Captain Pol looked out the viewport of the 'Sly Hauling Bitch' into the vast emptiness of space. Under normal circumstances it should be empty as far as the eye could see. Yet there, floating in the vacuum, was a structure. It was clearly manufactured. Pol knew it was not man made and the Vinavians had no space program. Unless they had drastically altered the styles of their spacecrafts, it was not of Odian make. All signs pointed to it being from a previously unknown species.Pol had no desire to figure out the odds of her simple cargo ship randomly running across another craft of any manner out here in the void, let alone something so clearly alien. She hated surprises, especially those that caused delays to what should be a simple cargo run. "Yon, are those crashed shield generators repaired yet?" Pol asked into the comm unit. "Almost sir," came the reply. "Static it all, this just doesn't feel right." "Aren't you getting a little paranoid there," Ferb, her co-pilot, remarked. "We've discovered something extraordinary and will get full credit for the find if we play it right." "I don't care about the credit. We've sent our report and the coordinates to the ITA, and that is all we are obligated to do. As soon as our shields are operational, we're out of here." "You really have no desire to explore this thing?" "Nope." "No sense of adventure?" "You've been flying with me for over ten years now and you have to ask." "Sorry my Captain, for a moment I forgot that you were no fun." "Keep with the wise cracking bub. I'll leave you naked on the next planetoid we come across." Brrrr, brrr, brrr, brrr... "Find out why Rycko didn't reset the proximity alarm." Ferb turned to the comm unit, "Rycko, why's that damn thing going off again?" "Uh, there's another ship out there." "What? There is no way the Interspace Traffic Administration would have any ships that close to us," Pol said. "Don't be messing with me now." "I'm not sir. And it's not an ITA ship," Rycko replied. "It would appear to be an Odian craft." "Now this is really crashed," Pol cursed. "Get Yon and Avage back inside the ship. We'll need to have a full crew briefing. And get Rycko to send this update to the ITA." Pol hated being formal with her crew. They were picked because they needed little instruction to perform their work. They knew what to do and did it without needing commands. Even when things got strange, as it had when their friction shields went out forcing them back to normal space, they got right to work dealing with the problem without Pol wasting time with orders. Now Pol stood before them, having to review century old information with them. As far as she was concerned it was a complete waste of time, but the Unified Galactic Establishment had very strict guidelines about how to deal with Odian contact. While Pol trusted her crew to not rat her out when she didn't follow the rules to the letter, this was a situation where she figured it was better to play it safe with. The crew of the Sly Hauling Bitch consisted of Pol and five others. Ferb was her copilot and navigator. Rycko served as the logistics officer. Yon, the only other female on the crew and Avage were the engineers. And then there was Bloc, who was the ship's muscle, doing a little of whatever was needed. "So let's get this over with," Pol said to the crew. "For the three of you who don't know yet, there is an Odian ship on the other side of our derelict." Pol took a pause to let that sink in. "As you all should know it was the Odians that aided the human race in reaching the stars. And until about a hundred and twenty years ago, we were allies in the colonization of space. After a plague rendered their homeworld inhospitable to their species, a batch of fanatic colony leaders convinced the rest of their worlds that somehow the human race was to blame for it all. Our leaders signed the treaties and since then we have done all we can to keep out of each other's way. "Well now we're a little too close for my comfort here and according to the UGE policies, we are to have no unneeded contact with them. Rycko has sent a basic message explaining our situation. With Ferb, Rycko and myself as the only ones onboard qualified to communicate with them, Yon, Avage and Bloc, you are going to be excused from comm duty until we're done here. "So now we have just one issue to deal with. Yon, how long until we get those shields repaired?" Yon looked to Avage uncomfortably then turned to give Pol an awkward smile. "We did a full diagnostics, both with sensors and full hands on, and they should be working just fine. Yet they won't start up. We've got full power going to them, but somehow they're not producing any level of shielding." "How is that possible?" "Don't know. There is some interference preventing the conversion process. I could go over a batch of theoretical concepts, but there is just one element here that has the potential to be our culprit," "The derelict? Crash it all. I guess we're going over to that damn thing." Several hours later the Sly Hauling Bitch was pulled up next to the derelict and had boarding lines attached to what they hoped was an air lock. Pol, Yon and Bloc were suited up and ready to travel the kilometers of empty space between the ships. They had confirmed the Odians were suffering from the same problem and explained the apparent situation, adding their plan to investigate the derelict. Pol knew of those who disliked being in freefall, but she had always found it liberating. For there was something about floating in the dark, looking out at eternity, knowing that a slip could cast you out into the abyss, lost forever. Somewhere in that train of thought Pol found comfort where others might freeze in fear. In the crossing Pol held in the urge to see just how strong her safety line really was by jumping out into the void and just let herself float in the emptiness. She had a mission to complete and needed to focus. Yon was the first out and was working on finding some way to open the entryway when Pol pulled up next to her. "How's it going?" "It would help if we had some idea of what this species was like," Yon explained. "So far I've seen nothing similar to how we set up our manual releases. Hell, we don't even know if this is an actual opening into the crashed thing. It would barely be large enough for us to fit through." "If it comes down to it, can we blast our way in?' "We have no clue about this floating block. Trying to blast our way in might not end well." "I kind of figured that myself, but it never hurts to ask." "What's this?" Bloc asked, pointing to a small panel, only a few square centimeters in size, next to the door. "Don't know," Pol replied. "Try to open it." Bloc held out his large hands to display how impossible that would be. Yon pushed her way in with a screwdriver and was able to pry open the panel quickly enough. Inside was a short, but very small opening with a metal bar that looked as if it could turn. Even Yan's small hands could not get into the opening. "If this is an emergency unlatching mechanism, these dudes had small hands," Yon remarked. She pulled out a pair of pliers and was able to grasp the metal bar and turn it. They waited, but nothing happened. "I guess that wasn't it then," Pol said. "Any more ideas?" Yon squeezed the pliers and then pulled on them while still clutching the bar. This time Yon felt the vibration of machinery moving inside the ship. The sensations were familiar enough, gears moving and metal sliding. A moment later the entry hatch slid open. "I'd say ladies first, but there ain't no ladies here," Yon said. "Ferb, we're going in," The Captain reported. "Confirmed," came the reply from the Sly Hauling Bitch. Bloc took the led with the Captain and Yon close behind. The chamber was cramped, barely fitting the three of them with none of them able to stand straight. "Yeah, the critters who built this were not big guys were they?" Yon remarked. "Now to figure out how to cycle through what I am hoping is an airlock." Yon turned and found a bar similar to the one she had used to open the hatch and used the pliers to repeat what she had done outside. The hatch slid shut, closing them off from the emptiness of space. "Now there should be some kind of control panel in here," Yon remarked. "All I'm seeing are smooth, blank walls," the Captain replied. "That's not a good sign. Could it be that you need someone on the inside to open this airlock?" Bloc let loose a frustrated grunt that echoed through the chamber. "Sounds like we at least have an atmosphere in here," the Captain remarked. "Doesn't do us much good if we can't get into the rest of the ship," Yon replied. "I'm not sure if there's much to see," Captain Pol said, looking through a small window into the fog filled interior. "The visibility in there looks terrible." "Visibility is often a problem with ships that have been abandoned," Yon remarked. "With no one to monitor the atmospheric control, you get funky clouds of all kinds of nasty stuff. "Switch over to infrared and see if..." Yon paused. "I wonder." Yon reached up and turned the nob next to her visor. After a few clicks she smiled and said, "These beings see in infrared." Captain Pol and Bloc reached up and turned their visors to infrared as well. They all could now see that the walls were actually covered with markings. "Okay, now to figure out what all this means," Yon said. The three of them looked over the markings, hoping to find something meaningful in it all. "It'd be nice if there was some manner of controls here," Pol remarked. "I think I found something," Bloc said. He was looking at a highlighted area of about four square inches on the wall. He touched the area and pushed slightly. That section of the wall opened up to reveal a diminutive set of levers. There was some shifting as everyone moved around to allow Yon access to the levers. She switched her visor's magnification on and was able to make out the diagrams around the levers. "Assuming that there is some aspect of universal meaning going on here, this one seems to be an 'open the door' lever," Yon said as she grasped the lever with her pliers. "Time to place your bets people." Yon pulled the lever and they all waited with baited breath. Machinery could be heard shifting in the interior walls. An entryway not more than a square foot opened in the wall. "Go'in be a tight fit," Bloc mumbled. "Yeah, let's try this," Yon said as she moved to the next lever. More machinery went into action and a larger entryway opened. "I'm guessing this is the 'freight door' for this airlock," Yon remarked. "The builders were small fries," Captain Pol said. "Be careful inside there. My guess is we're going to have some issues with the scale of things." The three of them found themselves in what was clearly a cargo bay, a large chamber filled with metal containers of various shapes and sizes. There was enough room for them to stand fully erect and move around comfortably. "Where to now?" Captain Pol asked. "That's going to be tricky," Yon replied. "We've got to figure out what is causing the interference, but I've got no idea what that could be. I say we find whatever serves as a power source for this thing and shut it down. Hopefully that will shut down the cause of our problems. All we have to do is find that power source, in a ship we have no information at." The three of them stood for a moment looking at each other. "Okay then," the captain said to break the silence. "Let's get moving. Time to find an accessway out of here and explore this crashed thing." "I'm betting that's our way out," Yon said, looking at an opening that was not more than three to four feet tall and wide. "It's go'in be tight," Broc mumbled. Upon checking her readout display, Captain Pol noticed it had been over two hours since they boarded the ship and they had yet to find anything of significance. The three of them had squeezed their way through the tight silent corridors, leaving a numbered mark every twenty yards in order to keep track of their progress and make sure they did not accidently double back. So far all they had found were more corridors and groupings of rooms too small for them to enter. They made guesses as to what the rooms were used for, but there was no way for them to verify those guesses. "Hey Ferb, this is the boarding party checking in," Captain Pol said. "I know we've fallen behind, but there's been nothing to report." There was silence as they waited for a confirmation from the Sly Hauling Bitch. "Ferb... Rycko... Sly Hauling Bitch, come in," Pol said. "This is the captain. I need confirmation." After another bout of silence Yon said, "This isn't good." "We need to get turned around and back to the airlock," Pol replied. "Ain't going to happen here," Yon added. "We've no choice but to keep going until we find a large enough chamber." "Static it all, I don't like being out of contact with the ship." "I agree, but there's little we can do right now," Yon replied. "Maybe whatever is messing with our shield generator is also affecting our suit to ship communication." "I hope you're right." It was another hour before they found a chamber that had room enough for them to turn around. Compared to everything they had seen so far, it was a truly huge chamber. All three of them were able to stand and move around freely with the room stretching above them for several stories. The walls were still as smooth as they were throughout the rest of the derelict, but in this chamber areas of the walls were lit up from the inside. They were also lined with hundreds if not thousands of transparent doors to very small compartments. "I would say this area has power flowing to it," Yon remarked. "But I can't see anything that looks like it's generating the energy." Bloc peeked into one of the compartments on the walls. Inside was a smooth, curved form not more than a foot long, which appeared to be refrigerated. "What ya think these are?" Bloc asked. "Some kind of food I would guess," Captain Pol said as she looked in another compartment. "This place looks like some kind of massive vending machine. This must be a cafeteria." "Not the oddest of places to keep channeling power to in an emergency I guess," Yon remarked. "Doesn't do them much good if they're all dead," Pol replied. "Shouldn't hurt anything if we shut this area down with no crew left. Now let's figure out how to do that and hope their refrigeration process is our culprit." The three of them split up and started searching the room for something in the way of control panels. There seemed to be individual switches above each compartment, but no other obvious controls in the chamber. Captain Pol was getting frustrated when she heard a hatch opening somewhere behind her. She turned to see an opening in the wall a level above her on the opposite wall. "Looks like we might have been wrong about the fate of the crew," Pol said. "We have first contact protocols in effect here. Stop what you're doing and assume a non-aggressive stance." All three of them paused and awkwardly tried to figure out what a 'non-aggressive stance' was. The Captain held her arms up slightly while Bloc stood with his arms to his side and Yon had her arms crossed. Captain Pol turned on her translator computer, hoping that whatever language they spoke the computer would be able to work with it. She was going over the regulations for first contact in her head when the first figure emerged from the opening. The being came through and made its way to the railing. Pol got a good look and even though she had never seen one in real life and the being was in a space suit, she quickly recognized what was clearly an Odian. "What the," Captain Pol mumbled as she kicked off the floor to meet the Odian. "You can't be here" The suit translated her words into the grunting of the Odian language. A series of grunts came in return. "You captain of humans, be not dead," came the translation. "It is good. I be Captain of my ship. We wait long without knowledge of events and only silence received. We select to wait no longer for you to take action. Our own team we send to discover problem if situation is now the captain and humans have become dead." Pol took a moment to take all of what she had heard in. "Okay," she said with a deep breath. "That means neither side has broken the truce. I think we can agree at this point to work together as we're clearly dealing with an 'emergency situation'." "Agreed," came the reply translation. "Now please give forth all information as regards the craft we are at present with-in that your crowd has discovered." As Captain Pol and the Odian Captain talked three more Odians entered the chamber and joined the exploration. "Anything about this ship make sense to you?" "Small rodent tunnels make for non-enjoyable travel. Not relaxed in compact area. Constant noise is creating discomfort. Will be joyed when this task arrives at an end." "The feeling's mutual." While the Odians were larger than the humans, they were also more graceful. They moved around in the absence of gravity with seeming ease. Pol found herself jealous of their apparent natural grace in zero gravity. Muffled unpleasant growls came from the Odians as they gestured towards what felt to be the ceiling if there were gravity. There was an exchange between the captain and his crew that went too quick for the translator to catch it all, but Pol was able to catch several references to 'the noise'. "Do you hear something?" Pol saked. "You do not?" replied the Odian captain. "It's quiet as a tomb in here." "Statement is confusing. We hear noise source growing in volume from there," The Odian captain said gesturing towards the ceiling. "Up we go then." As they neared the ceiling it was clear the Odians were unsettled. "You guys going to be okay?" "Will not allow noise to cause us failure. Pattern cause irritation as it repeats many occurrences. Light flashes produced there follow occurrences." Pol looked and saw the flashing lights the Odian Captain was referring to. "Yon, check that thing out." Yon pushed past and caught herself on the edge of the panel with the lights. She took a few moments to look it over. "Once more going off the logic of some kind of universal symbolism, I think I can shut this thing down," Yon remarked. "However, I'll give you the warning that I have no idea of what this will actually do." Pol turned to the Odian Captian. "You're in this mess as much as we are, so what's you take on this?" The Odian Captain looked to where Yon waited. "With power active we are trapped. We not have desire to be trapped. Understand we do that times come when risk are to be taken. Unknown outcome not wished for, but this time risk appears to be valued in assuming." "You heard the guy Yon," Pol said. "And I agree. Let's turn that thing off and hope for the best." Yon turned back to the panel, hesitated a moment and then slowly moved a lever to a new position. There was instantly an obvious change in the flashing lights. The chamber itself seemed to come alive with activity. "This doesn't look like things are shutting down," Pol remarked. "I said I didn't know what was going to happen," Yon replied. "Do you want me to switch it back?" "Let's give it a moment and see what happens." Previously hidden screens came to life next to each of the transparent doors that formed the top most circle at the ceiling. Two of the Odians took notice of them, paying attention to the various symbols that started appearing on the screens. Pol moved to look into one of the chambers. Inside the compartment the form had shifted. It rolled over. There was movement in the form and segments of it started to stretch out from the main body. Pol turned her head, "Whatever is in there it's moving. I think it might be alive." When she turned back she saw what she had no doubt were eyes looking out at her. "And now it's looking at me..." "It communicates verbally in same time," came the translation of the Odian captain. "What?" "New noise similar to former constant noise now being produced by creature. Making of recording happening. All noise and symbols being relayed to ship that is mine for computer to decipher." Pol felt herself at a complete lose for a reply. She had to take few moments to pull herself together as she dealt with everything that translation signified. Finally she said, "You can communicate with your ship?" "Yes. After crew member of yours manipulated controls cause of interference no longer was occurring." "This is Captain Pol to the Sly Hauling Bitch." "Captain, about damn time," came Rycko. "What the hell has been going on?" "A lot. You'll need to send an updated message to the ITA, because things have gotten real crazy over here." "Okay captain. What am I to tell them then?" "Crash it all, it looks like we've found a new sentient race that communicates in a tone we are unable to hear. However, the Odians seem to be able to hear it just fine. I'm following new encounter standards as per UGE regulations. Due to the circumstance however, I'll be forced to work with the Odians to do such. I'm looking forwards handing this all over to an actual expert as soon as possible. "You got all that?" There was a stretched moment of silence before the reply "Yes captain," finally came. Over the next few days Captain Pol and the Odian Captain worked together to learn all they could about the new race which Yon started to call the Derlians, since they were discovered on a derelict. The name caught on as no one had a better suggestion. Captain Pol felt out of place playing diplomat. She sat uncomfortably at a makeshift table in the Derlian ship. With the artificial atmosphere cleaned up they were able to meet without the space suits. The gathering would look ridiculous to anyone seeing it out of context as far as pol was concerned. Pol and the humans were on one side. The Odian captain and his team, large and lizard like, made for an intimidating scene on their side. The Derlians in between, small and bug like in their way with segmented bodies and ten pairs of legs, the upper four pairs of which can extend from their body with incredible flexibility. Despite their size and appearance, the Derlians were clearly the most advanced species there. Through the long process of translating, they told the story of how their home world died out and they launched hundreds of ships with their population put into cyro-sleep until the ships could find a suitable planet for them. The greater details and the beginnings to work with them to hunt down the other Derlian ships was a matter that Pol gladly handed over to the 'experts' when the ITA ships finally arrived. The Sly Hauling Bitch was required to report to The University on Galileo for a full debriefing and to take part in a ceremony to commemorate the historic event.
"... for her part for restarting diplomatic relations with the Odians and introducing us to the Derlians. Her leadership has aided in expanding our knowledge of the universe by joining all the known sentient species together. So please give an enthusiastic round of applause for Captain Lois Pol." The crowd rose and applauded, looking around. "Turn that junk off," Pol said as she entered the galley. "As you wish Lois," Ferb replied. He quickly switched off the screen. "And if anyone calls me Lois again, they'll find themselves sucking vacuum." "Here we are with the most famous woman in the galaxy threatening us," Rycko said. "We are honored." "I ditched that crashed ceremony for a reason. The sooner we get lost in the comfort of the void, the better. We leave orbit in five minutes."
x x x
When I saw the title of this fine, sci-fi piece, I was a bit worried about its potential content. Once I started reading it, I got my mind out of the gutter and just enjoyed. It's a bit longer than our usual story, but I think the extra words are worth it. How about you? Tell me on our BBS. -GM