Space 2315, Peace… Chapter 7

“This is Lieutenant Commander Miyu speaking,” the pilot said over the comm from the forward compartment of the Fleet cutter that President Christina Crow and her Secret Service personnel rode as it settled into the cavernous fighter bay of HFSS Genesis in orbit Alpha Centauri A III. The trio of Air Force fast attack craft that escorted the cutter from the HFS Genghis Khan broke off as soon as the cutter was in the bay and winged away to resume their normal duties in orbit the planet below. “We’re on final approach to the station and will be docked momentarily. Please keep your safety restraints in place until we have finished docking.”

There was a soft whump! sound as the docking arms grasped the hull of the cutter and then a softer one followed a minute or two later as the personnel tube ran out from the fighter bay gallery to the cutter’s airlock. The flight engineer, a petty officer first class, came back from the forward compartment and checked the telltales and when he was satisfied, he nodded to President Crow and her people. Then he cracked the seal on the cutter’s airlock and stood aside, waiting for the president and her escorts.

Crow looked about as she unbuckled her seat harness and stood up. It didn’t matter how many times she rode one of these Space Force small craft, she still couldn’t get used to sitting in the uncomfortable seats that were provided aboard small craft like this. While a cutter’s seating was more comfortable than a Fleet pinnace or a Marine assault shuttle, or that Army VTOL she rode from New York to Quebec City, it still wasn’t anywhere near the comfort of a civilian craft. As president she’d likely never ride in a mere civilian liner until the day that she left office. She put her hands on her lower back, stretched, and winced as she felt several of her vertebrae bones pop.

“God,” she spoke out to no one in particular, “I hate those seats.”

Lisa Spencer, Crow’s Chief of Staff, winced as she too stood up and cracked her back. “You got that right.” She winced again as she stood back up.

Crow looked to her head secret service agent, Angela Silano, as she too stood up. “Navy small craft like this are just designed to get personnel to and from places in safety and security; comfort really does take a back seat to that. I suppose that Fleet or Marine personnel are just used to it.” She then looked down at herself and frowned as she noticed that her suit was just a tad wrinkled. She took hold of her uniform jacket and pulled down and brushed her hand down the front of her uniform pants. “Ma’am, while it’s customary–”

“Yes, Agent Silano, I know the drill,” Crow answered, raising a hand in apology for cutting her head agent off. “Normally the senior ranking person would be the first off the craft, but I’m hardly what anyone would call ‘normal,’” she said, raising both hands to put up air quotes when she said the word normal. “Let’s proceed,” she finished.

“Yes, madam president,” Agent Silano said as she looked over the rest of the president’s Secret Service personnel cramming the small interior of the Fleet cutter. Crow reached up with a hand and grabbed her briefcase from a small overhead compartment then proceeded to the lock. She waited until Agent Silano swam the tube first and then for another few seconds until Agent Silano double tapped her comm unit to let the other agents know that the president could come.

Crow swung out into the weightlessness of the personnel tube and thankful that she had chosen to wear pants instead of a skirt. Zero gee did interesting things with dresses and skirts, not that any of President Crow’s outfits were short enough to be an issue like that, but pants were just more manageable in those kinds of situations. When she touched down on the deck outside the tube from a comm built into the hull of the bay gallery a voice came, “Human Federation arriving!”

Bosun’s pipes trilled, the side party snapped to attention, Marines in unpowered armor slapped rifle butts in salute, and beyond them the representatives from the rest of the station’s officers and enlisted also came to attention. The president stepped up to the thin line on the deck outside the tube and asked, “Permission to come aboard?” while she returned the salute of the officer of the deck.

“Permission granted madam president,” Lieutenant Eugen Conner said as he stepped aside for the president then quickly went about dismissing the side party and the Marines and the rest of the station’s personnel drawn up to for the president’s arrival.

Stepping forward the president exchanged salutes with the admiral, the station’s captain, the station’s Marine commander, as well as the station’s Marine sergeant major and the command master chief petty officer.

“It’s an honor to meet you Madam President, I’m Admiral Amber Taylor,” the admiral said as soon as the exchange of salutes was finished. “I hope that your stay aboard Genesis is both comfortable and peaceful.” Amber thought that maybe the station’s name was pretentious but seeing as how the Human Federation’s politicians saw the station as a symbol of a new beginning of interstellar cooperation between the Human Federation and the United Kingdom of Zalta, the admiral could understand.

Crow nodded her head as she extended her hand forward to offer the admiral a handshake. Crow thought back to when she was reading Admiral Taylor’s personnel jacket and remembered that she had lost her arm in a previous battle, perhaps it was her left arm that she had lost. The admiral wore a pair of plain white gloves on both hands and when Crow grasped the other woman’s hand, she could feel that it was more solid than any flesh and blood appendage had any right to be. Hmmm…, the admiral has “automail” even though the most modern prosthetics have a more natural look and feel to them. I wonder why she’s chosen to keep the metal hand or arm, but I suppose that’s up to her.

“Madam President,” the admiral began before Crow stopped her.

“Please, call me Christina, Christina Crow,” the president said with a wave of a hand. “Enough with all this Madam President stuff, I’m more than just the title in front of my name; I’m a human being behind the title.”

The admiral nodded her head. “President,” she began but paused as Crow looked at her with a stern face, she then finished it with her name “Christina Crow.” Crow nodded her head as she thought, at least she dropped the ‘madam’ part and used my name. I guess I can forgive her. “I still have to put your title in front of your name, it’s only out of respect to you and the office that you hold.” Crow nodded her head. “I’d like you to meet the station’s captain, Captain Danielle Byrne.”

The captain stepped forward with her arm extended out. “President Crow, I’m honored to meet you.” Crow nodded her head. “I’d like you to meet my XO, my second in command, Commander Richard Smith.” The commander came forward as Crow nodded her head. “It’s an honor to meet you ma’am.”

The admiral continued with the assembled officers and enlisted men gathered there. She gestured to the Marine commander. “This is Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Garibaldi, commander of the station’s Marine battalion. I wouldn’t be able to keep peace on this station without him. With this crew being the first of its kind, namely a joint operation between us and the Zaltaen people, things have sometimes gotten a bit out of hand. It has, however, gotten much better as of late.” Garibaldi nodded his head and let a small, satisfied smile appear on his face before he was back to all business.

“What do you mean by that?” Crow asked. She had to wonder how the joined Human-Zaltaen crew was getting along. That was the reason why she made it a point to come here. She had to know for herself beyond just the simple reports that occasionally crossed her desk.

“Cultural differences, things like that. We had a few skirmishes when,” she looked up and around to indicate that it was the station that she was talking about, “this place first came online but like I said before, things have settled down very much so since then. Both crews have learned a lot over these past few weeks which has led to a much better understanding between our two peoples.” She quickly introduced the senior enlisted personnel for the Marines and Space Force before moving on.

“And now,” the admiral smiled, “for the last in our little ensemble but certainly not the least, the most important person in my command staff, my Zaltaen liaison officer Kaedya of House Lightwalker. Without her,” the admiral shook her head, “I have no idea how this space station would run properly with its joined crew. Getting crews, both human and Zaltaen, to work together as one cohesive crew has been quite a challenge and one that I have to admit it has been successful because of the work that I and Kaedya have been able to do.”

“Admiral,” Kaedya blushed, “you give me too much credit. A lot of the success of this command comes from you, the captain, the XO, and your senior enlisted personnel. I think between Master Chief Berghold and Sergeant Major Turner they have something like 60 Terran years of experience and have seen just about everything there is to be seen.” Both senior enlisted men nodded their agreement.

Kaedya extended her hand to President Crow. “It’s an honor to meet you, you really did do your homework when you chose the admiral for this place. You couldn’t have chosen a better person to be the admiral for this station.”

“I take it that those skirmishes that the admiral was speaking about a few moments ago was largely taken care of because of the captain and her XO.”

“That would be correct,” Taylor answered. “I asked BuPers for Captain Byrne because of her extensive prior experience with Zaltaens. And since I was taking over what amounts to overall command of the military’s orbital infrastructure in the star system, BuPers was all too willing to let me choose my staff officers and enlisted. Captain Byrne was the captain of one of our ships where there were a number of Zaltaens serving aboard. I’ve no idea how that happened, but her experience with integrating as many as fifteen Zaltaens into a human crew went a long way to making her one of my top choices for my command staff here on Genesis.”

“As for my XO,” the captain began, “Commander Smith’s personnel jacket had indications that he and his wife were able to form a close personal friendship with a Zaltaen that stayed within the bounds of professionalism and Fleet discipline. I met the Zaltaen that they know, Triara of House Moonbeam, and she had nothing but praise for him. He’s one of the few officers in the Fleet that had the level of Zaltaen experience needed for a station such as this. As you can imagine,” she looked to the admiral and then back to the president, “there’s not a lot of people in the Fleet that can say they have enough experience working with Zaltaens. Sure, most officers and enlisted can learn to work alongside a Zaltaen crew, but any prior experience is ultimately better.”

“Yes,” the admiral spoke up, “it’s one thing to know a Zaltaen or two, it’s completely different to know how they think and how they act.” She paused. “While I won’t say that he knows them that well, and to be honest… who does? He’s one of the more qualified people in the Space Force.”

“I have to admit that Commander Smith’s input has been very much useful in getting this crew to perform as one crew,” Captain Byrne spoke up as Commander Smith nodded his head. “Those skirmishes that we talked of earlier were largely solved because of input from him and others like him. Their shared experience has been invaluable to the success of this command and to this station.”

“I see,” Crow rubbed her chin in thought. She had to wonder if there were going to be enough people in the Space Force that were qualified enough to run a station such as this. Back when she was interviewing admirals for the station, she insisted that the admiral had to be one of the most open-minded people in the service. Admiral Amber Taylor was one of a handful of people that she considered for the position.

As much as the president hated the idea that this station was a political appointment rather than one based purely upon merit, there was the real requirement that those serving here had to be open to working with aliens. Unfortunately, that did come with a political element to it. She could see how some segments of the media and society could use that as a club against her administration to try and say that only those seen as “reliable” to her and her government would be appointed to roles such as those on this station.

It was beside the fact that nothing could be further from the truth, but that wouldn’t stop them. There’d always be the conspiracy theorist out there that would suggest it, despite evidence to the contrary. According to those same conspiracy theorists, while there were officers and enlisted on the station that didn’t vote for or even like President Crow, that’s just because her government had to appear to have impartiality, or that the people serving aboard the station were secretly President Crow supporters. That would certainly be two of the claims, among others, behind those theorists. President Crow could already see the headache coming but knew there was nothing she or her administration could do to stop it.

Kaedya spoke up. “If I may add,” the admiral nodded her head. “In a lot of ways, we Zaltaens… as humans put it, screwed up by the numbers. We’re still paying for that mistake.”

“Your queen has expressed much the same sentiments to me in closed discussions with her,” Crow responded. “Although, none of you heard that from me.”

“Heard what ma’am?” the assembled officers and enlisted all said within a second or two of each other. All of them were doing their best to appear like they were looking elsewhere or didn’t actually hear her speak those words.

“Exactly,” the president said with a conspiratorial smile and a small chuckle went around the group.

“Anyways,” the admiral spoke up again, “my flag lieutenant, Lieutenant Campanelli,” she looked to the lieutenant and then back to President Crow. “Lieutenant Campanelli will be your main point of contact for you and your escorts. I’ve also arranged for a Marine escort for you throughout the station as well as two armed Marine sentries to be posted outside your stateroom at all times. If you need anything, day or night, the lieutenant or other naval and Marine personnel be there for you and your presidential company.”

“Thank you for the extra security ma’am,” Agent Silano said before the president could try and say it wasn’t necessary. The president shot her a short, dirty look which Silano ignored. Silano knew the president chafed under having the armed forces around her at all times, but even if she objected, which she almost certainly was going to do, Silano and Lieutenant Colonel Garabaldi would’ve overruled the president or would’ve arranged so that no matter where the president went it would just so happen that at least two Marines would’ve been there as well.

“Thank you,” Crow smiled at the admiral, giving no indication that she thought anything other than gratitude for the extra security.

“Anyways,” the admiral began. “I hate to cut this meeting short, but we’ve more pressing matters to attend to, President Crow. The station doesn’t run itself.” She nodded her head. “In the meantime, I’ll leave you in the capable hands of Lieutenant Campanelli. If there’s anything you need, Lieutenant Campanelli will see to it.”

“Before you leave,” Crow said before the three were able to turn about and leave, “I’d like to extend an official invitation to have dinner with me.” Crow could see that as she had said that there was a bit of shock that passed over the faces of the three officers, but they let the shock pass just as quickly as it appeared. “Obviously since you three know this station better than I do, I’ll open the floor for suggestions as to where we might be able to go.”

“There is the Saffron Nights in Purple Sector, level two,” Commander Smith suggested.

“Commander Smith,” the captain paused as she glanced at him, “if I recall correctly that restaurant is rather expensive.” She paused as she put her hand to her chest and gulped. “Like, really expensive! The cheapest thing on the menu is over thirty credits.” She put her finger up for add emphasis. “For a salad.” She waved her flat hand in front of her. “And not even a fancy cobb salad either.”

“Ma’am, we could always have this in my stateroom,” the admiral suggested. “My steward and his staff are more than capable of preparing us a meal that would meet your expectations.”

President Crow waved that aside with a dismissive hand. “If you’re worried about the cost, I’ve a sort of presidential general fund that I can use for situations like this. You know, to wine and dine my guests. As for why I’d rather have you all there, I want to get a general feel of the station. I can’t do that if every meal I take is in your stateroom admiral. No offense to your steward, but I’d like to go out every now and again. It’s rare that I get to do that. Agent Silano here,” she glanced at her, “makes it very hard for me to play hooky.” Agent Silano rolled her eyes. “I know that I’m the guest aboard this station, but I insist that you join me tonight as my guests at table.”

“All of us ma’am?” the admiral asked.

“Yes,” Crow nodded her head. When the admiral gave her a questioning look, Crow spoke up again. “I must insist that all of you join me. I want to know what’s really going on here. I’ve learned some time ago that what goes into reports isn’t always the whole story. I suspect that’s the case here too. I want to know what doesn’t get into the nice, sanitized reports that cross my desk. So, with that said, I must also insist that you leave your uniforms behind.” Commander Smith pressed his lips together as he thought about having to wear the dress uniform again. “That includes the dress uniform,” Crow shook her head, “don’t wear that. I don’t want to see that. There’s time enough for the official pomp and circumstance later, but for now… I just want to sit at table without all the fancy uniforms and braid.”

Crow looked at their expressions and then asked with a small smile on her face. “Why do you seem so shocked?”

“I don’t know,” the admiral spoke after finding her voice. “I didn’t expect that kind of behavior from you, I’ve seen you on the holovids and…”

Crow cut her off. “First off, that’s President Crow. Christina Crow is a much more laid back and far more personable than what’s shown in the holovids. I let a little of that show during my election campaign and I’ve a feeling that that’s why most of the citizens voted for me. I am, after all, not your typical politician. In fact, I don’t think of myself as a politician.”

“I see,” the admiral slowly nodded her head while thinking that she may have very well-judged Christina Crow wrongly in her past and that she let her cynicism make her think that all that Christina Crow was doing was trying to buy votes just like every other politician did in the past.

The admiral was a moderate Conservative voter, though wasn’t a religious conservative nor was she one who thought of herself as better than everyone else. She’d voted for Michael Compton in the last election and was almost certain that President Crow knew that. And yet, here she was in charge of this station. “President Crow,” she finally said after a moment or two. “We’ll join you at table.”

“Admiral,” Captain Byrne spoke up. “I believe that the Queen of Zalta is due in tomorrow morning. She, like President Crow here, wanted to see the fruits of this station as well.”

“Excellent!” Christina exclaimed. “Then I guess we’ll hold off dinner until tomorrow night.” All seven of them there felt a wave of relief wash over them, that gave them time to get some kind of outfit together to wear to said dinner party. “If the Queen is coming here, I want her with the ten of us as well.”

“We’ll be there,” the admiral said. “But as I said before, we need to attend to our duties.” She turned to Lieutenant Campanelli. “Please take care of the president and all her needs.”

“Yes ma’am,” the lieutenant responded before the senior officers walked off.

As the other officers and enlisted walked away and got well outside of earshot of the president, the admiral looked at her officers and asked about what they had in mind to wear. Captain Byrne shrugged her shoulders, her plan was to wear her dress uniform, but that plan had been shot out the airlock. The admiral was thinking about wearing that too but like the captain, her plan was shot out the same airlock.

“It’s things like this that make me regret rising up through the ranks,” Richard said. “Life was so much easier when I was just some nameless lieutenant commander.”

The looks the admiral and the captain gave him told him that if he didn’t watch his mouth, he could be that lieutenant commander again; and likely with a black mark in his fitness report that would never go away and he’d never promote past lieutenant commander again, even if he stayed in until he died of old age. Smith gulped and muttered, “Forget I said anything.”

“I’ve no clue what I’m going to wear,” the admiral said with a sigh. “All I have are professional business-style suits that makes me look more like a businesswoman or a politician than a woman who wants to spend a night on the town. All of my really fancy garb is back home with my husband on Alpha Centauri.”

Captain Byrne spoke up. “All I really have is some backless evening dress that I have from a number of years ago for some class reunion.”

“Why don’t you wear that?” the admiral asked.

“Do you really think it would be appropriate?” the captain asked as she looked around at her fellow officers. “I want to look professional, not like some young adult at a college formal which that dress would essentially make me look like.”

“Don’t look at me!” Richard exclaimed as the group came to a halt. “When it comes to female fashion, I’ve no earthly idea. Hell, up until about two years ago I didn’t even have a girlfriend.” Byrne gave him a quizzical look.

“What?” he asked. “I poured everything I had into my career. My life was the Space Force for a good long while until Rachel showed up and showed me other things.”

“So, Rachel was the one…”

“Yes,” Richard nodded his head, interrupting his admiral and hoping that she’d forgive him for it. “She chose me. God only knows why she chose me. Hell, she proposed to me.” He slumped his shoulders a bit. “If you could’ve seen me when Rachel and I hit it off, you would’ve thought that I was socially inept. When it came to dealing with the opposite gender, I didn’t know what I was doing. Up until her, from the first days at the academy, I put all my effort into my career. I was practically married to the job before she came along. Knowing that it’s rather easy to understand how certain social cues and knowhow goes by the wayside. So yes, please don’t ask me about fashion.”

He paused for a moment; an idea suddenly popped into his head. “Didn’t a clothing shop open up in Purple sector, level five? I can’t remember the name of the place, but I do know that they’re running some kind of grand opening shindig where you can get half off.”

“Great idea there Richard!”

“As you know, this station is nearly twenty kilometers long, and continuously growing as we add new sections onto it,” Campanelli said as she pressed a button to summon a lift. “When the Zaltaens designed this place, they pulled out all the stops.” Just as she said that the lift arrived. “The station will continue to grow in a semi-organic method much like any space station grows. Most space stations, with the exception of the space colonies and the orbital forts or platforms, tend to turn out to look nothing like what the original planners intended.”

Now, this shuttle is part of a system that we, that is, us humans… call the rocket shuttles. Most people just call them a lift, like they do on any number of stations or ships in space, but you’re going to notice really quickly that these are not mere ‘lifts.’” The president looked to her questioningly while wondering just what she meant. “These lift cars were designed using the latest Zaltaen-built inertial compensators. They’re far more efficient, smaller and use less power than a human-built one, except maybe for Midas-built ones if the reports of their compensator outputs are to be believed. That was before they extorted the Zaltaen database out of them no less. Zaltaen tech is better than ours, it’s just that simple.”

“Whatever do you mean?” Crow pressed for more. She had to wonder just how far ahead the Zaltaens were in terms of technology. Sure, she read the reports, but most of the stuff outlined in those reports flew over her head with lightyears to spare.

“This train travels at about ninety-six kilometers per hour1 and not only that but it accelerates you to that within two or three seconds not unlike a high-performance race car.”

“The Zaltaens think we’re overdoing it on the safety protocols, no offense,” she said with a quick glance at Kaedya Lightwalker. The Zaltaen woman held up her left hand, palm out, in a very human gesture and said, “None taken.”

Campanelli then stepped onto the shuttle as she held her hand out for her president. “I’ve been on these shuttles more time than I can count. They’re perfectly safe.” She smiled to try and reassure the president and her secret service detail. “I take one of these shuttles twice a day, sometimes even more, as my duties aboard this station takes me just about everywhere on it. Even into the Zaltaen section of the station.”

“Alright,” Crow said as she nervously took Campanelli’s hand. “I’ll have to take your word on that.” The president and her secret service detail boarded the shuttle and Campanelli spoke out. “Computer,” the system chirped, “take us to blue section, sector one.” The computer chirped twice to indicate that the system acknowledged the request. Crow could have sworn that she felt… something, but that something faded just as fast as she began to feel it.

“The shuttle has arrived in blue section, sector one,” the computer said first in English, then in a completely alien language. Crow could have sworn that some of the words sounded like Zaltaen since she had been around Zaltaens before, specifically her liaison officer to her presidential cabinet; Reladris of the House of Skywind.

“Was that Zaltaen?” Crow asked Campanelli and her secret service detail stepped off the shuttle. The secret service detail did a quick look around and they gave her a nod to say that it was safe to step off the shuttle. They did it automatically despite the armed Marines around them. The secret service personnel knew that the Marines were sweeping each section before they got there, but they weren’t about to let their guards down. The secret service might notice something that the Marines hadn’t.

Campanelli nodded her head. “Yes, that was Zaltaen, at least one of the four dialects of the Zaltaen language.” She paused as Crow came closer to her. “We don’t have much more to walk, your suite should be coming up on the left.” She again nodded her head as the group began walking first through a security foyer manned by two Marines in unpowered armor, each of them sitting at virtual displays showing activity in the entire section, as well as keeping watch over the automated defenses built into the corridor, to include one of those rather impressive 9-mm quad-barrel, link-less feed autocannons usually found outside the bridges of warships. Once out of the security foyer they found themselves in a rather nicely carpeted corridor, not at all like the corridors that they were walking down before getting on the train.

“I take it that this section is for important people,” Crow asked as she looked about. She then looked about and found another virtual display on the wall where there was English and what had to be Zaltaen displayed on it. There were options for other languages to be used, to include: French, German, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Modern Standard Arabic, Russian, and Spanish. It wasn’t at all like any of the computer systems that she was used to working with. No purely human computer had such virtual displays as this one or the ones the Marines in the security foyer were using. Human-built computers still used keyboards or touchscreens, in that sense computer technology really hadn’t changed since Terra’s 21st century.

“Yes,” Campanelli said as she continued to walk. “This section is only for VIPs, like you for instance, and those of senior military ranks,” she said as she quickly looked back at her president with a smile and then looked forward as she continued to walk forward. “Not too much farther.”

“And here we are,” Campanelli said as she came to a door flanked by four power armored Marines. The Marines snapped to attention and slapped their rifle butts in salute. The admiral and President Crow returned the salutes before the lead Marine, a sergeant, turned and tapped a virtual button to open the door. “This is your stateroom where you’ll be staying aboard this station. It’s furnished as lavishly as we possibly could being as far from Terra as we are. I hope that you find it accommodating.”

Crow’s secret service detail walked into the room and began looking all around the room and scanned every single last centimeter of the room for any possible threats to the president’s life. This despite the fact that surely the Marines had swept it long before they got there. If anything could get past the active and passive defenses in the corridor, the Marines in the security foyer, and the four outside, she knew there was little that her secret service personnel could do. Crow heard someone from inside shout the word “clear” and then she walked in.

As Crow walked in, she noticed right away that the room was beyond anything she could have imagined being on a space station. Granted it wasn’t as large as her stateroom was in the Presidential Palace, but it made what she was set up in on her journey here on Space Force One from Terra look positively small. “As you can imagine, space is at a premium aboard this station. Even for being as large as this station is, space isn’t exactly something that we have a lot of. Although we do try and afford people of higher rank more room and also to those who have families living onboard.”

“Families?”

“Oh yes,” Campanelli nodded. “We have several families living aboard along with personnel that work in the private and public sectors.”

Crow gasped as she began to walk around the room. “This is going to be more than enough! I couldn’t imagine a place like this aboard a station such as this.”

“So, you find this acceptable?” Campanelli asked as she came the rest of the way into the room.

“Oh God yes!” Crow said as she continued to walk around the room.

“We’ve set up your secret service detail to stay in one of the adjacent rooms for your security,” Angela nodded her head. “This particular state room is for only the most important of VIPs. There are two bedrooms in this suite. I imagine that Angela would want to stay in this suite just in case.” Again, Angela nodded her head. “As for Lisa Spencer, your Chief of Staff, she’s been set up in a suite across the hall, just so the Marine sentries don’t have to worry about guarding two separate suites separated from each other.”

“I see,” Crow said as she continued to walk around the main room of the suite.

“If there’s nothing else,” Crow looked to Campanelli from across the room. She was already settling into one of the many reclining chairs that were in the room. “I’ll be taking my leave now.” She was about to walk out of the door when she remembered something. “I almost forgot,” she said as she turned around. “The admiral and the captain have scheduled you an official tour of this place tomorrow morning at 0900 Terran Standard Time.”

“Thank you for your assistance Lieutenant.” Crow said she made herself comfortable. “You’re dismissed.”

“Thank you, President Crow, it has been an honor to serve you today.” The lieutenant snapped to attention, performed a nearly flawless about face and strode from the suite.

The next day, Commander Smith was in the station’s combat information center adjacent to the station’s bridge going over several reports that many of the junior officers had brought to him. He looked up and watched as two humans walked by while they were talking with a Zaltaen chief petty officer. He couldn’t help but to smile as he watched them walk by for that kind of interaction that they had been working to cultivate for weeks but it wasn’t always as successful as many of them had hoped it would be.

Though many humans and Zaltaens had learned to work with each other, there was still the sense that nobody really trusted each other. It was one thing to work together, it was another for one to think about socializing outside of work. Most Zaltaens didn’t at all visit the human side of the station or even socialize with humans, very few Zaltaens chose to do so.

“Commander,” the Zaltaen came up to him, bringing herself to attention as she did. He turned and took the datapad that the chief petty officer was holding out to him. He paused to read it and looked back up to her. “Thank you Chief Summermoon, please inform the admiral that I will attend the Queen’s arrival.” She nodded her head. “You’re dismissed.” She saluted and walked away.

Meanwhile in his head Richard was practically screaming. He couldn’t believe that he was going to be meeting the Queen of Zalta, Queen Raina the Fourth of the House of Greenfeather. That and the fact that Rachel would be so jealous of him. Him, a mere commander from a working-class family from one of the space colonies of Alpha Centauri was going to meet the head of state from an alien star kingdom! He’d have to find some way to let his parents know!

He must’ve been inside his head longer than he thought for he heard someone say “Commander?” As he looked up, he realized that he knew the Zaltaen personally. “Triara?” he asked, dropping the normal military courtesy what was a part of the military life. She may have been his friend and though he knew her on a personal level, he still had to call her by her name and rank, at least in official situations. “Lieutenant Commander Moonbeam?” he asked, correcting himself.

“Yes, Commander Smith,” Triara smiled and nodded as she extended her hand to him.

Richard smiled and took hold of her hand and shook it. “How have you been all this time, lieutenant commander, since the last time that we talked?” He paused as he looked her over. He had to fight every impulse to stand up and embrace her in a hug, but the CIC wasn’t the place for that kind of interaction. “The last time I checked, you were assigned to… What was it?” he paused. “Wait, don’t tell me… Tau Ceti where my wife is.” He watched another Zaltaen glance their way.

“Yes,” Triara nodded her head. “I was assigned there by the Space Force to work on getting the new Zaltaen-based defense systems operational in the Tau Ceti system.”

“And now?”

“I’ve been assigned to Fleet Command here on the station.” Meanwhile Richard’s eyebrow raised slightly. He knew that Fleet Command was one of many major commands that had been moved from the Sol System as part of the Department of Defense’s decentralization efforts in order to disperse the major commands throughout at least the Core and Inner Colonies. The rationale was that the Department of Defense didn’t want all of the commands centered on Terra or Mars or Luna just in case something like the Inauguration Day Attack or an invasion of the Sol System occurred. Yes, it did slow down communications between the various commands, but not that much slower than it had been when it’d all been centralized. Under the old way directives and orders still had to go out from Sol System at the speed of subspace comms.

Richard was aware that one of the major commands was setting up shop on the station, but he wasn’t read in on what that command was, nor did he want to know. A major command like Fleet Command could be stood up on the station, there was more than enough infrastructure and room to do so and they were still building out the space station. Triara telling him that she was assigned to Fleet Command here didn’t necessarily confirm or deny that Fleet Command was actually moving to the station. She could be part of a Fleet Command annex that was either aboard the station or dirtside on the planet.

He may have had a top-secret clearance, but there were accesses that he didn’t have and he didn’t have a need-to-know. Need-to-know didn’t recognize rank or position. He still remembered hearing about a petty officer second class from the intelligence section aboard his last ship telling a senior chief petty officer that the man couldn’t enter the section. The SCPO had merely raised his eyebrow a little before stopping and requesting that the petty officer bring out the section’s NCOIC for whatever needed to be discussed.

“My official job is to help draw up plans on retrofitting Zaltaen technologies into human-made ships and space stations,” Triara stated. “As you can imagine, there’s going to be some difficulty fully integrating human and Zaltaen technology. We were able to nearly seamlessly do it with this station since we were building it from the keel out with our integrated technologies in mind. In essence it works so well here because the station was built to work that way.”

Richard nodded his head, he remembered how it was strange that someone knew so much about how their ships worked with such accuracy. Even some of the best engineers had to reference tech manuals every now and again.

“Fully integrating Zaltaen shields and weapons into human warships won’t be as easy as a simple refit. Even if it were, it’ll still take twelve to eighteen standard months, minimum. And before you ask, no, it’s not just the Human Federation. It’s also the Union of Free Stars as well as Sirius.”

Richard’s eyebrow rose a bit when he didn’t hear a name mentioned. With a slight chuckle he asked, “What about Midas?”

“What about Midas?” Triara asked a little hotly. She may have not been back to her home world in nearly fifty years but she still had a few contacts that kept her somewhat informed.

Consider that nerve touched, Richard thought to himself. Shaking the irreverent thought from his head he pressed on, “They’re a power in Human Space too, whether or not your star kingdom likes them or not.”

“Midas has…,” Triara paused, “More or less made it clear that they don’t need our official help. They’re going to do whatever it is that they intend with or without official assistance from my star kingdom. And considering what they were able to do for my people on a genetic level, I don’t see how they can’t.”

“Don’t your people owe them then?”

“You’re talking quid pro quo?” Triara asked. When Richard nodded, she went on. “Normally you’d be right. Alliance partners would share technologies freely. They help us, we help them. That’s the usual diplomatic way of doing things. But Midas has all but made themselves into a stench in the nostrils of our people. They blackmailed us essentially. Do what we demand or we’ll destroy whatever help we can offer the Zaltaens. In some ways I’m surprised that the queen hasn’t cut off diplomatic ties completely. She won’t press for war against Midas, nobody wants that, but the queen could make her displeasure known by every diplomatic means short of war.”

She paused once more before she went on again, almost as if she didn’t want to admit this next part. “And there’s the fact that we can’t afford a war against Midas. Sure, they only have two major star systems and an outpost, but a campaign against them would require an entire fleet and associated ground forces. At this time, we can’t afford to commit to such a campaign.”

Having gotten a lot more about interstellar politics than he wanted, Richard brought the discussion back to the earlier topic. “We were talking about adding everything from Zaltaen-based weaponry to Zaltaen shields.”

Intelligence reports that were filtering through the Fleet were indicating that the Vonosh were gearing up for… something. Something big. If the reports that the Zaltaens were getting were accurate, then the Vonosh were ramping up warship production to a level unseen before in their war against the Zaltaens. Whether they would have the crews necessary to man those ships was no small question, but still, the buildup worried many in the upper echelons of the human and Zaltaen governments. Having access to Zaltaen technology would go a long way to helping humanity in any future conflict against the Vonosh.

It could mean that the Vonosh were preparing to open a second front against humanity, which would put them into a two-front war (and conventional wisdom said that that was a bad idea. But this was the Vonosh, so conventional wisdom might not apply as it would in the human sense), or they were preparing for a big push against the Zaltaens, perhaps to knock them back far enough that they could open a second front against humanity without the worry of a fully capable Zaltaen Space Navy. Either outcome would be bad for everyone involved.

New Zaltaen-based construction methods based on nano construction were boosting the efforts by a huge amount. That very same construction technology was a major contributing factor to just how fast the station had been built. An entire space station built in less than a year, and not only that but a station the size of which humanity could only dream of building in said amount of time. But even with Zaltaen help, the numbers were coming up short. So far, they were at slightly more than halfway to the goal that Fleet Command had set in terms of Fleet readiness. The Human Federation would have to commit more resources toward the Fleet, and already there were budgetary and manpower concerns in Congress about whether that could be done at all.

When the Union of Free Stars left the Human Federation, they took a little over half of the trained manpower that the Human Federation had counted on with them. As if that hadn’t been bad enough all by itself, the two major human powers had spent the better part of a standard year destroying warships, freighters, fleet auxiliaries, commercial shipping, and untold amounts of orbital, deep space, and planetary infrastructure. And that was only the material cost, never mind the losses of trained sailors and marines. None of that was going to rebuild itself and everything was becoming a priority. And unfortunately, what often happened was that when everything was a priority, nothing was a priority.

He’d also heard that the Union was running into much the same problems too. While they’d suffered less in terms of material losses they’d started out with a much smaller industrial base. It was part of the reason why the then ACF fleet had spent a lot of time capturing HF warships and civilian shipping intact. What they could capture wasn’t something that they’d have to spend time building. With a few weeks or months in drydock to install new operating systems and repair any battle damage those captured ships were safely theirs. But that still didn’t make up for their smaller industrial base. They were having to devote even more of their smaller resource base to building out their industrial base than the Human Federation did.

Richard looked around the rather expansive CIC. It was much bigger than most space stations’ CIC or command decks, but that kind of reflected Zaltaen construction mindsets. It wasn’t that they favored form over function, but rather found a way to blend the two together almost seamlessly. Which was odd for a people that had been at war for as long as they had. Conventional wisdom, there was those words again, typically said that if conflict went that long then designs would become rushed, utilitarian, favoring function over form.

Triara spoke up again, saying. “Installing our shields and weapons on human ships won’t be easy as simply saying ‘shove this piece of hardware in an existing ship and call it a day’. Oh no,” she shook her head, “I’ve been studying ship design schematics for the last three months trying to figure out a way to facilitate the addition of shield generators and swapping weapons into existing ship designs and as you can imagine, it’s not all been an easy thing to do.”

Richard thought about that for a few moments. “I can’t see how that would be possible unless of course you want to take out other equipment.”

“On almost every human-built warship that’s the problem we’re running into. Warships tend to be built to use every square centimeter as efficiently as possible. In almost every case your ships don’t have the room; not unless we’re willing to take out other vital systems. And I don’t foresee your BuShips willing to sacrifice an energy mount or missile launcher or something else to add on the required shield emitters.”

“Why do I sense an ‘also’ coming?”

“That’s because you’re right. On a lot of the really old ships out there it simply can’t be done.”

Richard was about to ask why until it dawned on him. “Not enough power, right?”

“Yes. Some of the older ships lack powerful enough fusion reactors. That and most of the time ships are built to use only so much power and their outputs are designed to meet that. Adding in a series of shield generators will almost certainly cost too much in the way of power on most existing ships. Your BuShips is will almost certainly have to design and build whole new ships from the keel out with respect to the weapons and shield technology we’re giving humanity. We’d like to see your ships armed with our particle beam projectors, antimatter torpedoes and your positron cannons.”

“Those things? Here I thought that Zaltaen beam weapons were superior to anything human-built.”

“Not so in all cases,” Triara said with a very human shrug of her shoulders. “We’re actually thinking of applying that technology to our own ships. Your positron cannons are powerful enough to pierce Vonosh shields all on their own, but the power requirements for them are hideous. That’s why so few of them are aboard your warships, and then only on the newest battlecruisers and larger. If we got your BuShips to build your ships with Zaltaen-designed fusion reactors, you might start to see positron cannons on ships as small as heavy cruisers. But again, that would take a completely new class of warship to be built, one that’s likely larger than any current design.”

“So why are you here?” he asked.

“We’re about to start prototyping the refits in the next month or so seeing as how this system has rather extensive shipyards.”

“But why not Mars? They have the Olympus Mons Shipyards there, as well as the greatest number of factories in all of Human Space.” Mars did indeed have the largest and most numerous factories in all Human Space. Since the Human Federation didn’t have much to worry about in terms of Mars’s environment they’d built huge manufacturing facilities on the planet alongside the domed cities, taking advantage of the planet’s lower gravity field. The factories sprawled across the surface of the planet, pouring great amounts of pollutants into the planet’s thin atmosphere.

On most planets that would be frowned upon very much, but Mars was a special case. The planet was cold, dry, and nearly airless. With the added greenhouse gases, combined with orbital mirrors, humanity would, in time warm the surface of the planet. When that was done, humanity could begin terraforming the world into a world much like Terra. Genetically altered flora would be introduced into the planet’s environment that would thrive off of the high amounts of greenhouse gases and convert the atmosphere into something breathable by humans. It was a process that was expected to take centuries. During that time, the technology to restart or simulate a magnetic field would have to be built to protect the planet’s atmosphere from solar winds. Even after the terraformation any structures built on the world would have to be built with gravity plating in order for the people to live under a one gee environment.

Meanwhile though, the populace of Mars lived in near idyllic conditions under their environmental domes. The vast amounts of wealth produced by the factories has led to one of the highest standards of living in all of the Sol System, rivaling–and in some cases surpassing–that of some of the oldest cities on Terra. About the only thing that gave people pause was that they were living in a completely artificial environment and that outside of the domes the planet was turning into a toxic hellscape.

Martians, like anyone born and raised in completely artificial environments like space stations and space colonies, oftentimes had trouble adjusting to planetary life. When one grew up in a world like that, with no natural horizon to speak of, the first time one saw one it was oftentimes overwhelming. It was less so for someone from a space colony because at least the inside of a space colony had something like a horizon (not a true horizon though), but when you were used to looking “up” and seeing more of the interior of the colony, to then replace that with infinite sky, it was still overwhelming.

“The Solarian shipyards are busy retooling to eventually build the new warships that are coming off the design boards in however long it’ll take to design them.”

“I see,” he nodded his head. “We need all the ships that we can bring to the fight if the Vonosh are as bad as your people say that they are. We’re behind the curve and falling ever further back day by day if the reports I’m seeing are true.”

“Exactly!” she paused slightly, gathering her thoughts. “Granted, it’s not going to be anywhere as efficient as a ship built with Zaltaen-based tech, but at this point we need to do all that we can. At least it’ll give those ships a fighting chance against the Vonosh. Though the refits are expected to take several months.”

“I understand. Thank you for coming to see me Lieutenant Commander Moonbeam.”

“Uh,” she smiled as she looked to her shoulders. “Commander Smith, I’m not a lieutenant commander anymore.”

Richard took a moment to look at Moonbeam’s uniform, for the first time seeing the commander’s insignia on the lapels of her khaki service uniform shirt. “Well then, I guess congratulations are in order.”

“Likewise, Commander Smith.” She took a moment to look around the CIC. “It definitely looks like you’ve got your hands full here Commander. If there’s anyone in the Fleet that can make a crew like this work, you’re definitely high up on that list.”

“It’s nothing I can’t handle.” Just as he said that a Zaltaen petty officer walked up to him. “Commander?” she asked. “I have that report you asked for yesterday,” Richard held out his hand for the datapad. “The Reactor Control Team was able to figure out where the glitch was,” she explained.

“Thank you, Chief Lightbreeze. That will be all.” With that the chief petty officer walked away.

“Glitch?” Triara asked.

“Oh, nothing,” he said as he handed the same datapad to her. “Power output from Reactor One dropped by ten percent yesterday, the Reactor Control Team was able to figure it out and fix it.”

Triara shook her head as she handed the datapad back to Richard. “It was bound to happen, mixing human and Zaltaen tech was bound to cause some issues. That’s one of the many reasons why I’ve been assigned here.” She looked at her chronometer on her wrist and then looked back to him. “Anyways, I’ve got to get going commander. I’m needed in my section. I just wanted to stop by and say hello while I was here.”

“I’m glad you had a chance commander.”

“Likewise,” Triara turned on her heel and walked off. Inside his head he still heard her voice. “Perhaps later we can get together and maybe have dinner. I’d like to hear more of your experience here. You know, catch up on things since the last time we really talked.” She smiled. Richard simply nodded his head. She scanned his mind and with that she heard him think. “It won’t be today; I have to greet the Queen of Zalta and have dinner with President Crow. I’ll let you know when I have the time.”

She didn’t miss a stride as she continued out of the CIC. There were just some things she didn’t want to voice aloud and that’s where her telepathic skills came in handy. Normally she’d need line-of-sight to scan or talk to a person in such a manner, but seeing as how Richard was just behind her, it wasn’t too difficult for her to maintain the link. When the door closed behind her it cut off.

Later that evening Richard was standing in front of his closet in his stateroom trying to figure out what to wear to such an elaborate dinner event with not only the President of the Human Federation but also with the Queen of Zalta herself. Never in his life did he think that he would be mingling with some of the most important people in the known galaxy so he knew that he had to look good for just such an event. His initial plan was to wear the dress uniform by the president insisted not to.

He continued to rummage through his closet when he found a rather nice-looking suit. He thought back to when he bought the suit, Rachel had insisted that he buy it. He remembered her telling him that a man should always have a suit in his closet. He tried to say that if he were to be invited to any fancy events, he’d wear his dress uniform. She only gave him a look that told him how wrong he was. He hadn’t needed more than that look to drive him to the local suit store. He knew he shouldn’t buy off-the-rack, but he couldn’t afford a bespoke suit, not on a recently promoted commander’s pay. Even so, the man at the store managed to find him a decent suit, pants, shirt, tie, and Oxford shoes. When Richard inquired about the shoes the man had simply said, “Trust me, you want Oxfords with a suit.”

“Rachel,” he said to no one for his suite was empty except for himself, “I’m so glad that I listened to you. You have no idea how right you were!” Though he still wished for what had to be the hundredth or so time that she was here. Yes, the suit looked fine, but Rachel would have a way to make it look better. Not only that, but he wanted her to be with him or him with her. Shaking his head, he promptly pulled the suit out and sat down on his bed to get dressed.

It didn’t take long for him to get dressed and as he was about to exit his stateroom, he heard the door chime. The door opened to reveal the captain standing there. “Richard, I was… hmm…,” she said as she looked him up and down. “You can clean up rather nicely. I approve. It’s good that officers can do so properly.”

He could feel his cheeks redden as she had said that about him. “You know that I’m married, right?”

“I didn’t mean anything like that. Besides, a woman can complement a man without being attracted to him.” She continued to look him over. “Where’d you get the suit?”

“Rachel, my wife, insisted that I buy the suit. I can’t remember where. It was somewhere between the different assignments before I came here. At the time I thought it was unneeded but here I am thanking her for her suggestion.”

“It sounds like she knows what she’s talking about.” The captain reached up and brushed something off his shoulder.

“What was that about ma’am?”

“You had some weird white thread or something on your shoulder. Anyways,” she looked down at herself. “What you think?” she asked as she held her arms up in the air.

“I thought you said that you had nothing like what you’re wearing right now.” Richard recalled her saying that she didn’t have anything to wear when he made that gaffe in the hallway about it being easier when he was simply a lieutenant commander. She may have asked what he thought about her outfit but he knew better than to answer that question, it could open him up for any number of disciplinary related issues according to the regs. Better to say nothing for even a ‘no comment’ reply could be misconstrued or twisted to mean something else.

“Thanks for the suggestion on that store. They had everything I needed. They even offered to have the suit tailored for me when they recognized me as the captain.”

“I thought we weren’t supposed to take gifts such as that. It goes against the ethics codes we’re supposed to follow. People get a little put out when I refuse even a drink offer, though I’ve run into times where my tab has been mysteriously paid. I can’t prove who did it. But I guess since a private citizen did it as opposed to the restaurant or pub, it’s okay.”

“People know I’m the captain. There’s no getting around it. They did it at no cost. When I insisted that I pay for the expedited service, the manager just waved it aside and wouldn’t hear of it. All she said was that she got it and that was that.”

“Why are you here ma’am?” he asked to change the subject.

“The admiral said you were late,” she said with a hint of accusation in her voice.

Richard looked to his chronometer on his wrist and his face reddened slightly. It was already 1800 hours; he was supposed to be down at the restaurant by 1750. Oh shit, he said to himself. “I’m… I’m sorry,” he said apologetically. “I guess it took me longer to get ready than I thought. I wanted to make sure that I was properly attired for whatever this is. I didn’t want to offend the Queen of Zalta or the president by appearing to be underdressed.”

“I’m not the one you need to apologize to commander,” Danielle said as she whisked away some hair from in front of her face.

“We must be going.” She was about to turn away when something came to her mind. “Your tie isn’t straight,” he looked down as he tried to straighten it. “Here,” the captain said, reaching out, “let me fix it for you.” He nervously nodded his head as she straightened his tie. He was potentially in enough trouble as it was without showing up with a crooked tie!

“Better,” she said when she was done. “Now, let’s get a move on.”

“Ah,” the admiral said as she looked the captain over. “Nice suit!” The admiral was stunned. “I have to admit that your suit looks really good on you, much better,” she then looked down at herself and frowned, “it looks much better than what I have.”

“Thank you,” Danielle nodded her head confidently. “Richard here,” she darted her eyes back to Richard, “gave me the idea to go to that store. If it weren’t for his suggestion, I’d have no idea what I would’ve worn to this dinner party.” She turned and smiled in his direction, it made him even more nervous than he always was. “That suit you’re wearing isn’t that bad, just a little conservative by today’s standards.”

“A woman can’t go wrong with conservative dress.” The admiral frowned as she noticed that Danielle was wearing a short miniskirt, though the captain did have the good sense to wear a miniskirt that at least came down to mid-thigh along with nylons. She put her hand down and winced as she felt the weight that would ordinarily not be a problem. It was then that she wondered why the prosthetic arm was hurting her more than normal. Maybe she shouldn’t have cancelled that doctor’s appointment last week.

“If I may ask,” Danielle pointed to the admiral’s right arm, “why do you wear gloves all the time?”

“An injury during the war,” she rubbed her arm, “I damn near lost my whole arm that day. All I have left is a little bit below my right elbow.” She winced as the artificial arm gave her a shot of pain from where it connected to her. “I wear the gloves to, I won’t say to hide the metal hand, but some people are still more than a little uncomfortable with seeing a metal hand where there should be a natural one. With as long as there have been prosthetics like these you’d think people would be used to it by now,” she said with a small sigh and a shake of her head, “but I guess old feelings don’t go away. I just don’t want to have it shoved in some peoples’ faces that I lost a part of myself.”

“I figured something happened to you, but I didn’t want to pry into your personal life. My apologies for asking even that much ma’am.” She paused for a moment as the admiral waved away any concerns about it. “You know that they have new prosthetics that look and feel more natural. Hell, you have access to Zaltaen doctors now with all of their wonderful new tech. I heard they have some new fancy tech that can regrow limbs like magic.”

“Yes, I know,” she replied. “Up until recently I’ve always thought that it was functional and that’s all I cared about but recently this thing has been hurting me more so than normal.”

“Why is that?” Danielle asked as she saw the admiral wince.

“I’ve no idea,” she rubbed her arm right above the remaining part of her natural arm. “Normally people who receive this thing are monitored and have to go in for monthly checkups to make sure everything is settled properly. But seeing as how I have a space station and surrounding fleet to run, I’ve not had the time to do so. I’m a very busy woman.”

“True.” Danielle sympathized with the admiral. She had heard of others in the service that received one of those metal contraptions. A vast majority of people who had received them didn’t have any issues at all, but like everything in life, there were the single digit percentage of people who had some kind of problem with it be it mild discomfort to straight up nagging pain all the time.

“Give me a moment, I’ll be back,” the admiral said as she walked off and pulled something from her suit jacket and pressed it against her arm. Instantly the pain that she was feeling melted away to nothing more than a dull ache that still was annoying but it was better than feeling like she was being repeatedly stabbed in the arm.

As she came back the admiral said with a grin. “I guess I’ll have to go in for maintenance after all or finally have my arm regrown with some of that Zaltaen tech.” She then looked Richard over. “Nice suit there Richard.”

“Thank you, ad,” he paused for half a second, “I mean Amber.”

“Don’t mind him, he’s likely not used to being with superior officers such as admirals in social settings.” Danielle looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “After all, it’s not often that recently promoted commanders meet the kind of people that are going to join us shortly.” Richard couldn’t help but nod in agreement.

“I see,” Amber nodded Richard’s way, “come to think about it, I’m like you. I hate these kinds of things. If I didn’t have to be here for this thing, I’d have skipped it altogether. But when your commander-in-chief requests your presence your only answer better be, ‘yes ma’am.’”

“So why did you look at me when I made that mistake in the hallway?”

“Because though we may not like it sometimes, we do have to attend to these kinds of things. Especially when you’re asked to.”

She’d just finished saying that when the group looked up to see President Crow approach with two Zaltaens (as well as a small host of armed security personnel and Marines in power armor) that were both dressed in something remarkably like Japanese kimonos. “Alright,” the admiral gestured to her subordinates, “the guests of honor have arrived. Start behaving yourselves.”

Richard’s eyes widened as he turned around and took in the sight of Queen Raina the Fourth of House Greenfeather. Though he’d seen her when she came aboard, this time she was looking as if she was indeed royalty and not just wearing something that he had to figure was the clothes she wore when traveling.

That bit of pomp and circumstance had put the president’s arrival to shame. Like the president, the queen had arrived with her own security personnel and a few members of the royal court and a playing of the Queen’s March over the gallery’s loudspeakers. He’d been in charge of the personnel formally welcoming the queen to the station as the senior-ranking member of the side party. The officer of the deck at the time would likely have stories to tell about how they’d been the first to welcome the queen aboard. The captain and the admiral had attended, as was expected, but it’d fallen to Richard to arrange everything at the fighter bay gallery. By the small nods of approval from his military superiors, as well as the president, he’d done right by them.

The queen was now dressed in a very ornately decorated robe with deep shades of purples and greens along with gold weaving, jewels, and other such decorative objects that Richard could only imagine was very expensive. He wouldn’t be surprised if the robe didn’t have its own built-in active and passive defenses either.

Amber stepped forward first to greet the Queen of Zalta. “Queen Raina of Zalta,” she then extended her hand forward and took hold of her hand gently, careful as always to control how much strength she put into the grip on her metal hand. She then heard a voice in her head, I’m not made of cut glass. My hand isn’t that delicate admiral. After all, I come from what your people call a heavy gravity world. I’m stronger than I look. “On behalf of myself and,” she looked back at her command staff, “you honor us with your presence this evening. I hope that this evening is as successful as this station has been.”

Later after the meal concluded Raina looked at everyone at the table. Earlier in the evening she’d wisely raised the mental walls she used to shield herself telepathically. It wasn’t that any of the humans here meant to, but to a sensitive telepath like herself the presence of so many people could be overwhelming. Zaltaen minds tended to be more ordered, more disciplined than their human counterparts. She’d little experience with human minds, unlike the telepaths that have been among humans for years. And even though the people present with her didn’t intend to, many of them were ‘thinking on the top of their mental lungs’ as it were. Instead, what she’d done was built up the walls so as to let her focus on one or two people at a time.

“After all that I’ve heard from everyone at this table, I’d like to extend to all of you here a great thanks for all that you’ve done on this station. To tell you the truth,” the queen paused as she looked down at the table in embarrassment, “many in the royal court thought that a station such as this wouldn’t be successful. That we would be, as humans put it, throwing good money after bad.” Amber nodded her head indicating that the queen was right in how she said that phrase. “Nearly everyone thought that this station would fail and most importantly that the idea of a joint crew was foolish and that it wouldn’t work.”

The queen looked up. “I’m happy to say that they were wrong.”

“A lot of that came about because of the command staff that I’ve been able to assemble here on this station,” Amber spoke up. “From the very beginning of when this station came online, we worked to instill the idea that we have to work together. Our very future depends upon it. As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy. Still, a lot of humans look at Zaltaens with a certain amount of distrust. Surely you understand why. We still have problems come up every so often.”

To be perfectly blunt,” the admiral went on, “it was completely expected that humans would look to your people with distrust. You practically pulled the rug out from under us and expected us to forgive you. It’s going to take more than four hundred years to evolve a better human.”

“I know,” Raina shook her head in embarrassment. “My mother tried to put an end to how we were hiding among you but I, like my mother before me, ran into bureaucratic red tape mainly from Parliament. I knew that the Zaltaen Parliament stood in my way of many changes that I saw needed to be done for both you humans and the good of my own people. Hence why I dissolved it and formed a new Parliament. Please understand that if it were up to me, I wouldn’t have at all signed off on such a scenario; we would’ve been far more upfront with your people. We would’ve never come to your planet in disguise if it had been up to me. But it wasn’t up to me. Many of the past kings and queens wanted to continue with the policy of silent observance, even after your people developed faster-than-light capability. We understand that among your people’s popular culture that that’s a technological milestone that you imagine would be used to predicate alien contact. That’s not the case here, seeing as how many of our people still deemed humanity as ‘unready’ for formal contact.”

“That may be so,” Amber sighed, she knew that the queen was trying her best to do right by the humans but trusting them, really trusting them, wasn’t going to come about just because someone told humans that they didn’t intend to do wrong by them. The damage was already done, all that could be done now was try and close the chasm that had formed between them and only time and understanding could do that. “Unfortunately, apologizing isn’t going to magically fix things and I’m sure that you know this. Not everyone has been able to find common ground to form real bonds of friendships with a member of your people like Commander Smith has been able to. I suppose that Commander Smith is a bit of a special situation and one that we really all could learn from.”

“What do you mean?” Raina asked as she looked to him. “Just what kind of bond or friendship have you been able to form? How long have you had this kind of bond?”

Suddenly Richard felt like all eyes at the table were on him, he pulled at his collar and gulped. Up until then he’d found himself quietly conversing quite a bit with Master Chief Berghold and Sergeant Major Turner over station affairs. They’d pretty much turned this into a working dinner up until now when he’d been directly addressed. Being the second lowest ranking commissioned officer at table he’d been quite content to let his superiors and the Marine commander (he actually outranked Lieutenant Colonel Garabaldi by two months’ time-in-grade. But since he was the station’s Marine commander his position trumped Richard’s at the table) talk amongst themselves without any input from him.

He nervously looked to the rest of the party when suddenly he heard a voice inside his head much like the same way he often heard Triara speak inside his head. It was a voice of reassurance from none other than the queen. “Don’t worry, just say what you mean; nobody’ll think different of you.”

“Alright,” he thought to himself as started to speak. “Let me see if I can explain this. It started almost two years ago so forgive me, I don’t remember all of the minute details.” Everyone at the table nodded in understanding. “I was stationed on a ship known as the HFS Valiant and at the time I only knew this Zaltaen as Hoshi. That was the human name she used before the decree came out for your people to stop using their optical camouflage. My then girlfriend, Rachel, and I got to know Hoshi rather well. The three of us had been in a few of the early battles of the war.

“When I was later posted to the HFS Izumi after the HFS Valiant was sent to the breakers, much to my surprise, I found myself posted on the same ship as Rachel and the person I knew as Hoshi. How that happened, I have no earthly idea.” He chuckled, not wanting to tell these people that Rachel had hacked the systems at BuPers to make it happen. “When the day came that all Zaltaens revealed who they really were to all of humanity, I was absolutely stunned, as I imagine nearly all of humanity was. I was about to walk out of my room aboard the HFS Izumi to begin my shift when I was confronted with this… absolutely beautiful alien woman.”

Raina blushed as he said that. She’d often heard that many human males found Zaltaen women to be beautiful beyond any kind of words. Many of her people surmised that it was simply because they looked so different than humans did and that they were just fascinated with the exotic unknown. Because of said interest many Zaltaen females were told to be careful around human males; probably just as much as human females were told to as well.

“I asked her who she was, she told me that I once knew her as Hoshi and that her real name was Triara of the House of Moonbeam. I’ll skip ahead a few months now. If I didn’t, I’d be going too far off into the weeds and I doubt you want to hear much more about the war.”

Unknown to Richard the Queen’s eyebrow raised. She thought about the name Moonbeam and tried to recall where she’d heard that name before. The House of Moonbeam had a seat on the Royal Court and that Triara was a daughter of that house and that she had been cast out of the house for some reason but she didn’t know why. The exactly reasoning for Triara’s disownment weren’t widely known and the queen didn’t keep up with all of the intrigue and subtle plots that the royal houses often partook in. She often wondered where she went because she was such a nice girl and she had hoped that she didn’t kill herself like some who’d been cast out of their respective houses for one reason or another. Most of those cast out usually went into the armed forces in order to find a new home. It looked like Triara had done just that.

Whatever caused Triara to be cast out of the house, the queen honestly thought that she didn’t deserve such treatment. She, herself, thought casting out a member of a house just because they disagreed with something was a barbaric thing of the past and needed to be done away with along with so many other societal reforms that she was working to push through for her people but were being stopped at every turn by the House of Lords. That lot was a very conservative bunch, no matter what political party they were affiliated with, and tended to like to maintain the status quo for the royal houses.

“So, when the war ended between the then ACF and us, the three of us were nearly inseparable. Whenever we had spare time, there the three of us were together. Anyways, when we all got our leave when the war ended Triara brought up the idea that the three of us go to Zalta 4-B. It was then that both Rachel and I got to know Triara better as she took us both on a whirlwind tour of the planet and all the wonders that Zalta 4-B had to offer. It was on Zalta 4-B that Rachel and I got married in the Human consulate with Triara serving as our Best Woman to witness the marriage.” He paused and while he thought his cheeks turned red. “As for myself, I’ve grown to love her.”

Both Amber and Danielle looked to Richard as their eyes opened wide. “Whoa!” Danielle said.

“Oh no,” Richard laughed, “it’s not like that at all! It’s not a… romantic love as you probably think. It’s more like the kind of love that one sibling has for another. You see, I’m an only child so I look to Triara as the sister that I never had. She may not be my blood sister and she may not even be the same species, but that doesn’t stop both Rachel and I from seeing her as family. I try and talk with her as much as I can, but as you know, the service sometimes gets in the way just like it does with my wife and I.”

“Alrighty then!” Danielle and Amber both said as they sat there, more than a little stunned. They knew that Richard had befriended a Zaltaen, but his personnel jacket didn’t have any of these kinds of details. Then again, personnel jackets never really did have too much personal details. That wasn’t the point of those kinds of reports, it was meant to be more of a summary of the person’s military career and gave enough information about the person to allow for a command officer to decide if said person was a good fit for a job.

Queen Raina simply looked to Richard; she too was floored by how deep of a relationship that Richard had been able to form with one of her kind. She’d heard rumors in the Royal Court of some human being able to form a deep connection with one of her people but she didn’t know who it was. “I for one am happy that some humans have been able to look beyond our deception and form a lasting bond with one of my people. I can only hope that more humans will be able to think much like you have and be willing to…”

Richard spoke up. “Go the extra kilometer?” he asked.

“Yes,” Queen Raina replied as she reached across the table to take hold of Richard’s hand. “You’ve set the standard pretty high; I can tell you that.” She paused as she looked around at nothing in particular.

“I don’t imagine that all human and Zaltaen interactions will be as nice, clean and successful as the one that Richard was able to form. Sadly,” Amber said as she frowned, “I’ve not yet had the kind of opportunity that Richard has had but if given the chance I do hope that perhaps I too would be able to do the same. It’s just that as admiral of this station, it doesn’t exactly leave me a lot of time to form friendships. I already have a full-time commitment with running a fleet here and that demands all of my attention.”

“Me too,” Danielle said as she looked to Richard and put a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve got to introduce me to this Triara!” Richard looked to her out of the corner of his eye. “I want to get to know her like you have. Maybe it’ll allow me to know how to better work with Zaltaens. I’ve often seen how you so easily work with them yet for me it always takes a little more effort; I’ve often wondered how you learned. Now I know. You know how they think, you know how they act.”

“Uh,” Richard nervously smiled. “The next chance I get I’ll see if she wants to meet you. I’m sure that I can arrange a meeting of some kind. It may not be as personal as the kinds of interactions that Triara and I have had in the past though.”

“That’s quite alright!” Danielle said. “Baby steps, that’s all I need.”

“Now you know why I wanted this station to be built!” Raina exclaimed. “This is why!” she pointed to Richard which made him feel like once again he was the center of attention. “To bring about the kinds of relationships that Richard has been able to form to better able to integrate our two peoples in common cause.”

Continue to Chapter 8…

  1. 59.65 mph.[]