(A Tale of Erin Starfox)
Excerpt from EVACUATION
Copyright © 2012 1 Picture 1000 Words Publishing. All rights reserved.
The duties of a Unisis ambassador are many and varied. Negotiator. Arbitrator. Mediator. Peace maker. Healer. An ambassador is many things. First and foremost, she is there to help the people of the United Systems in time of need or when a crisis threatens.
“It’s nice to just sit and watch for a change,” Erin Starfox remarked to Martha Magellan as they sat at the High Table enjoying the athletic display in the stadium below.
“Yes, you have been rather active.” Martha smiled at her ambassador. “But, admit it. You love the attention. Tired as you are, you’d still rather be down there with the athletes than sitting up here.”
“That is true, yes. But it is nice to have a break. Once in a while.”
“Everybody from Embassy One’s having a wonderful time. And everyone here is in awe of the demonstrations you’ve been giving. And the athletes have been superb all around.”
”And we have another two weeks of it!” Erin beamed her delight at the Captain.
They had been on Krae for four days, and in that time the ambassador had officiated at the opening ceremonies and put on several athletic demonstrations for the cheering crowds. A UniGames champion in her youth, Erin Starfox was now one of the most respected and admired ambassadors of the United Systems.
“You do have some ambassadorial duties today,” Chief of Staff Mryiss reminded them. She was seated opposite Erin and Martha, and paying more attention to a holopad projected by her quickstick than the athletics. “In fact, your meeting with the Tibulu ambassador starts in twenty minutes.”
“Yes, Coach.” Erin grinned. An ambassador’s work was never done.
The people of Krae were hosting preliminaries to the UniGames. Athletes from forty-seven worlds were currently demonstrating their abilities in the central city’s many athletic arenas. The Krae people had campaigned long and well for the rights to host the prelims.
A once barren world, one teraformed continent now teemed with life. But eight other continents remained uninhabited. And now, the Krae campaigned equally well for settlers to help populate the newly teraformed continents. They missed few opportunities to promote Krae’s natural beauty and natural resources. Krae, it was being said, was ‘Paradise’, ‘Eden’ or ‘Bloidrupmagniarletbrognatii’, depending upon to whom one was doing the promoting. If anyone was thinking of relocating, Krae was the place.
Erin's quickstick, resting on the table near a cool drink, bleeped and she picked it up to answer. “Starfox,” she said.
“Ambassador, there’s a distress signal coming in from the direction of the Far Worlds sector,” came the voice of the Communications Officer. “Isolated area. Sixteen or seventeen days out, as near as I can tell. Shall I send a shuttle to investigate?”
“Between here and the Far Worlds? There’s nothing there. Should be nothing there.” She looked to Mryiss and Martha for conformation. Both seemed as puzzled as she.
“Embassy One’s the only ship around capable of traveling fast enough to get there in time to do any good, whatever the problem is.” Martha was proud of her ship.
“We have to take Embassy One. You are right, Martha.” Erin glanced toward the athletic field. Maartha and Mryiss could read the look of both regret and concern on the Ambassador’s face. Erin spoke into her quickstick. “We’ll be right up, Sarah. Krae can wait. Those in distress cannot.”
Erin’s personal skyskiff docked with Embassy One an hour after she had received the message from Communications. Krae was overly busy with the bustle of too many arrivals and departures and the spacelanes around the planet were not easy to navigate at speed. Additionally, scores of other skyskiffs and shuttles bearing various delegations as well as Embassy One staffers had to dock with the mighty cruiser.
The flagship of the Unisis diplomatic fleet regularly carried over twenty thousand delegates, guests and passengers, and a staff of two thousand ten. Recalling the more than fifteen thousand of those individuals who had been on the planet to enjoy the Games took time. A number of delegations, to save time, elected to stay planetbound until the cruiser returned. It took six hours before Embassy One was ready for departure but at last the great starship spread its wings and sailed into unknown space.
Four days journey took the giant cruiser past scattered outposts of habitation. Space took on a darker than normal hue as the main body of The Cluster, the most densely packed concentration of stars in the galaxy, was left behind. Many of the staff spent their off-duty time in the Arborium. The huge park at the rear of the ship had a transparent roof that provided a spectacular and unobstructed view of the stars “set like pearls on black velvet” according to Communications Officer Sarah Brace.
This night, Sarah was looking at those stars with what seemed to be more than casual interest. “Anyone been in this part of space before?” she asked, directing her question to no one in particular.
Around her, several staffers, some in official dress, some in casual atire, were relaxing around a bonfire.
“Any erstwhile exploration, you mean? Yes, a few errant expeditions. There are records of departures but none of returns.” Menlo looked away from a beautiful nebula, particularly beautiful to Tibulu who saw beyond the visible spectrum. He slid goggles which he had previously removed back onto his face so he could see visible light once more. Though his eyes were in the same basic proportion to his face as those of a Tellurian, the goggles made them appear twice their normal size. “Not sure whether that means no one decided to return or that they didn’t feel up to filing their journey with Interstellar Exploration.”
“It’s not a requirement,” said Alut, a bridge intern. “People can come and go as they please.”
“But it helps, if there’s trouble. Like now.” Menlo preferred things orderly. “We’d know a lot more about what we’re getting into.”
Ed Foster, the Navigation Second Officer, strolled up to Sarah who was still starring into space. “Looking for something in particular? Old Earth, perhaps?”
She nodded. “Perhaps.”
“It’s lost. Probably forever. The two sleeper ships from Earth that brought our ancestors to The Cluster were badly damaged. Lots of records lost. Including the location of Earth. And with what happened on Providence....”
“I know. And I know that that was hundreds of years ago. But don’t you just wonder sometimes, where it is? And maybe hope we’ll find it again someday.”
“I’d like to think so.”
“Take a walk?”
“Sure.” Sarah smiled at the young staffer and took his hand in hers. They strolled along the garden paths for a time without speaking, past tall trees and crystal clear streams, past couples and triads and other groupings talking and laughing and romancing. Then, as they sat under a Cabbli tree, Foster said: “Next rotation, in just a couple of months, Kovee’ll be moving on. I hear he’s got a posting with Ambassador Moonfawn, on a deep space exploration ship.”
“He mentioned that the other day.”
“I’ll be on the bridge full time then. With you. I’ll be on the bridge a lot.”
“I’d like that.” And she smiled at him again.
The scream shook everyone on the bridge to full alert. After nine more days of monotonous travel even the seasoned Martha Magellan had grown weary.
”Pama, what is it?”
“All stop!” the NavOff cried. “All stop now!”
“I’m on it, I’m on it,” Helm Officer Kovee affirmed as he initiated the procedure that would depolarize and retract the great starship’s wings.
Traveling at more than ninety percent the speed of light, propelled by dark energy particles that pushed the ship through space by its mile-long wings as wind pushed sailing ships across the water, Embassy One came to a halt after two million miles of deceleration. They were still more than two hundred thousand miles from that which had caused Pama Firelake to cry out. They could see it, though none of the bridge staff had any idea what it was.