Chanda’s Legacy Pt. 5 by Dave Creek – FREE STORY


Earth Unity Ambassador Chanda Kasmira must deal with the potential damage to a Sobrenian starcraft that could spread to the station.

Chanda’s lover, Ben Farrington, leads the medical response to the injured Sobrenians taken aboard the station.

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

Later, both Ben Farrington and Chanda are injured in a physical confrontation with Veringashi.

Another Sobrenian ship, the Adurentok, arrives. Its captain, Drakim, wants to bring Veringashi home, accusing him of the genocide of a race subservient to the Sobrenians, called the Garotethans. Garotethans who have been hiding aboard the station, though, dispute Drakim’s assertion, saying Veringashi is actually working against the genocide, but is a political rival of Drakim.

The Garotethans disappear. Veringashi says he know where to find them and wants to lead Chanda, Ben, and others into unexplored depths of the Station of the Lost.

Veringashi leads them through previously unexplored areas of the station. They include a large area filled with abandoned equipment of an unknown source, and another filled with the hardened tendrils of long-dead creatures. They also see a large disk that can show images from as far away as outside the Milky Way galaxy.

Eventually they encounter the missing Garotethans. They have been storing their own starcraft here at the station for decades, and are about to leave for the Garotethan homeworld.




The pull of Garotethan-force gravity didn’t seem as crushing this time as Senvar and I headed toward the bridge, but the stooped-over position I had to adopt still made my back hurt. Once we entered the bridge, I found my previous position on the floor, against one wall, to watch the landing procedure.

Senvar stood at the center of the bridge and gave out a series of orders, his crewmembers working their controls with a confidence and efficiency that surprised me. After all, I thought, when would this crew have gotten their training? Wouldn’t this trip be the first time they’d ever flown this ship?

I suspect these beings have even more secrets that I’ve realized.

I put such concerns out of my mind as the Rahnsul broke orbit and descended toward Garoteth. The starcraft’s inertials operated flawlessly, as the only forces I felt were the ship’s grav, and not any of the buffeting it was surely taking during re-entry.

I heard movement to my left. Veringashi and Drakim entered the bridge. Senvar looked back at them but appeared unconcerned. Veringashi immediately sat next to me, but Drakim looked all around as if he expected to be provided a place of honor. He huffed his displeasure, then, obviously reluctantly, sat on the other side of Veringashi from me. Neither said a word to me.

A quick burst through a thick cloud cover, and the first clear view I had of the planet’s surface was of one of its expansive oceans. Giant waves propelled themselves across the surface of the sea, sending plumes of foam into the air. I spotted a large school of fish jumping from those waters in shallow arcs, and I wondered if they were in pursuit of other lifeforms that they fed upon. None of the creatures I saw were any larger than dolphins or porpoises, and I wondered whether Garoteth’s larger grav prevented larger lifeforms such as whales from developing, even in its oceans.

The Rahnsul’s trajectory took us over land now, and I was immediately struck by the devastation apparent in the first city we passed over. The tops of many of the tallest buildings had been snapped off as if by a vengeful giant. Foliage, mostly gray and brown, covered many of the streets and crawled up other buildings. One side of a stadium that looked as if it could accommodate tens of thousands of Garotethans had crumbled to dust.

No buildings were spared the rampant damage and decay. Sprawling cities or small towns, large complexes or individual homes, it didn’t matter. Between those habitations, large swaths of the landscape, whether forests or plains, wetlands or mountains, had clearly been ravaged by some sort of weaponry. Thankfully, I saw several herds of different types of animals traveling across the more fecund areas of the landscape. At this height, it was difficult to perceive details of their physiology.

My first thought: Was all this destruction the Sobrenians’  doing? If so, I understand much better Yelia’s reluctance to allow Veringashi and Drakim to land here.

I sneaked a glance toward my Sobrenian companions. Both of them were doing a good job of maintaining their calm, as was normal for that species. But Veringashi’s eyes swiveled independently back and forth, taking in every detail they could, while Drakim sat with his hands folded, staring straight ahead.

As the Rahnsul descended further, the extent of the destruction diminished, and large tracts of land appeared unaffected by whatever violence had devastated so much of the planet’s surface. All that stood below were large areas of vegetation, whether the blue and yellow ground cover that seemed to be Garoteth’s version of grass or the forests filled with trees much shorter than Earthly ones. But I didn’t see any signs of homes or manufacturing facilities or agriculture.

I ached to ask Senvar why I wasn’t seeing any signs of habitation or technology, but I didn’t dare interrupt him as he oversaw the starcraft’s final approach to our destination. Whatever that was.

Within moments, that destination became clear. A massive dome loomed just ahead. At first glance, it appeared to be about twenty-five to thirty kilometers across, and about half that in height. The material of the dome was translucent; I couldn’t make out details of any internal features.

Senvar said, “This is the city of Ghyanmor. We have concentrated most of our efforts to maintain our civilization and technology in this one place.”

The Rahnsul slowed as it approached the city. But we’re not slowing enough, I thought as the edge of the dome loomed closer and closer. Without thinking, I leaned backwards though I was up against a wall and had nowhere to go. Senvar has to know what he’s doing, I thought.

Doesn’t he?

At the last instant, a horizontal slash appeared in the side of the dome. I couldn’t think of that portion of the dome’s surface as a doorway because it didn’t slide open or swing aside or dilate or anything like that. It just faded away. As we passed through the opening, I could have sworn there wasn’t more than a few centimeters clearance on either side. Pretty precise aiming there, I thought.

I looked forward and thought I’d arrived within a wonderland.

My first impression was of vast swaths of color — many tall buildings constructed with orange materials, but swathed in yellow vegetation, cobalt blue pathways with long, narrow vehicles traveling along them, and squat red structures peppered all around in no pattern that I could detect.

It heartened me to see pristine surroundings untouched by the brutal forces that had swept over so much of the planet. And these structures had clearly been built using more advanced tech than the damaged or destroyed structures I’d seen outside the dome.

Closer examination of Ghyanmor revealed severe differences in the architecture and layout of individual buildings within certain areas. Straight ahead stood what I couldn’t help thinking of as a “pod” of low buildings, pyramidal but with flat tops, closer to Mayan than Egyptian structures. Blue vegetation adorned slender planters that wrapped around much of the buildings’ exteriors.

The Rahnsul’s descent slowed as it approached a wide, flat parkland. While hovering only meters from the ground, a broad swatch of the grassy area opened up, allowing the starcraft to descend beneath the park. That revealed an enormous hangar filled with another craft identical to the Rahnsul alongside others of various sizes and, I assumed, functions. The space was also crowded with ground vehicles, various types of support equipment, and plenty of technicians running around.

Rahnsul settled onto the floor of the hangar, then rolled forward to take a position next to the other ship of its type. Senvar turned toward me and the Sobrenians. “It will take several minutes for us to secure this ship. It will be several hours before we can allow you to leave, if you wish to for a time. I suggest you all return to your quarters until then.”

Drakim was the first to rise. “I will be happy to,” he said.

Veringashi stood and confronted him. “What upsets you so?” he asked. “Anger at what the Garotethans have achieved here?”

Drakim said, “My anger is at my own people. The Garotethans were the proper people to serve us. That was their destiny.”

“Bullshit,” I said, as I finally stood.

Drakim stared at me. “Failure to translate.”

“It means you’re lying. And you know it.”

“Whatever you believe about these . . . people, requiring them to serve us was best for my people. Then we abandoned this planet. We failed to gather up or eliminate the Garotethans who remained here.” He asked Veringashi, “Why would you speak out in favor of these beings? We’ve both referred to them as ‘vermin.’”

“I dislike them personally,” Veringashi said. He indicated the sprawling facility all around. “But they have accomplished much in the time we’ve been away. It is to be admired.”

Drakim said, “I’m going to my quarters, where the gravity is not so oppressive. Just as your words are oppressive.” He left.

Senvar came up to us. He told Veringashi, “I appreciate your words about our achievements here.”

Veringashi said, “I try to look at things as they are. Not as someone like Drakim wishes they might be.”

I couldn’t wait anymore. I had to ask: “Then why is it you hate the Garotethans so much?”

A stern stare from Veringashi, using both eyes. “I would not be rude to those who are hosting us here.”

Senvar spoke up: “Whatever you might say, I’ve heard much worse before this.”

Veringashi looked away from both of us. “Garotethans are . . . small. They scurry around. And always act as if they know something we don’t.”

“That’s because we usually do,” Senvar said.

Veringashi stared directly at Senvar. “Then how did your people end up being — “

“Enslaved by you?”

It took a moment for Veringashi to reply, “Obtained.”

I said, “Still not a very good word. You tell us you’re against the genocide of the Garotethans. That’s good. But you could still be better.”

Senvar said, “I have some duties to attend to here on this ship. Afterwards, I would like to show the both of you what our society is like. If you can withstand the stronger gravity that long.”

“What about Drakim?”

“He’s hopeless. The three of us will suffice.”


# # #


I took a brief respite in my quarters, reveling in the lower grav and having a half-way decent meal of the dishes Isamu had created for me. When Senvar came to get me, I braced myself to cope with the planet’s higher pull and resigned myself to the hunched-over strides I had to take to accompany him and Veringashi off the ship.

We left the Rahnsul and took an elevator to the planet’s surface. I asked Senvar, “How will people react to the sight of a Human? Have most of them even seen a Human before?”

Veringashi spoke up: “I would not worry about the reaction to you, Ambassador. What about the reaction to a Sobrenian? Won’t I be seen as some kind of monster? Or at least an enemy?”

Senvar said, “Left alone, we are a peaceful people. We do not initiate violence or assault anyone based upon which species they belong to.”

You’d be the first such species ever to exist in the galaxy, I thought.

The elevator doors opened to flashes of color similar to those I’d glimpsed from the Rahnsul during its landing approach. We stood near one of the strikingly blue pathways that I realized were conduits for mass transit. I couldn’t tell whether the long and narrow transports gliding silently along the road were buses or trains. I saw neither wheels nor rails. Either way, I’d have to squat down to board that vehicle, too, I thought.

The dome encasing Ghyanmor was clear rather than translucent seen from its interior. Beyond, it revealed blue skies and a bit of cloud cover.

Given a closer look here on the ground, I saw that the squat red buildings I’d seen from above were homes. Many of them lined the street we were walking down, but I saw no side streets in our immediate area — at least not streets that accommodated any vehicles. I got to see the four-footed gait Garotethans used as they walked down those streets, and I found it beautiful. I have to be careful, though, I thought, not to compare them, even in my own mind, with horses or other animals. But the temptation is real.

We walked down meandering pathways set among homes that appeared to have been placed almost at random. “Senvar,” I asked, “are all your homes similar to these — the same size and same colors?”

Senvar said, “We have consciously limited ourselves in such matters. We have achieved much in the time since the Sobrenians took so many of our people. But we have limited resources even for our small population, and use many standard materials and templates for our homes and industries and other structures. We emphasize relationships and emotions instead.”

A family approached us on one of those walkways — a mother and father and two boys. If those boys had been Human children, I’d have said they were about four or five years old, but I’d never seen a Garotethan child before and didn’t know how to estimate their ages. None of them wore the Sobrenian-styled clothing I’d become accustomed to seeing Garotethans wearing. Instead, their clothes more closely resembled the slimmer outfits I’d seen on Yelia, only with none of the symbols or decorations she’d sported.

The younger of the boys held a small doll that, to my eye, bore the image of his older brother. I wasn’t sure what that said about Garotethan culture. I’d have to ask Senvar later.

The family stopped before reaching us. The boy holding the doll hid among his fathers’ legs. The older boy gave me the quickest of glances, then pointed at Veringashi. That, and the way the parents held onto their children made it clear they found my and Veringashi’s presence disconcerting. When Senvar approached the family, they stared as blatantly at him as they did to this Human and Sobrenian who’d appeared before them. Senvar and the family spoke quietly and calmly. They stood too far away for me to hear their conversation.

Senvar led the family over to me and Veringashi. I made sure to smile, for all the good that might do. Garotethans’ thin mouths didn’t express many emotions. The younger boy held his doll tightly. The father took only a quick glance at me, and the mother and boys ignored me completely. All their eyes focused on Veringashi. Of course, I realized. He’s a bit of a known quantity to them, and not a positive one. They’re anxious to see a Sobrenian in the flesh and determine whether he’s an immediate threat.

Both parents and children raised their arms in greeting toward Veringashi. He, in turn, raised his arms only halfway, then hesitated. In the next moment, though, he completed the gesture. Good for you, I thought as I raised my own arms. That, at least, got me a glance from the rest of the family.

Senvar introduced the father, Iladon, mother, Ordenih, and the two boys, Cerit and Etasy. Ordenih spoke up, addressing herself to Veringashi: “We greet you, and hope you may soon understand our people better.”

Veringashi, obviously discomfited by this encounter, said, “That’s . . . very gracious of you.” Senvar had to translate the Sobrenians’s speech to Iladon, since she wouldn’t have a translator implant.

The father, Iladon, said, “We are not that gracious. This doesn’t mean we like you or even want you on our planet. It means your people have enslaved us for generations, and we want it to stop.”

Ordenih added, “We would want that to stop because of a greater understanding between us, not because we must fight against you.”

Veringashi bowed his head. “I understand.”

Ordenih looked toward me. “Senvar tells us some Humans such as yourself have tried to help us.”

I said, “I’d like to think most Humans would.”

After Senvar translated, Iladon indicated the two children. “For their sakes, we would hope so.”

The family moved on, as the two children gave their versions of the raised-arm greeting both to Veringashi and myself. They didn’t make that greeting toward Senvar.

Veringashi, Senvar, and I stood silently for a time as transports passed by on the street and other Garotethans strode past, some making the arm gesture, others simply giving us brief glances and staying on the move.

I told Senvar, “It looked as if you disconcerted them as much as Veringashi and I did.”

“That is my shame,” Senvar said. “Some of my own people have developed prejudices against bipeds such as myself.”

“Why? None of that is your fault.”

“Fear often guides prejudice. And fear is seldom guided by logic.”

Veringashi said, “I would like to return to Rahnsul. The gravity has become oppressive.”

I’m sure some of the thoughts this encounter generated within you are even more oppressive, I thought.

The walk back to the elevator and then into Rahnsul was spent in silence. I let Veringashi walk away while I lingered to speak to Senvar, despite having to be bent over as usual in this environment. “It’s admirable that our Sobrenian friend doesn’t want to commit genocide. But he may be learning that some people expect more of him.”

“He’s not our friend,” Senvar said. “As you have pointed out, yourself.”

“Ally, then. Still, not enough.”

“I am not going to concern myself with his moral progress.”

“Or lack of same,” I said.

“Ambassador, I will be glad to show you around more of Ghyanmor if we have the opportunity. Families such as the one we spoke with are the center of our society. Caring for children is our top priority. We are similar to what I’ve heard of Earth culture, in that replicated food is available for everyone and is not included within a market economy. Everyone has a home, and we include natural settings within those homes. We are working to heal the planet’s ecology. I’m sure you saw vast areas of the surface of the planet that are still recovering, but are rich in vegetation and have clean flowing streams and seas.”

“What I’ve seen is quite admirable.”

“Yet we may soon face a new danger from the Sobrenians. We knew that sending Rahnsul here would reveal that Garoteth is not the dying world the Sobrenians assumed it became.”

“Do you expect them to attack?”

“We believe so. We are also confident that we can repel them.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “What? How?”

Senvar would only say, “You should go to your quarters and rest, Ambassador. Whether to see more of the city, or . . . some other reason.”

Senvar would say no more.

I dragged myself to those quarters. Poured a large glass of water, wishing that I could at least have a nice glass of tea. Or, unusual for me, a nice sip or two of vodka. My Russian side didn’t usually come out like that.

For the first time in a long time, I felt that sense of being an empty vessel, with no work to help me feel whole.

I couldn’t help but think of that Garotethan family I’d just met. They, and everyone else on this planet, had been cut off from much of their population for nearly two centuries, and they’d managed to keep together what civilization they’d been left with, and even make great technical advances.

But with the Sobrenians’ possible return, all that progress could be wiped out at any moment.

What must Iladon and Ordenih be thinking about each day, I wondered, knowing that all the sacrifices they and previous generations have made here could be swept away at any moment?

I could identify at least in part with their concerns. After all, here I was, away from my “found family,” everyone I knew and loved back on the Station of the Lost.

I ached to hold onto Ben as tightly as I could, to hear his counsel, as well as that of Trenton Bram and Akira and Irene and Ken Westbrook and so many others.

I’m feeling cast adrift, I thought, and it’s all because of a decision I made and can’t undo.

So it’s back to the waiting. And it’s like I told Ken — as bad as the waiting is, sometimes the end of the waiting is worse.



The end of the waiting came quicker than I expected. And Senvar didn’t get to keep his promise of another tour of Ghyanmor.

The next day, I’d just hauled myself out of bed when a loud klaxon sounded. I’d heard nothing like its sustained notes and unfamiliar rhythms before, but it was clearly some sort of alert, though I thought it odd to have an alert as the ship sat in a hangar. I’ve got to find out what’s going on, I thought. I need to head toward the bridge.

I dressed quickly, but hesitated at the doorway. Would I be allowed to go to the bridge, or even leave my room?

Only one way to find out. I pressed the control next to the door, and it slid open. So far so good, I thought. I bent into my accustomed position, braced myself against the higher grav, and headed toward the bridge. I encountered several Rahnsul crewmembers going in different directions along the way, and pressed myself against the wall each time to let them pass.

I hesitated at the entrance to the bridge. What if I’m not welcome? I wondered. What if Senvar tells me to get the hell out?

A voice from behind me: “Let me past, please.” I recognized Isamu, who’d helped me settle into my quarters. I stepped aside, but followed him through the doorway onto the bridge. He took a position at the sensor module. Senvar stood just behind the technicians sitting in the bridge’s half-circle. The middle portion of the viewscreen display showed us the view straight ahead in the hangar. The other starcraft there, the Esulla, was moving out. The right side of the display showed a stylized view of the planet Garoteth, with several bright points of light moving steadily toward it. The left side showed a much closer view of those pinpoints.

Three of them were the Sobrenian starcraft I had last seen in the vicinity of the Station of the Lost — the Myresarr, Mendassa, and Drakim’s ship, the Adurentok. But they weren’t alone. Two other Sobrenian ships accompanied them — their readings came over as Mardor and Adhiomar.

“Oh, just what we needed,” I muttered.

Senvar glanced back at me, obviously surprised. But he only said, “Please sit,” and pointed toward my previous position behind him.

I sat.

The bridge viewscreen’s display split again, showing several of the areas still ravaged by Sobrenian weaponry so many years earlier. But now, the ground cover slid aside and massive gun emplacements rose from previously hidden sites. Across three other areas, starcraft similar to Rahnsul took to the skies.

Senvar gave a series of orders and Rahnsul moved out, ascending quickly from beneath the parkland area where we’d arrived. The horizontal slash in the dome’s side appeared again, and the ship accelerated quickly. The Esulla followed.

Senvar came to my position where I sat on the floor. “I apologize for bringing you along on this journey. But I had no place back in Ghyanmor for you to stay in comfort.”

“I suspect,” I told him, “that I might be just as safe here as I would be in the city.”

“Unfortunately, you may be correct. We recognize some of these Sobrenian ships from our records. Mardor and Adhiomar, in particular, are formidable starcraft, with experienced crews. All the others are of comparable deadliness.”

“What’s going to happen next?”

Senvar indicated the images of the Sobrenian starcraft on the viewscreen. “We confront these ships with the five ships that we have. We tell them they are not welcome here. And that we will defend our planet as best we can.”

“Even though we’re outnumbered.”

“Not by much, fortunately. Although they have an advantage in that they have more powerful weaponry. And more combat experience. We’ve had few opportunities to develop superior weapons, or to test our skills.”

The image of the sky on the viewscreen darkened. We’re close to orbit, I realized.

Senvar looked past me to the main entrance to the bridge as Veringashi and Drakim arrived. “Is this a good idea?” I asked Senvar.

“These Sobrenian ships are here because of them,” Senvar said. “It’s best they’re involved now.”

Drakim was the first to speak up. “I demand that you contact my starcraft, the Adurentok, immediately. It has obviously come to rescue me. If you want to avoid a violent confrontation, you will arrange for my return.”

The next voice was Veringashi’s: “I am about to make a surprise announcement. I, too, wish to return to my people.”

“They’ll most likely kill you,” I said.

Drakim said, “The ambassador speaks the truth. We will most likely kill you.”

Veringashi said, “I will take that chance rather than spend the rest of my life around those I abhor, feeling pinned to my bed, barely able to rise.”

“I don’t think any of that matters much right now,” I said. “We have to survive this confrontation coming up.”

“And that,” Senvar said, “is my dilemma. I assume all the Sobrenian ships are about to make an attack run. I fear our defenses may not be effective against them. But what if they are here on a mission of peace? If we initiated a war, the shame for my species would be eternal.”

Drakim said, “You are a fool. I recognize the pattern our ships are taking. It is an attack formation. You must allow me to communicate with Adurentok immediately.”

I don’t believe in inspiration, but I know a good idea when it occurs to me. “I have a better suggestion,” I said.

Senvar asked, “What could that be?”

“Open a channel, let me speak, and I will identify myself as the new — and first for that matter — Earth Unity Ambassador to the planet Garoteth.”

“Would your superiors allow you to appoint yourself into such a position?”

I shrugged. “It would be provisional.”

“Ambassador, I must remind you that an ambassadorship is not impenetrable armor. It will not withstand a volley of energy bolts.”

My heart was pounding, and I knew it wasn’t only because it was straining against the higher Garotethan gravity. “I share your concern about being the ones to start a needless war.” Though really, how many wars are actually needful?

Not the time or place to debate that, though.

Isamu spoke up: “Captain, subspace sensors tell us the Sobrenians are splitting up. Mardor and Adhiomar are aiming themselves at our planet. Adurentok and the remaining two are turning to face our fleet. Both are nearly ten and a half million kilometers away.”

Which means they can engage us within minutes. Here’s one of those decisions that makes me glad I’m not on the command track.

Senvar waved me over to Isamu’s position at the viewscreen, telling him, “Open a channel to the Adurentok.

“Open,” Isamu said, “but it’s not responding.”

I asked, “But they can hear us, though, right?”


I took a moment to compose myself as best I could. “This is Chanda Kasmira, newly-named — (If only by myself, I thought) — Earth Unity ambassador to the planet Garoteth. If you wish to avoid a major diplomatic incident between your homeworld and the Unity, I would suggest you hold your fire.”

No response. On the portion of the viewscreen devoted to the images of the Sobrenian starcraft and their relative positions, I could tell they were closing in quickly. I asked Isamu, “Channel still open?”

“Yes, Ambassador.”

I started to speak again, but a voice came over the channel, with my translator comm immediately interpreting the words for me: “This is Acting Captain Urmach of the Sobrenian starcraft Adurentok.”

“That incompetent!” Drakim shouted. “He wasn’t supposed to take over in my absence.”

That must be quite a surprise if Drakim’s control over his emotions didn’t kick in, I thought.

Urmach continued: “If all Garotethan forces surrender, we will land in peace and provide them and the civilian population with all the resources they need to live a long and healthy life.”

“He’s lying,” Drakim said.

I said, “Because it’s the same lie you would tell?”

Senvar, as he should have, ignored our exchange and told Urmach, “We will not surrender. You have heard the voice of Ambassador Kasmira. What is your response to her?”

Urmach said, “You will feel our response as your starcraft disintegrates around you.” The connection dropped.

Senvar said to me, “I appreciate your efforts, Ambassador. And I regret that we have tied your fate to our own.”

Drakim stepped toward Veringashi and clasped his hands around Veringashi’s neck. “Perhaps you wanted to risk dying back home,” he said, “but I had no intention of dying out here in the wilderness.”

I tried to dive toward the two Sobrenians, but in the high grav, my effort amounted to more of a stumble. All the same, I managed to grab one of Drakim’s arms, giving Veringashi the chance to pull away.

A sharp crack and a blast of heat next to my left ear, and Drakim fell, uncomfortably fast in the ship’s grav. He nearly pulled me down with him. I looked toward Senvar, who was lowering a stunner.

At least this time, I wasn’t seriously injured. I’ve got to quit making this a habit, though, I thought.

Senvar turned back toward his crewmembers and examined the images on the viewscreen. “Alert the fleet,” he said, and gave a series of orders splitting his forces in two. One group of starcraft would stand in defense of the planet Garoteth, while he would lead the remaining ships in attacking the approaching Sobrenians.

I knew that having to rely on subspace sensors made targeting tricky; the light from those ships was reaching us on a delay of several minutes, though that time would quickly grow shorter. That meant Senvar couldn’t hesitate, and he didn’t. “Target the lead Sobrenian ships,” he ordered, “and fire!”

Energy bolts shot away from the Rahnsul, in a broad pattern, with its defensive screens rising an instant later. “Evasive action,” Senvar said. The Rahnsul began a series of maneuvers meant to rush it out of the line of fire from the Sobrenians.

The next moments were excruciating, as each sides’ weaponry crossed paths on their way to their respective targets. Senvar asked, “Is this your first space battle?”

“No,” I said. “But I hope it’s my last one.”

“It may be, Ambassador, just not in the way you wish.”

“Ugh. I should’ve thought of that before I spoke.”

Impact was only seconds away. My mind flashed back to Senvar’s words of only moments before, that Garotethan defenses may not be effective against the Sobrenians’ firepower.

In that moment, the searing grief over the deaths of my parents rushed through my consciousness in a way it hadn’t for years; the soul-shaking trauma of the destruction of my childhood home followed.

I thought of the sacrifices (often including their own lives) of colleagues and friends performing their diplomatic or military duties.

I thought of Ben. Of the life I’d worked so hard, physically, professionally, and emotionally, to have with him.

The last images I’ll allow to fill my consciousness will be of him.

And how I’ve failed him, and everyone back on the Station of the Lost.

I closed my eyes and waited.


# # #


And waited.

Until past the time the Sobrenian fire should’ve struck the Rahnsul.

Then the noise of a commotion filled the bridge of the Rahnsul.

I opened my eyes.

And saw an amazing sight —

The image of the Unity starcraft Kojima filling the viewscreen, taking the brunt of the Sobrenians’ energy bolts and missile strikes, and firing its own volleys in return. Immediately after that came the announcement: “This is Captain Kelda Lee of the Earth Unity starcraft Admiral Susan Kojima. We call on all Sobrenian starcraft to halt their undeclared war on the planet Garoteth and members of any other Galactic species on its surface or in its immediate space.”

A response came immediately: “This is Acting Captain Urmach of the Adurentok. You are a single ship. We will enforce our directives regarding this planet however we wish.”

“Holy shit,” I said. I couldn’t believe the Kojima’s captain had committed her ship to such a dangerous course of action. Appearing in the middle of a firefight was one thing, but dropping out of stardrive so near to a planet’s gravity field made the move doubly dangerous.

“You had your chance, Acting Captain Urmach,” Lee said. “Let’s see how your directives stand up to this.”

Another Unity ship appeared, off to one side of the Kojima. I recognized the light cruiser Sergeant Jelal because Ben had once served on it. “This is Captain Davis Hamadi of the Jelal,” came the message. “I am here to back up all Garotethan forces.”

It’s still only an even fight, I thought.

But then Senvar caught my attention, pointing to the images revealed on several readouts on the wide viewscreen:

Another starcraft, shaped like a gigantic, hundred-meter-tall mushroom, appeared. That shape, along with its black-and-blue mottling on its skin, allowed me to identify it as a Cetronen ship.

The newest voice over comms said, “This is Captain Loros of the starcraft Cyetia. We are joining your fight.”

The Jelal and Cyetia paired off and sped toward the Sobrenians, immediately launching their own volleys of energy bursts. I’m glad to have those paired symbionts on our side, I thought.

From the Kojima, Captain Lee said, “Rahnsul, we’re sticking by you for now. And more friends are coming.”

Next to appear was, truthfully, an actual friend, the Drodusarel starcraft Ellurael. “I know that ship,” I told Senvar. “It took me and Ben to Earth after the Jenregar attack.” The long and narrow craft, with its silvery hull, was quite beautiful.

As Ellurael turned to follow Jelal and Cyetia, a call came in from the Drodusarel ship: “This is Ambassador Cerusto. It is good to speak to you again, Ambassador Kasmira.”

“You can’t know how good it is to hear from you,” I said.

“A discussion meant for later,” Cerusto said, and signed off.

To my astonishment, we weren’t done yet. In quick succession came the Kanandran ship Huradon, another one I was familiar with. Its crew had also helped save the Station of the Lost three years earlier, when a Cetronen ship was about to crash into it. Why is the station such a frequent target? I had to wonder.

After that, the Huradon was joined by a Relajem ship, the Arkhrog, and a Buruden ship, the Urqual. All their respective captains greeted everyone aboard the Rahnsul and their ships raced away to engage the Sobrenians.

Just when I thought I wouldn’t see any more starcraft making an appearance, yet another one flashed into existence only half a kilometer away. I stared in astonishment, unable to move. Everyone else on the bridge fell silent.

“What the hell is that?” I asked, of no one in particular.

This starcraft resembled nothing more than an octopus, with a large oval-shaped structure in the front and six “limbs” (rather than an octopus’s eight) extending backwards. Its movements, though, were clearly that of a mechanism and not a living being. Its black surface features made it appear as a dark presence against the backdrop of the stars.

The mysterious ship didn’t try to communicate with us, and it turned and headed out to catch up with the previous ships that had turned out for our rescue.

Senvar reported, “Kojima, Cyetia, and Ellurael are confronting the Sobrenians headed straight for us. Sergeant Jelal, Arkhrog, Urqual, and the . . . “

“Octopus” ship,” I suggested.

“Failure to translate. But as good a designation as any. They’re turning to intercept the Sobrenians approaching our homeworld.”

I sensed movement behind me. Drakim sat up. He was rubbing his head. I told him, “I wouldn’t try any more violence.”

“It appears,” Drakim said, “that there’s enough violence happening all around us already.”

Veringashi, who stood as far apart from Drakim as he could, said, “I don’t normally approve of such violence. But in this case, I accept its necessity.”

Pitched battles among starcraft don’t resemble the stylized conflicts dramatized in cube or virt dramas. With hundreds of thousands or even millions of kilometers separating the combatants, the only way to target your opponent is through computer-guided weaponry and various forms of smart-tech to help with your aim. The only way to witness the action is second-hand, though sensors and high-resolution telescopes. Energy bolts are the weapon of choice, since they travel at near light-speed. Sometimes missiles or even giant rocks come into play at very close quarters, within a few kilometers or so. But such confrontations are rare.

Kojima fired a second round, and one of the Sobrenian ships, Mendassa, took a strong hit, even as Kojima veered away to make a run against Adurentok. That ship dodged Kojima’s volley, only to run head-on into bolts from both the Cetronen Cyetia and the Drodusarel Ellurael.

With those two Sobrenian ships kept busy, Senvar guided Rahnsul toward Myresarr, launching several deadly volleys. Even at distances of tens of thousands of miles, it seemed as if we were engaged in a duel with swords flashing, and requiring fancy footwork to keep from being impaled.

Rahnsul shuddered under a couple big hits, but its sister ship, the Esulla, flew right behind us, pounding Myresarr pretty effectively, distracting it from delivering the killing blow to us.

A pause as all the starcraft, on either side of the conflict, rearranged themselves. But Adurentok, Mendassa, and Myresarr arced around to face in the same direction, and each of them, one by one, shot into stardrive and were gone.

“I knew it!” Drakim said. “Urmach isn’t just incompetent, he’s a coward!”

“Reverse course,” Senvar commanded. “We will join our forces protecting the homeworld.”

Rahnsul’s sensor array had capabilities galore, and it turned out we could effectively view the progress of the battle over the planet Garoteth.

It didn’t last long. The “octopus ship,” whatever its origin, turned out to play a crucial role in that defense. It actually managed to close in on the Mardor and fire upon it from only ten kilometers away. It used a wide-beam weapon that sustained its aim on the Sobrenian ship for several seconds. That surface of that ship’s hull shimmered and glowed and then it was just — gone.

The other Sobrenian ship, the Adhiomar, immediately turned tail and ran. Within moments, it also entered stardrive and vanished.

I was grateful that so many starcraft from so many Galactic species had shown up to rescue the Garotethans. But I felt I’d been a failure. I should’ve been the one to organize that mission. I should’ve saved us. Instead, others had to pull my ass out of the fire.

Senvar ordered the other Garotethan ships to take up a protective orbit around their homeworld. “I don’t expect the Sobrenians to be back,” he told them, “but I don’t want to take any chances.”

All the other ships, including the Unity starcraft Kojima and Jelal, and the various craft from other Galactic species, gathered around Rahnsul. Captain Lee, from Kojima, transmitted over comms, “I wish we’d gotten here just a little quicker. Those Sobrenians got off a few good shots before we took them on.”

I said, “Some of us got shook up a bit, but that was all. Great job all around.”

“Ambassador, some of these ships are going to linger around Garoteth for a while in case the Sobrenians come back, though I don’t expect them to. As for this ship, my orders are to head immediately back to the Station of the Lost. And to take you with me.”

I felt a sudden chill down my back. “Oh, really? May I ask why?”

“No one told me. I hate to leave so abruptly. I suspect because the big shots at the Unity couldn’t be sure how this fight would work out.”

Not the biggest vote of confidence in me. Or in Captain Lee and his crew and the other species’ starcraft. But I guess that’s the shape of things. “Very well,” I said. “I can transfer over in just a few minutes.”

Captain Lee said, “The Unity is assuming both Veringashi and Drakim will be coming back as well.”

“I’ll find out,” I said, and headed toward their respective quarters.

I went to Veringashi’s quarters first, and found him there with Drakim.

“Come in,” Veringashi said. He motioned toward a chair next to Drakim, who said only, “Ambassador.”

“Captain,” I replied. “I have to admit, I didn’t expect to find the two of you socializing like this.”

Both Sobrenians cast one eye upon me and the other upon each other. Why can I never get used to that? I wondered.

Veringashi said, “We have decided that being the only Sobrenians aboard, that we must renew a bond between ourselves.”

“Renew?” I asked. “What bond?”

Drakim said, “We’ve known one another since long before the current ‘unpleasantness’ politically. You might say this is a renewal of that relationship.”

I turned toward Veringashi. “I thought he wanted to execute you.”

Both Sobrenians flared their nostrils in amusement. “Mere political posturing on both our parts,” Drakim said. “For, you might say, Human consumption.”

“You convinced me,” I said. “And Senvar and the rest of the Garotethans, too.” I asked Drakim, “And if you weren’t going to bring him back to be executed, why did you come after him?”

Drakim said, “He would only have been detained for a time. Sobrenians do not inflict severe legal sanctions due to political differences.”

“It would have been an embarrassment for me, to be in such legal jeopardy,” Veringashi said. To be detained. Drakim wished to spare me that.”

I explained that I was about to return to the Station of the Lost, and that the Unity expected them to return, as well.

Veringashi and Drakim traded looks. “I suppose we might as well come with you,” Veringashi said. “I have no desire to go down and live among these Garotethans. Not to mention their planet’s unreasonable gravity.”

Drakim’s nostrils flared in amusement. “I will come along, too. My friend Veringashi and I have been having some excellent conversations.”

“In fact,” Veringashi said, “we’d like to request sharing quarters.”

Wait a minute, I thought. Are they lovers?

Talk about strange bedfellows!

“Uh . . . I’m sure we can arrange that,” I said, and I excused myself.

I gathered what few belongings I had from my own quarters and met Senvar at the airlock where I would board the Admiral Susan Kojima. I told him, “Thank you for everything you’ve done, everything you’ve shown us the Garotethans can do. It amazes me that the Sobrenians never came back and discovered Ghyanmor and all the technology you developed.”

Senvar said, “It was their own prejudice working against them, Ambassador. If they had sent a ship back even once to check on us, it would have been a different outcome.”

The Kojima docked with Rahnsul within minutes. I said my goodbyes to Senvar, and once through the airlock, my hellos to Captain Lee. She was tall, of Nordic descent, with silver hair.

“I’ve heard of some of your adventures during the Jenregar incursion,” I told her. “Some of them involving a friend of mine, Mike Christopher.” He was an explorer who had returned to Earth to help find a way to defeat that hive-mind species.

“I appreciate that,” Captain Lee said. “But I can confirm for you that the old saying — the one about an adventure being something that happens to someone else — is true.”

“I understand. Let’s hope we’re both done with adventures for a while. By the way, our two Sobrenian friends should be along in any minute.”

“I’ll have someone look after them. At the risk of sounding prejudiced, I’ve had enough of Sobrenians for a while. Let me get you to your quarters, then I’ve got to get back to the bridge.”

As we proceeded down a corridor, I asked, “What can you tell me about this rush back to the station?”

“Very little, actually. Which frustrates me almost as much as I’m sure it does you. But we can get you back to the station quicker than the Garotethans. Should be less than a day.”

“Sounds great. By the way, where the hell did that ‘octopus’ ship come from?”

Captain Lee held up her hands in frustration. “Hell if I know.”



I was just grateful to get settled in, order up a burger and a beer on the room’s replicator, and sit in a comfortable chair and eat in the comfort of a single gravity.

But afterwards, still settled into that soft, soothing chair, I had much more burdensome thoughts running through my consciousness:

I should’ve done more.

I should’ve been more involved.

I had to count on others to put out this fire.

Eager as I was to return home (and hard as it may seem to understand, after three years living within the Station of the Lost, I was finally beginning to think of it as home), I feared the reception I would receive.

Why all the mystery about being recalled so quickly? What information couldn’t I be trusted with?

What if something has happened to the station? To everyone I know, everyone I love?

Thank goodness Captain Lee was true to her word and we returned to the station in less than a day.


# # #


The Kojima, I knew, would just barely fit into the largest hangar deck at the Station of the Lost. Captain Lee maintained radio silence during the entire final approach, and requested I wait at the entrance to the embarkation ramp. I had no access to any video sources, so I couldn’t see our progress. The only indication I had that we’d settled onto the hangar deck was when Kojima’s internal grav switched off and the slightly lower grav of this part of the station took over.

Moments later, Captain Lee joined me at the hatch to the ramp. Veringashi and Drakim accompanied her. “Ready?” she asked.

“I suppose I am,” I said. “I’m not sure for what.”

The hatch opened and the embarkation ramp extended itself to the floor of the hangar deck.

At the bottom of the ramp stood Ben, Ken Westbrook, and Captain Bram!

And beyond them stood dozens of station residents of various Galactic species, each of them applauding or shouting or flapping limbs, or shouting praise in groups of fours, or pairing their approval with their symbionts, or in whatever manner they each employed.

Even Acting Captain Liana Santos of the Nivara 2 stood there, clapping, though without as much enthusiasm as some of the others. So was Ennlor, the Sobrenian merchant who’d attacked Veringashi. At least he’d recovered from his injuries at the hands of Drakim.

“What the hell?” was all I could manage to say as I started down the ramp.

Ben was the first to embrace me, so hard I almost couldn’t breathe. “Love you, Chanda.” I held onto him as tightly as I could. I kissed his face and neck and rested my head against his shoulder. I lost track of time.

Finally, he indicated the crowd all around us and spoke quietly: “We’ll have, I guess you’d say, a more personal talk later.”

“What’s all this about?”

Ben’s grin could light up an entire world. “We’re welcoming the returning hero.”

“A hero?” I hid my face with one hand for a moment. “By bugging out when the station may have been most in danger?”

Ben said, “You led that danger away from the station. You risked your life, even though I tried my best to get you to stay.”

Ken came up to us and said, “You showed faith in me by placing me in charge when you left. That had been my dream for years. And you didn’t hesitate.”

“I didn’t need to hesitate,” I said. “You’ve proven yourself in every way.”

Ken pinched the top of his nose and closed his eyes tightly. “Thank you.”

Bram (“Trenton,” I reminded myself) approached. “It took some convincing to get some of these other Galactic species to join us. But Ken turns out to have been pretty persuasive.”

“So were the Garotethans,” Ben said. “Especially your friend Senvar.”

“Who didn’t tell me about any of this.”

“He didn’t want to disappoint you if it never happened.”

“Hmm. It would’ve taken a little of the pressure off in the meantime.”

Ben said, “I guess we’ll all remember that next time you have a space battle ahead of you.”

“People keep saying that. I’m still hoping we won’t see a next time.”

“Brussels is getting involved now,” Ken said. “Liaison Neriah Fulton will travel to Garoteth soon. And, she hopes, to the Sobrenian homeworld.”

Ben said, “Not to mention, trying to make a more traditional contact with the species inside what you ended up calling the ‘octopus ship.’ Wherever the hell they’re from. And, eventually, coming here for the ceremony making this an official embassy.”

“That’s still going to happen?”

Ken said, “She told me this entire mess actually confirms the need for it.”

“I should contact her soon, then. If she ends up wanting my help.”

“She will,” Trenton said, “You showed yourself to be a leader this entire time. It’s what they look for in any diplomat or starcraft captain.” A pause. “Though maybe I wouldn’t be considered a good judge of that last category anymore.”

“That’s a bunch of bullshit. Anyone who would think that isn’t anyone I would respect.”

“Thank you. But just so you know, I’ve resigned my commission.”

“Oh, tell me you haven’t. That’s a tragedy.”

“It actually isn’t,” Captain Bram said. “When I destroyed Hinoki, and killed Nick Bowling, hard as it was to do, and even harder to live with, I still knew I’d done the right thing. But I also know what it felt like when some of my crew turned their back on me. Right or wrong, I lost their confidence . . . their faith in me. For some of them, I could never get it back. Which means I’m not the person ever to lead them into a tough situation again.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to help Adele explore the station. I’ve seen some of the records of that trip you took with Senvar. I found them pretty intriguing.”

Drakim spoke up. “All this Human talk is quite fascinating,” he said. “But what will happen to me and Veringashi now?”

I started to speak, but Ken got there first: “Liaison Fulton has already suggested a diplomatic job for the two of you.”

“A diplomatic job?” Drakim asked. “That is fine for my friend Veringashi here, but what about me?”

“The main quality you both have is that you’re Sobrenians. And there are Sobrenians on this station that want to leave. They’re fearful of the attitudes of the other Galactic species around them.”

Veringashi said, “So you want us to convince them to stay? Why would the Unity want that?”

I managed to speak first this time: “Sobrenians and Humans just finished shooting at each other. The Unity wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“Are you certain?” Drakim asked. “Perhaps these Sobrenians will merely be hostages to the Unity. Shields to convince us to stay our hands upon our weapons.”

I folded my arms. “You don’t give Humanity enough credit. Do you really think we would believe that holding onto Sobrenian hostages would be ineffective?”

Veringashi said, “The ambassador has a point.”

“One other thing, though,” Ben said. “The Kanandra have made it clear they wouldn’t mind seeing the Sobrenians leave. You’ve got to talk to them as well.”

Drakim looked at Veringashi. “And that is where the real diplomat’s talents must come in.”

Veringashi said, “I believe neither of us wish to return to our homeworld. If this is how we earn that privilege, then we will do our best.”

“That’s all I can expect,” I said. I spotted Ennlor coming up behind the two Sobrenians. I pointed him out and said, “I suspect the three of you have an interesting conversation ahead of you.” I turned toward Ben and kept my voice low. “Now let’s go have that more personal talk you suggested.”


# # #


Finally alone in our quarters. We embraced. Then to bed.

We didn’t speak much for a time, though we did make some noise.

Then: sleep. The best kind, without a wakeup time, savoring the warmth of someone you love, someone you’ve missed more than you can measure.


# # #


Wakefulness arrives, however slowly. First real awareness is of familiar ambient sounds — circulating air and faint voices heard through new walls not yet grown into full thickness. Reassurance of friendly surroundings.

Eyes can remain closed for now. A comfort.

Ben stirs, rolls over, but doesn’t awaken. My thought: I wonder what he might be dreaming of.

Could it be me? I smile at that question that’s arrived within my consciousness straight from my ego. I don’t need that kind of reassurance.

Ben’s movement lets some of the warmth between our sheets escape. If I re-arrange the sheets to contain that warmth, I’ll probably wake Ben up. Don’t wanna to do that. I slide out of bed. Brr. We’re still conserving power on this damaged station. I dress quickly and replicate a warm cup of coffee, a favorite Zambian blend.

While taking that first sip, I stare at the replicator. Has the time arrived?

I call up the templates for my baskets, the ones my mother created so long ago. The two that let me carry or store some items (if I actually used them for that), and the third that’s a flour strainer.

Fortunately, even given the current power limits, these items don’t overtax the system. The device renders the bamboo, reeds, grasses, bark, and other materials of the originals perfectly. They appear, one after another, within the replicator bin and I remove them. I line them up on a table in the main room. I couldn’t explain how many times I’d imagined them lying there, evoking even a small comfort first thing each morning.

I’ve re-established my homespace.

Movement behind me. Ben. He places his hands on my shoulders and squeezes them. “I guess the time finally arrived.”

“Yeah, it did.” I turn and we hold each other a long while.

Finally, we step apart. Ben says, “With all that’s happened to your family, and to your home habitat, you’re lucky to have that kind of remembrance. That kind of legacy.”

“I remember all that’s happened these past few weeks as if it were still happening in front of me. I remember everything I feared I’d never cope with.”

Ben asks, “Were you afraid that legacy might already have ended?”

“Never. That’s what kept me determined. A legacy’s not a static thing. It always continues.”





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