Chanda’s Legacy Part 2 by Dave Creek – FREE STORY




Earth Unity Ambassador Chanda Kasmira, assigned to the far-flung Station of the Lost, has perhaps her greatest challenge ahead of her. A damaged Sobrenian diplomatic ship appears near the station, spreading a nanotech threat that could damage the station.

In the course of rescuing some of the Sobrenians, a Unity shuttle is “infected” and is a danger to its own ship. Nivara 2 Captain Trenton Bram must destroy his own shuttle, killing one of his crewmembers, Nick Bowling, in the process.

Sobrenian Ambassador Veringashi is a survivor and taken to the station. Chanda’s lover, Ben Farrington, is leading the medical team helping the wounded Sobrenians.

But Ennlor, a Sobrenian who lives on the station, tries to stab Veringashi. Instead, it’s Ennlor who is wounded.

At the memorial for Nick Bowling, several Nivara crewmembers turn their back on their captain, protesting his actions.




Before I got very far, though, Ken Westbrook’s voice came over my comms: “Ambassador — Chanda — I think you’d better come by the embassy.”

“What’s wrong?”

“We have some visitors. They’re quite concerned.”

I won’t even ask about what, I thought. I can live with the suspense until I get there. “I’m on my way,” I said.

The waiting area in the new version of the embassy was larger than the old version, but this one was crowded all the same. Several Cetronen, Drodusarel, Arols, Sobrenians (who were station residents, not affiliated with Veringashi) and two Humans — Lukas Tirilis, the owner of the bar The Roaming Comet, and Adele Andros, a researcher who devoted herself to exploring previously unknown sections of the station — awaited my presence.

Ken was at the doorway waiting for me, thank goodness, because upon sighting me, all the members of those Galactic species descended upon me at once. The cacophony of voices all speaking in different languages overwhelmed my commlink, which meant I couldn’t make out what anyone was saying. I held up my hands, saying, “Hold on, folks. I’ll speak with you one at a time.”

A couple notifications of “failure to translate” came over my link. Probably because I the word “folks,” I thought. Any colloquialism has a hard time getting through.

Fortunately, Ken came in to rescue me. “Everyone, please, let’s get organized here. Give the ambassador a chance to breathe.”

I wish you hadn’t put it that way, Ken, I thought, and sure enough now the “failure to translate” queries centered around what some of our visitors thought was a literal inability to breathe. “Ken,” I said, “I’m going to what amounts to my office. Just figure out who arrived, in what order, and send them to me one at a time.”

I’d asked my staff to complete the restoration of my office last, which meant it still only had a computer position and a desk. Still no chairs. The staff did most of the day-to-day work at the station, and I tried to say out of the embassy facilities as much as possible. I wanted to be a presence throughout as much of the station as I could on most days.

Ken appeared in the doorway. “Ambassador, here are your first guests. The Drodusarel.”

Three such beings came in, their oval bodies with their dozen tentacles floating within energy sacs that contained the methane atmosphere of minus 150 degrees Centigrade that they required to live.

I knew the Drodusarel most likely maintained their presence here to gather intelligence for their homeworld. I’d often wondered how much (or how little) they could’ve learned in the past few years, and what good it would have done them. For now, they lived on a single level of the station that had been converted to their gravitational and atmospheric requirements. Would that always suffice for them?

They halted right in front of me. I assumed the one closest to me was the one who spoke: “Human Chanda Kasmira?”

I knew that Drodusarel had as difficult a time recognizing Humans as we did recognizing them. “Yes, I’m Ambassador Kasmira.”

“I am Lathnis,” The Drodusarel said. “We are concerned about the disruption of our Drodusarel business. It is difficult to re-establish it with the damage the station has sustained.”

Really? I thought? That’s their main concern? Selling differently-sized jackets for Cetronen majors and minors? A stylish shirt for a Human looking to make a good impression at the Roaming Comet?

Lathnis continued: “We are prepared to lodge a protest with our government if we do not receive satisfaction soon. This will not be good for Human desires to establish your official embassy.”

I took in a slow breath. “We’re working as hard as we can to repair as much of the damage as we can. I have to ask for your patience. In fact, I intend to check on the progress we’re making in the marketplace right after I meet with everyone here.”

“We Drodusarel have come here with other Galactic species. We are ready to work together, but we may quickly find our limits in doing so.” With that, Lathnis and the other Drodusarel floated back the way they came.

I have no idea whether that was a threat, I thought. Or how they might try to enforce it.

As the Drodusarel left, several Buruden approached. They’re quadrupeds about half a meter tall, with no heads, round bodies, and four eyes spaced equidistantly around their bodies. Their legs are spiny like those of Earthly starfish.

They’re also a “partially-collective” species. Individuals have only a limited intelligence, and can handle simple tasks. But the more of them that link their spiny legs together, the more intelligent the joined being becomes. Different individuals join up in different combinations to perform certain tasks.

In front of me now stood six such beings, enough, I knew, to form a spokesperson. Sure enough, over my datalink, I heard, “We had hoped to establish a diplomatic presence here on this station. A truth. The damage to this station makes that more difficult. A likely truth. Working with other Galactic species can make repairs go faster. A potential truth. Deciding not to have such a presence — not a truth.”

I knew to wait to let the typical string of Buruden statements play out. Their logic is based on a perception of four aspects of everything, a more complex way of interpreting reality than the usual Human construction of “either-or.” I find it alternately fascinating and maddening. Certainly time-consuming.

“The Drodusarel just told me they’re ready to work with Humanity.” I guess the Buruden would call that a likely truth, I thought. “My hope is that all the Galactic species here will do so. Including you.”

Two of the Buruden separated from the grouping. Two others approached and joined those remaining, creating, essentially, a different being with different knowledge and skills. Perhaps I’d been speaking to a political leader moments ago, and now I’d be talking to a diplomat like myself.

The new Buruden grouping said, “We will work with Humanity. A truth.”

That took me aback. Such a straight-forward statement, without all the other iterations, was a rarity among Buruden. I’ll take it, I thought. “Thank you. I’ll look forward to that.”

The individual Buruden disengaged with one another and went their separate ways out of the office.

I wasn’t done yet. Three tri-pedal Kanandra came in next. Their bodies are covered with soft-brown, brownish-red, or grey fur. They have bulges at the tops of their bodies rather than a head, with three eyes arranged equidistantly around that bulge.

“I am Kiltar,” one of the Kanandra said. His fur was of the brownish-red variety. “We are waiting.”

“Excuse me?” I asked her. “Waiting for what?”

“To see whether Humanity can repel these new Sobrenians from this station.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “We want to work with the Sobrenians to make this place somewhere all Galactics can reach peaceful solutions.”

“You have failed so far.”

Dammit, I thought. The only way I can disagree with them is to lay the blame on whatever’s happening with the Sobrenians. And that’s not a good diplomatic stance. Instead, I said, “All beings fail. I promise you we will work to do better.”

“We will continue to wait,” Kiltar said, and the Kanandra went away.

Well, that didn’t take long, I thought.

As I waited for whichever group might appear next, I felt as if I’d become some sort of holy woman or great sage, with intelligences of all shapes, sizes, and mentalities somehow bidden to come to me. Not a role I’m suited for, I thought. Not at all.

Now a group of Sobrenian vendors arrived. I hope they didn’t hear that previous exchange between me and the Buruden, I thought. Bad enough that various species complain to me about each other. Even worse if we have direct conflict among them.

“How may I help you?” I asked.

“I am Nyold. I and my colleagues are vendors in the marketplace. We protest the discriminatory treatment in not allowing us to sell our wares.”

“Your wares,” I said, “are weapons that could be a danger if violence breaks out here.”

“Because Sobrenians are inherently violent?”

“Not at all. The ban would be against anyone who sold weapons.”

“There are no others selling such products on this station. Therefore the restriction is clearly aimed at Sobrenians.”

I hate when such an objection contains a kernel of truth, I thought. Especially when it makes me examine my own prejudices. All the same: “I will let you know when we can ease the restriction. I’ll inform you personally.”

Nyold said, “I will attempt to speak directly to the Sobrenian ambassador who has recently arrived here.”

“That is your decision,” I said. Although I’m sure Veringashi has more important things on his mind than this.

The Sobrenian left. Next appeared a small group of Arololularians, a slender, sexless species with hairless, almost leathery skin. Most Humans just referred to them as Arols, for convenience. One of them spoke: “I am Ransamisslavordel,” they said.

I’ll think of them as Ransa, I thought. That makes me a typical Human, I suppose, but at least they don’t generally take offense at us shortening their names.

“We pledge all our support with the rebuilding,” Ransa said. “You realize, of course, that we cannot take part . . . in any violence.” At the very mention of the concept of violence, Ransa’s body shook with emotion, which was inherent within their species. It was the way their nervous systems were built, not a sign of cowardice. It’s sad, I thought, that I think of that as a disadvantage, when the galaxy would be a lot better off if all Galactics, including Humans, were that way.

“Of course I realize that, and respect it,” I said.

“Thank you,” Ransa said, and they and the other Arols left. I wish more meetings among Humans could be this concise, I thought.

Speaking of Humans, next to show up was Lukas Tirilis. He was a tall, brown-skinned man I knew as the owner of the Roaming Comet, a bar I and many of my staff frequented. He cast a wide smile and gave me a firm handshake. “You know I’ll do anything to help you, Ambassador,” he said.

“Please,” I told him. “It’s Chanda.”

“Hmm . . . maybe at the bar. I feel this is more official.”

I was grateful to have a chance to smile. “Fair enough.”

“I just wanted to let you know I’m in for a fight again if that’s what’s coming.” Lukas had helped organize the resistance to Colin Glass, the rogue Unity captain who’d tried to take over the station three years earlier.

“I appreciate the offer. I’m hoping it won’t come to that this time.”

“A lot of us at the bar decided you must already have our back. Being a fellow Human, and all.”

“Uh, well, it’s doesn’t exactly work like — “

“We got nothing against other Galactic folk. We’re here for you, fight or no fight.”

All I could manage to say was, “Well, uh, thanks, I guess. But it was just a few years ago you were afraid of the Unity coming in. Establishing a replicator economy, and all that. No need for anyone to buy anything, you said.”

“I guess I’ve gotten used to the idea. I’m not getting any younger, you know. And we don’t have much of an economic safety net here.”

I smiled. “It gives you a different outlook, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose it does. Later,” Lukas said, and walked away.

Next came Adele Andros, a petite blonde from Thessaloniki in Greece. She had made her way several times into formerly inaccessible areas of the station. She’d made some significant discoveries along the way, but more than once had to be rescued from dangerous situations she’d gotten herself into during her solo journeys. I’d even helped dig her out once from beneath debris after a previously unvisited facility had collapsed upon her.

“Ambassador,” she said, “I know I can’t do any explorations while this is going on. So what can I do to help out?”

“You don’t know how much I appreciate hearing that. Talk to Ken and see if you can help with wrangling everyone who needs a place to stay, or food, or whatever.”

“Sounds great,” Adele said, and left.

I wish Adele’s issues were the worst we had to deal with, I thought.

The station had never been explored as much detail as I’d wished, especially extensive areas of its “southern” end. Doing so was one of my goals if we ever became an officially recognized embassy.

And if we, and the station, survived long enough to attempt that goal.

I peeked around the corner and asked Ken, “Anyone else?”

“Not for now,” Ken said. “Who knows who’ll show up later, though.” He indicated Adele, who was already busy speaking to a couple Arols who stood next to her, shaking at the prospect of violence.

“Then later is when I’ll see you.”

“May I ask where you’re going?”

“I’ll know when I get there,” I said, and left without saying anything more.


# # #


Some of those concerns everyone had raised sent me to the main marketplace, where some of the worst of the damage to the station was still being repaired. Besides wanting to check out those concerns personally, I thought that would be the most likely place to find Captain Bram. I didn’t want to contact him over comms, because I hoped to catch a glimpse of him — and his mood — before speaking. Despite what I’d told Ben, if he seemed to have lost himself in work, I’d probably just leave him alone. Intense concentration on an unrelated project might be the best way for him to come to terms with the guilt he felt.

I eased myself into the marketplace area, careful not to make a sound, and looked all around. I’d last seen this facility when everyone was trying to pack up and escape the nanotech threat. Now the process was reversing itself, with some vendors unpacking their wares and utilizing their own nanotech devices to “grow” the tables and carts and chairs and other furniture and devices they needed.

The Drodusarel who had just complained to me were working within their energy shields to set up their clothing shop again. The occasional sight of a shirt or jacket floating past, carried by an unseen Drodusarel on the opposite side of the item, could’ve seemed like magic to the uninformed. It looked to me as if their operation was about to get underway again.

Beyond them, the Cetronen were re-creating their meat shop. The very idea sickened me, and I hoped to move on before they could fire up their burners and start searing real animal flesh.

I made my way around the curve of the five-kilometer-wide space. The transit area in the center, which normally would have its usual traffic of air-speeders or shuttles, remained empty for now, its energy field remaining in place. No doubt traffic there had been suspended during the just-ended back-and-forth movement of the station, and was being slow to re-establish itself.

I spotted the Sobrenians who, despite their concerns about weapons sales, were setting up operations again. They were stacking and organizing the few items they sold that weren’t weaponry. Those included protective garments that fit several Galactic species, advanced sensor packages, and, incongruously, some pre-packaged Sobrenian foods. I’m pretty sure, I thought, that I’m not overly curious about what Sobrenian yogurt might taste like.

Then I spotted Bram, about half a click away. He was supervising a group of Human workers who were putting the final touches on a part of the marketplace that remained open to space. A protective energy shield established just after the attack remained in place, but Bram was overseeing the process of re-establishing a physical wall. Bringing things full-circle, the workers were using a series of devices that used nanotechnology to enhance their traditional construction materials. The nanoparticles they created made those materials stronger and more durable, and made it easier to incorporate energy sources and communications tech.

I had to admit that although I knew the energy shield would keep things perfectly safe until the physical construction finished, I’d feel better once the stars weren’t shining at me directly.

The workers, though Human, weren’t from Nivara 2. I suppose, I thought, that’s so that none of its crewmembers would have been forced to be here instead of attending the memorial for Nick Bowling.

I looked closer at Bram as I approached him from behind. He stood straight, his stance wide, his arms folded. He appeared to be watching the workers go about their tasks, but I noticed his head didn’t move, didn’t follow anyone’s movements. He’s just staring straight ahead, I realized. Lost in his thoughts.

I came around to one side of him. After a moment, he noticed me. Gave me a wan smile. I purposely didn’t say anything, just “helped” him watch the workers going about their repairs.

Bram’s eyes were hooded, as if containing a deep sadness. “I guess something happened. Not important enough for you to call me or come running. So what is it?”

“Something did happen. Right after you left the memorial for Bowling.” I told him how I’d confronted Durand.

Captain Bram looked toward the floor. “You didn’t have to do that.”

I said, “He and all the others were disrespecting you.”

“Maybe I deserved that disrespect.”

“You saved us. I know it had to be hard to destroy — “

“You know nothing.”

That set me back. Bram had never spoken to me that way. He’d also never looked at me as he did now — eyes set in a piercing stare, jaw set.

He continued: “I know you’ve made some hard decisions in your life. Lived through some harsh times. But would you imagine you’d ever have to kill someone you were supposed to protect? Someone you’d helped train, praised them when they did well, gave them hell when they messed up?”

I wished I could just disappear, that I’d never come to Bram to have this conversation. I started to reach out, meaning to touch his arm, but let my hand fall to my side.

“I hate telling you all this, Ambassador. Chanda. I don’t want you feeling sorry for me. That’s why I left the memorial. And I’m ashamed of that.”

“You don’t need to be — “

“Yes, I do. You say some of my crew disrespected me. Well, I disrespected them. I should’ve been strong enough to stand in front of them and take responsibility for what I did.”

I could barely get out the next words. “You saved us. The Hinoki would’ve crashed head-on into the station if you hadn’t blown it apart. As it was, we got to put out a warning. No one on the station died.”

“But it was still a close call. And all because even as I reached for the fire control . . . I hesitated.”

I couldn’t find anything to say.

Bram lowered his head and placed a hand over his eyes. “You noticed that, didn’t you?”

I couldn’t lie. “I did.”

Bram lowered his hand, but didn’t look at me. “So, in that moment before I fired that shot, I was about to risk the possibility that everyone on this station could die.”

I kept my voice low. “But we didn’t. Because you acted.”

“You’d think I’d take comfort from that. But I don’t.”

In silence, we watched the workers “healing” the station as they went about their tasks. It wasn’t a noisy process; nanotech generating devices hummed, sensors beeped, workers spoke quietly.

I told Bram, “I’ll stand here with you if you want to watch them finish. Or I can leave.”

Bram’s eyes closed. He took in a slow breath. He said, “I’ve made a big decision.”

My breath caught. Given the circumstances, I could only think of one such decision he could make, and I wanted to deny it, to push away the very possibility. I feared that even in this moment, the decision wasn’t fully formed and that even asking about it would make it come true.

Bram looked at me, and the sadness I’d seen before had faded, replaced by a new determination. “I’m stepping down from commanding the Nivara. At least until I can have a hearing.”

That was just what I’d feared. “Captain,” I said. “Trenton . . . You can’t — not just yet.”

“Yes, I can. Why not? Because you need me now more than ever? Because it’s my responsibility?” He looked toward the workers again. “You saw what happened when I took responsibility before.”

“You were in an impossible situation.”

“I know that. I still blame myself. And I’ll keep blaming myself the rest of my life. And I don’t want something similar to happen again.”

“What would you do if you quit?”

“I’ve been thinking about that. I sort of wandered into command. I’ve been an explorer before. Maybe I can be again. Preferably on a ship that doesn’t even have any weapons.”

I asked, “Not even defensive ones?”

“Nothing that can get me into trouble again.” He turned away from the workers. He shook my hand.

I looked down at our clasped hands. “This isn’t goodbye,” I said.

He broke the grip. “No, of course not. It just seemed the right thing to do. I’ve got to talk to Santos. Then we’ll need to tell the crew.” He left, headed back toward the hangar bay that contained Nivara 2. I watched the workers a few minutes more, then headed back toward the other hanger bay, the one that contained the makeshift operating facilities for the Sobrenians.



The other traumatic experience in my life was the destruction of New Lancaster Habitat, where my grandparents raised me after the death of my parents. That destruction having happened only three years ago, the emotions involved remain raw.

The hive mind species the Jenregar had invaded the Earth, ravaging many of its cities, including Madrid, Santiago, the suburbs of Chicago, and Zhengzhou, China. It (the Jenregar being possessed of a single connected mind, rates a singular rather than a plural pronoun) also damaged or destroyed many of Earth’s orbital habitats.

New Lancaster was one of them.

I managed to return to Earth system soon after the Jenregar incursion had ended and it had moved toward the Drodusarel homeworld. All my relatives — grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, you name it — were dead. The interior of the entire habitat was a smoldering ruin. Of my childhood home, all that was left was its front porch, the three steps leading up to it, and the foundation. The view was the same all the way around the cylinder, climbing “upward” from my viewpoint in both directions, as well as directly overhead.

No one was left alive to attempt repairs, which would have been futile without advanced tech, anyway. No sounds of birds or dogs or horses.

Now I lived in a different habitat, with both old and new friends and colleagues, a “found family” of sorts.

I had to protect them.


# # #


The bay set aside for the Sobrenians only had about half as many patients as it had started out with: about a couple dozen of the injured remained. As I entered, the Sobrenian doctors from the Asharga appeared much less harried than when I’d last been here, and the place was much quieter. The slapping of bare Sobrenian feet and the occasional beeps and tones from medical equipment still dominated.

From behind me: Ben’s voice. “Chanda!”

I turned. We both grinned. Embraced.

Ben’s expression turned serious. “How’s Captain Bram?”

“You won’t believe this,” I said, and told him of Bram’s decision.

“Holy shit,” Ben said.

“Holy shit, indeed.” I indicated the Sobrenian patients all around us. “It looks like things are better here.”

“Good enough that I’d like to get these remaining patients to our regular sickbay. The nanotech didn’t touch it, fortunately. I’ve got Doctor Seong helping to coordinate that.”

“What’s Veringashi think about the move?”

Ben ran a hand through his hair. “He actually approves. Thinks this makeshift location is beneath Sobrenian dignity.”

“Sounds typical. I guess I’d better make that call.”

Ben said, “I can only wish you luck.”

“I appreciate that. We’ll see how far that goes.”


# # #


Back at our new embassy facilities, where much “kinder” forms of nanotech, as I thought of them, were growing its structures from scratch, I asked Ken Westbrook whether we’d heard anything back from the Sobrenian homeworld, even though I knew it was a useless inquiry. As if he wouldn’t have contacted me immediately if that contact had gone through.

“Nothing, Ambassador,” he told me.

“Very well. I’d like you to open a channel to Earth Unity HQ in Brussels. I’d like to speak to Neriah Fulton.” She was a senior liaison in the Unity’s diplomatic section, and I’d met her before. I knew she’d give me an honest reading on what to expect from the Unity, given everything we were coping with.

Moments later, Ken said, “Done. But we’re still repairing some damage to comms. We have a delay, and it could be hours before we hear back.”

“I understand,” I told him. Then: “Do I have quarters assigned in this facility?”

“Yes, Chanda, I can show you right to them.”

“I couldn’t tell you the last time I slept. Which is not good. I hope I can get about four or five hours in.”

Like much of the rest of the new embassy facilities, my quarters hadn’t been fully grown yet. But I could wash my face, throw clothes on the floor, and crawl into bed. As I lay there, feeling sleep approaching in double-time, I raised my hand to touch my left ear to talk to Ben. I wanted his warmth next to me.

My hand never made it that far.


# # #


Ken Westbrook’s voice, as if from a distance, brought me out of my deep sleep. “Chanda, you’ve got a call.”

I felt more tired than when I’d fallen into bed. Who the hell beat the crap out of me while I was lying here? I wondered. “The Sobrenians?”

“No, Ambassador. Neriah Fulton. Audio only.”

I managed to sit on the edge of the bed. A thick mental fog was lifting, but slowly. “Give me half a minute, then patch it into my link.”

I rose and poured a glass of water. I’d only been asleep a little over two hours.

Neriah’s voice came over my comms, direct from Brussels, back on Earth. “Ambassador Kasmira. I’m looking forward to the ceremony at the new embassy.”

I tried to keep as much tension out of my voice as I could: “Well, Liaison Fulton, I’m afraid we have some problems. Have you ever heard the proverb about the hyena that jumped into the Moon’s reflection?”

“Normally, I enjoy your animal analogies. But not right now.”

“The hyena thinks the Moon’s reflection is a bone. But when he jumps into it, the bone vanishes.”

Neriah said, “I’m afraid you’re about to tell me that this ceremony I’m looking forward to represents the bone.”

“I’m afraid it does.” I gave her more details about the destruction of the Asharga than I assumed would be in the standard reports Ken had filed. I knew he’d also sent on reports about Ennlor trying to kill Veringashi and failing, but Neriah expressed surprise at that development. “I had no idea,” she told me.

I said, “You might want to make sure everything we’re sending is getting into the pipeline in good time.”

“I definitely will,” Neriah said, and now I heard the impatience in her voice. Someone was about to get an ass-chewing. “So is that it?”

“Not nearly,” I said, and explained about Captain Bram’s decision to leave the Nivara 2.

Neriah asked, “And you weren’t able to convince him to stay?”

“That’s not my place. I don’t have any authority over him. And wouldn’t use it if I did.”

A quiet moment. Then: “You’re right, of course. But this makes the upcoming ceremony that much more difficult.”

I made myself say, “First Officer Santos is an excellent commander in her own right.” This isn’t the time to bring up my doubts about her, I thought.

Neriah said, “That’s some comfort. But with the station still under repair, and this whole business with the Sobrenians still unresolved, a lot of the people I answer to are going to be pretty concerned.”

“I don’t blame you,” I said. “I am, too.”

“Then get this settled. Talk to Veringashi and find out what’s going on with the Sobrenians. I don’t want any surprises when I get there next week with President Marsden.”

“Wait, what? When was that decided? That the Earth Unity President would be attending?”

“Why, just last week.” Neriah said. “You didn’t know?”

“No, I didn’t.” Sounds like Neriah’s ass-chewing session is going to be even longer. She continued: “Veringashi still hasn’t told you what’s going on with the Garotethans, has he?”

“He’s keeping silent for now.”

“That’s the key to settling all this, then,” Neriah said. “Find out what you can about what’s going on with them. And tell Santos she needs to clean up the remnants of Asharga. We can’t risk it remaining that near the station, given everyone who’s going to be at the ceremony.”

“I’ll take care of it,” I said, and signed off.

I looked up and saw Ben standing in the doorway. “So, I guess no wild lovemaking just yet?”

“Hah! Wasn’t going to happen, anyway. You know our rule — both of us have to be awake.”

“Sounds like that’s a goal for after the embassy ceremony.”

“Or about a week afterwards,” I said. I rose from the bed, and Ben and I embraced for a good long time. A nice timeless kiss, and we broke away. “You heard what’s happening next.”

“Sounds like about as much fun as dealing with Veringashi over hospital facilities.”

“I say, ‘hah!’ again. You think he won’t want to go along to see about his precious ship?”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. Now I don’t feel so jealous of you for getting your nap in.”

“Well, hold on to that. It may be the only comfort either of us gets for a while.”


# # #


It wasn’t an hour and a half later that I found myself standing on the hangar deck that held the Unity starcraft Nivara 2, newly commanded by its former First Officer Liana Santos. She stood a few centimeters taller than me, and her skin, though a light brown, was still a bit darker than my own. I realized I should’ve made the opportunity to get to know her better through the years. Bram and I worked together well and were even good friends, but I was an acquaintance at best to Santos. I suspected that colored my attitude toward her.

So far, after initial pleasantries, we’d been standing here not talking about Bram. Maybe I’ll ease into it, I thought, and said, “I know you can’t be looking forward to this mission, for any number of reasons.”

“It’s like anything else, Ambassador. We do our job.”

OK, so that didn’t work. How about the direct approach? “When I spoke with Captain Bram — “

Santos interrupted: “I’m sorry, Ambassador. I’d rather not talk about him. That’s not disrespect. I have to concentrate on the mission before us. And I expect — actually, I know that the crew will act with the utmost professionalism.”

“Of course they will, First Off — I mean, Captain.”

Santos indicated Veringashi, who approached us, accompanied by Irene Radford. I was glad to see that; it told me that Akira still had confidence in Irene, and didn’t blame her for Ennlor’s attack.

Veringashi, of course, began his typical rant even as he came up to Santos and me: “I must protest this illegal project designed to destroy one of our Sobrenian starcraft.”

I asked Irene, “Did you explain to the ambassador why this is necessary?”

Irene gave Veringashi a withering glance. “I tried, Ambassador. He won’t listen.”

Veringashi said, “Of course I don’t listen to a pre-sentient’s mad ravings about destroying my ship. You have no right to do this.” Veringashi’s eyes swiveled all around, independently of one another, taking in me and Santos and Irene in turn. He stamped his foot and raised his voice: “You will abandon this wild scheme immediately.”

I perceived this as drama, knowing perfectly well that Veringashi could easily calm his bodily functions if he wanted to. “This ‘scheme,’ as you put it, is designed to protect both this station and the many starcraft we expect for the embassy ceremony.”

Veringashi’s eyes centered upon me. “I care little about your ceremony.”

“Ambassador, with all respect, it’s the reason you’re here.”

“My reasons are my own. But it seems you are determined to commit this atrocity against a symbol of my people’s culture. This only confirms the disrespect you have for us.”

“If you perceive it that way, perhaps you have a ceremony you would like to perform once we’re there, to demonstrate your own respect.”

“I have none.” Veringashi gestured toward the Nivara 2 as if he were the one welcoming us aboard his own vessel. “If it’s to be done, let’s get it over with.”


# # #


The entire time outbound toward the Asharga, I sat to Captain Santos’ right on the bridge, with Veringashi to her left. Irene Radford stood on an upper level behind Veringashi. In contrast to his outburst back on the hangar deck, the Sobrenian ambassador maintained a calm, silent demeanor during this voyage. It made for an uneventful trip, which as far as I was concerned, was the best kind right now.

As for the bridge crew themselves, what little conversation they indulged in confined itself to sensor checks and preparations for the destruction of the Asharga. I was amazed that Veringashi didn’t react to such talk. I hope he’s not saving up his anger for a confrontation once we arrive, I thought.

This would be different from the task back at the station. There, repairs from the disassembler attack had nearly been completed. Most of the disassemblers had missed the station to begin with, and now they continued into the depths of space, unlikely to encounter any other object, whether natural or created by intelligence.

But Asharga remained, and as its image grew larger on the viewscreen, it became clear that whatever kind of nanotech weapon had been used against it had continued its work. Its disassemblers were still eating away at the starcraft’s body, ravaging it in a manner I’d never witnessed before. The slash of twisted metal I’d noticed the first time I’d been here was noticeably smaller. A cloud of debris still surrounded the entire ship’s teardrop shape.

Veringashi stood. Behind him, Irene’s stance stiffened, and her fingers hovered over her stunner. Veringashi watched the viewscreen for a long moment, then said, “Even after such destruction, this is the most beautiful ship I have ever been a part of.”

At least that was a sentiment I understood. I knew plenty of Humans who would say the same thing about starcraft they’d served on.

Santos gave a series of commands to her crew, having them send out a series of probes that would use the more advanced anti-disassembler tech which had helped protect the station. Much of their work would be invisible, as the probes used enticement beams to gather clumps of debris together and gravitic fields to make sure no rogue disassemblers drifted away from the area.

Veringashi kept a close eye both on images from the main viewscreen and sensor readouts being displayed in front of Santos.

I kept a close eye on him. Sobrenians have few facial muscles, which can make it difficult for many Humans to guess their intentions or moods.

I’m one of those Humans. As intently as I stared at Veringashi, his features and stance revealed nothing of his thoughts or intentions.

I really wish I knew what he’s thinking.

Or hiding. Does he know who attacked his ship? Some new enemy of the Sobrenian homeworld? Or a faction within Sobrenian society itself?

I pondered those thoughts so long and hard that I almost missed the main event, even though the viewscreen right in front of me displayed it in massive detail, and visual sidebars told me of the magnitude of the forces involved, the rapidity of the disassemblers being the things disassembled, so to speak, and the more conventional destruction of the Asharga itself.

In a much quicker interval than I expected, all traces of the Sobrenian ship and the nanotech that laid waste to it vanished. I glanced toward Veringashi again. I expected some pronouncement of how unfair Humanity was, or how insulting it was to destroy the remnants of his ship. Something.

Instead, he sat once again to Santos’ left, and did not speak. I’ve had enough of this, I thought. I leaned forward to speak past Santos. “Ambassador Veringashi,” I said, “I know this was a difficult moment for you — to see more of what happened to your ship out here. Do you have any new information for us about what might have happened?”

Veringashi continued to look forward. “I have nothing to share with you.”

Nothing ‘to share?’ I thought. “But you do have more information than you’ve given us?”

Both of Veringashi’s eyes looked directly at me. “I have nothing to share.” He leaned back in his chair and wouldn’t say anything more.

I traded perplexed glances with Santos, who ordered Nivara 2 back toward the Station of the Lost.



Moments after Nivara 2 touched down in its usual hangar bay on the station, Veringashi told me, “I must supervise the movement of my people into proper medical facilities,” he said. “And soon I expect to know where those vermin Garotethans are hiding.” He was first off the ship, hurrying across the hangar deck.

As I bounded down the embarkation ramp, I found Ben waiting for me. I told him, “Seems like these quick encounters are all we manage lately.”

Ben said, “I’ve arranged for us to spend a few minutes together, anyway.” Off my hopeful expression, he said, “Not for fun, unfortunately. On what you might call a minor mission.”

I narrowed my gaze. “How minor?”

“Lukas Tirilis has been bugging the hell out of Ken at the embassy. Says it’s urgent, needs to speak to you, wants to meet at the Roaming Comet.”

“Well, he was insistent that he wanted to help us out any way he could. Hell, if nothing else, I could use a beer about now.”

It took only a few minutes to arrive at the Comet. Its bouncer, a Relajem named Karcradh, greeted us at the door. Karcradh, much as he resembled a snake, was actually a mammal, with fur of a mottled pattern of brown and black. He was about two and a half meters long, his body narrowing down to a tail that split in two, with hands at each of their tips. “So excellent to see you again, Ambassador — Doctor. You come here too seldom.”

“As it is,” I said, “we’re here on business. Where’s Lukas?”

Karcradh’s tail lifted and both his hands pointed toward a doorway that led to Lukas’s private offices at the rear of the bar. Ben and I went past the bar area where Cetronen, Kanandra, Arols, and members of other Galactic species drank, inhaled, soaked up, and otherwise indulged their selections.

We stopped at the door. Ben gestured toward me. “You’re the ambassador.”

“Don’t remind me.” I knocked.

“C’mon in,” came the response. As Ben and I entered the room, Lukas stood from behind a mostly bare desk. The usual comp sat on one corner, with a couple pictures of (presumed) loved ones next to it. Behind him stood another closed door to a back room, and I could just make out an odd chittering sound coming from it. A glance at Ben told me he heard it, too.

Lukas gestured toward a couple comfortable-looking chairs before the desk. As Ben and I sat, Lukas grinned as he rubbed his hands together. “I told you I was ready to help out any way I could.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” I told him. “So what have you got for us?”

Lukas stood and placed a hand on the latch of the door behind him. “The answer to a mystery you’ve been wondering about ever since the survivors of the Asharga attack arrived here.” He swung the door open —

— Revealing the familiar sight of a half-dozen small beings dressed in Sobrenian-style robes.

The missing Garotethans.

“This isn’t the way I expected to help,” Lukas said.

The Garotethans left the back room and stood before us. Their heads were smooth and hairless, their eyes mere slits, and their mouths a thin slash. I felt an immediate affinity to these beings, believing at the time that their current form was in part a product of Sobrenian genetic engineering. The Sobrenians also made them “know their place” by dressing them in robes of a plain blue, which featured no other colors laced among them.

Sobrenians had always insisted that when they first made contact with the natives of the planet Garoteth, they were more than happy to become subservient to them. That, in turn, was the origin of Sobrenians coming to view all other Galactic species as “pre-sentient.” They expected everyone else to bow to them as the Garotethans did.

These Garotethans didn’t seem to have a clear leader. “Can any of you understand me?” I asked them. “Do you have embedded comms?”

Several of the Garotethans traded glances, but ended up just staring at me.

Ben said, “I guess they don’t.”

I asked Lukas, “How the hell did you find them?”

Lukas spread his hands wide. “They found me. They were all huddled in that back room. All that’s back there is storage and my walk-in freezer. And I don’t have no commlink or anything. I sure can’t hear a translation of what they’re saying.”

“You don’t know why they picked your place to hide?”

“None. I never even saw them come in. And this door stays locked much of the time.”

Ben said, “That fits with what else we know about them. Couldn’t find them on sensors, or cubes or flats, Nothin’.”

“They’re very stealthy, that’s for certain.” I asked Lukas, “Do you mind if I commandeer this back room of yours for a while?”

Lukas looked doubtful for a moment, then said, “I suppose I did say I’d help out anyway I could. Didn’t think it’d be like this, though.”

“I want to bring some of my own people in here to try to communicate with them. Preferably they’ll be able to inject them with comms to translate Human speech into their own.”

Lukas rubbed his chin. “Well, sure. Ain’t nothin’ to that.”

I held my hands up toward the Garotethans in a just-wait-awhile gesture. Not that it necessarily communicated anything. I activated my own comms and called Akira, telling her, “I need you to access comm implants for Human to Garotethan translations and the reverse.”

Her voice over the link sounded worrisome: “Does such a thing even exist? Garotethans don’t normally talk to anyone but Sobrenians. I don’t know if anyone ever developed a protocol in either direction.”

“You might have to dig beneath some Sobrenian language subroutines.”

“I’ll get started.”

“When you get that, gather up Irene and come to the Roaming Comet. Try not to look too official. Loosen up.”

I thought I could perceive Akira’s smile even over comms. “I’ll try.”

Lukas asked me and Ben, “You wanna drink while you’re waiting? Or the Kanandra have some kinda mist they inhale that seems to do the same job.”

“Does it work on Humans?” Ben asked.

Lukas took a couple steps forward. “Well, wait just a minute, and I can — “

Ben put up a hand. “No, that’s OK. Just curious.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ll take that drink later,” I said.

Akira and Irene showed up within minutes. Akira had a small equipment bag slung over one shoulder. Her eyes went wide when she saw the six Garotethans. “I’ve never seen that many of these little guys at one time.”

Irene gave Akira a soft punch on the arm. “You shouldn’t talk about them that way.”

“Waddya mean? They can’t understand us. That’s why we’re here.”

“If your comedy routine is over,” I said, “let’s get to this.” I kneeled in front of the Garotethans as Akira readied the injector that would insert communications nanites beneath their skin. I tried to mime the injection process by sticking a finger against an arm, then waved my hands next to my ears, indicating they would then begin hearing translations of Human speech.

When I stood, Ben, Akira, and Irene were all staring at me and grinning. “What?”

Akira said, “I’ll put our comedy routine against your mime routine any day.”

I shot her a faux-exasperated look and said, “Let’s see you do better with the real thing.”

“That’s easy. I’m starting with you.”

“Of course.” Akira pressed the injector against my arm and pressed the plunger. I felt only pressure. “These things used to sting a little bit,” I said.

Akira grinned at Ben as she moved toward him. “I know. It’s disappointed doctors who want to assure their patients they’ll just feel that little sting.”

“Very funny,” Ben said as Akira injected him.

Akira kneeled and motioned for one of the Garotethans to approach her. He did, and she pressed the injector against his arm. She pressed the plunger and the Garotethans eyes went wide, but he didn’t flinch. Akira gave his arm a gentle rub. He stared at her with obvious curiosity.

Irene said, “Now we’ve just got to get these ‘little guys,’ as the phrase goes, to say something to us.”

“Great,” I said. “Now you say ‘little guys’ when there’s a good chance this one can understand us.”

Akira went to the other Garotethans, who didn’t hesitate to let her inject them, as well. Then the first one injected, the one I perceived as their leader, approached me. “You . . . understand what we say, now?”

“I do understand,” I told him. “What is your name?”

“Senvar.” He raised both arms in greeting, a gesture I’d heard of but never witnessed. Supposedly, Garotethans used it only among one another or toward those who considered them equals. Which meant it was seldom seen in their roles as ancillaries to Sobrenians. Senvar said, “I was once the ancillary to Ambassador Veringashi.”

“But not anymore.”

Senvar gestured toward the other Garotethans. “We had already hidden ourselves aboard the Asharga before it left the Sobrenian homeworld. When it was attacked, we moved to several of the lifepods. This was something we had discussed doing even before the attack.”

“This is important to us,” I told Senvar. “We need to know what happened aboard the Asharga.”

Senvar looked around at the other Garotethans. A series of nods and gestures appeared to me that they were giving him permission to speak freely. “Our people — that is, we Garotethans — are rebelling against the Sobrenians. We hope to continue that rebellion here on this station.” He indicated Lukas. “This is only the most recent place we have hidden ourselves. We revealed ourselves too soon, as it turned out. We had hoped that Ennlor would kill Veringashi and we could remain seen. So you know what has happened to Ennlor? Is he still alive?”

“Last we heard,” I told Senvar. “I have people keeping an eye on him. But listen — we need to continue this conversation in our embassy facility. It’ll be safer, and we can record your comments there.”

Senvar said, “Show us how to get there and we will meet you.”

Ben touched my shoulder and said, quietly, “Are you sure about this? We don’t want them to just disappear on us.”

“I’m pretty sure if that’s what they wanted to do, they could do it anytime they wanted.”

“Valid point.”

Akira told the Garotethans the best route to take to get to my office inside the embassy. Senvar told her, “We understand our destination. We will take our own path.”

Lukas spoke up: “Well, if this ain’t a helluva thing. I never thought I’d be part of something like this.”

Damn, I thought. I wish I’d cleared him out of here before this conversation started. “Lukas — can I count on you to keep quiet about anything you’ve heard here?”

Lukas made a zipper-closing gesture with finger and thumb.

“Thank you for that. And we’ll be in soon for that drink, I promise.”

Lukas made a mock salute. “Later.”

As Ben, Akira, Irene, and I walked toward our new embassy facilities, I told them, “I’d like to interview the Garotethans alone.”

“I don’t like that idea,” Akira said. “Ambassador, we don’t know whether they could become violent. Keep in mind they did accompany Ennlor on a violent mission, although they didn’t succeed in killing Veringashi.”

“I agree with Akira,” Ben said. “Although, I’ll be moving on. I need to look in on the Sobrenians and how they’re adapting to their new surroundings.”

I said, “Good luck dealing with Veringashi. When he left the Nivara, he was in a mood.”

“He’s always in a mood.” Then I told Akira, “You can be in the room with me. Irene, you stand by outside just in case.”

“In case of what?” Irene asked.

“If I knew, I wouldn’t need you out there.”


# # #


As Akira, Irene, and I approached our new embassy facilities, I saw that the kinder nanotech had continued its work. Its exterior walls were clearly more hardened against more typical physical attacks, and I knew that even more efficient anti-nanotech protocols were being installed. As we entered the outer office, Ken Westbrook looked up from his desk, which was surrounded by holos showing the progress of the rebuilding, both inside and outside the embassy. Besides the continued growth and rapid detailing of our interior facilities, I caught glimpses of the marketplace area where Bram and I had watched the workers, the Sobrenian hospital facilities, and even an exterior glimpse of the station itself, which actually looked nearly pristine.

I asked Ken, “Have we had any more visitors?”

“None. And we still haven’t heard back from the Sobrenian homeworld.”

“I’d say confidence is low on that count. But I wouldn’t be so sure we don’t have some visitors. Do you have a visual on my office?”

Ken said, “Well, Ambassador, I would never call that feed up unless I had good reason. Not even when you’re gone.”

“I understand,” I told him. “Make sure you keep things that way — even if you hear noises from in there. Akira will be with me, and Irene’s going to keep you company out here.”

Ken looked at Irene, who kept her features impassive. Akira and I went into my office.

And there stood the half-dozen Garotethans, all gathered around my desk.

“Someday,” I told them, “you’ll have to tell me how you manage to be so stealthy.”

Senvar said, “We use many ways. But we don’t want to risk the Sobrenians learning them.”

“I can’t blame you for that.” I stepped over to my desk and began a series of recordings: holo, flat, audio-only. I pulled my chair around to the front of the desk and sat. Akira stood in a corner. I pointed out the only two other chairs in the room. “I wish I had more seats for you.”

As one, Senvar and the other Garotethans sat on the floor, several arranging their robes as they did so. Realizing I was still looking at the tops of their heads, I moved my chair aside and sat on the floor across from them. Akira took a long look at me, then eased herself down as well, sitting to one side.

Senvar asked, “Does that position bring you comfort?”

“In Earth culture,” I said, “sometimes physically looking down upon someone can imply a moral superiority. I didn’t want to imply that here.”

“We thank you,” Senvar said.

“May I ask all of your companions’ names?”

One by one they told me: “Isamu.” “Iradi.” “Rallor.” “Aughol.” “Dynor.”

I told them, “I wish we’d met under better circumstances. But I’d like to know exactly what happened aboard the Asharga.

Senvar said, “It came under attack. We do not know who was behind that attack.”

“What were you doing on the ship?”

“We were stowaways, as we mentioned. Hoping to escape the Sobrenian homeworld and come here to the Station of the Lost.”

“For what reason?”

“We Garotethans began an uprising on the Sobrenian homeworld. Their response was not just to put down our rebellion. It was to exterminate us.”

Akira caught my eye, gesturing that she wanted to ask a question. “Go ahead,” I told her.

She said, “I thought you — as a species, I mean — willingly became the Sobrenians’ ancillaries.”

“A common belief,” Senvar said. “And one Humanity learned from the Sobrenians themselves. They lied.”

“Damn,” I said. “That’s a secret they kept pretty damn well. And we all thought that Garotethans being subservient to Sobrenians was why they expect other Galactic species — ”

“ — Including Humans,” Akira said.

Senvar said, “Yes, including Humans, to display a similar attitude. Thinking of us as ‘pre-sentient,’ and all that. But it is an attitude that has now split their society when it comes to us Garotethans. At first, many of us who resisted were killed. But others hid in plain sight, you might say. And gathered enough of us together that we were able to begin a more widespread rebellion from within their own society.”

“And a more successful one?” I asked.

“Yes. But unfortunately, also a bloody one. We’ve killed many Sobrenians in the process. But even now, not all Sobrenians wish to kill all Garotethans. Some do embrace that idea. Others believe it immoral and cowardly. We know you’ve visited their homeworld. All this has happened since then.”

“So, I’ve failed. In fact, the entire Unity has. Diplomats like me pretend to accept at face value what potential adversaries tell us so we can get along. But then, we have to check and double-check. And keep checking. We fell short with the Sobrenians. We didn’t know anything about what you just told us.”

Akira said, “Ambassador, we all know how secretive they are.”

Senvar said, “We held secrets of our own. We wanted to escape the violence and oppression. Did you know that the Sobrenians implanted nanite protocols within our bodies so that even a stunner blast would kill us?”

“What?” I said. “No, I never knew that.”

“It made it easier to kill us if we rebelled. Easier to control us. Once we developed a way to subvert that protocol, the Sobrenians had to fight us as they would any other enemy. It became a ’traditional’ war. Along the way, we learned that Asharga was coming here to the Station of the Lost. We secreted ourselves within containers of their supplies. And learned to hide within normally unvisited areas of the Asharga. That includes the lifepods, as I told you earlier. And here we are.”

Here you are, indeed, I thought. Now what the hell am I going to do with you? I said, “I’m going to have to keep you all hidden from Veringashi somehow. And the news of this genocide against your people is going to make things a lot more difficult diplomatically.”

Dynor spoke for the first time: “The Sobrenians were never going to be good friends.”

“Yeah,” I said. “You’re right about that.” I told Akira, “Work with Ken to find our guests some quarters. Make it as secure as you can. I’ve got a big call to make.”

Akira said, “Let me guess? A certain place in Brussels?”

“You got it. I need to share the pain with Neriah Fulton.”



“I’m hoping,” Neriah said, “that calling me back so quickly means our problems have been solved.” This time, we’d managed a holo link. She was a slender woman, her skin a tawny brown, her hair graying. Her face seemed more lined than I’d ever noticed before, and the tips of her fingers barely touched her mouth, a gesture that told me she was deep in thought. Her gaze was cast downward, as if looking for answers somewhere around her.

I was speaking to her from my office, my current drink hot tea. The Garotethans had gone back to — somewhere. “I’m afraid not,” I told her. “It’s only gotten worse.” I explained that on the one hand, we’d discovered the Garotethans (or, more accurately, they’d revealed themselves), but on the other hand, their species was the target of an attempted genocide.

Neriah’s gaze lifted, her eyes widened. “Sorry if I look disheveled,” she said. “I’ve barely had a single thought in days that hasn’t been about your situation out there. I’d already considered delaying the ceremony, but too many gears are in motion, too many other species are expecting to be a part of it. But how in space could we ever establish diplomatic relations with a species like the Sobrenians intent upon genocide?”

“I’d like to recommend that I try to contact the Sobrenian homeworld again. I haven’t been able to get through to them at all during this whole affair. But I’d like someone from there to pick up Veringashi and the rest of the Asharga crew as soon as possible.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“One thing — if the ceremony is off, does that mean we wouldn’t officially become the embassy?”

A hand wave from Neriah. “You’ll still be the embassy. But we could end up marking the occasion with a press release and a nice proclamation. If you want to have some kind of party, feel free.”

“Yeah. A party. Just what we need.” Well, I thought, at least I don’t see how things can get worse.


# # #


They did.

After signing off with Neriah, I headed toward the newly-established Sobrenian ward to see Ben. I was hoping to break him free from his job for an hour or two for some “alone time.” Even if that meant just talking. Truth be told, I was probably too tired for anything more intimate, and Ben probably was, too.

As I neared the entrance to that ward, though, I heard shouting voices and sharp sounds of medical equipment crashing to the floor. I rushed in to the sight of Veringashi trying to strangle Ben, who was backed up against a hospital bed that had Ennlor lying on it. A Sobrenian doctor backed away from the scene. Ben’s hands strained ineffectively against the broad-shouldered Veringashi’s stronger grip. I hurried toward the two of them even as I caught a glimpse of Irene Radford struggling with another Sobrenian doctor.

Ben gasped for air. His face was red. His hands loosened their grip on Veringashi’s arms. I grabbed one of the Sobrenian’s arms and pulled as hard as I could. Veringashi looked back at me and, quicker than I could’ve imagined, thrust his forearm backwards to strike me in the face. Everything went black for an instant, but I fought my way back to awareness, this time grasping Veringashi’s neck.

For all the good it did. I couldn’t budge him.

I caught another glimpse of Irene. A flash of light, and I was blinded. I felt weak. I fell. Then had the breath knocked out of me when Veringashi fell on top of me.

Everything went black again.


# # #


When I returned to full consciousness, I was lying on a bed next to Ennlor. Irene’s voice came from next to me: “Ambassador — are you all right?”

I blinked and rubbed my eyes. Tried to sit up, but my chest hurt too much.

“The doctor says you need to lie still awhile,” Irene said.

“What doctor? Shouldn’t Ben be telling me that?”

Irene indicated a bed on the opposite side of Ennlor. “He can’t just yet.”

Ben lay unconscious on that bed. Doctor Margaret Seong leaned over him, one hand on his forehead, the other checking sensor readings. “I remember now,” I said. “Goddam Veringashi was fighting him.”

Irene said, “I stunned him, and you were too close. You got caught in the edge of the stunner flash. I’m sorry — “

“Don’t worry about that,” I told her. I indicated Ben. “Has the doctor said how he’s doing?”

Irene glanced at Ben, then back toward me. “I don’t know if I can say — “

“You mean you won’t say. I’m not going to interrupt Doctor Seong while she’s working on him. But I’m betting you’ve heard something.”

I saw the hesitation in Irene’s features, her reluctance to tell me anything. “I just know he was in bad shape as of a few minutes ago.”

I looked all around, didn’t see the Sobrenian ambassador. “Where’s Veringashi?”

“Akira took him into custody. Set up a makeshift holding area next to our embassy. She, uh, wasn’t sure if that was proper legally. You know, him being an ambassador and all.”

“Proper or not, I’m glad she did it. I’ll take responsibility.”

Doctor Seong raised herself from Ben’s still form. She was a tall Asian woman in her fifties with short-cropped hair. She came to me and said, “He’ll recover now. But it’ll be awhile before I let him wake up.”

“Irene said he was in bad shape.”

Seong tilted her head at Irene. “Worry-wart. He was in bad shape before I got to him. I’ve fixed him up pretty well.”

“What happened to him?”

“I’ll give that part to you straight. Veringashi nearly crushed his larynx. His breath was cut off for several seconds.”

I looked back over at Ben. “I saw him lose consciousness.”

Doctor Seong said, “Nanomeds are rebuilding everything as fast as they can. A few minutes more and he’d have suffered brain damage, or . . . .”

“He’d have died.”

“That’s right. But he shouldn’t have any of the lasting physical problems strangulation can cause. Those little nanites should protect his voice and heal any damage to his neck or tongue. But he shouldn’t sing any arias soon.”

That elicited a thin smile from me. “I don’t think we’d want to hear that, anyway.”

Doctor Seong checked the sensors on the side of my bed. “Looks like you’re doing well. Minor stunner effects. Bruise on your face should be healed up in a few minutes.”

“How did Ben get into that fight?”

Seong said, “He was trying to talk sense into that Sobrenian doctor over there.” She pointed to the one I’d seen backing away from the fight between Ben and Veringashi.

“I imagine the doctor took exception to that.”

“So did Veringashi once he heard that exchange. The problem was that the Sobrenian was a rookie doc, and Ben’s been doing his homework. Ennlor’s version of adrenal glands had been injured when he was attacked, and Ben realized the Sobrenian wasn’t attending to them properly.”

“I get it. Those adrenal glandes are more important for Sobrenians because they can control them — and control their emotions in the process.”

“Exactly. But our green doc over there — sorry, probably shouldn’t say that since he’s literally green — apparently didn’t finish that chapter in his studies. Started bitching at Ben, and that’s when Veringashi got involved. Not to mention yet another Sobrenian doctor who held up Irene just long enough to let Veringashi get a few licks in.”

“But Ben’s doing better?”

“He is.”

“And how’s Ennlor doing?”

“Touch and go. Let’s just say he’s not been getting the best care. And not just because of a rookie doc.”

“I said, “Well, in the meantime, I’ve got to get a closer look at how Ben’s doing.” I raised myself up on my elbows. Seong held up a hand. “Nope. Not yet. Don’t want you getting dizzy. Especially don’t want you falling.”

I cast a thumb in Ben’s direction. “You’re as bad as that one.”

“Glad to hear it. He does a good job. We just get tired of having to put starcraft commanders, ambassadors, and especially other doctors back together.”

“I heard that,” came a weak voice from beside me.

“Ben!” We reached out toward each other from our respective beds, but couldn’t quite touch. I asked Seong, “Can you scoot us closer together?”

“Sure,” Seong said, and did so. She pointed a mock-stern finger at us. “Just hand-holding. No hanky-panky.”

Ben and my fingers intertwined. “No promises,” Ben said.

Seong told Ben, “Now, keep resting that voice. You still have a couple hours or so to heal.” She pointed at me. “In the meantime, hold on to her. She needs to stay put another hour at least before she starts off on some new galactic mission.”

Ben used his other hand to give Seong a silent salute. She turned to leave, telling Irene, “Let’s leave these lovebirds alone. They’ve got a lot of catching up to do while not standing up or talking too much.”

Ben and I contented ourselves with sharing smiles and gripping each other’s hands tighter.

Eventually, our grips loosened, and we both felt asleep for the next eight hours. After the fact, I suspected that was Doctor Seong’s doing.


# # #


Thanks to the miracle of medical nanotech, once we awoke, we retreated, slowly, to our quarters for a few minutes for a shower and change of clothes. We lay on our bed for a few minutes. Just embracing. Just kissing. Too tired for anything else.

I was determined to spend a few moments not thinking about what we’d been through, about his injuries, about the close call the entire station had suffered, about the many responsibilities ahead of me.

At a time like this, I usually try to think of the past; my usual habit when arriving to live somewhere new is to create what I think of as a “homespace.” I replicate a group of baskets as decorations. Two are for transport or storage. The third is a flower strainer.

While she was still alive, my mother back on New Lancaster created the originals out of bamboo, roots, reeds, grasses, and bark. In an unintended foreshadowing of my future, designs of stars and planets adorned them.

I’ve lived here on the Station of the Lost for going on three years, I thought. I’ve not yet created that homespace. I suppose I don’t quite consider it to be my home. Not really.

But it would be a comfort to have that legacy before me right now,

Of course, that’s the moment I received an urgent notice from Ken Westbrook over comms. “Ambassador — you’ve got to come in right away. More Sobrenians are here.”


“It’s another of their starcraft. Just popped in from stardrive about a hundred K away.”

Ben, clearly realizing I was taking part in a conversation that was upsetting me, mouthed, “What?”

“More Sobrenians,” I said quietly to him. In a more normal voice, I spoke to Ken: “Have they identified themselves?”

“No. But its registry is open to us. It’s called the Adurentok. I’m trying to look it up now in the Unity database.”

“Keep looking. I’ll be right there.”

Ben asked, “Anything I can do?”

“No. Just make sure no one finds out about this just yet. Especially Veringashi.”

“We don’t exactly talk a lot.”

“Just keep busy, like nothing unusual’s going on.”

“I need to check on all my patients — Human, Sobrenian, whatever, anyway. I’ll keep busy enough. ”

A quick kiss, and we left in our respective directions.

I made my way down a narrow corridor as I headed for the embassy facilities. Then: another call over comms, this time from Acting Captain Santos: “Ambassador, I’m assuming you know about the possible Sobrenian threat that just arrived.”

“Captain, I don’t know enough yet to call it a threat. We have a very delicate diplomatic situation here.”

“Either way, I’m deploying to stand by about fifty kilometers from the station.”

“Please make sure you don’t take any actions that could be considered a threat. I’d suggest not activating your weapons and keeping your shields powered down.”

Santos kept her voice low. I assumed she was speaking from Nivara’s bridge and didn’t want its crewmembers to overhear: “Ambassador, with all due respect — “

Uh, oh, I thought. That phrase never precedes anything good.

“ — I understand you and Captain Bram had a, let’s say, collegial relationship. He often deferred to you. But I remind you he didn’t have to. If this Sobrenian ship arrives peacefully at the station, then it’s your responsibility. Until then, this is a potential military situation and I intend to take every precaution.”

I held my breath for a long moment as I continued down that corridor. I had to say something quickly, though, so Santos wouldn’t take my delay in answering as weakness. “You’ve made your position clear, Captain. My position is that I intend to contact that ship in hopes of making this a diplomatic situation instead of a military one.”

“But if it does become a military situation, Ambassador, we’re going to need some backup. I intend to report to Brussels and request at least one more Unity starcraft.”

“That could be a dangerous escalation,” I said.

“Or it could be what saves you and the entire station if this becomes a shooting match. We need to be able to bring overwhelming force to bear. I’m prepared to do what I can to defend this station. I believe we were all lucky in this previous incident. The station suffered a lot of damage, even though no one there died.”

I realized that as much as I hated the idea of a military escalation, I had to admit that it had been a very close call before. “Very well, Captain. You do what you think best.”

“Santos out.”

She’s right, I thought. We’ll have a very different relationship than the one I had with Bram. One more thing to figure out.


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