Trouble with the Natives
by Karlos Allen
Table of Contents
Chapter 3, part 1; part 2
appeared in issue 245.
Krallgh and Sreagh stood in the control room of the base watching as the Com officer tried to raise the cruiser. “They’re not answering, sir, but I know they can hear us.”
“All right.” Sreagh stepped over to a console and typed in a code. “Switch com over to me please. I can get their attention.” He typed busily for a few minutes and then waited.
He didn’t wait long, the now ex-Commandant’s voice shouted from the speaker, “This is illegal! Sreagh, I’ll see you court martialed with that Contact coward next to you! You’ll rescind this order or-”
“Or what, Zhrey? Think very carefully about what you say next. You’re already going to answer with your career for your actions, but what you do and say now may cost you your life.”
The radio cut off abruptly,
Sreagh looked back at Krallgh, “Well, Commandant, what now?”
“I don’t know, sir. I suspect that decision rests with you.”
“Not really, as chief Intelligence officer I have the power to declare someone unfit for duty because we own this mission. Other than that I can only await your orders.”
“Did he know that?”
“Yes, it’s standard procedure for these kind of missions.”
“I see.” He shook his head in amazement. “He hates me! I can’t get over it. A little inter-service rivalry is one thing, but this...”
“You shouldn’t be that surprised. Contact Service is an arm of the Navy but with some glaring differences. You are the fair-haired boys, the heroes. Everybody knows your names and everybody wants to be in the Contact Service when they grow up; including most naval officers. I’ll bet a year’s pay our friend out there is one of them. Add to that you play by different rules. You retreat when you could win. You surrender in the face of underwhelming odds. You accept insults in order to make peace. All the things no good soldier would ever do.”
“We have to be as much diplomats as soldiers.”
“I know that. Deep down inside they know that, too. It’s really easy though, when the envy and the bitterness of lost opportunities comes up, to throw around words like ‘coward’ and ‘traitor’. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this little scene isn’t being played out all over the front now that Contact is reporting to Navy for the first time in a hundred years.”
“What about you? Do you envy us?”
“Me? No. We recruit from the Contact Service. Speaking of which, if things get a little too hot for you in the Navy...”
“I’ll think about it.”
“So, what do we do about our friend out there? He’s refusing to follow orders, which means a death penalty in wartime. Unfortunately, he also has the only ship.”
“Not quite, Sreagh.”
Sreagh’s eyes widened, “That’s skirting treason.”
“Yes, isn’t it? One of my instructors said that that’s the job description of a Contact Officer.”
Singh was watching the screen from the comfort of the storm cellar when the low-gain receiver came to life. “Hyuman ship. This is base Commandant Krallgh calling. We accept your proposal. Unfortunately the captain and crew of the ship do not and they refuse to accept the authority of the base. Be warned, they have armed themselves with nuclear weapons, approximate yield of each missile is one-half megaton.
“Detonating these missiles is in direct violation of my orders and will jeopardize our mission. We are therefore authorizing you to neutralize the vessel by whatever means available and we will provide tracking data and damage reports to assist you. If the vessel should decide to accept our authority and return to base, we will inform you.”
Singh heard something like a cat hissing and spitting in the background.
“... Cowards! Traitors! You dare to side with a native ship against your own! You’ll die for this!”
“You are in the middle of committing mutiny in wartime. Naval regulations give me the right to have you executed. Naval tradition, which you are so fond of, gives abandonment to the enemy as the method of choice for this. I did give you an out, Mr. Zhrey.
“Report to your quarters and have your executive officer bring the ship back to base with particle shields down and missile bays locked. We will permit you to land and will hold you for a formal hearing at one of the Home bases. Notice I will not preside over your hearing. I will give you every opportunity to defend yourself.”
The radio went dead. Singh stared at it for a while before calling the strategy team, including Aspen, in. He played the recording back to them.
“That’s all?” Nate asked.
“Yes, you notice about halfway through, that hissing and spitting noise kicks in. I think the ship was protesting their course of action.”
“So what do we do?”
Singh looked around at them. “The ship is still moving away from us. It’s currently about two light-seconds further around in this orbital plane. It’s also moving faster than we are which means that if we let things go, they’ll come around behind us in about 15 hours. I don’t want that to happen, not if they’re using nukes.
“Every time we’ve tangled with them, they have picked the time and place and they’ve made the first move. I think it’s time we picked the spot. I know just where it is, too.”
He turned to the screen relaying the information from the abandoned control deck. “We’ve been drifting toward this clump in the ring. Nate picked it out specifically because it has a very high concentration of iron and stony-iron dust and gravel. We’re going to load the sail there. The act of doing that will get their attention.
“I estimate that when they see us they’ll be about two and a half light seconds away. It will take them about three hours at the top speed we’ve seen them use to cover that distance. That’s more than enough time to load the sail. Right, Nate?”
“Yes, but we have to be careful. We will need to extend the sail to full diameter and then spin the ship so that we’re just clipping the clump. We can’t afford to pull too much material into the field at one time or the feedback to the coils will destroy them. I’m afraid Tsao and I do not yet have an effective offensive weapon.”
“I do.” Aspen was clearly enjoying himself. “Singh asked me to attack this problem in parallel with your team. I’ve been looking into some different ways of disabling the systems on the ship instead of destroying it directly. If you will come with me, I will demonstrate.”
Tsao and Nate buttonholed him as they all floated out of the cellar, “’Asked me to attack the problem?’ What’s going on, Singh, didn’t you trust us to be able to do this?”
“Yes, I trusted you and no, I didn’t ask him. He begged to do it. In fact, he asked to be on your team.”
“Huh! That was so he could take the credit for whatever we did. Look at him! You’d think he was parading down to accept the Nobel!”
“I don’t doubt that that is what would have happened, but his real motive was a lot more reasonable. I can’t share it with you because it’s confidential. I told him he couldn’t be on your team because interpersonal friction would make it impossible to get anything done. To keep him happy, I asked him to tackle it separately. Besides there was a chance he would come up with something and right now I’ll take every chance I can get.”
Nate looked at him. “This isn’t tech lip service we’re getting here, is it? We’ve worked pretty well these last few days; I’d hate to think the old divisions were coming back.”
Singh sighed in exasperation, “No, this is not ‘lip service’. I am trying to get us home any way I can. If that means duplicating some work, then I’ll do that.” He paused and looked at them. “If it means hurting peoples’ feelings, I’ll do that, too. I won’t do it frivolously, but I will do it. Understand?”
Tsao muttered something.
“I was just saying that it was starting to sound like the military around here.”
“Yes, it is. That shouldn’t surprise you; we’re in a military situation. It also means we may need more military discipline.”
“Does this mean we’re going to start saluting and addressing you as ‘Sir’?”
Singh looked at them, “Do you think that’s necessary?”
“Neither do I.” He held their gaze for a second longer and then smiled, “Don’t worry, I had a talk a lot like this with our friend up there,” he nodded in Aspen’s direction. “Only with him I had to make some threats. All I want is to get all of us home. After that, well, we’re not in the military, and I don’t think we need to worry about having to go through this ever again. Why don’t we just go see what he’s cooked up, OK?”
They nodded, but he could tell Nate wasn’t satisfied. He had a feeling he’d be hearing more about this when it was over.
Copyright © 2007 by Karlos Allen