TALES FROM THE THIRD MOON
Somewhere In Space
When Federation Day approached in the Federated Worlds of the Two Galaxies, beings were apt to go silly. Large or small, high or low, didn’t matter: silly was what they went. Given that on a goodly proportion of worlds Federation Day also coincided with the approach of spring, some went even sillier.
“What?” groaned Captain Smt Wong, as the comm-blob ceased relaying a very, very, very silly communication. It began relaying it again but shut up under the scorching Vvlvanian mind-fire of its Captain’s mind-message. “Yeah,” said the Captain through her pearly mammalian teeth. “–BrTl! Get in here!”
First Officer! To the bridge! At the DOUBLE! she sent.
Her xathpyroid First Officer lumbered in, at the double. Fortunately the ship was pretty well solid xrillion, built to take it. Also fortunately there was nothing moveable on the bridge to be moved by the wind, make that gale, of his passing. Well, except her, but the ship wasn’t foolish enough to let that happen.
“Yes, sir?” he panted.
“I won’t ask what in Federation you were doing when you were supposed to be on duty, because in the first place I can see that,” said his Captain viciously through her pearly mammalian teeth.—Lieutenant-Pilot BrTl cringed, but nodded meekly: she wouldn’t be a Pilot worth her n’nk salt if she wasn’t able to see that, and a lot more.—“And in the second place I don’t want to hear any more mok shit about your bunions. I will say, Slack off when you’re on duty again and you’ll be OFF THIS SHIP! –I mean it, BrTl.”
He could see that. He couldn’t read her nearly as well as she could read him—well, one reason why she was the Captain and he was only the First Officer—but he wasn’t that bad: he could read that much. “Yes, sir,” he agreed glumly. He waited but she didn’t volunteer anything. He couldn’t read what it was but he could see it was something not good. So he ventured: “Um, something wrong, sir?”
“Yeah, and for Federation’s sake siddown and stop sirring me, BrTl!”
Thankfully he sank into the co-pilot’s seat. “What?”
“I've been called up,” she said, taking a deep breath, “for a spot of Wavey-Spacey duty.”
“Eh?” he croaked. Given her Service record, this hadn’t seemed to him something that was likely to happen. Not in the next megazillion years, anyway. Though of course she was Space Fleet Reserve—well, so was he, most qualified Pilots were.“Yeah.” –Relay it, she ordered the comm-blob.
Obediently it relayed it.
BrTl choked. “You?” After quite some time he managed to say: “Look, Jhl, don’t get me wrong, but did a certain Whtyllian being last seen in sparf-covered Fleet Commander’s dress uniform bawling out a raft of lesser beings wangle this?”
Jhl’s lips tightened. “It’s not apparent. But my guess’d be, Yes.”
“I can’t think of any other reason. I mean, you? Seconded to some Diplo mok shit on a primmo world that’s due to come into the Federation on Federation Day? –Must be a rich primmo, if they’ve allocated it the actual F-Day as its F-Day,” he noted by the by.
“Something like that, yeah. Anyway, there’ll be rafts of Federation Reppos and stupid play-beings and Space Fleet top sparf there, and there’s no way in the two galaxies I can get out of it,” she said grimly.
BrTl thought it over. “Short of a trip to a Mullgon’yan nursing-home, no. And there’s no guarantee they’d let you go, once they had you.”
“Quite. Added to which, there aren’t sufficient igs in the ship’s account, as you might realise if you ever did anything unrelated to bunions or eating, to pay the fees.”
“I do know that, actually,” he said with dignity.
Then there was a short, glum pause.
“Will he be there?” he ventured.
“Whadda you think? Diplomatic receptions crowded with qwlot-soaked diplos and play-beings with time on their appendages and megarafts of super-igs in their accounts that they can’t wait to chuck away on games of whim-wham that they can’t play to save their pathetic existences, plasmo-blasted spring dances crammed with lady-beings from all over the two galaxies, all telling him how wonderful he is, troop reviews in sparf-covered Number Ones, fly-pasts of entire squadrons at a time—he’ll be there in quintupled 5-D triangles! And if he thinks he’s gonna talk me into anything, he’s out of his vacuum-frozen Whtyllian mind!”
BrTl was a male-tended xathpyroid cognate, and mammalian reproduction was a closed dendrion nut to him. Though he was quite aware that it was that sort of stuff that was causing his Captain—well, not all the trouble, that had mainly been before he knew her—but a large part of the trouble, where that precise vacuum-frozen Whtyllian being was concerned. He didn’t understand how a being could both loathe and love another being, but that was pretty much what his Captain felt for that particular vacuum-frozen humanoid Fleet Commander. It wasn’t just the rolling round on beds and flop couches stuff that was in question: many beings throughout the two galaxies did that sort of stuff and Jhl had certainly done it with many beings without ever letting it get to her. No, it was the plasmo-blasted silly idea that this particular Fleet Commander had got into his vacuum-frozen Whtyllian head that Captain Jhl Smt Wong might like to chuck in her reasonably successful and certainly interesting job as a merchant trader captain and go and live in his plasmo-blasted nirvana garden on Playfair Two! A planet so exclusive that beings such as BrTl and Jhl normally just dropped off a delivery at the back door of its Orbiting Freight Station and crept away again.
“So, um, if you see him, will you do that repro stuff with him?” he fumbled.
“Possibly,” she said tiredly. “The repro stuff itself is okay,”—BrTl nodded, he could see that—“but it’s the lordship-type demands that follow it that I’ve had an intergalactic bucketful of.”
He’d got that much right, then. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Talking of buckets—”
“No. You know plasmo-blasted-well what a bucket of nymbo cheese’ll do to your sugar levels, BrTl. Not on the ship, thanks.”
“But the ship’s restrainos will—”
No, they won’t, responded the ship.
“Right, that’s another good idea down the recycler,” he grumbled.
Jhl just waited.
Eventually he produced: “Well, how long is it gonna be for? And what are me and Trff gonna do while you’re seconded?”
“A couple of IG months,” she said sourly.
“What?” he croaked.
“Yeah.” –STRAPS! she sent.
BrTl’s straps closed round him, welding him to his seat, and simultaneously Jhl shot the ship into hyper-hop.
“What was that?” he gasped.
Jhl’s mammalian cheeks were very pale, but her hands were steady enough. And her mind was very firmly in control of the ship’s blobs. “It was some Vvlvanian-cursed play-being blasting out of hyperspace into the precise co-ordinates we were occupying at the precise IG microsecond.”
“What?” he gasped. “I thought that was impossible!”
“Theoretically, yeah. You have to be a cursed bad pilot to accomplish it.”
“Yeah,” he said numbly. “Did you catch what it was?”
“A very drunk Huyajhangwanian hypered up on snuhl, taking its brand-new ship for a lovely spring jaunt into hyperspace,” she said grimly. “It is spring on Huyajhangwania, and by the feel of it the whole planet’s drunk. –Some sort of spring festival, BrTl. It’ll go on until well after Federation Day.”
“Yes,” he said numbly. “We have those festivals at home, though it isn’t spring there now. And no xathpyroid cognate could fly a ship that badly.”
“Well—uh—” BrTl found he was trembling slightly: just as well the straps were round him. “Guh-go back and blast the being to the Third Galaxy?” he croaked.
“I can’t,” she said tightly. “That hop pretty well drained the blobs.”
After a moment the ship sent, very weakly indeed: Yes, it did. Thank you, Captain.
“Yeah: thanks, Captain,” he croaked.
“My pleasure,” she said tightly, feeling the blobs. BrTl was respectfully silent. After a moment she said: “We’re gonna have to float.” As she spoke the drive shut down.
“And I’m afraid the grav will have to go off.”
He gulped again, though it hadn't happened yet.
Trff! she sent. “Oh, there you are, Chief Engineer,” she said as it bobbed in.
“Yes, sir. That was a hypered-up Huyajhangwanian being in a ship it didn't know how to control,” it reported. “Thank you-it, Captain.”
“Thank you, Chief Engineer,” replied Jhl formally. “Never knew the blobs could do it.”
There was a discernible pause; then it admitted: “They almost couldn’t.”
“Yeah. Grab onto something, Trff, I’m gonna shut down the—” It had already coiled a tentacle round one of BrTl’s shins. Practical, given that it scarcely reached to his knee. Grav OFF! she sent.
After a moment they all floated gently away from the surfaces on which they’d been sitting or standing—though only to the limits of their straps, in the cases of Jhl and BrTl.
“I’ve never actually done this in space,” said BrTl thoughtfully, “since I was at the Academy.”
“I’ve done it once,” she admitted. “On his vacuum-frozen Seeker. Don’t think there’s another captain in Space Fleet that makes its crew perform that drill. I’ll say this for him, curse his vacuum-frozen Whtyllian heart, he’s a cursed good commander.”
“Yeah.” He shot out a kindly pseudopod, since Trff’s tentacle didn’t seem to be helping it to float back to anything like its former position, and reeled in it in.
“Thanks!” it hooted, dusting off its fluff a little. “That Whtyllian being’s heart was all right last time it looked,” it noted.
“Figuratively speaking, Trff,” said its Captain calmly.
“Oh! Of course.” After a moment it admitted: “It’s a bit tired after that sudden hop.”
They could see she was working out co-ordinates and vectors: they waited respectfully.
“Yes,” she said at last. “I’m sorry about this. We’ve got to get me to Ddiamphorer VI to join the diplomatic mission that’s heading for Btcx, that’s the world that’s about to come into the Federation.”
“Yes,” agreed Trff, though no being had verbally communicated the fact of Jhl’s call-up to it. “Rich deposits of hng, diamonds and weevon, and a climate suited to the cultivation of senso-orchids, poys, glerrollis, and many other tropical fruits and flowers prized by c-based beings throughout the two galaxies.”
“There you are, then,” admitted BrTl. “Oy: hang on,” he said slowly.
“Yeah,” agreed his Captain: “The third moon of Pkqwrd is the nearest place to Ddiamphorer VI offering anything like R&R, not to mention refit shops, but as we haven’t got the igs to pay for a refit job, we won’t be calling in for that.”
“Oh, good,” he said, sagging, as much as the null-grav would allow of the gesture.
Her crew was silent.
Jhl sighed. “Trff, what conditions would you need, to be able to get the blobs into working order again?”
“None. They are in working order. They’ll get us to Ddiamphorer VI.”
“Yes. After that,” she said calmly.
“There would be a short period during which it wouldn’t need working conditions. Then it would need it-being working conditions, Jhl. You-it would have to be on Ddiamphorer VI or with the mission on Btcx, or anywhere else in the Known Universe that wasn’t on the ship or didn’t require any assistance from the ship’s blobs or from the Trff—”
“It is tired,” noted BrTl. “It isn’t usually quite this bad.”
“Shut up, BrTl,” she said heavily. “Go on, Trff.”
“And BrTl would need to be off the ship and anywhere in the Known Universe that wasn’t on the ship or didn’t require any assistance from the ship’s blobs or from it, too. Then it could use its FW pack for its life-support functions and keep the ship’s blobs in stasis until they recovered.”
“I've never heard that about blobs,” admitted BrTl.
“No, well, nor’ve I,” said his Captain, “but that’s one good reason for having a Ju’ukrterian it-being as Chief Engineer, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Another one is that you-it’s our good old Trff, of course!” he assured it.
“It knows,” it said vaguely.
“Uh, this is gonna work, is it?” he croaked.
“No being can know that, BrTl,” it replied literally.
“Probabilities,” said Jhl laconically, directing a minatory thought or two in BrTl’s direction.
Happily Trff gave them the maths. Any other being in the Known Universe would have described it as a sure thing, so BrTl cheered up immediately.
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you can have a bucket of nymbo cheese,” said Jhl drily.
“No, or anything else that’s not space rations. In fact, if you-it could manage to skip meals until we reach Ddiamphorer VI, the blobs would be grateful.”
BrTl waited but the ship didn’t agree, or respond at all. He quailed. “Yes,” he croaked. “I won’t eat anything, I promise!”
“I’ll monitor you,” promised his Captain cheerfully, “but expect to suffer!”
“Yeah,” he muttered. He could see she was making up her mind to skip meals, too, but he didn’t remark on it.
“The ship barely notices the amount a humanoid eats, Jhl,” Trff assured her kindly.
Jhl’s cheeks went very red. “Nevertheless,” she said shortly. “Let’s see: get on over to the third moon of Pkqwrd, drop BrTl off,”—BrTl shut his eyes in anticipated agony—“on to Ddiamphorer VI, drop me off, then you take the ship somewhere quiet and re-blob the blobs, Trff, okay?”
“Not precisely ‘re-blob,’ Jhl,” it murmured. It held up an antenna. “It’s computing the relative weight and consumption of the BrTl.”—BrTl opened his eyes indignantly, he’d never been a “the” before!—“Oh, yes: you-it’s right, Jhl, it would be much better to drop him-it off at the third moon of Pkqwrd first. –It’s the intergalactic dump to end all dumps: you-it’ll hate it,” it told him kindly.
“The BrTl knows that, Trff,” he said coldly.
“Oops!” it replied jauntily.
BrTl could see it was looking forward to its plasmo-blasted re-blobbing or stasis-resting or whatever it was gonna do. He swallowed a sigh. “So what do I do next?”
Unfortunately it replied literally: “Just relax and go to sleep. That’ll draw less power from the blobs.”
“Yeah. Go on,” said his Captain drily. “That’s an order.”—She was setting the co-ordinates. Drive ON! The drive came on.—“An order, BrTl.”—Go!
Glumly BrTl shut his eyes, as the ship limped off to the third moon of Pkqwrd…