period of time up to 100 years.Then they could be defrosted and fertilized and would grow into a perfectly normal embryo.But she also had a wound that required treatment.Some of the scales on her back were missing, and that was serious.The scales did not always grow back, and when they did, they did not always protect the skin the way they had.That wound would possibly become a place where radiation could get past the natural defenses and affect the physical systems.Her mate was pos-sibly in the same condition because Laokans almost never bled unless this was the case.
The eggs started to emerge from the female’s body. They were encased in the clear ooze that made it possible to freeze the eggs without damaging them.They were not exactly frozen, but more in a suspended anima-tion.The eggs weighted as many as four or five pounds apiece and there were usually four of five of them.
“Well,” the doctor said when the fe-male had finished laying. “You are going to have a very uncomfortable shift back to sub-light.”He turned to one of the orderlies, “Strap her down so I can begin treating that wound. ”One orderly did that while the other one brought the things the doctor would need.The smaller male notic-ed the alarm and braced himself in his seat.The doctor and other sick bay personal strapped themselves to supports after making sure that their patients would be alright.
Right on time the jarring reversal of speed occurred. In various quarters where possessions had not been pro-perly secured, items could be heard hitting the floor.But, by enlarge, the ship and most of her equipment made it through.The female Laokan, who had thought that it would be fun to get drunk the night before, was hissing out her anger and in-dignity at Dr. McInnis, who was stoically ignoring her.
Jamie had had to grab on to a sup-port in another teachers room. When she returned to her own class-room, she could not believe the sight that met her eyes.She had put every-thing away so carefully, but she had forgotten to lock some of the draw-ers and cabinets.Now the drawers had come open and their contents were all over the floor.The same was true of the cabinets. She threw her hands to her face. The first thing class would have to help her do was get everything picked up.