Storms Excerpt

Storms PB front NEW

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ISBN: 978-1466320048

The third book of this series, Storms, follows the Tahoe into the space beyond the familiar and comfortable. Transformations and challenges await… The Curious Voyages of the Anna Virginia Saga is an allegory of man’s inner worlds. This series spans the development of awakening—from a simple chance encounter to the intentional exploration of the cosmos, from our little bit of real estate in the solar system to the center of the galaxy. A parable of a small nucleus of individuals who band together and set out on the journey of a lifetime.

Read an excerpt below or read it at the Voyager Press page:

Storms Read Inside (eReader embedded)

Excerpt from Chapter Three of Storms  © J.L.Lawson 2011

“At least it’s warm; I wasn’t sure how I was going to hide my goose bumps if it was chilly…” Vera observed light-heartedly. The twins were pulling on her fingers to keep up with Ginger.

“Come on MamaVera!” Randi encouraged, “We gotta see Varlna first!”

Ginger heard the plaint and slowed her pace across what seemed to be a meadow or field—there weren’t any of those trees to be seen yet…Perhaps around the shoulder of the hill ahead. “Come along girls, and don’t pull Vera’s fingers off trying to make her walk faster.”

Alfred and John walked behind enjoying the fresh air and scenery. “I’m certainly glad Teniqua was able to assure us that there are no venomous critters in the area; it makes this stroll a real delight.” Alfred observed.

John took a deep breath and chuckled, “If it weren’t for the pale umber clouds in this deep turquoise sky, I’d say we were in central Texas…”

A deep voice, ahead of Ginger and Hana called out. They stopped in their tracks. “That sounded almost like a roar.” Ginger turned to Vera and the girls. They shrugged. Suddenly the twins squealed with delight and ran forward, their pictures fluttering in their hands like banners. “Anna Miranda! Isabou! Slow down please!” Ginger called.

Ahead, four tall figures and several shorter ones came over the shoulder of the near hillside. The little ones rushed toward the Annas; they also had little banners in their hands, fluttering in the breeze as they ran. Vera said only, “Well what do you know about that?!”

Ginger walked forward, smiling pleasantly. Hana ran up after her sisters to meet the other children. When both parties of adults reached the the knot of kids, they all received a mild shock. On the pages carried by the Rutakin children, were depictions of the Tahoe, Bag End, their little family and what had to be the Anna.

The Rutakin parents, Honorus and his harem Varlna, the matriarch, Litana, and Misha all smiled in wonder at the Annas’ depictions of them. The children were instant friends and wandered off to play. Ginger extended her hand, palm up to Varlna, who was standing nearest and most apparently in charge of the meeting.

“I am GingerKat, Captain of the Starship Tahoe. We are very pleased to meet you in person at last.”

Varlna smiled, and shocked the dickens out of Ginger and the others. “It is good to meet you at last Captain GingerKat. We have heard no end of the stories from our children about your coming to visit us!”

“You speak English?!” Ginger mouthed aloud. Varlna chuckled and it sounded like a purring laugh.

“I speak Rutatoi…I’m not familiar with English…” she said simply. “Come we have prepared a meal for you and your family…” She looked at the others and pointed in turn. “Auntie Vera, Uncle Alfred and of course your First Mate John Robert. You are all welcome.”

Ginger took the little bundle from Johnny and offered it to Varlna. “We brought you a token of our hopes for a lasting friendship…” and put it into her hands. Varlna’s amber eyes closed solemnly for a moment. She untied the little ribbon holding the pouch closed; the supple material fell away to reveal the shiny metal symbol Ginger insisted upon as the most fitting gift.

Varlna’s eyes glowed. She turned and pointed at a spot on the hillside which none of the Tahoe party had noticed at first. There, formed of living plants and large boulders was the exact duplicate, in landscaping, of the gold and platinum symbol now in her hands. “I think we shall be the greatest of friends…We already have so much in common: our gifted children and our understanding of each other’s path.”

Ginger nodded, “Lead on M’Lady Varlna, we are your humble guests.”

As they walked Varlna made introductions, “Honorus you no doubt already know…” The handsome tall Rutakin smiled and tipped his finger as a gesture of familiarity. “These are Litana and Misha, the other mothers of our children…Not unlike Yourself and Vera to some degree…if I understood Rantu’s story correctly.”

Vera replied, “Very similar indeed. Our three children are our mutual responsibility. We are a family.”

Litana purred aloud, “Yes, pride, family, clan—all for our children…”

Misha purred at that as well. Varlna led them towards a familiar-looking place on the far side of the hillock. A residence not too different than their own ‘treehouse’ back at Bag End…as depicted in the Annas’ pictures. Two little waterfalls splashed down from either side of the structure and ran into pools that fed a stream which wound off through the dale. Honorus invited John and Alfred to accompany him on a tour of their territory… “It’s not really extensive, but it’s enough for our needs. Over here are our crops…” and their voices trailed off as they passed under the limbs of those very interesting trees.

Varlna invited the ladies in, the kids were already upstairs making the sounds of what children did best: play. “I hope we have similar tastes in foods,” Misha commented. “We certainly think it’s good.”

Vera smelled the aromas coming from what had to be the ‘kitchen.’ “Oh my, if that delightful scent is any indication…we shall indeed!”

Ginger asked about the children, how long had they manifested their ‘gifts,’ was it typical for their people, what other tales had they heard about them up to now?

Varlna and Ginger shared story after story, while Vera, Litana and Misha talked of recipes, favorite anecdotes of their children and husbands, then Hana came downstairs with Rantu, Varlna’s oldest boy—and about Hana’s age. “We are going to see the fish!” Hana announced and followed Rantu out the doorway.

The ‘reunion’ lasted into the night. Ginger contacted the Tahoe and related as much as they knew after the first several hours, and sent up videos of their new friends. Dinner was very filling, and although the colors were very different, it all tasted rather familiar, savory and sweet, meaty and leafy…each dish was appreciated individually. The other striking thing was how they ate. Just like Ginger’s family, the Timsani clan made a point of breathing deeply as they chewed. Their understanding of the structure was spot on as thorough as the Livingson-Spelman-Backhouse’s.

“Yes,” Varlna replied, “Our clan is spread out, dispersed, into many locations and cities across Rutin. Apparently like your own, we have a rich history of bearing the truth for our brothers and sisters of this world. I suspect on your world you also have fools and rogues who remain content in their illusions of materiality…and then there are the overwhelming masses of those people simply living their lives in waking-sleep…”

Ginger asked a question she’d been itching to find an entrance for… “Varlna, one of the pictures my girls drew depicted one of you in a Bridge uniform aboard the Tahoe. I am very curious to know just how similar we truly are—Are you and your family interested at all in exploring the worlds beyond your own stars?”

Honorus responded first, “To be honest, we have. But I should qualify that response by adding that it has always been a merely a dream to imagine traveling beyond this planet. We are a curious race, after all. We naturally ponder the worlds out there.”

Alfred smiled, and pointed up to the twinkling night sky. “Do you see that set of stars that look like a zig-zagging line? The one on the furthest right is our home planet: Earth. Around it orbits our only moon: Selena.”

Varlna grinned, “Those stars are the constellation of the Dragon, as we have called them, and that one star you’ve indicated is our pole star—the ‘Eye of the Dragon’.”

“Auspicious,” John commented, “In several of our cultures, the dragon is the symbol of wisdom…”

Litana liked that. “For many spread across this planet, that beast has the same implied symbology. It is said that dragons are the messengers and protectors of the heavenly court, or some such thing…”

Alfred remarked, “My ancestors acknowledged that very concept! We have so much more in common than is different between us.”

Varlna brought the subject back to Ginger’s question. “GingerKat, if you are asking if we are prepared to journey with you, I must say that ever since Rantu began showing us pictures of you and telling us your stories, I have contemplated your voyage and our part in it.” She added nearly off-handedly, “You do realize that your children will lose their special sight before they are very much older?”

Ginger, Vera, Alfred and John all nodded at once. Varlna continued, “Then you also know that they are capable of regaining those functions through their own efforts?” Again her guests nodded. “I hesitate to ask this, but are each of you in any way ‘developed’ beyond your peers?”

Ginger stood up and promptly disappeared. Then she came back in through the front entryway once more. Varlna smiled. She imitated the feat exactly and let out a sigh. “That is a great relief,” she acknowledged. “If you wish us to accompany you, we will be honored to do so. We have been in this territory for only a few years…You may have suspected that as you seem to be descended from a primate branch, we are what you might call cat-like…so we are far more migratory by nature…territorial but constantly it seems on the move. Leaving this homestead is not a great concern. My only real concern are our clan members most closely attuned to our own understanding and development…how are you situated for accepting eighteen of us? My family here are eight, there is my sister Yensa’s four and my sister Aniva’s six. We would be ten adults and eight little ones. Our grandparents have moved on already; we are the last of our lineage. There are other branches of the family; each carrying the knowledge and understanding with them, but we are the only ones that, like you it appears, have more fully realized our birthright.”

Ginger didn’t hesitate, “Your family is our family. Your children are our children. We shall be one together.”

Varlna purred, “We shall be one together!”

Honorus clapped and raised his glass, “To Love and to those who bear it!” The four guests dropped their jaws in shock. He looked about him, “What did I say?!”

Alfred explained, “We have that toast as well. It was uttered first, for us, by my Great-grandfather…We were just a little surprised at hearing it from another…”

Varlna laughed, “We appear to have been ‘one together’ for much longer than tonight! Honorus’ ancestor first made that toast, for us, many, many years ago!” They drank to the mutual toast. Varlna added, “I shall contact my sisters presently, they will be along in a couple days. They currently reside very far from here…then again everything is pretty far from here. We have intentionally removed ourselves as far from the cities as possible. We’re not anti-social or anything, just prefer to raise our children properly—that and amongst other Rutakin, we are considered to be idiots. They often persecute us for our pacifist traditions. Surely you have supposed by now…the Rutakin are a most violent species…that’s why the technology you present is wholly foreign to this world. They’re all too busy hissing at each other to work together towards a common aim. Cats!”

Ginger laughed out loud. “We have a similar standing on our own world amongst the Apes!”

In the interim, while they waited for Aniva and Yensa’s families to arrive, they offered Varlna’s family a tour of the Tahoe. Just the bounce up on the Anna was enough to raise the fur on their necks. The littlest child, Bitu, fluffed his tail out and was slow to smooth it down again, to the amusement of his parents. Hana and the twins took the other children on the kids’ tour of the ship, with the admonition to stay out of ducts and crawl-spaces. Honorus, Varlna, Litana and Misha thoroughly enjoyed seeing every part of Ginger and John’s pride and joy—the Tahoe and her crew. Naturally heads turned wherever they went, but then the Rutakin’s heads were turning just as often to gawk at the diverse crew around them.

Ginger asked off-handedly, “One of you wouldn’t happen to be a physicist would you?”

Misha and Litana eagerly spoke up, “We are both scholars and scientists…but we will have a lot to learn here…” Ginger called Iseul and Jeanette to the Bridge.

As the elevator opened, Viola’s grin spoke volumes. “Ah, how wonderful! New family!” She had been with Jeanette when the com request came and just had to tag along. She was as round as she could be, and giddy with hormones in these last weeks of pregnancy.

Ginger introduced them all around, “And I was hoping you three might take on the task of bringing our new sisters up to speed on our gadgets and widgets. I’ve no doubt they will likely have a few tricks up their sleeves—so to speak.”

The Rutakin, as Olivia had originally suspected, hadn’t a need for much in the way of garments, and sleeves were only on formal robes. A soft, very short fur covered them from nose to toes—Short, except on their heads and end of their tails. Honorus had explained along the way: “Our hairless Rutakins live in the cities, mostly, and do in fact set the fashions and make their own attire—they can’t regulate their body heat easily, so clothes it is…”

Ginger offered to escort Varlna back to gather up the rest of their possessions, and to meet her sisters. She also invited Becka and Olivia along. As it turned out Alfie and Olivia were something of a fascination with the Rutakins. Grandparents, as they were to Hana, weren’t unheard of, just a rarity to be a part of their children’s-children’s lives.

Yensa and Aniva arrived with their families: two more men and their harem wives: Santios, Yensa’s partner with Rintia, and their two children. Chotapsai, Aniva’s partner with Trisi and their two children. None of the Rutakins, it seemed, carried much in the way of possessions. Like Ginger, they bore knives at their belts, pouches containing their personal effects and some body ornamentation. As far as baggage went, they had a few duffles apiece and that was the extent of it.

Ginger had made the decision to remain in orbit above Rutin. Not only on the off-chance their new friends might encounter cold feet, but also because shore leave had been promised if at all feasible. The Rutakin men agreed to escort the away parties to visit some of the more picturesque regions and places across Rutin. While Varlna and her sisters got their families settled into a new routine. Aniva was a physician, and became fast friends with the family’s doctors. On Rutin, physicians were primarily geneticists—a result of their feline past and reproductive natures. She and Miruna got on particularly famously.

Yensa was an astronomer and fell in with Iseul and Jeanette easily enough. Varlna herself was an accomplished architect—which is how she met her husband Honorus. He was a builder, as were Santios and Chotapsai. Cosmin accompanied them on the first excursion and soon realized that their versions of ‘builders’ were not too very different from what was an engineer-mechanic on Earth. They all became fast friends as well. Rintia and Trisi the ‘artists’ were poet-singer-musicians actually—so they said. All their eight children were just like Hana, Isabou, Randi and VJ—playful, curious and ready to try almost anything. It wasn’t anytime before flying became all of their favorite pastimes.

The shore parties were instructed to wear practically nothing. Varlna advised, “You all aren’t too very different than hairless Rutakins. And there are Rutakins without tails, but it is uncommonly rare to be both hairless and tailless. Then there is the the issue of your genitalia…as you can see, our men are not so heavily endowed so to speak, nor are our women quite as voluptuous as Ginger, Vera, Viola and your other beautiful ladies. City-folk wear a garment like your kilts, so you’re men are safe there. But your womenfolk are really going to turn heads. Too bad your ears aren’t too well-grown, and your lack of even simple whiskers are an abnormality we’ll just have to accept.”

All in all, the landing parties didn’t encounter too many natives on their excursions, thankfully. The one instance that required a sudden bounce by any group was when Niles, the young fellow with the Donstoy cats, made the mistake of stroking a Rutakin woman’s tail without permission. He had mistakenly been uninformed of that particular social taboo. The small group accompanying the woman hissed and spat to such a degree that Honorus suggested they make as hasty an exit as possible. Roger was with them and promptly bounced them back to the Tahoe. A minor incident at worst.

It was on the last group’s trip that something actually amazing occurred. Sheila and Robert, both junior crew mates, took serious fancies to a male and female Rutakin, respectively. After three days in each other’s constant company, the fellow, Ginsai, ‘befriended’ by Sheila, and the lass, Naota, ‘befriended’ by Robert were all so distraught over their imminent separation that Sheila and Robert both petitioned to bring along their boyfriend and girlfriend. Ginger and Varlna talked at length about the possibilities. Aniva and Miruna were brought into the discussion.

“I hate to muddy the waters,” Miruna began and Aniva agreed, “but our two species aren’t so dissimilar as to not be able to produce offspring together…strange as that may seem at first glance.”

Aniva made it an even starker argument, “Actually, there is an aroma humans have that is so exhilarating to our senses, it’s very hard to ignore…a sort of concentrated comfort-smell if you will…”

Ginger looked to Varlna, Varlna looked to Ginger. Ginger ventured, “I’m the last person to meddle in any person’s personal life…”

Varlna said essentially the same thing: “Cats will be cats.”

Ginger approved the petition and two more Rutakins joined the ship’s company. Varlna cautioned, “I’ve noticed you have brought along many younger crew who are not as yet informed of their real potential…you’ve just acquired two more like that. Good luck Captain!”

When the two weeks were nearly over, and all of the tests and observations they’d intended to make with regard to the binary stars and the planet itself were concluded. Ginger asked the entire ship’s company to assemble in the Tlachtli arena.

“We are now a greater company in both numbers and quality. Our family has grown and we shall all grow as well…and I don’t just mean our women’s bellies!” She looked to Viola, who at that moment winced and Paul helped her to the corridor. “We are dedicated to exploring our galaxy with as much objectivity as we attempt to explore our own inner worlds, and in that endeavor our Rutakin family are absolutely in harmony with us. We are one together. It may be that we shall encounter other fellow travelers on our path, they also shall be welcome…what I do know is that we shall all learn and grow together. The way-station has been positioned in permanent proximity to Rutin. We keep access to it securely within our own grasp, and that is the way it shall remain for the foreseeable future. As the days and weeks pass on our journey to the next star system, we shall grow accustomed to more of the responsibilities and duties this ship requires of us.”

She turned to Varlna, “M’Lady, would you care to say anything?”

Varlna faced the ship’s complement and began, “As Rutakins we are thankful for the invitation to join you all on this most singular voyage. We are a curious people and we will learn much from each of you, just as you all will no doubt learn may things from us. Captain GingerKat has informed me that there are only a few principles by which this ship is guided: ‘Play nice,’ a uniquely Rutakin value, ‘Avoid doing what is unnecessary,’ axiomaticaly Rutakin, and ‘Make great efforts.’ It is this last that I would like to stress for our mutual benefit. We must make the efforts necessary to exercise our centers, through that we may unite ourselves into an individual of Conscience. With Conscience we may make the efforts of emotion and thought that will open the doors of Impartiality and Objective Reason. It is only from that vantage that we may at last view our rightful place in this great universe. We have different histories that have brought our peoples to the same understandings. Our similarities far exceed our few differences. We are one together, GingerKat stated. That isn’t just a nice familiar phrase, that is the reality before us.”

The Captain smiled and added simply, “Stations-keeping. Rutakins, please attach yourselves to some member of the crew and begin getting to know your ship; you will all learn this ship as well as you know yourselves. We wrinkle in fifteen minutes.”

Vera approached. “GingerKat, Viola had some rather severe Braxton-Hicks. We timed them out…false alarm…but a word to the wise: She should always stay near an elevator. Iseul and Uma were just a cautionary tale where our Viola’s determined spirit is concerned…” Ginger nodded and thanked her profusely for both messages.

She turned to Varlna, “If you will accompany me, I would very much like to have you at my side on the bridge.” Then she remembered and made a final general announcement. “One more note, we have discovered that your hearing may find our entry into the wrinkle bubble a little disturbing…please accept my apologies for that in advance…” and she headed toward the elevator with her command staff, Varlna and all their kids in tow. “This will be quite the experience. It certainly is for me every time. Children please follow Becka and VJ to the arboretum, I’m pretty sure Henri and Honorus will have laid out a picnic for you…” They squealed, purred and cheered with glee and happily followed Becka, mostly dashing in front of her.

“This way M’Lady…” Ginger motioned to the elevator doors. As they entered, John waited outside the entrance until the last of the Bridge crew and observers had entered. He glanced down the corridor and Honorus was just coming out of the arboretum. “I’ll be right along,” he said to Ginger and let the doors close. Honorus stepped across the corridor and neglected to prepare himself for the gravity changes; his long stride carried him farther and higher than he realized and instantly came to land near the opposite wall on all fours. Grinning he made his way more carefully to the elevator.

John restrained himself from laughing out loud. “Good recovery,” he remarked.

“Oops. Now that was funny,” Honorus said amidst chuckles at his own antics. They arrived on the Bridge just as the others were reaching their stations. John floated quickly to the helm and Honorus leapt up toward the ceiling and curled up to watch. He smiled at Varlna when she glanced up to him…excitement in her eyes.

Around the Bridge, instead of junior officers being mentored, Rutakins sat close by. Yensa was at Iseul’s elbow at navigation, next to Jimmy was Misha, a former professor of history, Litana took a seat next to Viola at the science station. While all Rutakins were mathematically inclined—even their written language, when used at all, was more akin to mathematical formulae—Litana was a pre-eminent applied mathematician among her people. Rintia and Trisi, the ‘artists,’ hovered near Uma and Danielle absorbing all they could of the intricacies of managing the personnel and systems of the Tahoe. Ginger looked around her to the new character of her Bridge; she turned to Varnla and winked. “Captain’s log, Starship Tahoe, Stardate one zero one six point five. We are a larger family now and are preparing to continue our voyage of exploration toward the galaxy center. Our Rutakin family are making themselves comfortable and the Tahoe is prepared for the month ahead.”

She turned to the Bridge crew. “Iseul, set course for Altair,” she commanded. Iseul laid in the most direct course.

“Seventeen point four light-years from our present position, Captain. Estimated time of arrival at maximum wrinkle: thirty-five days.” Iseul was very comfortable with simple arithmetic. Yensa’s eyes widened.

She whispered, “…Nearly two hundred times the speed of light! How is this possible?!”

Iseul whispered back, “We’ll go and visit Engineering when we stand down from Stations-keeping…”

Ginger announced, “Helm take us out: half thrusters until we are a safe distance from both the way station and Rutin, then maximum wrinkle on Iseul’s course and heading.” Then she ordered the upper and lower decks de-polarized to ‘transparency.’ The Rutakins gasped at the sudden visual sense of extreme exposure to the space around the ship. Varlna was extraordinarily delighted with the impressions.

“Captain! Your husband is a most capable architect!” she announced, gazing all around at the receding images of Rutin and the way station beyond the three moons.

John engaged the wrinkle-drive, and at once the Rutakins became transfixed. The sub-harmonics of the wrinkle bubble’s emergence and acquisition of equilibrium was a transcendent experience for their ultra-perceptive hearing. Varlna’s eyes closed, her fingers gripped the arm of the chair and she swayed with the, barely perceptible for Ginger, sub-harmonics. Ginger looked at her figure and noticed her tawny coat was beginning to glisten slightly. Once the field stabilized and the sub-tonal ‘music’ faded to a mere background hum, Ginger asked quietly, “M’Lady, your coat is glistening. Are you over-heated or nervous?”

Varlna inclined her head to GingerKat and whispered very softly, “It’s a result of a different set of emotions and sensations—think: orgasm…”

Ginger’s eyes widened. “Aah! So our cats weren’t frightened when they first encountered it as Hana thought…”

Varlna shook her head slightly and winked. “We are an essentially mathematically minded race as you have begun to notice. The piercing beauty of those sub-harmonics are more than just sounds in our ears; it is more like what an exquisitely crafted symphony is to your hearing—mathematically perfect, even ethereally transcendent. At least that’s as close as I can describe it for you. It is a spiritual and deeply visceral experience.” Ginger truly appreciated the new insights into her friend’s experiences, and said so.

Varlna added, on a different note, “I have been almost all over the Tahoe in the last couple weeks and have not once noticed these little cats you keep referring to…are they kept secluded for some reason?”

Ginger was startled. “They follow Hana and the twins nearly everywhere..I’m certain you’ve had to have seen them…” Then she reconsidered. “Varlna are there still small cats on Rutin? I don’t remember seeing any. Are they wild? Or perhaps extinct?”

Varlna giggled, “Oh they are all over the place, really. We didn’t have any near our home, and the children were more interested in keeping the miniature thylacines—carnivorous marsupials, than cats. How many human families keep monkeys or other primates as pets?”

Ginger nodded in recognition, “Not many at all. I see your point. Anyway, just a moment and we shall make introductions…” to herself she muttered, “…they’re probably with the kids in the Arboretum…”

John announced that course and speed were locked in, “…We are officially on wrinkle-time Captain.”

Ginger nodded to Jimmy to open the ship-wide com system. She announced, “This is the Captain. We will be on this leg of our voyage for the next five weeks. Every two and a half light-years, or every five days or so, we will drop out of wrinkle to deposit another way station. With any luck we will find another set of asteroids within the system we are traveling towards and so continue our string of ‘bread-crumbs’ behind us. Stand-down from Stations-keeping.”

Danielle followed with the listings of shift schedules, near-term activities and other information regarding personnel activities. She, Iseul and Uma left the Bridge in the company of Yensa, Rintia and Trisi. Viola invited Litana to join her as she went to the labs; Vera and Aniva followed along with them. Ginger turned over the Bridge to Johnny and he took her seat. Jimmy shifted to the helm, Misha slid into his vacant seat, as Honorus drifted down to lounge at the navigation station.

Ginger and Varlna emerged from the elevator at the entrance to the Arboretum. Through the open doors, the raucous sounds of children dashing about at play filled their ears. Varlna scanned the ‘grounds,’ “This is still one of my favorite places on the Tahoe! Now where do you suppose are the little cats?”

Ginger called to Hana; she came running to her with Rantu on her heels. “Yes MamaKat?”

“Hana, where are Mocha and Isis and Ishtar? And are Purdy and Alice here yet?”

Hana turned an pointed to a loop of the stream that was illumined by shafts of light that gave the impression of afternoon sunlight through the branches. “Mocha is napping over there. I think Isis and Ishtar are in Grandpa’s tavern…Niles hasn’t shown up yet. I think Purdy and Alice like to be here in the early afternoon, so they’ll be here shortly.” With that said, she and Rantu went back to the games they were playing with the others—something that appeared to be similar to hide and seek.

“You can meet our Mocha-baby at least…” Ginger stated and ambled toward the little ‘glade.’ Varlna stepped lightly along next to her.

“GingerKat, what is to be my position on this ship? Like Johnny, I am an architect, and like you I am used to leading my family…”

Ginger mused, “Johnny has adapted to become a superior architect…we all have adapted to our various new roles. But your question is one I have given a great deal of thought to. Naturally it is up to you, yourself, to choose how to use your time…but I do have a suggestion…” Varlna spotted Mocha asleep atop the mosses in one of the shafts of light.

“A tortie! How cute!” Varalna exclaimed. Mocha’s ears and nose twitched, she yawned and her whiskers twitched as she stretched, changed position and appeared to go back to sleep. Varlna went and sat next to the sleepy-head; she gently stroked her head between the ears. Mocha slept on.

Ginger smiled and continued, “Actually I am hoping you’ll consider the position of First Officer…” Varlna’s eyes snapped up to meet Ginger’s.

“But Johnny is First Officer! Can there be two First Officers? That sounds like an oxymoron…” she probed.

Ginger sat down next to her and clarified, “For this to work, I will have to assume the position of Master-of-the-Ship—a pretentious title at best—but it’s better than leaning the other direction toward military naval nomenclature…”

Varlna smiled, “Actually ‘Master-of-the-Ship’ is a rather appropriate title. It is essentially already the role you fill—as I’ve come to know your family. Although there are several adepts amongst them, they each defer to you and to John in all matters—precisely as one does within oneself towards one’s own inner master.”

Ginger continued, “John will assume the Captaincy, and I am therefore asking that you fill the role of his First Officer. Now, while presently John is also Chief Pilot and helmsman, that does not necessarily have to be your own focus of activity. It will be important that you can pilot the Tahoe, but it’s not urgent that you fill shifts at the helm. What do you think?”

Varlna’s eyes never left Ginger’s for a second; when asked, she answered, “GingerKat, I will fulfill your hopes for me. It was an honor to be invited aboard, a privilege to have your constant company, and now I am speechless that you ask me to assume such a role of responsibility—second only to you and to Johnny above all others…Me, a…how does Jimmy put it: A Newbie!”

Ginger giggled, “You forgot to add: close friend and confidant. You have become that over the last month. You have developed close relationships with each of my family and we all admire and respect you very much. This seems to be a natural shift from your historical position within your Rutin family to your proper position amongst your wider Tahoe family.”

Varlna’s ears turned to the Arboretum doors and Ginger’s attention leapt there as well. “That would be Niles voice behind those of Purdy and Alice…” she remarked. “Let’s go introduce you…First Officer Varlna!”

Later in the Bridge Ready room, Ginger laid out her thoughts and decisions to the rest of the command staff. Vera and Alfred were very pleased with the turn of events. Vera suggested, “I really like that you’ve avoided military rankings as much as we were able. ‘Master-of-the-Ship’ is both fitting and descriptive…Shouldn’t Johnny be training a permanent helmsman along side his training Varlna?”

John fielded that one. “Actually, Jimmy, Alfred, Valeran and soon Varlna, will be just enough capable pilots for the Tahoe and our yachts, as well as the Tesseract…There are two junior crew mates studying up on the job as well. They are a long way from hands-on training yet. The helmsman is more than just steering the ship—it’s discernment, and full-knowledge of the Tahoe’s abilities.” He turned to Varlna, “I’ll have you piloting like you’ve always been at the helm in no time. You already possess the key traits of a First Officer and Helmsman—Impartiality, Discernment and Confidence! That’s something that can not be taught or trained into a person.”

Uma asked simply, “Would you like us to arrange a formal announcement ceremony? This is the sort of thing a ship’s company likes to know first-hand…not find out by rumor through the grapevine or in a generic memo…”

Danielle concurred emphatically, “This sets a precedent for the promotion of heads of departments and understudies. It is imperative that we give this the attention it deserves.”

Ginger nodded, “Very well. Arrange the matter. Allow John, Varlna and me to have input, and set the timing as soon as is feasible. Varlna? Are there any considerations you’d like included in this event?”

Varlna spoke evenly, “Rintia and Trisi might should offer input to Uma and Danielle. They are very adept Artists. I understand that on Earth that isn’t saying the same thing as it means on Rutin. Perhaps a better descriptor would be: Scientist-Efficiency Expert. As I mentioned before launch that ‘Avoid doing anything Unnecessary’ is axiomatically Rutakin—our artists take that to a whole other level than the average Rutakin.

Alfred grinned, “I like that: ‘Artist-Efficiency Expert.’ It truly does justice to that function…it elevates the seeming mundane to the upper reaches of inspiration where it belongs…I really like that!”

Uma and Danielle added, “We rather thought there was more to it than what our preconceptions of ‘artist’ were. Those two women have made so many wonderful suggestions about our tasks already…It really couldn’t have been a lucky streak of brain-storming. This makes far more sense.”

Varlna concluded by stating, “The highest form of their art is musical composition…and you’ve all noticed how particular we are about music—the wrinkle-drive sub-harmonics are a masterpiece we look forward to enjoying again and again.”

Ginger suggested, “Uma, Danielle, please gather Trisi and Rintia, together with Glenn and Jeanette to hash out the scheme for all this.” She looked around the room. “What else?” There were no more suggestions. “Very well. Captain, you will need to assemble a modified Bridge schedule, I’d like to have a copy of it posted…and be sure to put me into the rotation. First Officer, I expect you to begin your training at the helm post-haste, and your study of the Tahoe’s specs and systems is a new priority for you as well….and since Rutakins absorb a page at a glance, you should be up to speed in no time.”

She stood, pressed a com button on the table before her, “Starship Tahoe, Captain’s log Stardate one zero two two point four; this is Captain Virginia Kaitlyn Belle Spelman-Backhouse, as of ten hundred hours this morning, I relinquish the Captaincy of the Tahoe to John Robert Backhouse. His new First Officer is Reshin Varlna Timsani. I am now to dedicate my efforts on the Tahoe as Master-of-the-Ship. The Ceremony of Installation will be announced this afternoon. The entire ship’s company is encouraged to attend in full dress uniform.” She repeated that notice on a ship-wide broadcast, “…That is all for now.” She turned to her command staff, “Dismissed. Make great efforts!” she turned to Varlna, “If you will accompany me to the Captain’s quarters, we’ll get you into uniform for duty.”

After they entered, Ginger waved to the reclining couch where a modified Bridge Uniform was laid out. Varlna commented, “I’ve only worn robes a few times in my life, always only on very special occasions…This is going to be a really new experience.”

Ginger pointed out as she held up the uniform to Varlna’s shoulders, “I took the liberty of designing this myself…I tried to keep it to as minimal coverage as possible…Knowing that it will take some getting used to to wear clothing at all…” Varlna wriggled into the light skin-tight garment and gazed into the mirror.

“Oh my! I look so special! Who would have thought a little fabric could evoke such a drastic change?!” The white uniform was a one piece-haltered semisuit, with leggings that scalloped down to just mid-thigh. From the base of her tail up her back was open save a proportional band of the fabric that connected the two sides across the base of her rib cage. Ginger held up two gleaming items and placed each one into the special sheaths stitched into her uniform on the outside of her thighs—within easy reach of her hands. “The laser is standard issue for the command staff, we can practice with it after your first shift…the gold and rhodium hafted and sheathed knives I had Paul make especially for our Bridge crew.”

Varlna looked again into the mirror, “The tools match!” Ginger stood behind her and reached around to buckle her cobalt-colored belt and pouch loosely across her hips and mount the insignia comlink-locator on her chest.

“There. First Officer Varlna is ready for duty.” Varlna gave her image one last glance and turned to Ginger.

She rubbed her cheek against Ginger’s cheek and then did the same on the other side, held her at arms length and said clearly, “I serve.”

Ginger went onto the Bridge and stood behind the Captain’s chair.

John reached a hand up and patted hers that rested on his shoulder; they waited for his First Officer to report for duty. When Varlna emerged from the Captain’s cabin she was immaculate; her hair was even french-braided as Ginger wore hers. “First Officer reporting for duty and training Captain.” She made a deliberate glide to the center of the Bridge and took the helmsman’s seat; the other Bridge crew couldn’t help but stare for a moment.

Johnny commanded, “Report.” At once the junior officers who had been monitoring stations during the meeting in the Ready room, snapped to their duty and sounded off with the stats and conditions requested. Once that was complete, he rose and stood behind his First Officer. “This panel is all your thruster and engines status, power levels and maintenance schedules…” Ginger left the Bridge in good hands and went to find the kids for a bit of flying practice.

As her ‘errands’ went any time she left the Bridge, every passing department head or understudy had a question or update for her. It was when she was approached by Trisi and Rintia that she halted her trek to the arena.

Trisi placed a hand on her arm in a familial gesture, Rintia did the same on her other side. They rubbed Ginger’s cheeks with their own. Trisi began, “Master GingerKat, we cannot express our deep pride for our sister’s new position within this ship…”

Rintia continued, “Varlna is the most capable woman we have ever known until meeting yourself, how does your expression go? She leaves ‘big shoes to fill’ in her family…” Ginger looked at them, not fully catching the nuance of the statement.

“I’m not familiar enough with Rutatoi customs to understand your meaning…” she queried.

Trisi explained, “In a tribe or clan, when the matriarch ascends to the highest position of influence, her sisters of the harem must take up the duties of her family’s management. Misha is second wife and therefore the bulk of those responsibilities fall to her.”

Rintia added, “And Litana will be taking up the slack in responsibilities that both of them have covered since joining the family…”

Trisi praised, “Varlna will be a most excellent second to yourself for Captain John.”

The implications of this latest transition of authority was now dawning on her with a force she’d not anticipated. She gulped, “Second to me for Johnny…” she repeated. “Are there other customs I am unaware of that are part and parcel of this new arrangement? We have joined our two families: Loonies and Rutakins—and I most certainly wish there to be a harmony in merging our cherished customs and traditions. I knew we would all have to make some adjustments…”

Trisi looked at Rintia and then to Ginger, “Master GingerKat, forgive us for presuming that you already knew us more than well…” and she commenced, with Rintia’s assistance, to elaborate the functions, protocols and details of Rutatoi relationships and responsibilities. They walked on together in a circuit around the promenade as Ginger was illuminated as to the consequences of the decisions she had made and, now, the full implications of those decisions from a brand new perspective. Her emotions ran a gamut of response as she objectively absorbed the data.

Rintia finished with, “It is of course your decision how best to manage all your children. Rantu is Varlna’s only biological child. She had him when mated to Urfatai, head male of the Timansi Clan until his untimely death. Honorus was his only male cousin and joined with Varlna, bringing Misha and Litana with him into the highest position of influence in our clan. Yensa and Aniva, her biological sisters, naturally became seconds to them—clan-wide—although still first in our households. Varlna is a natural leader and professionally accomplished. All our lives have been well-ordered and productive since her administration began.”

Ginger asked simply, “So tonight, will be the ‘union rite’?”

Trisi smiled, “Oh yes, it is always most auspicious that the rite be conducted as soon as possible. That allows for life to normalize quickly and the children to be confident of their family’s stability.”

Ginger continued, “And I am involved in this rite as both director and participant?”

“That is the role of matriarch, yes.” Rintia assured her.

“Is there a script customarily followed?” Ginger asked.

Trisi giggled, “It’s pretty simple actually: ‘As First among this clan’s women, I ask you to join us…we are one together.’ Then let nature take its course so to speak.”

Ginger blushed, “Those are nearly the words I used both that first evening with them at their home, and then earlier this morning when I broached this subject with Varlna!”

Rintia announced admiringly, “That’s why Misha, Litana, Yensa and Aniva—her very proud sisters—even Trisi and I were certain that you knew our customs so well already. Please forgive us for our presumptions.”

Ginger took a deep breath, “Not at all. I should be the one apologizing for not plumbing the depths of your understandings, before pushing ahead with my own best hopes.” She thought a moment and asked, “Um, are there some particular things I should know about Rutakin physiology?…”

Trisi and Rintia purred and giggled at the same time—a very interesting sound and sensation to say the least. “As you are probably aware, the birds and the bees are pretty much the same everywhere…However, we are particularly fond of rubbing…” They went into a great deal of detail; so much so that once Ginger had digested it all, she was most grateful to have had this ‘chance’ encounter with these two very supportive and admiring women.

“I think I had better have a word with Johnny…my only dilemma now is when before this night’s rite of passage will be best to break the news to him…”

Rintia smiled, “True, most of our men rather dread the thought of the encounter. But then Captain John seems to be far more capable and wiser than the average Rutakin male—not that we are complaining—Honorus is a cut above the rest also and Misha and Litana have always been very proud of him. Just generally speaking…”

Ginger rubbed her cheeks to theirs and wished them to please join Uma and Danielle in preparing the Ceremony of Installment. They practically dashed off to find them, excited to have some actual responsibility at last. Ginger’s mind raced. ‘Okay Ginger baby, you have stepped up to the roost and it’s time to swoop for the drifter. Your family has demonstrated the art of selflessness so many times…it is your turn to take on the mantle and submit.’

She stepped into the arena and looked up. Hana, Isabou and Randi were circling above Rantu, Grisha, Drada, and the littlest ones: Bitu and VJ. Rantu and the younger ones were practicing landings and doing quite nicely at it too. Becka looked over and waved. She came over to where Ginger sat, donning her ‘wings.’

“Whatcha been up to? Besides becoming Master-of-the-Ship and all, I mean,” asked Becka cheerily.

Ginger looked her in the eyes with a weak smile, “You won’t believe what else…”

When Becka had heard the entire story and description, she sighed and could only say, “If any woman on this ship can pull this off it’s you and you know it! I’m sure I speak for the rest of the family…who probably have no idea what is happening…when I say: Every time you start something new, you just make us prouder and prouder to be your family!”

Ginger’s smile was more steady. “Thank you Becka…That means an awfully lot to me…I mean an awfully lot!” She stood up in the one-third gravity. “So is VJ ready for a little snagging practice? I really need some exercise.”

Becka grinned, “Don’t get too worn out. You have a big night ahead of you!” and she couldn’t help but laugh out loud at Ginger’s expression.

Danielle’s voice came over the ship’s intercom as the flying practice wound down at last. “This is Ship’s Steward Danielle Daane, the Ceremony for Installment will be held on the main observation deck at seventeen hundred hours. A banquet will follow and full dress is required of all the ship’s company. Trisi and Rintia are in Glenn’s tavern to provide our Rutakin family with formal attire for your new positions aboard the Tahoe. Make great efforts!”

Vera stood in the doorway of the arena and remarked to Ginger as she came to change out of her wings. “The countdown begins!” Ginger smiled pleasantly. The exercise had helped her emotional state considerably. Vera continued in a lower voice, “Aniva and I had a little chat about our Varlna becoming First Officer…”

Ginger waited. Vera continued, “Has anyone explained what is entailed in this?”

Ginger nodded resignedly. “I was most fortunate enough to have the company of Trisi and Rintia for a stroll on the Promenade…” she answered simply.

Vera put her hands on Ginger’s shoulders. “GingerKat, you are doing what is best for your family and your ship. Olivia and I are so proud of you we don’t know what to say except, making great efforts takes many surprising forms during the course of our lives. Bringing the Rutakins into our family was inspired. In order to make this truly work, to become that family, we are all going to have to adapt. From all of us: thank you for taking the lead in such a grand fashion.”

Ginger’s smile was confidence personified. “Auntie, remember when we sat on the foredeck of the Anna, and you had me close my eyes and transit for the first time…and I said that I didn’t feel any different? You said, ‘What could make me feel any more or less GingerKat’?” Vera nodded, smiling. “Well I feel the same way now. I could not have had any more idea about this voyage and my role in it, than I had about developing my higher self and what I would feel like then.”

Vera embraced her niece and dabbed at a tear in the corner of her eye. “Your mother would be so proud of you! I know Glenn is just bursting at the seams. How has Johnny taken the news?”

Ginger shrugged sheepishly, “I still need to brief him on it…”

Vera rolled her eyes. “Oh my! My poor nephew!” and she giggled aloud.

Ginger made her way up to the Captain’s staterooms and showered off. Johnny came to the bathroom door as she was toweling off. “Honorus and I had a good heart-to-heart chat a little while ago before the shift change…” Ginger looked into his eyes.

“Oh Jonibob, what have I gotten us into?!” she softly moaned.

He reached for her and held her close. “A much bigger family, it appears, my love…” She sighed in relief at his calm confidence.

“So, you know what’s expected of us tonight?” she asked.

“Honorus was very informative. He also gave me some sound advice…it seems the Rutakin men, in general, relish this event about as much as running through a cactus patch…”

Ginger laughed out loud. “That’s somewhat the impression I got from Trisi and Rintia! They also said that they thought you were a far more capable and wiser man than the run of the mill Rutakin gentleman…Honorus excepted of course.”

John raised his eyebrows, “Well that ‘extraordinary gentleman’ had to go through this with both Misha and Litana and Varlna! He was very sympathetic to my situation: ‘Two powerful women…Captain, good luck!’ Those were his very words.”

Ginger crossed to the wardrobe and laid out her dress uniform. “Fear not my Captain, you shall be wonderful. I have every confidence in you…I’ll certainly do my part,” and she wriggled into the garment, clipped on her belt and comlink, and sheathed her laser and knife. He went over to her and proceeded to braid her hair for her.

“Rantu has a real competitive streak, don’t you think?” he breathed as he plaited.

“I just came from Tlachtli practice with all seven of the children big enough to begin learning. Rantu is going to catch up quickly with Hana and the Annas. We may have a tournament between generations before long at all. How was Varlna’s training today?”

John tied off the end of the braid with a golden cord and set the circlet on her head. “Not only do the Rutakins read and comprehend faster than anyone I’ve ever met—once they grasp the written words, which is not a big Rutatoi medium—Varlna also trains her eyes and hands and ears to do her bidding after only a couple practice runs. She’s going to prove to be a great pilot. It would be wise to have her learn the controls of the yachts sooner rather than later. As First Officer, she’ll be leading away teams…”

“And what about your new uniform Captain?” Ginger asked as she reached into the wardrobe and drew out the new white and crimson garment Vera assured her she’d placed there. He whistled.

“Aren’t you the miracle worker! Where did that come from?” he admired.

“Your Auntie loves you too…” she confided.

He stripped off the cobalt-colored uniform he’d become used to wearing. “Put on your sunglasses, here goes…” and he donned the new uniform with its gold trim and stripes.

They went to the children’s rooms and helped them finish dressing. Hana asked Johnny as he brushed her hair, “Is Rantu going to live here too?”

He smiled, “My but your ears are getting as long as his! You must hear everything! Yes. Varlna and Rantu will come home with us tonight after the banquet to stay.”

She asked, “Can I dress like Varlna? Her uniform is way cool!”

Johnny laughed. “Sure! just as soon as you grow your tail out as long as hers…and: ‘Way Cool’?! You’ve been spending a lot of time with Iseul, Uma and Danielle haven’t you…”

Her sudden glee turned to instant frustration, but it passed just as quickly. “Yessirree. And I finally got to meet Mr. and Mrs. Gompers, the cockatiels. They are very nicely behaved birds.”

Ginger came to the door with Isabou and Randi in front of her. “All set?” she asked. Hana bounced up and Johnny followed.

“Remember you three, you are on your best behavior this evening. And only one piece of cake…Am I understood?” Johnny stressed. Three little heads bobbed in agreement. “Then after you, young ladies. Lead on to the Main Observation Deck!” Ginger took his offered arm, and they followed their three young ladies as the proud parents they were.

The ceremony was very well crafted. The ship’s company knew absolutely, after the final words of benediction were uttered, that there was a new era of command on the Tahoe. They were each even more proud—if that were possible—to be where they were, performing the roles they were privileged to fulfill. Ginger stood center stage, flanked on either side by her Captain and his First Officer, and she spoke her now characteristic phrase: “Let’s eat!”

The banquet that followed was sumptuous. The dishes Henri created for the occasion, along with his staff and assistance from Chotapsai—a great chef in his own right—ranged from the simple to the sublime. Glenn directed the ship’s orchestra afterwards for a special treat. The Rutakins were enamored of his skill and virtuosity as a musician, composer and director. He acknowledged there could be no higher praise than their approbation. “…Coming from such consummate artists such as yourselves, this is the highest praise I’ve ever received…”

Trisi and Rintia produced Rutatoi harps and began a masterpiece of their own composition. After the first movement, they invited Glenn to accompany them. He strode to the piano and made good their confidence in his superlative abilities.

As the evening wore away, the master of ceremonies for the event, Alfie, concluded the formalities by excusing the guests of honor and thus ending the celebration proper. Hana and Rantu—whom she was now calling Rudy—Isabou and Randi led their parents from the hall and raced each other back to the, now: Master’s Staterooms. The girls couldn’t wait to show Rudy his new room and made a show of presenting him with pictures and little gifts of welcome which they’d made. John came to the door and announced that lights out would be in half an hour. They made the best of the last minutes by breaking out the markers and colors and making more new pictures.

In the den, Varlna went to the cabinet beside the entertainment center where she thought she’d find the wine selection. She did. Ginger sat at the sofa with a crossword that Vera had left for her. When John came back in he said, “I gave them another half and hour…they’ve already begun a new collection of artworks…” Varlna handed him and glass of wine and delivered one to Ginger as well.

She raised hers and offered, “To Love and to those who bear it!” the clink of their glasses together was a cheerful sound. They sat and enjoyed the silence of their own thoughts for a little while.

Ginger asked, “Here’s another thing I’ve yet to discover: Are the branches of the tallows spaced far enough apart for me to wet a line fly fishing?”

John and Varlna chuckled. John pointed out, “I haven’t tried it yet myself…but I believe Val and Dani spaced them with plenty of room to grow…”

Varlna asked, “Is ‘fly fishing’ what it sounds like?”

John went to another cabinet on the wall and took out a tube. “The ceiling in here is barely high enough for a demonstration…” and he assembled the rod, explained how to rig it and made a few false casts.

“Ooh, now that does look fun!” Varlna encouraged, “And so sporting. I spent hours fishing with my mother as a girl…but then we used our hands…”

“Noodling!” Ginger exclaimed. “That’s what Harvey called it. He wouldn’t let me use a rod and reel until I could catch a trout big enough for dinner with my bare hands.”

John disassembled the rod, tucked it back into its storage tube and glanced at the clock. “It’s the children’s bedtime. If y’all will take care of that little chore, I’ll go put out fresh linens…”

The last distinct voice heard in the Master’s Staterooms that night was Ginger’s as she said, “As First among this clan’s women, I ask you to join us…we are one together.” The voices after that were hard to distinguish at best.

The little chime that served as the alarm clock, went off at seven. None of the three of them responded to it immediately. Varlna and Ginger didn’t because they were in the kitchen preparing a continental breakfast and coffee. Johnny didn’t because his exhaustion was to his bones…he slept through it entirely. Varlna heard the tinkling noise and ran to shut it off. She smiled at the sight of Jonibob sprawled across the full length of the broad mattress. She lightly rubbed his shoulder with her cheek and went back to the dining area.

“He didn’t move,” she remarked.

Ginger chuckled. “Good for him. He deserves it,” she stated.

Varlna nodded beaming. “We all deserve it, if you ask me. I have never been so exhausted from a bit of exercise…”

Ginger laughed out loud at that. “A bit of exercise!? Like a marathon is a good stretch of the legs…” Yawning children began filing into the room and climbing into chairs. Hana reached for a piece of bread and some cheese, looked at it for a moment and offered it to Rudy. He grinned and yawned at the same time, but accepted it with a heart-felt, “Thank you.”

The twins ambled in, bright-eyed and ready for the day. “Oh boy. Classes today!” Isabou announced.

That brought the other two to life. Rudy asked, “What kind of classes?”

Hana grinned, “Today is day two shipboard. So it’s Engineering!”

Varlna looked to Ginger, who explained. “Until their attention spans are great enough and their development suggests it, they spend an hour or two each morning in a different department of the ship. They can ask questions, just watch and absorb, or sometimes do a bit of hands-on if the department head has arranged something.”

Varlna was delighted. “Now that’s a wonderful start to a curious mind’s development!” She glanced at the clock. “However, in forty-five minutes, we are due on the Bridge. Jonibob was clever enough to set up his first day of the ‘new’ schedule sleeping in!”

Ginger giggled, “Well if he isn’t up when we leave, we’ll turn the kids loose on him.”

They went to change and Ginger set a cup of coffee next to the bed. Varlna whispered, “I really like that ‘coffee;’ it makes my tail quiver…”

Ginger whispered back, “Jonibob requires it first thing in the morning, and at mid-morning, and in the afternoon, and…you get the picture.”

They wriggled into their uniforms and went back to the kitchen. “Papa is still in bed. I think you all should get him up to walk you down to Engineering in a little while…” Ginger coached the children. Then she and Varlna went to the door leading to the Bridge. They rubbed cheeks and took a deep breath.

Danielle rose from the Captain’s Chair as they entered. “Master on the Bridge” she announced. The officers at their stations rose also.

“I relieve you. Report,” Ginger commanded as Varlna took over from Valeran at the helm. The staff offered the status and comments on interesting occurrences during their watch and went back to monitoring or picking up their own researches where they’d left off.

Ginger asked Varlna, “So, how far did you get yesterday?”

The First Officer reviewed all that she’d been shown and explained all that she’d practiced. Ginger picked up the tutorial from where Johnny had left off. One of Uma’s apprentices came in to relieve her at Systems. One by one each of the others were similarly relieved at their posts over the next fifteen minutes or so.

Johnny was ambushed by four children anxious to get to Engineering. He managed to laugh with them after his first sip of coffee and shooed them out to dress for the day. They were huddled around the door when he emerged. He had just enough presence of mind to grab a breakfast sandwich as they rushed him out for their classes. Elevators were for getting places quickly. As Captain he could use them for any reason, but taking his kids to ‘school’ wasn’t one of them as far as he was concerned. Naturally, they preferred to whoosh down the center of the passageways and wait for him at the junctions to catch up. When they did arrive in Engineering, one of the junior Engineering crew announced, “Captain on deck!” The teams working on projects and tests here and there stood straight in respect for a moment until Johnny asked them to “Continue your work…” Cosmin and Santios approached the little group.

“Have we got an interesting morning planned for you!” Gabby was slung across his chest asleep and he led them to the workshop. John said he’d be back in an hour or so and left them in Gypsy’s capable hands. He touched his comlink and asked, “Alfred’s location please?”

The soft voice of Uma’s apprentice came back, “Deck Two, Eco-san.” He headed there, hoping to ask a few new questions of his teacher and friend.

Over the next couple weeks, the Rutakin gravitated to the niches of activity and research that most suited them or interested them and the Tahoe continued through the interstellar medium quietly and faithfully. The most spectacular occurrence, which garnered the attentions of all the company, was Viola’s labor and delivery of three girls. Paul was beside himself as the new proud father of three cherubs. He and Viola had been meticulous in preparing names for them: Beatrice, Katherina and Portia. Each of them bore their great-grandmother’s name as well: Belle. Paul was additionally rather smug that his little girls were all flaming carrot-tops. “…Just like their old man!” he said more than once. Viola was so thrilled at her husband’s pride in her girls, she ceased to give any thought at all to her own age, the vast disparity, generationally, between herself and her own daughters, and most importantly: any doubts whatsoever concerning her own abilities as a mother—which had unconsciously plagued her throughout her pregnancy.

Once she was recovered sufficiently from the most intense experience of her adult life—the labor and delivery of three eight pound girls at full term—she and Paul avidly toted the girls wherever they went. Litana and Misha were so enthralled with the event—Rutakins had not produced ‘litters’ of babies for uncounted generations—they finally convinced Viola to allow them to carry a girl apiece slung to their chests as Viola and Paul were wont to do. Aniva, with Vera and Miruna’s encouragement, sat the three of them down, supplied the Rutakin version of Fengreek to Misha and Litana and obtained Viola’s appreciation in assisting with the feeding schedules. Paul commented several days later when their milk was fully in, “Even with all three of you at the task, these girls just can’t get enough!” It was true. They were nearly insatiable. Danielle, Rintia and Trisi picked up the constant care of Grisha, Drada and Bitu for Misha and Litana, in addition to their own family’s four little ones: Emisa and Kerrin, Numa and Sashi.

The Tahoe now boasted seventeen children, all within four years in age of each other—with Danielle and Valeran’s on the way in January. GingerKat, Varlna, Norah and Vera began setting up the curriculum for kindergarten through the first several years following. They decided to use the entire ship as the facility—just as the children were becoming used to at present—and the gradual transition to more in-depth studies also followed along in the same vein as the current ‘classes’ had proceeded. The coursework would simply, gradually, demand more effort on the children’s part as they became more developed and capable of responsibility.

The first Twisted Tlachtli tournament of this segment of the voyage was scheduled for the middle of the journey, during the third week. In the time available leading up to it everyone who could spare the time and had the desire to, was in the arena practicing and improving their techniques. The Rutakin, although extraordinarily agile, had just as steep a learning curve at the attention required to play the challenging game as anyone else. In the cafe-taverns after every shift, groups of crew inevitably turned the conversations to the possible teams and the chances each might have in the upcoming matches. Uma and Danielle, who were organizing the tournament with Trisi and Rintia, were still undecided about whether to: form the teams at random as they entered, encourage the crew to form their own teams, or assign teams themselves.

With two days left before the big day, they made the announcement: “Team formation will be by lottery. If you wish to compete, please drop by the Stewards’ cabins and place your name in the ‘hat’.” They actually left a hat in the corridor for that purpose. It took the Rutakins by surprise since hats were unheard of on Rutin. Before two hours had passed after the announcement the hat was full. They waited for any others, but that first two hours had been enough. Of the fifty-two adults and two children old enough to compete, there were enough entrants to compose five eight-man teams. Uma and Dani simply carried the hat up to the Bridge, begged the Captain’s leave to have a witness, and turned all the slips of paper face down on the deck. Then they asked John to please pick up the slips one by one, read the name aloud over the intercom and thus form the teams in as egalitarian way as they could devise.

In the time it took to announce the five teams, not a bit of activity stirred on the ship. As each eighth name was announced, there was a ‘hoorah’ from some area of the ship, often several areas at once. Just the team formation turned out to be an event. This boded well for the enthusiasm level on match day…Johnny arranged that the main view screens all over the ship would display each match throughout the tournament. Normal shifts were suspended for the day and the skeletal crew assignments were made from those not participating.

The Tahoe Arena differed from the original at Bag End, only in that the arena gallery shipboard completely encircled the pitch, where spectators could watch from behind transparent view panels on any ‘side.’ Little pre-tournament parties sprang up the night before, and Ginger realized with her Stewards, that they had inaugurated a really popular monthly event. John abstained from tossing his own name in the hat, even though he was an avid player, he took the responsibility of managing the Bridge during that day. Ginger, as Master-of-the-Ship, stepped up as just another competitor, as did Varlna. Danielle excused herself due to pregnancy, Viola wasn’t completely back into shape, Aniva hadn’t taken up the game as yet. There were several junior officers not yet certified to play–not because of skill level, but because they just couldn’t seem to grasp the concept of personal integrity and calling fouls on themselves.

Hana and Rudy were thrilled to be the only kids allowed to play. Actually the Annas had gained their father’s permission, but since Grisha and Drada and the others of their family weren’t up to ‘game-ability’ in their practice, they chose to wait and keep them company. All of their parents were very proud of them for their consideration and compassion.

For many participants this would be their first actual competition—To say they were a little nervous was an understatement. The excitement of the crowds, the thrill of adrenalin as the first two teams took the pitch, all served to settle everyone’s nerves and turn their attentions instead to the grace and virtuosity of the players flying around the arena before them. Oddly, as team sports go, the pitch during play was nearly silent—strategically so—while the cheering of the spectators was wholly contained in the gallery and couldn’t be heard in the pitch at all.

It was a single round robin preliminary round. The teams with the best win records from the matches advanced to the semi-finals round to winnow the field to the final two. Ten matches in the first go around; as it happened on this occasion: Team Red and Team White each garnered three wins apiece during the round robin and went directly to the Championship Match. Because Hana had shared her tricks of attention for snagging drifters…and she and Rudy were on different teams…and it was drifter points that decided those matches in which their teams won and advanced…the final match was set for high scores for both teams.

As fate would have it, GingerKat was on the same team as Rudy, while Varlna was joined with Hana’s winning team. The other six on each team were a mix of veterans, juniors and Rutakin. The entire ship was most intimately involved in the fate of this final match. Before the two teams were allowed to enter the pitch, Uma and Danielle came out to the center of the floor. Through the intercom and on every viewer in the ship, they announced the results of each team’s: record in the Tournament, composition and each of the members’ accomplishments during play…and finally the prize that was to be awarded to the champions.

Uma smiled up at the galleries. “It has not been easy to determine what would be most fitting for a team composed of the Tahoe’s company…”

Danielle explained, “We are blessed with so much already…” Cheers and applause met her words.

Uma continued, “But because this is the first of what will become many Tournaments over the months and years of our voyage…” Again cheers and applause followed her words.

Danielle finished, “The Captain was petitioned for his thoughts on the matter, with this result—Every Twisted Tlachtli championship team, henceforth shall be offered their choice of Ship’s assignments for the full interim before the next tournament scheduled! This boon will only be limited by each member’s currently certified abilities as of the day their team become Champions.” The ovation that met that good news was nearly deafening. So many of the crew had very much wanted to expand their talents, skills and activities, but so often the routine of their days simply precluded those pursuits.

With the reviews and final announcements completed, Teams White and Red were welcomed to the pitch to take the roosts. A coin was tossed to decide who threw out the bruiser and the match was underway. It was indeed a high scoring game…not just because either Hana or Rudy snagged every single one of the seven drifters—a new Tlachtli record—but there were also a record number of goals scored: seven per side! And there were no fouls—also a high-watermark for the games. It was that one extra drifter that gave the White Team the victory by two points.

At the Tournament Feast in the Observation deck afterwards, the Captain announced the awarding of the individual ranges of choice for assignments to which each Team member was entitled. When he came to the last two members, John paused and phrased his words carefully, “As cherished members of my own household, I offer this special range of choices: For my eldest daughter, Hana Nasrin Livingson-Backhouse: Arranging the menus for our suppers, choosing when she and her brothers and sisters will have flying practice during their days, and assisting in the design of our kindergarten’s curriculum.” All the kids were delighted about that and mobbed her with their own ideas about all of those special decisions. She was in heaven.

He continued, “For my wife…and First Officer…Reshin Varlna Timsani-Backhouse: I have little to offer because like GingerKat, she is one of the most capable, courageous, compassionate and confident women on the Tahoe…She has certified at every station on the Bridge in her time with us, and she can pilot nearly as well as myself. Therefore, all I have left to offer, that is not already available to her is this…” And he took her hand, “You may make all away mission assignments, both for the next way-station drop and once we reach the next star system.” Ginger and Varlna both beamed at that. Varlna was thrilled because she realized the depth of that responsibility. Ginger was excited because that was one more thing the two women would get to discuss together and the final decision wasn’t hers…a real relief. John’s family, indeed the entire crew, came to realize that day just how wise he had truly become—deftly able to craft win-win situations for his family and the crew of his ship.

Then to solidify their family even further, Varlna turned to the assembled company and announced, “Let’s Eat!” Her family was doubled up in laughter at the ironic homage paid to the Master-of-the-Ship. GingerKat was especially amused…she hadn’t fully realized until that moment that that was one of her characteristic benedictions to any ceremony! Varlna embraced her and the smorgasbord came under siege.

The following night was the occasion of a symphony performance, now including every musician on the ship. The compositions presented were a product of collaboration between Glenn, Trisi and Rintia. Those unable to attend due to shift duties were treated to a live broadcast of the performance through the ship’s speakers—upgraded by Jimmy for that very purpose. It was an inspiring and evocatively moving execution of musical interpretation.

By the time the Tahoe was within long-range scanners of the Altair system, Yensa, Iseul, Viola and Jeanette were scouring the readouts and data for some indication of habitable planets or moons. Every day that passed allowed them to review more and more concrete data. Just two days out, they struck paydirt on three possible sites—two moons of a gas giant and a planet. Varlna was thrilled at the prospects of possibly stepping foot on a new world…then she and GingerKat discussed the research team’s latest findings an hour before dropping out of the wrinkle.

“No apparent breathable atmosphere, but they did qualify that by saying nothing was conclusive just yet…” Ginger encouraged. “And even if that’s the case, we can modify our activity suits to deal with a whole range of conditions…or simply resort to exploring beneath a pressurized shield…”

Varlna wrinkled her brow in thought. “Two things are troubling me about these three sites. First: Although they are marginally within a habitable area of the system, none of them have albedos that suggest traces of organics. Second, If there does turn out to be organics, unless life has been imported, by all accounts the system doesn’t seem old enough to have generated sentient life on its own as yet…”

GingerKat sighed, “True enough…that and none of our little prodigies have drawn up any ‘interesting’ forecasts. But then again, they are happy and may finally be growing out of that phase…”

Varlna smiled, “That’s actually a blessing in disguise—to me at least. It means that they can get down to the work at last and begin the process of building their own abilities.” Ginger really liked that outlook and said so.

Honorus, Cosmin and Ivy dropped into the tavern and sidled up to their table. “What’s the verdict?” Gypsy probed, “A little mining? A little resupply of oxygen and nitrogen…”

Honorus added, “Water perhaps?”

Varlna nodded, “It seems we’ll get a buffet of all of that…and a selection of asteroids to boots.”

Becka, Miruna and Litana joined them with their kids strapped to them or in tow. “I told you this is where they’d stop first!” Becka kidded, letting VJ climb onto his father’s lap. Bitu tried the same maneuver and Viking was suddenly playground equipment.

Gingerkat asked, “I suppose Hana, Rudy and the girls are…”

Litana said quickly, “…in the arena? Yes.”

Varlna remarked, “With two yachts and the Tesseract, we could knock out this system in several days, resupply sufficiently and ready ourselves for the next system…only about eight light years away: one of the Ophiuchus stars.”

Yensa wandered in, “Uh huh, and what are we conspiring about now?”

Glenn laughed out loud and turned the piano over to a junior officer with compositions of his own to tinker with. “What can I serve you all? You will stay for a while, won’t you? It’s not too often I have the best and brightest at one time in the tavern…”

Yensa had been accepting his flattery for days now. “Sherry for me.” The men asked for beer and the kids craved ice cream.

Litana asked, “Have y’all been able to scan the next stop?”

Yensa smiled, “Yep.”

Ginger prodded and rolled her eyes, “And…”

Yensa leaned back in her chair and flipped her tail in a little dance on one side then the other of her head. “Let’s just say, Master, that what ever disappointments this system provides, should be made up for thrice over by the next one…we have detected coherent radio signals…”

That was a conversation stopper. Varlna purred, “Sister dear, do tell!”

Yensa licked her lips as Glenn set the sherry in front of her and waited for the news as well. “Remember the story of the kitten who got caught in the rain and mewled and mewled until a raven offered to shelter her with his wing?”

Litana was obviously anxious to hear, “…’I’ll protect you little one, but you must do something for me’…Yes we remember. What do you want?”

Yensa stretched, “Just a spot on the away team to the third planet…”

Ginger and Varlna glanced at each other and smiled, they knew this was coming sometime. Varlna said, “That will be the Captain’s prerogative, my reign ends here for the time being…” Yensa looked to GingerKat.

Ginger held up her palms, “Don’t look at me, Johnny has gotten pretty head-strong lately…”

Yensa sat up and her tail flicked back and forth.

Litana soothed, “You know you’ll get to go anyway…What’s the gist of the radio broadcasts?”

Jeanette, who had come in and stood over her shoulder next to Glenn, said, “They’re musically inclined and curiously advanced!”

Yensa grinned, “Like Rutin before the last Dark Age advanced…”

Varlna, Honorus and Litana visibly shuddered. Glenn asked, “Dark Age?”

Litana recited, “Rutakins once actually went to space…all the way to our nearest moon, Haikes. The hissing and spitting that erupted over territorial rights, the armed frictions over which tribe had contributed the most to the effort, the insane debauchery that ensued patting ourselves on the back for even getting that far in technology…led to our withdrawing from the whole pursuit and relegating our enterprises to our own world’s resources and territorial stability instead.”

“We haven’t, as a species, been to the stars again since.” Yensa finished, “Until now, anyway.”

Ginger pieced together the news. “So we’re thinking the inhabitants of the third planet are reveling in a recent triumph of technology and may or may not be going down the same path it seems both our peoples have trodden before?”

Yensa and Jeanette answered, “Yep.”

Varlna squinted at her sister, “And exactly why are you so anxious to be on that landing party? It sounds more like a situation to avoid, not run towards!”

Yensa answered simply, “It’d be fun!” GingerKat and Varlna nodded at the same time.

Varlna admitted to her, “You were spot on; Viola and Yensa were made for each other!”

Cosmin and Ivy laughed out loud at that, spewing their last sips of beer at each other involuntarily in doing so. Becka and Miruna rolled their eyes.

Miruna spoke for both of them, “That’s the sort of response Joel and Zany would have a field day with if they saw it…”

Three comlinks blared at the same time, “Command staff to the Captain’s Ready Room in two minutes!” It was John’s voice and he sounded lethally serious.

GingerKat, Varlna, Yensa, Valeran, Cosmin, Ivy, Jimmy, Iseul, Alfred, Vera, Litana, Viola, Uma and Danielle watched as Johnny came in and sat down. Ginger commanded, “Update.”

John looked to Alfred and Jimmy. Jimmy spoke first.

“By now you’ve heard about the third planet orbiting Ophiuchus seventy. Whether you have or you haven’t, this is the current situation: As we dropped out of wrinkle, we were instantly faced with a dilemma.

Alfred continued, “We just detected a probe that we are fairly sure was intended to scan this system on behalf of that civilization, only two weeks away for us…more like sixty to seventy years for them. This ship is fairly immune from most scanning techniques…but that’s obviously not the issue.”

Johnny explained the obvious, “How anxious are we to encounter a space-faring species, that may or may not be aggressive?”

Yensa opened her mouth to speak but Varlna’s instant glance was enough to stifle her enthusiasm and cause her rethink her initial response. She carefully offered, “That topic was the center of our own conversation just now. It seems we all have inclinations on the subject.”

GingerKat remarked, “Well phrased. We began this voyage knowing that we couldn’t be the only folks out here. Our new family is testament to that reality. We have been very fortunate on our first encounter. We are wholly prepared to meet virtually any peoples on their own terms…but it is a risk.”

Alfred nodded, “If it were to come to a vote…which it won’t…I would be for sidling up close and taking a closer look before we make any decisions.”

Varlna chuckled, “That from the man who’d prefer to shoot first and check his aim later…” Alfred chuckled, her comment and humor was contagious.

Danielle offered, “Let Uma and I go over the broadcasts we’ve recorded and see if something can be more clearly sorted out from those…”

John glanced at Varlna and Ginger, who were looking back at him. He smiled, “I think we can go one better…Please continue recording the variety of transmissions, and distribute them to department heads as we resupply, drop our way-station then head to the Ophiuchus system. We will no doubt get some interesting feed back from the rest of our crew over them. We aren’t procrastinating. I am prepared to zip over and ask for a cup of sugar right now…but let’s assume the role of objective observer on this one, shall we?”

GingerKat smiled, “Make it so. Uma, setup a bulletin board for posting our company’s thoughts about what they hear and see…I presume there are video transmissions as well? We do know what they look like at least?”

Yensa said, “Uh huh…”

Uma said, “Unless their forests are uniformly two hundred feet tall, they are rather short…”

Danielle said, “Think: Hobbits with an attitude.”

The Tahoe was able to procure water from one of the moons in the Altair system. It was ice that had to be melted; that took long enough for two away missions. Meanwhile, Cosmin and Ivy took an away team to the other moon and were able to mine enough metals to keep the machine shop busy for quite a while. Varlna led one team to the terrestrial planet, that was more like Mars than Earth or Rutin. Though they were able to fill Roger and Paul’s ‘shopping lists’ for compounds and elements to continue certain on-going research and manufacturing, she wasn’t able to fulfill Teniqua’s lists of organics. She also acquired the much needed nitrogen to make up the balance which the eco-sans aboard the ship weren’t able to produce. The most thrilling aspect of the venture was that she commanded the Anna on her mission and even piloted her during the tricky landing operations. She was commended for her arrangements of teams and the organization she’d brought to the resupply missions, but the best part had to be just standing on the surface of an alien world and looking out into the depths of space, gazing at her home stars twinkling back at her.

The three simultaneous missions took a day and a half to complete. Over that time the crew of the Tahoe had begun posting comments and observations about the transmissions made available to them. There were more than a few people who arrived at the same opinion Danielle had voiced in the Ready room; whatever these Ophiuchus inhabitants did in space, at least sixty years ago on their home planet, they appeared to enjoy viewing belligerence toward one another, and had a startlingly misplaced sense of humor. Paradoxically, the official government statements transmitted at that time constantly encouraged the population to both do something rather than laze about, and not make light of every situation they encountered?! These two opposing perspectives of the species caused a rift in the crew postings. Half were convinced these people were actually very hobbit-like but were flogged into violence and dispassion. The others were convinced that these people were destructive by nature and only paid lip-service to notions of a peaceful existence.

Neither view mattered in the least however when during the first week out. Utilizing and storing the materials acquired during the last stopover consumed the majority of their time and attentions. It was during the last couple days of the second week that the Captain reconvened his staff in the Ready room and asked for suggestions.

Uma said as everyone began to sit down, “The good thing about this last few weeks is that we have been able to program a translator for communication purposes…but whoever is speaking should use short sentences.”

Olivia reported first, at Uma and Dani’s behest, “I just want to be clear about this: the nearer we approach the Ophiuchus planet, the more recent the transmissions become. This morning marked the beginning of the last few years of their history in terms of the broadcasts to which we have been privy. That said, it appears that there has been a shift in their cultural biases across the board. There are no longer any glorifications of war, no references to crime and most interestingly a very large emphasis on family. The scenes we have available are likewise less urban and more bucolic. Now that may just be a projection of their version of what is idyllic in marked contrast to their actual daily realities. However I can offer a profile: We have confirmed that they are, on average, half our stature—knowing the size of their planet and it’s gravity establishes that specifically. They are not a restless species; they prefer to remain in a given location for generations. They have just begun to rectify years of abusing their planetary resources, but they also still idolize technology. They are not as litigious as we at first thought, they tend to settle disputes by negotiation…often financially, or through indentured servitude.” She turned to Uma and Danielle.

Uma nodded, “We have only found a dozen or so other species of animal, although there appears to be enough flora to accommodate a hundred times that variety. That and the relatively short period in which they have ‘settled down’ so to speak, has led us to more than suspect that they are not indigenous to this planet, but are in fact a colony of perhaps one hundred years old at the longest.” The murmuring around the room revealed the staff’s surprise.

Jimmy asked the obvious, “Where did they come from then, and why did they select that system?”

Danielle shrugged, “The first part is still a mystery, but the answer to the second part of your question seems to be: they didn’t. We have given this a great deal of thought and the only resolution that accounts for all our data is that: they were forced to make this planet their home, whether due to an intentional or accidental ship’s failure, or intentional delivery of the first population—they were marooned…Actually we have reason to believe that this was originally intended as a penal colony. The probe we encountered in the Altair system was very likely from the parent civilization, not this offshoot.”

“Botany Bay,” Alfred remarked.

Varlna and Yensa asked, “What is Botany Bay?”

Olivia replied, “A barbarous attempt to resolve one country’s over-crowded penal system by exporting them to a desolate area on the other side of the world—where there just happened to already be indigenous cultures and legitimate settlers.”

John mused, “Of the three nearest star systems capable of supporting life…all of which are at least thirty light years away, a solid two month journey—my money would be on Ras Alhague…”

Jeanette recognized his reasoning, “It’s in the last throes of burning out its helium core…perhaps dying out entirely…”

Valrna asked, “But thirty light years away? At even point five light speed, that would be at least a sixty year journey…”

Yensa was instantly aware. “Then it may not have been a penal colony, but a mutiny aboard an intentional evacuation vessel, perhaps divided between those preferring to go on to Altair vs. those who were sick and tired of being on the ship and insisted upon the Ophiuchus nearer at hand!”

Ginger spoke up, “Then the questions we might should ask ourselves are: Are there others still on Ras Alhague who couldn’t evacuate, or did they perhaps go off in another direction? Say to Alshain?”

John rubbed his chin. The room was quiet as everyone pondered the questions for themselves. At last he said, “If it please the Master-of-the-Ship, I shall ask Alfred, Vera, Yensa, Teniqua and Ivy to organize an away party to scout out the Ophiuchu planet once we are close enough for more detailed scans and an away team proves to be warranted. I would like to know some of the answers to the conundrums we’ve posed for ourselves. The next destination then should be Alshain, followed shortly by a visit to Ras Alhague—‘the head of Caduceus’.”

GingerKat nodded, Varlna inclined her head and Alfred and Yensa were obviously delighted. John closed the meeting, thanked everyone for the research they’d made and suggested that since they had solicited views from the crew, it would behoove them to write up a brief report with the tentative conclusions reached just now. “…I’d want to know that much, if I’d been asked for input…” Norah and Becka took that one straight away.

The glow of the planet filled the viewer the next afternoon, as the Tahoe dropped out of wrinkle. John sat in the Captain’s chair and gazed up at the new world. “Captain’s log, Starship Tahoe Stardate one one six one point five. We are in distant orbit of the only in habited planet in this Ophiuchus system. After two weeks of determining the residents’ inclinations toward our visit, I have instructed our staff to proceed with the Captain and First Officer’s plan. If all goes well we shall acquire the organics requested by Commander Teniqua and be on our way again with a minimum of fuss or real intrusion into the lives of the planet’s inhabitants—which we are near certain are refugees of Ras Alhague.”

The end of the log entry prompted him to ask Uma and Jimmy to go through all the frequencies they could, to find one through which the Tahoe could make contact. “We’ll hold position here at point two AU while y’all check that out. In the meantime…” and he touched his comlink, “Uncle Alfred, is your away team assembled?”

He hailed back, “Yes, Captain. The Voyager is fueled and all systems are good. We are having an early supper at Glenn’s just waiting for the go ahead…”

“Excellent. We should have something for you within the hour,” he answered and closed the channel. Ginger came onto the Bridge. John yielded his seat, and gave her an update as she sat down.

Jimmy raised an eyebrow and Uma nodded. “We have what sounds like an official channel of communication. It’s audio-video, so just give the word and you may make a statement. We think they will establish a live link only after that…”

Ginger nodded. Johnny hopped over the stations in front of the Captain’s chair and stood facing the viewer. Uma said, “Channel open Captain.”

“This is Captain John Robert Backhouse of the Starship Tahoe. We are an exploratory vessel and wish only to quench our curiosity. Your society does not appear to be indigenous to this planet, do you require assistance of any sort? We shall stand by on this frequency and await a response.” He patted the Com and Jimmy cut the transmission. “Now we wait some more…”

Ginger and Varlna smiled approvingly at him when he glanced back to them. Jimmy announced, “That didn’t take long. I have a live connection waiting, Captain.”

John turned back once more, and raised a finger, took a deep breath and dropped the finger. The screen filled with the clean-shaven round face of man of undetermined age. “I am Vice Mayor Momtee. We of Galorus welcome your message of curiosity. How may we be of service?”

The Captain replied, “We estimate that you have been the sole residents of Galorus for only the last hundred years or so…From what system did you arrive here? Are there others who might need transportation assistance?”

The Vice Mayor smiled and replied, “My, but you have certainly done your homework,” he looked off camera, appeared to listen to someone and nod. He looked back to John. “One hundred and twelve years, Galorus time, to be exact. We arrived here from Breuges in the Alshain system. Before that…” and his video and audio feed went to static. John looked to Jimmy, who just shrugged. A moment later he reappeared.

“Sorry about that Captain Backhouse, technical difficulty I’m afraid…we have power supply issues at present. With regards to your other question. No, there are no others on Breuges any more. We migrated from there after a global catastrophe made our exodus a necessity. This has been a most splendid home since arriving. Now, may I offer you an invitation to visit us here? Perhaps resupply your starship?”

John was very genial, “That is most considerate, Vice Mayor. If you will allow us a bit of time to arrange a proper landing party, we will take you up on your generous offer. Tahoe out.”

Varlna spat, “Captain that is one bald-faced liar! His pulse nearly quadrupled at the question of their origins…Some one is from Breuges, but it’s not them. And he was obviously cut off as he nearly betrayed their actual roots…”

GingerKat requested, “Captain, perhaps you should require our landing party to each carry micro-tossers to return them to the Tahoe in an instant, if need be. We can bring the Voyager home easily enough.”

John nodded, “If we didn’t actually still need certain organics, I wouldn’t even consider this.” He touched his comlink. “Alfred, micro-tossers for each member, Jimmy will give you the coordinates enroute. Just say howdy, get what we need, and get out. No food, no drink, no accepting invitations to enter any buildings. If you are not able to leave of your own volition, the word is: ‘Tlachtli.’ Is that clear?”

Alfred came back with, “As a bell, Captain.”

John nodded to Varlna, who rose from her chair. “Alfred, Commander Varlna will join your team in the Voyager hangar bay. Out.”

He turned back to her, “It’s your show, but Alfred is very good at what he does…”

She winked, “Uncle Alfred and I have come to an understanding already, Captain. No worries,” and she bounded to the elevator and was gone.

He turned to Jimmy and nodded, the screen came back to life. “Vice Mayor, I am sending my First Officer and her entourage to the surface now. They really shouldn’t be with you too very long, our scans of your atmosphere suggest that we can not remain more than a half an hour at most before needing to return to our own environment.”

The Vice Mayor grinned, “As you wish Captain. There is a clearing beyond town with ample clearance for even a very large ship. We look forward to your legate’s arrival. Galorus out.”

Iseul passed the landing coordinates to Jimmy and he relayed them to Voyager’s nav computer. “Landing site confirmed, and coordinates transferred, Captain.”

GingerKat went to the imaging scanners next to Iseul’s station. “Lock onto the Voyager, I don’t want to miss a moment of this.”

On Voyager, Varlna sat in the Captain’s chair as Alfred piloted the ship down through the atmosphere and into a long arcing glide toward the designated landing site. Varlna said, “Be ready to boost if this site makes my whiskers even twitch a little!”

Alfred smiled, “Aye, aye Commander. It’s good to have you aboard…”

They neared the landing site. Alfred did a fly by, then circled. Varlna nodded with a sly smile on her face, and he began his descent. Ivy announced, “They may not be visible through the viewers but the scanners are showing quite a welcoming party in the trees.”

Yensa confirmed it, “Heat signatures suggest they are also armed with weapons.”

Alfred grinned and looked to Varlna, she nodded, “…and aim later.” He touched a button on his console and the shields snapped up and pressurized.

Ivy and Yensa chuckled, “It looks like we’re sweeping them away like foam before a wave.”

Varlna announced, “Activate personal micro-tossers. Cosmin, please make ready to take the cores for Teniqua; Ivy, you and Vera are with me. Alfred you’re the puppet-master of this show…” He winked and pressed the switch to open the hatch. Fresh warm air came in as they stepped toward it.

“Twenty minutes, no more.” Varlna reminded them and smiled as they approached the edge of the glade, passed through the ship’s field and stopped short of the seven little people in front of them. “I am Commander Varlna Timsani-Backhouse, First Officer of the Tahoe. We thank you for allowing us to land and gather the simple organics we need. I assure you we will not taint your pristine forest, nor endanger its eco-system.”

The fellow who appeared to be the leader of the group was eying the Voyager with a covetous look; he smiled and replied, “I am Colonel Gornask of the Galorus Mayoral Guard. On behalf of the Vice Mayor I welcome you. May I invite you to accompany us to a brief ceremony in honor of this unique event? And perhaps we may exchange views, maybe even arrange a tentative trade agreement. We are a very wealthy planet, but sadly, we have no ships of our own with which to transport our resources…”

Inside Voyager, Alfred nodded to Yensa. She keyed a series of commands into the communications panel. She said aloud, “Okay Jimmy your in. Make it quick.”

Jimmy acknowledged, “Got it, thanks…downloading now. I’ll just need another minute or two.” Outside the tete-a-tete continued.

Varlna smiled, “…That is an intriguing proposition. Unfortunately I am not in a position to accompany you just now.”

Vera stated, “This is just an opportunity for us to sample your atmosphere and stretch our legs.”

Ivy remarked, “No doubt news of trade negotiations will be great news to the Captain!”

Colonel Gornask responded, “In that case, I really must insist. We are certain that you are the answer to our needs for transportation…” He raised his arm and the sounds of weapons being cocked sounded from all around the glade. There were marksmen in nearly every available limb and branch above them. “If you will please call the rest of your landing team and follow me, we shall have a visit with the Mayor…”

Inside the ship, Yensa turned to Alfred, “Got it all. They can come back aboard.”

Alfred pinged Varlna’s comlink. She heard it and smiled.

Varlna pursed her lips, “No, I’m afraid that just isn’t going to happen on this occasion. We’ll have to be returning now.”

Vera pouted, “We’re sorry to disappoint your Mayor, but it really is rather anti-social to make invitations at gunpoint.”

The colonel just grinned broader, his hand still held above his head. “Just a flick of my wrist and the two fellows next to that drilling device will go down in pain. This I assure you, Commander.”

Varlna shrugged. “Doctor, Chief…We shall be going now.” Vera and Ivy spun on their heels and led the way back to Voyager. The colonel was evidently not too used to being ignored so completely. He roared his displeasure and dropped his arm. The snipers in the trees opened fire. Plasma bursts and lasers blasts went pell mell in every which direction, bouncing from the shield above the ship. Several bolts and blasts knocked down limbs in which the gunners were perched; they fell down. Several other blasts ricocheted to the very feet of the colonel and his lieutenants. He called a stop to the barrage at once.

Teniqua nodded that she had what she’d hoped to gain, and followed Cosmin into the ship. At the hatch ramp, Varlna stood alone. She waved, “Until next time Colonel Gornask.”

That wasn’t his only hand to play. He spoke into a little comlink at his shoulder and high over head Varlna heard the sounds of rotors approaching. She went inside and closed the hatch behind her. Alfred commented, “Targets-locked.”

“Ivy, take us above the canopy please,” Varlna requested. The lifters droned and the engines ignited. In a moment the crafts making the rotor noises were readily visible all around them.

“I count fifteen, Commander. Even if we could put up shields while in atmospheric flight, we haven’t tested them against the yields those missiles aimed at us scan to contain…” Alfred pointed out calmly.

Varlna flipped up a little cover, and put her finger to the button on the arm of her chair. “Ivy cut power on my mark… Now!” she cried and pressed the button just as four of the aircraft let loose their missiles at their ship. They were nestled in the hanger bay on the Tahoe. Alfred continued to look at his monitor. It flashed suddenly very brightly.

“Ooh! That’s gotta hurt!” he exclaimed with a wince, and stood up to stretch. “I’ll just shut down the systems and join y’all at Glennie’s in a little while.”

Teniqua offered, “Thank you for stalling long enough you guys. Cosmin got everything I was hoping for.”

Gypsy remarked, “I still don’t really understand why we had to go under their guns to fetch five large cores of soil!?”

Teniqua chuckled, “When you put it that way it does sound silly. How about if you think of them as six months of meals instead, does that help any?” He grinned and nodded enthusiastically.

GingerKat approached from the hanger bay airlock. “That was not the sort of entertainment anyone was hoping for today, I’m sure. Well done team!” She took Vera and Varlna’s hands, then turned suddenly to Ivy. “Oh, and the Captain said he wasn’t that excited about the trade arrangements after all. Sorry Viking…”

He grinned, “No?! But they were likely to be on such advantageous terms I’m sure…” Cosmin chuckled with him and they carried the cores to Teniqua’s lab.

Ginger touched her comlink, “Captain, all set. You may take us out to a safe distance for wrinkle…although I’ll not feel terrible if you kick in the drives from right here!”

“Aye, aye Master…” John called back. He nodded to Jimmy at the helm, “take us out Commander, maximum wrinkle to Alshain please.”

Rutakin all over the ship stood transfixed. Next to GingerKat, Varlna and Yensa clutched at her arms and quivered from head to toe. After a moment they relaxed. Yensa sighed, “I could so get used to that every single day!” Ginger and Vera giggled at Varlna’s expression. Vera snapped her fingers in front of her.

Varlna shook her head. “Sorry. That was a good one…” More giggles and chuckles.

Once back on the Bridge, Ginger called, “Report.”

John answered, “Jimmy has downloaded all their official records; Uma, Danielle, Norah and Becka are reviewing them now. Jimmy’s reconnoiter while Varlna was stalling them revealed the location of the transport ship. It was definitely an uncontrolled landing. The new Galorans scavenged everything of use from it. All that was left was the empty husk of a ship in a rather ugly scarred crater. Even after a hundred and twelve years the evidence was pretty clear.”

Uma came onto the Bridge. “Captain, we’ve only hit the highlights of their records thus far, but with Misha’s assistance we have already established that they were an evacuation attempt from Ras Alhague. Their first stop was to take on passengers from Alshain who were disenchanted with their prospects there. Unfortunately those passengers were under the impression that the second ship would be heading for Alpha Centauri—Rutin, actually. It was the generation before the one we met today that diverted their course at gunpoint to this system. A mutiny ensued, many were killed and here we are. The transmissions we had available when we first began monitoring them were during the hunt and extermination of all those that rebelled at landing in Ophiuchu.”

Varlna and Yensa gasped. “So we perhaps owe a bit of gratitude to these rascals for bringing down their transport here?!”

Uma shrugged, “So it would seem. I hate to think what sort of havoc they would have caused on Rutin!”

GingerKat muttered quietly enough for only Johnny and Varlna to hear, “…And its true worth will be shown in time…” Aloud she asked, “Time to Alshain?”

Iseul announced, “Fifty-eight days, and however long it takes to locate the habitable planet with the Ras Alhague colonies on it.”

John responded, “Hopefully we have put their evil twins behind us. Let’s hope this next colony of evacuees are more genuinely genial…”

 

8 thoughts on “Storms Excerpt

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