By Charles Matthias
“I cannot believe we are letting those damn foxes on my ship.”
Captain Belavar’s muttered snarl did not go unnoticed by the stout man standing at his side. A slightly amused smirk graced his heavy-set lips, and his eyes slid slowly to regard the military man. “Nor can I, my good Captain. But we are no longer at war. This is the time for peace. New relations must be built.”
“Well,” Belavar whispered as he watched the massive inner hatch creak open. Beyond lay the small Næeme transport vessel. He had seen a few this close before, but never ones that remained intact this long. Instinct told him to cry out the order to fire. But like all proper military men, he knew how to obey orders.
And right now his orders were to play host to a pair of diplomats, Human and Næeme. “Well, I’d be more comfortable if they were built somewhere else.”
Captain Nidrus Belavar had been in the Earth Alliance Force since he was old enough to enlist. It was a tradition in his family running back seven generations. He was not the first in his family to make the rank of Captain – his great grandfather had been a Colonel back in the days when humanity still thought itself alone in the universe. But he would always be the first to welcome an alien being on board his vessel.
“Captain,” Governor Cornelius Scotus smiled slightly, his pudgy face almost cherubic apart from the careful calculations hidden behind his eyes, “it is traditional for the conquered people to show respect to the conquerors. They have come to you because we won the war. Remember that.”
He took a deep breath and straightened the silver dress uniform he wore one last time. “I remember.” His eyes fixed upon the transport that was now fully visible. Hover fields engaged to draw them safely into the inner loading bay. It was the only suitable place for the Næeme ship to dock within the Yama. The remaining docks were wither too small for the transport, or were filled with their own ships, still armed for war.
The transport was sleek and a royal blue in hue. Like the foxes the Næeme resembled, the ship tapered in the bow like a snout, while its main engines sat atop the stern like two triangular ears. When the ship had passed through the inner hatch, landing gear extended from the base and crunched solidly on the deck. Belavar felt the tremor race up his legs. So to did the squad of men that were standing in two formation lines on either side of the bay. But only the Governor stumbled and with a sharp retort had to right himself.
“Poise, Governor,” Belavar advised, watching the older diplomat straight his bandolier.
“Touché.” Scotus smiled slightly and then lifted his eyes to the boarding ramp that was beginning to lower from the underside of the ship. “Remember now, this is a time for civility. And respect”
“Yes. Though they may have lost the war, they are still a proud people. There is no need to injure that pride. Now put on a welcoming smile.” So speaking, Cornelius Scotus did. It was warm and assuring, full of grandfatherly admiration. He must have practised very hard on it, Belavar mused.
Belavar lifted his eyes to the ship, and saw the first signs of their guests. Two pairs of narrow legs clad in white greaves began their descent. Attached to these legs were red and black tailed torsos adorned in white kilts. The kilts were trimmed with silver, while their tails swayed back and forth to the precise rhythm of their step. And finally, the upper body and head became visible. They wore ceremonial white breastplate over a silver shirt, the cuffs extending to just above their wrists. They carried before them long spears so delicate that they seemed made of ivory.
But their faces were the most strange, for they bore narrow snouts, triangular ears that reclined at the back of their head, and eyes that glimmered in the warm radiance of the loading bay. Belavar had seen a few of these Næeme when they had been captured, and so was prepared for their appearance. The diplomat though must never have seen them in the flesh before, for he drew in his breath quite quickly.
The first two to descend the ramp were merely escorts. Following them down were two distinct individuals. The Næeme could loosely be termed marsupials, as the females had a pouch from which the young would be reared. Thus, it was quite difficult for a Human to tell the difference between the sexes amongst the fox-like aliens. But Belavar knew immediately in his gut that the one on the right was a man, and the one at his left was a woman.
The man was dressed in military uniform like the two guards. His kilt and breastplate were blue, though the shirt and trim were all silver. An emblem of rank adorned the front of his kilt as well as both his shoulders. Belavar had some difficulty keeping straight the titles amongst the Næeme, but the only time he had seen that inverted harp symbol had been in a briefing.
The woman could be described as elegant. She took each step with a refined grace that impressed Belavar on some primal level. She bore a green gown that billowed around her feet like a fan. The high collar framed her neck, while a spider web woven of thin silver rested between her ears. Belavar found himself staring in surprise, and he almost did not notice the second pair of guards that followed after them down that ramp.
“Look alive, Captain,” Scouts whispered under his breath, snapping Belavar from his trance. He smiled once more, as the six Næeme walked between the two lines of Human soldiers towards them. Over the intercom, a processional sounded, full of valedictory brass and a solid bass beat. Its garishness did not appear to upset any of their guests.
The two guards reached within six feet of them before stopping and turning to the side. They faced each other, the spears held vertically an inch off the ground in their hands. So close, Belavar saw the small, black vestigial claws that they still bore.
Between the guards stepped the man and woman. The man’s slit green eyes gravitated towards Belavar. The Captain stood at his tallest and held the welcoming smile upon his face. Strangely though, he saw no animosity in those eyes, but much pride.
The woman’s eyes were a vibrant blue, and she regarded them both quickly, but made no move to connect with either of them. Instead, she seemed to be waiting for something. Belavar wondered whether he was expected to speak.
It was his opposite that spoke first though. His tones were rough, and he rolled his r’s as he made his longer tongue work, but he still spoke Terran. “On behalf of the Næeme Federation, I seek permission to come aboard. I am Quængia Vissarion a Skripka, commander of Federation Forces in this system. I am honoured to present Træbuna Saleen of the House Bythnia.” Here, he gestured with and open hand towards the woman at his side.
At last, her eyes settled on Belavar first, and then upon Scotus. “I welcome you and all Humans to Hæstaria. After today, this system will be under Earth Alliance jurisdiction. For today, we will both share in calling him home.”
Governor Scotus bowed his head forward a short distance. “I am Governor Cornelius Scotus, and on behalf of the Earth Alliance, I offer both my gratitude, and my respect. This is Captain Nidrus Belavar, commander of the Yama.”
Although the words burned his tongue, he knew this part of the protocol at least. “I welcome you both aboard the Yama.”
“Our gratitude is yours, Captain Nidrus,” Saleen replied, her blue eyes finding his. The Næeme eye was different from a Human’s in that the cornea was not readily visible. Instead, the iris filled the entire view, except for the slit black pupil in the centre. Belavar had surmised this would give them less expressive capability. He was wrong.
“It is our pleasure to host you this day, Træbuna,” Scotus’s smile was so wide it nearly split his face in half. “If you will follow us, we have a conference chamber already prepared for us to discuss matters in Hæstaria.”
So that they could tell the Humans what to expect when they took over the system, Belavar translated to himself. He knew some of the affairs in the system already, but only because he’d spent the last five years of his life making forays and attacking the Næeme defences on many of the outer planets. Of the two life-giving planets closer to the star, he knew only that they were populated by indigenous races currently at war with each other. Humans had not won Hæstaria, the Næeme had gladly given it away.
“I would be pleased to accompany you, Governor,” Saleen said, her muzzle dipping an inch, her blue eyes gazing full into the diplomat’s face. “We have much to discuss.”
Scouts gestured with one hand towards the small hover craft emblazoned with Earth Alliance insignia, as well as the name Yama. “This vehicle will convey us in comfort to the conference chamber. If you would join me up front.”
Saleen wagged her tail once in reply, and then glided on soft paws towards the cushioned sets. No allowances were made for her tail, but she nevertheless slipped into foremost seat without discomfort. Scotus followed her and sat next to her. Belavar nodded to Vissarion who regarded him with cool green eyes. The two military men took the seats behind the diplomats, while the four Næeme guards and all the human soldiers remained behind.
The hovercraft was small and narrow to allow it passage through Yama’s corridors. It was also programmed to follow a fixed course, so there was no need for a driver. Six humans could sit comfortably, but the Næeme were longer in leg on average than Humans and so Vissarion looked a bit uncomfortable as he bent his knees up against the seat before him. His kilt thankfully maintained its shape, as Belavar had no interest in being offered a chance to discover firsthand if the rumours about the foxes sexual equipment were true or not.
Belavar was content to sit in silence as they glided along the ship’s passages. The crew that they passed all snapped to attention and stood at the sides of the corridor, eyes fixed on some imaginary point far above their heads. Their faces were blank, which was good. They knew how to take orders as well.
“If you will pardon me,” Vissarion said, his voice halting, almost hopeful, “but I consider it a great honour to meet you face to face at last, Captain Nidrus. You have been a cagey and worthy opponent these many years.”
Belavar was surprised by this, and nodded his head, looking over the Næeme once more. Though the hardness he had come to expect in his fellow commanders was there limning the alien’s green eyes, there was also something warm too. His black ears stood erect, the red fur of his face bright. A half smile seemed to play at the edges of his muzzle.
Though they had been enemies, Belavar suddenly felt nothing but respect for this alien. They were both consummate soldiers and leaders of their people. “Thank you, Quængia Vissarion. You have frustrated my plans for this system for many years.”
“But not forever,” Vissarion replied, a bit of distance in his voice. “I am glad it is you who will work to restore peace to Hæstaria. I would have no other do it.”
Belavar felt quite uncomfortable. He was not sure how he was supposed to react to this magnanimous gesture. Was it all a ruse, or a thinly veiled insult? He doubted it, as this Næeme was a commoner by birth and a soldier by profession – he had no House whose honour he needed to defend. Only his father’s name did he carry with him, a reminder of where he had come from.
No, what Belavar was seeing was genuine admiration, and from his one time adversary, he was not sure how he should take it.
“Thank you again. I do hope that you have your own well-earned duties to attend.”
Vissarion cast a veiled glance to Saleen who was conversing in soft tones with Governor Scotus. “There are other worlds in this vast universe that I can defend. I do hope that your Alliance will allow Næeme to return to visit this place. I have made many acquaintances amongst the indigenous peoples that I do not wish to lose forever.”
Belavar shrugged, and felt some measure of relief at seeing the double doors to the conference chamber ahead of them. The hover craft began to slow. “I cannot say what will happen, Quængia. But we will all do as we are ordered. We are soldiers.”
“True.” And at that, the pride filled his fox-like face again.
The hover craft came to a slow measured stop a short distance from the double doors. They opened inward even as Governor Scotus climbed out of his seat. “The room has been arranged according to your wishes, Træbuna. You will find everything you requested.”
Saleen nodded her head slightly, ears erect and facing forward. ‘That is good. Thank you, Governor.” Saleen climbed from her seat with the same grace in which she took it. Belavar could not help but notice the way that Vissarion’s eyes followed the sway of the female’s tail. He idly wondered how the Næeme courted one another, but quickly put such distractions behind him. This conference was as much for him as it was for the Governor. Scotus may have to govern Hæstaria, but it would be Captain Belavar who maintained the peace.
Yama’s conference chamber was lined with wall screens on three sides, and at present they displayed forest and mountains that were, according to the registry, from Earth itself. A diamond shaped table sat in the middle of the room with a holographic projector in its centre. The table could be expanded by adding leaves to any of the four sides, but for this meeting, all of them had been removed. There were four chairs around the table, two of which were modified for the aliens. The backs were sloped forward to accommodate their posture, while the seats were more triangular so that they framed the legs and tail.
Saleen and Vissarion wasted no time in taking their places about the table. “Is there anything I can interest you in at this time, Træbuna? A libation perhaps? Some small morsel?” Cornelius Scotus was, if anything, a polite host aboard Belavar’s ship.
“No, but thank you,” Saleen replied, a pleasant churr underlying her words. “Would you join us, Governor? I would like to begin.”
Belavar took his seat promptly, feeling a sudden urgency in her words. Scotus made one last diplomatic remark before taking his seat, and then he touched the central button on the console before him. The holographic projectors sprang to life, and immediately a display of seven planets orbiting a yellow star came into view above the table.
Saleen craned her muzzle up to the image and waved one hand as if she herself were springing the cosmos into being. “Hæstaria, our name for this system of planets. The sun, Hæstar, and its seven planets. One circles too close to the sun and is a scorched barren rock. Four are gas giants composed primarily of hydrogen and helium and a few trace gasses. Mining operations have begun on the second, Diæspar, but to date, only a small quantity of useful materials have been extracted. Of the satellites for each planet, a few show promise of interesting minerals, but no operations have yet begun.
“This brings us to the two remaining planets in the system.” Saleen waved her hand once again, and the image zoomed in towards two planets of roughly the same size, though one was noticeably larger. Both were fertile, with large patches of blue and green beneath widespread clouds. And the most remarkable aspect of them, one that Belavar himself had marvelled at in the many long years they had struggled to take this system from the Næeme, was that they orbited each other in their journey around the star.
“Hæstaria and his little brother, Cæraria. We have been intrigued by these planets ever since we arrived in this system many years ago. As to the origin of these worlds, we have only theories. Some suggest that Cæraria was a rogue planet caught in Hæstar’s gravitational field. Others believe that an asteroid split a larger planet into two. There is evidence for each theory, but not enough to be truly certain. Some core samples taken on both worlds suggest that the mineral compositions in each are different, as certain elements appear with greater frequency on Hæstaria than they do on Cæraria, and vice versa. Iridium appears in large quantities on Cæraria for instance, a very common element in asteroids. This fact alone complicates matters because it could explain both theories at once.”
Saleen waved her hand once more and the picture changed again, showing the two worlds rotating about each other as they both revolved around the star. “Although both planets are of sufficient mass to exert tidal influences upon each other, it is Cæraria that receives the brunt of these forces. He is prone to earthquakes and tidal waves, so much so that we believe it would have been impossible for most animal life to have evolved. Yet there is life on both worlds. What is more remarkable is that both worlds bear sentient races. To our surprise, we discovered shortly after arriving in this system, that it was the same race.”
Belavar had known that both worlds were inhabited, but this was the first he had heard about the races. They were the same? His mind tried to ponder what that could mean, but nothing came to him.
“Again, we have many theories as to how this could have happened. There are primarily two lines of thought amongst my people. First, what we are certain of is that life first sprang up on Hæstaria. There is a much larger variety of organisms on that planet, and what of the fossil record we have been able to map on both worlds suggests that life on Hæstaria is far older. We have only been able to do a preliminary analysis on the fossil record, so our data is incomplete.
“Secondly, we know that at some point in time, organisms from Hæstaria were transplanted to Cæraria. Although there are fauna that exist on Cæraria that cannot be found on his older brother, many animals and plants that have taken root there have counterparts still on Hæstaria. So we believe there are two possibilities. Either another space faring race deliberately moved creatures from one planet to the other, or in the past, the indigenous people were more technologically advanced and transplanted themselves. There is evidence that they have gone through many periods of discovery followed by destruction, but in none of their recorded histories is there any indication that they once flew into space.”
Scotus narrowed his eyes. “Have you found any evidence to suggest that they could have possessed that capability?”
“We believe it is possible,” Saleen said, lowering her blue eyes to study the Governor. “We have not been able to find proof.”
“When did this transplant take place?” Belavar asked, and was surprised at himself for doing so.
Saleen and Vissarion both turned to look at him. He sat perfectly straight under their scrutiny. “We do not know, but we believe it had to be perhaps as long as half a million years ago.”
“So short a time?” Scotus asked in surprise. “Would not Cæraria’s fossil record be nearly nonexistent?”
“We have not had much time to study it,” Saleen pointed out. “Shortly after our arrival in this system, we had become preoccupied with other affairs.” If Scotus felt the barb, he did not show it. “Now, allow me to tell you of the two races and cultures that have developed on these brother worlds.”
Scotus gestured for her to continue, and soon the image changed to what were obviously representatives of the two people. At first glance, they appeared rather canine, with digitigrade legs, long tails, and thick dusty fur covering their hides. But when Belavar studied their faces, he was reminded of a boar judging by the way their snout turned upwards. There was intelligence in the eyes though, eyes that were more human than animal, as the corneas were clearly visible.
The two figures were dressed quite differently though. The figure on the left was clothed in several layers of cloth, obscuring nearly every part of his body. The second was clad in loose fitting garments that exposed the flesh. There were also subtle differences that Belavar could make out when seeing them side by side. The tails on the second were much shorter, though their claws and fangs were more pronounced.
“These here, the natives of Hæstaria, are the Shan,” Saleen said, gesturing the more clothed of the two. “Over the course of their history, many cultures have risen up and fallen. At present, they are a very religious but industrious people. When we arrived, they were already on the rise technologically, and had already learned how to fly.
“Hæstaria is a world full of abundant life. The Shan are graced with very long lifespans, and so have developed complicated traditions and rituals for nearly every aspect of their life. For instance, personal territory is considered sacred amongst them, and it s a grave offence to even touch them without first being invited to do so. Nevertheless, the Shan were welcoming of us when we arrived, and were heartened to hear of their brothers living upon Cæraria.”
Saleen lifted her hand towards the other figure. “Calling themselves the Phitt, these lost sons of Hæstaria have had to endure a harsher climate. Although genetically they are the same species, the Shan and the Phitt express different dominant characteristics. You can see that the claws of the Phitt are longer and deadlier, for it is a necessity on Cæraria. The tidal forces are so great that except for inland communities, farming is not even possible.
“They have struggled to build civilizations that have stood for more than a few generations. When we arrived in this system only ten years ago, their culture was on the rise. Infrastructure in the centre of their landmasses where the effects of earthquakes and the extreme tidal forces was least evident had reached a point that they could support the outlying communities. They have had steam power for a generation now, and had begun early experiments in flight.”
A small smile crossed Saleen’s muzzle. “The Phitt are a very competitive people, as their environment forces them to be. They learn very quickly, and their lifespan is nearly as long as the Shan. When we first introduced ourselves to them, they welcomed us and quickly mastered the many bit of science and engineering we taught them. Before we introduced them to the Shan, they were already making polymers.”
“So,” Scouts mused thoughtfully, leaning back in his seat. “We have two very different people that are nevertheless the same race. Have you never had conflicts on your own worlds between different cultures?”
Vissarion bristled visibly then, his ears lifting upright in alarm. “Our people have not misjudged Hæstaria. It was not our fault that this war came to pass.”
Saleen held out one hand to still the soldier’s injured pride. Belavar kept his lips pressed tightly together. It pleased him to see the Næeme agitated, but he could not help but identify with his fellow commander. A quick glance showed him that Scotus was frowning. “My apologies, Quængia Vissarion a Skripka. I never meant to suggest that this was your fault. Tell me, what happened to lock these two planets in war?”
“For a period of a year we were in contact with both the Shan and the Phitt before we revealed their existence to each other.” Saleen lowered her hands to the table, letting the image of the two people remain fixed in the air. “We studied their rituals and traditions so that when we did bring them both together, we might be able to unite them. We intended to study them at greater length in fact first, but war was coming to Hæstaria, and you will understand that we had hoped both these people would join us in repelling your forces. It was our haste that has brought this war upon them.”
Saleen said nothing more then, her face lost in thought. Belavar could not help but feel irked that she would try to lay the blame for this war upon Humans. But then again, it was the Alliance’s problem now, and he could almost hear Scotus telling him that he had to learn as much as he could first before bracing either the Shan or the Phitt. And so he asked, “What happened?”
“We arranged a meeting aboard one of our ships. It was stationed between both worlds, and the event was broadcast so that the leaders amongst both the Shan and the Phitt could watch. As their representative, the Shan sent their most beloved cleric, a man of advanced years that yet held a vitality that they regarded a blessing of the gods. The Phitt selected an elder of their people who had won favour both amongst the inland communities, and in his native outlying home. We made sure that both were aware of as much of each other’s culture as possible, and then, we introduced them to each other.”
Again Saleen paused, her eyes lost in thought. Belavar began to wonder whether this Næeme had not been there when this meeting had taken place. He realized with some chagrin that he was leaning forward in his seat like a little boy around a campfire.
“The Shan spread wide his arms in a gesture of welcome and greeting. It was not an invitation to touch him, but the Phitt saw it as such. What was worse was that the Phitt understood the gesture in a very different context, one we were to learn of only an hour too late. For to a Phitt, when two men of the same station face each other, and one spreads wide his arms, it is considered a challenge of ritual combat. For the Phitt have long had to hone their fighting prowess in order to survive along the jagged coasts of Cæraria.”
And then, Belavar turned his head to look at Scotus who had placed one hand over his mouth to stifle a sudden burst of laughter. “Forgive me, Træbuna,” Scotus said, a smile still writ upon his face as he fought back the laughter. Even Vissarion was gaping at the governor. “It is only mild tremor, and old illness I contend with from time to time.”
Saleen lowered her head for a moment to allow Scotus to recover his breath. Scotus gave Belavar a meaningful glance, as if asking him some question. Belavar was not sure what he might be asked, and so turned back to the Næeme. He was suddenly quite eager to have these two leave, for he felt very uncomfortable, though he couldn’t say why.
“And so, after the debacle that was the meeting, the Shan declared war on the Phitt for the insult done to their leader, and the Phitt declared war on the Shan for the way the Shan’s leader had disgraced their own. We gave them the technology to reach each other’s worlds, and they have been destroying each other for the last eight years with no end in sight.” Both Saleen and Vissarion lowered their heads and ears. Even their tails drooped in a gesture that even Belavar knew to be shame. “And that is the reason for this conflict.”
Scotus took a deep breath, and with a strangely subtle grin upon his lips said, “So, in other words, the Phitt hit the Shan.”
End Conflict's Reason
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