Chanda’s Legacy Part 1 by Dave Creek – FREE STORY



I remember the tension and fear at the arrival of the injured from the Sobrenian diplomatic ship as if it were still happening in front of me:

— Auto-gurneys bringing in one victim after another from their damaged starcraft Asharga into one of the hangar bays on the Station of the Lost — even as I knew the damage back on that ship continued to spread. We’d sent several of our own shuttles from the Human starcraft Nivara 2 to help with its evacuation.

— The buzz of dermal menders and the low groans of Sobrenian victims as Human doctors in the makeshift operating facilities struggled to find the right mixture of meds that would anesthetize a patient without killing them.

— The frustration I felt as an orderly shouted “Back up!” and I jumped out of the way, realizing in that instant that I was more hindrance than help.

“Ambassador Kasmira,” I heard from behind me.

I should’ve anticipated that phrase, I thought. We’re working, so we’re in formal mode right now. “Yes, Dr. Farrington.” I turned and saw the tall, pale-skinned man I woke up next to every morning.

Ben Farrington pointed down a row of gurneys and said, “We might best use you with traffic control at that airlock. And keep asking around for Sobrenian medical personnel.”

“Will do,” I said, and our hands touched for an instant before I headed that way.

Within half a minute, I arrived at the airlock where a Sobrenian shuttle was docked. I directed the Humans attending the auto-gurneys to their appropriate destinations, depending upon the seriousness of the Sobrenians’ injuries.

Soon, the last patient came from that Sobrenian shuttle, and it undocked, headed back to its mothership to pick up more. It stood not more than fifty kilometers away from us. Whatever damage it had suffered had already happened before it jumped into our vicinity.

The new Sobrenian ambassador was supposed to be among the current arrivals. He would represent his species in an upcoming ceremony that would make the Station of the Lost the official site of the Unity embassy. It was to involve many of the Galactic species with which the Unity had established diplomatic relations. This was a goal we’d pursued for the past three years, though we’d been unofficially referring to our facilities as an embassy anyway.

I’d expected one of his “ancillaries,” a member of another Galactic species called the Garotethans, to accompany him. But none was present. I hope they didn’t abandon all of them on their ship, I thought, knowing that most Sobrenians considered Garotethans to be a lesser species. But that was something to pursue another time.

Finally, I spotted him. “Ambassador Veringashi!”

Both his eyes settled their gaze upon me. He was an average-looking Sobrenian, with a thick torso and rough but unscaled green skin. His eyes, in a manner I found disconcerting, swiveled separately in their eye sockets, taking in his surroundings. He wore elaborate, multi-colored robes which featured strands of both green and a lighter blue color laced through them, a sign of his high rank. As was typical, he wore no foot coverings.

“I’m Earth Unity Ambassador Chanda Kasmira,” I told him.

Anyone unfamiliar with Sobrenians might expect Veringashi to vent his anger, to make demands. But Sobrenians have more control over their bodily functions than Humans. They can force their heart rates to slow, and halt the flow of their bodies’ equivalent of adrenaline. The result can be an unnatural calm that can lead you to underestimate their determination.

This was the version of Veringashi who said, in calm tones, “Are all my people being treated?” I heard the translation of his words across the embedded comms behind my left ear.

“They are,” I said. “But mostly by our Human staff. Any Sobrenian medical personnel would be a big help.”

“Of course they would. Lead me to your medical supervisor.”

Typical Sobrenian disdain of Humans, I thought as I led Veringashi back toward the area where I’d seen Ben. On the way, even through his expected calm, Veringashi complained: “I didn’t want to leave the ship. The Asharga’s captain, Ruhash, and other key personnel, are dead. My aides betrayed me and forced me onto the lifepod. And Humans rescued me!”

Charming, I thought. And he’s an ambassador! Though, given my own decades of being an ambassador, I shouldn’t be surprised.

Given my previous experience with Sobrenians, I decided he probably perceived this entire situation as one the universe imposed upon him, and which he must endure with as much dignity as he could muster. Still, he was right to want the best care for the Asharga’s crew.

I found Ben hunkered over the still body of a Sobrenian crewmember. He stepped back and covered his face with one hand. I knew the expression well; he’d just lost this patient.

I came up behind him. “Ben.”

He turned, looked at me, then noticed Veringashi. He held his hand out to the Sobrenian ambassador —

— Who ignored it. “Where are my medical personnel?” he demanded.

“I’ve found as many as I can,” Ben said. “A lot of them are among the injured. I’ve spread the others among my people to help them out. And one of my top surgeons, Margaret Seong, is helping organize our response.”

Veringashi’s voice grew harsher; maybe control of his bodily functions was wearing off. Perhaps he was even willing them to wear off, the better to assert himself with a recalcitrant Human.

“They should not assist you,” he said. “You should assist them.”

Ben’s lips pursed and he took a deep breath. Just enough of a delay to measure his response, I thought. “This is a Human embassy facility using Human technology. My people have to take the lead.”

Veringashi’s left eye stared at Ben while his right eye regarded me. “I will not allow my people to be treated by those who are pre-sentient.”

There it is, I thought. Quicker than I expected. Sobrenians considered all other Galactic species, not just Garotethans, to be less evolved than themselves. It made diplomacy an even harder job than usual.

“Ambassador Veringashi,” I said. “While we debate, your people still require the best medical care. I can assure you that Doctor Farrington here will work closely with — “

Both of Veringashi’s eyes centered upon me. “This Human — (even through the comms translation the insult was plain) — is your mate. Your estimation of his abilities is no doubt affected by that.”

Damn, I thought. Sobrenian intelligence digs deeper than I realized.

Ben glanced at me, chin down, eyebrows raised, then told Veringashi, “I’ll instruct my people to consider your medical staff as being in charge. But operating Human equipment has to remain my staff’s responsibility.”

Veringashi considered that for a moment, then said, “A reasonable solution. After all, my staff are unused to the no-doubt inferior Human technology they must work with.”

I could swear that I heard Ben emit a barely-audible grrr. But he flashed a smile, however forced, at the Sobrenian ambassador. “I’ll let all my people know. Would you like to accompany me?”

“I will do so, to make sure this decision is reported properly.”

With Ben leading the way, he didn’t even get a chance to look back at me. I’m sure his expression could’ve melted a bulkhead.


# # #


Minutes later, I received a call over my personal comms from Captain Trenton Bram, commander of the Unity diplomatic ship Nivara 2: “I’m taking us over to the Sobrenian ship to be closer to retrieve our shuttles. I’m afraid not all the Sobrenians will make it off alive. Do you want to tag along?”

“I need to learn as much as I can about what’s going on. And I’ve had enough of their ambassador for now.”

“What’s that mean?”

“I’ll explain after you pick me up.”

Nivara 2 performed a quick docking at a hangar bay, a different one from where the Sobrenians were being treated, retrieved me, then boosted toward the Asharga.

When I entered the Nivara’s bridge, I could feel the controlled tension among all the crewmembers who were busy at their consoles. The main viewscreen offered a shaky image of the Sobrenian ship and its green exterior. I asked Bram, “Aren’t you supposed to keep this ship closer to the station?”

“I am,” he said. He was a large man in his early fifties with medium-brown skin who sported a dark beard. He often tried to hide his emotions behind that beard, no doubt believed he was doing so right now. But I’d worked with him for enough years that I could perceive the concern he felt. “But I’m also supposed to protect my crew and save as many other lives as I can in any rescue mission.”

Nivara 2 crossed the 50K distance within moments. This was my first good look at the Asharga, and I was shocked at the extent of the damage to the ship. Twisted metal on one side of the craft interrupted the smooth lines of its typical teardrop shape. An ever-expanding cloud of debris surrounded it. Even as I watched, I saw the evidence of the weapon that had ravaged it.


Microscopic weapons were taking the Asharga apart atom-by-atom. They were eating away the ship’s skin. Though a slow process, it was unfaltering and unstoppable. The Asharga was doomed. I had no love for many of the individual Sobrenians I’d met over the years. Veringashi was an all-too-familiar example of their attitudes toward Humanity. But I’d never wish it upon anyone to be devoured by weaponized nanotech.

Captain Bram asked Rico Durand, who was at the pilot and weapons position, what the status was of the Nivara 2 crewmembers still aboard Asharga.

Durand had light brown skin and short, curly hair. He said, “First Officer Santos gathered all but one crewmember together aboard the shuttles Notoro and Kamoi. They’re stuffed. They got caught at one end of the Sobrenian ship. But they’re launching now.”

I suppressed a frown. Santos was a competent officer, but not the most personable one. She never seemed to take my position as ambassador all that seriously. I had to wonder how far her competence had gone in organizing this evacuation.

Bram asked. “What about Hinoki?” That was Nivara 2’s other shuttle.

“The nanotech infection is spreading toward it,” Durand said. “Fast. But it’s just moments from undocking.”

I asked, “Who’s aboard?” I’d worked with Captain Bram long enough that I knew many of his crewmembers.

“Just one person,” Durand said. “Nick Bowling.”

I didn’t know Nick as well as some of the others aboard Nivara 2. I recalled only that he was from a town near Ottawa, and played a mean game of chess.

Bram told Durand, “Get ready to boost away from here the moment we retrieve those shuttles.”

“Course already laid in, Captain,” Durand said. Then: “Wait a minute. Captain? Hinoki’s in trouble.”

I moved closer to Durand’s sensor position, making myself remain still so I wouldn’t be a distraction. I knew just enough about how to interpret the readouts to understand that Hinoki — and Nick Bowling — were as doomed as Asharga.

Hinoki showed signs that nano-disassemblers were busy taking apart its underside and much of its stern, and magnified images on the main viewscreen confirmed that.

Captain Bram reached past Durand and opened a channel to the Hinoki. “Lieutenant Bowling . . . Nick. I have to order you not to approach us. Your shuttle is compromised.”

“I know the shuttle is compromised. You can’t just let me die out here.”

Bram closed his eyes tightly and said, “You can’t risk the disassemblers getting past us and striking the station.”

Durand said, “He’s accelerating.”

“Goddam it,” Bram muttered. He told Durand, “Arm weapons. Get ready to fire if he doesn’t veer off.”

Durand looked at Bram in disbelief. “Captain, you can’t — “

I’d never seen Bram so conflicted, his face so contorted with emotion. “I can, and I have to.” He addressed Bowling again. “Nick, this is your last chance.”

“I’m coming in,” was the response from Hinoki. The small craft was barely half a kilometer away and closing rapidly.

Bram stared at Durand. “Fire!”

Durand lifted his hand toward the fire control, but hesitated. “Captain, I can’t — “

“Shit,” Bram said, and reached over Durand. His hand hovered over the fire control for only an instant, then he slammed his hand down.

Nick Bowling’s voice over comms: “Bram, you bast — “

On the viewscreen, Hinoki took the full blast of Nivara 2’s energy bolts. But the main body of the shuttle spun off “above” the ship before disintegrating.

Dammit,” Captain Bram said. He told Durand, “Track those remnants of the nano-disassemblers.”

After a few moments spent inspecting his sensors, Durand reported, “A lot of them are headed right for the station.”

“Is it in danger?” I asked.

Bram ignored me, instead asking Durand, “Can we destroy them? Or at least move them aside?”

Durand made more inputs, fingers working furiously. He shook his head. “We don’t have the tech to work on a microscopic level like that. Energy bolts won’t destroy them. Enticement fields won’t move them. If we try to intercept them with the ship itself, they’ll . . . just destroy us and keep on moving.”

“We’ve got to get back to the station,” I said. “This ship can move faster than those disassemblers can. It has more advanced tech that can at least protect itself pretty well. I hope.”

Bram told Durand, “Set a course directly back. Ambassador, you’ll send a message warning your staff?”

“I’m just about to,” I said. I went to a quiet area of the bridge and called up my assistant Ken Westbrook on comms. “We’ve got a nanotech threat to the station. Disassemblers.”

“Not again!” Ken said. Three years earlier, members of another Galactic species, the Cetronen, had attempted such an attack but failed. The Unity remained hopeful of re-establishing diplomatic ties someday, especially since the Cetronen loved creating alliances, but it hadn’t worked out yet.

“This time, the Sobrenians were the target. We’re just collateral damage.”

“Doesn’t make it any less dangerous,” Ken said.

“Make sure all the anti-disassembler protocols start up right away.” We’d established defenses against such technology after the Cetronen attack. “I don’t know how effective they’ll be, but we have to hope for the best.”

“Do we send out an alert?”

“Do it. Give the warning. Get everyone on the station to head as far into the interior as they can. Place all Human fire, environmental, and rescue personnel on highest alert. See if we have any non-Humans with skills who can volunteer to help us.”

“Got it,” Ken said and signed off.

Bram approached me. His body slumped. He didn’t look at me as he spoke, and kept his voice low. “I just apologized to Durand. He hesitated to carry out that order. But I should never have ordered him to kill another crewmember. A friend.”

“Bowling shouldn’t have — “

“Of course he shouldn’t have. But the man knew he was moments from dying. He couldn’t accept it. Would I have reacted differently? I don’t know.” Bram finally looked at me. “And then it’s up to me to make another tough decision. Could you have punched that button?”

I cleared my throat as quietly as I could. “I hope I would.”

“But you can’t be sure.”

I couldn’t speak right away. If I was being honest with myself, I’d have to admit I’d hesitate making that decision. Perhaps long enough that I’d have missed the chance to push the button. Then Bowling would’ve been dead, mostly likely along with everybody on the Nivara 2, as well. Including myself.

Would I be sure? I had to give the honest answer.




It took only moments for Nivara 2 to arrive back at the Station of the Lost. It’s a facility about five K across and ten and a half “tall.” No one knows its origin; it has no laws, no government, and was abandoned for years, perhaps decades or centuries, as far as we know. Drifters of many Galactic species end up there as a default when they’ve otherwise run out of options. Some of them manage to start businesses, others get by as well as they can.

Much of the station is in disrepair, and its various sections feature many different atmospheres and gravitational pulls. That, and the varying designs of its interior sections, tells us that many different species may have contributed to its construction. None of them left any clues as to the reasoning behind its design or why it was abandoned.

Nivara 2 glided into one of the station’s larger docking bays, a different one from where Ben was working. Captain Bram came down from the bridge to where I was waiting at the head of the embarkation ramp, hoping to convince me not to go into the station. “You should stay on the ship and coordinate everything from here.” We knew the nano-disassemblers were right behind us.

I told him, “I can’t do that. I have to know every moment what’s happening in here, and be able to react to it.”

Bram grasped my arm. “You realize I’m taking this ship and moving as far away as I can. I intend to protect the rest of my people no matter what.”

The ghost of Nick Bowling is looking over his shoulder, I thought. “That’s exactly what you should be doing,” I told him. “Someone has to be able to report back no matter . . . no matter what happens.”

Bram’s hand eased its grip. “I want to say everything will be fine. But I can’t.”

Again, I saw emotions Bram was trying, and failing, to hide. “Each of us has to face the dangers we’re meant to,” I told him, “Look after your ship. I’ll take care of things here.”

Bram stared at me for a long moment. I thought, It’s as if he’s memorizing my facial features, thinking he’ll never see me again.

Bram turned and left. I hurried down the ramp.


# # #


I left the hangar bay and hurried down the nearest corridor. My path led me onto the station’s largest marketplace, five kilometers across, where several Galactic species peddled their wares. Chaos confronted me. Many vendors were packing up and trying to leave, and no one was imposing any kind of order on anyone’s movement. A Human woman finished stacking boxes of vegetables from several worlds onto a cart, but couldn’t move from her position. She yelled at the Cetronen proprietor of a meat shop, which featured real, not replicated meat. He was a paired symbiont, with the “minor” sitting upon a hump on the “major’s” chest. The minor was the “brains” of the pair, and was the one yelling back.

The idea of anyone eating actual animal flesh sickened me, but it was part of Cetronen culture. And Unity intelligence had cleared the individual Cetronen living on the station, assuring me they had no connection to their government’s earlier attack upon it.

Also forcing their way through the crowd were methane-breathing Drodusarel, who floated within energy shields that protected their jellyfish-like bodies from the marketplace’s deadly oxygen atmosphere and harsh gravity. They were gathering together the many clothing styles that they sold to other species. As I always did, I wondered what such beings knew about clothing. I also knew that their presence here was most likely a front for their government.

Carts clattered, voices in several Galactic tongues rose, and conflicting scents that appeared to be from foodstuffs, lubricants, and ashes wafted through the air. I squeezed my way through the marketplace as best I could.

Looking across the expanse of the facility, traffic in what we called the transit area had increased significantly. That was a wide pathway through the length of the station, where small shuttles or air-speeders headed “north” or “south” on their individual errands. From one moment to the next, it was a wondrous or scary sight, as all those craft went back and forth unrestrained by any traffic control. The energy shield enclosing the transit area shimmered; years earlier, the whole thing had been scarier, given that it was originally an open-air facility — another mystery from whoever created the station.

A heart-rending blow made the entire station convulse. I missed a step and nearly fell. Screams erupted in a dozen different languages. I’ve got to get to my people, I thought. I touched behind my left ear to activate comms. “Ken,” I said. “Are you all right?”

Ken’s voice, thank goodness, came through loud and clear. “We’re just shook up. I’m herding everyone together and we’re headed to our Secure Room.” That was an area in the middle of the diplomatic facility that was hardened against any conceivable type of attack.

It was the ones you don’t conceive of that can kill you, I thought. I told Ken, “Remember not to activate your lifesuits.” That was nanotech embedded within our bodies that could activate as spacesuits or armor. Such protective tech, though, could attract nanotech weaponry. I felt naked, though, not having that protection.

“I’ve already warned everyone,” Ken said. “And we’re activating the anti-nanotech measures.”

For whatever that’s worth, I thought. But I didn’t want to sound pessimistic to Ken. “Sounds great. I’ll be with you as soon as I can.” I made it to the nearest lift tube and headed toward the Human diplomatic level. With a few seconds to spare from my professional responsibilities, I called Ben: “Are you all right? What — “

Ben’s voice interrupted: “Fine for now. Can’t talk.” And the connection broke.

If he were that fine, I thought, he could’ve spoken. But I knew Ben took his responsibilities as seriously as I took my own.

The tube door slid open. I expected another kind of chaos to confront me, but the corridors were mostly empty, and no one was shouting. I waved along a couple of people who wanted to stop and talk, and went searching for Ken Westbrook.

And found him walking behind the last group of people headed for the Secure Room. “Sorry it’s taken so long,” he said. Ken was fair-skinned, tall and thin, with light-colored hair.

“No, you’re doing great,” I told him. “Is everyone else inside?”

“All accounted for. Anti-nanotech measures at full.”

“Let’s get inside, then.”

As Ken and I entered, I realized everyone’s gaze fell upon me. My staff isn’t a large one — only ten people besides me and Ken. Some I’d become close to, others I barely knew. Some stood stock still. Another, sitting, looked away from me and wrung her hands. Still another breathed so heavily I feared he might hyper-ventilate. One person prayed silently.

I realized a new responsibility had just fallen upon me. I gave a short speech, trying to reassure everyone that we’d be in good shape, that the station wouldn’t be heavily damaged, and that we’d all get out of this alive.

Ken came up next to me in a quiet corner of the room after I finished speaking. He told me, “That was a good speech.”

“Someday you’ll have to remind me what I said.” It heartened me, though, to see most everybody visibly growing calmer, their posture more relaxed, their features less ravaged.

“The important thing is it was positive, and you sounded like you believed it.”

“I’m a better actor than I thought, then.”

“So what’s next?” Ken asked.

“The waiting.”

“That’s what I was afraid of. I’m not good at that.”

“If it’s any consolation, sometimes the end of the waiting is worse.”

“I liked your earlier speech better.”

Another crushing blow struck the station. This time the walls shook for several seconds, and the sound of the strike reverberated in all directions.

Ben’s voice came over my comms: “Chanda — are you all right? That was a helluva — “

“I’m fine,” I said, only realizing after the fact that I’d echoed his earlier phrase. “What’s happening on your end?”

“We’re doing well. A few extra cardiac arrests and broken bones. Turns out Captain Bram managed to move aside some of the worst of the tech from hitting our section. Though I don’t know if that meant another area got hit harder.”

“What about our friend, the Sobrenian ambassador?”

Ben paused, a moment I assumed was filled with an eye-roll. “We have, let’s say, a working relationship. I think he’s seen that Humans aren’t as incompetent as he likes to let on.”

“It’s like a saying from the Russian part of my heritage: ‘The first pancake is always lumpy.’”

“I think that was conceived over too many vodkas.”

“Don’t be stereotypical.”


Bram’s over comms. “Ambassador, I need to speak to you.”

“Ben, Captain Bram needs to talk. I’ll call you later.”

“Understood.” Ben’s signal dropped out and I answered Bram: “I’m so glad to hear from you. Ben tells me you helped him out.”

“I did,” Bram replied. “But from out here, I can see that part of the diplomatic section took it pretty hard.”

“Everyone here’s alive, though.” I caught Ken’s eye. “Ken did as good a job as anyone could’ve done, getting everyone into the Secure Room.”

“You’ll have to stay there for a while. That room is about all that’s left of the diplomatic section. But I’ll be bringing the ship back to you as soon as I can.”

“At least we have plenty of life support and food. Any timeline?”

“Not more than a few hours. I hope.”

“We’ll look forward to that.”

“Bram out.”

I thought, Not in a talkative mood. I suppose I can’t blame him. Probably still stewing over what happened with Durand.



Over the next few hours, I kept in touch with both Ben and the captain. The crew of the Nivara 2 worked to intercept as much of the “rogue” nanotech as it could. I also helped Ken keep everyone calm while we were stuck in the Secure Room. I’d been training him to take on more responsibilities with the hope of him becoming an ambassador someday. So far, he was showing great promise, especially with representatives of other Galactic species.

Several members of those species had established themselves here on the Station of the Lost over the past several years, but most of the individuals were private citizens, not diplomatic representatives. Now, the Earth Unity was pressing us to make this official, and Veringashi was only the first Galactic ambassador I was to deal with to achieve that goal.

I can only hope, I thought, that everything goes better with the Drodusarel, the Cetronen, the Arols, the Kanandra. Even the few Sobrenians living here. No telling how many others eventually.

Then Bram came back over comms and said, “I’m bringing Nivara back. We’ve done as much as we can out here, and I’ll come across with some people to help with repairs.”

“Sounds great,” I replied, and soon saw indicators light up that Nivara 2 had docked once again.

It was only moments later that the floor tilted in one direction, then another. And then in an entirely different direction. Uh oh, I thought. The station’s stabilization and grav have gone wonky. If this gets worse, the entire station could shake itself apart.

Bram called moments later: “I’m outside your Secure Room. I’m getting ready to open it from out here.”

I went to the doorway, still speaking over comms: “Shouldn’t you be taking the ship back out again so it doesn’t get stuck in the hangar bay?”

“First Officer Santos is headed out right now. I was already pretty far in here with some of my crew. I told her to leave rather than wait.”

I found that reassuring, even given my doubts about Santos. In the next instant, I nearly tumbled over at the next shift of the floor. I told Bram, “You didn’t have to come here yourself.”

“I think I did. Now, listen. This door’s going to open. I need everyone to stay calm and keep moving. Make a left turn as you come out.”

“What the hell — “

“Don’t do any sightseeing. You’re headed for a much larger holding area.”

Ken gave me a questioning look. I could tell he’d also been listening to Bram. “Well, that’s cryptic enough, I guess,” I told him.

“I’ll help get everyone together,” he said, and got to work.

Minutes later, Bram’s voice came over comms again: “Door’s opening. Keep moving.”

I’d asked Ken to lead the way while I’d keep people moving, making sure they kept close any belongings they were carrying, then bring up the rear. As the door slid open, I realized why Captain Bram had been so cagy about what we’d be seeing.

I looked past the doorway of the Secure Room, expecting to see walls, a ceiling, and various furniture and equipment.

Instead, I saw the shimmering of an energy field, and beyond, star-swept darkness, toward infinity. The damage to the station extended nearly fifty meters overhead and thirty below, and about twenty to either side. The nanotech incursion had halted just before it would have overtaken the Secure Room. I guess the anti-nanotech protocols worked this time, I thought. An ozone odor wafted through the area and a high-pitched sound threatened to give me a headache.

Gasps all around as each of my staff members realized what had happened. A couple people paused to gawk, and I kept them moving. Bram was waiting for me, as I was the last one out. “We’ve got a helluva situation here, don’t we?” he said.

“I wouldn’t like to imagine a worse one. What’s the situation on the rest of the station?”

“No one’s dead. That’s the good part. Your evacuation procedures worked, even across as many species as you have here. And the nanotech protocols put a quick stop to the damage. The damage near the Secure Room wasn’t the worst here, but it was still a fraction of the station overall. Several levels have been smashed up pretty bad. And this damned tilting is a major pain. It’s even worse at either end of the station, as you can imagine. We’re actually fairly stable here in the middle part. I’ve got people in the Human areas there taking what precautions they can. Santos has Nivara focusing as many enticement beams as she can to try and stabilize everything. And she’s recruiting other ships, too.”

“Let’s hope she can fix this pretty quickly. I’m tired of walking like I’m drunk without having done the fun part.”

We made our way single-file into a large common area where most of the displaced residents had been gathered together. I spotted several other Humans, a number of the paired symbiont Cetronen, and the methane-breathing Drodusarel, along with slender, almost insectile Arols and several tri-pedal Kanandra.

There were even a few Sobrenians I recognized as station residents, not part of Veringashi’s crew. As much as I hated it, they were free to sell their wares in several of the station’s marketplaces.

Those wares were weapons, the product not just of Sobrenian manufacturers, but of several species, including Humans. I didn’t like the idea, but it’s not as if I or anyone else was in charge of the station as a whole. I was only the Earth Unity ambassador.

This was a different level than the ones I usually frequented; the gravity was slightly lighter here, a strange smell, not unpleasing, but which I couldn’t identify, seemed to come from the Drodusarel contingent, and the lights were dimmer. I knew my personal nanotech should protect me from any harmful differences, but it was still disturbing.

Ken approached me. “We’re pretty much starting from scratch here, aren’t we?”

I rubbed the back of my neck. “We sure are. I’m afraid I’m going to place even more responsibility on you.”

Ken’s eyes went wide with anticipation. “I’m ready for it.”

I smiled. “That’s the right answer. I need you to look for a new embassy site for us. Preferably on this same level or not too many levels away. It’ll be a challenge.”

“I understand. The advantage is there’s no overall authority to have to deal with here.”

“Which is also the disadvantage,” I said.

“Got it. You can count on me. What will you be up to?”

“I’ve got to get Captain Bram and Ben together and see how we deal with all these Sobrenian patients. Then present a united front to Veringashi.”

Ken said, “I think you have the tougher assignment.”

“I don’t doubt it,” I said, and headed out.


# # #


Of course, I found Ben still in the hangar-bay-turned-emergency-room. He spotted Bram and me right away when we came in. I took a quick look around and was gratified to see that Ambassador Veringashi was nowhere to be seen.

“If you’re looking for our Sobrenian ‘friend,’” Ben said, “Veringashi is off bothering his own people for now.”

“Thank goodness for that,” I said, and the three of us, still walking drunkenly, went into a small room that had been made into an office with Human-sized furniture and computer and comms connections.

We all settled into our respective chairs. Bram slapped his hands on his knees. “Well, we’ve got quite a headache here, haven’t we?”

“That isn’t half of it,” I said, covering my face with one hand as the station took another turn. Oddly enough, that made the spinning feeling worse, as if I were floating out of control in the middle of space, so I lowered my hand.

Bram said, “Just so you know, despite everything else that’s going on, there’s going to be a memorial for Nick Bowling sometime soon. Aboard the Nivara.”

“Good to know,” I said.

Ben said, “I expect to be there, too.”

I looked at Ben. “We’ll be treating some of these Sobrenians long-term, won’t we?”

I’d rarely seen Ben so tired. He sat, body, bent, hands folded. He managed to raise his head as he told us, “Unless the Sobrenians bring in another ship to carry them out. But Veringashi hasn’t given any sense that that’s happening anytime soon.”

Captain Bram asked, “Has he mentioned what the hell happened to the Asharga?”

“I talked around the idea a couple times that I’d like to know. But Sobrenians apparently aren’t much for taking hints.”

“Nicely understated,” I said. “I should contact the Sobrenian homeworld. See if I can find out what the hell’s going on.”

Ben said, “Do you wonder if Veringashi’s caught up in some awful internal politics there?”

“It’s occurred to me.”

Bram said, “I want to find a place to hold these Sobrenians from the Asharga who either aren’t injured or who get better. I don’t want them roaming around the station.” Bram studied my face. “You have a problem with that?”

“I have to look at this through the eyes of a diplomat. These are people who were attacked. They haven’t shown themselves to be aggressors. And this visit is supposed to be a new beginning for Human-Sobrenian relations.”

Bram said, “We don’t know who attacked the Asharga. It came here already being eaten up with nano-destroyers. Which spread to this station and took a pretty good bite out of it. Even if these particular Sobrenians aren’t going to be aggressors, they’re certainly targets. And as cold as it sounds, I don’t want them spreading throughout the station, making everyone else a target, too. Especially when we’re still repairing a good chunk of this station.”

Ben spoke up: “I could also make the case for imposing some extreme medical precautions. We don’t know whether there could be some latent nanotech weapons embedded in some of these Sobrenians’ bodies.”

I sat up straighter. “Do you actually think that could happen?”

Ben shrugged, and gave me a wry smile. “I don’t know that it could. But I don’t know that it couldn’t, either.”

“Veringashi will have a fit.”

“Let him,” Captain Bram said. “These Sobrenians like to bluster and yell, but usually that’s all they’re good for.”

“Usually,” I said.

“You just have one Sobrenian to deal with. Ben and I will deal with all the others. We can set up an area where they can stay for the time being.”

“Thanks for that. Listen, one thing I noticed earlier when the Sobrenians came here. Veringashi didn’t have a Garotethan with him.”

Those were small sentient beings, only about 35 centimeters tall, who were the Sobrenians “ancillaries.” Typically, they remain totally subservient to the individual Sobrenian they’re attached to, and attend to their every need. Their presence always made me uncomfortable, despite Sobrenian reassurances that Garotethans enjoyed nothing more than serving Sobrenian interests. Suggestions that Garotethan fealty amounted to nothing more than slavery were generally met with disdain from Sobrenians and a reminder that Humanity prided itself on valuing the diversity of other species’ cultures.

“Come to think of it,” I continued, “I’ve not seen any on the station in some time. Maybe not at all. I’d assumed that was because the Sobrenians living here weren’t of high enough status to have any.”

Captain Bram asked, “You think they just left theirs behind on the Asharga?”

“That was my first thought. But we have no way of knowing.”

Ben said, “That’s another issue we can be sure Veringashi won’t want to answer.”

I said, “I’d bet you’ve had enough of him for the time being. Captain Bram and I will engage him next. We’ll see how we might best find a way forward. And there’s something else we should address. I don’t think we should allow the Sobrenian marketplace vendors access to their wares anytime soon.”

Captain Bram said, “What happened to looking at things like a diplomat? You want to engage in restraint of trade against a single vendor?”

“Against any vendor,” I said, “that sells weapons to pretty much anyone. Which means, of course, they have access to those weapons themselves.”

“I’ll try to keep them away from their wares,” Captain Bram said. “But I’ll have a hard time justifying it.”

“Let’s get to work, then,” I said, and we all rose.

Ben asked me, “Can we find a moment here . . . just to talk?”

Captain Bram’s gaze flitted back and forth between me and Ben, and he said, “I’ll go on ahead and bring Veringashi back here.”

Ben watched as Bram walked away, his gait lacking a certain grace on the still-tilting station. “The two of you have a helluva task ahead of you.”

“You’re not exactly on vacation yourself,” I said, and embraced Ben. “You don’t know how much I’ve needed this.”

Ben said, “Like I haven’t needed it just as much?”

“I suppose you’re right,” I said, and we kissed briefly. Under different circumstances, the pitch and roll of the station may have been romantic. When we broke our embrace, I took a quick look around making sure the various members of Galactic species just outside the room didn’t notice us.

Ben saw that and said, “Chanda, you’re fifty-two years old. You don’t have to act like a teenager.”

“It’s worse than that if you consider I was born seventy-six years ago.” Much of my youth had been spent in stasis, my parents keeping me “on ice” as they went out for years at a time to be explorers. They didn’t want to miss any moment of me growing up. Then they died on one of their journeys while I slept my life away back on Earth, and I was the one who grew older without them.

To be orphaned at the subjective age of sixteen, though I’d lived across thirty-two years at the time, was one of the two most traumatic experiences in my life. Fortunately, the Zambian side of my family, my mother’s side, came through for me and gave me a home in the New Lancaster Habitat orbiting the Earth. I seldom heard from my father’s family, the one from Russia.

All the same, for a teenager, life had been tough for me inside the habitat. Its residents, including my grandparents, were New Order Mennonites, who eschewed much of the tech such as replicators and nanotechnology that made most Humans’ lives elsewhere a lot easier. Most days required constant chores centered upon the house and the farm. I wasn’t afraid of hard work. But I didn’t want to work just to survive. I wanted to work beyond the habitat, beyond the Earth, to learn how to interact with other Galactic species.

I have two heritages. My first name, Chandamukulu, is a traditional title of mothers of the kings of the Bemba people in northeastern Zambia. Kasmira is Old Slavic for “demands peace.” I wasn’t living up to either heritage. I felt back then as if I were an empty vessel; I need my work to feel whole.

Now that work involved my current home, the Station of the Lost, and the people aboard it who had quickly become a new family. I didn’t dare fail; I continually fight the eternal fear of being thrust away from all my loved ones.

Ben asked, “Any chance we can get together tonight?”

I raised my eyebrows. “Aren’t you ambitious? I’d think you’d be too tired for anything like that.”

Ben gave me a faux exasperated look. “I didn’t mean that kind of ‘get together.’ I’d be happy just to have you lying next to me.”

“Same here,” I said, giving Ben a smooch on the cheek.

“Damn,” he said. “I hate this. But I should check on my patients on the hangar deck again.”

“We do what we gotta,” I told him, as he opened comms and spoke quietly. We both waited for Captain Bram to return with Ambassador Veringashi.



“Unacceptable,” a clearly angry Veringashi said. One of his eyes glared at me, the other at Captain Bram. We’d just explained our security and medical concerns regarding the presence of Sobrenians on the station. “You Humans have no right to restrict us from travel anywhere here.”

Nice diplomatic technique, I thought. Escalate emotional response from our previous contacts, make a clear demand. “Unfortunately,” I said, “we believe this is best for all of your people.”

Bram added, “Just think a moment about all we’ve done for you. We saved the lives of much of your crew. I know you’ll be contacting your superiors for instructions. I’d think it best if your people stay put in a single area.”

“Failure to translate,” Veringashi said.

I told him, “’Stay put’ means to inhabit a limited area, Ambassador, Sobrenians fought to save this station three years ago. We’d like to see even a little bit of that cooperation now.” That was when a rogue Earth Unity captain, Colin Glass, had tried to take over the station. His main weapon then: disassembling nanotech. That’s when we’d installed the protections against such weapons here on the station, no matter that they’d only been partially effective in this latest attack.

Veringashi said, “I consider such cooperation a mistake. The few diplomats we have remaining here from that time are being replaced, including our chief diplomat Torrahn. I demand to be able to see them to institute our new embassy staff.”

Bram said, “They can come visit you. In fact, I think it’d be a good idea if we house them with you for now. Otherwise, they could also become targets, and endanger others on this station at the same time.”

Veringashi stood with a wide stance, and his broad shoulders flexed. “‘House’ them. You mean detain them.”

“This is for everyone’s safety,” I said, mostly believing it.

The Sobrenian cast his gaze upon me while keeping it on Bram. I really wish he wouldn’t do that, I thought. As a diplomat myself, I shouldn’t even think it, but it creeps me out. Veringashi said, “You assume I am about to contact my homeworld for instructions or assistance. Your assumption is wrong.” He fell silent.

Does he think he can just leave us hanging like that? I wondered. “If I may ask, Ambassador, why is that? Does it have something to do with who attacked your ship? And you still haven’t told us who that was.”

“Internal politics of Sobrenian society do not concern you.”

Bram spoke up: “They do when this station ends up damaged because of it.”

Both of Veringashi’s eyes took in Bram: “That damage was caused when your own shuttle became infected. If you had left us alone, that would not have happened.”

You’re welcome, I thought.

“However that happened,” I said, “you and your people are here now. And we have to deal with that. Especially with the ceremony formally declaring this an embassy getting closer, and with so many other Galactic species involved.”

Veringashi closed his eyes (Thank goodness for that relief, I thought) and folded his arms. After a moment, he opened his eyes, lowered his arms, and said, “We will endure what we must, for now. But you must know that I and my people will seek every opportunity to free ourselves from this indignity.”

And there you have it, I thought. It’s the indignity that’s the most painful aspect of this for him. Not the practicalities of helping his people. Especially when he apparently doesn’t expect help from his homeworld.

But if he doesn’t expect help from there, what might he expect, instead?

And how will that affect all the Humans and everyone else here on the station?

Before I could give that prospect any more thought, Ken Westbrook arrived, out of breath and looking frazzled. He motioned for me and Captain Bram to step to one side, out of earshot of everyone else. “You’ve got to come to the common area. There’s some complaints.”

“What about?” I asked.

Ken glanced at Veringashi. “It’s the Sobrenians. The ones that live here on the station, I mean.”

“What’s their problem?” Bram asked.

“They wouldn’t tell me. But they want to speak to the ambassador. They’ve gotten pretty loud about it. That has some of the other Galactics complaining about them.”

I said, “And I’m sure their attitudes toward those other species aren’t helping.”

“That’s right,” Ken said.

Bram asked, “You think it’ll turn violent? Do I need to call in more security?”

“It’s not violent yet,” Ken said. “And we’ve got some of our embassy security there, too. I think we’re OK for now.”

Veringashi approached us. “I don’t trust a conversation that does not include me.”

I explained the situation.

Veringashi said, “I am going to inspect these concerns, since Sobrenians are involved. If you wish to stop me, you will have to do so by force.”

I glanced at Captain Bram, who said, “I’ll coordinate things from here. If you don’t mind, I’ll have Irene Radford shadow Veringashi. She’s with a small force I already have there. And just so you know, it’s safe to use our lifesuits again.” Irene, though officially a Nivara crewmember, usually worked on detached duty with me.

I accompanied Veringashi to the large common area where everyone who had been displaced by the nanotech strike had gathered. I knew my people had been working hard, but they’d only had time to provide bare-bones amenities so far. That included replicators capable of providing basic foodstuffs for the differing nutritional needs of so many different Galactic species, cots and couches of varying sizes for them to rest, and some of Ben’s medical personnel to help out with minor injuries. With Humanity one of the few Galactic species having even a semi-official presence here, a lot of responsibility typically falls upon us.

Veringashi was looking all around, having to stand on tip-toes since he was shorter than many of the other species gathered here. “I see a few of my people,” he said, “both my crewmembers and some of those who live here. But they are intermingled with many pre-sentients.” He looked at me, thankfully with both eyes this time. “Is this some sort of Human trick? Why are they not in a separate space as you suggested?”

A few minutes ago, you were protesting the very idea, I thought. I spread my arms wide. “I assure you it’s no trick. Besides, how could I have set up such a thing is such a short amount of time?”

Veringashi said, “I will seek out my people and separate them from this disgusting display.”

Interspecies cooperation, I thought. Right. I told him, “Just one moment. One of the Unity Marines is on the way to accompany you.”

“I do not require protection from my own people. And I have no fear of other species, of pre-sentients.” He started toward the group of Sobrenians.

Akira Kuroda was approaching from a small group of Unity Marines off to one side and headed my way. She was another Nivara crewmember who worked closely with me. She was married to Irene Radford. I pointed out Veringashi to her. She nodded and diverted toward the ambassador.

Irene Radford also broke away from the other Marines and approached me. She’s short and thin, with close-cropped black hair. She and the other members of the squad were armed only with stunners and wore only “cammies” and not other battle dress or gear. She asked, “What do you need, Ambassador?”

I said, “It looks like so far everything’s been peaceful. I hope we can keep it that way.”

“I’ll keep an eye on you myself,” Irene said. “From a respectful distance, that is. I don’t want to cramp your style.”

“I’m glad you think I have a style. But thanks.” I saw that Veringashi had found a small group of Sobrenians and was speaking to them. I eased closer to hear this exchange better, Irene right behind me.

In the next instant, one of the Sobrenians drew a very large and sharp knife and tried to plunge it into Veringashi’s chest. The Sobrenian ambassador dodged the blow. Even as I rushed forward, activating my lifesuit’s armor as I ran, Veringashi snatched the assailant’s knife from him and stabbed him in the chest. Blood a lighter red than a Human’s spurted. I got myself between Veringashi and the assailant and took the next two blows from the knife. They didn’t pierce my lifesuit armor. I grabbed the ambassador’s arms, but he was too strong for me to overcome. Fortunately, Irene, also armored, grabbed him from behind. I managed to take the knife from the ambassador’s grip. “Let me go!” Veringashi said.

I told him, “Only if you promise not to resist anymore. And keep calm.” I thought, Never mind that part about not needing protection from one of your own people.

“I am calm,” the ambassador said, but he relaxed his arms and Irene and I released him. We deactivated our lifesuits. I looked down at the assailant, who was easing himself onto the floor. Blood from a deep shoulder wound stained his robes, which were not nearly as elaborate as Veringashi’s, indicating that he was of lower status. I silently cursed the continued back-and-forth tilting of the floor that made me take a couple side-steps.

I called Ben over comms. “We need medical assistance for a Sobrenian resident in the common area.”

Veringashi focused both eyes upon me. “We do not need your mate to help. Sobrenians take care of our own.”

Or, I thought, you’ll finish the job you started. We’ll want him alive to see what’s behind this.

Ben arrived in less than a minute, opening a medkit as he came. He kneeled over the injured Sobrenian and got to work trying to stanch the flow of blood. Akira approached me and Irene. We were still holding onto Veringashi. Akira asked me, “Are you all right, Ambassador?”

“I’m fine.”

Irene told Akira, “I was slow. I’m sorry. The ambassador could’ve been in great danger.”

“Stow that,” I told Irene. To Akira, I said, “I’d just pushed past the sergeant, here. I was in her way when this went down.”

“We won’t worry about that now,” Akira said.

The injured Sobrenian tried to raise himself from the floor. Ben eased him back down. The Sobrenian looked at me and said, “You are the Human ambassador, are you not?”

I kneeled next to the Sobrenian. Ben looked at me with raised eyebrows and gave a little shrug, then continued his work. He’d stopped the bleeding and was placing a dermal patch on his patient’s wound.

I asked the Sobrenian, “What’s your name?”

“I am Ennlor,” he said, and nodded toward Veringashi. “I have much to say about this traitor.”

Akira and Irene had to hold the Sobrenian ambassador back as he said, “You will be quiet! You will say nothing in front of other Galactics!”

“I’ll say what I want,” Ennlor said. “I have important information about the shame that this so-called ambassador has brought to our species.” Ennlor looked to one side, and a half-dozen small beings, their skinny brown bodies dressed in small versions of Sobrenian-style robes, came forward.


All this happened at once:

Veringashi yelled, “Vermin!” and rushed the Garotethans. They scattered. Irene and Akira followed the ambassador into the crowd.

Several Sobrenians accompanied an auto-gurney, which laid itself down next to Ennlor. They swept him onto the device.

“Wait a minute,” Ben said. “You can’t — “

But they could. The auto-gurney left, traveling much more swiftly than normal, nearly knocking me down, the Sobrenians trotting beside it. Ben told me, “I’m following them. I don’t trust these Sobrenians to keep him alive.”

“I’m afraid you may be right,” I said.

Veringashi fought his way through the crowd in search of the scattered Garotethans. He pushed aside a slender Arol, who fainted at the mere thought of being the target of violence. He dodged a Drodusarel, apparently thinking better of making contact with that being’s energy shield, and came up short against the wide form of a Cetronen paired symbiont. The large “major” of the pair reached for Veringashi, but the smaller “minor” sitting on the major’s hump shook his head and the major lowered his hands.

In the meantime, the Garotethans had vanished.

Irene and Akira accompanied the ambassador as he made his way back to me. “I demand that all Humans aboard this station begin an immediate search for those parasites,” he said.

“We’ll look for them,” I said. “But we won’t let them be harmed. What is the current relationship between them and the Sobrenians? Does it have anything to do with the attack on the Asharga?””

Veringashi’s posture stiffened. “I do not have to justify myself to you.”

“That’s true.” I indicated Irene and Akira. “But I’m having Ennlor placed under guard.”

“He is a Sobrenian citizen. You have no jurisdiction over him.”

“He assaulted an ambassador — you — who was under our protection. We have to conduct a proper investigation.” I turned to Irene. “We should all head to the hangar bay, to make sure Ennlor is going to be all right.” Meaning, I thought, that we’ll keep him safe from his own people.

We all headed in that direction.



As we entered the hangar bay-turned Sobrenian operating theater, I realized that Sobrenian blood had the same metallic smell as Human blood. The stench permeated our surroundings as Irene, Akira, Veringashi, and I stopped to regard the scene around the wounded Ennlor. He was still lying on the gurney that had taken him here, and hadn’t been transferred to a standard hospital bed. He wasn’t attached to any monitors and wasn’t receiving any fluids. Four Sobrenian doctors were working on him, or at least were making it appear as if they were. Ben stalked around the gurney, telling the Sobrenian doctors, “You’ve let his bleeding start up again. If you don’t stop it, he’ll die.”

Veringashi spoke up as Irene and Akira took up positions at either end of the gurney: “You dare to Human-splain how our doctors should treat a fellow Sobrenian? You know nothing about our physiology or our medical culture.”

Ennlor raised a trembling arm. His voice was weak, but he spoke toward me: “I must speak with you, Human ambassador.”

Veringashi marched toward Ennlor, and I admit I was shocked as the ambassador slapped him in the face. “You will be quiet!”

Ben closed in on Veringashi so quickly that I pressed a hand against Ben’s shoulder to stop him. He halted, but otherwise ignored me while telling the Sobrenian ambassador, “We won’t let this patient die. That’s against everything I stand for, every oath I’ve taken.”

Veringashi said, “Human oaths are empty words.”

I said, “We have to speak to Ennlor to find out why he attacked you.”

“We decide what is best for Sobrenians. Something Humans cannot know.”

Ben said, “And if you believed his death would be better for Sobrenians?”

Veringashi addressed me: “Pull your lackey away from me. I no longer wish to hear his ravings.”

I thought Ben might try all the harder to approach Veringashi, but instead his body relaxed. He told the Sobrenian, “You know, for a diplomat,” he said, “you’re not very diplomatic.”

“I reserve my skills for my own people.”

“Guess I should’ve figured that out,” Ben said, and approached the gurney Ennlor was lying on.

Veringashi made an abrupt motion with one hand, and the Sobrenian doctors pulled pulse pistols from their robes. Of course their doctors are armed, I thought. Sobrenians consider weaponry their highest artform. And we don’t search for them until visitors leave the hangar deck.

Movement to either side of me, as Irene and Akira pulled their own weapons. Standoff.

“I promise you,” Veringashi said, “We will oppose you with overwhelming force.”

“Quite a bit beyond overwhelming,” I said. “I’m familiar with those weapons. At their lowest setting, they can punch more holes in this station. They’re too powerful. Not meant for such close quarters.” What they’re meant for, I thought, is intimidation. Sobrenians are often known for indulging more in bluster than actual violence. I have to hope that’s the case here.

Veringashi made another hand motion, and his doctors put away their weapons. Another, and they turned off the life support functions of Ennlor’s gurney and stood all around it, their strong, thick arms folded.

“What the hell is this?” I demanded.

“Our treatment of Ennlor has ended, unless you stand down,” Veringashi said. “And we will not allow Humans near him to provide their own treatment.”

I glanced at Irene, then Akira, who said, “I can take out as many of them as you need. Stunner only, of course.”

Veringashi looked at me with both eyes and said, “Is this how you wish to begin the diplomatic process on this station? With Unity military personnel shooting Sobrenian healers?”

Ben’s voice came from behind me: “Chanda . . . “

I didn’t have to look back at Ben to perceive both his concern for his patient and his plea toward me. I told Irene and Akira, “Stand down. But stay close.”

They lowered their weapons and took a step back. Veringashi, with a final gesture, had the Sobrenian doctors turn Ennlor’s life-support back on and continue treating him.

Ben took me to one side, telling me, “I’ll keep an eye on them. Make sure they actually work to save Ennlor.”

I said, “If they’re trying to save him, I’m sure it’s only so they can interrogate him. Find out what his motivation was. I’m guessing it could have something to do with the attack on the Asharga. But I’m tired of guessing. I want to know. This is larger than Ennlor. Larger than some dead and injured Asharga crewmembers.”

“I was wondering about those Garotethans we saw. Did they just disappear?”

I said, “Let’s just say we haven’t found them.”

Akira said, “I just checked. Not on sensors, not on cube or flat surveillance, nothing.”

Ben raised a hand. “Wait. You notice that?”

I looked all around. “Notice what?”

“Notice nothing. The station quit moving.”

Ben and I waited silently a few more moments. Then looked at each other and couldn’t help laughing at trying to perceive something that wasn’t happening.

We hugged. A long time.

We released one another. I said, “Well, enough of that, I guess. We both have more work to do.”

Ben said, “We’ll make up for lost time. Sometime. Maybe soon?”

“Not as soon as we’d like, I’m sure.”

“I hate it when you’re right.”

We went our separate ways, Ben to make the rounds of all the other injured Sobrenians there in the hangar bay, while I headed toward our restored embassy facilities.


# # #


Those facilities were bare-bones, the walls a sterile white, the floor gray and rough, as if designed for a factory rather than an embassy. No images of Earth on the walls, no Earth Unity logos, minimal furniture. About what I’d expect for facilities just “grown” in the last few hours or so, I thought.

My first few moments were spent telling colleagues how glad I was that they’d survived, and giving out handshakes and hugs. Then I went looking for Ken Westbrook.

I found him in the new version of my office. It was just as spare as the rest of the facilities, but a bit bigger than my old surroundings. Which still wasn’t that big — about three meters by two, with only a desk and comp position having been formed so far. That’s where Ken was working when he looked up and saw me. “Oh, Ambassador,” he said. “I’m sorry your facilities here aren’t quite finished.”

“You’re doing fine,” I told him. “And let’s get back to ‘Chanda,’ all right?”

Ken folded his hands. “Of course. Chanda.”

“Do we have outside comms yet? I’d like to contact the Sobrenian homeworld.”

Ken grinned. “That’s actually what I was working on. Shall I establish the connection for you?”

“I can manage it myself, I think.”

“I don’t have a chair for you yet.”

I leaned against the desk. “I’ll make do.”

Ken took the hint and left. “Open secure comm link,” I said. “Destination — Sobrenian homeworld.” I knew a live link wasn’t possible, but I left a detailed message: “Request information on attack on Sobrenian starcraft Asharga. Its arrival here led to Unity medical personnel being overwhelmed by a large influx of injured crewmembers, and . . . the death of one Unity crewmember.”

Ultimately, that’s true, I thought. Even though it was Captain Bram who hit the button.

I continued with the message: “Ambassador Veringashi will not provide information on how the attack happened. He, in turn, was attacked on this station by a Sobrenian resident. It appears to have something to do with the previously unknown presence of Garotethans here. Can you advise on any of these questions?”

I knew I wouldn’t receive an answer for some time, if at all.

And I received a notification over comms that a memorial for Nick Bowling was only moments away.


# # #


I rushed toward the hangar bay where the Nivara 2 had docked yet again, having finished the job of re-stabilizing the station. Its seventy-meter length barely fit into one side of the hangar bay, leaving the other side for most of the starcraft’s eighty crewmembers to sit in neat rows. They faced a podium on a makeshift stage, where the speakers would remember their fallen crewmember.

I found a seat toward the rear of the gathering, next to Ben. I leaned over and spoke quietly: “How are your Sobrenians doing?”

Ben’s first reaction was a muted “Hmph.” But he continued: “They’re not my Sobrenians. Veringashi’s like a combination mother hen and political enforcer.”

“I don’t even wanna know what that would look like,” I said.

“I looks like I can barely get close enough to his Sobrenians to check their vitals. The Asharga’s medical staff looks to be doing a good job. But there’s only five of them for a couple dozen injured. They’re not our people, but they’re under our roof. And I don’t like not having access to them. At least Ennlor’s still hanging in there.”

“Maybe we’ll talk to Bram about that later. Speaking of which, it looks like the memorial’s about to start.”

The event began as I expected: several crewmembers who’d worked closely with Nick Bowling praised him as a great worker, and a great guy. The Nivara’s First Officer, Liana Santos, a tall and thin woman with light brown skin and close-cropped, dark brown hair said Bowling was the ideal crewmember, utterly efficient and never afraid of extra duty.

Eventually, Santos fell silent and left the podium. Captain Bram came forward.

Bram hadn’t even reached the podium before movement about seven rows back from the stage caught my eye. About a dozen Nivara crewmembers stood up and turned their backs on Captain Bram.

Even from thirty meters back, I could tell that Bram was anguished. I can make out emotions I’d swear I’ve never seen cross his features before, I thought. Shame. Embarrassment.

But what else should I expect when he’s having to address not just the fact that a crewmember died, but that he killed him? All the same — “I can’t believe what they’re doing,” I told Ben. “How could they be so disrespectful?”

Bram folded his hands on the podium. His gaze swept over those waiting to hear him, but I felt it was an unseeing gaze, that his attention was focused inward.

Ben said, “That’s actually an accepted response to a decision a captain has made that crewmembers disagree with.”

“I’d never heard of that.”

“They can only do it after any danger has passed. What they’re protesting has to be obvious enough that they don’t have to explain it.”

Finally, Bram spoke. His voice was gravelly, as if he could barely force out his words. “We’re here today,” he said, “to remember Ensign Nick Bowling. He was an expert pilot. He came from a large family in Ottawa . . . “

Captain Bram went on in a similar vein for several minutes, praising Bowling’s work ethic, his extensive “found family” aboard the Nivara 2, and his ambitions to be a starcraft captain one day.

Then he fell silent, and this time when he stared out at those gathered before him, it was clear his primary focus stood on those with their backs turned. He said, “We should all remember Nick Bowling . . . all remember . . . I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Bram walked away from the podium and made his way across the hangar bay and into the nearest corridor.

Ben and I traded perplexed looks. “I’ve never seen him like that,” I said.

Ben said, “Grief expresses itself in different ways.”

I started to get up. “I’ll go talk to him.”

“Chanda, you really shouldn’t. Not just yet.”

I sat down. “He doesn’t have anyone to talk to. To confide in. Not on his ship, anyway.”

“There’s nothing you or I or anyone else could say to him that will make a difference. Not right now, anyway.”

“He’s probably gone back to work. Final repairs to the station. Tightening security. He’ll find something.” I got up again.

Ben looked up at me. “Now where are you going?”

“To talk to some of those crewmembers that turned their backs on him. I still can’t believe they disrespected him that way.”

“Chanda, you can’t — it’s an established part of —“ Ben’s voice faded as I approached those members of the Nivara crew.

Several of the Nivara crewmembers who’d stood when Captain Bram spoke still huddled together, speaking quietly. Off to one side stood First Officer Santos. I went to her and asked, “Did you want to speak to them before I did?”

“I actually can’t,” she said. “Or at least shouldn’t. Breaks protocol, you know. And you shouldn’t speak to them, either. You have no authority here.”

My only response was to stare Santos down for a moment. Then, I made my way over to the gathered crewmembers. I recognized Rico Durand, who was at the pilot and weapons position aboard the Nivara when Captain Bram destroyed the shuttle Hinoki with Nick Bowling aboard. He noticed me and his eyes widened. Even through his light brown skin, I could see his face flush. But he hardened his features and said, “Ambassador, I know you’re not military and don’t know all of our customs. I can explain — ”

“I’m not asking because I don’t know. I’m asking because I want to hear you say it.”

Several other Nivara crewmembers spoke quiet encouragement to Durand.

Durand stiffened his stance. “Very well, then. I did not want to hear Captain Bram eulogizing a man he killed. That he tried to make me kill.”

I kept my voice low. “A man who was about to die anyway. And the captain made sure we had time to get a warning out, get people out of the danger area, and fire up our defense tech to keep the damage to a minimum.”

“I guess it was the famous no-win scenario,” Durand said.

I gave him a hard look. “At least now I’ve heard it from you — I’m assuming, all of you — directly.” I walked away without saying anything more to Durand.

I went back to Ben, telling him, “Now I really will look for Captain Bram.”

Ben looked at me with narrowed eyes. “Really?” he asked. “You want to keep hammering him with this burden?”

“Harsh as it sounds, the sooner he deals with every aspect of it, the better off he’ll be. The better off we’ll all be.”

I gave Ben’s hand a final squeeze and set off to look for Bram.

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