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15. Chapter 15

Harrod200%s's Photo   Harrod200, 31 Jan 2011

Date: 5th April 2419
Location: MMV Noah, Unknown

It took several seconds to realise that I was still alive. Opening my eyes, I looked outside to where the large enemy ship had previously sat. All that was now there was a field of debris. As I watched, a number of bright green beams appeared from out of my field of view, destroying the small ships which had been retreating from Noah.

“Major, you should get up here.” A voice crackled over the radio.

“What is it, Corporal?” The Colonel replied. His tone was emotionally blank and professional.

“Colonel! Another ship just landed in the Construction Bay. It’s not like the others though. It looks a bit like the crashed ship.”

I caught his eye as he decided what to do next. With a nod, I let him know what I wanted to happen.

“Hold position, Corporal. Do not fire unless fired upon, I’m on my way.” He said, before turning to me and whispering, “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

We made our way as quickly as possible through the ship, still wary of any remaining aliens that hadn’t managed to evacuate. By the time we had reached the construction bay, I was exhausted, but the adrenalin surging through my veins kept me completely awake.

As we approached the bay, the Colonel sequenced a helmet for his uniform, and I used the Omni cells that had been created through recycling all the alien weapons from the Engine room to create a Flight suit and helmet.

Inside the bay, several armoured and unarmoured Marines were in defensive positions covering the open hatch to a small ship, which bore more than a little resemblance to the Lahstey, which had set down on a pad.

“There’s been no movement since it set down, Sirs.” A Marine with Corporal’s insignia reported as we entered. “The hatch opened, but nothing came out.”

“Carry on,” the Colonel said, returning the Corporal to his previous location and turning to me. “It’s your show from here.”

Nodding, I removed the tool belt from my waist and placed it behind one of the barricades. With my arms out to my sides, I slowly walked along the walkway and onto the pad, stopping just short of the hatch.

Inside, I saw a being of identical anatomy to Sii’nour but in larger proportions aiming down what I imagined to be a weapon at me. After a few moments, it slowly moved through the hatch, freezing when it saw the array of Marines, all with weapons trained upon it.

With a small gesture, I told the Marines to lower their weapons, an order which was backed up by the Colonel. As they did, the alien moved towards a pile of rubble and hunkered down behind it, carefully watching both myself and the Marines. A second and third, all equally large, followed and did the same. After a couple of tension-filled minutes, another, smaller alien appeared in the hatch.

Unlike the three larger aliens, who were dressed in more bulky, armour-like attire, this one wore a similar uniform to the one that had appeared when Sii’nour was cloned.

In a similar gesture to the one Sii’nour had used, the alien slowly extended its arm and three-digit hand towards me and responding in the same way I had before, I extended my own and held it.

With a gentle pull, it indicated to me that it wished for me to follow into the ship, I hesitated for a moment but followed it inside the vessel.

It was apparent inside that this ship was little more than a shuttlecraft. The ship was one large cabin, with what appeared to be navigational controls at the front and a table of sorts surrounded by stools to the rear. As I moved towards the table, the alien pushed a button on the table, causing the door behind me to close and seal.

“Commander?” The Colonel’s concerned voice called over the suit’s radio.

“It’s OK.” I replied, maintaining eye contact with the alien.

Indicators on the suit’s helmet indicated the atmosphere becoming breathable, if a little uncomfortable, and the alien pressed on the side of its helmet, causing the front to slide out and over the back. With sensors indicating the atmosphere to be safe, I removed my helmet and choked slightly on the strong odour of sulphur. Though it was safe enough, the atmosphere had a high sulphur content, and it was uncomfortably hot and humid.

When I had finally gotten my breath, I managed to speak.

“Thank you,” I said gratefully. I didn’t expect it would understand me, with the neural link unable to function as a translator without the ship’s computer.

“You have one of our crew?” The alien sang. Apparently, the language that had been uploaded to my mind when Sii’nour first tried to make contact was still present.

“Sii’nour.” I replied. Hopefully, even if it couldn’t understand what I said, it would recognise the name.

“We demand that you release him at once.” It sang, angrily.

“Sii’nour is not our prisoner.” I replied, and to my surprise was met with a real response.

“We wish to see him.” It stated. “Now.”

“Colonel, is Sii’nour still in the Medical Bay?” I asked over the suit’s radio while the alien stared at me.

“Yes, Commander. Do you wish for him to be brought here?” the Colonel answered after a moment.

“Yes, as soon as possible.” I turned to the alien, still not sure if it understood what I was saying. “Sii’nour will be here shortly.”

“You will stay here until we see him.” It stated, gesturing to one of the stools.

It continued to stare at me blankly for what seemed like hours while I sat waiting for Sii’nour to show up. Eventually, the radio chirped as the Colonel reported that Sii’nour was at the bay and suited up.

“He is here.” I informed the alien, who pushed on his helmet again, causing the visor to slide back down and seal. I quickly reattached my own and watched the atmosphere drop before the hatch was opened. A few moments later, Sii’nour stepped in, dressed in the same sort of suit as the other alien.

What followed was a five-minute conversation between the two aliens, with occasional gestures and glances towards me. With the aliens communicating, I guessed over radio and the hatch still open, leaving the compartment without atmosphere I had no idea what was being said. Finally, Sii’nour sat on the stool next to me, while the other alien closed the hatch and sat opposite.

“You are welcome.” The alien sang in a much less aggressive tone once the atmosphere was restored. “You thanked us for destroying the pirate vessel; you are welcome.”

“You appeared at just the right moment. We are in your debt.” I replied, thankfully.

“You assisted one of our people. There is no debt.” It stated. “Sii’nour believes you to be a good people. As a representative of the Pallner Allegiance, I invite you to join us in opening diplomatic channels between our peoples.”

This situation was definitely not covered by any Academy classes; in most cases, diplomacy would simply be passed on to the nearest Admiral, but since that wasn’t possible at the moment, I was completely winging it.

“I accept your invitation. It would be an honour to peacefully coexist with your people.”

“We see that your ship is badly damaged. As a contribution to the relationship between us and as thanks for assisting our crewman, we offer you one of our nullspace reactors and an engineering team to install and maintain it.” 

“Thank you!” I exclaimed enthusiastically, grateful for any aid that could be provided and completely astounded that they were giving it so freely, even on our species’ first contact, “I gratefully accept, but I’m afraid I’m not familiar with that technology though, what exactly are you offering us?”

“The reactor will generate enough power to get your own generation systems running again. We shall remain here to deter any further attacks before we return home to report on the situation. Sii’nour has informed us of his choice to remain with you.”

“Commander?” Sii’nour whispered close to my ear, “My people have advanced cloning and regeneration technologies, but nothing that comes close to your neural link. Perhaps it would be now be possible to revive the Lahstey’s crew? They may yet have important information.”

Given the aid they had provided us, I quickly decided that it would be fair payment for what had been given to us, seemingly without hope of reward.

“I don’t know whether Sii’nour told you, but we did not in fact rescue him in the normal sense.” I saw the expression on the ambassador which I had learned was a sign of confusion, “We have the technology to scan a dead brain and attempt to extract information. It would seem that due to your peoples’ brain chemistry and for reasons I don’t personally understand, this technology has the ability to resurrect your dead.” A rapid succession of shocked, intrigued and amazed expressions crossed the ambassador.

“It is true.” Sii’nour confirmed, causing the ambassador to obviously begin thinking of a way to open negotiations.

“In return for your ongoing assistance, we would be more than happy to in return restore the Lahstey’s crew when we are once again able, as well as any further casualties you have sustained.” I offered.

“If this is true, it will be us who are indebted to you.” It replied, “I must confer with the Horstur, and I would like for Sii’nour to be examined by our medical personnel as soon as possible.”

A nod from Sii’nour, one of several human gestures he had picked up in his short time aboard, indicated his consent. With my acceptance, the ambassador retired to the forward section of the shuttle and closed the separating door. It only took a few minutes before the door opened and the ambassador re-emerged.

“We accept your offer.” It immediately said upon sitting. “We would also like to invite you to join us in a trade negotiation. It seems that we could learn much from each other.”

With the prospect of attaining further advanced technology, I readily accepted the invitation, and after agreeing that now was not the best time or place for such negotiations, wrapped up the incredibly successful first contact and reattached my helmet.

In the bay, both our own Marines and the alien soldiers were still cautiously watching each other, ready to act on the slightest provocation. As I emerged, the Colonel gave me an inquisitive glance, which I replied to with a smile.

Keying my radio from the middle of the walkway, flanked by Sii’nour and the ambassador, I addressed everyone within range.

“As of 62:19 today, we are no longer alone here. We have made peaceful first contact with the Pallner Allegiance, Sii’nour’s people. I am sure many of you have seen Sii’nour around the ship lately; many of you seem to have gone out of your way to make him feel accepted. Due in no small part to every last one of you accepting our latest crewman without hesitation, we have gained powerful new allies who have now saved us not once, but twice.”

As I spoke another ship, slightly larger than the shuttle on the landing pad, hoved into view through the bay doors.

“They not only destroyed the hostile vessel, but have also granted us access to their energy generation technology, along with the personnel to install and operate it. I trust that you will all grant them the same courtesy and acceptance that you did Sii’nour.”

After a small nod, the Colonel smartly ordered the Marines to stand down, taking them through an unnecessarily long drill, which I suspected was mostly for ceremony.

As the shuttle touched down, several Marines were dispatched towards it, assisting the aliens in unloading their cargo, with Sii’nour’s assistance translating, began ferrying components to cargo dollies and hauling them into a stockpile.

“That was against every rule and regulation in the manual, and you know it.” The colonel said as I closed the door to my quarters behind us. Using a torch, I located the room’s emergency kit and opened it on the table, allowing the glow stick to cast its dim green light over the room. “But damn if it didn’t work out.”

“I don’t think I really had much choice,” I replied, “It was either take a leap of faith and hope it worked out, or we died one way or another. With all the Omni stores gone, we wouldn’t last very long alone, and if it’d turned into a shooting match, we’d have lost in a second.”

At first the colonel appeared to take offence to the implication that his troops wouldn’t have been able to fight the Pallner soldiers off, but then accepted that their ship was still just outside and would have had no problem annihilating the crippled Noah.

“I don’t think anyone I know of, even Admirals, could have handled the situation better than, or even as well as you. I stand by what I said earlier; when you were assigned to Noah, I thought you were a self-righteous, inexperienced young Commander who should have spent the next ten years on a patrol frigate. I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong though, and right now I can’t think of a better Commanding Officer Noah could have.” He finished sincerely, with a nod.

“That means a lot to me, Colonel.” I replied honestly. “It’s certainly been an experience, and I doubt it’s over yet.”

Suddenly, the lights flicked on at full power, causing both myself and the colonel to shield our eyes until they had adjusted and the lights dimmed to normal illumination.

The neural link was powering up, and my access to the system restored.

“That has to be a sensor glitch.” I commented, referring the colonel to check the Omni tanks.

“On all of them?” He asked incredulously.

Switching between the remaining Omni matter storage tanks I watched as, very slowly but surely, the quantity of stored matter climbed.

“If all they give us is this generator, it looks like it’s just solved our most pressing problem.” I commented as the overall capacity gauge clocked up to 0.0001%, then ten seconds later to 0.0002%. It wasn’t much, but the alien generator was clearly providing enough energy for the ship’s main systems to run, with some surplus being fed into the storage system. With the new generator providing enough energy to run all the ship’s major systems, any further energy would be directly usable for other systems.

“It would seem so,” the colonel commented suspiciously. “Call me paranoid, but why are they doing this? What do they get out of it; giving us this generator? Saving us from the pirate ship?”

“They could simply be helping us to establish a good first impression, but I do share your concerns.” I replied. It was certainly nice of the Pallner to help, but as yet they had only given, apparently without immediate desire for repayment. “I believe that they are simply ensuring our good relations. It seems that they desire some of our technology as much as we theirs. Helping as much as possible is how I’d pave the way to a trade if our roles were reversed.”

He nodded his agreement, but retained a look of slight concern. “Benevolent as they have been so far, we shouldn’t let our guard down. Even with your…” He paused to consider his wording, “…insight into their people, we really don’t know them. It would be prudent to have a security detail at all sensitive areas.”

I considered his suggestion, coming to the conclusion that the increased security really wouldn’t be intrusive or problematic; if they did ask about it, we could always explain it as a precaution against any remaining pirates who had managed to evade detection.

“Agreed. Post some guards at any restricted area, and best place some at the cloning facility and medical bay too. They showed some interest in our medical technology.”

“I’ll have Captain Glass draw up the duty rosters before I sign off. I’ll make sure he gives you a copy, should you feel any more areas should be protected.”

“Hopefully, there will be no issues and our new friends will turn out to be just that. Even if they decide to break off all communication after all this, I’d rather peaceful coexistence than war.”

“No arguments here.” The Colonel agreed, taking a drink before standing and heading to the door. “If you’ll excuse me, Commander, I’ll arrange the new guard schedules and turn in.”

“Of course, and good job today, Colonel, it could have gone far worse.”

“Thank you, sir.” He accepted, taking the praise on behalf of his troops then leaving the room.

Seven months had passed since our introduction to the Pallner Allegiance, and with the cruiser Horstur’s assistance, the ship had finally fully recovered from the pirate attack and the jump into this unknown region. The alien generator, combined with the ongoing mining efforts, had replenished our energy reserves and the Omni stores were currently at 47% capacity. Sii’nour’s medical expertise had allowed Dr. Shen to upgrade the cloning facility and, five months ahead of schedule, the first new bodies were approaching maturity, ready for DNA implantation and mapping.

For the last week, I had been mulling over holopads, each one containing the bio of a different Admiral contained in the ship’s neural map stores. As a Commander, regulations were clear in that my standing order was to look after the ship until such time as a higher-ranking officer could be assigned. In the current circumstances, with the cloning facility nearly ready, that time was rapidly approaching, and I had to choose which Admiral was to succeed me. I had commanded Noah for eleven months, since we were stranded here, wherever here is, and had developed a bond with my new, mostly inexperienced senior crew. Everyone aboard had pulled together under my command, and I was loath to give it up, but regulations were quite clear.

Choosing one’s commanding officer is a very rare privilege, and regulations did not state any criteria other than rank; in this case, an Admiral. With the neural maps and DNA profiles of fifteen Admirals on record, I found myself feeling like an employer, looking over applicants for a job. The only difference, really, was that this applicant was going to be my boss.

Four of the Admirals I had decided against almost immediately; with the good relations I had struck up with the Pallner Allegiance, I decided it would be unwise to choose an Admiral with a history of xenophobia; if they were so against relations with other factions of humanity, there is no telling how they would react to our alien friends.

Seven more I had whittled away, either through lack of experience or the feeling that they simply wouldn’t, in my opinion, work well with how the crew was running.

The final four were now sitting in front of me. I had thoroughly read each one’s file many times and simply couldn’t find much between them. Each one was reasonably diplomatic and was considered to be likable. After three hours of staring at the reports, I gave up any method of reasonable deduction, deactivated the holopads and threw them into the air. Picking up the one that landed closest to me, I reactivated it and gave a small mock salute to the photograph of the person who would become my new commanding officer.

Taking the corridor passing straight through the asteroid which was permanently embedded in the ship’s structure, I entered one of the grav lifts and was entering the cloning facility within a matter of minutes. One thing I would not miss about my first command was the many months of climbing up and down ladders all day if I wanted to get anywhere. A journey that had previously taken upwards of an hour now took just a few minutes. There were only ten out of the 110 decks where corridors had been mined through the asteroid, but as they were spaced evenly apart, it was only a minor inconvenience to have to use one of those decks to cross between the front and rear of the ship.

During the repair effort, I had authorised several rather drastic changes to the ship’s design after Flight Chief Jones, Colonel Atkinson and the newly promoted 2nd Lieutenant Bodgit had all approached me with flaws in the original design they had identified while working aboard.

Originally, the ship’s main command centre was designed to the centre and top of the vessel. While this gave an incredible view through the large forward window, it was very susceptible to damage. A new bridge had been constructed at the very heart of the ship with multiple redundant connections to all major systems.

Though designed as an expeditionary vessel, the designers had given the ship a fighter bay little larger than the frigates that were their standard fare. A full three decks forward of the asteroid were now being converted to form a massive combined fighter construction and berthing bay with space for up to 150 craft, along with a much improved command centre.

As so clearly demonstrated by the pirates, the ship’s defences were previously pitiful at best. The designers had envisioned the ship jumping with several smaller escort ships, whose weaponry and fighters would be able to cover her. We never had the luxury of an escort until the Pallner Cruiser Horstur showed up. At hundred metre intervals and at the top, bottom and both sides of the ship now sat the same weapon systems as carried aboard most frigates, giving us 140 guns. Unfortunately, due to limitations with the ship’s computer system, installing the guns meant that the hundreds of point defence cannons were too much to handle, necessitating the removal of the majority of them.

The only part of the ship we were unable to repair was the wormhole generator. Being a unique prototype, nobody aboard the ship quite knew how it worked, or even what state it was in after the jump. Repairs would have to wait until technicians with appropriate knowledge were cloned to deal with it.

Without saying a word, I handed the holopad with the Admiral’s details to Dr. Shen, who was excitedly making final preparations to the machinery, ready for the first human clone to roll out since myself.

“Well, here goes.” He said, entering the Admiral’s ID number into a control panel. Immediately the sound of clanking and whirring machinery fetching a null body and moving it to the first stage of the cloning process filled the room.

I briefly saw the pod, filled with the slimy yellow embryonic fluid which suspended and maintained the bodies entering the base of one of the large machines. I stood by as Shen and several assistants monitored the process from several control panels, occasionally calling out some scientific gibberish which would result in them pushing buttons, none of which did I have any idea as to the purpose of.

After three more machines, the pod slid gracefully along a track towards the table where Sii’nour had first joined us. Coming to an abrupt stop as it hit the stopper at the end of the table, a jolt of electricity shot into the pod before several ports opened up and the fluid drained away. I straightened my uniform and ensured I was certain about what I was going to say before stepping up to the pod, just as the front section cracked open and hissed upwards, revealing the awakened Admiral.

“Welcome to the MMV Noah…” I began to welcome her, but was interrupted by Shen giving her an injection which caused her to immediately fall unconscious.

“You’ll be able to speak with her after Doctor Reilley has examined her and given her a clean bill of health.” He said, while an assistant used a dolly to move the pod over to a cleanser in the corner. After the cleanser had removed the fluid, she was dressed in a Command uniform with the appropriate rank insignia, then placed on a trolley and wheeled out of the room.

“When can we start large scale cloning?” I asked Shen after the door had closed. “I’d like to have an estimate on when we can start replenishing the crew.”

“Well, assuming the doctor finds no problems with the Admiral, we should be able to start immediately. I think we can manage three crewmembers each day without eating into the power reserves. Flat out, we could probably do ten.”

Nodding and thanking him, I left Shen to prepare the next person for cloning. The process wouldn’t be started until the Admiral gave her go-ahead but there was no harm in preparing.

“I think the Doctor stole your moment.” The freshly cloned Admiral said with a smile, standing in the doorway of the Doctor’s office. “As I recall, you were about to say something?”

“Yes, ma’am, Welcome aboard the MMV Noah.” I announced crisply, quickly standing from the desk and assuming an attention position.

“Thank you, Commander, and at ease. I understand you’ve had some fun playing Captain the last year or so.” Her voice held an amused edge. “How about you walk me to my quarters and you can tell me all about it?” Moving to one side of the doorway, she indicated for me to lead on.

As I led her through the corridors towards the nearest grav lift to her quarters, I noticed every member of the crew we passed stare for a moment before snapping to attention. Since I had let it be known that I disliked such formalities unless strictly necessary, it seemed that most of the crew had forgotten the practice and it was taking them a moment to remember.

“I apologise if the crew seem to be staring, ma’am, it’s been a long time since any of us saw a new face.” I apologised quietly as we passed another group. “Well, a new human face anyway.”

“Ahh yes, Doctor Reilley said something about aliens. Congratulations, by the way, on being the first person to make peaceful contact with them.” She replied as we reached the grav lift.

Stepping inside, we were buffered to the left side of the shaft as we dropped twenty decks before being spat out of the doorway opposite the new bridge. Located right behind the bridge were the admiral’s quarters, where a crewman was currently etching the door;

L055S130-03 | Adm. J. R. Calloway

“Efficient crew.” She commented as the crewman finished, stood to attention then left.

“My chief engineer has done an excellent job.” I replied. Bodgit had changed immeasurably from the first day I saw a confused and frightened ensign in the engine room. He was now coordinating teams and running his crews as if he had been doing it for years; I knew some high ranking experienced engineers who would have struggled with a ship this size.

“Well, come on in and you can tell me all about it.” She said, entering the quarters.

I could tell it was going to be a long debriefing.

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