BOUGHT CL63 MEET @ HC
Prrg, about to ship out as the Rose's first mate, had instead bought out his contract and talked his way aboard a fast Patrol courier to Wilson's Colony. The equivalent of 57 Terran years old, he'd been spacing for most of them, always taking orders from too many people, most of whom weren't worthy to give them; bankers, shareholders, spoiled passengers, martinet officers, bureaucrats with their souls surgically removed. Between berths, with no ship to suffer for his actions, he'd taken satisfaction from a few, doing his small part to make the universe a better place. He'd become a Jeffersonian Citizen, not least for the Republic's dueling laws, which were far less complicated than Gnop's. Before Rockville, Danner had sometimes joined him in this hobby.
Now he would take orders from just one. He respected Captain Kodobatsu; he liked Sol Danner.
Prrg's face was incapable of smiling, but somehow his eyes managed it. “Hello, Captain,” he said now, closing both hands over Danner's, “and thank you, friend.”
Danner raised his voice and told the crowd, “This is Prrg, First Mate of Aurora!”
Prrg didn't need much time to get up to speed. With him digging in at his right and Linfarger crushing dreams by the dozen on his left, Danner took a moment to turn and check on Blain's progress.
Only four were waiting at the second-interview tables, two Humans, a Chikaran, and of all things a Vloss, one of the very few to have scrabbled its way off its ruined world. Very slowly, after thousands of years of degeneracy, the hairless-spider-looking people were rebuilding their civilization, finally launching a permanent space presence and beginning Vlossforming of the next planet out from their star, as they should have done millennia ago, looking at converting their ancient, failed, sublight generation ship to an O'Neill cylinder like New Israel's thriving Edo Station. Their homeworld was now little more than a rock with air, and a single run on even an average ship would make this Vloss one of the wealthiest and most revered people in their system.
Blain had already decided to not accept the Vloss, though it (she couldn't guess about gender) seemed well-qualified. She could tell that Ftraq was, despite protestations to the contrary, looking for shorter-term berths like most of its people who had reached the stars, hoping to take its knowledge and wealth home for its people's benefit. Between candidates, Blain, sympathetic, had whispered to Eric to steer the Vloss to a berth more suited to its plans, and even now two Siv were inviting it to a separate table.
Danner, on long Transits between stars, filled his off-duty time with study, and fancied himself an amateur xenologist; in his travels since escaping his desk, he'd had dealings with all the known races and found something to like about most of them. Next in line before Blain was a Boksi. These had been Contacted a few decades after the War. Amphibians, their goddess was Ksshrosha, the Air-Breather and Fire-Maker, who had led the People from bondage, in the depths under the Old Gods, ages ago. Like the Eyani's Hr'Gen, she had probably been a real person, or a composite of a few.
Ksshrosha had not been punished like Terra's Prometheus, but had led a long war of liberation; their holy texts had thrilling passages of the final battle, wherein the Old Gods had been lured to the surface and destroyed by sunlight. The Boksi, though they'd since had real wars among themselves like every other sentient race yet encountered, had far less tradition of centralized authority than ancient Humans. When discovered by the huge Explorer JRS Everett Wilson, named for the man who had stumbled upon the world and star the Kraken now orbited, most Boksi governments already bore some resemblance to the Republic's; they'd passed through several, albeit abridged, authoritarian periods of history and had reached the Cheap Energy Age. They had already walked on every world of their system with a solid surface and established colonies on two of them, and were tinkering with something that might someday have become a Marsten Drive.
Since Contact, all but a few of their homeworld's nation-states - those with lingering authoritarianism, lagging technology, and near-nonexistent economies - and all the other worlds of their star, had joined the Republic, one or a few at a time. The holdouts had been hemorrhaging population for well over a Republic century, and once in a while the free Boksi, often beside Human and Eyani adventurers, put together an expedition to topple another regime. There were only three left, last time Danner had checked.
With their small size and twelve limbs, four of them shaped for using tools, many Boksi had found berths as technicians with all the starfaring races and had long since built starships of their own. They could be found throughout Human space, and most were Citizens, integrated with the Patrol and ECS generations ago. They had settled and intermingled in coastal communities on every Human world, even Terra. They were just... people. If very short ones.
What really got Danner's attention was the being behind the Boksi, and coming up to the table as an obvious partner: a Glaut.
The only other race yet encountered who had reached the stars on their own – with the technical exception of the Chikarans, who had famously, desperately built a Bussard ramjet – the Glaut were, in Human terms, stuck-up prudes. There had been a brief war scare, but it had fizzled after the Glaut leaders had been invited on a tour of Republic military bases.
The Patrol liaisons had lied to the Glaut at first, not showing them a naval base but Travis Station over New Texas on a typical business day. At any time the flying city hosted a dozen ordinary merchant ships, most capable of c100 and all adequately armed; within sight of the station, the Lone Star Militia Infantry just happened to be holding board-and-sieze/repel-boarders drills. The next day the Glaut were taken to a real base, to observe carrier operations over, and anti-aircraft drills at, the Fighter Weapons School on Crunch. When the liaisons felt the Glaut had been impressed enough, they took the Patrol's newest, fastest courier to New Israel, where the Third and Seventeenth Legions had been undergoing their regular reactivation, taking turns practicing and repelling assault landings while the New Israel Home Fleet simulated orbital bombardment. Next they were flown to Monticello to meet the Pentamvirate... stopping first to watch Patrol gunnery practice above Tau Ceti VI, then a regular day of training for the fighter and bomber pilots of the Space Patrol Academy, on Monticello's South Continent, against their ancient rivals from the Charles Yeager Academy on East. Finally, at bustling Central Terminal, they were shown a map of the Republic, spanning 57 stars at the time.
The Glaut claimed only four, and their Drives were barely past Second Generation. Their meeting with the Pentamvirate had been short, and the border had been precisely defined for 123 peaceful years. They'd since purchased current Drive, and much other, technology, and one – the latest-settled, of course – of their now-seven stars was making noises about joining the Republic, but they'd been making those noises for sixty years without effect.
The Glaut, as a species, resisted change. The inventor of their Marsten Drive had been jailed and “found dead in her cell”, their government was their religion, and free enterprise was regulated to the brink of extinction. Only by essentially enslaving their few creative minds had they developed any technology at all, and similar methods were used to maintain their infrastructure, in a harsh caste system so old there were some faint evolutionary differences. Before contact with the Jeffersonian Republic, there had not been a major technological advance among the Glaut since before Humans invented gunpowder – and that had been sixteen hundred Terran years after the invention of their first stardrive.
Add to this: The Glaut were also amphibians, but in contrast to the well-armored Boksi, they were boneless, shell-less molluscoids, resembling Terran octopi but with four eyes and only six limbs, barely a meter across at full extension, colored a pale grayish-green. Even a Chikaran could tear one apart bare-handed. Humans and Eyani terrified them, and his first sight of a Nikar had given one of their ambassadors a seizure.
The Glaut just got no respect. Impishly, Danner wondered what this one thought of the Kraken's sign.
Then he regretted his insensitive thought. This Glaut was missing one eye and one tentacle. In Glaut society, which Danner found repellent, any amputation or loss of function made one an outcast, unemployable, shunned, reduced to silent begging in the streets, or returning to the sea to try living as his pre-technology ancestors, risking becoming prey to larger beasts himself. Unnoticed by Blain, Danner turned his chair around completely, interested.
“One at a time, please,” the engineer said to the pair.
“No, ma'am,” the Boksi replied. “I'm Hlossh, and this is Grbblb. We're a team,” Hlossh stated, as though saying 'Water is wet.' “Where I go, he goes. And vice-by-the-egg-versa.”
The Boksi, at first glance, resembled an oversized, tailless horseshoe crab, about one meter long and half as wide. Except for the four small retractable eyestalks, and the artificial hydration rig, his carapace was near featureless, the color of seabottom mud. Suddenly Hlossh reared up, exposing his shiny white underside and a dozen flailing appendages – no, only six were flailing, the locomotive sub-brain lacking tactile feedback, while the two at bottom were being used to stand upright and the four at top, unfolding to their full one-meter length, were braced against Blain's table, tool-using pincers splayed like fingers.
“You're looking for Engineer's Mates. That's us.”
From behind and to one side, Danner could see Blain's face crack a grin. “Are you now?” she asked. “Why?”
In response, Hlossh spun around, easily balancing on his two rearmost limbs in the light gravity, and jerked a pincer over the rim of his carapace as though he were a human pointing a thumb over his shoulder. “Every ship I've served in,” he said, indicating an impressive list etched – in English – into his shell, from a tiny Imperial Russian yacht to the biggest liner ever flagged in the Caledonian Republic. The list started with no less than five Patrol warships, from frigates to dreadnoughts, another half-dozen interspersed with the merchies over time. The Republic's star-and-bars flag was etched just aft of his eyestalks, next to the rank insignia of a Chief Petty Officer in the Patrol. “Look 'em up and ask about me, any of 'em.” Hlossh spun back to “face” Blain, two eyestalks extending over his shell-rim, his manipulators thumping onto the table again. “I've been on every kind of ship there is,” he went on, “and there's nothing I can't fix short of the Drive itself. I've got about three dozen ratings for boats and shuttles and I can fly any aircar ever made if you give me forty-three seconds to put my adapters in. Last time I re-upped I shot Expert with the M437 plasma pistol, and I'm a fair hand on a naval gun crew when I need to be. I have my own suit and my own tools and a collection of technical files you wouldn't believe.” He stood back from the table and went on, “You're shipping out on the last of the Adamant cruisers, a real piece of history. I have a complete manual for one and I've read it. Your Captain is the Man Who Saved Rockville, and if you're sitting next to him and Eric the Bear, you must be the best damn Engineer flying. I've been waiting for a berth like this all my life.” He jerked a pincer at his underside, just like a Human jerking a thumb at his chest. “If you're an Engineer, I'm your Engineer's Mate.”
When he finished, the spacers in line behind him, even though they wanted his job, applauded. “Okay,” Blain said, chuckling. “You've made it to the second round, surely. But what about you, Gub- Gru- uh-”
“Grbblb,” the Glaut gargled. “I am not as experienced as my friend Hlossh,” he said, seeming shy, though it was difficult to tell across the species barrier, “but I work hard and spend much of my free time in study. My specialty is life support. I can travel through ducts and reach tight spaces no other sentient can. Your air will be fresh and your water clean, your temperature perfect. I am also very good with ship's computers and entertainment systems, which would be valuable if you were to carry passengers. My personal requirements are few. I ask little but to go with my friend and to serve a good ship.”
Blain was skeptical. “I don't know....”
“Both of us or neither, ma'am. With respect ma'am,” he hurriedly added, sketching a Patrol salute. “I'll vouch for Grbblb and there's twenty Engineers who'll vouch for me. The thing is, meaning no disrespect to these fine spacers-” Hlossh waved an arm at the line behind him- “most of them are looking for just another berth. We're looking for a home.”
Blain looked about to turn them down, based on the Glaut's lack of experience, but suddenly sympathetic, Danner laid a hand on her shoulder. “Let's give these two a closer look,” he said. She turned to glance at him, raising an eyebrow in question, and he leaned close and whispered, "I think you and the Glaut have something in common."
She went just a little pale, then turned back to the candidates and nodded. “Okay boys,” she said to the two amphibians, pointing at the second-round tables and raising a smile, “get over with the others and have some lunch.” Even though they may have just lost their berths with Aurora, the other candidates cheered.