(A Tale of Erin Starfox)

Copyright 2012 1 Picture 1000 Words Publishing. All rights reserved.


Blee bleep!

“Starfox here.”

“Captain Shelly, Ambassador. Our sensors have picked up something, something odd.”

“Yes, ThisOne senses it.” Starfox shifted on the bed, moved closer to the intercom. “Something tech?”

“Right. And it shouldn’t be where it is. That’s what’s odd about it.”

“ThisOne is on her way.”

“I’ll need my NavOfficer. Is she...?”

“Your Nav is with ThisOne.” Starfox glanced across the room at Tama Windwall who already had hopped from the bed and begun dressing. “She will bring her.”

“Good. Thank you.” The crackle of the intercom didn’t filter out the captain’s good natured grumble when she added: “Last time I had to find her I think I had to call half the bedrooms on board.”

The ambassador laughed. “Siasl are polyamorous, Captain, not promiscuous. You know that. We will be there directly.”

She switched off the intercom. “Our play will have to wait,” she told the officer snuggling next to her in the bed. She got up, began ferreting around for her clothes.

“You two are going to leave me alone. Now? Like this?” Reber Roarke, the Engineering Second, looked down at himself, then up at the two women. The ambassador pulled her official Cloak of Office, dark blue with embroidered gold trim, over civilian raiment. Windwall finished zippering her uniform.

“Does seem a shame to waste a good thing.” Windwall turned back to the bed, kissed Roarke firmly on the mouth. Her hands roved over his broad shoulders. “But this sounds important.”

“You may want to report to your post in Engineering.” Starfox’s voice was as soft and musical as it had been when the three had gotten together in the ship’s lounge an hour before, but she was in full ambassadorial mode now; the voice was soft and musical, and commanding.

Roarke tried once more. “You — The two of you! – picked up me . Remember? I’m off duty, so is Tama for that matter. We don’t have to....”

“ThisOne is a Unisis ambassador. She is never off duty.” Starfox addressed Windwall, who was struggling with her boots. “Come.”

Roarke shrugged. “If only I could.”

Starfox returned to the bed. Was that a gleam Roarke saw in her eye? Some trick of the light?

No. It was light, bright and warm and rainbow hued, a swirling ripple from Starfox’s left eye. “It’s not hypnosis,” Starfox’s gentle voice told him. “It’s real. As is this.” And a warm joy spread through his body as she touched him, her fingers resting lightly on his arm.

“Now go.”

Roarke got up, began dressing. Slowly. Dazed, dreamy. “That... was....”

“It was wonderful. We all had a very good time.”

“Good time... had by all.... Right. Bye bye.”

Roarke, half-dressed, carrying his pants and boots, exited Starfox’s suite, headed for the Engineering deck.

“That didn’t take much.” Windwall hugged Starfox. “I’m beginning to wonder if we would’ve been too much for him.”

“ThisOne would have been gentle with him. Will be, if we bond again.”

“You never hold back with me.” Windwall smiled. “And I like it that way.”

“Like ThisOne, you are Siasl. You can handle it.”

“But I’m not like you. I’m just Nav on a transport. I’ve thought about training to be an agent, like you were, and dreamed of maybe being an ambassador someday, but I don‘t know. I never seem to get around to it. I’m not the adventurous type, I guess.”

“You are quite adventurous enough for ThisOne’s tastes.” Her soft, pale lips touched Windwall’s cheek. “Now, we must go to the bridge.”

Ten minutes after exiting her suite, Ambassador Erin Starfox stepped onto the bridge of the Miranda followed by Navigation Officer Tama Windwall. “So, what have we found?” Starfox’s voice was excited, expectant.

Captain Trin Shelly briefed the Ambassador as Windwall took her place at the navigation console, forward and to the right of the centrally positioned captain’s chair. The NavAssistant updated Windwall on the current course and speed then withdrew to stand with other interns at the back of the bridge. The ergonomics configured the station to Windwall’s profile as she settled in and began studying the datastream on her screen.

“That’s Promea, fourth planet of the Lansinl system, the only inhabited planet in the system.” Shelly pointed toward the viewport that showed a small yellowish orb near its center. “They have nothing transsolar, not even rudimentary space flight.”

“Off limits, then?”

“Should be. One area is registering something considerably more advanced than what should be there. At least compared to the last reports we have of the planet.”

“Those reports are over six years old,” Starfox noted as she scanned the datascreen near the captain’s chair. “Some species have been known to make large techjumps in short periods of time.”

“This isn’t that,” interjected the Data Officer from his post behind and to the left of the captain’s chair. “The anomalous technology is advanced but also inconsistent with all other existing technology on the planet.”

“Could one of the United Systems planets have violated the Accords?” This from Windwall. “I’m just asking.”

“ThisOne will find out. She is going down. Please make the necessary course corrections.” Her command issued, Starfox turned to leave. The captain’s voice stopped her.

“Ambassador, that’s... not....” Captain Shelly was at a loss for words. In Uni at any rate. She switched to Terran, her native tongue, which none of the bridge officers could speak. Starfox, she knew, was a mix of Siasl, Terran and something else, something that made her, well, Starfox. “Ambassador, we have to talk. Privately. In my office?”

“Of course.”

The two descended a short flight of stairs to a small, sparsely furnished room; the captain’s office.

The captain moved to sit, thought better of it. She was several inches taller than Starfox’s five foot nine inch frame. Any edge, any authority she could use would be an advantage. She faced Starfox, stood directly in front of her.

“This isn’t an ambassadorial cruiser, Ambassador.” She had switched back to Uni, more common to her, as to most races living in the Unisis Cluster, than the language of their homeworlds. “I’ve been happy to shuttle you back to your embassy after that incident with the Mentaki left you without a ship. But at every opportunity, every little chance happenstance, you’ve used your authority to investigate, to explore, to get what you want.” She drew in a long breath, let it out in a huff.
“We’re tired, Ambassador. My crew is tired. I’m tired. We’ve been in space fourteen months. That’s a long run and we’ve got another six months to go before we get home. Siasl Prime is in our general direction so it’s no trouble to take you with us. But these investigations of yours where you go merrily blundering off into Goddess knows what, they’ve caused too many delays already. Ambassador... Erin... we want to go home.”

“ThisOne has children, did you know?”

Shelly watched as Starfox removed her cloak, took her private handheld computer from a pouch affixed to her belt. Were her hands trembling? “Two girls and a boy. She wants more than anything to be back with them, to be part of a family again. Her heart aches every day she is away from them.”

With the push of a button, Starfox displayed a holo image of her children. Was that for her benefit, Shelly wondered, or for Starfox’s? A few moments passed. Starfox put the handheld away. She looked directly at Shelly.

“ThisOne is going down to the planet because she must. If you do not wish to remain you do not have to.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know about your family. But don’t guilt me into helping. Don’t. If you go planetbound, we’re staying. We can’t leave you. Ambassadorial protocols and all that.”

“What did you expect ThisOne to do when you told her of the anomaly, just let it be?”

“File a report or something, so you could send a full cruiser to investigate after you got home. It doesn’t seem like enough to justify going planetbound.”

The ambassador’s eyes were bright as she spoke, her hands animated. “Whatever’s happening on Promea could be wonderful. We might make an amazing discovery.” She locked eyes with Shelly again. “Or, it could be terrible. The Promeans could be in danger from a technology they do not understand. If that, we must help if we can.”

“If this were an ambassadorial cruiser you’d have the resources to investigate. But we’re just an old, rickety transport and supply ship out of Merrin Two.”

“And for such you have done remarkably well in aiding ThisOne in her investigations, as you call them. You’re a fine captain, Trin. You could command much more than a supply ship if you so wished.”

“I like what I do. Getting people and goods from one planet to another is important. But it sure isn’t what our ancestors thought when they started imagining what it would be like to go into space. It’s long and boring and, after more than a thousand years out here we still don’t have faster than light travel, so it’s always going to be long and boring.”

“Do you remember the stories of your Terran ancestry, stories of Old Earth? There used to be a joke at the beginning of the twenty-first century, back when time was measured that way by some, that the science fiction stories of the previous century had predicted flying cars, and the people who lived in the twenty-first century were disappointed that there were no flying cars.”

“That doesn’t sound like much of a joke.” Captain Shelly moved to her desk, leaned against it. She knew she was going to lose the argument, had lost it already. “What’s it got to do with Promea?”

“They may have flying cars.” Starfox smiled. “ThisOne needs to know.”

Shelly stood again. She and Starfox hugged. They had become friends during the time that Starfox had been aboard the Miranda.

“Okay. Will you need support staff again or will this be a solo mission?”

“ThisOne will take Windwall....”

“Of course.”

“And Engineering Second Officer Roarke.”

“They will be at your disposal for as long as you need, Ambassador.”

“Thank you, Captain.” She turned to go, paused. “If ThisOne may say, you could have not notified her of the anomaly. And, as she was occupied with other matters, she might not have noticed.”

“I do my duty, Ambassador. Just like you.”

* * *

Telum saw the light.

At first he did not believe what he saw. The big red light at the middle of the central panel at his monitor station had never blinked during his shift, had never blinked during the shift of anyone he knew. It was not supposed to blink. Not unless.... Telum could not complete the thought. It was unthinkable. The light had blinked only once before, for six minutes, fifteen years ago, back when the Meching had begun. All machinists had been taught that as part of their basic training.

It had not blinked since.

Now its blinking, pulsing, blinding red filled Telum’s field of vision, filled his mind.

More lights began flashing, more reds. All of them reds. Claxons blared.

Warning? Danger? What was it?

“The lights! The lights are blinking!” Telum screamed and bolted from the room. The other Monitor Room machinists were simply staring, stupefied. None of them had seen this before.

Telum raced down corridor Seven B, turned left onto corridor Six C, cut across Connector A3 to emerge in corridor One A.

Panting, stumbling, muttering about the lights, the young machinist plodded down the corridor, gray boots clomping on gray flooring. He burst through the steel doors of Control Central, stumbled to a halt before Kelvirr, his superior, who was issuing orders to several men around him. It took him a few moments to get Kelvirr’s attention.

“Sir? Please, I must speak with you.”

“What is it? Why have you left your post?”

“Sir. The lights, the lights are flashing?”

“Lights can wait. Don’t you hear those sirens? We’ve got an emergency.”

The light is flashing, Sir. The light. And lots of other lights around it.”

The light, you say? Show me.” Kelvirr, older, wiser, most senior of the Machinists, was calm. There was only one light that could worry him. This couldn’t be that one. Could it? The youth must be mistaken.

“It’s the big light, sir. The red one. That came on first. Then lots of others around it. We’re supposed to report it to the Senior Machinist if it ever activated. Well, it’s blinking.”

“Show me,” Kelvirr repeated.

“Yes, sir.”

Kelvirr marched down the corridors to the Monitor Room, marched at a steady pace, moving in the machine way, in the way he had been taught. Telum marched at his side, trying to will the senior officer to move faster. The march took four times as long as Telum’s run had. As they approached, they could hear bleeps and bleats and buzzes, and as they entered the room they saw that the bleeps and bleats and buzzes corresponded to the flashing lights.

“Do you know what it means, sir?”

Telum asked the question, but Kelvirr could see that question in the eyes and faces of the other technicians.

“The beginning of the end, I fear,” Kelvirr said softly, his worst fears confirmed. “The beginning of the end.”

He turned to go. “I must speak with the Governors. Find Melvot. Tell him he’s in charge until my return.” He looked directly at Telum. “And find some way to turn off that noise.”


Nine hours after first receiving signals of atypical technology from the planet Promea, with the Miranda just a few hours out from that planet, Data Officer Noro briefed Starfox, Shelly, Windwall and Roarke over breakfast in the captain’s office.

“Promeans are humanoid, bipedal, average height and weight comparable to us. And, from all reports peaceful. These reports, however, are from long range observation only. How they will react to outsiders is unknown.”

He consulted a datascreen on the small table around which they were seated. “And they are tan skinned, like the majority of us in the Cluster. Most of our crew could pass for Promeans with little difficulty. Has our albino ambassador considered what to do about her pigmentation?” He grinned at Starfox.

It had become something of a running joke between Noro and Starfox, friendly byplay. He had challenged her in this manner before other missions. Shelly had tried to stop it at first but soon saw that it was harmless fun. Humor was an important concern of space travel. The crew required periodic relief from the tedium of the long voyages. Even the rational minded Noro had found a way to find humor in his work. Briefing the ambassador was something Noro looked forward to, though he privately agreed with his captain that they had undertaken far too many dangerous investigations.

“ThisOne is not a true albino, DatOff Noro. This you know.”

“But you are pale of skin. And it is doubtful that even with make-up you could pass close inspection by a Promean native.”

“A moment, please.” Starfox turned in her chair, away from the group, looked out the small viewport.

The bright stars of the Unisis Cluster sparkled behind the planet Promea. Sparkled most brightly in the area of the window that reflected Starfox’s face. Too brightly, Noro noted. But it was not the stars, he soon realized. It was Starfox. For a few seconds, faint multicolored light radiated from or around her face.

A few more moments passed.


“Yes, Captain?” Starfox fluffed her shoulder length hair with her fingers, once, twice, a theatrical gesture. She turned to face the group again. Her formerly alabaster skin tone now matched that of the amber hued Noro. Exactly.

“ThisOne looks like you now, DatOff Noro. All over. Would you care to see?”

Noro laughed, followed by Shelly. “Ambassador, you never cease to amaze me. I did not know you could do that.”

Windwall and Roarke had been expecting this, and laughed along with the others. Starfox had outlined her own mission plan to them an hour earlier.

“Can all Siasl change skin color?” the captain asked. “Can you?” She looked at her NavOff.

“My skin is already the same general hue as the Promeans,” Windwall replied. “There is no need to change.”

“Typical Siasl response. Answers but evades.” Shelly grinned. “One of these days, Erin, I hope you’ll figure out what other race you’ve got in your ancestry that makes you look like you do and lets you do what you do.”

“ThisOne cannot recall. Perhaps because of the Mentaki. Perhaps she never knew.”

“Still, it’s pretty amazing, some of those things we’ve seen you do.”

“Captain,” put in the DatOff, “we must complete this briefing and prepare the shuttle. Timing with the approaching meteor shower is crucial.”

“Okay. What else?”

“The gravity of Promea is nine point six of....”

* * *

“This is terrible, terrible.” Governor Senior Lubek motioned for Kelvirr to sit. The Machinist had stood before the three members of the Governors Council to give his report. They had reacted as he had anticipated. “What are we to do?”

“Hold on. Wait, think this through.” Palus, at Lubek’s right, took a sip of water from the metal cup on the metal table in front of him. “Are we sure this means what we think it means?”

“It can be nothing else, Palus. I was there when the Meching began. Remember? That’s the machine that started it all.”

“I thought the one with the alien, that one.”

“No. That was the one that created the one around the alien.”

“This is all very confusing, very confusing.” Lubek rubbed his temple with his fat fingers. “Does this mean the machine makers are returning or not?”

“If they are,” said Kelvirr, “it could be the end of everything.”

It could be the end, but it's just the beginning of the Starfox saga. Find out what happens in Erin Starfox, scheduled to be published in April 2013. Available online or at a bookshop near you.

“No God on my lawn”, is a lyric from Longer Boats by Cat Stevens on the Tea for the Tillerman album (1970); one of my favorite albums. I thought it an appropriate title for this piece.

This is a draft of Part One of the story.

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