Earth Year 4126
The disc-shaped starship spun like a frisbee through the vast, silent realms of space. A row of blue lights surrounded its circular perimeter, giving it a strange, almost ridiculous, look. The ship was the latest design, the most advanced technology the planet Krimkus had created. Surely it was enough to bring their sister and rival planet Earth to its knees.
Krimkus and Earth weren’t actually in conflict, of course. There was a sort of friendly feud between them, an intense desire to beat the other in technological innovations but nothing beyond that. The people on both planets were nearly identical, the only difference being that Krimkusians had many more shades of skin color, everything from green to crimson to pale blue, and they hadn’t destroyed their planet by sucking it dry of its natural resources and clogging its atmosphere with foul chemicals. The Krimkusians highest value was the natural world, and everything they did was done in the cleanest, most environmentally efficient way possible.
Ever since the first contact between the “Earthlings,” as they called themselves, and the Krimkusians, the two planets had worked together to get Earth back to some sort of environmentally stable shape. But the pollution was so bad and the natural plant and animal life so devastated that complete recovery was probably never going to happen.
It was disgusting. Captain Malaa, the captain of the new starship, felt her stomach turn whenever she looked at Earth from her place on the bridge. The once-green continents were now a sickly greenish brown, and a foul glow surrounded the planet. Space trash orbited Earth, so much trash that it created a ring around the planet similar to those of Saturn, though not nearly as beautiful. The water, which had once been a brilliant blue, Malaa heard, now was an undefined blue-gray.
And yet, despite the fact that the planet was in a state of near disrepair, the inhabitants of Earth had found a way to profit from their extraordinary technological innovations. Even though the Krimkusians had (in Malaa’s opinion, anyway) beaten the Earthlings with their newest starship design, the brilliant scientists of Earth had created machines Malaa could only dream of owning. Computers that rearranged particles and created materials out of thin air. Weapons that knocked an unsuspecting victim unconscious thirty miles away in less than twenty seconds, with a laser-beam type bullet that was painless and, for the most part, would never kill you. Telescopes that had found a way to reach into the farthest corners of space and send a signal to other life forms. That signal had been what brought Krimkus and Earth together, in the Earth year 3053.
“For better or for worse,” Malaa’s grandfather would say often, and Malaa understood more of what he meant by that statement every day.
Malaa directed her ship to the Earth’s moon, where the main trading port between the two planets was located. The spinning disc hovered over a landing platform, and the blue lights blinked once, twice, then went out completely as the bottom of the ship touched the moon’s dusty ground. There was an uncomfortable click, and a slight shake as the ship securely locked into place. The ship’s design was newer than the landing pad, but the two were still compatible. For now.
“We’re here, Captain,” Lieutenant Garah said from his chair. He was a short, round man, with skin the color of an upturned leaf.
“How very observant, Garah,” Malaa said sarcastically. “Why don’t you inform the rest of the crew? I’m sure they haven’t noticed by now.” Malaa turned to her First Officer-in-training, Jena, a beautiful and brilliant young scientist on her first space mission, though not, based on her performance so far, anywhere near her last. Malaa had never seen a young person so talented and capable; it was as if she’d been commanding spaceships her whole life.
“The cargo is ready, Captain, and Lieutenant Faresh is in the cargo bay overseeing its transport,” Jena reported. “I can go down there to supervise if you feel it necessary, but I think they can handle it.”
“I agree,” said Malaa. “You’ve done splendidly, Jena. You deserve a break. Why don’t you take a few friends with you and make a visit to Moonport. It’s fun, if not a bit ridiculous. Just stay out of trouble.”
“Yes, Captain,” said Jena excitedly, and walked quickly out of the room, her amber eyes flashing with anticipation. Talented though she was, Jena was still young, and this was still a new experience for her.
After Jena left, Malaa walked down to where Garah was fiddling with his officer’s cap. The light of the ship made his pale green bald head shine, and not in a way that was at all flattering. It made him look smaller, more foolish.
“Stop fidgeting, Garah,” said Malaa.
“I don’t like it, Captain,” Garah mumbled, almost half to himself. He met her eyes and then quickly looked away. “I don’t like her going down there. Especially because she’ll bring him along, you know she will.”
“She’ll be fine,” Malaa said, but she wasn’t sure.
* * *
Jena hurried down the clean and polished halls of the starship until she reached the residence area, passing rows upon rows of doors, until she reached number 273. She knocked on it three times, and when there was no answer, she put her ear to the door and listened. He was definitely in there. Just ignoring her.
She shifted from one foot to the other, wringing her hands impatiently, and waited. She knocked again, and waited some more. Finally, after five good minutes had passed, she gave the door a swift kick and shouted, “Come on, Nate, I know you’re in there! Let me in!”
The door opened, and Nate stood there, his brown eyes sparkling with mischief. He was tall, much taller than Jena, and perhaps the only person on the whole ship besides Captain Malaa who had any sort of authority over Jena. But Nate’s authority was different. It was subtle and powerful and not at all healthy, although neither of them knew it.
“Off duty?” said Nate. “We’ve arrived, haven’t we? How did everything go?”
“Smooth as silk. The Captain’s letting me off for a few hours. I’m going to Moonport, you want to come?”
Nate looked at her questioningly, as if he were studying her. She hated it when he did that.
“Maybe…” he said, half to himself. “Sure, I’ll come. It won’t do much, but I’ll come.”
“You will?” Jena hadn’t really expected him to say yes. She had asked him with the knowledge that the moon, although it was not Earth, was still very much a part of Earth, and that Earth made Nate uncomfortable. She had asked anyway because she couldn’t help herself.
“I’ll do anything for you, dear Jena,” Nate said jokingly, and then shut the door, leaving her out in the hall alone.
He was so strange. He was so, so strange sometimes. So different. But what else could Jena expect? Nate was an Earthling.
* * *
Lieutenant Garah was a lot more intelligent than he let himself believe or act. He let his nerves get the best of him, and many people wondered why the KSS – the Krimkusian Science Society – had let him take a position on a starship. Lieutenant Garah had been flying starships for nearly twenty years, but had never once been considered for promotion. He was too timid, too willing to follow commands and not willing enough to give them. Still, there was something about him, Captain Malaa knew, that was invaluable. His advice had never once led them off course, and he had a steady conscience. And he was experienced. Captain Malaa trusted experience more than any other virtue.
Malaa tapped Garah on the shoulder. “Don’t bother watching them,” she whispered.
“But, Mal- I mean, Captain. It could be dangerous. He could be dangerous. He’s not part of the test, he could jeopardize the whole thing -“
“We aren’t to interfere with the test under any circumstances,” Malaa said. “Jena knows she’s being evaluated every step of the way, and it was her choice to ask the boy to go along. Every decision she makes will go into her score, Garah – every one. We can’t help her.”
“What if he puts her life in danger?”
“For goodness’ sake, Garah. He’s an Earthling, not an enemy.”
“His own planet doesn’t even want him.”
“No, he doesn’t want his planet. He came to Krimkus on his own.”
“I don’t trust him.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”
Garah’s eyes flashed with momentary anger. “I’m sorry, Captain,” he said. “I care for the girl, that’s all. She’s quite the commander, and she could be a real asset to the Society if she passes her test.” He paused, and swallowed heavily. “A tremendous asset.”
“She’s done all right,” said Malaa, and left Garah sitting with his thoughts.
* * *
Garah retreated to his room and opened his Officer’s Log. Most officers kept their logs in their computers, but Garah had always preferred paper. He had a small, well-made notebook in which he kept all his reports.
Flipping back to six weeks before, he read the first entry he’d written for this particular mission.
We have a trainee on board, a young woman fresh out of the Society College named Jena. Her first assignment was to escort the human boy to his room. She has never seen the ship before. This task was meant to demonstrate her familiarity with the ship’s designs, and she appears to know them better than half the crew. She took him straight there, and although it took her longer than it should upon closer inspection we realized that the prolonged time had nothing to do with any mistake in direction on her part, but rather because she and the boy were engaged in a lengthy conversation. Even now they appear to be getting along well.
Today, Jena the trainee was allowed to direct the ship in and out of Jupiter V, one of the loading docks in the Earth’s solar system. She did it with accuracy and confidence. I wish I were able to speak like her, in that authoritative voice. Her presence as a commander is surpassed only by Captain Malaa’s.
Our Jena is not only a skilled officer, but a hero. I was not present when the incident occurred, but according to those who were, Jena was down in Maintenance inspecting the engines when one of the Repairmen had a large and heavy object fall on his leg. Jena performed some marvelous first aid, and got him up to Sick Bay as speedily as possible.
And so on and so on, tale after tale of Jena’s marvelous expertise. Garah wished he felt as confident about her as he did when she’d first come. But he couldn’t, not when she was with the boy. There was something wrong with that boy.
* * *
Moonport was a conglomeration of colorful buildings, all nestled under one huge silver casing that stretched for miles and miles. Inside, a collection of restaurants, amusement parks, bars, movie theaters, and stores were nestled together on either side of a huge, seemingly endless hallway. It was the place space travelers and planet-dwellers alike went to have fun, although it was much more accessible to space travelers. Jena had never been before, but she’d heard stories about it, about what a colorful place it was, how many new people there were to meet.
It was one of the only places where there was a roughly equal amount of Earthlings and Krimkusians, although you hardly ever saw them walking together, as Jena and Nate were. Jena noticed people’s heads turn when they walked by, and she saw one or two people exchange confused glances. An Earthling and a Krimkusian, together! It was rare.
Even though they were similar it was fairly easy to tell the difference between the two races. Krimkusians had bright colors in their skin, hair, and eyes, while Earthlings were, well, Earthy and flesh-toned. Jena’s cerulean skin and amber-gold eyes were so unlike Nate’s nut-brown skin and chocolately ones. Even though sometimes, Jena didn’t feel so different from him. Not even in appearance.
“Do you want to go to a bar?” Nate asked. “Or perhaps we should start with something less exciting, since this is your first time on Moonport…”
“I thought it was your first time too.”
“No,” said Nate, “it isn’t.”
He didn’t elaborate. Nate rarely ever elaborated on his own, and Jena didn’t feel much like asking him to. She was so afraid of upsetting him.
“I don’t want to go to a bar,” said Jena. “I don’t think getting intoxicated, even on leave, is a good idea.”
“There’s nothing wrong with getting a little drunk sometimes,” said Nate. “It’ll be fun. I’ll make you stop if you start going crazy.”
“No,” said Jena firmly. “I’m being evaluated, Nate. I’m not going to mess this up. Let’s go to a restaurant.”
Nate was disappointed, Jena could tell, but he said nothing. Jena felt a pang in her stomach – was he upset with her? Was she too bossy?
“I mean,” she said, “maybe we can go later, if I feel like it. But I don’t want to spend my evening getting drunk.”
“It’s fine, Jena,” Nate said, and then he smiled, a beautiful smile that lit up his whole face and took Jena’s breath away. “I don’t want you messing up your evaluation, either. We’ll stay away from bars. Tonight we will be pure and temperate.”
“Thank you.” But there was still something in his voice that worried her.
They went to the only restaurant they could easily walk to that Nate claimed had any “class,” and got a table. There were few people inside. The tablecloths were white but faded and the atmosphere was dingy. Jena didn’t like it at all, but she said nothing.
Sitting at a table on the other side of the room was a figure wearing a hood. They were eating a bowl of soup and muttering to themselves. On the side opposite them was an Earthling family of five. The kids were very young and wouldn’t stop fidgeting and throwing things. One of the younger boys ran under the table, pulling the white tablecloth as he went, which knocked over a wineglass. Two Krimkusian waiters came rushing out with a broom and dustpan, and had cleared the mess before the parents had time to apologize.
“Have you been here before?” Jena asked Nate. “Is it good?”
Nate laughed. “Why, Jena, is that what you think of me? I wouldn’t have taken you here if it wasn’t good.”
“I could end up hating it,” said Jena.
“Well, if that happens I hope you won’t tell me. It’ll hurt my feelings.”
But there was something within Jena that couldn’t hate whatever Nate liked, and always found a flaw in something he hated. The waiters brought the food out, and Nate commented on the subtlety of flavor in the cheese, and the perfect consistency of the bread, and the unmistakable balance of sweetness and spunk in the wine, and Jena suddenly tasted these things as if he had told her mouth to enjoy them. Jena finished the dinner feeling quite full of food but empty of experience. She wanted to see more.
“You know,” she said, as they were leaving, “I want to see more of Moonport, but I think that one glass of wine is as drunk as I’m going to get.”
Nate laughed, and pushed open the door. “You know, Jena,” he said, “give it time, and I think I could manage to fall in love with you.”
* * *
The hooded figure in the restaurant pushed back his hood once Jena and Nate had left. The family had left too, thank goodness, and now he was finally alone.
He was a Krimkusian, with crimson skin and eyes. He was of average height and build, but there was something powerful in the way he moved toward the kitchen.
“ROOS,” he yelled through the kitchen door, through the sound of clanking pots and pans, and a tall, thin, yellow Krimkusian man hurried out.
“Was that him?”
“That was him,” said Roos, his voice shaking. “Oh, Balvin, please don’t do anything too horrible-“
“Of course I won’t,” said Balvin, and felt in his pocket for the handgun as he walked out of the restaurant.
TO BE CONTINUED