In Tony’s previous Moon Duties, he’d met Sesseem RPV operators. And he’d worked with Zindavoor technicians and mechanics throughout his career. But these were his first live Gr’ts’ck. He’d been sneaking glances at them throughout the meet-and-greet session.
The Human senior officers cranked through all the same speeches he’d already heard in two previous Moon Duties. The Sky Boss, the Base Commandant, and the unit commanders all had to have their say, of course. Now, it was the aliens’ turn to speak and he could go ahead and get a good look.
To him, the creatures on the other side of the mess hall were not the nightmares that most people described, but they were still ugly. They balanced on the narrow joints of their folded up wings, which they walked upon like stilts. It left their tails hanging several feet above the floor. Their skinny human-like arms either held various unidentifiable objects or stayed folded behind them. Luna Moth long-range fighters had windows, and the ESDF made those out of Gr’ts’ck scout ships, so the aliens must have sight. He had no guess what they saw with, though. The featureless grasshopper faces didn’t match the furry bodies, nor the bare arms nor the downy wings. Even so, all features had one thing to tie them together. Every part looked dusty, dried-up and dead.
It isn’t real dust, he reminded himself. It’s desert camouflage for their native environment. They aren’t ‘dried up’, they’re just built skinny for flight. And they aren’t dead because one of them is talking to the interpreter right now.
Humans could learn to follow the Gr’ts’ck speech. Other than a few words such as the name of their race though, no human stood a chance of pronouncing it. The road went both ways, so the alien addressed the squat shape next to it. Kedevzha seldom took part in fighting or interstellar commerce but had great communication skills. They could converse with audio talkers like humans and Gr’ts’ck and use many other forms of communication.
The Kedevzha also gave him a new definition for weird, but at least it didn’t include ugly in its wardrobe. Its aesthetics were neutral, like nothing from Earth at all. It was a tripod of fat legs like elephant trunks supporting a medicine ball body. It also had a trio of tentacle ‘arms’, and no identifiable head. A hump at the top of its body did rise up above its ‘shoulders’ but indicated nothing of its function.
Tony glanced around at his peers. All the pilots were present, but the four pairs going into the Semifinals stood in the front, and he had to smile at the strange group. No surprise on the 105th side with Ferrar and Bullpup and their wingers. It was no surprise to him on the 77th side that Rissa and Poe made it. He would bet he was the only one who thought he and Ana would make it, though. Of course, following Cat Girl and Vampire’s bizarre victory, he’d had no choice but to go out and kick butt. No way could he let the hyper-competitive senior aviator advance without him.
The speech ended and the Kedevzha’s body shifted. A deep bass voice rolled forth from it, out of an unidentifiable location. As translated to English, the speech was also long, and almost impossible to follow, but it ended with a paragraph that was clear and straightforward: “Honored human pilots, contest is not to death, but Humans and Gr’ts’ck find death together side-by-side many times in battle against Enemy. Honor and welcome to all brave ones here. Honored pilots, we pledge worthy challenge. By this means we both triumph later against Enemy.”
The creature shifted back, spoke a few clicks and grinds to the Gr’ts’ck and listened to a short response. It then added, “Unit leader wishes to meet warrior who defeated invasion scenario. Zindavoor give name ‘Vampire’. It is right?”
So the Gr’ts’ck had consulted the alien refugees who served in the ESDF in return for a home on Earth to replace their lost homeworld. Several Zindavoor served as soldiers and mechanics here in Farside. The last bit must have been the translator’s own addition though. He couldn’t imagine anything the Gr’ts’ck had said to be a rendering of ‘Vampire’.
“Well, Poe?” Carter growled in a low voice, glancing sidelong at the big FC. “Our allies want to say ‘Howdy’.”
Tony still couldn’t believe they hadn’t grounded Poe after he hosed a war game for the ground-pounders. The kid had pushed the envelope of bad behavior harder than even the Kahuna himself ever dared. Yet, he’d come out of it with nothing but a slapped wrist.
Nothing stuck in a CO’s craw quite like bad behavior validated. Commander Carter wore a lemon-sucking expression when he announced the official decision at dinner. The analysts had determined that the emergence collision did indeed destroy the battle cruiser. The landing ships survived the backwash, but were then defenseless against the surviving Banshee and the ground batteries. Thus, Vampire’s solution constituted a successful defense of Farside Base.
Vampire was not the type to let anything go to his head. Carter didn’t know that though, so Poe remained in the doghouse with the man.
After an almost silent sigh, the big goth stepped forward and came to attention. “Flying Cadet Poe, sir. My call sign is Vampire.”
The Gr’ts’ck strode forward, its wings waving like lazy pendulums as they carried it across the floor. It stopped near Poe and rotated to face him, seeming to stare, although it was hard to tell if it was doing so.
It began speaking again. With the alien now closer, Tony could see the speech process in detail. Mandibles worked to supply the clicks and grinds while pitched sounds came from papery sacks hanging from its neck. When he finished, the Kedevzha again translated.
“Honored pilot, rare is such meeting. To worthy warrior, we pledge satisfactory opposition.”
For a moment, Poe stood frozen, still caught in a salute to an entity who would never return it, and stumped about how he should respond. Tony cleared his throat with meaning, jarring Vampire’s voice into action. “Um… Thank you, sir. I’ll do my best to give you a good fight.”
After the Kedevzha translated Poe’s words, the alien turned in place, then worked back to the Gr’ts’ck side, adding one more comment as it walked away. Poe dropped the salute as the Kedevzha supplied, “Humble warriors become formidable foes.”
Tony glanced around to the other pilots. Their eyes all reflected the same thought.
Did they just throw Vampire some sort of personal challenge?