Sorry, but it was the only option at the time
“What’s the situation with the other ship?”
Number one had come up to the bridge and was standing over the navigator, looking at the screen.
“Sir, might I remind you…” Nancy began.
“We’ll discuss the ethics later, but right now we don’t have much of a choice. I expect you to keep what just happened to yourself for the time being. Am I understood?”
I wasn’t silencing her, it was a matter for reports and discussions in due course.
“Very good. Just be ready to be in the boarding party when we catch up with them.”
Her expression told me that she was far from impressed with my decision, but, I wasn’t about to test our ship’s defenses against an unknown quantity. That might come later, after a discussion with the military commander.
“Later, then.” She gave me a last witheringly look, then left.
Number one turned. “What happened over there?”
“Not for discussion right now. The ship?”
“About fifteen minutes at maximum speed. They seemed to have stopped. No indication if they’re having problems.”
“Lay in a course and get us there, maximum speed.”
A moment later the navigator said, “Awaiting the order, air.”
A slight shift inside the ship as it gathered momentum, then the dampeners kicked in.
“Time to target 11 minutes, 35 seconds sir.”
He didn’t add the “give or take” at the end signifying that it was a serious situation.
“Code Red, military commander to the bridge.”
The lights dimmed and a hush came over the bridge.
“Have we had time to analyze the data on the Russian ship or the alien vessel?”
“For the Russian ship, yes. Schematics, vulnerabilities, propulsion. A scaled version of ours, no doubt stolen by their spies, but without some of the modifications we think. It appears its maximum speed is about 60% of ours.”
“Then we can catch them if they try to escape?”
“If we need to, but I’m not sure why we’d want to?”
“There are reasons which at the moment you don’t need to worry about. Just get us there, and be ready to go after them if they try to leave.”
He was also unhappy because our remit was not to be attacking our own ships, but there were always extenuating circumstances, circumstances that I needed to take up with the Admiral before I took any sort of action.
The military commander stepped on the bridge. “You want to see me?”
“Come with me. Number one, keep me posted on progress.”
I ushered the commander into my day room.
“I hear we’ve just made first contact.”
“You could say that. They are following us, on our way to the Russian ship. At the moment I don’t have the luxury of knowing whether or not the Russians committed atrocities, but the commander of the alien vessel says they did. To prevent this ship from being destroyed I told him we would apprehend those involved and jointly sort out the mess. It was the best plan I could come up with in the time frame, and we don’t know much about the alien vessel.”
“A sticky situation then.”
“Not even the half of it General. Our first encounter and already we’re behind the eight ball. This is not exactly how I envisioned it, but our fellow humans have managed to let us down badly. Now, you’ve got about 10 minutes to prepare for various outcomes, but that ship can’t be allowed to leave, and, if the alien vessel attacks us, you have to defend us.”
“Battles used to be so much easier, on the ground. Very well. I’ll see you on the bridge.”
While I had a great deal of autonomy aboard the ship, because we were a long way from home and the sheer distance over which communications had to travel through subspace would make them difficult at best, I didn’t have high hopes of getting hold of the Admiral in the time I had available to me. Of course, the relay satellites we dropped along the way would help boost the signal, but when you’re hoping to rely on something in a crisis, it invariably will let you down.
The situation was one that fell within the guidelines where I needed to brief the Admiral of intended actions so at the very least if there were consequences, he would be in a position to comment, defend, or more likely apportion blame.
This would not be an issue if we were the only ship out on the edge of space, but we were not.
While talking to the General I had started the call but was not expecting to raise him. Given the parameters needed on a good day, and because this was urgent, I wasn’t expecting anything.
I was surprised when a blurry picture of his office appeared on my screen, before it crystallised into the Admiral sitting on the front of his desk. It was almost as if he had been expecting a call. There would be a lag, but a lag I could live with.
“Captain, we calculated you must be getting close to Pluto’s orbit. How are you?”
“Everything is fine, and you’re right, we are close to seeing what’s beyond our galaxy. But, there’s a problem. There’s another ship out here from earth, been over the border, one that’s neither alien or in our ship register.”
“The infamous Russian or Chinese ship?”
“Yes. But more significantly, we have made contact with an alien race, as have these other humans, and the experience has left the aliens with a severe mistrust of our intentions. So much so, when we met, I was presented with an ultimatum. Suffice to say, I’m left in a position where I have to oversee justice against some of that crew. We don’t have time to discuss the details, it’s a situation where I’ll have to find a mutually beneficial resolution, or our exploration aspirations will be over before they start.”
It was a lot for him to digest.
“Is it likely to cause a problem with the other human ship?”
“The alien captain demanded we detain the guilty crew members, and have them face a judiciary. I’ve negotiated a presence, but I’m not sure just what the limits of participation will be.”
“How long have you got?”
A look at the top of my screen told me we were on station with the other earth vessel, with the alien ship not far away.
“We’re there, now, so it’s minutes rather than hours. For the moment it’s simply a heads up. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. You might want to ask some hard questions as to who is out here, sir, because they’re not helping our cause.”
It was exactly the situation the Space Alliance had predicted would happen if we were to present a fractured front to whomever might be out there. Armed with the knowledge I’d just passed on, the data file the scientific team had assembled, he would be able to ask the hard questions, and hopefully get answers
“It would seem not. But, just so you know, we have just had a conference with what appears to be the command center of the Russian vessel, which, I can now tell you, is a joint venture between the Russians and the Chinese. Further, they claim their ship is being unjustly harassed by the alien who, according to them, simply took exception to them for no apparent reason. Someone is not telling us the whole story.”
“What do you make of it?”
“Since they lied about building a ship, and then sending it out into space without telling us, and given the arrogance shown during the conference, I’d say, from the body language of the Chief of Operations, they have something to hide. You have the authority to take whatever action you deem necessary while walking that very thin line of diplomacy.
“We have a diplomat in the crew.”
“Of course. Keep me informed of developments, and remember, you are representing the whole world.”
No pressure then.
© Charles Heath 2021-2022