Commander Reinhard Metzger felt a peculiar pride using this craft in the presence of Allies. The boat he rode away from the ship was a design borrowed from NASA. The ESDF called it a ‘Yankee’, in honor of its origin. The seven passenger pod could do orbital maneuvers and even emergency atmospheric re-entries.
Most things the ESDF used were either alien hardware adapted for humans, or mixes of alien and human tech. Only recently had they begun using any pure Human technology, like this boat or the suits they would shortly wear outside. Their new suits were Russian designs, not the part-alien things that deckhands had worn when he first went to space.
The Sesseem had been space-farers for over five thousand years. It would be a long time before Humans even approached their technology. But at least, in this boat, they could see that Humans weren’t 100 percent dependent upon alien technology. Even if they were still 99 percent dependent.
He considered himself a patient man, a fact that would surprise many a subordinate. They didn’t notice how seldom he issued actual punishments instead of his patented verbal butt-kickings. Most of the crew had learned first-hand or at least had heard to stay on his good side and avoid his tight-lipped, quiet wrath.
The captain had on occasion warned him that he needed to be ‘flexible’. His reasons seemed to center more around what kind of CO Metzger would make someday, not what sort of XO he made now. It was a reasonable concern. He already held the rank and qualifications to command a frigate. ‘Someday’ could come at any moment.
Metzger was “new blood”, unlike Ross and so many others who inherited the duty. The ESDF had recruited him out of the Deustche Marine, so Ross often wondered in private if he was learning to do things the ESDF way. The captain didn’t seem to have any complaints about how his ship performed, though. Metzger believed that culture was a bigger factor in this issue than command experience anyway. The captain’s easy Jamaican grace did not mesh well with his plainspoken German intensity.
The captain had nothing to worry about though. Metzger intended to leave the discipline and details to his XO when his turn came, just as the captain stayed out of the way for him. Until then, he would make sure Orion ran as tight as her airlocks.
Using the level gaze he worked so hard to copy from Ross, he regarded the alien crewman who was the current strain on his patience. He reminded himself that a Zindavoor was not a Human.
“Crewman,” he observed, “we have been waiting now for twenty minutes. The machine communicators will have the message translated in not much longer.”
“With respect, Commander,” the big alien replied, “not possible to pass this message so fast. Machines may not manage at all. Quiet, please, sir, they speak again.”
The Zindavoor fell back into his ‘trance’.
The bosun’s mate piloting their craft called from the front. “Take-hold, sir. Looks like we need to move.”
Hands all over the cabin shot out to grab hand-loops, and the attitude jets began popping. After a small constant push, and an opposite braking push 10 seconds later, he spoke again. “All clear, sir.”
“What was that about, Boats?” Metzger queried, once the man had finished.
“Lights from a Sesseem, sir. These guys don’t give much warning when they come through.”
The pilot did not turn around to respond to him, nor did he need to. Metzger appreciated the many practicalities such as this one that he had discovered in the ESDF. No pilot at the controls was ever required to salute, turn toward or even respond, if he were busy doing his job, no matter what the officer’s rank. Metzger knew of more than one ensign who had caught hell for forgetting this. A bosun pissed at a junior officer who dared interfere with one of his coxwains could become an awesome and terrifying beast.
‘Lights’ meant an alien craft had flashed a light code at them, in this case a make-way request. It was dangerous to hang around among so many alien craft. The usual communication lags could lead to accidents and misunderstandings. The Alliance employed a simple communication system using blinking lights to overcome the problem. However, one could communicate few things more complex than “Get out of the way!” with this method.
He studied the tranced Zindavoor again. The small alien riding inside this disguise that wore that not-quite-human mannequin face unsettled him. But for all that, Zindavoor were mentally enough like Humans to coexist with them, unlike the great majority of aliens.
Earth owed much to these secret immigrants. They had worked for the ESDF for centuries, supplying their talent as Sensitives, a skill all but absent among Humans. In return, Earth provided them refuge to replace their lost planet, which the Enemy had turned into a boiling hell. They now defended Earth alongside Humans as their precious shared homeworld.
He knew that his hidden discomfort was intolerance, which he, like most of his countrymen, had grown wary of after the war. Able Crewman Lucius was a sensitive, so Metzger had to assume that he knew about his XO’s feelings. He hoped that the alien was an understanding being, because Metzger could not seem to fix his basic reaction.
The mannequin eyes opened as the Zindavoor within again woke. “They have finally finished. To relay it, now. Sorry about the delay, sir.” The eyes closed again, as the alien tapped into the data net to upload his English translation. Finally, he gave Metzger his full attention.
“The Sesseem are quite enthusiastic, sir. All are to show the greatest respect to the hero within the craft ahead. They have instructed their ships to move out of the way now, so this boat can make its way in. They instruct that a leader be present to retrieve the body. That would be the XO, sir.”
“We don’t even know that the pilot is dead,” Metzger groused. Keeping the Sesseem happy was the only reason he was even on this boat. Graves detail did not need the supervision of the XO. The original transmission from them had already spoken of ‘Heroism’.
Sesseem didn’t use anything like Freeze-up. To them, dead crew were dead crew, and given all honors earned. They understood Human aviators equipped with Freeze-up had the potential for revival. For some reason, that didn’t change their attitude. Regardless of whether the pilot might live once again in the future, they still considered the pilot to have died a hero.
He called up to the bosun’s mate, “Boats, bring us to within tether distance of the craft, please.” He turned back to the Zindavoor as the pilot acknowledged and called take-hold again.
“That short message did not take such a long time to receive, Lucius,” he deduced, wondering if the alien would get the hint.
“No, sir. Sorry, sir. Long time for them to pass that message. Sesseem have different priorities.”
Metzger gave the alien a few more moments to figure out that he ought to explain further, but the Zindavoor didn’t. He cleared his throat. “Crewman, you will please fill me in on the details of your conversation with the Sesseem.”