Space 2315, Chapter 10

Admiral Nancy Moore sat staring into her computer terminal with a steaming cup of coffee in her hand. A half-eaten blueberry bagel with cream cheese sat next to the terminal along with the remains of poached eggs and bacon. The message she was reading again came in a few days ago from Altair by a fast fleet courier boat and sent to all ships in her fleet. Moore read the message over and over since getting it and she still couldn’t believe the contents of the message.

The message read that an intelligent alien species recently contacted all of Humanity’s governments. Humankind just had its collective nose rubbed in the fact that they weren’t alone in the universe. For so long people thought that Humans were the only intelligent race out there. That thought was reinforced by the fact that as Humans went to the stars they never discovered other races out there. It seemed as if the galaxy was bereft of all life besides Homo Sapiens. To suddenly discover that not only was Humanity not alone, that the alien race infiltrated and studied Humanity for the last four hundred Earth years, was shocking to say the least.

The thought that aliens were walking among Humans in plain sight for that long was preposterous. Moore thought so, until she had her own nose rubbed in the fact that Humans weren’t alone. The Zaltaens revealed themselves to humans and that they were in Human militaries as well. With that in mind it wasn’t much of a stretch to think that perhaps one or two were in Moore’s fleet.

The door chime announced a visitor to her quarters and she pressed the admittance key next to her terminal’s keypad. Tina Vandyke walked into her office and came to the position of attention in front of the admiral’s desk. Or rather it was the woman Moore previously thought of as Vandyke, her chief of staff. Rather than the dark-skinned, raven haired woman instead there was a tall, beautiful, green haired woman with deep violet skin standing before her in a Royal Zaltaen Navy uniform. Erana Trueblade waited until the admiral waved her to a chair before sitting.

Nancy leaned back in her chair as she regarded her Zaltaen chief of staff over the top of her coffee mug. Her steward came in at the sound of the new arrival and set a cup of hot green tea before Erana with a small container of honey and a slice of lime before withdrawing. Erana doctored her tea the way she liked and sipped it before looking a question at the admiral.

“I still find it a little hard to believe that my chief of staff for the past two years has been an alien this whole time,” Nancy began without preamble. “I can accept it, don’t worry, but I do find it very surprising.”

“Admiral,” Erana said in the soft voice she had. “It certainly wasn’t my idea to deceive you. At the time I couldn’t reveal to you what I was. Believe me when I say that it’s been hard for a lot of my people living among you. Adjusting from our lives back in the Kingdom of Zalta to living among Humans has been… difficult for some.” A lot of the agents sent to Earth and her colonies had trouble adjusting, despite years of training. Training was one thing, living among Humans was another thing entirely.

The cultural differences between Humans and Zaltaens were often very stark and sometimes scared some of her people. The way that Humans dressed–particularly some of their women–could curl the hair of even some of the most liberal Zaltaens. That was even with normal everyday clothes, never mind what passed for swimsuits among Human women. Most normally seen Human women’s “swimsuits” could scarcely be called a suit by any stretch of a Zaltaen’s imagination.

The fact that none of it seemed to bother most Humans was appalling to Zaltaens. Humans tended to be more comfortable with their sexual natures as evidenced by some of their clothing. That wasn’t to say that Zaltaens themselves weren’t the same way. Let it never be said that Zaltaens lacked a healthy sex drive! Her people just weren’t as open about it.

Erana’s people were a far more conservative society and modesty ran deep. Not as deep as some pre-space Islamic countries of Earth, but modest nonetheless. Traditional Zaltaen clothing ranged from business suits and dresses like those of Humanity to something strikingly like the Japanese kimono. Those robes were high fashion back in the Kingdom and were sometimes very expensive, elaborate things.

“I think I can understand Commander Trueblade. You have my sympathies,” Nancy answered, “what with being separated from your people the way you are, living in an alien culture, getting used to our way of doing things. I couldn’t imagine.” She let out a small sigh and carefully looked at the alien woman before her while sipping her coffee. “The strange thing is that you support us.”

“Humanity you mean?”

“No,” Nancy said, shaking her head. “I mean the Allied Colonies for Freedom.”

Erana smiled thinly at her admiral. “Ma’am, I’ve seen the way the Human Federation treats some of her colonies. The HF government is corrupt through and through.” Admiral Moore snorted a short laugh at that. “That isn’t to say that everyone in the HF government is corrupt, but the institution is. I can see why some in the colonies wanted to break away.” She sipped her tea before setting it on the desk. “However it isn’t my place to discuss policy, and I believe that the Allied Colonies are doing the right thing. Earth treated your homes badly and you have the right to try and fix things.”

Moore arched an eyebrow at Erana as the Zaltaen took a sip of her tea. “I find it odd to hear you say that while wearing that uniform commander.”

Erana shrugged her shoulders easily. “It wouldn’t matter what uniform I choose to wear. I’m a Zaltaen aboard a Human warship. If I choose to wear my Zaltaen uniform or Allied Colonial uniform it doesn’t change the fact of what I am. People would only see this,” she gestured to her face and the alien features she bore, “and not the uniform.”

The admiral shrugged as she replied. “You have a point. Are you okay fighting with us? I know what your ambassadors talked about with my government and that peace should be sought with the Human Federation. While I understand and agree that the war is draining both sides I don’t believe that we can just drop it.” Moore gave a hard look to her chief of staff. “So, I ask you again, are you okay with fighting with the ACF?”

“Admiral,” Erana began, “if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t serve in the position that I hold. I’ve been your chief of staff for two years, in disguise or not. My goal, like yours is, is to see your people free and at peace. If that means that you must make the Human Federation listen to you by force of arms, then so be it.”

Moore nodded her head again as she sat back, holding her coffee mug in hand while she considered the words of her chief of staff. Initially she’d been more than a little concerned that the Zaltaens who revealed themselves to the fleet would all be pro-Human Federation and would want to work against the Allied Colonies. That wasn’t the case at all. It did help that they had the advantage of having been third party observers for the longest time and could see the war more objectively than most. Under all that was the fact that the Zaltaens she’d met so far were willing to see things from the point of view in which the HF had mistreated the colonies.

For decades Earth and the other Inner Colonies looked at the Outer Colonies and even some of the Middle Colonies as the red-headed stepchildren of the Human Federation. They were taxed more, as if by some chance their small economies could afford to pay those taxes. The main worlds placated the younger colonies by saying the increased taxes were in fact beneficial to the newer worlds since they needed the government funding to build up the newly founded worlds. In some respects, they were right, as the start-up costs of new colonies along with the orbital infrastructure that went with them would bankrupt any new world before it got started. Often however the taxes didn’t go away when they should have. Even when the economies and infrastructure of those worlds became self-sustainable the same taxes were still levied against them which ended up stifling those worlds.

People on Earth and the Inner Colonies tended to look down their noses at people from the outer reaches of Human Space. They looked at those worlds and peoples as needing help, as if the new colonies were inferior to those living on the more “privileged” worlds which were firmly established decades or centuries ago. Earth especially forgot that it had a long and ugly history of war, famine, pestilence, and other such objectionable things.

World War Three decimated much of the Earth’s former nation-states and killed just over half of humanity. It wasn’t long before the global powers unleashed nuclear fire on their enemies for the first time since the end of World War Two and rendered many areas uninhabitable for decades to come. Moscow and Washington D.C. were among the first causalities in the nuclear war and weren’t the last either.

As much as the Allies and Neo Soviets fought over Berlin, in the end the Allied High Command ordered the city nuked. The explosion leveled the entire city and wiped out almost an entire army of deeply entrenched Neo Soviet troops. Pyongyang, Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing, Paris, Chicago, and Cairo were other cities and certainly not the last to feel nuclear hell unleashed on them.

That didn’t even account for the biological and chemical weapons that some of the more extremist nation-states employed. The Allies and Neo Soviets avoided those weapons like they were plague, which in fact they were. However, terrorists and rogue nation-states such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, who were allied with the Neo Soviets, never had those inhibitions and the fallout from that was felt for generations afterwards with genetic defects and poisoned land being among some of the problems.

It took a monumental, some say Herculean, effort to clean up the Earth and rebuild her to the level it once was. If any good came out of the Third World War it was the Human Federation and the idea that Humanity needed to push to the stars, to colonize new worlds because it was most emphatically demonstrated that Humanity could all but drive itself to extinction. It was always understood that humans could, but the war rubbed Humanity’s face in it. That was before the Human Federation turned into the corrupt machine it became decades later.

That wasn’t to say that the Human Federation fixed everything when it was formed either. For almost forty years after the Third World War the newly established world nation fought against holdouts of rogue nations and terrorists in places like the Middle East, Africa, and the remains of North Korea. It was almost as if those people hadn’t gotten the memo that the war was over, and they needed to lay down their weapons. Thousands died trying to eliminate the last pockets of resistance in many areas and terrorist attacks occurred in major cities all over the globe before everything was finally put down.

The process of rebuilding was almost, if not more difficult than the wars were. The wars reduced the population of Earth and many areas were blasted wastelands no longer able to support Human life. Economies all over the world ground to a halt as the last few bits of easily accessible fossil fuels were used up. The cruel irony of it all was that the war was over the few remaining energy sources and the war only used it all up. Without energy or much in the way of infrastructure the few remaining goods and services couldn’t be moved or produced, and an economic depression set in that made the Great Depression of the 1930s look like a mild recession by comparison.

Politicians the world over pointed fingers at each other instead of trying to solve the problems. Too often that was the case when progress had to be made. When the Human Federation rose from the ashes of the three superpowers it set about trying to restore order, secure what few energy reserves were left, and started making strides in the alternative energy sciences that were stymied by politicos and big corporations for generations. The first in a series of successes, which took much longer than it should’ve because of the energy crisis, was the unveiling of a large solar plant in the Sahara Desert. With it coming online cheap solar energy started flowing into Europe and Northern Africa. It wasn’t long before the rest of the world wanted to build more.

It was only a matter of time before mankind decided to move the solar plants from the surface to orbit. Solar collection satellites were launched which beamed their energy to the surface using microwave transmission. Decades later they would turn into solar power collectors built onto rings of the orbital elevator stations. With the immediate end to the energy crisis Humanity could move forward once again and rebuild. Further strides in energy research led to improved geothermal energy and cheap, efficient fuel cells for the world’s vehicles. Some people argued for the increased use of nuclear energy but after the war the thought of nuclear power expansion was a political third rail. The few remaining nuclear power plants remained online but none were to be built for generations.

To come back to the present the colonial worlds tended to be more heavily garrisoned than most, almost as if the Earth-based government was afraid of the people living there. The large asteroid fortress over Altair was filled only with people from Earth and the Inner Colonies. That fear on the part of the Human Federation wasn’t completely unfounded seeing as how the ACF threw off the shackles of the HF in what amounted to the largest coup d’état in all Human history.

It took very careful planning and shifting of personnel around to make it work. People from the colonies who worked in the Human Federation Space Force BuPers very quietly manipulated their systems to move more colonial citizens back to the Outer Colonies. The entire process took months so it would go undetected. When the moment came it was quiet, almost like a dagger to the back of the Human Federation personnel. Many officers who were from Earth or the Inner Colonies found themselves staring down the barrels of rifles or pistols as marines and sailors loyal to the colonies seized control of their ships and bases.

“By force of arms…,” the admiral mused quietly.

“I’m sorry ma’am?” Erana asked.

The admiral shook herself and sipped her coffee once more. “I was just thinking about how in our long history the force of arms has been used for many things. World War Three came to mind.” She set her mug down and pressed a button on her desk. A holographic representation of her fleet sprang to life above the desk. “If you didn’t know I have a bachelor’s in history.”

Erana shook her head gently to say that she hadn’t known. She, however, wanted to know just what the admiral was getting at.

“Here we are, about to use the force of arms to get what the colonies want,” the admiral explained. “As horrible as war is sometimes it is the only way. The Human Federation didn’t want to listen to us. We’ll make them listen.” She gestured to the hologram above the desk. “Right now our fleet is holding station in the Noxus System, an out of the way backwater system officially owned by the Corporate Republic of Sirius. The only reason Sirius even claims this place is the few asteroid belts and a barely habitable world.”

She pointed to the blinking green lights moving between the blue dots representing her ships. “Some members of the Siriusian Board of Directors have come through for us after all. They’ve supplied our auxiliaries with new materials which even now are being turned into missiles, replacement parts, and other such things that we need. When they finish their resupply in about half a day I’ll give the go-ahead to start Operation Hammer once we hear back from our advance scouts.”

Erana looked up at the admiral and couldn’t help but smile. Operation Hammer was ops plan drawn up by Admiral Moore, the admiral’s flag captain, Erana, and Moore’s intelligence and ops officers. There were three systems within easy reach of this system and the admiral was going to rely on the good graces of Sirius to help pull it off. Not that she wasn’t careful to try and watch for any Siriusian duplicity. Even now she watched for even the slightest hint that Sirius would sell them out. Sirius was after all, what many referred to as a Corporatocracy; meaning they’d sell you out in heart beat if it meant that someone could make a quick credit. But so far nobody in the Human Federation knew that the ACF had their fleet here and with luck would never know. First the fleet would jump out of the system to H1L-402 to within striking distance of the Mon Catha, Welton, and Durna Systems.

From there the fleet would break up into three separate task forces to hit the systems on her list. She already had access to sensor logs of Siriusian merchantmen and warships. Already she had destroyers heading to those systems with instructions to leave hyperspace well before the jump points and any potential sensor nets that cover the systems. They were to park themselves there, get as much sensor data as they could, and wait for the main fleet. Hopefully she wouldn’t have to change her ops plan too much and she could break her fleet down the way the plan called for.

Operation Hammer was to take three separate forces and use them to perform hit-and-run raids on each of the systems, with a plan to meet up beyond them at an empty star system designated UU2-589. From there the entire fleet would jump to the real prize of Operation Hammer. The Newton System, one of the Inner Colonies was a rich industrial center for the HF. However, despite it being an Inner Colony it wasn’t near the Sol System.

It did have three jump gates near the system’s jump points, all at different ends of the system with fortresses and mobile forces at each one. Securing all three jump gates, or even just two of them, would be all but impossible. The Newton System had a major fleet yard in it, so it was vital to the HF’s war effort. Taking out those yards and the ships under construction or repair there would hand the ACF time that it needed to continue getting its feet under it. So far, the surprise of the initial coup still had the HF military reeling but that wouldn’t last forever.

Being what the star system was it was most likely heavily defended and she didn’t want to split her ships up to try and secure those gates. If anything, the HF could hit any of the forces at each of the gates and defeat them in detail with numerical superiority. No, the best way to take the system was to concentrate her forces and hit it and any relief forces hard.

Task Force One consisted of her flag ship and about twenty-five of her super juggernauts, fifteen juggernauts, fifteen battleships, sixteen battlecruisers, and twenty-five heavy cruisers. It had several light cruisers with destroyers and frigates for support. Task Force Two consisted of fifteen super juggernauts, five juggernauts, twenty-five battleships, twenty battlecruisers, and thirty heavy cruisers, along with the necessary smaller ships. Task Force Three would be the one that had the most daring and dangerous job of all. That task force was built for speed, to perform the fastest hit-and-run raid that it could. It had ten super juggernauts, five juggernauts, and ten battleships to be held in reserve outside the target system. The rest of it consisted of thirty battlecruisers, twenty-five heavy cruisers, fifty light cruisers, and sixty destroyers and twenty-five frigates. Between each task force there would also be a total of twenty-five assault carriers and fourteen auxiliaries to spread out. If the reinforcements came in that she requested she’d spread them out as best she could.

The admiral figured that the war was going to end in only one way in the favor of the ACF. They would have to take Sol, or at least Earth. She knew the HF wouldn’t say uncle any other way. The ACF could take Alpha Centauri and she still doubted the HF would yield. Sol was the center, Sol was everything, and Sol was the winner-take-all of this war. If the ACF could take Sol, or even just Earth, tomorrow and hang all other possibilities they’d end the war. The chance to end it right here, right now, was very tempting but the cold reality of not being able to brought her thoughts to a halt. As of this moment there was no way that she could think of to pull it off. There were still too many star systems between her force and Sol.

Erana looked over to the admiral and smiled as she felt the thoughts running through the admiral’s mind. She felt the rising elation at the thought of ending the war and the crushing sense of defeat that came with the sense that it couldn’t be done that easily. Erana was a telepath, one of the few that were in the Royal Zaltaen Navy. There weren’t many telepaths in the military, seeing as how most kept themselves to the Telepathic Corps and with each other. A lot of the ones in the military, and even the ones on Human worlds, now were the younger telepaths who found the halls of the Telepathic Corps too stifling with all its traditions and laws.

Erana however knew of a way to attack Sol. Almost every Zaltaen in the navy did, even with Human technology. The one advantage of having been among Humans for so long is that the Royal Zaltaen Navy was able to map out Humanity’s space and knew of ways around it that even most Humans didn’t. Why can’t she see it? Erana asked herself. It’s right there! It’s so obvious! Why can’t you see it!?

Erana was duty bound not to reveal any military secrets to Humanity. Though it could stem the loss of life for both sides, the Crown was adamant that they reveal no strategic information to the Humans. This was their war. Although Zaltaens were serving among their naval forces, it would be Humans who ended their war.

Moore looked at the star charts some more, thinking that once they took Newton they could reconfigure the three jump gates there for use by the ACF. From there a flood of supplies would arrive along with ships. It wouldn’t end the war, but it would shake the Human Federation to its core.

Nancy looked up at Erana and the Zaltaen could see the raw hunger for victory in the Human’s eyes. The admiral wore an expression that only the most generous would call a smile. “It begins, soon.”

The next day the news web sites, television programs, and blogs across the galactic Internet already posted the news that Humanity wasn’t alone among the stars. There was no mention that Humanity had been watched for hundreds of years. That was a tightly held secret by the Human Federation government as well as the Allied Colonies for Freedom and the other involved governments as well. Like the Human Federation, the other Human governments believed that letting that secret out would be a disaster. Those in the military and other important governmental positions were told the real story because those people had a need to know. It was universally agreed that the average man on the street didn’t need to know that their neighbors were potentially aliens. Mass hysteria wasn’t something that was going to help anybody.

For the most part Humanity took the news with curiosity. There were portions of society that believed that the aliens were a threat to Humanity and that they needed to go back to wherever they came from, but those sentiments came from small fringe groups that the Human Federation government put on several governmental watch lists. One such group was the Blue Earth Movement, though small it was gaining ground ever since the ACF had broken away. Their belief was that the ACF betrayed Earth and that for doing so, they deserved no less than death.

More and more aliens showed up on Earth and many of her colonies over the three months since the official press release was released by the Human Federation government. Some of these aliens in fact even lived among Humans as if nothing was wrong. They shopped, ate, and went about their everyday lives just like every other Human on Earth and her colonies. Some alien children were even enrolled in schools on Earth.

The Blue Earth Movement didn’t that at all like that. There were several protests that were held by the group in response to the aliens saying that Earth was for Humans, Earth-born Humans and no one else. It didn’t matter if you were Human, you had to have been born on Earth to be thought of as having a right to be on Earth. Law enforcement was trying to nail that group to the wall but every time they tried their legal team came after them like a pack of rabid dogs and the people involved in the protests were let go. Blue Earth’s legal team was second to none, almost as if somebody very high in society was funding the group. All investigations into the group’s finances were stopped cold by the same legal team. Somebody did not want anyone to know their connection to the group.

Richard woke up at 0000 like any other duty day onboard the HFS Izumi. He quickly got to work getting dressed and cleaned up for the duty day that he had ahead of him. He had wanted to grab something to eat at the mess hall before he started his duty shift at 0130. He was due in CIC on the bridge as the third in command, which of course meant that he didn’t see much of anything as far as real command. He was for the most part told what he needed to do and what his tasks were by Commander James Goddard. He simply did what he was told which consisted mainly of keeping watch in the department. That of course was very boring and in his opinion a waste of his skills; not that anyone had asked him.

With no fighting going on in the system his ship’s fleet was in, that meant that the whole ship was running nothing but battle drills. Simulated damage to the ship was used to gauge the response times the various engineering departments including both Damage Control and Cyber Security. Sometimes seconds of response time could mean having that weapon online or down due to battle damage.

Rachel was once again, part of Cyber Security, though not the same position she was back onboard the HFS Valiant; she was a technician this time around. Usually warrant officers had been assigned to the task of being the head technician but there was no chief for this shift who had enough experience or seniority to hold the billet. Rachel was forced to cover down until BuPers managed to send them a chief warrant officer who could handle the slot.

Richard stood up after lacing his combat boots up and zipping his jacket closed and opened his door to head out. He half expected Rachel to be standing there waiting for him but instead there was a Zaltaen standing on the other side.

Richard thought back to the ship-wide announcement sent to everyone’s email Inbox. The message said that there very well could be Zaltaens serving onboard the ship and that nobody knew about it. It also said that many of the same officers that they served with may have been a Zaltaen in disguise and everyone was none the wiser. But since the Human Federation had official contact with the people of Zalta, those Zaltaens were dropping their disguises. Fleet Command had already been told about the situation and that commanding officers had an idea of what to expect but seeing it first hand was completely different from reading about it in some online briefing.

This came as disturbing at first for Richard but only for a second. He put his slight distrust of these aliens for deceiving Mankind aside for the professional side of him. It didn’t matter the color of their skin or the planet they came from, if the person could do the job, they had every right to do that job.

Then Richard couldn’t help but stop the wave of horror that came over him. Could Rachel have been a Zaltaen in disguise all along? That thought was something he couldn’t shake. He looked at the alien female who was dressed in the same uniform he wore, and she didn’t at all look out of place. He did remember reading on the Internet that the aliens looked very much like Humans but seeing one up close made it all that much more believable. He knew, after all, not to believe everything the Internet said.

He looked at her and he couldn’t help but to notice that she was drop dead gorgeous, probably even more so than Rachel was but still Rachel was his girl and he had committed himself to her. He remembered from the night before when he was watching a news video on GNN that the Zaltaen ambassador to the Human Federation was very attractive looking. He had to wonder if all Zaltaen females looked as beautiful as she was and here he was, standing in front of another Zaltaen and the proof was right there in front of him. Then again, he thought that perhaps it was just that exotic allure that made them look that much more attractive.

“Rachel?” he asked. God, I hope that’s not Rachel, he thought. The alien shook her head from side to side. Whew! He sighed on the inside, happy to know that his lover wasn’t an alien. But then again, she could still be one and she just hadn’t shown up yet so that horrific thought came creeping back into the back of his mind. Then he thought, so what if Rachel’s an alien? Why should it bother me? She loves me and I love her. Besides, if she was, you bedded an alien woman! How very James T. Kirk of you!

“Alright,” he replied. “If you’re not Rachel, then who did I know you as before you dropped your disguise?”

“You once knew me as Hoshi Asakura.” She paused for a moment. “However, I’ve assumed this name for so long that I’ve come to be quite fond of the name. I even think of myself as Hoshi Asakura. When talking to my family I have to remember that my name isn’t that and to call myself by my Zaltaen name instead.”

“That must get very confusing,” Richard replied as he thought about it. “How long have you been… among us?” He really didn’t want to know but a part of him, the suspicious side of him, wanted to know.

“I’ve been on Earth and living among your people for nearly seventy-five Earth years.”

“And you don’t look a day over twenty-five.” He quickly slapped his hand over his mouth. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to let that slip.”

The Zaltaen, that is, Hoshi smiled and laughed. “Thank you, Richard, I’ll take that as a compliment. And before you ask, I’m roughly, let me translate this; I must do the math.” she paused for a moment. “One hundred Earth years old. For the most part, I’m still considered young on my planet.”

“Then I’m assuming that a Zaltaen can live a long time, right?” Richard asked while wondering just how long a Zaltaen can live.

“Barring any unforeseen circumstances like disease or accidents, a Zaltaen can live for nearly five hundred Earth years. Some of our oldest elders on Zalta are four hundred and fifty. Unfortunately, this war with the Vonosh has been claiming a lot of our people. When the Vonosh manage to break through our defenses and take one of our worlds, the first thing they do is take those they think will serve them the best as slaves and the rest are simply killed in some very… horrific ways. I probably don’t need to tell you how.”

Richard shook his head. “You haven’t wiped out disease among your people?”

“We’ve done a good job of wiping out nearly every disease among us through careful genetic manipulation and medicines but even the best genetics can’t wipe out everything.” She paused for a few moments and he saw pain flash across her exotically beautiful face. “My mother for instance, died when I was only twenty-five of a disease similar to cancer among your people.”

“I would’ve thought that a race as advanced as yours would’ve wiped that disease out rather quickly.”

“Cancer, as you Humans put it, has been a rather nasty disease among us.” Hoshi started to explain. “We’ve done a good job of wiping out a great many forms of it and have created some really good ways to combat it, but as a Zaltaen ages they become more susceptible to it despite our best actions to stop it. Our scientists believe that if DNA can be damaged it’s going to be a problem for all carbon-based life forms such as ours. Even your nanotech can’t seem to stop it completely, only slow it down.”

“How much difference is there between our two peoples? Genetics wise that is.” Richard asked.

“Our scientists have been studying the Human genome since we started observing your people and from our findings there’s a less than 0.5% difference between our two peoples. How that came about, we have no idea. There are some scientific theories that have been floating about that all sentient life in the universe may share a common DNA source such as a comet or something that seeded worlds. The environments of our respective home worlds are probably contributing factors. Some of our religious beliefs state that we share a deity in some way and that this shared deity may have very well created both of our species. Some of our scientists have even said that inter-breeding could occur. We’re really that similar in our DNA.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Richard saw another person come walking down the hall, a Human. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw it was Rachel.

“Hello… Richard,” Rachel said as she looked at the alien standing beside her. “Uh…,” she stuttered. “Who’s this?”

“Well, she’s a Zaltaen.”

“Yes smartass,” she put her hands on her hips and cocked her head to the left. “I can plainly see that.” She looked at the unknown alien for a while, still not sure of her.

The alien turned to Rachel. “You knew me as Hoshi Asakura.”

Rachel looked at the alien, blinked her eyes and then blinked again. She looked the alien over and smacked her palm of her right hand to her forehead. “Damn,” she looked to Richard. “They really do look almost like us; except more like Elves.”

Richard shrugged his shoulders. “That they do,” he sighed. “Imagine my horror when I thought it was you, that my lover was an alien as well.”

“Nope, pure bred Human here.” Rachel laughed as she looked to Hoshi. “So, you’re really Hoshi Asakura? Right? The same Hoshi Asakura that Richard and I got to know several months back.”

“The one and only,” Hoshi replied.

“May I?” Rachel asked as a fiendish impulse came over her, but she squashed it almost immediately.

“What?” Hoshi asked.

“Never mind,” Rachel laughed as she turned to Richard. “Their ears, they really do look like something out of World of Warcraft or The Lord of the Rings.”

Richard started to laugh with Rachel; meanwhile Hoshi looked at the two of them. She coughed. “Funny, very funny guys.” She paused to let the two finished their laugh fest. “So, what do you think? That is, of me being an alien.”

Richard shrugged his shoulders. “If you’re the same person, personality wise, then I don’t see why the three of us can’t remain friends in the end.” Rachel chimed in. “Yeah, I don’t see the why not as well. Human or alien, the both of us don’t care.”

“I’m glad to hear that but would you two stop laughing about the fact that I look like something out of a fantasy novel?”

“At least you don’t look like Gollum.” This made Rachel start doubling over in laughter. Hoshi stood there and fumed.

“Come on Hoshi, lighten up. When we first started this conversation, it was all serious. I damn near dropped dead when I saw you. And the fact that I thought Rachel could be an alien too; well I thought I was going to be the real embodiment of James T. Kirk.”

“What?” Hoshi asked, genuinely confused. She knew a lot about Earth popular culture but there were plenty of gaps in her knowledge. That was because there was just so much to it that it was hard to keep track of.

Rachel stopped laughing. “Obviously you don’t know as much about our culture as you thought you knew.”

“I,” Hoshi paused. “I didn’t have a chance to see much of your popular culture.”

“Anyways, James T. Kirk was a Starfleet Captain in an old science fiction television show called Star Trek. He was jokingly referred to as the captain that slept with every alien princess from Alpha Centauri clear out to the Romulan Star Empire.”

“So, you’re saying that if Rachel was an alien like myself, Richard here would be pulling a ‘James T. Kirk.’ Right?”

Richard nodded his head. “Yep, very much so.” He paused for a moment. “If we’re going to be on duty soon, I’d like to get something to eat before I start my shift.”

“You’re probably right,” Rachel replied as she looked at Hoshi. “Let’s pick this talk up later. There’s a lot of things that I,” she looked at Richard. “and Richard here would like to know about you and your people.”

Hoshi nodded her head. “Of course, I would be happy to answer them, obviously within reason of course.” She looked to Rachel. “Where do you want to meet?

“The wardroom at 1200 hours.” Rachel looked to Richard. “Sound good to you?” Richard nodded his head.

Later that day, Richard was about to get off his duty shift when he heard someone talking about Hoshi. He listened in on some of the things they were saying and not all of it was good. He looked to who was speaking and it was some petty officer. He walked up to the noncom and tapped him on his shoulder. “I think that you should cut that off petty officer. That kind of talk is unbecoming of a member of this military. Don’t make me have to go to our Equal Opportunity people about this. Besides, talking about a superior officer in a negative fashion where people can hear you is a good way to end a career very quickly.”

“What do you mean sir? She’s an alien serving onboard a Human ship. What gives her the right to serve on one of our ships?”

“Get used to it,” Richard bluntly told him. “I hear there will be many more where she came from and that there will be official crew exchanges, there may very well be Humans serving aboard their ships.” Richard paused. “And besides, what did they do to you?”

“You mean to say that you trust these aliens?”

“Show me a reason why I shouldn’t and then I’ll make my own decision.”

“Sir, with all due respect, they deceived us. They hid amongst us in plain sight for over three hundred of our years and we were none the wiser. Our racial privacy was violated.”

“I’ll admit, they did deceive us.” Richard paused. “But, I’m sure that they had their reasons. Who are we to ask about their reasons? But then again, from the sound of your reactions to all of this I’m beginning to see why they hid their identity from us. This discussion is over; there will be no more talk of this kind. Do you hear me?” The two nodded their head. “Good. You’d do well to keep these kinds of ideas to yourself. Is that clear?” Again, the two nodded their heads.

With that Richard turned around to see that Commander Goddard walked up behind him. “How were the drills?”

Richard quickly came to attention before the commander waved him to at ease. “Good sir, they performed admirably. Definitely worthy of a crew of this ship.”

“What were you talking about with those two noncoms?”

“It’s been handled sir.”

“Good, just what I wanted to hear,” he paused. “That report you have in your hand?”

“Of course, sir,” he handed the datapad to his commander. He started to read over it.

“Very good, they shaved off a whole five seconds off the last drill. Keep up the good work. Let’s see if we can get two more seconds off. In the meantime, Lieutenant Commander Leslie Scott will be taking the watch.”

“Yes sir,” Richard came back to attention before turning to Leslie who did the same. “You have the watch.”

“I have the watch,” Leslie replied. As she said that Richard’s head snapped back to look at her, she wasn’t Human; she was a Zaltaen. Whew, he sighed, good thing I had that talk with the noncoms. He had to wonder how many other Zaltaens were aboard ship.

“You’re not Human,” Richard said as he looked at her.

“Nope,” she shook her head. “Is that going to be a problem?”

Richard shook his head. “Not at all ma’am, in fact I just found out that one of my friends is a Zaltaen as well. I had that moment of shock this morning. She revealed her alien identity and both her and I are still good friends, in fact we had a big old laugh about the subject too. We’re supposed to meet up later and talk some more on the subject.”

“I see,” Leslie replied. “What did you two laugh about?”

“Something about your people looking like something straight out of World of Warcraft or The Lord of the Rings.” Leslie chuckled as he had said that. “Overall it was a very good encounter and exchange of pleasantries.”

“Good to hear about that,” Leslie nodded her head. “I’m glad to know that most of the Humans on this ship are accepting of my people. Anyways, have a good night sir. See you at the next shift rotation.”

Richard walked out of the CIC, into the security foyer behind the bridge, and waited for the lift. It arrived two minutes later and before he could tell the computer where he wanted to go it started moving. He told it, “Wardroom.”

The lift stopped somewhere, he didn’t know where. There were still many sections of the ship he hadn’t explored. The door opened and in stepped several noncoms. They all came to attention. “At ease,” he said and the five relaxed.

The lift soon stopped and the computer announced “Wardroom” in a very robotic-sounding voice. When he walked in he noticed that nobody was there except for three other people sitting at random tables, not caring what the others were doing. They were all hunched over a datapad with their trays. He thought back to the days when he was an officer fresh out of the academy, he remembered that he too spent many a day hunched over a datapad while trying to eat or drink something while memorizing something.

He sat down at one of the tables and waited for his companions to show up. He had a lot of questions for Hoshi about her people. He knew her Human name but what was her Zaltaen name? He knew that that was her Human name but from everything he’d heard Zaltaens had far more… interesting handles than Humans did. The curious side of him was dying to know what their society was like, how their planet was and things like that.

“Have you seen Hoshi?” Richard asked Rachel sat down next to him.

Rachel shook her head. “No,” she replied as she sat down across from him at the table. “Not since I saw her when she and I entered the bridge.” She paused for a moment in thought. “She was pulled aside by the captain for whatever reason, I don’t know why though. I had to get to my duty station on the bridge and by the time I got some time to look she was being taken to the captain’s conference room.”

“Any ideas on why?” Richard asked.

“Yeah,” she shook her head. “But none of them are good.”

“That’s what I was afraid of.” He nodded his head. “I really hope it’s not what the both of us are thinking.”

“Me too.” She paused. “To change the subject, how was your day?”

“Drills, drills, and more drills. That and the fact that I found out this afternoon that a fellow commander in my section was also a Zaltaen, so the number of aliens aboard is now two including Hoshi.”

“Sounds like my day,” Rachel replied as she took hold of Richard’s hand and gave it a bit of a squeeze. “Another alien huh?” Richard nodded his head. “What’s wrong?”

Richard smiled and returned the squeeze that Rachel gave him. “You know me too well.” He paused. “I overheard something that one my people said about Hoshi. I wanted to tell him to go fuck himself, but I had to restrain myself. He was saying things about her and they weren’t nice things either. Things like she has no right being aboard a Human ship and all.”

“I know,” Rachel shook her head. “I overheard some very similar things as well. The good thing is that most of the crew seems to be rather open to the idea of having aliens aboard. There just seems to be a small minority of people who have a problem.”

“I know,” he frowned in thought as he imagined what was happening all over the Human Federation at this moment. If properly disciplined soldiers and sailors in the military be like this, then what was it like among the general populace? “It’s just…”

“Yes, I know… Hoshi is our friend. Alien or not, she’s our friend. I really don’t care if she’s an alien. To hear something bad being said about your friend, you can’t help but to be angry.”

“Yeah,” Richard nodded his head. “We’ve gotten to know her, the both of us have. I look at her like the sister I never had,”

“Whoa,” Rachel breathed. She certainly became quite close with Hoshi over the past year. Has it really been a year? She asked herself. Perhaps it has been a year. The three of them nearly become inseparable. She often remembered that when she was on-duty and both Richard and Hoshi weren’t she had found the two of them talking and laughing it up like they’d known each other for years.

“Whoa? Why?” Richard asked. “Don’t get me wrong Rachel, I love you very much. You’re the only woman for me. You know that, right?” He reached across the table and patted her hand.

She smiled and took his hand into both of hers briefly. “It’s not that at all. I just didn’t know that you got to know her like that. Then again, I should’ve known after all the times I saw you and her talking when I came back from duty.”

“So, you understand. Right?”

Rachel leaned forward and kissed Richard quickly. “Yes, I do understand.”

“You’re not jealous about what I think about Hoshi, right?”

“What’s there to be jealous about?” she asked as she held his hands. “I know that your heart is for me and that you love me like no other woman. Truth be told, I also look at her like a little sister, even if it’s possible that she’s older than both of us combined.”

“You actually have that right,” Richard answered, “even without nanotech.”

They were referring to the breakthrough in nanotechnology that occurred sometime in the past fifty years. When Humanity first developed the nanotech before the Third World War (which also happened to be another cause of the start of the war) the technology couldn’t do nearly what it did today. The technology helped to rebuild and repair Humanity and its genome after the war, rooting out the worst of genetic problems caused by the rampant use of CBRN weapons. The nanotech was released into the environment after the war and was instrumental in curing the land of a lot of the effects of residual radiation and other poisons left over from the war.

The nanotech was developed to attack and destroy infections, diseases, and help rebuild the Human body from the inside out. Cancer and other such genetic diseases became things of the past as nanites could repair cells at the genetic level. It began a golden age for Humanity as crippling diseases were no longer a threat. Yes, some people claimed that in doing so it was going against the will of God, but even the most diehard among them saw the fruits of the technology. If they weren’t silenced altogether they certainly kept their voices down and passively protested by not taking the nanotech treatments.

However, in the past fifty years scientists and genetic researchers finally broke yet another barrier with the tiny robots. While Humanity was able to eliminate things like autism and cancer with nanotech there was that one hurdle which wasn’t overcome until recently. It took decades of careful research and work but now the nanomachines could go into cells and lengthen the telomeres, thus allowing for slower aging and much longer life. In the end it also slowed development of Humans, thus causing some interesting changes to when things like puberty started, but it was generally accepted that it was a fine tradeoff for much longer lives.

Suddenly the wardroom that was once silent was filled with the sound of a chair falling over. Richard looked over to where the sound came from and he noticed that someone sitting in the far corner of the room was now on the deck rubbing the back of his head. He figured that the person was probably teetering on the back legs of the chair and lost balance. But what would cause someone to lose balance like that? Hoshi walking in at just that moment seemed to be the answer though.

“Well now,” Hoshi looked about the room. “I see that I startled him very much so.”

“I guess so,” Richard replied as Hoshi sat down at the table that the two of them were sitting at. He turned to look at her. “How have you been? What happened? Rachel here told me that you were taken into the captain’s conference room.”

Hoshi let out a sigh. “I knew that this was going to happen, I figured that I would be asked some questions.” Richard looked to her asking for more. “Basically, I was asked whether or not I could be trusted. They pressed more, asked me what I personally thought about the war. I told them that even though the Kingdom of Zalta’s official stance was that they didn’t support the war, I personally felt that if supporting the Human Federation was what I needed to do to help bring about a peaceful end to the war I was going to do just that. I told them that I was aboard this ship and that they were my commanding officers; that that I would obey every command that they would give me as if it came from my own. I’m here, I was sent to do a job and I will fulfill that job and my duty to the ship to the best of my ability.”

“What did they say about that?” Rachel asked. “What did the admiral say?”

“The three of us had a talk with some people back on Earth. They verified my credentials and verified that I was indeed who I said I was and that I’m a part of the Zaltaen Royal Space Fleet.” She closed her eyes and let out a sign of disgust. “Really it felt like I was being interrogated. But again, I knew that something like this was going to come about.”

“So, what’s going to happen now?” Richard asked. “Are you going to stay in the position? On this ship?”

“As far as I know,” Hoshi nodded her head, “yes. I will stay in the same position and aboard this ship.”

“Well,” Rachel smiled and took hold of Hoshi’s hand. “I’m glad. I was thinking that you were going to be taken off the ship.”

“No, nothing like that would’ve happened. Too many Zaltaen officials wouldn’t be happy over my removal under anything other than reasonable circumstances. I don’t think the queen would be too happy to hear that several of her officers were being removed wholesale for no reason. The Crown doesn’t have the powers it once did, but I hear our new queen is making inroads on that, trying to reclaim the power worn away by our parliament. She isn’t one to; if I may use a Human saying, take shit from anybody.”

That jerked a sharp laugh from both Richard and Rachel before they saw someone coming up behind Hoshi. It was the same person who watched them kiss. She tapped Hoshi on the shoulder. Hoshi looked up at the ensign who Richard could’ve sworn looked no older than twenty years of age. “Excuse me,” she said nervously. “You’re really one of those aliens that we all got a briefing about earlier this week? Truly?”

“Yes I am.”

The younger officer looked Hoshi over and put the back of her palm to her chest. “The briefings said that your people would look similar to us, but the briefings don’t do you justice.” She cleared her throat. “Don’t take this the wrong way but… damn, you’re gorgeous. Do all Zaltaen women look like you?”

“Well,” Hoshi thought. “Thank you for the complement. And yes, most of the women of my race look like me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say every Zaltaen woman is, as you put it, gorgeous or stunningly beautiful. That would be an exaggeration.”

“Speaking about your people,” Richard paused for a moment. “What’s your planet like?”

“For the most part our planet is much like Earth, except that we have a bit more landmass and more water than Earth has, and the planet is bigger. Our gravity is also higher as well, being about 1.6 of your gravities.”

Rachel couldn’t help but gulp slightly upon hearing that. 1.6 G! That would make Zaltaens naturally stronger than Human, even with genetic modifications for heavy gravity worlds. Before Hoshi could notice she spoke up. “Is it true that your society is a matriarchal society?”

“Matriarchal?” Richard asked.

“Yes, the Zaltaen society is a matriarchal society. So much so that sixty-five to seventy percent of our people are female. It’s due to some genetic issue in which most children born are female. We know why it happens, but we’ve never tried to fix it, seeing as how trying to fix it may very well end up doing more harm than good.”

“Mostly women?” Richard asked.

“Yes,” Hoshi nodded her head. “For instance, the city I came from which is on the southern tip of the main continent is primarily made up on women, eighty percent to be exact.”

“How do you? You know…,” Rachel asked, trying to be as discreet as possible with her question.

“Procreate?” Hoshi asked. Rachel nodded her head. “Well, in those situations the government has allowed for polygamy to take place. There are times that as many as two or three women may be married to the same man.”

“Holy shit!” Richard exclaimed. “I’d never be able to be with more than one woman.” Rachel smiled at him very briefly as everyone around them suppressed laughs. Hoshi caught that smile and had to repress a very Human giggle.

When the room quieted down she continued. “Anyways… yeah,” Hoshi nodded her head, “since we have so few males in our race polygamy has to be legal.”

“What about your government and armed service?” Rachel asked.

“As you might imagine,” Hoshi looked to Rachel, “a society in which there aren’t as many men as there are women would end up with more women in roles such as the armed services. The Royal Space Fleet, for instance, consists of nearly all women.”

“How are you,” Richard thought about a delicate way to ask the question. “How are the women of your people compared to that of your men?”

“Zaltaen women, just like Human women, are just as intelligent as men are and as far as physically speaking,” She looked to Rachel. “No offense, but unlike in your people where women generally aren’t as physically capable as the men are, women in my society are the more dominate gender. Our women tend to be just as physically strong as our men. It comes from our genetic makeup which caused us to have more women, so as we developed as a species our women had to be just as strong. I may not look like it, but I could bench press the equivalent of two Richard’s right here and now and not even break a sweat. Of course, part of that is from growing up under 1.6 Gs.” Hoshi looked to Richard. “How much do you weigh?”

“About 90 to 95 kilograms.”

“Yeah,” Hoshi thought for a moment. “Yep, I could bench press two of you with no problem.” Richard looked to her with his eyes wide open.

One of the men in the room came walking up to the four of them sitting at the table. “So, you’re telling me that physically your males and females are on par with each other?”

“Very much so.”

“I would love to see what you could bench press in the ship’s gym.”

“We could go there right now if you want.” Hoshi knew she was being tested. “I’ll follow you right now to the gym.”

“By the way, I’m Lieutenant Scott Bridshaw,” the man said. “But for now, I’d like to hear more about your people. Like,” he thought, “how are men looked at in your society?”

“Men have full equal rights among our people. It’s been that way for as long as our historians can remember. For instance, even though males only make up something like thirty to forty percent of our population, our parliament has roughly equal said percentages in both terms of elected officials to the House of Commons and peerages in the Lords. About half of our peers of the realm are male. However, the head of our government is female, Queen Raina Greenfeather IV, of the House of Greenfeather.”

“You still have a monarchy?”

“A monarchy has worked for us.” Hoshi paused for a moment to remember some Zaltaen governmental history. “Nearly a millennium ago, we were under an absolute monarchy. That ended when the government transitioned to a more open government where the people had more say in the government, much like your government is today. Unfortunately, like governments of your past, it was rife with corruption. It’s only within the last fifty years that the queen has been able to gain enough support in the House of Lords to take back some control. Queen Raina has been able to regain much of the power that the monarch once had on our planet but so far, she has no plans to abolish the two houses of our government. Her plan was mainly to help rid the government of the corruption that plagued the government for centuries. So far, she has been able to do just that. We have been a more prosperous people since she moved to enact the changes in government.”

By the time Hoshi had finished saying what she said, the mess hall was nearly filled as the news of her being aboard reached more of the officers. This of course made for people to come to the mess hall to meet this alien that had been assigned the ship. They were all looking at her and she knew it.

Rachel looked about the room and was astonished that the room filled up so quickly. Rachel looked to Hoshi. “I heard somewhere that your people can live much longer than Humans can. Is that true?”

The people in the room began to whisper amongst each other.

“Yes,” Hoshi looked to Rachel. “Zaltaens can live to be nearly five hundred of your years.” The room filled with gasps. “For instance, I’m about… let’s see,” she paused to do some math, “I’m about one hundred of your years old.”

“And she doesn’t look a day over twenty-five.” A guy in the room blurted out. Everyone looked about the room at each other wondering who said it. Whoever it was wisely kept his mouth shut.

“Yes,” Hoshi blushed, “My race does age gracefully.” She paused to look about the room. “Does anyone else have any other questions for me? I’d be happy to answer any more questions.”

Continue to Chapter 11…