The Gargle’s interior was anything but interesting. The heavily modified MK-3 had stretched the Ark’s already swindling budgets some year’s before, but it was worth every credit. The ship was fast and had room to spare, even with the additional personnel modules they had installed. Best of all was the P52 that stood in front of her. It was a sleek piece of machinery; its intimidating lines a visual calling card for danger. Of course, officially she had no training to fly such a fighter ship, and therefore she did not have the clearance codes. Only an emergency would unlock the controls, and however much she wanted to fly, she did not need that kind of an event. She liked being in the hangar. Somehow it made her feel at peace, and not only because she could be alone here.
The last days had been crazy.
The rescheduling of the meeting caught everyone unprepared, as she suspected its intended meaning was. She had barely finished her medical scans, but everything was alright. That was if she did not count the suddenly appearing images and sounds. She looked normal. She wasn’t sure she felt normal. The crate still stood in her office. Resealed and locked. Nobody cared about a crate at the moment. Aish seemed to have completely forgotten about it.
An alarm indicated that it was fifteen minutes until dinner.
Out of habit she checked the ship’s flightlogs. They were well on their way to the Orion System, their intended meeting place. When the Vanduul had transmitted the name, it had caused some concern with the high brasses. The Orion System was once a part of the UEE, right up to the point where the colony on Orion III was crushed by Vanduul raiders. The effects of the anti-matter bombs could still be seen from space at times. Huge storms that wandered the continents like nightmares come to life. It was a remote system, as seen from humans’ eyes, but perhaps not so much from the Vanduul’s. There were theorized to be at least two unchartered jump points in the system, supposedly one of them leading into Vanduul space, whatever that meant. She stood up and grabbed her now cold cup of coffee.
Most of the crew was already seated when she arrived, but not Aish.
The captain was there as well, which meant he had something to say. Donald was a nice enough guy, but he was one of those who thought that work should be devoid of anything “not related to the mission”. Either he was afraid of mistakes to the point of being paranoid, or he actually preferred being anti-social. She sat down on a chair, one which she knew was usually occupied by Kerrick, who also wasn’t there. The captain rose, gave a look to Ambassador Rijeken, which nodded.
“We will be reaching the Orion System tomorrow. Our rendezvous point will be just outside of Orion 3. After some discussion we have decided that the Navy escort will wait back in orbit while we conduct our business,” the captain said.
Heads turned, eyebrows raised and looks were exchanged. The ambassador lifted his arm.
“I know what you are thinking, but don’t be worried. We will be well within the Navy’s reach,” the ambassador said.
Ann Sarandon still held her fork with some food on it. She was an expert in xeno-biology, but for some reason very anxious about any alien sentient life form.
“Because from a military tactical viewpoint, it makes little difference, but from a symbolic point of perspective, it makes quite a lot of difference.”
“I love it!” Aish walked in and sat down next to Emma. “If it were up to me, we should ditch the escort completely.”
The ambassador smiled strained, looking unsure if he really wanted Aish support.
“Yes, we all know your view on the matter,” Ann said.
“Why do this in space?” Pablo asked.
He was their technology expert, famous for his reverse-engineering skills. The captain and the ambassador exchanged a look.
“They do not wish to land on Orion III. They prefer giving us the cargo in space,” the ambassador said.
The word cargo got everyone’s attention.
“And have they said anything about what the cargo is?” Pablo asked.
“No,” the ambassador said. “Except that it relates to our history.”
“You mean their history?” Ann asked.
“No, they wrote our history,” the ambassador said.
“What was their exact wording?” Aish asked.
The ambassador gave some input to his Glas.
“Something something, as related to our history.”
“No, I need the wording in Vanduul,” Aish said.
The ambassador seemed to think about it and then nodded.
“I’ve made it available to you.”
Aish checked her Glas immediately.
“They wrote our, but they used the word Hvrkr’ista. Was this an automated translation?”
“I don’t know, I would assume not,” the ambassador said. “Hvrkr’ista does mean history. I checked.”
“It does, but it also has a different meaning. The closest translation would be something like timeline. It represents history as the link to today and where the future will go.”
“I assume you are sure about this,” the ambassador said.
“Of course,” Aish said and reached over for an apple from the table.
“Thank you, Ms Banerjee. I think I would like us to review the rest of the original message.”
“Sure, just tell me when,” Aish said.
The ambassador got up and smiled.
“That would be now, Ms Banerjee.”
Aish almost jumped up. They left for the Ambassador’s quarters, leaving the rest of the table in their own thoughts. After a little while the captain got up and left as well, giving only a small nod. Emma looked at the crew. They were all experts in their fields, but even though this was the biggest thing in the Ark’s latest history, they really were a gloomy bunch at the moment.
“Anyone else thinking what I’m thinking?”
Carl was their geologist, slash astrophysicist.
“Probably not”, Ann said.
“I do,” Pablo said. “This whole thing seems strange. If they didn’t get a translation right, what else have they missed out on?”
“Exactly,” Carl said.
“Oh come on, guys, relax,” Sasha said. “It’s not a big deal. And judging from the other translation, I’d say it could be a positive change.”
Carl raiser his voice just a little bit.
“So, let’s go through all of this. We are meeting the Vanduul. In the Orion System. In space, with the Navy parked comfortably at a distance. And they are giving us crates, contents unknown, which may relate to our past, present and/or future. Not a big deal? Give me a fucking break.”
No one had any reply to that.
Emma would have shut him down, had she not known what she did. All in all, what he had mentioned wasn’t a big deal. Add the information from Josh and she honestly didn’t know what to think. She ate her food in silence, then excused herself and went back to the hangar.
She placed the gravity weights around her arms and legs and started her routine. Soon her body glistened with sweat. Her body had not yet reached the stage she referred to as second gear. When she left the service, they had removed about half of the augmentations. She had none of the lethal ones left, but all of the motoric augmentations were still there, lying dormant. She ran a check on them through her Glas. She hadn’t activated them in a long time. They were all military grade, and just a 10 % activation rate would be enough for anyone who knew what to look for to recognize it for what it was. Officially they had said that it was pointless to remove it, since it had bonded with her muscles and neurons. That might be true, but that didn’t explain why they hadn’t locked it down.
She did the last round of burpees, regained her breath and settled into the opening form of Tai Chi.
Tomorrow they were meeting the Vanduuls.
In space, waste and endless.
She was pretty certain that it would still feel cramped as hell.
How the hell was she going to make any kind of exchange?