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Fiction. © Copyright 1998, Jim Loy
The space ship was named the James Cook, named after the greatest explorer in the history of earth. The ship looked like a hodge-podge of plumbing supplies. But it was moving at one-third the speed of light, and was gradually accelerating. It was scooping up hydrogen fuel from the surrounding space, with the use of vast magnetic fields.
In command was Captain José O'Higgins. Science Officer Dmitry Orlov was second in command. Both men wore casual, wrinkled clothes. Orlov had a neatly trimmed beard and mustache. Ten other people, six men and four women, were in suspended animation, in what Dmitry called the ice box. They were on their way to explore Tau Ceti. There was reason to believe that Tau Ceti had habitable planets. They were hoping to establish a colony.
This flight had already taken 19 years, and would continue another 25 years. There was a good chance that Captain O'Higgins and Dmitry would never see earth again.
The captain was in the shower when Dmitry paged him. "You might want to see this. It looks like a nova. Seems to be about 400 parsecs away.
Captain O'Higgins finished his shower and went to see the nova. It was no longer visible. "That's pretty weird," said Dmitry. "A nova should last for days at least, maybe weeks. A supernova would last even longer." He added, "We don't know the distance. I guessed 400 parsecs, assuming that it was a typical nova. Here's what it looked like." He played a recording of the "nova" on the big screen monitor. It was just a very bright pinpoint of light, among the dimmer stars. "Maybe it's a collision of two stars. I don't know what kind of time scales are possible there. That may put it closer to us. But I'm not sure."
O'Higgins asked, "How about colliding planets or asteroids?"
"Possibly. That would be pretty close to us. It wouldn't be near any stars."
"Well, keep working on it. Let's send a message to earth. They may have seen it, too. They could help us get a positional fix on it." This message would take more than five years to reach earth.
Dmitry studied the "nova." The captain went about his duties.
The ship was pretty lonely. The two crew members had different duty shifts. Their awake periods overlapped to some extent. And they spent most of the overlap time in each others' company: eating, discussing the mission, sports. They played a kind of handball in one of the tubes of the ship.
And there were robots, large and small. The robots were not sociable, just performing menial tasks. But it was easy to imagine that they had their own personalities. But the robots were utter morons. The computer was not particularly smart either. But it always won at chess, and some of the other games.
Mail from earth was the high point of each day. The mail was taking longer to reach them, each day. But it was hard to notice the delay, as the mail was timed to reach their ship at the same time every day. And news that was taking several years to get to them was still news to them.
Dmitry's job was mainly astronomy, mainly the mapping of local space. That seemed to be his hobby, too. Captain O'Higgins' job was running the ship. Or rather, his job was to make sure that the computer was running the ship. His hobby was playing the piano.
Captain O'Higgins woke from a pleasant dream. An alarm was sounding. He contacted Dmitry.
"We've got a visitor, Captain."
That statement puzzled the captain. But, the formality of being called "Captain" brought home the fact that this might be an emergency, more than the monotonous alarm did. He dressed and ran to the bridge.
The two men had many varied thoughts as they stared open-mouthed at the scene on the monitor. A tiny, gray and black, cylindrical space ship was approaching. It had flashing lights. It had been approaching at great speed. It slowed, matching its speed to that of the James Cook.
A hatch opened, and an oddly shaped space suit blundered out. Air and a bluish liquid were leaking from the space suit, bubbling out of a hole in one "arm." It was not obvious that the space suit was occupied, until the face of an alien being could be seen through the faceplate of the helmet. The being was in trouble.
Captain O'Higgins ran to the airlock, and hastily donned a space suit. He left the ship and hauled the alien being into the ship. Dmitry helped him carry the alien to the aid station. They struggled to remove the unfamiliar space suit from the comatose alien.
Dmitry then took charge, as he had medical training. "Catch as much of that bluish blood as you can. We may have to put some of it back into him." Was it a him? The alien was skinny and angular, with tiny eyes. His color was a whitish gray. Captain O'Higgins suspected that his natural color was blue.
Dmitry bandaged the injured arm, repaired a few minor cuts, and performed tests. "No bones broken. Can't be sure how serious his condition is. Can't tell what's normal. I'll irradiate that blood you collected, to kill micro-organisms. There may be some kind of toxins in the blood, from infection. So, I won't put it back into him unless he really needs it." He irradiated the blood and then put it into the freezer.
Later that day, Dmitry reported, "His protein and amino acids are different from ours. Some are totally different. Some are backwards from ours. We've got L-lysine, he's got D-lysine, the mirror image. Our food will probably give him energy and minerals. But, I don't think our vitamins and other nutrients will do him much good. I'm giving him a glucose and water IV. Those are already constituents of his blood."
The alien's tiny space ship seemed to have come from the direction of the "nova" that they had seen earlier. Captain Higgins was able to calculate that the "nova" was an explosion only about 2 AU's away. The alien ship was no more than an escape pod. The explosion may have been the destruction of a bigger ship. Captain Higgins found some food in the alien's escape pod. That might help save the alien's life.
Dmitry said, "I don't think we should call him an alien. Out in space, we're as much aliens as he is."
"Well, at least we are still in earth's neighborhood. He might be millions of parsecs from home. You got a better name for him?"
"Yeah, I like 'Boris.' Let's call him Boris."
Captain O'Higgins laughed. He thought about it for a while, and then said, "OK, Boris it is."
Boris started to go downhill.
Captain O'Higgins woke to the blaring sound of an alarm. Both he and Dmitry arrived at Boris' bed before they realized that the alarm was for a different purpose. They had another visitor. They rushed to the bridge.
This new ship was large, dwarfing their own ship. It was decorated in garish colors, with colored markings that may have been words or numbers. It hovered, about fifty meters away, and made no move. Dmitry was replayed a recording, on a monitor. "It just appeared, right where it is, like science fiction."
O'Higgins commented, "Doesn't seem to be much like Boris' escape pod, brighter colors, different kinds of markings, different architecture. Maybe different species of alien."
Eventually, they received a message on the speaker of one of the control consoles. It was in English, spoken by a deep male voice. "This is Captain Markadan of the Vensan fleet. You have a Kavarian escape pod attached to your ship. Would you explain that?" They received no picture, to go with the voice.
"Doesn't seem very friendly," Captain O'Higgins said. Then he spoke into a microphone. "Welcome to the James Cook." He explained that they were from earth, and on a peaceful mission of exploration, and how they had rescued Boris, and about Boris' physical condition.
Captain Markadan explained that the Vensans and Kavarians were at war. He had recently destroyed a Kavarian ship, near here. And the Kavarian named Boris was apparently a survivor of that battle. And Captain Markadan demanded that they turn Boris over to him.
Captain O'Higgins refused, making Dmitry cringe, "I'm sorry, but Boris is our guest."
Captain Markadan exhaled, as if weary. "Do you realize that we can crush your spacecraft with almost no expenditure of energy?" There was silence. Then he said, "As I see it, you have two choices. 1. Keep Boris, as you call him, and he probably dies of his injuries. 2. Turn him over to us, and we probably save his life."
O'Higgins asked, "Does that mean that you refuse to save Boris' life, if we refuse to turn him over to you?"
Markadan chuckled, and said, "Don't go away." The communication link went dead.
Dmitry was visibly worried. "They can blow us away, you know. We ought to just give Boris to them."
"Calm down. They aren't going to destroy us. We're earth's ambassadors."
"Hey, maybe they can destroy earth, too. We might be saving earth by giving them Boris."
"Yeah. What about Boris' people? Can they destroy earth, too? You want me to choose between the Vensans and the Kavarians? Hey, we are neutral. We don't want to be part of their war."
"But they may think that we're choosing sides by not giving them Boris. At least tell them that we're not choosing sides."
O'Higgins said, "Good idea. I'll tell them, when they come back on line." He mumbled to himself, "Yoohoo, we're not choosing sides."
They had to wait for most of a day, for communications to be restored.
Captain Markadan said, "Please accept my apology. I should never have threatened you. It was the pressure of my command. You were quite right to refuse to give this Boris to us. We had decided, many decades ago, that earth should not be involved in our disgusting war. If you will allow me, I will send a medical doctor over to treat your Boris."
The doctor was short and wide, with yellowish skin with red veins showing through. His large eyes were expressive, actually laughing eyes. He worked on Boris, alternately uttering "Hm" and shaking his head. Boris was still in a bad way. But, he began to recover.
Captain Markadan came over to the James Cook. He was also short and wide and yellowish. He informed Captain O'Higgins that he would contact his enemies, and ask them to pick up Boris. I promise not to trap them." He seemed sad that he wouldn't be trapping them.
Captain O'Higgins and Dmitry watched as the Vensan ship disappeared. It just winked out of sight. There seemed to be a small movement of the James Cook. It may have been a real movement, or it may have been a subconscious feeling.
About a week later, Boris woke. Dmitry was able to reassure him, with words and gestures which were taught to him by the Vensan doctor. Although very weak, Boris taught them much, of history, of the state of the galaxy, of languages and art. He was an odd (in indefinable ways) and friendly person.
A couple of months later, a large Kavarian ship visited, and picked up Boris.
The James Cook continued on with its long mission. The sleeping crew members woke, and had plenty of questions about aliens and wars. The human species had changed while they had slept. Earth was no longer alone.
There were no more battles in the war. Both sides had been looking for an excuse to stop fighting. And they welcomed the "James Cook Incident" as the first gesture of peace. And earth now became highly respected member of the galactic community.
Boris recovered completely. Although it was not his real name, he became known on many worlds as Boris. He became something of a hero. He once visited Captain O'Higgins and Dmitry (now even more famous heros) on Tau Ceti 2, the planet that they were colonizing.
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