Though through fits and starts I’ve cobbled together a few vignettes, this is my first attempt to normalize a plot. Please refer to my previous entry,
for the prologue into these new sections.
It was a monumental day for the People of the Swan, and Acolyte Dann was beside himself with anticipation. He stood in the small personal chamber that was adjacent to his offices, painstakingly scrutinizing his ceremonial vestments in the mirror. It had been 117 years since the last Visitor had arrived, so there was no one left alive who remembered the last occasion. However, the procedures for the ceremony were meticulously described, and his role as Acolyte was clear.
In those many years since the arrival of the last Visitor, the Galactic Union of the Swan had expanded considerably. While the ceremonies and celebrations would be of little interest to the outer settlements, it was a pretty big deal at home. Dann smoothed out the front of his robe, and returned to his main office. His new assistant, another Kau’Rii by the name of Latael, stood out on the balcony. He joined her, and they wordlessly checked each other’s garb. Her robes were identical to his; resplendent crimson, hemmed close to the shoulders and hips, with wide, bell-shaped sleeves. As Acolyte, Dann also wore a royal purple sash. The colors did not work well together, but tradition was more important than aesthetics. She nodded at him, and they gazed out over the capitol city.
The oracle’s announcement of a Visitor has already been made public, but so far there was no visible change in the city. The Visitor would need several days of orientation before the parade could be held, so there was plenty of time to set up and decorate. The city was already a beautiful place, assiduously maintained and monitored, and the celebratory adornments would only add to the spectacle. Unfortunately the capitol was too small to accommodate all of the expected visitors, so aside from the required dignitaries and representatives, there would have to be a lottery. That was not, however, Dann’s problem; his role in the daily operations of the government was limited. All he had to worry about was the Visitor, and if everything went smoothly, he wouldn’t even have to talk to God.
Dann fidgeted with his communicator earpiece. In addition to keeping him connected with the command center, it would provide instantaneous translation of whatever language the Visitor spoke. If God wanted to talk to him, he would simply hear His voice in his head. Fortunately, God seldom spoke directly with Dann or anyone else, which was a good thing. God could frequently be quite a pain in the ass. Dann thought about this as he looked out over the city; the architecture and layout of the capitol was a perfect example of this.
For such a normally passive deity, His keen interest in city planning was strange, almost as if He treated it like one of those civilization simulator games. Every building, no matter how small or insignificant, was built with marble and alabaster, and the roofs were made of gleaming imported copper. In the mornings, once the sun rose over the dome, Dann couldn’t even stand to be on his balcony, the glare was so intense. It was pretty, to be sure, but if a terrestrial city tried the same thing then nearby pilots would be augering in their ships on a daily basis. Other than that, He laid out plans for every square inch of block, street, and yard. Every so often He would even order a building torn down and rebuilt elsewhere, with a new structure or park replacing it, for no apparent reason other than boredom. Such was the privilege of being God, Dann supposed.
A familiar voice buzzed in his ear. “Acolyte Dann, this is Commcent. Something is happening down here.”
“Acknowledged,” he replied, then turned to Latael. “It’s time.”
“I hope it is a nice person,” she said.
“Me, too,” he said, heading for the hallway. “We’ve never had a problem here, but there are stories of difficult Visitors from the other asteroids.”
Latael followed him, and they descended the stairs to the street. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but my parents used to tell me stories that were different from what I learned at school. They say that a Visitor revolt is the real reason we lost contact with the Eagle. Is that true?”
“Unofficially? Who knows. There’s no conspiracy behind it, as much as the Proles in the pubs would like there to be. We only know that a Visitor earned his citizenship, and sought to become their leader. If he succeeded, then obviously God would have to be okay with it. Either way, an asteroid in transit could suffer from a damaged transceiver and not find replacement parts for centuries. I wouldn’t assume an explanation any more complicated than that.”
“And the Vulture?”
Dann looked at her grimly. “We know even less about what happened to the Vulture.”
It was a five minute walk to the command center. They encountered few citizens on the street on the way there, but earned the stares of those they did. Dann couldn’t blame them for their attention, the ceremonial vestments were rarely seen. It bothered him a little, though; even as Acolyte he was normally a very private person. He found himself wishing that the day would hurry up and be over.
They arrived at the command center, and the guards quickly ushered them into the ground floor lobby. They were met by General Redcliff, a native Cygnian and a normally dour man. Today he was wearing his formal military dress uniform and a big smile. The uniform consisted of a dark blue suit, a crimson shirt and tie, golden epaulets, and his sidearm in a white leather flap holster. Standing beside him was Chief Medical Officer Herlen, another Kau’Rii. She was wearing her considerably less formal light blue surgeon’s gown and overcoat, and carried a full medical kit on her shoulder. They exchanged brief greetings, and headed for the elevator.
The four of them were the only ones authorized to enter the arrival chamber, so they began their descent immediately. The chamber was about halfway between the surface and the reactor at the heart of the asteroid. A humming vibration could be felt before the elevator even stopped moving. They stepped out into a cold, dark hallway, a feeling of excitement obviously mutual between them. They breathlessly traversed the hallway and, after the general had entered an access code, stepped into the chamber. The room was divided in half, with a large observation window and a sturdy door separating the sections. It had been recently cleaned, but still smelled of ancient dust.
The humming sound increased in volume. A point of light appeared in the exact center of the segregated area, and grew in intensity. The contingent stared in awe for as long as they could, until it was too bright to see. They shielded their eyes as the vibrations built to a crescendo. The room shuddered violently, and the noise and light abruptly ceased. They blinked and waited for their eyes to adjust. Dann felt all of his fur stand on end.
On the floor in the center of the room, there was no person, just a small, crumpled black object. The group glanced at each other in confusion. Herlen accessed a small panel on the wall, and spoke almost in a whisper.
“I’m getting a trace amount of ionizing radiation, nothing dangerous. It’s safe to go in.”
Dann stepped up, it was his job to make first contact with… whatever that thing was. Of course they expected it to be a humanoid, but one had to keep an open mind, of course. Air hissed past the door as he opened it, and he cautiously approached the object. He poked it with his foot, then bent over to pick it up. He displayed it to his colleagues with utter confusion.
“It’s a hat.”
It was a special memory for Chance Richter, often revisited in dreams. There, it felt intimate and warm, though in real life it had been freezing cold. In an ancient city, there had been a pool, and in that pool had been a woman. Though many years his senior, she was just as beautiful as the day she was eighteen. His subconscious mind allowed him to diverge from what had really happened that day, and while no one would hesitate to call it a fantasy, no one would have denied it as vigorously as Richter. It was not his libido that might be called into question, but his professionalism. Regardless, he could hardly be blamed for his dreams. His fantasy also omitted the grueling and agonizing combat action that had soon followed, not to mention the fact that same woman had tried to kill him a few days earlier. But hey, Richter was flexible. He was enjoying the confabulation of a soft kiss when the dream was suddenly ripped away from him.
The first thing he felt was his brain on fire. He was lying on a cold dirt floor, and his head hurt so much he could hardly see. He was instantly aware that he was no longer in the armory on the Reckless Faith, but somewhere else entirely. He heard voices, quite close, and he struggled to get on his feet. Two sets of strong hands grabbed him, and try as he might, he could not resist. He was guided into a chair, and began to understand the language that the figures were speaking.
“I thought they were supposed to be unconscious,” said a man.
“Shut up and strip that shit off of him,” came a reply.
Richter felt the men relieve him of his sidearm, wallet, and other personal items. The pain in his head began to mercifully fade, and his eyes started to work again. He was in a garage, apparently, the room almost empty save for some rusting garden tools on the periphery, a metal box like a foot locker, a metal table, and the rickety wooden chair in which he sat. The races of the men across the table were easily apparent: one was Hayakuvian, evident from his distinctive teardrop-style earlobes and short neck, and the Rakhar, evident from him being a seven foot tall talking panther. Both were wearing beat-up but serviceable military style clothing and body armor. The Rakhar had an energy pistol trained on him, and the Hayakuvian was stacking his stuff on the table. His last memory aboard the Faith came back to him as he looked at the table.
He had been in the armory cleaning one of their M1A rifles after a long day of orientation with the new recruits. There had been a bright light, then he was here. He had grasped desperately at the objects on his work bench, as he had an inkling of what was about to happen. There, on the metal table in front of him, were the results of his effort: the M1A rifle, five full magazines, his 3-day rucksack, and parts of the cleaning kit. The men had also placed his Baby Eagle .45-caliber pistol, spare magazines, and other personal items on the table. His pistol was in reach but the Rakhar’s bearing advised against action. Richter was fast, but not that fast.
“I know this isn’t the Vulture,” Richter said, his voice raspy, “so which is it, the Eagle or the Swan?”
Both men were very surprised to hear that, but quickly recovered their ornery stature. The Rakhar spoke to his associate.
“Check the device, I’ll handle this.”
“I told you, we need to be sure that the signal can’t be traced. And I don’t think our friend here is dumb enough to get himself shot, at least not so early in the morning.”
Richter smiled. “I’ve rarely been complimented on my intellect.”
The Hayakuvian shrugged, and moved to the metal box on the floor. Richter eyeballed the Phalanx carbine slung on his back, a weapon with which he was intimately familiar.
“You got a name, friend?”
“I’ve been told I look like Cole Hauser, you can call me that for now. I’m also getting a feel for this place. It doesn’t feel like an asteroid, so where am I?”
The Rakhar picked up Richter’s wallet with his free hand. “I can’t read your language, so I’ll have to take your word for it. And you’re right, this isn’t one of the Raptors. Where are you from?”
“Omicron Perseii Eight. It’s charming, you should visit it sometime.”
The Hayakuvian glanced up from the box. “You know, technically a swan isn’t a raptor.”
“What do the readings tell us?” growled the Rakhar.
“There’s no evidence the signal was detected. We should be in the clear.”
“Okay. Mister Hauser, let’s do a little quid pro quo. You were being transported to the Swan, I’m guessing against your will. We intercepted you. You are now in the custody of the Lyrian Liberation Front.”
Richter hesitated before replying. “Did you actually just say quid pro quo or is my translator trying to sound educated today?”
“The phrase has been in common use for centuries. It means “this for that.” I answer one of your questions, and you…”
“I know what it means, I just can’t believe you used it.”
The Rakhar scowled. “Don’t let our appearances fool you, we’re not just vapid trigger-pullers.”
“That’s not what I… forget it, did you have a question for me?”
“You seem to be familiar with Kira’To abductions. Have they been a problem on your planet?”
“Are you trying to find a way to stop them?”
“Yes, obviously without success so far. You have?”
The Hayakuvian walked back over, and the Rakhar nodded. “Not exactly. We figured out how to access the Kira’To’s communication network. From there, we managed to figure out how to redirect abductions. You were our first attempt. We could have blocked the transportation entirely, but that would have killed you.”
“I’d say thanks, but it remains to be seen whether or not I’m better off here rather than the Swan.”
“Do you prefer to be a free man or a subject under unquestionable authority?” asked the Hayakuvian.
“I’d prefer to be back on Omicron Perseii Eight. What are your plans for me?”
The Rakhar lowered his weapon, and said, “If you can prove yourself to be trustworthy, we want you to join our cause. We were expecting a helpless, clueless victim to materialize here. You are clearly a soldier and would probably be an asset to our organization. We need you as proof to the Galactic Union that the Kira’To are not the gods they believe them to be, nor do they have a natural right to rule every star system within the ever-expanding range of their fleet.”
“And if I refuse to help?”
“Once we present you as proof that our device works, you’ll be free to go. Until then, we still need you. If you won’t cooperate then your stay with us will be a lot more boring.”
Richter crossed his arms. “You mean I’ll be your prisoner.”
“We have nothing to gain from mistreating you, but no, we can’t let you leave until the GU knows about you.”
“Okay,” replied Richter, shugging. “How do I earn your trust?”
“According to Rakhar tradition, we give you your weapons back and you refrain from killing us when our backs are turned.”
“It’s a stupid tradition,” grumbled the Hayakuvian.
“It’s my call. Okay, Mister Hauser, it’s time to show you the rest of our camp. This is the stuff you had on you when you were taken?”
“Yeah,” said Richter, running his fingers through his hair. “But I’m pretty sure I also had a hat.”