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First Contact

Premiered June 24, 2003

Chapter Three

It was the primary "all-hands" event of the Intrepid. The Captain was ostensibly in command of the actual piloting of the ship as it made its initial landing on the planet, but in fact Ralph was more in charge than Michaels.  The Captain was in fact more concerned with the idea of a First Contact with sentient beings on their own turf. His display console was constantly active, flashing through a host of other displays and readouts.

The Space and Planetary Survey display flashed on his screen, allowing him to monitor any indications of the planet's possible interest in a star ship coasting in for a landing. Engineering readouts were frequently interspersed throughout in Michaels' monitoring on the off-chance a hasty departure from the planet's surface might be necessary. Computer monitoring confirmed the adherence of Ralph to the preprogrammed flight plan, and an occasional medical readout ensured that each of the officers were ready for any eventuality.

Perhaps a Commanding Officer's main concern might be in the actual landing, ensuring the planetary navigation and the appropriate landmarks appeared at the proper time and place, and that they were in accordance with a preprogrammed landing. However, Michaels confined himself to only random checks on his Astronavigator's landing. The Captain had a great deal of faith in the ability of Marie to handle the Intrepid, and in spotting potential problems which she could call to his attention on a moment's notice.

On the other hand, his confidence in Stevens and Van Lantz, and their less experienced efforts with the Space and Planetary Survey and the IFF-EW (Identification Friend or Foe – Early Warning) equipment was somewhat less. While the flight of the Intrepid was an event capable of precise preplanning, the appearance of alien vessels or potential hostile acts, etc, could in no way be preprogrammed. Fleeting glimpses of intelligent activity on the planet's surface or in its atmosphere might call for quick and decisive reactions.  If at all possible, Michaels had to be ready for any act of response.  The preprogrammed flight path was of substantially less importance than the potential effects and response to their flight path on the inhabitants below.

Almost in passing, Michaels became aware of the beauty and calm of the planet. Heavily forested, hilly with occasional major outcroppings of rock; it looked very inviting, a primeval wilderness scene. And as the Intrepid dropped lower, signs of habitation begin to distinguish itself from the greenery. Small house-like dwellings begin to rise up in scattered clusters, like farms in a European country side. But there were still no signs of movement, of activity. Was anything alive down there?

The silence of the concentrated activity was then broken by Thomas. "Landing area in sight, sir."

"Very well, Commander. Continue the landing."

"Continue the landing, aye."

Then Stevens. "I have a movement in sector 4 Golf."

"Confirmed movement, sector 4 Golf," Sorrenson responded. "Appears to be a form of mammalian life. No apparent vehicular movement. Tentative assessment: Non-threatening."

"Very Well. Continue the landing." The Captain's display flickered even faster than before, as he tried to keep track of all of the incoming data.

A moment later, Stevens announced, "They're humans!"

"Stevens!" the Captain barked, "Scan all sectors. Commander Sorrenson, evaluate movement in sector 4 Golf."

Simultaneously they replied, "Aye, Captain."

Stevens shook her head abruptly as if visually shifting her thinking back to her early warning equipment, and to shrug off her imagination's field day with the speculations on the-newly discovered life forms.

Then Ralph announced, in a matter-of-fact way, "Landing area, five minutes, two miles, area clear."

Sorrenson added, "The life forms are moving toward the landing area, Captain."


"Yes sir. It looks like we'll have a welcoming committee."

Thomas interrupted, "Captain, I have additional life forms approaching the landing area from dead ahead." Instinctively Michaels hit the ahead, exterior display, made an instantaneous judgement, and ordered, "Thomas, continue the landing. We're not backing out now."

"Aye, aye, sir." Thomas replied, the excitement in her voice telling everyone that she heartily endorsed the decision.

The Captain watched the broad green area chosen for their landing area approach them, rise up and then gently cradle the Intrepid. Their target industrial complex could just barely be seen in the distance, slightly more than eight miles away. Stretching before it was a series of hills and valleys, framing the complex on either side, and bordering the bottom with the green of the landing area. The landing area itself was particularly flat, a lush field of close cropped grass-like undergrowth, the size of eight to ten football fields. In fact it looked as well kept as a football field, but there were no indications whatsoever of markings, structures, or anything which might hint at its use. There were no obvious boundaries or any shape to the area; only the subtle encroachment of the forest on the short-grassed meadow.

Suddenly the forests seemed to darken as more life forms begin to emerge from the trees at all points of the compass, and then merge with the groups ahead and to the rear. Stevens was reporting new life forms in different sectors, and then broke off for a second before announcing, "They're all around us, sir. We're completely encircled."

Sorrenson added, "Nearest groups are at 600 yards and closing. The nearer ones are apparently approaching slower."

Michaels' attention went by segment around the circle of life forms, searching for the unexpected or the hint of hostile reception. But try as he might, he could detect nothing even remotely threatening. In fact he had to concentrate on not allowing a feeling of carefree and calm override his natural caution. The aliens approaching the Intrepid seemed to radiate a sense of calm and eagerness normally reserved for picnics and county fairs. It was almost disconcerting that there was no hesitancy or wonder about the aliens. They did seem particularly human in their appearance, making their attitude of eagerness and joyful expectation seem even more wrong. Had they been humans, they might have been running away screaming; instead they were like children, eager to see a new toy.

Then Michaels noticed that the nearest group had closed to about 50 yards and had stopped.  Some of the beings dropped down on the grass of the meadow to relax and await developments. Others behind them and at a greater distance along the circle continued to close the distance, only to take their places in the developing circle about the Intrepid. Within minutes all the aliens were encircled about the ship, standing or sitting on the grass.  From all appearances, they were apparently waiting for the parade to begin. Sorrenson added that they were gathered at a radius of about 55 yards, plus or minus a few feet. It was very nearly a perfect circle. Abruptly Michaels asked, "Engineering?"

Woody replied, "Engineering systems operating normally. Confirm power levels: Zero-propulsion, two-computational, two-life support systems. Hull integrity surveys I-A, I-B, and I-C completed; conditions normal. Maneuvering systems ready and standing by."

Without an obvious pause, or a chance for Michaels to acknowledge, Thomas reported for Astronavigation, "Alternate escape trajectories plotted and laid in, ready for immediate execution."

As all the reports from the Intrepid's officers came in, only part of Michaels' mind paid it any attention. It was enough that his mind only confirmed everything was ready for a quick lift off, and with nothing out of the ordinary, the information barely reached the threshold of his thinking. Rather it was the observation of the aliens which took his priorities.

The initial reaction that the aliens were very earth-like in appearance was in most respects an accurate one. Ryerson's report that the atmospheric conditions were in all respects earth normal (with just a slight difference in percentages of gases), reinforced the scene as if it were a group of Europeans on a Bavarian hillside awaiting the start of the festival. But then some of the differences began to manifest themselves. As Michaels continued to scan around the encircling natives, he noted the generally darker colorings of their skins with shades of color running from a soft black, to bluish black, to brown, to reddish brown. All were light shades, suggesting a very healthy southern climate. There appeared to be no clear distinction between the colors, but a continuum of all colors and in-between shades.

The aliens were slightly smaller on the average, both men and women averaging about four and a half to five and a half feet tall. He would soon learn that there was very little divergence of height among adults, and between children of the same age. An adult of six feet would have been considered very unusual, and few ever exceeded five and a half feet.

Their faces were particularly human -- except for their eyes and ears. The ears were the most noticeable, being significantly larger and sticking out more, facing almost directly forward, and located a few centimeters closer to the eye than for humans. The eyes were generally a green or blue, and with an intense quality. The eyes seem to dart about with a feverish quest for information, not unlike those of the Eurasian hinterlands -- a trait apparently derived from their infancy when they were carefully wrapped in swaddling clothes, and thus had no real freedom of movement of anything but their eyes.

The hair of the aliens was particularly fine and heavy, giving a sense more of fur than hair. The length and shading was as diverse as for humans, but was more soft and shining than usual. The hair gave the suggestion of healthiness, and in fact was not contradicted by reality. The natives were in fact, substantially free from apparent injuries and sickness – at least those in sight. Added to this was the almost jubilant attitude of those around the Intrepid.

In general the overall effect was quite human physically. One could note the differences only at closer quarters, and even then the effect was not unpleasant. On the contrary the natives seemed softer and gentler, with the slight differences in their physical makeup between them and humans suggesting a greater friendliness on the part of the natives.

Thomas was clearly affected by the attractiveness of the natives. The cultures of the Molikian and Rynangi civilizations had been so distinctively different from humans, and effectively so unattractive that the discovery of a culture which could appear at first glance as beautiful in the eyes of humans as their peers, was a not insignificant shock. It would take some effort for Marie to maintain the cautious attitude and the wariness that her position as visiting alien demanded.

For several moments silence reigned supreme. It was time for a critical decision. The ship was fully prepared for an emergency lift off. There was, however, no hint of any potential or hostile acts by the natives, and any lift off now would be more disadvantageous than prudent. As the seconds ticked off, it was clear there existed no justifiable reason to delay the First Contact. Marie turned to watch Michaels, as he pondered the same decision. With just the slightest hesitation, the Captain ordered the initiation of the pre-established procedures.

Quickly, but without any sign of rushing, Van Lantz and Stevens transferred their monitoring duties to Woody, and then moved out of Control toward the main hatch. The forward hatch opened on their arrival at their station, causing an immediate response from the natives. Marie and the others watched the alien's reactions carefully, but could detect nothing more than the reaction of an audience at the raising of a curtain on a musical comedy.

Van Lantz and Stevens slowly stepped out, and moved twenty feet forward of the hatch to come fully into view of all the aliens. Simultaneously the natives came to their feet and began making noises with their hands. It was, at first, a strange sound; but then Marie realized it was nothing more than a snapping of the thumb and forefinger together followed immediately by a slap of the snapping hand into the palm of the other hand. Stunned, she suddenly recognized the reaction as applause. The natives of a star system light years from earth were applauding the arrival of the first intersteller star ship and its crew!

Thomas could also see what was apparently a great deal of conversation among the natives as if each were excitedly telling his neighbor of the events. And still not the hint of hostile action. Perhaps earthlings are a bit paranoid, expecting the worse in any situation, Thomas thought. On the other hand their position required a bit of paranoia, as a defense of their starship. Nevertheless the reaction of these aliens could only be interpreted as very friendly and courteous.

And interested. Thomas suddenly seemed to sense an immense curiosity by the natives of the planet in the Intrepid and its occupants. The aliens seemed genuinely intrigued and in no way gave the slightest hint of concern that the Intrepid might be hostile. Marie was astounded by the total trust the aliens obviously possessed.

Max interrupted her thoughts, "Captain, looks like a delegation approaching from ahead."

Michaels took a quick look at four of the aliens moving toward the Intrepid, and made his decision. "Commander Sorrenson, make contact."

"Aye, Sir." Sorrenson and Thomas both stood up. Standard procedure called for both men and women in all the initial contacts, in anticipation of possible different male/female status among aliens. Quickly the pair moved out of the ship. When they had joined Stevens and Van Lantz -- who were continuing to stand quietly and letting themselves be observed by the aliens -- the natives again became excited and began "applauding". The aliens seemed even more impressed that there were four of them.

Sorrenson took a quick look around, trying to evaluate the situation. The four aliens were still approaching, but appeared to have slowed their pace. Then he said, "Commander Thomas," and together they began walking toward the approaching aliens. "Keep the pace slow, Marie," he added, as they moved clearly and calmly forward.

When Sorrenson and Thomas were about sixty feet from the ship, the aliens stopped in front of them, about ten feet away, and gave a slight bow, their hands placed together reverently (as if in prayer). Both Sorrenson and Thomas mimicked the greeting. The apparent leader then stepped forward from the four, and with both hands extended, palms down, he said something totally unintelligible. It was abruptly surprising, since the human appearance had led the humans to expect English, or at the very least, French. Sorrenson responded in English, whereupon the alien leader and his three companions at first looked surprised, and then began to laugh. Sorrenson and Thomas could only smile broadly as the four aliens appeared to get the biggest charge out of Sorrenson's statement.

Turning to one of his companions the alien leader took a rectangular object and turned back to Marie and Max. The alien leader quickly noting the three broad stripes on Sorrenson's sleeve and the two broad and one narrow stripe on Thomas' sleeve approached Sorrenson and offered the object. Sorrenson took a step forward and accepted it. The leader then began a long, totally unintelligible discourse. In the process, he removed a plastic-like binding from the object and tried to demonstrate its uses. After a few perplexing moments, Max saw that it was effectively a book, but with an unusual binding (something like multiple, miniature hinges for each page). Then Thomas looking over his shoulder made the observation, "Looks like a dictionary." (And in fact it was, albeit one for primary grades.)

With the leader smiling broadly and stepping back slightly, Sorrenson handed the book to Thomas, who in turn gave it to Van Lantz as he came forward. One of the aliens then approached and seemed to indicate that she went with the book. Sorrenson agreed and told Van Lantz, "Take the book and the female back to the ship, and hook up the exterior remote control. Feed the book and whatever the alien says into Gertrude. We may be able to get a computer translation fairly quickly. And be sure Gertrude is severed from Ralph. We don't want any stray, alien instructions being fed into Ralph's memory banks."

As Van Lantz, carrying the book, and the female alien walked casually back toward the ship, the alien leader and the remaining two aliens gently set down on the ground, four feet from where the two humans stood. Both Sorrenson and Thomas quickly joined the aliens on the ground to await the computer's attempt to establish the first semblance of a communications language.

While Woody monitored the translating computer's scanning of the aliens' "dictionary", Thomas sat on the grass, her mind still intent upon trying to interpret the situation. Nagging worries kept her ill at ease, while everyone else seemed perfectly casual. The aliens appeared to be on a holiday outing, and acted as if they had been expecting the Intrepid. In Thomas' mind, things could not be that simple. If nothing else, there was absolutely no indication anyone on the planet had observed their approach. And yet, they were obviously prepared; why else have a "dictionary" readily available?

Thomas glanced at Sorrenson on the grass beside her. He seemed equally at ease. Thomas knew Max was capable of appearing to be at ease, even in the worst of circumstances. But now she wondered if his attitude was real or carefully programmed. The distressing part for Thomas was that she suspected he really was at ease.

When Marie turned back to observe the aliens, their faces seemed to light up when she showed them any attention. Marie could not help but smile back at the three very friendly natives. Then she began to make mental notes. Of the three sitting before them, two were clearly male and the other one obviously female. Including the alien with Van Lantz at the ship, also female, it appeared the welcoming committee consisted of equal sex representation. Perhaps, she thought, for the same reasons the earthlings employed.

From their dress it was clear the alien leader and the others represented the local authority -- their garb had just the extra formality and distinctiveness to set them apart, but without overdoing it. The leader wore a stately robe of simple but distinctive beauty, and set off with a single, ornamental sunburst-like object. The female to his left wore a similar ornament, but with a slightly different shape. She also had the sunburst (if that was what it was), but it seemed smaller. Thomas had no doubt that she was a level below the alien leader.

The third alien sitting in front of Max, also had the look of officialdom, but his garb had a distinctively different cut and style from that of the leader and his assistant. Instead of a sunburst, he wore another ornament, which was circular with blue, green and white colorings abstractly applied. Marie wondered if he belonged to a different sect or religion or to a different governmental bureaucracy. Perhaps they would soon find out. Whatever the case, he seemed to defer easily to the leader.

Rather abruptly Marie realized the female alien who had gone with Van Lantz, had also worn the second style. If her impression was correct, the female at the Intrepid outranked the male sitting here to the right of the leader. And thus the male-female equality appearance was further emphasized.

As she continued to observe the aliens, the leader suddenly seemed to take notice of something far off to the right. With raised eyebrows and his neck extended, he watched for just a moment and then smiled. Carefully addressing Max, he made some sort of statement, and looking inquiringly at Sorrenson. Max smiled, gesturing he didn't understand in the universal style of shrugging his shoulders. This act seemed particularly funny to the aliens, who immediately began laughing and joking at the situation.

But the leader was undaunted. Using a rudimentary sign language, he began gesturing, apparently requesting something. Then it dawned on Marie. "Max," she said, "I think he's requesting permission for his people to be allowed to approach closer to the Intrepid."

"I think you're right." Quickly Max gave an affirmative gesture, before Michaels would have an opportunity to pick up on the conversation and veto the idea. The aliens immediately smiled, and the leader rose and lifted his hands toward the encircling natives. With a few voice commands from the leader, they immediately began walking forward.

Marie's first reaction was one of mild panic, but then her thoughts were distracted by the observation that the people all seemed to be moving at a slow but steady gait, with no pushing, no shoving, and no running. The circle was contracting, but no one appeared to be getting in anyone else's way.  It was as if the whole thing had been carefully choreographed. Then just as the aliens nearest to Sorrenson and Thomas reached a distance of about twenty yards away, the leader held up his arm and the entire circle stopped. With no further thought the leader resumed his seat, and the encircling aliens went back to their "parade-watching" stance. Several sat down on the ground to relax, while others remained standing -- all watching the earthlings and the Intrepid with great interest and amusement.

Marie continued to study the alien leader, trying to guess at the motivation(s) behind his actions. But then a slight noise behind her made her turn. A small contingent near Kat Stevens was busy observing and comparing notes on the junior officer. And Kat, being Kat, was smiling back and letting her eyes sparkle as only a flirting girl could. Worse yet (from Marie’s viewpoint) the aliens were eating it up, laughing and joking, and generally having a ball.

Marie stared intently at Kat, trying to gain her attention by the intensity of her feelings. When Kat did finally look toward Marie, Thomas sternly mouthed the order, "Knock it off!"

Kat shrugged her shoulders slightly, looking helpless, a victim of a cruel male chauvinistic society. Then she inclined her head toward Van Lantz and suggested that Thomas consider his case as well. For when Marie looked further to the left, she saw a contingent of females giving Larry the once over. And even without a language it was clear what their subject was. Even a number of details of their conversation was evident.

To Larry's credit, he was having none of it -- or at least, very little. He did have some duties to perform, keeping track of the translation computer read in, and thus could occupy his attention gainfully. Kat, unfortunately, had no other immediate responsibilities beyond acting as good will ambassador. It was a role, however, to which she was ideally suited.

Marie turned back, shaking her head. To Max she reported, half-disgustedly, "My God, the aliens are flirting with Kat and Larry."

Max glanced significantly at Marie before he answered. "They could do a lot worse." Marie only grimaced.

"It's one thing to land among an alien race with a total lack of fear or even uneasiness in the presence of visitors from outer space. But to flirt with them? It's ludicrous. You'd think we were expected. I feel like the crew of the third space fleet setting down in a liberty port on Mars."

When Max only smiled, she castigated him, "You're enjoying this!"

Max looked at her for a moment, with only a slight smile. His gaze was intended to allow Marie the opportunity to think on her words. She chose to a void the opportunity. "This is the First Contact between two worlds. It is not a picnic!" And with that pronouncement, she rested her case.

Not daring to look back at Max, Marie looked directly ahead. Then she noticed the three aliens watching her intently, hanging on every word of her discourse with Max. They were clearly amused, and moreover fascinated by the apparent fact her tone implied a higher rank than that of Max's.

But before Marie could consider further the possibilities, Kat said aloud, "Commander, look to your right. Children."

Both Max and Marie looked over to where several small children were filtering through the ranks of the adults, and taking seats on the grass directly in front. Soon all ages from preschoolers to teenagers, were appearing at all points of the circle. They wore similar clothing, with various colors, the latter of which were apparently related to age or size.

Max commented quietly, "Looks like school just let out."

Marie was amazed. Shaking her head in wonder, she said, "What more proof do we need that these people are totally at ease with us? It's absolutely incredible!"

Abruptly Woody's voice came over the miniature intercom carried by each member of the Intrepid. "Something's happening at 20 degrees off the port bow."
Marie looked to her left and saw the circle breaking with several people clearing an area of perhaps ten feet in width. Just as suddenly the alien leader and his companions were on their feet. Marie and Max quickly got up just in time to see her appearance.

The immediate effect was that of the arrival of royalty. Whoever she was, she wore a magnificent full length robe of dark emerald and velvet green, trimmed with an immaculate white fur, and highlighted with jeweled sequins in a detailed, abstract design. Marie knew immediately it was the most beautiful gown of clothing she had ever seen or would likely ever see again. Shari's voice on the intercom agreed, "Lord, will you look at that robe?"

Woody's reaction was more masculine. "She's beautiful." Then with even more awe, "She's the most drop dead gorgeous creature I've ever seen."

Van Lantz was more practical, "Who is she?”

Max suggested, "Perhaps she's the local Princess."

Then as if on cue, the priest bowed gracefully from the waist, with all the others (including Max and Marie) following suit. The gesture was a simple one, without either pretense or excessive formality; more spontaneous than choreographed. It carried all the aspects of genuine respect, without any of the trappings of formality or tradition. Rather it seemed the thing to do. And in an equally simple movement, she returned the courtesy with a smile that could have melted Sargon himself.

She then turned from the others and began to study the ship; she seemed as interested as the rest of the aliens. The others having acknowledged her presence went back to what they were doing, with only the ones nearest her keeping a watchful eye on her. Turning slightly she appeared to ask a question. Instantly one of the younger aliens approached her and began talking and gesturing. For a moment she turned to the young alien and they conversed, for all appearances, as equals. Only her magnificent robe and radiant beauty gave her prominence.  Otherwise the two people spoke without regard to rank.

The alien leader with Max and Marie then sought to identify her to the earthlings. He made a number of gestures, explaining in some detail the status of the magnificently robed woman. Nothing came through the translation computer, but the leader's distinct enthusiasm and joy implied a great deal about his own personal feelings in regard to the woman. Marie could only guess that they were being visited by a much loved royalty.

When Marie looked back at the girl, she was again looking at the ship, the young alien standing quietly and unobtrusively beside her. Then with a smile, she said something to the young man, and then turned, as if to leave.

Woody, over the intercom, whispered, "Don't go, beautiful lady. Stay."

As if responding to his words, she turned back momentarily, smiled a radiant smile, and then quietly walked out of view. Several aliens near her bowed slightly at her departure, but all the aliens seemed imminently aware of her departure. With her going, the crowd noise slowly increased to earlier levels.

Marie looked back at the alien leader, who remained at ease as before. Analyzing her thoughts Marie began to realize the girl's presence had not put the leader ill at ease, and that instead his actions had been merely respectful. It was as if the royalty of the people deserved and received their devoted respect, but without an enforcing power or authority with which to demand it. It seemed to be a strange arrangement.

Marie continued to puzzle over the girl's appearance, until movements of the leader caught her attention. Then Larry's voice confirmed the onset of a new event. "It looks as if the alien reader has reached a specific point in her little book. I think she wants us to try the translator now."

The Captain took a few seconds, before saying, "I think the communicator may have enough for a very basic conversation. We'll need more, but we can attempt a communication. Max, give them the speech."

Sorrenson quickly complied, giving a brief, very basic, strictly formalized speech of greetings. The speech included gestures and had been carefully developed by the so-called best minds on earth as the ultimate, non-threatening, not capable of being misinterpreted greeting. Apparently it was a success. The aliens were delighted at the communicator's ability to translate and they applauded in their own way with exceptional gusto.

At first they were clearly more impressed at the fact of translation than the actual words. It was as if they had never considered that the greeting could be anything other than cordial.  But when they began to listen more intently to the content, the only notable reactions were snickers -- brought on by probable inaccuracies in the translation.

When Max was clearly finished, the leader smiled broadly and responded in an obviously slow and distinct manner. The words were partially addressed to the translating remote communicator on Max's belt, and partially to Max himself. The translated version went, "Welcome to Riwan. We are Riwanians. All people of Riwan are (untranslatable) us. Some have watched as your bright star came to us. The Gods have told us that far-travelers would approach our home and eventually land on our Riwan.

”As a (questionable translation) of the people to the Gods, I welcome you in the name of all Riwanians."

The alien paused for just a moment, looking expectantly. Then he asked, "You understand my words?"

Max answered, "Oh yes, quite well." Then quickly, "We are honored to be here."

The priest smiled even broader. "Many of Riwan have come here to greet you. They are amazed and excited to see travelers who use ships to travel among stars. Truly the feat of accomplishing such travel is a great (untranslatable words) for any individual.  May we ask which of you built this marvel?"

Max looked blank for a moment. Then just as he was about to answer, the priest suddenly looked thoughtful, and held up his hand. After a few moments of silence, he smiled again. With his whole face lit up, he announced to the earthmen and aliens alike, "The Gods have just (untranslatable). They wish me to welcome the far travelers in their name."

The alien to the right of the priest lit up at this news, and quickly yelled to the encircling aliens, "The Gods themselves have welcomed the travelers."

An enormous cheer went up and a thunderous applause rose up to express the unanimity of their approval.

When the excitement wore down some, Max responded again, "It is our great honor to be here, and to be honored by your Gods. We and our people of Earth look forward to our races working and cooperating together."

Suddenly the priest's smile vanished along with that of his companions. Marie immediately stiffened, a flash of thoughts rushing through her mind. But then she saw that the priest was only puzzled. With a slight smile, he said, "Perhaps you need more words. What you say is not finished."

Quickly, Max answered, "It is our wish that the people of Earth and the people of Riwan be friends."

"Yes," the priest said, his broad smile returned in its full intensity, "That is what you mean. We will be friends." Then as Max drew a relieved breath, the priest continued, "All strangers that visit us are friends. A host is always friend to the traveling stranger."

Max quickly improvised, "Of course. Such is our way as well. A host is always friendly toward travelers."

"Then we are alike. But if we are to be (untranslatable) hosts, then we must see to your needs. Expectedly, you must be tired from your long journey and will rest. Meeting new friends may have tired you and you will need rest again. To allow rest for each of you, the people will withdraw."

"You are very kind."

"Some of us may return after the sun rises again to greet you. Will you allow us that time?"

"Of course. We will be happy to see you." Then as an afterthought, "We will be happy to again greet our friends."

The priest smiled, and then with a sly wink, "There may be many more to greet you. People from other parts of Riwan travel here to see the far-travelers and their star vehicle.  Many friends may take much of your time."

"We'll be happy to see them."

The priest looked for a moment as if he didn't quite believe it. For emphasis he repeated, "Many people." When Max only smiled, the priest seemed to accept the inevitable. Then he turned and announced to the Riwanians that it was time to allow their guests to rest. Immediately they all began to applaud and then slowly disperse.

Max and Marie excused themselves and headed back toward the Intrepid. Several Riwanians nearer the ship were just leaving and one man made a point of catching Marie's attention. As he passed her, he made a few comments and gestures. Marie almost stumbled in shock. Aghast, she turned to Max, "I think I've just been propositioned!"

Max only smiled. "I wouldn't be a bit surprised."


Copyright 1983, 1996, 2003 Dan Sewell Ward

Chapter Two -- Lady Katherine

Forward to:

Chapter Four -- The Riwanians



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