A photograph from the inspirational bin- 34

This is the moon, unexpectedly observable in the late afternoon.

For me, the moon provided inspiration for an episodic story I have entitled, for now, ‘I always wanted to see the planets’.

It’s about a freighter captain who gets a gig as First Officer on an exploratory starship, who by a series of inexplicable events gets promoted to captain, and has to navigate not only the outer reaches of space, but new species.

But in the back of my mind there is that expression ‘shoot for the moon’, which could mean almost anything.

It could mean going for the unobtainable, whether it be a job, or the partner of your dreams. Failing can be heartbreak. Success might mean you’d be ‘over the moon’.

Them there’s travelling to moon, perhaps the next logical step for regular people, heading off the spend a week on a moon base hotel. I’m not sure what we would see out there in space; Perhaps a UFO?

Fictionalised, a moon base might just be the meeting place for various species, and being the mystery writer I am, what if there was a murder?

As always, the possibilities are endless.

A photograph from the inspirational bin- 34

This is the moon, unexpectedly observable in the late afternoon.

For me, the moon provided inspiration for an episodic story I have entitled, for now, ‘I always wanted to see the planets’.

It’s about a freighter captain who gets a gig as First Officer on an exploratory starship, who by a series of inexplicable events gets promoted to captain, and has to navigate not only the outer reaches of space, but new species.

But in the back of my mind there is that expression ‘shoot for the moon’, which could mean almost anything.

It could mean going for the unobtainable, whether it be a job, or the partner of your dreams. Failing can be heartbreak. Success might mean you’d be ‘over the moon’.

Them there’s travelling to moon, perhaps the next logical step for regular people, heading off the spend a week on a moon base hotel. I’m not sure what we would see out there in space; Perhaps a UFO?

Fictionalised, a moon base might just be the meeting place for various species, and being the mystery writer I am, what if there was a murder?

As always, the possibilities are endless.

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 43

Back on the alien vessel

The ‘ooh’ from Nancy was unmistakable the moment we rematerialized in the alien’s ship’s bridge.  It could be one of those awe-inspiring moments, had it not been for the circumstances.

The second time on the bridge, I realized that it was a little more sparse than it had been before, with a wall of control panels missing, along with a panel that stretched across the front of the Captain’s chair, but with no crew members present.

It was now a blank space.  The whole space could have been a large empty room with windows overlooking empty space, except in the distance, our two ships.  Beyond that, there seemed to be a thin streak of light, or colored lights, flickering.  At a guess they might be a long, long, long way away, but whether it was in the direction we had come, or where we were going, or somewhere else, I couldn’t tell.

On the other side of the bridge, the female alien was still holding the Russian Captain, some sort of weapon at his throat.

I was still feeling the tingling sensation that was the effect after re-materialization.  The first time it was disorientating, I was prepared this time.

I was also not sure what to expect, now that it was clear the aliens were not what they portrayed themselves to be.  Of course, it was naive of me to expect that others in the galaxy would be better than us.

“An explanation of what this is really about might go a long way towards preventing tragic consequences.”  I thought I’d throw out the opening gambit.

“Agreed.  I had hoped the problem could have been resolved before your arrival.  As you might be aware, we have the ability to transport our people, and I had hoped to recover the missing citizens that were taken by this,” he pointed to the Russian, “captains ship.”

“They asked for asylum, we did not take them.”

Another piece of the puzzle, the female must be one of the Aliens crew, and had beamed aboard, taken the captain hostage, and demanded the release of the citizens.

Question: why hadn’t he simply beamed them back?

To the Alien, “Is this true?”

“Semantics “

Note:  this alien had a very good grasp of the nuances of the English language.

“Semantics or not, if you know anything about earth culture, it’s that we look after those who need help, and if people come to us asking for asylum, we generally give it.  You will also be aware that those who ask for asylum generally are in fear of their lives.  The question is, why would these people ask for asylum.”

“The people aboard that ship are criminals who were serving their sentences in one of our remote facilities.  Your captain apparently came across this remote facility and assisted in setting the criminals free.  When we sent a ship to apprehend them, they were taken aboard the earth ship and it attempted to leave.  We were going to stop the earth vessel from leaving when your ship appeared, and it seemed prudent not to display hostility.  There was also the possibility you were working together.”

“We are not, as you are now aware.  Nor would I be willing to interfere with your internal matters, except that it involves another of our ships, one I didn’t know about, which only complicates matters.

Why do you have the captain.”

“He refused to set the prisoners.”

“If you could beam your operative and the captain here, why not just beam the criminals too.”

“They are currently protected in a special part of the captain’s ship that does not allow us to bring them back.  They obviously told him what our capabilities are.”

Criminals, if they were criminals, seeking asylum.  If it was me, I would be happy for someone else to take away the criminal element and make it someone else’s problem.  The unfortunate truth in our world is that criminals didn’t go to jail anymore, they were shipped off to remote mining planets where they spent the rest of their days working in very harsh conditions.  Over time it had proved to be a very good deterrent, so much so, that off plant mining operations now had to pay large sums of money to get people to work there.

“Number One.”

“Sir?”

“Find the so-called criminals the captain has stowed on his vessel and ask them what their side of the story is.  Quick as you can.”

“Yes, sir.”

I looked over to the Russian Captain.  “You might want to tell your second in command to make things easier for my crew.”

A look from me to the alien, and back, time to consider my request, then gave the order.

“On my way, sir.”

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 44

Back on the alien vessel

I was surprised the alien captain was not getting impatient with the way this matter was dragging on. 

If this was back on earth and we were dealing with an alien incursion, there would be a lot of shooting by short-tempered small-minded fools who only knew one way of dealing with seemingly insurmountable problems.

In that regard, these aliens were better than us, and I had to wonder if they were dealing with this problem in a manner we would understand, and if that was the case, what would have happened if my ship had not made a timely, or untimely, arrival.

It also begged the question of how either of us could move forward from this point, because the only logical outcome was to hand back the criminals.

I wonder what Nancy was thinking, the fate of diplomatic relations, if they were possible after this, in her hands.

There was also a question of what the Russian captain had been promised in return for trying to save them.  It would have to be significant for him to put his vessel and its crew on the line.

I looked at the Russian Captain, not looking very comfortable, on the end of a weapon he clearly knew could kill him, or worse.

“What did they promise you?”

His mouth moved, an indication to me he was going to say they didn’t, which to me meant that it was not something he wanted to talk about in front of the Aliens.

The alien answered for him.  “Technology, perhaps our secret weapons, the criminals are all people who have worked with or worked on some of our most secret projects.”

Which begged the question, what did they do wrong that they were labelled criminals.

Perhaps the alien could read my mind because he added, “and who had used that technology illegally, or tried to sell it to our enemies.”

So, a new piece of information; the alien has enemies.  It raised another question, what if we had met their enemies first?

“Sir.”  Number one had come back online, hopefully from the location if the so-called criminals.

“What the situation?”

“I’ve spoken to a chap named Midava, who seems to be the spokesperson for a group of seven I can see.  Firstly, they are different from the captain of the vessel you are currently on.  He tells me, and several of his colleagues are from a different world, as are others, who were recruited to work on advanced technology.  It seems their home planets are far more advanced than the captains.”

“OK.  Just hold it there for a minute.”  I looked over at the Captain.  His expression hadn’t changed, but he had been listening intently.

“Would you like to explain your planets existence among what it seems to me, a galaxy of other civilisations.”

“We are just part of a much larger galaxy, yes, though I would question our level of development in their eyes “

“So, these so-called criminals are from different worlds?”

“We do not discriminate, as some others do.”

There was no acrimony or anger in his tone.  He was relating information, and answers to my questions, from their perspective.  I realized that I could not judge these people in the same terms as I would one of my own people, and that was going to be the hardest problem we were going to have in dealing big with new people

Quite simply, they were not us.

And, equally, we had no right to judge them according to our rules.

“Sir.”  Number one again. 

“Yes?”

“Midava tells me they are being held against their will simply because they want to go home.  Apparently, their hosts do not want their homelands to know their level of technology improvement.  I think you can understand the implication.”

I could.  “Thank you, number one.”

“It’s all a matter of perspective,” the alien captain said.  “Other worlds, like other countries on your planet, group together in what you call blocs.  They are more technologically advanced, so they deigned to ignore us, and it has taken a long time for us to become as advanced.  Those people came to us and said they wanted to help us, without the knowledge of their leaders, because it was unjust.  We willingly accepted it and for years the association was mutually beneficial, they got the recognition they would not get on their homeworlds, and we got the technology.  This ship is one of the benefits, along with its weapons.  When they wanted to go home, their work, they said, was done, and they wanted to see their families, the high council decided against it, for security reasons, and when they tried to escape, they were detained.  You would call it political expediency.”

“But in an enlightened and just society such as yours, don’t you think that is wrong to deny them.  I suspect as you might give a bit more thought to the matter, that telling their homeworlds what they’d done would most like condemn them to death, so I’m sure telling anyone anything about their time with you was the last thing on their minds.  It’s food for thought.  However, since is not my objective to interfere in your sovereign right to dispense justice in accordance with your laws, I will have the prisoners returned to you.”

“You can’t do that,” the Russian captain said.

“I can, and you will.  There are far larger implications in play and if necessary, I will enforce our laws upon you, which will, if the Captain desires, hand you over as well.  I suggest, to avoid trouble you give the necessary orders to your crew forthwith.”

To the alien captain, “I expected as a courtesy that you, myself, and the leader of these so-called criminals sit down and have a discussion about their options.”

“I will need to deal with the high council.”

“Then do so now, before we make any arrangements.  And release my fellow captain.  Using force will not give what you want, and sets a bad precedent if you seek to have any sort of relationship with us.”

A nod from the alien captain to his subordinate, and she let him go, and it was hard to tell if she was upset or not.

Both then disappeared, leaving us alone on an empty bridge, if that was what it was.

“You do realize what will happen to them when he gets them back,” the Russian captain said.

“That’s not our problem.  If our roles were reversed, would you want them to weigh in on our affairs?”

“That’s not the point “

“That is the point.  Were not here to tell others what to do but to hopefully forge new relations with people who have the means to help us find a place in a new galaxy.  We’re here to learn and share if that’s what it takes.”

“And if they are the devil instead?”

“I’m sure you will be very well placed to discern whether they are or not, based on your own actions.”

He didn’t seem annoyed at the inference, which to me showed a marked disregard for anyone but themselves, underlying the people who had put him aboard his ship and what their purpose in getting out into the galaxy first was.

The cold war back on earth had just moved out in the galaxy, and if not now, they would eventually be a threat, not only to ourselves but anyone they came across in their travels.

“You’re making a mistake, once they get what they want they will dispense with us.”

It was a possibility, but the problem for the alien people was, we were here, now, and if he did destroy us, they had to know we knew about them and more of our ships would arrive in time, and they would be hostile, especially if we didn’t report back.  And if they had been observing life on earth they’d know we would seek retribution

Perhaps that was the reason why he didn’t destroy us in the first instance.

“How long do you think they will be?”  Nancy had found her voice, finally.

I’d almost forgotten she was there.

“How long do you think it would take to talk to a high council?  If it’s anything like back home, it could take forever.  Any ideas on how, if you get the chance, you’re going to approach setting up diplomatic relations?”

“None whatsoever, sir.”

“Good, a clean slate.  Start thinking about it.”

She looked around.  “You’d think there’d be a chair to at least sit down.”

A second later three chairs appeared.

“You only had to ask!”

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 43

Back on the alien vessel

The ‘ooh’ from Nancy was unmistakable the moment we rematerialized in the alien’s ship’s bridge.  It could be one of those awe-inspiring moments, had it not been for the circumstances.

The second time on the bridge, I realized that it was a little more sparse than it had been before, with a wall of control panels missing, along with a panel that stretched across the front of the Captain’s chair, but with no crew members present.

It was now a blank space.  The whole space could have been a large empty room with windows overlooking empty space, except in the distance, our two ships.  Beyond that, there seemed to be a thin streak of light, or colored lights, flickering.  At a guess they might be a long, long, long way away, but whether it was in the direction we had come, or where we were going, or somewhere else, I couldn’t tell.

On the other side of the bridge, the female alien was still holding the Russian Captain, some sort of weapon at his throat.

I was still feeling the tingling sensation that was the effect after re-materialization.  The first time it was disorientating, I was prepared this time.

I was also not sure what to expect, now that it was clear the aliens were not what they portrayed themselves to be.  Of course, it was naive of me to expect that others in the galaxy would be better than us.

“An explanation of what this is really about might go a long way towards preventing tragic consequences.”  I thought I’d throw out the opening gambit.

“Agreed.  I had hoped the problem could have been resolved before your arrival.  As you might be aware, we have the ability to transport our people, and I had hoped to recover the missing citizens that were taken by this,” he pointed to the Russian, “captains ship.”

“They asked for asylum, we did not take them.”

Another piece of the puzzle, the female must be one of the Aliens crew, and had beamed aboard, taken the captain hostage, and demanded the release of the citizens.

Question: why hadn’t he simply beamed them back?

To the Alien, “Is this true?”

“Semantics “

Note:  this alien had a very good grasp of the nuances of the English language.

“Semantics or not, if you know anything about earth culture, it’s that we look after those who need help, and if people come to us asking for asylum, we generally give it.  You will also be aware that those who ask for asylum generally are in fear of their lives.  The question is, why would these people ask for asylum.”

“The people aboard that ship are criminals who were serving their sentences in one of our remote facilities.  Your captain apparently came across this remote facility and assisted in setting the criminals free.  When we sent a ship to apprehend them, they were taken aboard the earth ship and it attempted to leave.  We were going to stop the earth vessel from leaving when your ship appeared, and it seemed prudent not to display hostility.  There was also the possibility you were working together.”

“We are not, as you are now aware.  Nor would I be willing to interfere with your internal matters, except that it involves another of our ships, one I didn’t know about, which only complicates matters.

Why do you have the captain.”

“He refused to set the prisoners.”

“If you could beam your operative and the captain here, why not just beam the criminals too.”

“They are currently protected in a special part of the captain’s ship that does not allow us to bring them back.  They obviously told him what our capabilities are.”

Criminals, if they were criminals, seeking asylum.  If it was me, I would be happy for someone else to take away the criminal element and make it someone else’s problem.  The unfortunate truth in our world is that criminals didn’t go to jail anymore, they were shipped off to remote mining planets where they spent the rest of their days working in very harsh conditions.  Over time it had proved to be a very good deterrent, so much so, that off plant mining operations now had to pay large sums of money to get people to work there.

“Number One.”

“Sir?”

“Find the so-called criminals the captain has stowed on his vessel and ask them what their side of the story is.  Quick as you can.”

“Yes, sir.”

I looked over to the Russian Captain.  “You might want to tell your second in command to make things easier for my crew.”

A look from me to the alien, and back, time to consider my request, then gave the order.

“On my way, sir.”

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 42

We seem to have a spot of bother

The next statement from Number One, “Sir, it seems we have a hostage situation.”

A glance back at the main screen showed the Russian ship’s bridge minus the captain and flickering on, the alien ship’s Captain.

“I didn’t open a channel, Sir,” the comms officer said quickly.

I glared at the alien representative for a few seconds, hoping to convey my displeasure, but I doubted it would have any effect.

Nor was it any surprise to discover that something indeed didn’t add up. 

Potentially we had a very bad situation, facing off an alien vessel with unknown capabilities and weapons, and a ship that was not supposed to exist, having reputedly committed unknown criminal activities.

“General, you might have to make an instant decision, so if the potential threat is life or ship threatening, don’t wait for confirmation.”

“Sir.”

“Code Red, and everyone, report anything no matter how trivial.”

“Number one, a hostage situation is only a hostage situation if the hostage-taker has a hostage.  You get a clear shot, shoot them.”

“There may potentially be casualties, sir.”

“Then at your discretion, but hold that thought until I have a word with our new, so-called, friends.”

“Sir.”

To say I was annoyed was an understatement, but I had to remember that our underlying mission was to make new friends, not enemies.

“Captain,” the alien commander decided now was the moment to speak.

“You have not been quite truthful with us, have you?”

“They did commit crimes, that is the truth.”

“Then why is one of your people holding the captain hostage?”

It only just struck me then that the alien vessel had beamed one of the people onto the Russian ship after the alien ship arrived with us.  But to what purpose?

“To force them to return to the planet where the crimes were committed.  I had no reason to believe you would force the issue.  Our experience with humans is they support each other before they do the right thing.”

“Your experience is narrow-minded, generally supported by few instances, and basically does not define the human race.  Like everyone, we have a bad element, but it doesn’t define who or what we are.  You obviously heard my instructions to my boarding party.  Your turn now to give me a good reason why I should not shoot them?”

“I assume you still want to open diplomatic relations between our worlds?”

“Not at the expense of gunboat diplomacy.”

“I could destroy both your ships.”

“You could try.  If you know as much as you claim to know about humans, you’ll know that we are at our most formidable when our backs are to the wall.  My ship is an unknown quantity to you, which means you have no idea what we are capable of, but if you want yo find out, by all means, try.”

It was hard to keep an even tone when you are terrified.  Our first encounter had been nothing but threats and violence.  Was I no better than the worse of our kind?

Number one was back in my ear, “Sir, the alien and the Captain just disappeared.”

“I would like you to join us on my ship for discussions, Captain.  I’m sure this situation can be resolved amicably.”

“I’d like a skilled diplomatic negotiator with me, and not agreeing will be considered a hostile act.”

Just in case he was intending to beam me aboard his ship.  A nod in the General’s direction showed he knew what to do if the alien tried.

“Send a message to our diplomatic representative to cone to the bridge urgently.”

I preferred this to be done privately so as not to alert the crew.

I had read the file on Margaret Simpson, and it was, to say the least, extraordinary.  Her achievements at getting the most disparate parties to the table spoke for itself, and it surprised me that she would go on what could prospectively be a one-way trip.

I had not yet spoken to her since boarding, but it had been on my list before we ran into an alien species.  Now, that introduction was lost.

She looked exactly as I’d expected, just in the prime of middle age, diminutive, but not overly imposing, but distinctive enough to stop and look when she walked into a room.

“Captain, I can’t say what comes next doesn’t excite me.”

“You got a brief description of events?”

“An alien race, hostile or not, is exactly why I came.”

“Things could go pear-shaped very quickly.”

“You are exactly as described Captain, refreshingly honest, but somehow I don’t think I need to worry too much if you’re coming with me.”

“A perk of the job, I’m afraid.”

I looked at the alien captain on screen.

“Ready.”

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 41

Nothing is ever what it seems

I didn’t have the luxury of taking a moment to consider what I was going to do, other than to draw the inevitable conclusion that whatever I did, there would be consequences.

One thought did cross my mind, in relation to the alien ship and her Captain, why hadn’t they exercised their superior capability, stopped the Russian ship, and taken the offenders away themselves.  And, given the captain was prepared to destroy my ship, why had he let the Russians go?

“The Russian ship is hailing us, sir.”

“Very good, I’ll be there in a moment.”

They had waited a long time before asking our intentions, so what had they been waiting for?  The fact they appeared to be immobilized was, to me, a little too convenient.  Also, they had to know the alien ship was nearby, but even that raised the question of why they were standing off, and not alongside us.

Something was not right about this whole scenario.

I came on to the bridge, Number One standing in front of the Captain’s chair, the bridge crew waiting expectantly.

“Get the Russian ship’s Captain on screen.”

A moment later he appeared, with a depleted bridge crew, different from the last time we spoke.

“What can I do for you?”

“Why is the alien vessel here?”

“I think you know the answer to that question.”

“What did he tell you?”

“How about you tell me why you think he’s here?”

Why was his concern more about the alien vessel than the state of their propulsion unit?  Unless there was nothing wrong with it.

Silence.

I motioned to the comms officer to cut our side of the conversation.

“General?”

He had taken up a position behind the defense team.

“Sir?”

“If they try to move or power weapons, stop them.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Russian ship powering up propulsion, sir.”

“General?”

“Just say the word.”

“Comms.”

A gesture told me the artesian ship was back online.

“Do not try to leave or we will disable your ship.”

A tense few seconds before the navigator said, “powering down.”

“Good choice.  Now, prepare to be boarded.  Any resistance will be met with force.  Am I understood, Captain?”

A measured reluctance in his tone when he said, “Yes.”

“Number one, boarding team assembled?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.  Any resistance is to be dealt with severely.  If the Captain or a representative of the ship wants to come with their crew members, let them.   Bring those on the list back here.”

“Understood.  Sir.”

The Russian captain was still on the screen.

“You have no right or jurisdiction to do what you are doing, and I will be recording this as an act of piracy.”

“Will that be with the international space agency?”

“My superiors, we have already alerted them to the situation.”

“As far as I am aware, your superiors did not register your flight plan as per the treaty that they are signatories to.  Also, you are on a ship that no one knows about.  All of that could be forgiven though, but you had to cause what can I call it, an Intergalactic incident which may yet setback relations with an alien race for a long time.  You would be well advised to tell me now what the hell happened so I can at least try and save you from very severe consequences.”

On a secondary channel that number one had switched to after arriving at the Russian vessel, I heard, “what do you mean you cannot dock?”

The pilot replied, “They haven’t initiated the docking sequence.”

“Is it an incompatible system?”

“No, it’s exactly the same as ours.  It’s like they’ve ripped everything off.  They’re stalling.”

To the captain of the Russian ship, I said, “I get it.  No Captain likes to have his ship boarded.  But this is not the time.”  To the General, “Target their propulsion unit.  On my mark…”

“You are making a mistake,” the Russian captain said.

“Docking initiated.  It is exactly like our system, right down to the override authorization code.”  Number one had the same thought that just come to mind.  Then, “Lieutenant, don’t hesitate to use force if you have to. We have to assume anyone on the other side of the door is a potential hostile.  Counting down, three, two, one…”

I heard the whoosh of the door, and then utter silence, broken only by Number One, “What the hell…”

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 40

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.

“Understood, sir.”

“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.”

“Go.”

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.”

“Sir.” 

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.”

I waited.

“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

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 39

Talk fast, and hope like hell!

Oh, to be back on a cargo ship with three other crew members and a robot that wasn’t trying to destroy ships and murder crew members.

On the cargo ship, the captain could hide in his or her cabin behind the bridge and never come out except to tell the robot he or she was doing a good job.

Sometimes you’d see the crew in the mess hall.

No major life-changing decisions.  It was point A to point B without drama, hold-ups, or anything really.

Not like being the captain of a brand-new class of explorer’s vessels with over 2,000 crewmen on the outer edges of our galaxy, on the verge of being destroyed.

“So, for the benefit of a human without the resources of countless generations of knowledge, and experience of countless alien entities, who or what are you that can make such a life-changing decision?  Especially after you said that we would be safe.”

“If you are inferring that I am a robot programmed to not look rationally at the pros and cons of any case you put to me, or that I am devoid of any empathy, you’re wrong.  That I should make such a threat, in our experience, you humans tend to do one of two possible actions, you retaliate with violence, or you make a rational argument. As for who I am, I have a living body that requires nourishment and ages not unlike your own, hosting a fully cognisant member of our race.  The only difference is that I do not appear in my true form, in deference to making your interaction simpler.  I could take any one of a hundred different forms, depending on whom we hold discussions.”

That cleared several questions that had formed in my mind.  This race was very advanced, being able to put their consciousness into another, or any, body.  Did that mean they never died?  Not the time to ask.  The fact they had found a way to assess human reaction to stress, or life or death situations so simply showed they had been observing us a long time.

“We chose not to shoot first.  You will see we might be at a battle state, but that’s only for our protection.  You cannot hold us responsible for the actions of that other ship because as far as the whole of our planet is concerned, we were the first to come here, and as the first, our mission is not to shoot first and ask questions later, as much as it is to explore, and learn.  The keyword is learning.”

“These are words, and our experiences with humans have taught us that what you say and what you do are quite often two entirely different things.”

My experience too, and it was an all too familiar scenario.  I suspect that the motives of my masters might equally be received with some skeptics, because not everyone in the alliance was on the same page, and decisions were sometimes based on possible shifting alliances.

Space travel still had a gloss on it, and everyone was looking to get a seat at the table.  I had no doubt my new friend, I’d I could call him that, would be equally aware of the situation, as it appeared he did, and it spoke volumes about the levels of their penetration in our world.

“I think, then, our best course of action is to prove we mean what we say.  You were chasing that other vessel, the one you say the occupants committed crimes upon people in your galaxy.”

“They did.  We were, but there was a measured reluctance on the part of the other crew members to pursue them beyond the limits of our galaxy.  Exploration is one thing, an offense that might cause conflict is something else.”

So, they had problems with being the instigators of actions that might be misinterpreted.

“Then let us apprehend them, and we will render the justice together.  I have no trouble bringing people who have criminal intentions to justice.  I would prefer it to be ours, but for the sake of creating at least an initial relationship between our worlds, I will accept the responsibility.”

I could see Nancy looking at me with a look that would kill mortal men and understood her concern.  This was going to be a tough sell all round

“It would be acceptable as a preliminary basis for discussions.  My people would consider your input if or when any or all of those responsible for crimes were arraigned.”

Good enough, for the moment.

“Excellent.  Now, could you lift the block you have on our communications so I can get the first officer on to finding where their ship is “

“You may have a hard job catching them.  Their ship is, as far as we are aware, the fastest your galaxy has.”

“Not quite, but that’s a discussion for another day.”

The green bar on my communicator returned.

“Number one.”

A moment later he came back with, Sir, you are OK?”

“Fine.  Have you been monitoring that Russian vessel?”

“Yes, sir.  It’s about a half-hour from here.”

“Good.  Ready the ship for pursuit.  We have a few questions that need answering.  I’ll explain more when I get back.”

“You can come with us, on our ship, or in yours.  I will communicate your existence with my superiors, just not the fact you’ve infiltrated us in deference to your people if you want to get them out, or declare their presence, a situation we can control if you agree to sit down and talk about it.  I suspect that they’ve been helping more than hindering, other than just keeping you informed of our progress.”

I didn’t get a smile, but that invisible change in expression was an interesting indicator.

“I’ll stay, we’ll follow discreetly.  Your actions will be judged, Captain.”

“No pressure then.  Could you send the names, or if not, photos, of the offenders?  How many are there?”

“Six.  We shall.  Good luck.”

The next instant I was back on the deck of my own ship.

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 40

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.

“Understood, sir.”

“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.”

“Go.”

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.”

“Sir.” 

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.”

I waited.

“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