(Galactic Dynasty #2)

by E. M. Lohr & Wendy Lohr

An alien outpost, an evolving computer, and a secret DNA-imbedded message. A combination that spells intergalactic intrigue and deadly consequences for Rosa, the reluctant space trekker, and the Earth delegation to the stars. Follow Rosa’s ever-twisting fate as the Earth team meets the Metrusians and navigates the novel realm of galactic politics and the entangled web of treasonous schemes.


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Chapter 1 (Raz)

Waking up after a restless sleep, Raz looked around his newly assigned quarters and sighed. Just three more measly points and he could have joined a mission team to explore various parts of the galaxy. But instead, he’d been assigned to this middle-of-nowhere Metrus-forsaken space outpost for the next three years. And everyone knew that getting sent to Outpost Vagar was the most boring and unimaginable assignment to be had. The most excitement to be had here was getting drunk off of Valorian Tonic, which he’d been told upon his arrival, was in full supply.

Today was supposed to be his first day of active duty, but all he really wanted to do was roll back over, go to sleep, and wake up at the end of his three years. With a heavy sigh, he ran a hand over his smooth head and reluctantly made his way to the shower.

Of course, if he was really being honest with himself, those three measly points wouldn’t have meant anything in the typical assignment-making process. After all, he’d been top in his class for computer programming and engineering, a greatly needed asset for any deep space mission. No, what really sealed his fate was his inability to get along with the right superiors. As with most Catechumen at the Space Exploration Academy, a Metrusian either had to do miserably poor on their final exams or piss off a superior officer to get sent to this particular outpost. And Raz fell into the ‘piss-off-a-superior’ category.

Captain Jorip. Just the thought of that arrogant bastard had Raz clenching his synthetic teeth in irritation. From the moment he’d set foot in Captain Jorip’s Defensive Maneuvers class, there had been an immediate clashing of personalities. And it had only become worse with each interaction the two males had. Unfortunately for Raz, the Captain’s father was the head of the committee that determined where Catechumen, who had just graduated to Novitiate, were sent for their three-year assignment. So, it was off to Outpost Vagar for Raz.

Drying off after his shower and dressing in his regulation jump suit, Raz shook off his frustrated musings for now since he obviously had no other choice but to accept the assignment given him. Hopefully, once his three years were up, maybe he’d get a better assignment. After all, he truly did want to be a part of the space exploration effort and he knew he had the capability. He would just have to bide his time and hope that he didn’t end up pissing off anyone else these next three years.

After grabbing a quick bite to eat in the dining area, he made his way to the control room where he’d been told upon his arrival would be his duty assignment. Stepping into the large space, he took in the sight of all the blinking buttons and the steady hum from the vids. Directly across from him was a large rectangular glass-like wall that looked out onto the vastness of space. It was disturbing to see nothing but blackness and distant stars to satisfy the roaming eye.

Pulling his gaze away from the disconcerting view, he saw the Captain’s chair, empty at the moment, positioned in the exact center of the room. There were several more chairs scattered around the room at the various control stations. All were empty except for one which was occupied by a uniformed crew member. Raz could see the male’s fingers flying over a control panel and headed over to greet him.

He stopped next to the console and waited for the male to finish his task. Seeing him lean back in his chair, Raz stated in a crisp tone, “I’m here to report for duty.”

The male winced and admonished in a slightly irritated clipped tone, “Not so loud, idiot!”

Startled more than angered by the irritated reception, Raz lowered his voice a bit and asked uncertainly, “Am I supposed to report to you? Or do I report directly to the captain?”

The male turned towards him and responded, “No, definitely don’t report to the captain. She’d not be too happy right now if you bothered her. What’s your name?”

Recognizing the ‘Deputy Captain’ insignia, Raz straightened a little more, saluted, and answered respectfully, “Raz, sir.”

“Oh, drop the salute nonsense, Raz. We’re all pretty casual here, for the most part. Name’s Plint. I’m second-in-command here,” the male informed him. “Anyway, welcome to Outpost Vagar, where none of your dreams or ambitions will ever come true,” the male added sarcastically. Then he held up a finger and continued, “That is unless your ambitions or dreams include becoming the galaxy’s foremost expert on how to properly drink Valorian Tonic. You could really make a name for yourself in that case.”

“And then I could give lessons to all the poor bastards that get assigned to this place, right?” Raz offered up, taking his cue from the deputy captain and making his tone just as sarcastic.

“Now you’re catching on,” he remarked with a smirk. “Speaking of Valorian Tonic, I’m having to pull this damn duty because Novitiate Prime Zarnoc couldn’t hold his own with that stuff. He’s over in Sick Bay right now, puking his pathetic guts out. Hell, I told the bastard not to try and keep up with the captain, but did he listen? Nooo.”

Raz remained quiet, trying hard not to laugh at the male’s ranting. Finally, Plint motioned with a hand toward the chair next to him and finished with, “Anyway, you seem alright, Raz. Have a seat and I’ll give you the rundown on this place.”

Once he got comfortable, Raz listened as Plint shared, “Okay, first thing you need to know is that Captain Brogue is not to be disturbed today. She really hits the Tonic hard whenever a new Novitiate is supposed to arrive here and spends the following cycle recovering. So, you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow to meet our illustrious leader.”

Not entirely sure how to respond to that, Raz just nodded in understanding and Plint continued, “Alright, the outpost is broken into sections. Obviously, this is the control room where you’ll be pulling duty for one half of each cycle. Zarnoc usually pulls the other half. Nothing ever happens out here, so the captain didn’t see a point in having the two of you here at the same time. So, once I’m done explaining things here, I’m off the clock and you’ll be in charge until your half cycle is done and Zarnoc comes in to relieve you, providing he’s out of Sick Bay by then. Otherwise, I’ll be back to pull duty again.”

“You’re more than welcome to take short breaks to walk around and visit some of the other sections or use the bathroom or whatever. But, you have to take a monitoring vid with you and you can’t be gone for more than twenty minutes at a time. Any questions so far?”

“Nope,” Raz responded, folding his arms across his chest.

“Let’s see. There’s the medical clinic staffed with two fully certified Coadjutants and several Novitiate assistants,” Plint stated, tapping his stubby fingers on his pointy, synthetic chin. “There’s a science laboratory operated by civilian contractors, supposedly used to observe the vast nothingness out here and to conduct science experiments. But in reality, the scientists are always trying to come up with ways to make something better than Valorian Tonic. So, don’t be surprised if somebody in a white lab coat comes up to you and asks you to try something that’s inside a beaker. They haven’t actually killed anyone yet, so just drink whatever it is they’re shoving at you.”

“We also have a supply section and receive shipments every two months or so,” the male conveyed, leaning back in his chair and stretching. “The biggest thing you need to know about supply shipments is that if you come across any container that has ‘Orian Nic’ stamped on it, take it immediately to the captain. She keeps all that under lock and key in her private quarters.”

“All what?” Raz questioned in confusion.

“Valorian Tonic,” Plint answered matter-of-factly. “We’re not supposed to be receiving shipments of the beverage here at the outpost. But, most of the higher ups turn a blind eye to it as long as the actual name isn’t stamped on the shipping container.”

“Ah, so that’s why the stamp says ‘Orian Nic’; short for Valorian Tonic,” Raz surmised, nodding his head in approval.

“Exactly,” Plint confirmed with a grin. “Anyway, if you’re on duty when the shipment arrives, it’s your job to go to the cargo bay and oversee the unloading of it. Make sure that the manifest matches what the captain ordered.”

“Got it,” he stated.

“Of course our official duty out here is to greet any new alien species that show up in response to the beacons placed in the early SEDS missions,” Plint stated solemnly. Then he started laughing and declared sardonically, “Yeah, as if that’s ever going to happen! I mean, over six hundred years and not a peep from any of the star systems we visited. Definitely not going to happen.”

“Other than that, there’s really nothing else to cover,” Plint ended. “Space Exploration oversees this outpost, but just like any other outpost, there are a lot of commercial enterprises here. Food establishments, gaming centers, shops and whatnot as well as a residential section set up for the commercial contract workers. The proprietors send in new workers every six months to change things up, so you’ll probably never see the same individual twice in an establishment.”

“When you have your time off, you’re free to check out any part of the outpost you want. Just try not to cause too much trouble, especially not at the Rathskeller, where the Tonic costs more than the certified Carnalists. Captain Brogue doesn’t go easy on her crew making public nuisances of themselves,” Plint warned and Raz nodded that he understood. He’d never been with a Carnalist before but had heard they could do some amazing things to bring about optimal orgasms. So, the Rathskeller was definitely going on his list to visit once he got settled in more.

The deputy captain ran a hand over his smooth head and continued, “So, just read up on the manuals I’m going to leave with you and familiarize yourself with all of the control panels in here. I’ll also leave a map of the outpost so you’ll know where everything is and the quickest routes to take to get to each section.”

“Oh, and read the protocol manual first,” he suggested firmly as he stood up and stretched. “That lays out the protocols to follow in case something happens. You know, like contact from an alien species or an attack on the outpost or something. Nothing like that has ever happened, but the captain will still question you first thing about whether you’ve read the protocol manual or not. And you don’t want to get on the captain’s bad side this early on.”

“Is the captain really that much of a hard ass?” Raz questioned curiously.

Plint looked at him thoughtfully for a moment before sitting back down and quietly sharing, “Alright, you didn’t hear this from me. But, I like you, Raz, so I’ll let you in on a little secret. Captain Brogue is probably one of the most brilliant officers within Space Exploration. She really is top notch and you’ll come to learn soon enough how much of an honor it actually is to be working under her. But, apparently she pissed off one of the really important nuncios back at Space Exploration Headquarters and as a result, she was reassigned to be the commander of this outpost. No one really knows about this, but she got a little drunk one night when it was just the two of us and she shared that she’s been the captain out here for about six years now. And from what I was gathering, she has no hope of ever getting out of this assignment. It actually sounded like they sent her here to force her to retire, but she refuses. So, she’s pretty bitter about that and loves opportunities to aggravate the command.”

“Six years?!” Raz exclaimed in disbelief. “I’d be bitter too if I was stuck in this place for that long! But why does she get drunk every time a new novitiate comes onboard?”

“Because it’s a blatant reminder to her that she’s never getting out of here. The rest of us, as much as we hate it here, get to leave after three years. She doesn’t. Wouldn’t you get drunk off your ass if that was the case?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Raz responded. “Wow, I wonder what she did.”

“Have no idea and I’m certainly not going to ask. I was surprised she shared that much with me,” Plint admitted softly. “Anyway, keep this to yourself. I have no idea if anyone else is aware of her situation and I don’t want to be the one on the blame line if rumors got started.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t say anything, Plint,” Raz assured the deputy captain.

“Alright, well I’m going to head on to the recreation room for a while and then call it a day,” he shared and pointed to a button on the console in front of him. “That’s the outpost-wide intercom button if you need to get ahold of me. It doesn’t link into the private quarters, but if I’m still out in the common areas, you can get me that way. Otherwise, use the private quarter’s intercom system, which are these buttons here. I’m number three on the panel. I don’t see it happening, but if some major catastrophe strikes, buzz me first and, depending on the situation, I’ll have you buzz the captain. Any questions before I go?”

“Nothing at the moment,” Raz responded. “Oh, yeah, except where do I find the manuals you want me to read?”

“Right, manuals,” Plint muttered to himself as he turned and walked across the room to a storage cabinet. After rifling through the contents, he came back over to Raz and held out an ancient-looking portable vid.

“Does this thing still work?” Raz questioned doubtfully, accepting the electronic device.

“Yeah, amazingly enough, it’s actually in pretty good shape considering the number of incoming Novitiates who have handled it over the years,” Plint answered with a grin. “You’ll find all of the manuals on there, but like I said, start with the protocol manual first.”

“I’ll start on it right now,” he stated as he turned the vid on. “Thanks for filling me in on stuff, Plint.”

“No problem,” the male responded. “I think we’ll get along well, Raz. You’re already more astute than the last Novitiate that was here. He might as well have been part of the blackness out in space for all the personality he had. In fact, I think I got more out of looking at the blackness through that viewport than I did in my conversations with him.”

Raz chuckled and wished the spirited deputy captain a good rest before turning his attention to reading the protocol manual. As it turned out, he’d already learned these particular protocols in one of his Academy courses, so he felt confident that he could handle whatever situation that might come up. But he believed Plint’s assertion that nothing ever happened out here and prepared himself to be bored for the next three years.

After reading through another training manual that gave him detailed information about each panel in the control room, Raz decided he needed a break. Locating the portable monitoring vid, he put the small device inside one of his pockets, consulted the map of the outpost for a moment, and left the control room. His destination was the medical area. Raz figured that would definitely be a good place to get familiar with in case he came down with some sickness or was injured or, he smiled to himself, he consumed too much Valorian Tonic like Zarnoc did.

He was about halfway between the control room and the medical section when a muffled alarm went off, startling him. Fumbling in his pants pocket, he finally got the monitoring vid out. The alarm became much clearer and louder and he checked to see what was going on. Seeing ‘Incoming Signal’ flashing in red across the tiny screen, he stared at it in confusion. Why would an incoming signal set off an alarm?

Realizing he was still standing like an idiot in the middle of the corridor, Raz hurried back to the control room and was bombarded by the screech of the alarm echoing around the room. Heading straight to the communications console, he pressed the button for Plint’s sleeping quarters and heard an annoyed, “Yeah, what is it? And why are the alarms going off?!”

“I don’t know yet,” Raz responded anxiously. “I was on my way to check out the medical section when they went off and my vid showed an incoming signal. But why would the alarms go off for something like that?”

“They wouldn’t,” Plint answered in confusion. “Don’t touch anything. I’m on my way.”

Raz didn’t respond and wondered if he should turn the alarms off. But the deputy captain had told him not to touch anything, so he let it continue to screech. It was only a few minutes before Plint arrived and began assessing the situation.

“Okay, so we have an incoming signal and the alarms went off,” Plint stated the obvious. “Where’s the signal coming from?”

Raz took a seat at the transmission console, looked at the signal, and answered uncertainly, “I’m not sure, actually. It isn’t one of ours though.”

“Well, ours wouldn’t set off the alarms,” Plint remarked thoughtfully. Raz glanced over at him and saw the male’s face light up in surprise. “But an alien species making contact would!”

“An alien species. You mean, like one of our Galactic counterparts? Why would a message from them set off the alarms?” Raz questioned in confusion.

“No, no, not our counterparts,” Plint corrected excitedly. “An unknown alien species! Raz, we’re receiving first contact!”

“First contact? Wait, you mean from one of the star systems that was explored early on?”

“Yeah, where we placed those beacons,” Plint answered. “Okay, protocol says to send our coordinates and deceleration instructions. Why don’t you go ahead and do that while I contact the captain. She’s going to want to know about this!”

Raz did as he was told but could hardly believe this was happening. None of the outposts had ever had contact from any of those star systems that had been explored. Everyone had just assumed that none of the species were ever going to evolve enough to find the beacons that had been left in their star systems and use the instructions to make contact. And yet, his first day at his unwanted assignment, suddenly contact was being made.

Consulting the protocol manual, Raz located the coordinates and deceleration instructions and transmitted them. In the background, he heard Plint clear his throat and state, “Uh, Captain Brogue. Sorry to bother you, but we’ve got a situation in the control room.”

An unfamiliar female voice responded angrily, “Well deal with it! I told you, Plint, I don’t want to be disturbed! And turn those Metrus-forsaken alarms off or I’ll jettison your ass out into space!”

Raz stared wide-eyed over at the deputy captain, who frantically motioned for Raz to turn off the alarms. Quickly complying and breathing a sigh of relief when the control room suddenly became quiet once more, he looked over to see Plint shifting uncomfortably in his seat as he stated, “I know I wasn’t supposed to disturb you, Captain, but we’ve got an incoming signal from an unknown alien species that might actually be first contact. I really think you should come take a look.”

“First contact?” the female voice questioned in surprise.

“Yes, Captain,” Plint concurred excitedly.

“Alright, I’ll be right there. In the meantime, follow the protocol, Deputy Captain,” she ordered and Plint released the intercom button with a sigh.

“Whew, okay, it looks like we’ll both live for another cycle,” Plint joked weakly. “Raz, display the signal transmission up on the vid screen. The captain will want to read it as soon as she gets here.”

Looking more closely at the transmission, Raz realized it was in binary code. Consulting the protocol manual, he tapped a series of buttons and soon the transmission was translated in Metrusian and displayed on the large vid screen in front of them. He and Plint were both quiet as they read:

Daemos Star System 5-164 has completed time-space jump. 13 entities of Star System 5-164 on board ship Starward including Biological Marker Carrier. All entities alive and unharmed. Requesting instructions and upgrades.

“What do we got, Deputy Captain?” a female voice demanded and both males turned. A slender female with a scowl on her face had entered the room and Raz decided right then that she was definitely not someone he wanted to get on the bad side of. Despite her slight frame and average height, she exuded a powerful presence that expected nothing short of absolute respect and obedience.

“I had Novitiate Raz display the transmission for you, Captain,” Plint answered and gestured to the vid screen.

She was silent for a moment as her eyes scanned the message before ordering, “Alright, Plint, protocol says to contact Space Exploration Headquarters. Do it. Then forward the message we received to them and see what they want us to do next.”

“Yes, Captain,” Plint complied immediately. “Outpost Vagar to Command. Come in please,” Plint stated over the direct communication line to Space Exploration Headquarters.

“Command here, Outpost Vagar. Go ahead,” a high-clipped voice responded.

While Plint worked on forwarding the transmission, Raz watched the female take a seat in the Captain’s chair and asked curiously, “Captain, are there upgrades we should send to this space ship?”

“Who are you again?” she inquired warily.

“Novitiate Raz, Captain. Today is my first day on duty,” he answered politely.

“Right. You’re the reason I’ve got this fucking headache,” she muttered. “Damn Valorian Tonic. Of all the days for something like this to happen, it had to be while I was nursing a damn hangover.”

Raz looked over at Plint uncertainly who just shrugged at him and informed the captain, “The transmission has been sent to headquarters, Captain.”

That seemed to jerk the captain out of her irritated musings and she stated firmly, “Good work, both of you. Plint, put me on with headquarters. Raz, keep an eye on the transmission line and make sure nothing else comes through. If it does, tell me immediately.”

“Yes, Captain,” they both responded instantly and Raz gratefully turned his attention to monitoring incoming transmissions.

“This is Captain Brogue speaking. I need to be patched through to Nuncio Lorig immediately,” Raz heard the captain request in a ‘don’t argue with me’ tone.

“Nuncio Lorig is unavailable, Captain Brogue. What message do you have for him?”

“Dammit, you better make him available!” the captain growled, ignoring the question. “We have a situation here that needs his immediate attention. Now get off your ass and get him!”

Silence followed and Raz risked a look back at the captain to find her tapping her fingers in agitation against the armrest of the chair. After several tense moments, a gruff male voice came over the transmission line and stated tersely, “This had better be good, Captain Brogue, or I’ll make sure you spend the rest of your life on that Metrus-forsaken outpost!”

“You know me, Nuncio. I don’t make contact unless it’s absolutely necessary,” the captain retorted. “We’ve been contacted by a ship claiming to be from Star System 5-164.”

“Well, follow protocol then,” the Nuncio ordered in irritation.

“We already have, Nuncio. But we’ve got some strange data coming over that transmission that I thought Space Exploration would want to know about,” the captain countered. “The computer from the ship is calling itself ‘Daemos’ and has informed us that it has the Biological Marker Carrier onboard and alive as well as twelve other entities. And it’s requesting upgrades.”

Silence fell again and it was several moments before the commander spoke in surprise, “Did you say Star System 5-164?”

“Yes, Nuncio.”

“And the computer is identifying itself as Daemos?”

“Yes, Nuncio.”

“Guardian,” the nuncio uttered almost in a whisper and Raz suddenly realized that the nuncio was right; Daemos meant Guardian in the old Metrusian dialect. “Captain, give me a moment to confer with the command group.”

“Dumb ass,” the captain muttered and Raz wondered if the communication line was still open. When a response didn’t come back right away, he had to grin. This Captain Brogue was a real piece of work. But she definitely seemed to be someone he wouldn’t mind working under for the next three years.

“Captain Brogue, this is Commandant Valia,” a calm female voice spoke over the transmission line several moments later.

“Greetings, Commandant Valia,” the captain responded respectfully and Raz suddenly wished they could have a routine holographic meeting. After all, it wasn’t every cycle that a novitiate got to be present for a meeting with the head of Space Exploration. But he recognized the limitations that the secure military line had when combined with the great distance between Metrus and the outpost, so he would obviously have to settle for voice only.

“Greetings, Captain,” the head of Space Exploration responded in an excited tone. “We have received the transmission you forwarded to us from the signal you received. I am currently waiting for Professor Roloff to join us. Seeing as how this transmission has some oddities to it, I felt it would be a good idea to have an expert in the former SEDS missions here with us. In the meantime, have you received any other contact from this alien species?”

“No, Commandant, but we are monitoring the signal as we speak. I’ll be sure to let you know as soon as we receive anything further from them,” Captain Brogue responded.

“Good. You and your crew have done excellent work today, Captain Brogue,” the commandant praised. Raz heard a pause in the conversation and some muffled voices before the commandant continued, “Alright, Professor Roloff has joined us, Captain. Professor, Captain Brogue of Outpost Vagar received this transmission and sent it straight to us. It is a bit odd, so would you please read it and give us your assessment?”

“Yes, of course, Commandant,” a shaky clipped male voice responded. A few more moments of silence and then the professor mused in thoughtful excitement, “Why Commandant Valia, this transmission is full of oddities! Captain Brogue, are you certain that you translated this correctly?”

Raz took his eyes off the signal transmission console for a moment and saw Captain Brogue shake her head as she answered calmly, “Yes, Professor Roloff. The translation is accurate.”

“Alright, Professor, let’s start from the beginning,” Commandant Valia requested, probably aware that Captain Brogue was not the most patient of Metrusians. “For example, why did the computer identify itself as Daemos Star System 5-164?”

“Well, that would be one of many oddities,” the professor responded slowly. “Perhaps these entities that we are about to encounter are far more advanced than we realize and were able to make some modifications to the original code instructions that were left with their beacon?”

“How would they know ancient Metrusian, though?” Raz questioned and the captain gave him a contemplative look.

“Who is speaking, Captain Brogue?” Nuncio Lorig questioned sharply.

“Novitiate Raz, Nuncio. He just came onboard the outpost and this is his first cycle of duty,” the captain answered.

“Well, I suggest you keep your people more firmly in control, Captain, and do not allow them to speak unless spoken to,” the nuncio warned gruffly and Raz felt ready to sink through the floor. He had just been pondering aloud; he hadn’t meant to cause a problem, especially on his first cycle. Shit, he was never going to get off this outpost if he didn’t watch himself more carefully in the future.

“Perhaps I would agree, Nuncio, if it wasn’t for the fact that my novitiate just asked a very important question,” the captain countered firmly. Oh yeah, there was definitely no love lost between those two, Raz thought and was grateful the captain seemed to be on his side at the moment.

“Professor? Any thoughts on how this alien species could know our ancient language?” Commandant Valia interceded.

The question was met with silence and then Professor Roloff admitted, “Well, actually, that would be highly unlikely unless our species made contact with theirs. Which, of course, was, and still is, strictly prohibited.”

“Alright, what about this part of the message that mentions a Biological Marker Carrier?” the commandant asked curiously.

“Well, I truly have no answer for that one, Commandant,” the professor responded hesitantly. “Honestly, I do not have many answers at all. This whole message is strange.”

“Explain,” Nuncio Lorig commanded.

“The early SEDS missions were to place beacons in star systems with evolving species that had the most likelihood of eventually exploring space,” the professor began, a smoother lecture tone taking the place of his shaky conversational tone. “The instructions left were for the evolved species to build a hyperdrive and a computer system that would ferry them to a predetermined outpost. In this instance, Star System 5-164 was closest to Outpost Vagar, so that outpost was programmed into the instructions.”

“But nowhere in the instructions were the evolved species to name the computer system or the computer system to request upgrades. And this whole thing about a Biological Marker Carrier on board and alive makes absolutely no sense whatsoever,” Professor Roloff concluded.

“Then, how did the computer get a name that means ‘Guardian’ in ancient Metrusian? And why would it concern itself with upgrades as if it were going to continue to exist after the initial contact was made?” Raz asked the captain quietly, trying not to be overheard by the command group again.

“What was that, Captain?” Commandant Valia asked.

Captain Brogue eyed him in silent contemplation for a moment, nearly making Raz squirm in his seat from her intense scrutiny, before answering, “Novitiate Raz brought up a couple of good questions, Commandant.” She relayed his questions and asked, “Professor, do you have any thoughts on this?”

“Well, it’s a longshot, but Captain Vox led the expedition to that particular star system. Perhaps one of his crew deviated from protocol and created a different set of instructions for that particular star system,” the professor pondered thoughtfully.

“Captain Vox?” Nuncio Lorig questioned abruptly. “He and his crew were lost while out on a SEDS mission. How can we be so sure they even visited Star System 5-164?”

Captain Brogue actually snorted and answered, “I believe that’s obvious, Nuncio. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be receiving a signal right now.”

“Watch your tone, Captain, or I’ll strip you of your rank so fast, your head will spin,” the nuncio growled back.

“No, you won’t, Nuncio,” Commandant Valia interceded again and Raz saw Captain Brogue smirk as they heard the head of Space Exploration steer the conversation back. “Professor, is there any other information you can gleam from this transmission that might help us figure out what is going on here?”

“Not at this time, Commandant. The message is too vague to really understand any of its meaning. But perhaps that was the reason for it being vague. To make us question it and maybe look more closely at this particular species,” the professor theorized.

“Perhaps,” the commandant agreed. “Alright, Captain Brogue, you and your crew will continue to monitor communications and report to me if you have any contact with this species between now and when they dock at the outpost. Do you have an estimated time of arrival?”

Captain Brogue looked to Plint and his fingers flew over the buttons of a separate console for a moment before he shared, “Approximately five full cycles from now.”

The captain relayed that information and the commandant continued, “In the meantime, see about downloading all the information from that Daemos computer system before they arrive. I want to know what sort of species we’re dealing with.”

“Yes, Commandant. We’ll get started on the download right away,” Captain Brogue stated respectfully.

“If I may, Commandant,” Nuncio Lorig spoke up, “I believe that our first contact with a new species should include a professional who specializes in intergalactic affairs.”

“That’s an excellent idea, Nuncio. Do you have someone in mind?” the commandant inquired.

“The head of the Department of Intergalactic Affairs here at the academy, Professor Gredor, would be an excellent candidate for this position,” the nuncio recommended.

“Very well. Captain Brogue, I’ll be sending Professor Gredor to Outpost Vagar to assist in welcoming this new species. Please make sure his needs are provided for. While he is en route, I will seek a temporary Ambassadorship for him. Other than that, keep me posted on any new developments,” Commandant Valia requested. “Good work to you and your crew, Captain Brogue. This is truly a historic time for our species and for the Galactic Council.”

“Thank you, Commandant Valia,” Captain Brogue responded proudly. “We will definitely be in touch with any new developments and I’ll see to Professor Gredor’s private quarters personally.”

“Excellent! Commandant Valia out,” and the communication ended.

Captain Brogue let out a slow breath and looked at Raz intently. He wondered if his ass was suddenly going to be jettisoned into space, but she gave him a smirk and complimented, “Good work, Novitiate Raz. You too, Deputy Captain Plint. I’ll want to speak with you later, Raz, but right now, you and Plint need to work on downloading everything you can from that computer system that sent the transmission signal. I’ll be in my office, Plint, so contact me when you’re finished. And if we receive any communication from that ship, you’re to alert me immediately.”

“Yes, Captain!” they both responded and she nodded before leaving the control room.

Raz looked over at Plint and saw the deputy captain smiling. With a shake of his head, Plint stated, “Well, I think we can safely say you made a good first impression on the captain. So, let’s keep it up and get this download started.”

Raz nodded, breathing a huge sigh of relief to not becoming dead space junk, and listened intently as Plint continued, “Okay, the code you need to transmit to start the download is found in the protocol manual. As the download starts, have the information filter through the translation software so everything is in Metrusian. Then once the download is complete, send it to headquarters and let Captain Brogue know it’s done and where to find it. If you run into any trouble, I’m just an intercom buzz away. Any questions?”

“No, this all sounds easy enough,” Raz responded confidently.

“Alright, well I’m going to try and get some sleep. I’ve been up for a cycle and a half now and am exhausted!” Plint shared, stifling a yawn. Standing and stretching, he praised, “Good job, Raz, and welcome aboard Outpost Vagar.”

“Thanks, Plint, I appreciate that,” Raz told him and watched as the deputy captain sauntered out of the control room.

Left alone once more, Raz turned his attention back to the transmission console. Finding the right codes to initiate the download process, he tapped them in and had to wait several moments before anything came back. Realizing that the ship he was communicating with must be using a much more primitive type transmission signal, he sighed and calculated that it was going to probably take the rest of his shift to complete this task.

Once he was satisfied that the download was working properly and filtering through the translation software, Raz made sure he had the portable monitoring vid and went in search of something to eat. Knowing he wasn’t allowed to be gone for more than twenty minutes, he took the food and drink back with him to the control room and checked the progress. If he was deciphering it correctly, only five percent of the download and translation had completed.

Sitting at the console next to the transmission station, he pressed a button and a recessed slender tray slid out for him to set his food and drink on. While he ate, he kept an eye on the transmission and started reading some of the other manuals he hadn’t gotten to yet due to the excitement from earlier. But his mind kept wandering to the new species that was slowly approaching Outpost Vagar. What would they be like? What were their customs? Did they have a firm grasp on technology and science? Well, they would at least have to have some advanced knowledge or they would not be here now. Would there be males and females? Which gender was the dominant of their society?

So many questions and curiosities, but then that was typical for Raz’ species. Metrusians were always questioning things and were forever curious about the universe and its inhabitants. Obviously, though, none of his questions were going to be answered right away. But, perhaps he could gleam a few answers out of the data downloaded from the computer on board that ship.

Finishing his meal, he checked the download again – ten percent. Damn, this really was going to take a while! And there was nothing he could do to speed up the process. So, Raz forced himself to stop speculating on the new aliens and put his focus on learning more about this outpost. After all, this was going to be his home for the next three years and a visit from one new species or twenty wasn’t going to change that.

True to his prediction, the download finally completed just before it was time for him to go off shift. During that time, Raz had read all the manuals, familiarized himself with all the consoles and what their functions were, and had even made a few trips out of the control room to visit the medical section, the recreation area, and the dining hall. Glad to see that the download was complete, he began the process of transmitting it to Space Exploration Headquarters. Then he contacted Captain Brogue and informed her that the download was complete and where on the computer system she could view the information.

He was just wrapping things up when he heard an unsteady clomping of boots walking across the control room floor and turned to see who it was. Raz didn’t recognize the male, but guessed it was his replacement, Novitiate Prime Zarnoc, due to the slightly unsteady staggering and the pale, waxy complexion. Standing and stretching, he smiled at the novitiate and greeted, “Hi, I’m Raz, the new novitiate.”

The male winced and responded in a queasy sounding voice, “Yeah, hi. Zarnoc. Anything I need to know, Raz?”

Raz gently filled him in on everything that had happened during his half-cycle duty and told him that the download was already complete and sent off to headquarters. Zarnoc nodded and stated, “Well, looks like we finally got some excitement around here. I guess I’ll see you in a half-cycle then, Raz. Welcome to Outpost Vagar, but whatever you do, don’t ever try to keep up with Captain Brogue when drinking Valorian Tonic. Just concede up front because I promise you the result is not worth trying to satisfy your ego!”

“I’ll definitely keep that in mind, Zarnoc. Let me know if you need me for anything,” Raz offered, stifling the grin that threatened to come out, and the male nodded, taking a seat at the transmission console and holding his head.

Deciding it was best not to say anything else to the suffering novitiate, Raz left the control room. After playing Tiles with some other crew mates and getting to know them a little, he called it quits and went to his assigned quarters to get some much needed sleep.

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