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HOMECOMING


by: Rick Johnson
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RikJohnson@juno.com


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Characters in these stories. Here you will find who these people and places are.


I
Transit

Empty space. Infinite. No, that’s not true for space is far from empty. You may have to go a few meters between hydrogen molecules sometimes but there is always something there. Stars, black holes, white dwarfs, rogue planets and whole oceans of hydrogen or carbon or oxygen or water vapor light years across. It’s all there.

And one thing more. Though you would have to be within a million kilometers of the source to detect it. One second space was as empty as it could possibly be, the next second there was an intense concentrated gravity source that vanished an instant later to be replaced by the ship.

It wasn’t a particularly impressive craft. Built like a fat teardrop about ten stories high (depending on how much room you needed for a ten story building) it reflected light easily even though the hull was pitted by a century of micro-meteorite impacts and burned by hundreds of high-speed atmospheric entries and exits.

But it was there now, drifting just above the plane of the nearby star system.

Near the point of the ship was the flight deck, the center of which was dominated by the navigator and pilot area. Three chairs were around the pedestal and a three-dimensional view of the neighborhood floated just above. A small dot within cross-hairs represented the ship, a model of the star system below was represented by a tactical view. The star was another point with a line through it’s axis and a disc spread from its equator with circles marking planetary orbits and the current known positions of the planets. Numbers and letters floating in the vid gave more detailed information.

There were currently three people watching the image. One was a man of middle age wearing an old Star Fleet jacket that held ribbons on the sleeve that indicated that the wearer was a veteran of both the Pirate War and the Third Shitai War. If you asked him why he kept it, he’d tell you that it was cold on the bridge so far from the reactor. Or he’d say that it was radiation and impact proof or that this jacket opened doors that would be closed to non-vets and in the overly competitive world of the tramp freighter, they needed that advantage. But the real reason was that he was simply proud to have served his country.

The next person was younger, a teen-aged boy who was obviously the older man’s son. This boy was busy checking data and taking readings to update the nav-charts. The freighter couldn’t afford decent charts this far out so they had to warp in far enough away from the star to avoid materializing inside a planet or the star’s gravity well.

The third was the pilot. He had black skin and was covered in straight black fur and was currently using his hands and prehensile tail to make some minor adjustments to the ships attitude. The man was unusual by being a Waz-Don, one of the Homo Arborealis from Earth’s Africa. His country, Pal-ul-Don was still hidden away and its people early steel-age so how he became a member of the crew of a starship 10,000 light years away from his home-world was something he never really talked about. And tramp freighters were famous for their very liberal hiring policies. When you were desperate for a crew, “don’t ask” was wise.

The older man had learned patience in his life. Patience in the jungles of Vietnam, patience in the VA Hospital, patience waiting for VA benefits, patience watching corn grow and patience traveling between the stars. So he simply stood there, next to his son, watching and waiting, for the data would arrive when it arrived.

Finally the boy said in frustration, “Dad, these charts must be centuries old. Sol is almost a tenth light year off its recorded position. It’ll take me a couple hours to locate everything and calculate the next jump.”

“Take you time, son, we aren’t in any hurry.” Well, that wasn’t true. He hadn’t seen his parents in 20, maybe 30 years and they didn’t even know that they had grandchildren. He laughed then, they didn’t even know that he was still alive. His visit would be a shock to everyone. But he had confidence in his son. Unlike his father, Michael had been born into this technology so was comfortable with math and computers that weren’t even dreamed of on an Earth that he had left so long ago. The fact that a Waz-Don who had never seen anything more advanced than a steel knife and pottery bowl could turn into such a good pilot when he, George Wagner, owner of this freighter could not, was a source of envy.

George hung around for a moment then told the flight crew, “I’m going to check the ship out, make certain that everything is ok. Let me know when you are ready.” And with that he left the bridge, climbing down the ladder to the lower decks. He really didn’t need to but he felt useless on the deck at these times. He barely understood astro-gation and could fly the Amber Hope under easy conditions but right now, the ship was better off in the hands of his son and the Waz-Don. But the Hope was 200 years old and had been through a lot so an occasional manual check was a good idea.

Deck 2 was the med-bay, chow hall and rec room and all were empty with no problems. He checked the leak detectors to ensure that internal atmospheric pressure was stable then moved to deck 3 where the living quarters were. Here he was careful to NOT enter any quarters save his own. Despite the size of the D-Class, the lower 1/3 was dedicated to the cold-fusion reactor and drive and the rest was cargo hold so privacy on the ship was rare and important. Besides, you never knew what you’d find in their quarters that you really didn’t want to know about.

Deck 4 was passenger quarters and currently only three were in use.

One was held by Thorpe, an alien warrior monk or so they believed. He was bi-pedal and a carbon-based oxygen breather or he’d have found another ship. Generally, you flew with people who you could, at least recognize as people though what planet Thorpe came from was a mystery. He spent most of his time somewhere meditating or practicing sword-play which he said was his path to Nirvana. For a man with the head of a boar and a short elephant’s trunk, he was remarkably good-natured. Currently he was in his room meditating with the door open. Thorpe never closed his door. Not even the bathroom door. But he had been on the Amber Hope when George had taken service and always seemed able to pay his way so they accepted him as any piece of hardware and asked few questions. It was rumored that he and As-Tan had a history together but rumors abounded in space and you never knew what to believe.

Thorpe looked up as Wagner looked in, “Excuse me, Thorpe, we just exited the jump and I am checking to ensure that all is well and everyone is safe.”

“I am well Captain, thank you for your concern. When we land on this ‘Earth’, perhaps I shall leave you.”

“As you wish,” replied Wagner. Thorpe always said that. He would ask what planet was next then say that perhaps he’d leave and he often did too, only to return just before the ship left dock. No one ever knew here he went or what he did while away though, so the Captain offered, “But remember that Earth is a pre-contact world and very paranoid about aliens. You may find yourself imprisoned by the curiosity of the locals.”

“Thank you for your concern Captain but I shall be well.” And the strange thing was that he would be.

The other two were Earth-Human colonists who had simply got tired of farming a frontier world and had sold everything for passage back to Earth. Fortunately for the Hope, they had refused the free Ram-Jet trip for they distrusted the deep-sleep that would be required and so were willing to pay for passage if it meant not having their minds played with while asleep for a year. George didn’t blame them for Colonial guaranteed a free return to Earth if you or they didn’t get along but they also reserved the right to repress your memories of the Barony and would keep you asleep the entire trip. If these thought that they could sell the info that they possessed to the Terran governments, they were mistaken. If Star Fleet thought that they would talk or be believed, they would never have been allowed this far. He knocked on their door but received no answer so he pressed on, checking the other empty rooms then passed to the cargo decks.

The humans were in the upper cargo hold looking over their meager belongings. Why they stored them here he didn’t know as they only had enough for a suitcase each but never argue with a paying passenger.

“Excuse me,” he interrupted. “We just transited to Sol. We are currently just above the system plane and in a couple hours should be ready to jump into the system near Earth. Once down, and through customs you can make passage to your homes.”

“Why so long?” asked one of the passengers.

“The only people who come this far out are Star Fleet and Colonial so any charts of the area we can get are very old or very expensive. Since stars and planets move around, unless we have a very accurate chart, which takes up too much memory, we have to jump some distance from where we think the star is. Then we look the area over, calculate movement and positions then we can jump in closer.

“If we came here often, we’d have a use for accurate charts and if this deal works out, we will. But for now, we have to take it slow and avoid trouble. Don’t worry, Earth isn’t going anywhere we can’t catch.”

He then left them and checked the next deck where his load-master, Case Coopersmith was looking over every strap and bulkhead. He was a 9’ Mon and so had been engineered by the Demons into a human super-soldier and it was even rumored that he had fought in the Kris Wars. Every Mon older than 50 fought in the Kris Wars. Even the Baron did and he was Terran. It was also rumored that he left his last ship because he was drunk and failed to tie a load down. It shifted in transit, punched a hole in the hull and sucked three people into space. But that was only a rumor. George knew that the man still drank but that he was also a fanatic about his cargo lines. If Case was happy, the ship was safe so he checked the other decks and finally the engine room.

The Weir engineers were, as usual, naked and had turned the gravity off. They and their two older children were clinging to a brace by their tails or feet as they looked over some aspect of the hyper-drive that he couldn’t identify. The youngest was, as always, attached to her mother’s breast. He had long ago given up trying to get them to remain dressed. They complained that the clothing got in the way and was too hot this close to the reactor but he finally figured that they were like mink and didn’t want to waste time undressing. Regardless, as they were Weir, they were decent looking, of human ancestry and excellent engineers. Both were young, about 40 years which was very young by Weir standards and so were probably among the first Weir born on Gaea. However, the man’s grandparents had been Vietnamese boat people when rescued by Colonial and his wifes’ family was Indonesian-Asian boat people and neither of these had any desire to remain dirt-bound. The Demons had engineered humans into Weir for Space Travel and this family became and loved exactly that.

They did have three children that lived with them aboard ship and having a 12 year old Weir was easier to deal with than a human of the same age since she was as smart as any human twice her age. The other two at 8 and 3 were hard to get used to as Nguyen was nursing her youngest almost constantly. But he had to admit that the entire family did things to the reactor and drive that the manual said was impossible and kept the antique working and working well. This family was strange even by Weir standards and George had two Weir daughters himself, but he had to admit that the Demons did good work when they created the Weir race.

“Anything wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing Captain,” replied Kim, the oldest as she curtseyed to him. Watching a 12 year old naked girl curtsey in zero gravity as she floated in the air was… disturbing but he was very tolorant as he couldn’t find another engineer that good for what he could afford to pay. The Wing family worked for him only because he allowed the children on board so it was another case of desperation making a strange crew. “We are learning about jump points and quantum singularities with reference to…”

“Enough! You know I don’t understand a word you are saying. Will we be able to jump in a couple hours?”

Fat looked up and answered, “Yes Captain. We can jump in an hour if you wish. Half that if it’s under a light year.”

“Thank you Wing family. I always trust and value your judgment in these matters. Carry on please.” And George left the engine room to return to the Galley. He always felt queasy when in zero-g and needed some milk to settle his stomach.

Halfway up the ship, the middle Wing kid, Man, dressed for once, caught up with him and took his hand. “Mama needs milk,” he explained. George remembered how desperately his own wife needed additional milk when she was nursing their Weir daughters and how it always exhausted her so his respect for Nguyen who could nurse and work was admirable.

In the galley, Man filled the bottle with rundi milk, added the necessary vitamins and set it in the warmer then sat on a stool and stared at George. As George filled a glass of cold milk for himself, Man asked, “What’s Earth like?”

George looked at him as Man had never initiated a conversation before. “Didn’t your grandparents tell you anything about it?”

“I was born in space. When I see my honored grandparents, we talk of other things.”

“Oh. Well, it’s different from many places but very much like Gaea. Everyone there is human like me. Some are Asian like your grandparents and some black and some white but all are human. And there are so many nations there with so many languages and religions and societies that wars break out all the time. It’s more primitive than Drakonis. I don’t know of any advantages there are to living there but obviously some of the passengers think differently. It does have beautiful sunsets, beaches, and the waterfalls will take your breath away they are so beautiful. As a world, the place is one of the most beautiful in the galaxy, to bad people screw it up.

“You are very bitter, Captain,” offered Man.

“I left under hard times. I was crippled in a war with your grandmother’s people and lost both my legs. Unlike Gaea where we honor warriors, when I returned home from ‘Nam, I was spit upon, my girlfriend left me, I couldn’t find a job. My life wasn’t easy and I ended up homeless before Colonial found me. I guess I still have issues with the place.

Man thought about this for a moment then said, “We must all confront our inner demons, Captain, less they rule our lives.” Then he took the bottle and left the Galley.

George was always amazed at the intelligence displayed by a Weir. His oldest Weir daughter was 15 and just changing and she was smarter than he’d ever be. He’d have to finish this job quickly and return home in time for her puberty ceremony. It made him uncomfortable to think of that little girl whom he used to hold in one hand becoming a woman and … knowing that she’d be sexually active in a year and screwing around as the Wings did was even more uncomfortable but you couldn’t stop Weir needs. It was understood when he agreed to immigrate to Gaea.

George finished his milk then returned to the flight deck and asked, “How are we doing?”

“Almost finished,” commented Michael. “I think that I can get us to within a million kilometers of Earth, then we can push in on thrusters. Star Fleet has that base on SummerIsle so they can cloak our landing. But they won’t allow us to use our own shuttle to get around. They may loan us a cloaked one though.”

Michael was very professional here. Too professional. George figured that it was nervousness about seeing the homeworld for the first time. Earth was where people escaped from, not returned to. And then there was the possibility of meeting his grandparents, if they were still alive. Few Drakonans had grandparents. Michael’s mother never met her Terran grandparents either. Of course, George hadn’t seen his own parents since he left Earth and they parted on bad terms so he was nervous too.

“Ok, contact the Wings when you have the course plotted.” Ordered Wagner then he sat in the Captain’s chair that was situated to do nothing but watch the crew. It was times like this when he felt useless.

A few minutes later Michael reported, “Engineering reports all green to go. Navigation reports course laid in, ready when you are.”

George touched the intercom and spoke, “Attention to passengers and crew, jump in five minutes. Please secure all belongings and yourselves. Thank you.” The crew could ready for jump in seconds but the passengers would need time and this close to port it wouldn’t look good to toss an unsecured civilian against a bulkhead.

The Captain gave them a two-minute warning then a one minute warning then the order to jump. As always, the ship shook as it entered or exited hyper-space. At least that is what he thought of it as being. The astro-gaters and math experts always used Demon words when discussing space travel and none of these translated into English or Spanglic well. But with a transit this short, the stress was limited to a simple vibration that lasted less than a few seconds before As-Tan brought them back to normal space. “Entry complete.” He broadcast across the ship. “We will finish the trip on thrusters. Landing in..” he looked at the fight crew. Michael held up three fingers, As-Tan four. “…ten minutes.” Planetary approach in three to four minutes, then another couple in orbit as they talked to SummerIsle followed by a few minutes to prepare for atmospheric landing. The only hard part would be waiting until the area was clear of local traffic so they could land undetected.

As-Tan aimed just off the Earth’s position and engaged the thrusters. He accelerated slow to avoid stressing the ship or its contents and despite the inertial dampeners, the passengers and crew still felt the push. Tactical showed that on the current course, the Amber Hope would miss Earth by a good 40,000 kilometers which was a good safety margin. It as never a good idea to head directly towards a planet, station or another ship. The destination might think you were an asteroid on collision or a weapon on attack course and destroy you. Or, you could suffer a systems failure and, unable to turn, smash into the place you wanted to land on. Once at tangent the Earth, As-Tan would adjust into a stable orbit above SummerIsle and wait for landing instructions but for now, the Captain had work.

Opening communications, he spoke, “Amber Hope out of Gaea to SummerIsle Base. ShipCaptain George Wagner commanding. Request landing vectors please.” Then he waited.

SummerIsle was a military base for Star Fleet and so as soon as they had appeared, the place had gone on alert. With quaranteened and pre-contact worlds like Earth, no one was allowed in without a very good reason. In fact, since SummerIsle was built, even the Alpha abductions of humanity had dropped to almost zero. However, there wasn’t another base within a couple hundred light years so the Fleet Base also had to care for civilian traffic.

“Amber Hope, this is SummerIsle Base, Controller Shirya 354 speaking. Please state your reason for approach.”

“Amber Hope to SummerIsle, our purpose is trade. With the opening of SummerIsle, limited and discrete trade is being allowed between the Commonwealth and Earth. I applied for and received one of the contracts.

“We also have passengers aboard, one a tourist, the others Colonists who are returning to Earth.”

Now they wait. Everything that they had said as known to the Traffic Controller who had been waiting for them for a month but it was polite to remind the Lanai. And with Lanai, manners were very important. Especially when you were facing someone engineered to be a super-soldier. He laughed because they also knew about him too and would allow him to land regardless based solely upon his prior Star Fleet service. Few Weir and fewer humans, especially Earth Humans, sought Fleet Service so the few who did were very well known.

“SummerIsle Control to Amber Hope, you are cleared for landing, transmitting vectors now. Good Journey. SummerIsle Control standing by.”

George looked to As-Tan who was reading the vectors and programming the ship. He then said to the Captain, “Clearance in 3 minutes. There is a cruise ship in the area and a couple local aircraft that need to clear before we can land.”

George touched the intercom again and said, “Captain to crew and passengers, we have clearance and will begin final in three minutes. Touch-down in about five minutes.”

After that, it as just a matter of waiting and letting the crew do it’s job. The instruments showed that Engineering was on the job, that navigation was scanning and marking every satellite, aircraft and rock in the flight path and the Pilot was memorizing everything so he’d not have to be surprised. Despite their questionable past, he trusted them all and they had never let him down.

Atmospheric entry was rough. It always was for a ship designed to traverse empty space over thick atmosphere, but the Hope could do the job despite the heating of her hull and the ionization produced by her thrusters.

Finally they landed and the Port-Master came out on a flivver. George made certain that he was at the lower hatch when she arrived with his papers on hand. The Lanai, Kyrea, didn’t look at them but did request permission to board. Once it was granted, she added, “I’d like to speak to your crew and passengers please. Will you please call them together.” It was an order, not a request even though she said it politely.

“Of course,” then George touched the nearest intercom and said, “This is the Captain, will all passengers and crew please report immediately to cargo deck 5 with your off-ship luggage. Customs inspection immediately. Thank you.” Then he led Kyrea into the ship.

George noticed that she was a veteran of the Pirate and two of the Shitai wars and he knew that she had seen his campaign chevrons too so there was that bond that happens when two soldiers meet and discover that they served together. “Where on Paradys and Sothis were you?” he asked casually.

“On Paradys I was aboard the Yossarian as a snub-fighter, on Sothis I went underground.” She replied. Underground! That meant that she was one of the twenty who had followed the Baron into the Shitai brood-chamber and had been trapped there for a week. These 20 were the top of the fame and everyone treated them as if they had saved the Barony and Commonwealth, which it turns out they had. George had an urge to bow to her but because he had been on Sothis too, he didn’t.

“Then if I may ask,” he said, “Why are you here on SummerIsle?”

She looked at him and answered, “It’s a rest assignment. Important to the Devil that we be here but not so dangerous as to risk our lives. So those who were wounded in the wars were given first option, the others who fought followed. I took this job to relax and recover.”

He had spent almost two years serving with the Lanai, living with them, eating, showering and sleeping with them and even, occasionally, bedding them so he knew more about the Lanai Warriors than any civilian and understood. Despite the Lanai being created to fight and being born from tanks, they still were as ‘human’ as any other being and so despite their taciturn manners, they did have the stress that came from the knowledge that they existed only to fight and die. They went into combat before they were a year old and never retired from war. So they had islands where they went to relax and recover from their efforts. “This must be one of them”, he thought.

Kyrea never even looked the ship over. Wagner knew that they had been scanned while still in orbit and if the scanners found anything that was contraband, they would have been boarded in space. What she wanted was to see the passengers who were in place by the time they arrived.

All looked at her, saw her chevrons and the Drakonans immediately bowed or curtseyed to her. Case didn’t as the Mon didn’t have that custom on his homeworld but Thorpe did clasp his hands together and lowered his eyes as he did when he greeted anyone. The Wings were still naked though Nguyen was feeding the baby from a bottle this time.

Kyrea looked them over then spoke, “Thank you for your cooperation. Earth is a pre-contact world so if you go among them, you must wear a cloak at all times. We will gladly give you one. Please do not say or do anything that would lead the Earthers to understand that we or anyone from off-world exists. Those of you who are giving up Drakonis and returning to Earth, please remember that you are bound by law to remain quiet about your time off-world. If you do try to tell, then be aware that the Earthers will not believe you but WILL either drug you insensible as a lunatic or imprison you as a lunatic. This has happened before so if you would remain free and continue a normal life, please be discrete.

“Any business engaged in here must conform to the Non-Interference Policy. If you have any questions, please ask. The facilities of this Base are at your disposal so please enjoy your stay.

“Thank you for your attention and do not hesitate to ask us if you have concerns or needs.” She then went over to the returnees and offered to shuttle them and their belongings to wherever they wished to go. Then she left, leading the returnees to their old lives.

George wondered about them. When he had been taken, he was a legless vet in a wheelchair and in his early thirties. On that year-long trip to Drakonis, Colonial had re-grown his lost limbs and returned him to 20 years of age. Now, after 30 years on Gaea, he was physically 45 but subjectively 66. His parents would be in their 80’s at least and he would look younger than his nephews.

For the returnees, some were taken when elderly then reverse-aged to 20 and so these could be any age from 20 to a hundred years old but could easily pass for mid twenties. They would have to start their lives on Earth again younger than they left and try to explain that to their families and friends. He felt sympathetic for them as he’d have to do the same with his family.

After the Lanai and the returnees had left, George turned to his crew and said, “Ok, let’s shut the ship down and take some shore leave. Michael and I are going to see if my parents are still alive and visit them. While here we should all look around for something to fill the hold so we can make a profit on this trip, or at lest pay the bills. So while you are playing around, keep business in mind too. That’s all.”


II
EARTHBOUND

Everyone dispersed to their stations. Thorpe and Case left immediately but the Wings returned the Engineering to shut the reactor down and switch to back-up power so the ship would have lights and environmental. As-Tan and Michael had already shut the Bridge down and were ready to leave, As-Tan already wearing his fur loin-cloth and leather for his visit to his home-land. George suspected that his family had been gone for decades but that was his problem, fitting in again with a people who were mellenia behind you in technology. But then, Case had the problem of passing for Earth-Human when he was easily feet taller than any basketball player and built like a body-builder. As for George and Michael, they left the ship and found the Port-Station where he located a ‘telephone’ and ran a computer search for his parents. Once found, he hesitated putting the call through. It had been so long. He hadn’t seen his parents in over thirty years and he was lucky that his time on Gaea equaled his time away. As-Tan may have been taken a thousand years in the past or a hundred in the future.

“Dad,” Michael touched his father. “I’ll understand if we don’t call. It’s not like I know them.”

George looked at his son and wished his daughters were here too. But they were happy on Gaea and didn’t want to complicate their father’s first chance at this business. He then touched ‘contact’ and told his son, “But you should.”

The phone rang about six times before a woman picked us and said, “Hello?”

George took a moment to think, then the words came back to him, “Hello, is this the Wagner residence?”

“Yes it is, who is calling please?”

“My name is George Wagner, I’m Ellen and Phils’ son.”

“George? George died thirty years ago. What kind of sick joke is this? I’m calling the police!”

Memories flooded back, “Carol? Is that you? You sound different but then, it’s been 30 years. No, this is George, I’ve been… out of the country. But I have business back here and wanted to see mom and dad again. Are they still alive?”

Silence. George figured that his sister was thinking he was a ghost. Then she spoke gain, “George, it’s been so long. Why haven’t you written. We thought that you were dead or worse. Of course mom and dad are still alive. Dad isn’t doing well but I’m certain that he’d like to see you again. Where are you? When can you be here?”

“I’m in the Carribean right now but can catch a shuttle to Cleveland today or tomorrow. Look, I want mom and dad to meet their grandson. Is it ok if we drop by? I can call when we arrive.”

It was that easy. And that hard. George had to sit down when it was over. He even knew that he as crying, something that his father would never forgive but was allowed on Drakonis. Michael rested his hand on his father’s shoulder then called Control and asked for a shuttle to Cleveland.

An hour later they were in the air with the returnees and crew aboard. The Wing family and Case had chosen to remain on SummerIsle and frolic in the water, climb the hills and enjoy the sunshine. The Returnees were being dropped off in Europe after they stopped in Cleveland then As-Tan would be left in Africa. When ready, they’d call in and the shuttle would return for them.


III
HOME

The trip to Cleveland took less than a half hour. The craft, invisible to sight and radar simply flew to the city, found an empty lot near the airport and landed long enough for George and Michael to leave, then it left for Europe. For a moment George wandered if the returnees would stay on Earth or would ask for passage back to Gaea. Most colonists remained on Gaea, a very few asked to be returned to Earth but a few of those changed their minds when they found that their memories of the place were better than the reality.

The two walked to a store across from the airport and George called his sister again for a ride. He would let her believe that they had flown in on a commercial jet. It would be easier that way.

Michael was fascinated by Cleveland. He had been born in Caer Hel, a city of only a few hundred people and though he had landed in large cities in Kos, none were like this. “The air stinks, dad. And it’s so noisy.”

“That’s pollution, you get used to it.” He wasn’t comfortable about this either as Gaean air and water were cleaner than any on Earth. He wore the same clothes he had worn when he left Earth (they had been stored for more than thirty years) and had tried to make something for Michael that would blend in, obviously without much success.

While waiting, a woman deliberately ran into George with her shopping cart causing him to clutch his knee in pain. Instead of apologizing, she yelled, “Get a job you bum!” and rushed away. Michael looked at her in amazement. Back home no one would do that partly because courtesy was important there and partly because you could fight a duel over such an incident. “Things like this happen here,” his father admitted. “Be aware.”

At that time a car drove up slowly then stopped. An older woman looked out the passenger door and asked, “George?”

She had been a child barely in her twenties when he left. Now she was a middle aged woman in her fifties and he wouldn’t have recognized her if he wasn’t expecting her. “Carol?” You’ve changed! But then,” he laughed, “So have I. This is my son Michael. Michael, this is my sister Carol.”

Michael bowed to her and said in English with a foreign accent, “Greetings, sister of my father. I am pleased to meet you.” Like all Gaeans, Michael was multi-linguic and spoke not only his native Spanglic but the English of his father and the Russian of his mother’s parents, however, his accent was pure Spanglic. Even George had an accent after thirty years. He’d have to work on getting his American accent back.

“Such a polite boy,” she responded with a smile. She then leaned over and opened the passenger door, “Get in and tell me what’s been going on.”

George limped over to the car, opened the rear door for Michael and then got in favoring his knee. Carol looked at his legs then, saying nothing, drove off. The last time she had seen him, he had been legless and in a wheel-chair so she probably thought that he was on artificial limbs now. “Aside from his clothing, he seems to be doing ok. I hope he doesn’t need money.” She thought to herself then was embarrassed at the idea. He was her brother and though thirty years dulled the pain of the memories, it didn’t erase them.

Michael spent the entire trip looking around from one window to the other. She watched him them spoke to her brother, “Your son seems fascinated with the city.”

“He was born and raised on a farm. The nearest town had a building three stories high and a population of less than a half-thousand. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that he saw anything else so this is all new to him. How’s mom and dad? And yourself?” he added.

“Mom’s ok but dad is getting real old. I moved in after my last divorce since my kids are grown and away. It gives me a place to be and something to do and Dad needs me after his last heart attack. Other than that life is dull and normal. What about you?” she asked, dreading the answer.

“Well, I had a few rough years after the war. But eventually I moved… overseas and bought a farm. Got married, had three kids, Michael is the oldest, the girls are with their mother. Then I discovered I hated farming but Tash, my ex, loved the farm so I gave it to her and took a job on a tramp freighter. A few years later I used my contacts with the Fleet to buy the ship and here I am, going from port to port carrying cargo and making ends meet. I don’t get rich but it’s what I love. I missed you all.”

“Then why didn’t you call or write? We thought you were dead.”

“I tried but somehow there wasn’t any postal service I could use. And I was so busy getting the farm running, then the kids arrived and the wars. Somehow things got pushed aside for a rainy day that never rained.

“Then there was the possibility of a business contract here, so I used my contacts and pulled every favor I had to get a chance and here we are. My ship, the Amber Hope, is docked down south and the crew has shore leave so I thought I’d visit. Besides, I’m in a jam here. I need to make a profit or I loose the contract so I need to find something to fill the hold. I’ve got some money and hope that will do.”

“So, he does need money,” she thought. “What about your disability? Is that all gone?” She was struggling to avoid telling him that he couldn’t have any money.

“Disability? I’ve forgotten all about that. I haven’t seen a check since I left. I think I was getting almost $400 a month over 30 years is…”

“$144,000” commented Michael without thinking.

Carol glanced back at Michael, “You figured that out in your head that fast?”

“Michael is a math genius. He gets it from his mother and all those navigation schools I sent him to helped out too. Looks like I’m paying a visit to the VA tomorrow to get my pack-pay.” He smiled at that thought. The idea of asking his family for a loan he couldn’t promise to pay back was a nightmare for him.

Carol suggested, “It’s probably more considering the cost of living increases and interest over thirty years. Do you really own a farm and a boat?”

“You don’t believe me?” he asked.

“Well,” she hesitated. “I remember when you left. And you are still wearing the same clothes and your son isn’t dressed much better.”

George laughed at this. “I gave the farm to Tash when we divorced. What I get in return is the knowledge that my kids will always have a roof over their heads and food on the table. Plus she fills the Hope’s larder with fresh supplies whenever we are in the area. If this works out, I’ll bring the girls next year or so. As for the Amber Hope? I took service on her just before my divorce to see if I really liked the idea. I did but the wars started and I enlisted and two years later I had a few new scars but a lot of military contacts and with the help of a grateful nation I was able to buy the ship when the owner retired. I own her free and clear. Don’t get rich but don’t loose my shirt either, despite these clothes.

“I…, we wear a different fashions back home and coveralls on the Hope. I decided to try to fit in. I guess I failed at that. Thing is, Carol, I’m happy. I have my own ship, I’m still friends with Tash and have three wonderful kids and all I have to do is wear my Fleet jacket and my money is no good. If I had this here, I would never have left.”

“And us?” she asked.

“I missed you a lot but remember I wasn’t in my right mind. I felt used by the government and all my friends avoided me after I lost my legs and even strangers hated me. I had to go. Strange thing is that my engineer’s kid told me today that I had to face my demons before they consumed me so I had to return. I had to apologize to you all for how I acted. And I wanted to see you too.

“Carol, I don’t want your money, just your love.”

She began to cry then. Fortunately, they arrived and George saw that the house was the same, older, more run down but still the same. “Needs a coat of paint.” He commented.

“I try to keep it up but dad isn’t well and everyone else is gone.”

By the time they were half-way up the walk, his parents were on the porch waiting. “They don’t know what to do,” he thought. So at the foot of the steps he stopped, turned to his son and said, “Michael, these are your grandparents, Phil and Ellen. Mom and dad, this is your grandson, Michael.” Michael immediately bowed low and said, “Greetings, beloved and honoured grandparents. I am pleased that you are here to meet me.” Few Drakonians have grandparents that they can know for the trip to Earth is so expensive few can manage the cost. So George waited, and waited then his mother started to cry and came down the steps to them. George met his mother almost on the steps and cried as he hugged her for the first time in thirty years.

Then, as he was replaced by his son, he ran up the steps to meet his father. “Dad,…” he started then his father took him in his arms.

Dinner was mildly uncomfortable for Michael wasn’t used to the sugar and preservatives and no one made offerings to the Gods nor was there a Homestone to bow to. But conversation was mostly catching up on the past three decades. George had to dance around where he had been but hoped mentioning ‘The Commonwealth’ and ‘The Barony’ would make his family think of Europe.

Carol did ask, “how did you manage to enlist with your… injury?”

George laughed. “It wasn’t easy. I had to convince them that I could be useful and they finally agreed. So I served a couple years then retired. No big deal.”

“Father is a hero!” interrupted Michael. Resisting his father’s attempts to shush him, he continued, “On Sothis he was wounded so bad they taped his guts inside his belly, then he kept on fighting until relief came. The Baron himself praised dad to the entire town.”

“Wounded, again?” cried his mother.

“No big deal, a few feet of intestine, I had extra. Besides, I had a job to do and did what I signed up to do.” George was embarrassed for although he had bragged about his exploits in Vietnam, Lanai never bragged and this was a habit he learned from them. The rest of the meal was eaten in silence then they retired to the living room where an awkward silence was avoided by the television set.

Michael tried to watch but the shows were so alien to him he finally asked, “Father, respected grandparents, may I be excused to study?”

“Study?” his grandfather asked? “What subjects are you studying?”

“Astrogation, calculus and astronomy now. I have some charts to update and calculate stellar drift before we leave.”

“Sounds like a large schedule for someone so young. By the way, how old are you?” asked his grandfather.

“17 and 4 if it pleases you, sir.”

His father gave him permission to leave and then his mother commented, “Is he always this polite?”

“We pride ourselves on family and courtesy.” George replied. “he also has two sisters, Gina at 15 and Vassilisa, 11 but they are too young for this first trip, especially with the harvest so close.” He then handed over the family photos he had brought with him, the girl’s antennae and eyes carefully airbrushed to pass for human. This is Gina and Vass, Michael and me. I thought you’d like this.”

“What’s that monster in the background? It looks like a giant penguin.”

“That’s a trundle. Just one of the local birds. They aren’t as big as they look.” George tried to cover the mistake. “It’s been a long trip so if you don’t mind, I’d like a shower and then bed.”

On the way he stopped to talk to Michael, “Be real careful about what you say, they saw a trundle in the background of your sister’s pictures.” Neither of them noticed Carol listening at the door.

The next morning George awoke early and took a bus to the VA center to try to get his back disability money. The funds would easily fill his hold and make enough of a profit to allow him to keep the run. However it took an hour of waiting before he saw even one clerk and another two before he was able to explain his needs then another three after that to hear that his records were closed and there was nothing they could do.

Exhausted, he began to remember why he left Earth then decided to use his trump card. Excusing himself to visit the restroom, he called SummerIsle and explained the situation and asked the Lanai to ‘correct’ his records. They agreed to try and by the time he returned to the last clerk, his records were on his computer screen and the clerk, amazed, informed George that he’d be getting a check for almost $250,000 which would include his disability, cost of living and interest. The check should arrive in six to eight weeks but George knew that the Lanai would ensure that it would be in the mail within days. Warriors protected their own and some of the Lanai on SummerIsle had been on Sothis too.

By the time he returned to his parents home, his exhaustion was gone and he was elated enough to help Michael with the yard-work that needed to be done.

Phil was sitting on the porch with Ellen watching the two work and play happily together as George told his son about the money and how they could use it to fill the hold and make enough of a profit to continue the run. All the needed now was a cargo that was cheap here but expensive back home and so as they discussed differing items, Phil leaned over to his wife and said, “George seems to have accepted life fairly well. I’m glad Michael has a father that works so well with him.” He paused then continued, “I wish George had been that lucky.”


IV
MARY

The next day as the two guests were painting the house wearing their spacer cover-alls, a middle-aged woman arrived. She stood there and watched as the two scraped and painted as a team then, finally she approached and said, “George?”

Wagner turned and for a moment didn’t recognize the woman, then finally asked, “Mary? I almost didn’t know it was you. You’ve changed, but then after thirty years, so have I.”

“You look.. great, George. So young, so vital. So different from the last time I saw you.”

“Well, as I recall you were busy dumping me because of that wheelchair.”

“Not the chair, the man in the chair. But I was wrong. Maybe if I had stayed, things would have been different. But it was a different world back then. The war, the anger and bitterness. I was shallow and you were angry and neither of us could get past our feelings. I really am sorry and came by to apologize.”

She seemed sincere and it had been a long time so he answered, “Man said I should let go my angers so I can’t think of a better time to start.” He smiled at her and continued, “How about dinner? I’m afraid you’ll have to drive though.”

She interpreted this to mean that he couldn’t drive with artificial legs but he meant simply that he had no driver’s license and hadn’t driven a car since he left Earth. Starships, floaters, tanks, stalkers, lots of Drakonian civilian and military vehicles, just not a car. She smiled back in sympathy and offered, “That’s ok, I‘ll drive. I heard money is tight so how about I make you dinner, just like old times? I can pick you up at seven?”

George readily agreed as it had been a long time since he had been on a date. Mon were too big for him and as casual as Weir were, even they had limits to dating a man who would be a dozen light-years away the next day. “We do have to finish the house tomorrow so I can’t stay up late. But seven will be fine. Casual or semi-formal?”

“Casual. I dropped my dress code after my third divorce. I understand that you are divorced too.”

“Yes, but we’re still friends. We have to be. Well, I’ll try to borrow something since what I wear back home isn’t appropriate for the big city.”

They chatted for another minute then she left and George returned to painting. “Dad, that’s the woman who left you when you were wounded defending your country?”

“It’s not like that. Here, soldiers are not as honoured as they are at home. And that war wasn’t just. It was a different time. It’s time I let it go and start over.”

“But, when you were wounded on Sothis, and they tied you to that wall so you could keep on fighting to guard the drop-zone, everyone saw the vids afterwards. They put a statue up to you in Caer Hel! You’re still a hero back home. How can they think anything different here? You defended this country and were wounded and she should have honoured you greatly, but she left you! I don’t understand how that could be and how you could even talk to her today.”

George smiled again and tosseled his son’s hair, “As I said, it’s a different world. You can’t judge Earthers by our standards. And sometimes you have to let the anger go. Besides, it took a lot of courage for her to let go of her self-respect to come over and apologize like that. You have to admire her for that.”

A couple hours later they were called in to stop as it was getting dark so they cleaned the brushes and climbed the steps to the house. Carol offered to wash their clothes and they showered as she washed the paint out of the coveralls. The material was definitely cotton but a type she had never seen. Some sort of silk blend and it took only a gentle wash to remove all the paint, leaving them looking new.

By seven when Mary arrived, George had borrowed some clothes from his father and limped down the stairs to the living room. “I guess I’m out of shape. Maybe I should take the ladder more often and ignore the lifts on the Hope?” he offered. He also thought that he should eat more dairy and get more UV for space travel robbed the bones of calcium and the lack of exercise, calcium loss and too much kneeling and climbing that day made his knees ache.

“Mary, you look very nice. I thought this was supposed to be casual?”

“Can’t a woman dress up occasionally? Besides, it’s a part of my apology. Are you ready?”

The drive was short and had he known it was only a few blocks, he would have walked but Mary would have nothing of the sort. She was amazed how easily he got around with no legs. Sometimes you would think he was normal… then she bit her tongue. He WAS normal, just partially disabled and courageous enough to overcome his disability. She recalled someone say, ‘If you act disabled, you will be disabled.’ And George definitely didn’t act disabled. He had three kids so at least ‘that’ part was still working. She tried to think about that, being in bed with someone legless and decided that his ex-wife must have been an exceptional woman.

Dinner was simmering so she led him to the couch, offered him a glass of wine and together they sat and talked, “I understand you were married? Care to tell me about it?”

He sipped the wine then said, “There really isn’t much to say. Tash, Natasha, was there when I needed someone and we just fell in love. We Homestoned a farm, had three children but I wasn’t as happy as I thought I should be. And eventually I realized that I didn’t like farming. I wanted something better so we went to counseling and it was suggested that I take a break and explore my dreams. So I did. I took a berth on the Amber Hope as a scut-sailor, doing any job no one else would take. Since I was smaller than the rest of the crew (Mary thought because of his lack of legs, he meant because Mon were 9’ tall) I could crawl into places that they couldn’t. It was an advantage.

“Then my time was up and I returned home intending to tell Tash that I had found my dream.

“But the Pirates had invaded and set up a base on Paradys and somehow I wanted to drive them out. I can’t explain it other than to say that the Barony had given me so much, mostly my self respect, and I wanted to repay it. So I told Tash and enlisted. When the war was over and the pirates dead, I stayed on for awhile learning a few skills I thought I’d need when I returned to the Hope. Tash didn’t mind as I took a lot of leave and being married to a soldier, especially one who fought the pirates, gave her a certain status that benefited her and our kids.

“Then just as I was about to resign and return home, the Shitai invaded and I had to stay. So I fought, got shot up a bit and woke up in a medical ward having my insides replaced. Then I went home to recover and told Tash that I wanted to ship out again. We talked, then had to do more counseling, then we divorced which required more counseling and eventually we parted friends. We had kids together and Drakonian law required us to work out our problems so we could still be there for the kids. There is a saying on Drakonis, ‘Marriages come and go but families are forever.’ And once we had kids, we were a family even if we didn’t live together.

“So I returned to the Amber Hope and found that the captain was retiring and planned to sell the ship so I bought it. A couple years later Tash remarried which required more counseling because the man would be raising my kids and that made him a part of our family and I had to deal with that. Then Michael started getting overshadowed by his younger sisters. They were stronger, faster, smarter than he was and he was feeling inadequate so I asked Tash to let him come with me for awhile and he’s been my navigator ever since.”

“You’re ok with your wife’s new husband? That takes a very special man.”

“Not at first but in Drakonis adultery is a capital offense simply because it breaks up families. And we are so family-orientated that we will do anything to preserve them. So we were made to work at counseling to save our marriage. When it was clear that Tash loved farming and I didn’t, the counseling switched to keep us friends and when she met her new husband, the counseling forced us all to work together. So Tash and her new husband and I are friends. If I marry again, there will be more counseling to allow Tash and her husband to accept my new wife. It never ends but is a good law. And it helped.”

“I wish my divorces worked out that well.” She responded. “My first was abusive, my second too lazy and my third … well we never loved each other and thought friendship and sex could keep us together. It couldn’t. I don’t talk to any of them.” She looked into her glass and whispered, “Maybe I should have married you.”

Dinner was enjoyable but it required George removing his borrowed shirt when he spilled some gravy. Mary saw the ragged scar across his belly and asked about it. “Nothing to say, I got shot. Seems like I’m always getting hurt in some war or another,” and he laughed them. Not hysterical but as if her really told a joke.

“Carol told me what Michael said about you being a hero and having a statue. How does that make you feel?” asked Mary.

He looked at her, then away and responded, “Embarassed. I just did my job.”

Mary then thought, “Now I know I should have married him. Or maybe he needed time to mellow.” She then announced, “Lets sit on the porch for awhile and talk.”

One she rested her hand on his leg and when he didn’t notice, she removed it embarassed. “Foolish me to think he’d feel that. He does get around so well though.” And by the time they ran out of things to say, she really wanted to invite him to stay the night but was afraid to. Afraid of what they’d do, and afraid that she’d somehow do something wrong and make him feel like a cripple again. So he thanked her for the dinner, climbed down the stairs and said he’d rather walk home. Then a few steps away, he turned, called to her and when she reached him on the walk, he impulsively took her and kissed her. Then he released her and left her standing there.

When he turned the corner she yelled, “DAMN!!! Why couldn’t I get past that and just ask him over? Am I still so shallow?”

George was thinking similar thoughts but his were “How do I explain to her that I’m no longer a cripple? ‘Well Mary, I was picked up by these aliens and they tossed me into this bathtub which re-grew my legs. But that’s ok because both my daughters are really aliens with pointed ears and monkey tails. Shit!”

Over the next few days George and Michael received his back disability pay (he felt a bit guilty taking it but they needed the money) and the two searched for cargo to fill the hold of their ship. It wasn’t easy as the local technology was so primitive, nothing like cars, TVs or even the most advanced computers and electronics would be anything more than trash back home. The pressure was immense for if they failed to make a profit from this voyage, their contract would be cancelled and they’d be banned from Earth again because of the Non-Interference Policy that protected the Commonwealth from primitive aggressives like the Earthers.

During those days, George grew to re-learn about his family again and he discovered that he regretted those lost decades. But Michael enjoyed having grandparents for few Drakonians had that luxury. Even Mary came by daily and Michael began to put aside his anger when it was clear that she wasn’t the bad person he thought she was. If his father intended to see this woman, he’d need to accept it and find a common ground for a relationship.

“Mary,” he asked, uncomfortable with the familiarity for how do you talk to someone whose Caste you don’t know? Both George and Michael were Peasant who had elevated themselves to Merchant and his father had the added advantage of Soldier to increase his position. “You were married? Does that mean you have children?”

“Yes,” she answered. “Four! Three from my first marriage and one from my second. They are all grown up and two are married. I’m even a grandmother. What about you? I hear you have sisters. Did your mother have any more children by her new husband?”

“Oh no, my sisters almost killed her so she stopped fertility. What are your intention towards my father?”

‘This is it,’ she thought. ‘A jealous son worried that another woman will replace his mother.’ “I don’t know right now. George and I were almost engaged back then. But things happened. I don’t expect you to understand why things were as they were but you have to believe me that we were all wrong and I truly regret what happened back then. Now, I find myself enjoying my time with you two. The stories you tell, and I know that you are hiding a lot, are fascinating. Your father and I are friends. And maybe that friendship can be taken to the next level and we can recapture what we once had. I don’t know. Sometimes I find myself wondering what it would have been life had I married him back then. Then I wonder what it would be like if I married him today.”

“We aren’t like you.” Michael said. How do you explain to someone that you are not fully human when you are forbidden to talk about it. “I was born and raised in another... world. We honour our Warriors and we respect each other. All this impoliteness your people show is upsetting to me. But dad isn’t the man you used to know. He’s changed. I don’t know if you can accept that though my father and mother’s parents did when they moved from here and Russia to Drakonis. So maybe you can too. But if you and father marry, then you’d have to leave your family as dad left his. It took him thirty years to be able to return and if we don’t make a profit this trip, we’ll never be back.”

She tried to think of this but her mind couldn’t wrap itself around the concept. George owned his own ship. Why couldn’t he just sail into New York Harbor and take a flight here? “I don’t understand what you mean?”

“I can’t tell you, it’s forbidden. Just try to understand.” Then he left as his father arrived.

He hugged his son then Mary who wondered at the physical affection the two shared. Her own husbands never hugged their sons once they became ‘men’ yet here was George, a vet and supposedly macho who had no fear of hugging his son in public. And it was obvious that Michael respected his father and that George returned that respect. Her first husband never could say ‘I love you’ to his son and would beat the kids if they cried. Maybe their ways were better, at least Michael was smart, polite and had no fear of rejection by his father.

“Mary, how about dinner? My treat. I haven’t had a decent steak in decades.”

She readily agreed and they made arraingements to pick him up at seven then as she was leaving, she heard George say, “Michael, I think I’ve got it! Chocolate! The Demons love that and if we can figure out what to get from them that the Commonwealth would like, we’re home free!”

Mary picked him up and he was wearing a new suit, clearly uncomfortable with the necktie but dashing anyway then they drove to the restaurant where dinner was excellent. “We have pork and mutton but no one was ever able to bring cattle over. Too big I guess for the ships to carry. But the lobster! So big they can eat you if you aren’t careful.”

She let him ramble on for awhile until after dessert he suggested, “How about dancing? I’m afraid I’m out of practice and don’t know any of the newer ones but maybe I won’t embarrass you too much.”

Dancing? She thought. That should be interesting but she suggested a place where they could slow-dance as it used to be called to avoid causing him any stress. And once there, he apologized for stepping on her feet a few times “I guess I’m more out of practice than I thought” but she enjoyed herself anyway and that made her next words easier to say. “How about we cut this short and have a couple drinks at my place?”

On the couch, she took an extra gulp of her wine to steady her nerves and then leaned over and kissed him. It was nice and he tasted as good as she remembered so she did it again until he returned her feelings. After a few minutes of this, she removed his hand from her breast and slid down, undoing his pants as she said, “Let me, this is for you.” She wished she had finished the wine, or had something stronger because she simply dreaded what she would find. Were there scarred stumps or what? But if his ex-wife could do this, she’d better try or this relationship would end immediately.

She managed to get his pants undone but was afraid of pulling them down so she simply took him in hand and kissed and licked and enjoyed the experience of his pleasure. Finally, she, or the alcohol, was ready and after removing her dress, climbed into his lap and rode him carefully as they kissed. She felt his climax but couldn’t herself, afraid that if she lost control she’d loosen his legs and she couldn’t handle that so she was happy with his satisfaction and sat there, engulfing him as he held her close.

“Your turn,” he offered but she quickly responded, “No! I’m fine. Let me sit here for awhile until you have to leave.” She wasn’t ready for an overnight stay yet.

Later, dropping him off at home, she wished that she could just accept what he was instead of what he wanted him to be. She knew that she was falling in love again but being in her fifties, she had no illusions about the past or future. So climbing into bed, she held her pillow and wished she had the courage to hold him that way and fell asleep crying.


V
MEDIC ALERT

The next day Carol answered the door and found Mary there with a pick-nick basket in hand, “Are George and Michael here? I thought we’d go the park for lunch?”

“They left this morning. They said something about filling the hold with cargo! But you are welcome to come in and wait for them.” Carol stepped aside and almost pulled Mary in.

On the couch Carol continued, “I understand that you and George had a ‘nice’ time last night. I don’t want him hurt again. It took him thirty years to come home and mom and dad won’t last another thirty.”

“Carol,” Mary started then started again, “I don’t think I ever stopped loving him. I just wasn’t able to put myself aside for him but now I think I can. Michael is such a wonderful boy and George has matured so well. I think that if he leaves soon, I’ll propose to him before he leaves.”

Hugging her, Carol said, “I’m so happy. But if you break his heart again, I’ll…”

“I won’t, I promise. But I’m not certain I can handle his disability yet. I know I have to but somehow I don’t know how to. How do you manage?”

“I’m just his sister. He acts normal and so I treat him normal. But then, I didn’t bed him last night so you know more about that than I do.”

“We didn’t go as far as I wanted. I still don’t know what he looks like undressed other than that scar on his belly. He does smell nicer than any man I’ve known though. Maybe it’s the diet and clean living?”

They talked for awhile until the two men arrived, happy and carefree. “I think we did it! We had to taste test dozens of chocolate samples and I think my blood-sugar has given me diabetes but if this Godiva is as popular as I think it it’ll be, we’ll show a profit, keep the contract and be able to visit regularly. We need to celebrate. MOM! DAD! Let’s go out to celebrate.”

As Phil and Ellen came down the stairs, they felt the excitement of their son, excitement that they hadn’t seen since he was a child. While Ellen was congradulating her son, Carol noticed her father holding his left arm. “Dad! What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, everything’s fine. My arm just went numb. I’ll be ok.” Then he collapsed.

Carol screamed and fell to her father’s side and Ellen cried out, “Call 911, he’s having another heart attack!” then she joined Carol, holding her husband and crying.

George snapped something in a foreign language and Michael ran for the stairs as George ripped his father’s shirt open, sending buttons everywhere. Within seconds Michael had returned with a silvery box embossed with a red star then dropping to his knees, he pushed his grandmother and sister aside, opened the box and handed his father something that looked like a round frame covered with symbols and letters surrounding a glass window. George touched the device which caused the window to change and reveal the insides of the dying man. As George moved the device around, they saw muscles then ribs and finally heart and lungs in full color and motion, a motion that was slow and erratic. Another touch and colors changed with cross-hairs over parts of the heart and arteries and floating words in the Latin alphabet but a foreign language. Both Michael and his father spoke quietly in their foreign speech as they discussed the images and Michael pulled a cylinder which he pressed against his grandfather’s heart then a needle sprang out and reached to the heart which caused it to immediately slow to a regular steady rhythm. Releasing the device which lay there still attached to his father’s heart, he took another cylinder, added a small drum into it and handed it to his father who pressed it here and there, each time a needle would penetrate the man’s body, enter an artery and inject something which caused the artery to change color and relax. One part of the heart looked dead and to this Michael injected something here and there around the dead area, which caused the healthy muscle to began to slowly expand into the dead area.

Finally they were done, but kept watching through their device until they heard an ambulance approach. “Dad’ll be fine, but please don’t tell anyone what we did. I can’t explain why but it’s important.”

By the time the EMTs had entered, their equipment was packed away and all that was revealed were a number of needle marks around Phil’s chest and these were fading rapidly. The EMTs took their readings, informed the family that it looked like a false attack but they wanted to transport him anyway to be certain and they carried him out on a stretcher. Ellen went with them but Carol and Mary stood in the way of George and Michael, “What the hell was that all about! No one has equipment like that. You saw inside him! You saved him as easily as if you were pulling a splinter! Who are you!”

George sat down heavily, “You don’t think this affected me? He’s my father! We may have been apart for thirty years but that just made me miss him all the more. So I did what I had to and damn the rules!”

Michael started to speak to his father but Carol yelled, “English! Speak English for god’s sake!”

George raised his hand and said, “Michael, will you please fetch our vid-file? It’s ok, if we can’t trust family, who can we trust?”

When Michael returned, George showed them a picture of his family, the same photo as before only now it was three-dimensional and moving. Plus the two younger girls had moth-like antennae and cat’s eyes with one, whose hair was tied back, revealed pointed ears.

“Everything I told you was true, only I left out a few things.

“Thirty years ago, or more, our year is a bit shorter then Earth’s, I wasn’t much anyone wanted to know. Legless, bitter at everyone I was homeless and blamed society for my life. Then, a Collector from Drakonis appeared. He was a Weir and looked like my daughters here and he offered me a new life. All I had to do was to be a good man. So I took it. They fixed my body, healed me and trained me. They gave me land and a home and I had a good life.

“But Drakonis is set up for farmers and ranchers and frankly, I wasn’t cut out for either. So I took a position on the Amber Hope, as I said but the Hope,” he showed them a vid of the ship, “was a starship. An old D-Class Freighter. The wars I fought, the pirates and the Shitai were aliens.” He laughed then, “Interstellar war isn’t like you see on TV or in the movies. It’s starhips turning planets into asteroid belts from a million miles away. Blowing up entire fleets with star-furies teleported across a dozen light years. Unless your technology is similar to theirs, you never even see who you are killing.

“Earth is under embargo. Korea, Vietnam, a dozen other wars prove that Earth is too barbaric to contact. When the Races try, they are killed as monsters or captured and tortured for their technical secrets. So long as Earth is like this, we avoid contact.

“But those of us who immigrate tend to miss our families and we know we’ll never see them again. Then something changed. A new plan for contact was devised and a few ships were allowed to visit as merchants or tourists. I used every military contact I made during the wars to get one of the contracts. I just wanted to see my family again. And I wanted my children to see their grandparents, even once.

“So now I think we can make a profit and keep the contract and keep returning to Earth BUT only if you keep quiet about what happened. If word gets out, we’ll be kicked off-world and never be allowed to return.”

Carol didn’t hesitate. She reached for her brother and said, “We’ll keep your secret. I can convince mom that you did CPR and she imagined the rest. Just don’t leave us again. Or when you do, come back soon?”

On the way to the hospital, Mary said, “So, you’re like Han Solo?”

“Who?”

“A space adventurer, smuggler, pirate, rebellion general. Married a princess. Star Wars! I guess you don’t get a lot of movies out there.”

“Well, we execute pirates and smugglers so I mainly drive a truck, but instead of between cities, I go between stars. It’s really dull mostly but the sights are amazing. It’s like every fantasy painting ever made, only real! I can’t imagine going back to ground dwelling.”

“And me?” she asked. “What about me? I think I love you but I can’t stay here while you’re out there between the stars.”

He looked at her then answered, “You could come with me? The entire Wing family lives on board, I travel with Michael and my daughters may be joining soon. Of course we can’t marry until we undergo marriage counseling.”

“Marriage? George are you proposing to me? I hope you aliens don’t believe in wearing white at your wedding.” She laughed, mostly out of nervousness.

“Well, we do believe in a healthy sex life regardless of our marital status. Michael is active and so is Gina, which I have a hard time accepting. But I’m too young to be a monk.

“So, want to be the consort of a starship captain? See the universe? Visit strange places and meet alien races? It’s not like the movies but it is … fascinating!”

“Why George, I do believe that this is the strangest proposition I ever received. But I accept. When do we leave?”



Characters in these stories. Here you will find who these people and places are.


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by: Rick Johnson
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