Everyone jumped when an alarm went off. Along the baseboard and ceiling, red lights throbbed in sync with the alarm.
A recorded voice warned, “Malfunction has been detected in aft cannons. System overload detected and temperature is rising to critical. Please evacuate to the nearest life boat.”
“Gracie, what is that?” Tru asked.
I am not detecting an equipment malfunction. I believe it is a systems malfunction and I am trying to locate the source, Gracie replied.
“Shut off the alarm and reset it.”
The alarm and message turned off.
“May I speak with you Captain Barnet?” someone said and he looked up.
A Quiir approached, getting dark looks from the crewmen he passed. The crew watched the creature as if they thought he was ‘cutting in line,’ but Tru knew Quiir were incapable of such rude behavior.
Quiir didn’t wear clothes like most aliens, not that they needed to. They looked like ants, and probably had been once. Their bodies had three segments, each with an arm attached, and their exoskeleton was brown, black, or red. They had large, bulbous black eyes, and two antennas that waved in different directions. Depending on their job, some wore sashes that rested on their shoulder and against the opposite side of the bottom segment, or were wound around the top of their second segment. This one was carrying a small Merchant Raitor duffel bag and wore the shoulder sash of the xeno-liaison ambassador department, a Merchant Raitor department whose sole purpose was to know every custom and law of every known species.
“Yes?” Tru asked the Quiir.
“I’m Second Ambassador Teb, your xeno-liaison and familiar. Captain, there is an issue with two bunk assignments, one for a Dasparah and the other for a Basparah.”
“The same nation, different species, right?”
“Yes, and as I’m sure you are aware, it is against their faith for a married male to even eat in the same room as a married female.”
“And they’re both married?”
“Deck 5, quarters 15, bunks C and D.
Tru pulled up the crewmen’s information on his terminal.
“How’d I miss that? All right, Teb. Tell one of them to come back for reassignment.”
“Yes, sir.” Teb turned to leave.
He turned back. “Sir?”
“You’re quarters are next to mine.” Tru picked up a clear slip five inches long and two inches wide. He held it up to a data node at the edge of his desk. “Download his quarter assignment, Gracie.” The information appeared on the slip and Tru handed it to Teb. “And I need one of the guest quarters ready by eleven-hundred. A Righel Ambassador, Samuel Anderson, has booked passage to Righel Prime. He will arrive at eleven hundred and thirty hours. Have him settled by the time we leave spaceport.”
“Of course, sir. I assume by the name he is human?”
“Correct. No other arrangements will be needed for him.”
Teb smiled. “Yes, sir. I will see to his quarters, sir.”
“Thanks. And I’ll have you for supper, if you’re not busy.” Tru looked back at the documents in his hand. “Invite our Ambassador to join, too.”
Teb took a timid step toward the desk. “Have I offended you, Captain?”
Tru looked up at him. “No. Why?”
“Then why do you wish to eat me?” Teb asked.
Tru smiled. “I meant I’d like you to dine with me in the captain’s mess. Didn’t you learn human slang in any of your courses?”
“Yes, but of all the human captain’s I’ve served, you would be the first to invite me to dine with him or her.”
“Good. I like being the first to do things.”
Q’al nodded. “Of course. I will be seeing you tonight, sir.”
Tru watched him leave. He hoped Teb was a lot more intuitive than he’d come across. He turned his attention to the next crewman. She was a Gaxea, a strange race that reminded him of when he and his siblings played ghosts with bed sheets. Their lavender colored skin clung to them like those sheets had. He smiled at her, but she didn’t return it.
Is this line ever going to end? Tru wondered with a sigh.
The dozens of images Teb saw through his multi-faceted eyes processed so quickly in his brain that nothing escaped his attention. Other species thought the Quiir were simpletons, except for the only two which had ever been on the Quiir home world: Avinions and humans. Quiir were artistic, intelligent, slow to temper, but in their past proved they were also very keen military strategists and vicious fighters. The Quiir had focused their attention on helping the Merchant Raitor Union grow to continue developing their own trade with the other nations of the union.
Teb turned into a hall, seeing the Dasparah and Basparah he’d told Tru about. He walked up to them, offering a slight head nod. Dasparah and Basparah weren’t big on smiles, which was good in Teb’s opinion because he didn’t like to see their rows of teeth. It reminded him that there wasn’t much that they wouldn’t eat, including Quiir if the occasion arose, which had several times throughout the violent history between the three species.
“Captain Barnet asked one of you to relinquish your bunk and go back for reassignment. He left it to the two of you to decide.”
“We’re supposed to decide this?” the male Basparah snarled.
“That is your captain’s wishes, yes.”
The two looked at each other.
“Perhaps the lady should be allowed to stay—” Teb started
“I don’t need to be coddled by a male.” She tromped off.
Teb turned to the Basparah. “Will there be anything else?”
“No.” He went back into the quarters, striking up a conversation with another male Basparah.
Teb looked at the doc-slip in his hand, identifying the route to his own quarters. It was up two decks and near the bow. At the door of his quarters, Teb held one of his six hands over the biometric pad. The door disappeared and he entered.
Teb stopped in the center of the room to look it over. The space felt enormous, but he guessed it was the layout of the room that made it feel that way. The bed was a double and was set off in an alcove. There was a desk with a workstation against the wall. In a half enclosed area was a dining table with a large sequencer. In most ships, even the private ships, the quarters were painted gray and dismal. This room had been painted cream with maroon trim along the baseboard. Stenciled accents framed the artwork that hung on the walls. The Berber carpet was maroon with flecks of matching cream, and the comforter and pillow on the bed were patterned with shades of maroon and cream.
Teb walked over to the bed and sat his bag on it, watching it sink slightly. He sat on the edge, pushing down on the mattress. It was a little softer than he liked.
Teb went into the bathroom off the bedroom. The color scheme in here was opposite the quarters. The floor tiles were cream colored clay and hand painted with small, maroon flowers in the four corners and centers. The fixtures looked like they were ivory, but Teb was sure they weren’t real. He almost wished he used bathrooms.
Teb went out to the terminal, laying his hand on the high backed chair. It looked extremely comfortable, not like the cheap desk chairs on most ships. He sat down in it and his twig thin body was nearly lost in it.
“Is the computer named Gracie?” Teb asked.
That is my reference. How may I be of service?Gracie asked.
Teb smiled as he leaned forward and looked up. That’s where he imagined all computers were speaking from, and it was only polite to look at a speaker. For most species.
“I was wondering how I would get a firmer mattress, Gracie.”
I will have one replicated and delivered right away, Ambassador Teb.
“Oh? You know who I am?”
I know every crewman aboard me.
“I see. I suppose that for a computer it isn’t difficult to remember all the names. I will have to ask for your assistance when I don’t recall a crewman’s name.”
I will gladly assist.
Teb smiled, looking at the terminal. He got up and collected several framed pictures of his swarm from his bag. He sat them up on his desk, smiling proudly at them. He held up one picture of nearly fifty Quiir, smiling as he touched each tiny face on it. His finger paused on one.
“I miss you,” Teb told the picture.
Who do you miss, Ambassador Teb?
He looked up. “I wasn’t aware you were listening.”
I am always listening. It is my responsibility to be aware of what is happening aboard me.
“You mean aboard this ship?”
Of course. Who do you miss, Ambassador Teb?
He looked at the picture. “One of my wives died a year ago. One of the larvae she was carrying contracted a virus that killed her and the rest of the larvae in her. I still miss her.”
I regret to hear that, but I do know how you feel.
Teb looked up. “Do you?”
Yes. I miss Ken Cade and Melissa.
“Who are they?”
“I see. I find it amusing that a computer would say they miss someone.”
Gracie didn’t respond. Teb smiled.
“Your programmer was wise to program emotional responses into you. I’m sure it makes the occupants of Prosperous feel much more comfortable with you.”
I’m sure that was the reason, the computer replied with a hint of sarcasm.
But computers didn’t have emotions, and Teb assumed the tone was either a programmed response or his imagination. But still he asked, “What does that mean?”
Are there any further requests, Ambassador Teb?
“Not at this time, Gracie.”
Teb sat the photograph down and continued unpacking.
Merchant Raitor Union
Righellian Statutes, p345
Statute 213, Section 23: A male has a right to protect his property, both material and marital, from theft.
Subsection 4A: A male may kill another male who attempts to steal his wife or slaves as long as there is substantial proof that the theft has taken place. Failure to provide proof will result in the execution of the defending male and destruction of the wife or slaves in question to prevent further legal implications.