Chanda’s Legacy Part 3 by Dave Creek – FREE STORY



Earth Unity Ambassador Chanda Kasmira must deal with the latest threat to the Station of the Lost, where she is assigned. The nanotech damage to a Sobrenian starcraft just arrived near the station spreads outward, forcing Captain Trenton Bram of the starcraft Nivara 2 to destroy one of his own “infected” shuttles, killing the crewmember inside.

Chanda’s lover, Ben Farrington, leads the medical response.

Sobrenian Ambassador Veringashi survives the damage to his ship, and also a threat on his life by a fellow Sobrenian.

A number of residents of the Station of the Lost, of several Galactic species, show their concern over the potential dangers the Sobrenians pose. She reassures them that she’s doing everything she can to protect the station.

Both Ben Farrington and Chanda are injured in a physical confrontation with Veringashi.

Another Sobrenian ship, the Adurentok, arrives.





In the next moments, I arrived at the embassy facility and approached Ken. “Talk to me.”

Ken called up a holo of the Sobrenian ship Adurentok. It had the usual Sobrenian teardrop shape, just like the late-but-not-lamented (at least by me) Asharga. Dark green markings dominated its exterior, with swaths of a lighter green embellishing it. Ken said, “Looks like a standard starcraft design for them, what we might call a light cruiser. Crew of about a hundred or so. Captain’s name is Drakim. We know nothing about him, other than he’s commanded this ship for at least five years.”

“I certainly haven’t heard of him, or even of that ship. Any record of previous encounters involving the Unity?”

“That’s how we know Drakim’s been captain at least five years. Adurentok discovered the Shen Kuo.”

“Now that ship I’ve heard of,” I said. It had been declared missing during the Great Human War nearly half a century ago, only to make a miraculous, decades-long journey back into Human space. I knew a Sobrenian ship had been the first to encounter it, but hadn’t remembered which one. I said, “The Sobrenians passed it and its crew along to the Unity pretty quickly. Doesn’t give us much insight into Drakim.”

Ken asked, “How long do you think he’ll just sit there? Is he hoping to intimidate us?”

“If he is, it might be working. Try to open a channel and send it into my office.” Which is where I went, hoping to receive a callback quickly.

I didn’t. I started out leaning back in one of the more comfortable chairs in my office. I sat with arms folded, hoping the silence from Adurentok would break in the next moment. Quite a few of those moments went by. Eventually, my leaning back threatened to become slumping, and I sat up straight. A couple times, Ken spoke up over comms to tell me he’d not received a response (which I knew) but that he’d keep trying (which I assumed).

I vacillated between staying the course and waiting for a response, and saying to hell with it and going about my day. Certainly, I had plenty other issues to address. I had to figure what to do with Veringashi, and whether I had a legal or moral responsibility to do anything at all. I had to see how to incorporate the Garotethans into the station’s society, which was another legal and moral quagmire. Not to mention keeping track of all the other Galactic species represented on the station, most of which looked to the Unity — meaning me! — to maintain some kind of structure and sense of normalcy.

That’s when I realized — I wasn’t actually sitting here waiting for a response from Adurentok. I was stalling, indulging my reluctance to dive back into so many responsibilities. If Drakim was going to call back, I thought, he’d have done so by now.

I stood. Time for goofing off is over, I thought. Time to get back to work.

Naturally, that’s when Ken’s voice came over my comms: “I’ve got Captain Drakim on the line. Full holo. Go ahead anytime.”

Thank goodness I was standing and not slumped in the chair like I was a few moments ago, I thought. Drakim’s image showed a Sobrenian a bit older than Veringashi. I saw that he was speaking from the Adurentok’s bridge, which was more brightly lit than a Human one would be, and had many more holos and displays. He was dressed in the usual blue robes, but they had red and orange lines threaded through them, perhaps denoting his military status. I said, “This is Earth Unity Ambassador Chanda Kasmira.”

I paused so Drakim could introduce himself, but he just stood there, as if taking in my appearance and my surroundings, which were certainly much plainer and more mundane than his own. Finally: “I am Captain Drakim of the Sobrenian warship Adurentok.” Then more silence.

“I’m pleased to meet you,” I said, which was hardly true. Ambassadors shouldn’t think about how often our initial contacts with new individuals contain blatant lies. I kept speaking, not wanting to endure another potential silence from Drakim. “I’d like to ask what the purpose of your visit is.”

“We wish to return the surviving crew of the Asharga back home. Elements of our government tried to destroy it, as you have seen. Our plans have now changed.”

“That’s certainly something we can discuss,” I said. With the possible exception of a certain Sobrenian ambassador. “I can get you the coordinates of which docking bay you can use.”

“Drakim out,” he said, and his image disappeared. Well, that didn’t take long, I thought. I left my office to ask Ken to inform Captain Santos about Adurentok’s imminent arrival. I also asked him to let the appropriate hangar deck crew know another visitor was about to arrive. “And get me Brussels again.”

Ken said, “That most recent conversation will be the last for a while. Another glitch in our comms. More repairs needed, apparently.”

“Well, crap. I guess we’re on our own again.”

“Sorry, Chanda. We’ll keep working.”

“No, that’s all right. Sometimes, being on our own is an advantage.”

On our own or not, I left to recruit some backup. I needed someone I could talk to about the Adurentok and about Veringashi. Someone who knew about the Sobrenians, the Unity, and diplomacy. And when to take a stand — and when to step aside.



Now-former Earth Unity starcraft Nivara 2 commander Trenton Bram was living in quarters I’d assigned him near the new embassy facilities. Or perhaps I should say our not-quite-embassy facilities, since it looked as if the official designation was receding into the far distance.

I didn’t contact him over comms before I went to those quarters, in part because I wanted to take an unvarnished look at his living conditions. Bram would be the last person I expected to wallow in sadness and frustration, or to let his completed meals pile up on furniture, or lose himself in drink or drugs or virts.

But he’d also been the last person I’d have expected to set aside his command so quickly, no matter the motive.

So — came my quiet knock on his door.

The door opened. “Ambassador,” Bram said. “I didn’t expect you.”

“First, forget that ‘Ambassador’ shit. If I’ve interrupted you — “

“Not at all.” He motioned me inside and eased the door shut. I decided I wouldn’t share my recent fears of drunken sadness or stacked-up meals. He asked, “Would you like to sit down? Something to drink?”

“Uh, just some tea if you have it.” I sat in a comfy chair in his small living area.

“Sure,” Bram said, and took a couple of steps to his compact kitchen area. As he prepared the tea, he asked, “So what brings you here?”

“Couldn’t I just be checking up on my old friend Captain Bram?”

He handed me my cup of tea. “If I’m forgetting that ‘Ambassador’ shit, you have to forget that ‘Captain’ shit.”

“All right — Trenton.” I made a face. “That sounds odd.”

Bram made what I assume was the same face as mine. “It does to me, too.”

“We’ll just have to get used to it.” I took a sip of tea to settle my thoughts, and outlined the fight with Veringashi, Ben and my injuries, and our (mostly) complete recovery.

“All of which tells me you’re doing more than just checking up on your old friend, no matter what you call him,” said Bram (or Trenton). “And I’d bet it has to do with Veringashi.”

“You’d win that bet. And it’s more than just him.” I outlined my conversation with Drakim. Then back-filled to let him know about the official embassy ceremony still being on schedule, even given that the Sobrenians turned out to be genocidal. “And as far as know, Neriah doesn’t even know yet about the ambassador and Ben’s fight and the Adurentok heading this way.”

Bram said, “Are you going to hand Veringashi over to them?”

“Not certain yet. But I fear they may not take kindly to us locking their ambassador away. Especially since I may have exceeded my authority in doing it.”

“You’re worried about diplomatic immunity.”

“If it exists in this case. We keep calling our facilities an embassy, but officially, it isn’t yet. It’s not as if Veringashi has handed over his credentials and President Marsden has laid his sword upon his shoulders.”

Bram said, “If we lived in a market economy, I’d pay good money to see that.”

“I want you to come with me to greet Drakim.”

Bram stopped with his teacup halfway to his mouth. “You want me to do the hell what?”

“I need your experience. Your calm. I don’t have anyone else. As loyal as Ken is, he’s not had field experience. And as much as I love Ben, he’s a doctor, not a diplomat.”

Bram sat quietly, appearing to stare into a far distance. “I’m not a ship’s captain anymore. Still a Unity officer, but what latitude would I have, even to give an opinion?”

“You’ll have all the latitude you need as my attaché. You’d be able to give me the kind of advice I look for from you all the time anyway.”

“Is that allowed?”

“Who’s here to contradict me?”

“Fair enough, I guess. Let’s go, then.”


# # #


Bram, Akira, and Irene stood with me in the viewing corridor just outside the hangar bay where the Sobrenian starcraft Adurentok eased in to a landing. Human technicians approached the craft, clad in protective suits and aiming sensors to confirm that it wasn’t emitting any dangerous substances or radiation.

After a few moments, the lead tech looked toward me and gave me a thumbs-up. “Let’s go,” I told the others, and we entered the hangar bay.

Despite those standard precautions, I always thought I perceived an odd smell while coming into a bay where a spacecraft of any sort had just landed. Usually, as it did just now, it combined burnt oil and lavender. I had to wonder whether that said more about my body’s reactions to certain inputs than it did about the emissions of starcraft.

The teardrop shape of the Adurentok towered over us, its narrower end facing forward. Seen this close, the contrast of the primary dark green markings and the thinner swaths of a lighter green became more prominent. I took position several meters from the port side of the ship, where I expected the embarkation ramp to extrude itself. Bram stood beside me, with Akira to our left and Irene to our right. They were armed only with stunners, but made sure they were prominently displayed.

A mechanical noise came from just in front of me and, sure enough, I’d positioned myself just where the Adurentok’s embarkation ramp would land. It settled onto the deck, and Drakim immediately appeared at the outer airlock door. He made his way down the ramp at a measured pace. No security personnel accompanied him. Veringashi had the same attitude, I thought. Must be a Sobrenian thing. Although of course, he may be hiding a stunner inside those robes. But I don’t dare have him searched, even through sensors.

Once Drakim stepped onto the deck, I realized he appeared taller and more massive than I’d perceived him through the holo. His shoulders were even wider than most Sobrenians, and the top of his head came up almost even with my face. He didn’t look eager to say anything.

Fine, I thought, I’ll start us off. “Captain Drakim, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person.” I indicated Bram. “And this is Trenton Bram, my attaché.”

Drakim took a slow intake of breath and said, “The former Nivara 2 captain. If we are speaking pleasures in meeting, it is a larger pleasure to meet you.”

Bram was clearly repressing a grin as he said, “The pleasure is all mine.”

He won’t let me live that down, I thought.

Drakim said, “I wish to see Ambassador Veringashi and take him home.”

I said, “Captain, I’m afraid that’s not quite possible just yet. Could we escort you to a place where we can sit and be comfortable, perhaps have a drink?”

“I am not interested in comfort or a drink. I wish to see Ambassador Veringashi.”

“Captain, we are holding the ambassador in custody. We are considering charging him with a crime.”

I could swear that I saw Drakim’s Sobrenian calm assert itself in his features. Which may be good news or bad, I thought.

“What is this crime?” he asked.

“He assaulted one of our doctors,” I told him, and went through the narrative of the conflict between Ben and Veringashi, which ended with the ambassador being detained.

Drakim asked, “Is it usual or proper to detain an accredited ambassador from another species?”

Bram took his turn: “Our dilemma is this. We have not performed the ceremony to make our facility on this station an official embassy. Therefore, Veringashi cannot be an accredited ambassador. Therefore, we consider him subject to the Earth Unity’s laws.”

“Ambassador or not,” Drakim said, “he’s not a Unity citizen.”

I said, “But he was on Unity premises. We don’t have a formal court system here, but we’ve detained members of other Galactic species who’ve broken our laws or regulations. We’ve banned them from the station or turned them over to authorities on their homeworlds.”

Drakim aimed one eye at me and the other at Bram. He said, “You must think about the consequences of any actions you take regarding him. I wish to see him immediately!”

“We’ll take you to him,” I said.

Akira took the lead, with Drakim close behind, Bram and I right behind him, and Irene bringing up the rear. I’m sure we were quite a sight heading through the various corridors of the Station of the Lost, never mind skirting the edge of the main marketplace.

Finally, we found ourselves at the makeshift detention room where we were keeping Veringashi. I stepped forward to the door and touched a button which sounded a buzzer, more a warning that someone was entering rather than asking permission.

We’d created the room out of standard quarters, and they were actually pretty comfy for what amounted to a prison cell. It featured a small main room and an adjacent bedroom and bathroom. We’d disabled or removed all equipment from the small kitchen so Veringashi wouldn’t be tempted to cook up something scalding he might use to attack someone.

As all of us filed into the room, Veringashi took note of me, Akira, Irene, and Bram first, then went wide-eyed at the sight of the Sobrenian starcraft commander who followed us in. “Captain Drakim!” he said, and I could tell that for once the vaunted Sobrenian calm was failing him.

Drakim stepped forward and took Veringashi’s hands in his own. “My comrade,” Drakim said. “I’m so glad to see you. I’m here to take you home.”

But Veringashi yanked his hands out of Drakim’s grip, saying, “I refuse!” He turned to me and said, “Ambassador Kasmira, I formally request asylum.”

I couldn’t make out what anyone said for the next few moments. Drakim shouted and took a couple steps toward Veringashi, who spoke back in a voice too quiet to make out. Akira and Irene didn’t pull their stunners, but inserted themselves between Drakim and Veringashi. Despite the Sobrenians’ superior strength, the two Humans pushed back and kept them separated.

I found a gap in the verbal protestations and managed to get my own words in: “Ambassador Veringashi, what the hell do you mean you want asylum?” First the Garotethans, and now a Sobrenian ambassador? There’s a nightmare scenario.

Veringashi said, “This captain — this Drakim — says he is only here to take me back to our homeworld. But once I am there, I know he wants to execute me.”

I asked Drakim, “Is that true?”

Drakim aimed one eye at me while keeping the other on Veringashi. “We have been pursuing someone we consider a criminal. We wish only to return him to our homeworld for rehabilitation.”

I pressed a hand against my face, trying to come to terms with what Drakim had just said. “You’re saying Veringashi is behind the genocide back on your homeworld?”

Drakim said, “Behind the genocide? Not at all. He has been trying to prevent it.”

I looked toward Veringashi, who only stared blandly. I said to him, “But you hate the Garotethans.”

Veringashi said, “I admit to an extreme dislike of them personally, which was made worse since they helped Ennlor assault me. But they are under a false impression of me otherwise. I do not approve of mass murder.”

Drakim said, “We have no desire to execute anyone. But Veringashi came here under false pretenses. He only wanted to become the ambassador to the Earth Unity because that would allow him to escape justice on our homeworld.”

Bram caught my eye. I gave him the slightest of nods, and he said, “The Unity bans the death penalty. Not only for ourselves, but we won’t hand anyone over to a political or other entity that employs it.”

Drakim said, “And the penalty for the assault?”

“If he were a Human,” I said, “we would confine him until he could receive psychological treatment so he wouldn’t assault anyone again.”

“But do your laws allow such treatment of an individual of another species?”

“No. Normally, we would hand him over to his own species’ authorities.”

Drakim said, “Which I have already requested.”

“I would be handing him over because he assaulted Ben. But an assault is not a death penalty offense. I have no leeway here until I confirm what you’re saying. I can’t give him over.” I looked at Veringashi, who seemed content to let others play out this little drama.

Bram said, “Captain Drakim, a suggestion, if I may.”

“I will listen to you,” Drakim said, “as one captain to another. Despite your status as a pre-sentient.”

Oh, boy, I thought. I know that phrase really frosts him. I have to hope he stays calm.

He did. “Let’s cool off for a moment.”

“Failure to translate,” Drakim said.

“A Human phrase. We spend a time considering our respective positions, then gather again at a place of our choosing to discuss some more.”

Drakim’s eyeballs moved with such rapidity, back and forth among us, that I felt a little sick. Finally, he said, “We will do so. Perhaps within an hour and fifteen minutes. In the hangar bay where my ship stands. It will make the handover very efficient.”

“You’re making a big assumption there,” I said. “But other than that, I agree to those terms.”

Drakim headed back toward his ship, with Akira and Irene flanking him.

Once they were gone, I turned toward Veringashi. “The truth now. If you want to have any hope of being granted asylum, you have to tell us the truth.”

Veringashi said, “I do not have to bow down to pre-sentients.”

Dammit, I thought. That phrase again. I told him, “I know Sobrenians are a proud people. What does it say about you that you feel the need to justify yourself to so-called “pre-sentients?”

“Not to mention,” Bram said, “that it would be in your best interest to be honest with the people who can turn you right over to Drakim.”

Veringashi stood stock-still, arms at his side. Both his eyes stared at the floor. “It is true. I was behind the opposition to the genocide of the Garotethans.”

Bram asked, “Why didn’t you tell us that before now?”

“I wanted to see how many lies Drakim would tell once he arrived. One such lie is when he claimed he simply wants to rehabilitate me. He wants to execute me, but not just because I’m against killing all the Garotethans. I am a political rival. Most Sobrenians favor his side, favor this genocide. But my position was gaining ground before I left. I used my position as the proposed ambassador to the Unity to escape my homeworld.”

“This is getting more and more complicated,” Bram said.

I said, “Let’s see if we can untangle some of this.” And led the way out.




Next, Bram and I went to the Garotethans’ quarters. They’d been modified from the usual Human style to provide more sleeping areas and more appropriate sanitary facilities. They consisted of several rooms fitted with beds, kitchen and bathroom facilities, and other amenities scaled down to their size, but the rooms still seemed immense compared to their occupants.

We only found three of the six Garotethans we were harboring, though. One was Senvar. “Where did your friends go?” I asked.

Senvar said, “They have errands to run.”

“I gotta be honest with you. That disturbs me. What if a Sobrenian sees one of them? Or anyone else that could follow you back here or provide some kind of alert?”

“Don’t worry, Ambassador. No one will see them.”

Bram said, “You seem pretty sure of that.”

“Did you or anyone else on this station ever see us before we wanted you to?”

“I suppose not,” I had to admit. So I explained the conversation we’d had with Drakim and Veringashi, emphasizing the idea that the ambassador actually opposed the genocide of the Garotethans.

Senvar asked, “You believe the ambassador is telling the truth?”

“Drakim believes it. Otherwise, I don’t think he’d be here to take Veringashi back to their homeworld. Or that Veringashi would be asking for asylum. On the other hand, I can feel the hatred radiating from Veringashi when he talks about Garotethans.”

Senvar said, “Then while Veringashi is certainly is not our friend, perhaps at some point he could be an ally. I regret that we helped Ennlor attack him. I must ask — how is Ennlor doing?”

I said, “He’s much better, perhaps despite the best efforts of the Sobrenian doctors. We intend to guard him when he moves back to his quarters soon.”

“I will have to speak to him to explain that we were wrong about Veringashi.”

“That would be a good idea.”

Senvar said, “I assume that Drakim is most likely lying when he says that he wants to rehabilitate Veringashi. He clearly wants to execute him as a political rival.”

“He also wants to take you back to the Sobrenian homeworld to live out your lives performing what would be crushing manual labor.”

“We would not want to see that happen, of course.”

Bram turned to me. “So what do you think we should do? We don’t want to turn over Senvar and the others. Can we legitimately give Veringashi asylum? I know you don’t want to turn him over so Drakim can take him home and kill him.”

“Well, that’s one to ponder, isn’t it?” I said. “All I can say right now is that I’ll meet you and Drakim at the hangar bay when it’s time. I appreciate your help in figuring this out, Cap — Trenton. You too, Senvar. But right now I have to talk to someone else.”


# # #


I went to find Ben. He wasn’t in our quarters. I didn’t find him in any of our medical facilities, either. Finally, I discovered him standing alone in an empty hangar bay, the one where Bram’s former command, the Nivara 2, usually docked, staring through the energy field that retained the bay’s atmosphere. Beyond, the unblinking stars lay spread across the firmament. Their splash of colors told the tale of just how hot they burned, from the hottest blue, blue-white, and yellow to the coolest orange and red.

With neither the Nivara nor any other starcraft present, the bay was silent. Ben and I were the only people there. He clearly didn’t hear me as I approached from the opposite side of the bay. I didn’t want to seem as if I was intruding on his privacy; such considerations are more important the closer you are to someone, not, as some people seemed to think, a thing you can just let slide. But I kept my voice low as I said, “Hello, stranger.”

Ben turned abruptly — clearly he hadn’t heard me until I spoke. His wide grin told me I was a delightful surprise, not an interruption. He spread his arms wide and I closed the distance between us as quickly as I could.

His embrace nearly took my breath away. I responded with one of my better kisses. Ben’s smooches wandered to my neck and his hands ran up and down my back. All I could hear was both of us breathing.

Reluctantly, I broke the embrace and stared into Ben’s eyes. “We have to find a better place to do this.”

“And more time to do it. I was just getting ready to look for you myself.” He tilted his head toward the starfield behind him. “But I had to have a couple minutes away from blood and suffering. Of quiet. And to look at the stars.”

“Some sleep would be nice, too. But not right now. I have things to tell you.”

Ben looked at me with a crooked smile. “I can just imagine. Drakim. Veringashi.”

“And the Garotethans. And everyone’s attitudes toward genocide, and punishment, and death.”

Ben rubbed my shoulders. “I knew it wouldn’t be something cheery.”

I went through the whole story of the revelation about Veringashi, that he was actually working to save the Garotethans, despite his personal dislike of them, and how he would most likely face execution if we returned him to his homeworld.

Ben’s hands lowered from my shoulders. “So Veringashi, despite assaulting me, turns out to be a good guy?”

“Some people are complicated.”

“As long as it’s okay for me to respect him for not committing genocide but still hold a grudge for attacking me.”

“You have to admit, not promoting genocide puts some pretty good marks on the other side of the ledger. I still wouldn’t blame you for that grudge. But now, what happens if we give him asylum? Would providing that imply that we actually are an embassy, and we’d have to acknowledge Veringashi as an ambassador, as well? Do we keep him here forever? And you know his homeworld would probably find a replacement ambassador as quickly as it could. Then what happens?”

Ben turned from me and stared out at the stars again. “That’s a lot of questions. I’m not sure of any of the answers. I’d say do what seems best at the time, and let higher powers figure out the rest.”

“I dunno. I like this job. I wanna keep it. Even as tough as it is right now.”

“A great philosopher once said that sometimes you get what you need and not what you want.”

“Great,” I said. “Another thing to figure out. What the hell it is I need. Wait a minute. I think I know.” I reached forward for another hug. We didn’t speak during this one; I knew we’d said all we needed to.

We broke the embrace, and Ben headed back toward blood and suffering, and I headed toward the most difficult decision I’d ever faced.



Bram and I met inside the hangar bay that held Drakim’s starcraft, the Adurentok. We halted at the bottom of the embarkation ramp. We hadn’t brought Veringashi with us.

“So when did you decide?” Bram asked.

“I haven’t yet.”

“I thought when you didn’t bring — “

“I’m keeping my options open. I want to see what Drakim might add to what he told us earlier.”

The outer airlock door at the top of the ramp slid aside, and Drakim began his journey downward. As he approached the bottom of the ramp, I was about to greet him again, but he spoke first: “Where is Veringashi?”

“I haven’t made my decision yet. I want to speak to you some more.”

Both of Drakim’s eyes stared straight at me. “We spoke. We don’t need to —

“Did you lie to me about wanting to take Veringashi back for rehabilitation?”

“Internal politics of Sobrenian society — “

“Don’t give me that. We need to trust one another.”

Drakim’s nostrils flared, which in a Human could denote anger, but which in a Sobrenian indicated amusement. I wondered what was so funny. He said, “You have betrayed our trust. You have not brought Veringashi to us.”

“We never promised — “

Drakim folded his thick arms and stood as tall as he could, still no higher than the lower part of my face. “You have changed the terms of our meeting. I therefore change them also. Now we wish the Garotethans on this station to be handed over, as well.”

Bram said, “That wasn’t something we discussed.”

“We are discussing it now,” Drakim said. “We require that you turn the Garotethans over to us. We want to take them home to protect them.”

I asked, “What kind of protection will you provide them?”

“Something fitting to their nature, of course. We have always known they are best served by being subservient to us. They have proven now to be untrustworthy as personal servants. Instead, they will live on a reservation. They will work at manual labor, which we Sobrenians are not suited for.”

“Given your advanced technology,” I said, “why do you even need beings for manual labor?”

“It is for their own good. And it is the more moral alternative for them to pay us back for their uprising.”

I said, “Some of us have a different idea of morality.”

Drakim leaned forward. “You must understand. The Garotethans have killed many Sobrenians. This is unacceptable. I intend to bring them to justice.”

He has a different concept of justice than I do, I thought.

Drakim continued: “If they are not turned over soon alongside Veringashi, our deal is off. And we must consider alternatives.”

“Is that a threat?” Bram asked, no doubt knowing I wouldn’t make such a quick pivot from diplomatic language.

“Interpret it as you will. I will leave aboard Adurentok now. Make sure your poor little starcraft Nivara 2 does not bother us. Though Humans are pre-sentient, it would be wasteful of our energies to have to destroy it.”

Bram took a step forward, but I restrained him with a hand against his chest. “It’s not worth it,” I told him, though I knew how much it pained him to hear his former command disparaged.

Drakim’s nostrils flared one final time, and he started back up the embarkation ramp. Bram and I got the hell out of the hangar bay, and moved back to the nearby viewing room where we could watch the Sobrenian ship’s departure. Within moments, Adurentok lifted out of the bay and headed out into space, quickly becoming a bright light lost among the stars.

Bram and I paused in the corridor outside. “What now?” Bram asked.

“Well, I guess — ʺ My comms buzzed. “Hold on a second,” I told him.

It was Ken Westbrook. “We just got word from Acting Captain Santos. We’re to expect an arrival. Within moments. Where are you?”

“Just watched Adurentok leave.”

“Keep an eye out in that direction. You should see a ship pop out of stardrive any instant.”

I told Bram what to expect, and we stared out into what was at first only a view of empty space, with a myriad of steadily shining stars of all hues peppered in the far distance. Then a flash of white light appeared, bright enough that I had to squint from it.

The flash faded and I made out the familiar shape of an Earth Unity light cruiser, though I didn’t know which one it was. From a narrow bow housing the bridge and crew quarters, widening to the four stardrive pods at the rear, it was a shape that promised both a strong defense and, if needed, a formidable offense.

Bram nodded in recognition: “The Admiral Susan Kojima. No doubt here to show the Sobrenians we mean business.”

I’d heard of the Kojima. It was named after a distinguished admiral from the time of the Great Human War half a century earlier. It, and its captain, Kelda Lee, had proved themselves in missions from violent defenses of Earth’s interests to mass evacuation scenarios. “If we have to have another ship here,” I said, “I suppose this is the one to have.”

I was about to turn away from the sight of the Kojima when another strong flash caught my attention. And another. They resolved into the green teardrop shapes of two more Sobrenian starcraft, and they bracketed the Kojima.

“Oh, shit,” I said.

Bram said, “Goddam it. Now we’re more than evenly matched in firepower.”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Hell, we both know that just from our dealings with Sobrenians over the years.”

I couldn’t help grinning, no doubt a defense mechanism. “Let’s just hope we don’t end up with a Nivara 3.” We’d crash-landed the first starcraft called Nivara on a planet called Splendor to make it into a Unity embassy there. That had prevented the Sobrenians from taking over that planet as a strategic asset. That led to Bram commanding the current ship, Nivara 2.

Except he doesn’t command it anymore, I reminded myself.

“Sorry,” I told him. “Not very funny.”

Bram favored me with his own lopsided grin. “I was thinking the same thing.”

“I imagine I have a lot more talking to do. But I’m going to get back to the embassy, or whatever we’re calling it these days,

and wait to be contacted. Both Nivara and the Kojima are liable to be busy for a while.”



My path back to the embassy took me toward the main marketplace. Even before I emerged into that area, I heard shouts in several Galactic languages, too many and too far away for my comms to translate their meaning at first. Once I arrived, though, I saw Lukas Tirilis standing on a table at the vegetable market run by Humans. All around him stood other Humans, methane-breathing Drodusarel floating within their energy shields, paired symbiont Cetronen, insectile Arols, and Lukas’s snake-like Relajem bar bouncer, Karcradh, and more. His gathering was sparse so far, but growing quickly. I saw several individuals even coming around from the other side of the transit area. What the hell is this about? I wondered.

Lukas addressed those assembled: “Now we have not just one, but three Sobrenian ships threatening us. They could send their troops on board this station at any moment and take it over. Take away all our freedoms! The Unity has sent only one extra ship to us.”

Lukas sure keeps himself informed, I thought. And he was wanting to be so helpful before, when we spoke at the embassy. What’s changed him now?

Just as I was wondering whether I should call security, I noticed Akira Kuroda at the edge of the crowd on the opposite side of the marketplace. When she glimpsed me, she nodded toward her left. Irene Radford stood over there. I should’ve known they’d be ahead of the curve, I thought.

A tri-pedal Kanandran I recognized as Kiltar, who had been part of the group I’d spoken to earlier, came forward. All three of his eyes regarded me from the bulge his species had rather than a head. His brownish-red fur on top of that bulge stood up at an angle, a typical sign of anger. “We told the Human Chanda Kasmira of our desire to have all the Sobrenians leave this station. She said she wanted peace. I informed her she had failed.” Kiltar’s three arms waved around to take in everyone in the marketplace. “The Sobrenians do not wish for peace. They worship weapons and sell them indiscriminately. They must be banished.”

One of the Drodusarel spoke up, his concern evident even through the comms translation: “This is a typical Human-centric reaction,” he said. His robins-egg blue tentacles waved within the shroud that protected him from the deadly atmosphere and gravity of his surroundings. I wondered if this was Lathnis, who had spoken to me earlier at the embassy. Embarrassing as it might be, like most Humans, I had no way to tell one Drodusarel from another. He continued: “We only want to protect our businesses. We’ve sacrificed so much to come to a place so dangerous to us. Our homeworld has seen attacks from the Jenregar for several years now, and we fear returning there. We must have action, and soon.”

I understood the Drodusarel’s concern. The Jenregar attacks had made some in their government fearful and paranoid of other Galactic species. Even of Humans, who had assisted them with intel about the Jenregar gathered from its attack on Earth.

The Drodusarel floated aside and three quadrupedal Buruden approached. They stood about half a meter tall, attached to each other on their spiny legs, each with their four equidistantly-spaced eyes staring right at Lukas. The one closest to him said, “We have already pledged to help Humanity in this potential conflict. A truth. Violence may occur. A likely truth. If so, many here can die. A potential truth. Fear of such violence could keep us from helping Humanity. Not a truth.”

Several Arols moved away from the gathering, a couple of them holding up a third as they departed, that one overcome by the typical Arol inability to contemplate or even listen to the possibility of violence.

At the edge of the gathering stood several of the paired-symbiont Cetronen, their minors sitting on the humps on the larger majors’ chests. They regarded the proceedings but did not speak, perhaps because other members of their species had attacked the station three years earlier and they didn’t want to be reminded of that.

Lukas looked down at me from his perch on the table. “There she is! I volunteered to help her, to band together a group made up of as many Galactic species as I could. But I never heard back from her.”

Reluctantly, I stepped forward. “I’m glad you want to help. But I’m trying to keep relations with the Sobrenians on the level of diplomacy right now.” I looked at the crowd of beings gathered around. “The best thing all of you can do is wait for the Sobrenians to respond to those efforts.”

Lukas jumped from the table and landed right in front of me. “Standard Unity-speak,” he said. “We’ve seen what happened when a single shuttle gets through, infected with nanotech. What will happen when all three of those Sobrenian ships let loose on us? Drakim, the captain of one of those ships, the Adurentok, is already issuing threats.”

I told Lukas, “Please, just go about your daily lives. We’ll keep everyone as informed as we can.” Great, I thought. Could I have made a weaker pledge?

Lukas asked, “What about the meeting with Drakim. Fruitful?”

“I wouldn’t call it that.” Against my better judgement, I laid out the conversation with the Sobrenian captain.

Lukas said, “So you’re harboring a Sobrenian his own people want to take into custody?”

“Veringashi’s requested asylum. And the Unity doesn’t approve of handing over people to be killed without a trial.”

“Does it approve of hundreds or thousands of us here on the station dying if any of those Sobrenians start shooting?”

I felt a sudden chill, as if Lukas stating that dilemma out loud somehow made it more real. But there was something else I hadn’t told him yet. “He also wants the Garotethans.”

Lukas finally looked at me. “I would find it hard to forgive you if you did that.”

A silent space between us, then I said, “Then it looks like you need to make up your mind about what I should do. If those Sobrenian ships start tearing this station apart, how will we forgive ourselves? Especially since this station isn’t even officially an embassy yet. The Unity may not consider us bound by asylum requests, from either Veringashi or the Garotethans.”

“Whether this is officially an embassy or not, most everyone on this station considers it to be one.”

“I know. We’re the first impression many of them have had of the Earth Unity, in conception and in action. I know we represent reaching out into the galaxy, of extending a hand in friendship and optimism. But I also have to cope with the possibility of seeing three Sobrenian ships battling it out with two Unity ones. And blasting the station in the process.”

Lukas said, “You should never have gotten us into this situation in the first place.”

“I didn’t get us into it. I’m only coping with it.”

“Well — cope better.”

“You’ll know soon enough how well I coped,” I told him. “One way or the other.”


# # #


I couldn’t concentrate on possible solutions, given the swirl of thoughts and emotions I was dealing with. I went to my and Ben’s quarters, ordered up a hot tea, and fell into a chair. I had to sit quietly and alone for a few moments, to consider all the choices before me, to confront all my doubts.

Instead, one terrifying image after another sped across my consciousness:

Sobrenian energy bolts ripped through the center of the station, blasting apart the marketplace and sending its inhabitants, Kanandra, Centronen, Kanandra, and Human alike, flying into oblivion. They did so, oddly enough, with their bodies intact, and with most of them flying right past my viewpoint so that I could see the terror in their faces before they disappeared.

It was different for Ben and Trenton, for Akira and Irene, for Ken and so many others, as unknown forces tore their bodies apart, but not in an instant like an explosion, but slowly, over about half a minute. Here is where my consciousness became vaguely aware that I was in the middle of a dream, and I tried to force my awareness away from such horrors.

But I couldn’t. I lived in real-time through the deaths of all those I was close to on this station, and through the destruction of the station itself, occurring in large part as what they call “collateral damage,” with Unity and Sobrenian starcraft striking furiously at each other, with the Station of the Lost simply in the way.

I gasped as the teacup slipped from my hand and I awoke.

And gasped again as I found Ben kneeling next to me, leaning over me, the rescued teacup in his palm. I grabbed his shoulders and pulled him to me. “I wasn’t sure you were real,” I said.

“Real enough,” he told me, holding me tightly. “I was just about to wake you.”

“I didn’t realize I was that tired.” I pressed my body harder against him. “Give me something to think about other than Drakim and Veringashi . . . . “

Ben smiled. “And Sobrenian ships all around us and the Unity pressuring us . . . . “

I silenced him with one of my “good” kisses. In the next moment, though, Ken Westbrook’s voice came over my commlink: “We have a problem.”

“We always have a problem,” I said. “What is it this time?”

“The Garotethans are gone.”

I asked, “What do you mean, gone? Gone where?”

“That’s just it. We don’t know. They aren’t in their quarters. They certainly haven’t left the station. No ships or shuttles have gone anywhere. No one’s seen them.”

I said, “I’ll be right there.”



First stop was the Roaring Comet. Ben and I went right past the Relajem bouncer Karcradh, who appeared resigned to our presence. We found Lukas Tirilis as he was restocking the shelves behind the bar. I didn’t even give him a chance to speak as he looked up at us with an expression of surprise and concern.

“Where are the Garotethans?” I demanded. “Are you hiding them?”

Lukas stared at me and Ben with narrowed eyes. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You were just here. Why didn’t you mention this then?”

“It just happened. And you’re the obvious person to be hiding them.”

“Ambassador, I swear this is just as much news to me as it is to you.”

Ben turned to me. “Ambassador, wouldn’t hiding these beings amount to jeopardizing the safety of the station? Couldn’t someone come up on charges for something like that?”

“I would think so,” I said.

“Now wait a minute,” Lukas said. “You’re just trying to silence me because I bitched at you.”

“I don’t play those kind of games. But if you have any contact at all with the Garotethans, you need to let me know.”

Lukas gave me a mock salute. “Yes, Ma’am.”

“That’s enough of this,” I told Ben. “We’ve got another stop to make.”


# # #


That next stop was Veringashi’s detention room. When Ben and I entered, he faced us without speaking, arms at his sides. “We need to talk,” I told him.

“Are you here to inform me of the plan to hand me over to my executioners?”

“Not exactly.”

Veringashi said, “You mean, not yet.”

I’ll ignore that, I thought. “The Garotethans have disappeared.”

One of the Sobrenian’s eyes maintained its gaze upon me, the other upon Ben. “Yes, I know. Would finding them help you save the station?”

“It might. Are you saying you know where they are? Are they still on the station?”

“They are. But if I help you, I must have your promise not to turn me over to Drakim.”

Ben said, “I’d imagine that Drakim himself would want something to say about that.”

“I can give you the Garotethans. Drakim is your problem.”

I asked, “Were the Garotethans supposed to take you with them? How did this sudden alliance come about?”

“They wanted the opportunity to advance ahead of you and anyone you may care to bring along with you. This means traveling though areas of this station that other Galactic species have not yet explored.”

Ben and I traded incredulous glances. “So they have advance knowledge of the nature of some of those areas?” I asked. “And they were willing to share them with you?”

Veringashi said, “The Garotethans have kept many secrets from us Sobrenians, and from Humans and any number of Galactic species. When they learned I was actually trying to prevent their genocide, they confided in me. Now you are about to learn some of those secrets.”

Ben said, “This is beyond just the two of us, Chanda. We have to get a group together.”

“That’s not all,” I said. “Drakim’s deadline was rather vague. We can’t count on finding the Garotethans in time.”

“I hope you’re not about to say what I think you’re saying.”

“I am. We have to talk to Drakim.”


# # #


It was only minutes later that Ben and I returned to our quarters and spoke to a holo of Drakim, who was standing on the bridge of the Adurentok. Crewmembers worked at stations behind him. The bridge was typically dark and shadowed, its primary color scheme a dark green. Before I had a chance to speak, Drakim said, “I must assume you are making arrangements to turn over both Veringashi and the Garotethans.”

Ben cast me a “here-we-go” look.

I told Drakim, “Unfortunately, we’re not.” I explained that the Garotethans were missing but that Veringashi knew how to find them, and that I was about to lead a mission to find them.

“You are stalling, Ambassador,” Drakim said. “And although Humans are, of course, pre-sentient, I never expected you to be one who would lie to us.”

I could just make out Ben’s grr again. But as much as the phrase “pre-sentient” rankled me, as well, I managed to keep my voice calm as I replied, “I would never lie to you. I don’t care what differences we may have, without some basic trust between us, we can accomplish nothing.”

Drakim’s nostrils flared. Amusement, not anger. “Then you won’t mind if I come along on your little mission.”

“Wait — what?” I thought just talking to Drakim right now was bad enough. To have to endure him on this trip is unthinkable.

“If you have nothing to hide, prove it. I will accompany you. And in doing so, I will provide more time for you to hand over Veringashi and the Garotethans.”

“He’s got you there,” Ben said in a low voice.

I didn’t know what to say, except, “We’ll await your arrival.”

Drakim signed off.

Ben said, “You realize this is crazy, right?”

I said, “I absolutely realize that. I also realize that if we keep Drakim close to us, he won’t order the station destroyed.”

“Point taken. But what happens when we find the Garotethans? We’ll be right back where we started. Do we just hand them over? And Veringashi, too?”

“So what are you saying, Veringashi’s your good friend now? After he assaulted you?”

“Yeah, the same Veringashi who’s been working to save the Garotethans even though he can’t stand them. We’re all trying to do what’s right, here.”

I couldn’t find any words for a moment. Finally: “My hope is that we get Drakim, Veringashi, and the Garotethans all in one place. A place where we can all talk. A place where Drakim isn’t standing right next to the shuttle that will take them to his ship.”

Ben considered that. “So you’re playing for time.”

“It’s all I know to do.”

Ben reached out, taking both my hands in his. “I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

“You didn’t really yell. You were just . . . forceful.”

“Who are we getting together for this journey?”

“I want to keep it a small group,” I said. “Veringashi, of course. He’s our guide.”

“Traveling in the same group as Drakim. That should make for some interesting small talk. Hey, what about Adele Andros? She certainly has experience that might help us.”

“That’s exactly why I don’t want her along. She’s too much of an explorer. She’ll get distracted. We’ll be heading into areas even she is unfamiliar with, and we need to stay focused. But I want Akira going with us. She can keep an eye on Drakim and deal with any other security issues.”

“What about Captain Bram? Don’t tell me you’re afraid he’d be distracted, too. You know, given what he’s been through lately.”

“I’d never think that. But I am considering the burden he’s carrying. I don’t want to add to that.”

“Fair enough. But I’m guessing you’d better tell him that in person.”

“You’re right about that. I’ll do it in just a few minutes.”

Ben said, “And I’ll bring along as much medical gear as I can.”

I couldn’t conjure words for a moment. Then I managed to say, “I wasn’t planning on taking you, either.”

Ben stood straighter, arms folded, and stared at me. “Excuse me? Not taking me?”

“I don’t want to risk you. And aren’t you needed here, taking care of all these Sobrenians?”

“We’ve got Sobrenian doctors all over the place now. And Dr. Seong backstops me just fine.”

I said, “I can’t stand the thought of you being in danger.”

“Really? Why do you think I want to be beside you?”

This was as wrenching a decision to me as deciding the fate of Veringashi and the Garotethans. Who knew what wonders and dangers might lie before us in these unexplored areas of the station? If I was going to take this risk, I at least wanted the reassurance that I wasn’t also risking Ben’s life. And if I made it out safely, I wanted to know that he would be here waiting for me.

But we didn’t have time to argue the point, and I already knew the shape the discussion would take. So I said, “Let’s gather everyone together. Drakim will be here soon.”

Ben shot me a crooked grin as we left our quarters, clearly having expected that’s how this conversation would end.

Then I stopped cold in the corridor. “Oh, crap.”

“What?” Ben asked, probably anticipating that I’d come up with another objection to him tagging along.

“I just realized I need to give Captain Santos a heads-up. She needs to know why Drakim will be moving Adurentok toward the station.”

Even as I was about to touch behind my left ear to active my commlink, though, Santos’ voice came through: “Ambassador Kasmira — I wanted to alert you that Adurentok is headed toward your location.”

I suppressed a groan as I said, “I was just about to notify you. Captain Drakim is joining us on a trip into parts of the station we haven’t explored yet. We’re searching for the missing Garotethans.”

A short pause, no doubt while Santos considered the implications of our trip. “This is not something I authorized, Ambassador.”

“I don’t need your authorization. This is a diplomatic matter.”

“When a Sobrenian ship moves in on this station, it can also become a military matter.”

“There’s no reason for that,” I said. “Adurentok is coming here with my permission.”

“We’re about to charge weapons. This is reckless.”

“I’m the one who’ll be dealing with Captain Drakim. Please stand down.”

Another moment of silence. Then Santos came back: “We’re standing down. Given your assertion, I don’t want Adurentok to misinterpret our actions. But be assured, Ambassador, once this is over we’ll have words. Santos out.” She broke the connection.

I told Ben, “I can think of some words I’d like to have.”

Ben said, “And I can help you dream up even more of them.”

“That would be fun. But I have some more serious words to share right now.”

“Captain Bram?”

“Yeah. Captain Bram. And like we said, I gotta do this in person.”


# # #


I arrived at the door to Bram’s quarters. Took a deep breath. I was about to knock when I heard movement on the other side of that door. And Bram’s voice! Was he talking to himself?

No, another voice, a fainter one I didn’t recognize, also drifted through.

I knocked. I heard laughter, which quickly came closer. The door opened. Bram stood there, hair sticking out in all directions, clothing hanging oddly on him, obviously having been put on in haste. “Oh, Ambassador. I didn’t expect you.”

Obviously, I thought. “First, forget that ‘Ambassador’ shit. Secondly, I’ve apparently interrupted you. I’m sorry — “

Adele Andros came out from Bram’s bedroom. “Oh, hi, Chanda. Don’t worry, I’ve been working. Just took a bit of a break.” She didn’t seem as much of a mess as Bram did, perhaps because she’d had a few more seconds to straighten herself up. “I really was just leaving,” she said. She stood on tip-toe for Bram to lean over and give her a kiss. “Bye,” she told me, then she was gone.

Bram grinned. “C’mon in,” he said.

“I can’t,” I told him. “I’m headed out on . . . well, I guess you’d call it a mission.” I explained about Veringashi and how he was going to lead us to the Garotethans, about Drakim coming along, and all the rest.

And before Bram could speak up, I made sure to tell him, “I’m sure you’d like to come along, but I’m keeping the group small, and — “

“Chanda, it’s all right. If you wanted me with you, I’d be glad to go. But I’m content to sit right here.”

“Oh,” I said. “All right.” I hooked a thumb over my shoulder. “Because of . . . . “

“Well, yeah, because of Adele.”

“Just so you know, we considered taking her along, too. But like I said, I’m trying to keep our group small.”

“I get that. Just so you know, my contentment in sitting here is not just for the reasons you might think. Mostly she’s helping me find out who I really am. You know, besides a starcraft captain or a diplomatic attaché. Or even a spacer.”

“It looks like the both of you have a big job ahead of you.”

“We do. But we’ll be thinking of you and your team the whole time. Let me know what I can do when you get back.”

“Yeah. If we get back.”

When,” Bram said, and embraced me for a long moment.

Then I headed out to gather our team.


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