Month 6, Day 13
In Part 1:
“Good idea,” JanBuck agreed. “When you think you’re done sleeping, Smitty, come back for a formal release.” She reached out to relieve him of his grip on Mac’s arm.
“Yes, captain,” Smit replied. He released the girl and left the room.
“Thank you, Captain,” Mac murmured.
“We’ll discuss it later,” JanBuck returned. Mac gave a short nod, left her gaze on the floor as she took a deep breath.
“Now, if we may--“ Arblek began.
Mac faced her captain. “The original people who made contact? Isn’t that what you said?”
“That’s what I understood,” JanBuck agreed. “It’s possible the translator--“
“Even if that contact was a... an accident? That they weren’t trying to make contact?”
“The situation of the first contact did not seem to matter.”
Mac turned to Kolla with a half smile. “Kolla, I guess it makes sense. We had to work together to solve a huge, intricate problem presented by that first contact. After that, negotiation should be a piece-- should be easy.”
Arblek snorted. “Please address me. I am the elder negotiator for my people.”
Mac finally looked at him. “And my captain is the senior... negotiator for this ship, which represents all the planets within our alliance. But apparently, the negotiations must happen between those who first made contact. You were brought to me, Ambassador Arblek, but you were not involved in our first contact. Kolla was. I assumed I would negotiate with her.”
“She is only a mechanic! She-“
S’thyme stiffened in outrage.
“It’s a good thing she is,” Mac interrupted. “Because the mistake that brought us together took a lot of mechanics and electronics, some biology and biochemistry before we could set things right again.”
Arblek’s cheeks went gray as he turned to JanBuck. “Do your underlings always speak thusly to a superior?”
JanBuck blinked, twice. “To answer that properly would require a long explanation about the culture of the Alliance. Which - if I understand your customs correctly - cannot be done until negotiations are completed. My short answer is that I have not heard her say anything that is not true. I appreciate that you ‘bent’ your customs to explain your traditions. Do you now want us to ignore your people’s beliefs and customs?”
Arblek’s face turned even grayer.
“She’s right,” Ambassador Ooka stated, and Arblek whirled to face her. “You have overstepped, Arblek, confused them. If we are to hold to the old ways, even when meeting people who are not from our planet, then we must hold to them. Tleeda, return Arblek to Yukosk and explain the situation to the Council. I will stay and assist Kolla through the negotiations, as I assume you, Captain JanBuck, will assist your... Kolla.”
“Colleen,” Kolla corrected, though her mind whirled at this sudden change.
“You can’t send me back!” Arblek argued. “I am the Elder Negotiator-“
Tleeda asked, “Why remind everyone that you are old? And yes, you have been a negotiator longer than any other living person. But Yukosk hasn’t needed any negotiators for 3 centuries, so it’s only a title.” She placed a black square on his shoulder, then pressed the middle of the square.
“No!” Arblek reached for the patch, but before his hand touched it, the transporter beam swirled his molecules into gray smoke that was whisked away.
Tleeda placed another black square on her own shoulder and smiled at JanBuck. “I’ll send your translators back, Captain.” She pressed the button.
“Does that hurt?” DocMac’s eyes were wide as Tleeda’s appendages turned to smoke.
“That probably-“ Ooka began.
“No pain,” Tleeda answered, the translator sounding distant. “Numbness. Dizziness. Some experience...” Swirling smoke faded and she was gone.
“Nausea,” S’thyme stated. “A few people experience nausea.”
Ooka sighed. “The amount of technology we share is usually determined by negotiation.”
“That will be fun, won’t it?” S’thyme teased. “We’ve put this ship back together, so we’ve already had a good look. Our doctors studied their biology, so we know some of that. Ooka, we are starting with a great deal of their knowledge, which you must make an honest effort to repay.”
“Like your mother, I know my obligations. But exchange of technology and knowledge is not the first item on the negotiation list.”
Kolla asked, “What is the first thing to negotiate?”
“Where and when to begin negotiations,” Ooka replied patiently, and glanced at the humans. “Obviously, that’s not here and now.”
Colleen was leaning against DocMac, her eyes closed. DocMac strained to keep her upright. “She’s fallen asleep, hasn’t she?” he asked.
“Let’s get her onto a bed.” JanBuck bent to lift her legs, grunted. “She is heavy.”
“You should see how much weight she works out with,” DocMac replied.
S’thyme moved forward to help, and as soon as he placed his arms under her torso, Colleen jerked awake. “Who-?” She blinked, staring at S’thyme. “Like the beard, Smit.” She was asleep again before they deposited her on the bed. DocMac draped a blanket over her.
“Is she heavier than others of your kind?” S’thyme asked.
DocMac studied the display panel on the wall. “She’s a Gaelunder. She comes from a colony on a planet with more gravity than our home world.”
“You have a home world and colonies also?”
“S’thyme!” Ooka hissed.
“Do not worry, mother-sister-in-law,” Kolla told her. “We have worked with these people. They do not mind questions.”
“Some might, if the questions were too personal,” JanBuck corrected. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure the translator knew one of the words you used. Could you explain ‘mother-sister-in-law’?”
“Ooka is my mother’s sister,” S’thyme replied. “Kolla is my bride.”
“Oh, yes, now I understand.”
“When this is over,” Ooka stated, “I will see that your honmuck time is adjusted. Now, um, when do you suppose Colla-n would be better rested?”
DocMac was frowning at the display.
“Drake?” JanBuck said. “How long before she wakes up?”
He glanced around. “Hard to say. Maybe... 3 minutes? Four, if we’re really lucky.”
“Do I understand your time measurement correctly?” Ooka asked.
“Unfortunately, she has trouble sleeping,” JanBuck replied. “Drake, isn’t there any way you can help her?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know what the problem is. I could sedate her, but if she’s having nightmares...” He sighed. “At least I can keep her from falling out of bed.” He tightened restraining straps around her and looked at the display again. “What in space does that mean?”
“What?” Kolla asked.
“Her blood pressure has fallen, slightly. She’s stabilizing into normal sleep.”
“Isn’t that what you want?” S’thyme wondered.
“Sure, but... people don’t usually sleep well when they’re tied up, which is basically what I’ve done.” He looked down at his patient. “Mac, every so often, you react in such an unexpected way that... I just don’t know what to think.”
“She won’t answer, Doctor,” came a voice from the doorway. “She’s asleep.”
He turned, smiled at the newcomer. “Nurse Temple! Good to see you up and healthy again.”
“Thank you. It’s good to be healthy again, even if I am one of the last to return to duty.”
“Your first assignment is to keep an eye on Mac. She’s still fighting the illness, despite the medicine, and her body is completely exhausted. But she won’t stay asleep more than a couple minutes at a time. Nightmares, apparently.”
Temple nodded slowly. “What about a dose of monotrellix?”
“Anti-anxiety,” he stated. “That might be worth a try.” He bit his lower lip. “I don’t know exactly what the Yukoskians gave us. On everybody else, it seemed to have some sedative properties. I’d better consult with them.” He headed for the door. “Try to keep her asleep.”
“Perhaps,” S’thyme suggested to his aunt, “you could make a tentative plan to see if she might be able to negotiate tomorrow.”
Ooka turned to her niece-in-law. “Is that agreeable to you?”
Kolla looked from aunt to husband to JanBuck, back to her aunt. “If she can get some sleep, then yes, we can try. But I do not want to tire her overly much.”
“History says the longest negotiation took 60 years,” Ooka stated calmly. “While negotiations with people from another planet are likely to be more complicated than between 2 ancient tribes on our own world, I had hoped this would not take that long.” Kolla felt her face darken. Oona patted her shoulder. “I don’t expect you to understand negotiating, Kolla. Your mind is full of engineering. I hear you are as good at that as your husband.”
“Better,” S’thyme said. “I had to marry her, to keep another team from snatching her away.”
“Not to mention you love her,” Ooka added tartly. “She can’t read your mind, nephew. Tell her of your feelings.”
“Yes, mother-sister,” he agreed, and returned to Kolla’s side. Kolla was delighted that her husband’s arm slipped around her.
“Since negotiations are delayed,” JanBuck stated, “may I give you a tour of the ship? I promise not to explain any technology to you.”
Ooka laughed. “I wouldn’t understand it,” she returned. “And Kolla and S’thyme no doubt want to continue testing the work they’ve done. But I would not mind a brief look around.” They all headed out the door, leaving Colleen in Temple’s care.