If you’ve seen one flight deck, you’ve really seen them all. They all look the same, and all smell as if seventeen different mechanical lubricants had been mixed together. In fact I remember one flight deck where seventeen different lubricants were mixed together. The resulting smell and the immediately resulting fire were quite a sight to behold.
What I guess I’m trying to say is that despite the obviously alien nature of the ship we were now aboard there were some things and some places whose function was pretty much obvious. Flight decks are one of these places. So are control centers, engine cores, sleeping quarters — you get the idea.
The one thing that struck me almost immediately was the welcoming committee that was waiting for us at the foot of the boarding ramp when we disembarked.
There had been some discussion, some of it quite heated, about whether or not we should leave the safety of the Moonshadow and do some exploring. I was of the opinion that given the fact that these people had just pulled our collective fat out of a very hot fire, then we owed them the courtesy of at least making an appearance and introducing ourselves. But Eric wasn’t having any. He was bound and determined that leaving our own ship was the last thing we should do, regardless of the circumstances.
In the end I got my way not through winning the argument, but by heading for the hatch anyway. It didn’t take long for Eric to follow me, and the look of sheer venom on his face was something to behold. It was obvious that he thought I was going to get us both killed, and he was looking forward to being proven right and having the opportunity to laugh in my face about it.
No, Eric isn’t the least bit vindictive. Why do you ask?
Where was I? Oh, yes. The welcoming committee.
There were about a dozen of them, all the same species. Now Earth has been a member of the Federation of Worlds for most of the last three hundred years or so, and I myself served two tours of duty in the Federation Navy, so I’ve had plenty of exposure to alien races. Whatever xenophobia I may have had in me was exorcised in my first week at the academy. But these creatures were like nothing I had ever seen before.
You’re familiar with the Centaur, a mythical creature with the body of a horse and the torso of a human being where the head is supposed to be, yes? Well these things were something like that, but that’s where the resemblance ended. Instead of two arms they had three, with the third sprouting from the center of the chest. The left and right arms had five fingers each, including opposable thumb, and these fingers in turn had six centimeter claws sprouting from the tips. The middle arm had six fingers, no opposable thumb, and those wicked six centimeter claws. The head was quite interesting. There were two eyes, oval in shape and quite feline in their appearance, riding above a long, thin, pointed nose. The mouth was about twice as wide as that of a human being, with wickedly sharp teeth that obviously belonged to a carnivore, complete with fangs hanging down from the upper gumline.
I really don’t want to sound xenophobic, but the very sight of them almost scared it out of me.
And I think that it almost scared it out of Eric too. I heard him take a deep breath behind me, and then he said, “If those things decide that they’re going to eat us, I’m blaming you.”
That’s Eric; always the optimist.
I didn’t know just then if our hosts were capable of speech, and given their appearance I wasn’t really sure that it mattered all that much. Not only were we outnumbered, but we were also hopelessly outclassed, which didn’t say a lot for our chances for survival. Of course, that was only true if they decided that they wanted to be hostile.
For my part I had no intention of doing anything that would make them think that I was hostile. You know the old saying, when the fox gnaws, smile.
One of our escorts stepped out of the line and motioned with one arm for us to follow, which we did.
Had our hosts been of the two-legged humanoid variety, he probably would have said, “Walk this way.” And of course, me being me, I would have said something along the lines of, “If I could walk that way I wouldn’t need to be a smuggler.” What I did instead was something far more sinister.
I don’t know why my mind does this to me, all I know is it just happens, and it usually happens at the worst possible times. It always happens the same way too. There I’ll be, wandering my way though life, minding my own business, when these images will suddenly appear in my mind. The images are often hilarious and are often inspired by events happening around me. More often than not the end result of these visions involves me bent double clutching my belly while maniacal fits of laughter course through my entire body.
This oddity has, on occasion, had a tendency to make matters worse than they already were, including one occasion where such a fit of laughter landed me in a jail cell with a roommate who not only insisted that we were meant to be together, but also began planning the actual wedding.
When I was a kid, my grandparents lived on a farm on Old Earth, and they would often invite my family to spend vacations with them. It made perfect sense to us: God knows they had enough room. Anyway, one year they had this horse that they named Chinook. Chinook was the first horse that I ever rode, and she was also the first farm animal that I ever fed. After finishing her feed Chinook would trot back into the pasture and go about her business. It was obvious that Chinook was a healthy horse because she would break wind with every step closer to the meadow.
Somehow, right at the moment we started following that Centaur an image of Chinook popped into my mind along with the sound of her breaking wind, and the tempo of the gas expulsions took on the rhythm defined by our escort’s pace.
To my credit I managed not to kill myself laughing, although I did emit a sound vaguely reminiscent of a strangled cough. I think that Eric sensed what was happening, because he gave me an unfriendly shove down the corridor, his way of reminding me that it would be in my best interests to behave. As if I needed the reminder.
I never did get around to measuring the ship with the sensors on the Moonshadow, but I figured she had to be several kilometers long and about half that wide with about the same height. That added up to a lot of corridors to walk to get from one end of the ship to another, and in the back of mind I wondered how far we would be walking.
As it turned out we didn’t go all that far. We passed through one corridor, took a turn to the left and climbed into a turbolift, which we rode for about a minute and a half. Then we walked down another corridor and passed through a door on the left bulkhead.
Now I will be the first to admit that there are less than savory elements to my past. I won’t bother to ask anyone for forgiveness, for there really isn’t any point. What’s done is done and I can’t go back and change anything, nor do I have any desire to. I’ve seen my fair share of brigs and prisons and I’ve seen them on both sides of the wall. What we passed through when we went through that door was a prison; I will stake my life on it.
I think it was the force fields that gave it away. There weren’t any bars or any other kind of physical impediment to escape blocking the doors of the cells. However, the interior surface of each doorway was lined with force field emitters, and on any cell that was occupied those emitters were glowing.
In the back of my mind I wondered just how powerful those emitters were. I stopped wondering almost immediately. As we passed one of the cells the occupant, who I recognized as being a member of a particularly violent race of cannibals, apparently decided that Eric and I must taste as good as we looked, and rushed the door. The force field held him in place for what seemed an eternity, the energy generated from the field coruscating around him line a violent all-over halo, before spitting him out and sending him flying into the back wall of the cell, opposite the door. I could swear I heard something snap as he hit the wall. He slid to the deck and did not move again.
I could feel Eric shiver beside me, and I felt myself shiver too.
At the end of that corridor was a single door, which our escort led us through, and beyond that door was the single most advanced genetics lab I have ever seen in my life.
Of course none of the equipment was of human design, but there were some elements of familiar technologies from other alien races. And the feel of the whole place screamed genetics lab. I don’t know how else to describe it, all I know is how it felt.
The escort led us through the lab to an office on the other side, took up station on either side of the door and motioned us through.
We shrugged and passed through the door.
And that’s when we found ourselves face to face with an Elf.
The first thought in my mind was that this was a prison ship, and that Eric and I were about to be executed for our cargo. It seemed logical enough at the time, and it inspired me to a level of panic that I had never known before. I snarled and reached for my sidearm, drew my pistol out of its holster faster than I have ever drawn in my life, raised the weapon and sighted down the barrel.
I never got a chance to pull the trigger. As fast as I was moving it seemed as if the Elf was moving in slow motion. He raised his hand and gestured with a single finger. The pistol flew out of my grasp and soared across the room to land with a solid smack in the palm of his hand. He closed his hand around the weapon and relieved it of its power cell before placing both components on either side of him on the desk.
The Elf just smiled at what must have been the utterly comedic look of shock on my face and gestured to the guest chairs in front of us. “Won’t you sit down?” he invited.
What do you do when you’ve just pulled off the heist of the century and robbed the Elven treasury of several million crowns, and then find yourself on a giant starship in the middle of nowhere face to face with an Elf with telekinetic abilities?
I don’t know the answer to that one either. So we sat down in the chairs.
* * *
“My name,” the Elf said by way of introduction as he sat down in the chair on his side of the desk, “is Moroth.”
The name sounded familiar, but in such a way as I knew that I had last heard it years before, a great many years before in fact. I leaned back in my chair, folded my arms across my chest and closed my eyes. This is my classic thinking posture, the stance I assume when my mind is working overtime trying to solve some riddle or another.
The Elves are the oldest of the spacefaring races, and as such they have contributed a lot of history to the universe. It can safely be said that the Elves were making their first flights to their moons when humanity was nothing more than a strain of amino acids foaming out of the primordial muck.
The Elves were also the founding race of the Federation of Worlds, and Federation Law was written using Elven law and Elven morality as the template for interspecies civilization. But the Elven empire hadn’t always been peaceful. In fact, there were a series of events surrounding the Foundation of the Federation and a group of renegade Elves who...
“Oh, hell!” I muttered as the memory clicked.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2003 by Michael J A Tyzuk