The ambassador looked uncomfortable in his formal wear. The thin robe woven by natural spider silk in black and blue was supposed to be amongst the lightest fabric to wear, yet it looked like it weighted a ton on his shoulder. They had received the message three hours ago, and they were ready for departure. The Vanduuls had said that the exchange would happen on the Vraka’lim, which loosely translated to Home ship. They had set no limit on how many could come, and therefore the whole team was standing and sitting around in the hangar. They were to be picked up by the Vanduuls, something that did not further lighten the mood of some.
Emma was sitting bent, leaning on her knees, toying with her Glas.
She could still feel something in her throat, but other than that she was almost thrilled. Every sense felt sharpened, her mind focused. With the feelings came memories from her training, familiar faces, episodes that made her smile just thinking about them. She had never denied missing it, but perhaps she had pretended to miss it less than what she really did. This wasn’t her first real mission. The last year of training involved only real missions. Somehow it still felt like her first mission. Certainly there was no safety net this time.
The captain got a message and nodded to the ambassador.
“They are here,” he said.
The docking sounds reverberated throughout the ship. They had agreed on a mutual compatible atmosphere, which would at worst be annoying for the humans if they were exposed for a long time. They weren’t visible on anyone, but every one of them carried a small breather on their body.
“Ok, everyone, take your positions,” the ambassador said.
Emma was pretty sure that the ambassador was the only who didn’t feel out of place in a procession.
The airlock opened.
A lone Vanduul came through, bending down to fit through. Emma would have sworn that the ambassador held his breath for a moment. To the untrained eye, the Vanduul looked dressed as any other Vanduul, a black and grey gleaming suit that worked as well in space as in a fight. It was only the knife that gave him away. Everybody knew that the Vanduul cherished their knives more than anything. It was less known that a Vanduuls knife would indicate his position in the Horde. Emma had no idea what the higher ranks looked like, at least not before now. The knife’s hilt was as long as she had ever seen one, almost making it into a staff. There were intricate markings running in spirals along its ridge. Could he actually be the chief?
The Vanduul walked towards them, his eyes darting at every team member in a systematic fashion. He stopped five meters in front of the ambassador and raised his knife in a swift motion. They all knew this would happen, but Emma could still hear people’s reaction behind her. To his credit, the ambassador seemed completely at ease. The Vanduul turned the knife edge away from them and held it out. With his height, he easily towered over them all. She replayed his steps and realized that he moved like some animals on old earth, like feline predators. He was calm, but she was certain that he could jump to the other side before they would be able to react. Emma had only seen a few reports from humans doing hand to hand combat against them, most likely because there weren’t many to write one.
“Rorrr’al vra Hsss,” the Vanduul said.
The translation came almost instantaneous in her ear.
“Thank you. I am ambassador Rijeken.”
“I am Knifemaster Krrri’jihi Ruur Wrrarrren. We have agreed that you can refer to me as Knifemaster Kri.”
“Thank you, Knifemaster Kri. Would you like me to introduce my party?”
The Vanduul made a strange sound that weren’t translated.
“They are waiting. Introduction will be done.”
He turned and started walking towards the airlock. In a strange way he reminded her of her father. And what exactly was a Knifemaster?
The ambassador started to walk and made a motion with his hand.
There were more Vanduuls waiting inside their transport. They stood unarmed, but Emma could recognize the same kind of discipline she had seen in Kri. These guys were trained killers, and unlike the knifemaster, they seemed tense. From their point of view, it was understandable. They had probably never been near humans who wouldn’t kill them on sight. The ship’s inside was in many ways like the inside of any of their ships. So far humans hadn’t encountered any race with a technology to baffle them. She remembered the music boxes and the unfamiliar shape she had seen at the end of it all. That technology had baffled her. She forced the thoughts away. This was not the time. She dared a glance at Pablo and his thoughts might as well been on a holoboard.
What the hell are we doing here?
That was the question. Or perhaps better, why were they really here? She couldn’t let go of the feeling that all of this was orchestrated purely to make her mission possible. Without the knowledge of the mission, none of this would have made sense to her. The Vanduuls risked much by coming here in such a show of force. The news would spread throughout most of the UEE in a matter of weeks, and it was these kinds of things that might make politicians agree on something for once, and she very much doubted that the Vanduul would be portrayed as the good guys in that story. How this would be looked upon from the Vanduuls’ side was another question. As far as they knew, Vanduuls had never rallied together, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t. The ambassador had said they were making history. She hoped it wasn’t the kind of history that ended up as an example of epic failure.
Their transport slowed down and landed.
There were no windows, so they didn’t get a look at the Home ship directly. She wished she could. Its size was so staggering that the feeds and pictures didn’t make any sense. She didn’t have enough familiarity with the other Vanduuls ships to use them as comparison, and so far out in space size was all to relative. She was betting the navy was going crazy over trying to find out what was on a Home ship. The X12 had scared them. What this would do was an interesting question.
Their honour guard got up and stood at attention, forming a pathway to the ship’s slowly lowering hatch. The Knifemaster looked at them, uttered a single sound and walked between them, seeming to scout out the hatch as it gave vision to the hangar.
There were odd sounds.
She didn’t know how, but she knew the sound was coming from a distance. They had landed close to a wall, directly lined up towards a hallway. On the outside, more guards were waiting. They fell in behind the Knifemaster as he walked towards the entrance. Then he stopped and looked back at the ambassador, who got the message. They found their positions and followed the guards. Behind them came the guards from the ship. Strange, how closely an honour guard resembled a prison walk.
“What is that sound?” Emma whispered.
The ambassador turned his head only a portion, but he conveyed his feelings none the less. Aish gave her I-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about look. They walked for a couple of minutes. The sound grew, and soon the others noticed as well. It reminded her of an ocean.
They came to two huge doors. They had no ornaments, but they still looked oddly out of place on a spaceship. The knifemaster took his knife and hit the door with its hilt. It was like hitting on a gong. Immediately the sound disappeared, and only the reverberating sound was left. The knifemaster hit once more, and they started opening. A wall of heat and odd smells hit them like a strong wind. For a moment Emma thought she would faint, but then it was over and she knew what that sound had been. It was like she could feel the size of the room that awaited them. It was still dark when the knifemaster went forward. She half expected to see thousands of reflected eyes pop out of the darkness, because that was what was inside the insanely big space.
The lights went on and thousands of Vanduul gazed down on them.
It was so quiet that for a moment she was wondering if they were somehow isolated. At the same time she was almost willing to abandon the idea that they were on a spaceship. When she looked up, it felt wrong that there was no sky.
A single Vanduul was walking towards them.
It took Emma a little time to realize that it was a female. It took even longer to see that she didn’t carry a knife, yet she was certain that this was the clan chief. The knifemaster had been graceful. This female walked with an elegance that made him look like a clumsy animal. She wore the same type of suit as the knifemaster, except hers was white. Although every eye was on her, she only had eyes for the knifemaster and Emma was pretty sure that that look was universal.
She suddenly felt both amused and sorry for the ambassador.
The knifemaster and the chief touched their palms and forehead together. The knifemaster proceeded to give her his knife, which she inspected.
Everything happened in a blur.
The chief cut the knifemaster in several places with motions so fast that Emma had trouble see them. She was waiting for the knifemaster to drop dead, but he stood fast. The chief looked at him for a moment, and then she presented the knife back to him again. When he took it, the world exploded in cries and shouts but Emma could still hear the swearing coming from her teammates. If the knifemaster had even flinched, he would be dead now. The reaction finally kicked in and Emma felt the rush of adrenalin flow through her body and two thoughts hit her at the same time.
This is insane.
Now there’s a new definition for rough relationship.
The chief turned toward them and gave them a smile which, quite frankly, scared the hell out of her.