Excelsior, Part 4

Everyone backed off as the bulge extended into the passage. The rubbery material stretched over our heads. Elves aimed various electronics at it as weaponeers zeroed in as much death as they carried.

Finally the bulge popped. A dangerous looking length of metal poked out of the black. A tube about as wide as I stood poked 20 feet out, 30 feet above us. I tried to figure the implications. Was it similar to the control tubes Chuff had somehow set off, or was it a weapon?

“Hey!” Albalureindis’ voice interrupted, “can you guys see the tube, yet?” I checked my screen and her suit camera was an active choice. Her POV showed her leaning towards a black wall, shoving a metal bar into it with her hands.

“Um, yeah, Commander. It’s over here, way above us. Were you trying to pry the door open with it?”

“No, Captain. I figured if I could get it through the block, you guys could crawl through it.” She shifted her grip and pushed. On our side, the open end started to tip down towards us.

Pound for pound, the elves have the greatest strength of the three races. Their human-like musculature is very unusual for their size, their ability to manipulate mass in ratio to their size far exceeds human or giant ratios. In artificial gravity failures, elf crewman have been able to walk where humans could only crawl and giants were paralyzed.

On the other hand, for gross tonnage, the giants can lift each other. The techs’ scans indicated the rubbery covering of the ship’s walls had a density that made military grade armor look porous, and our physicist was merely working up a decent sweat.

As the opening got within reach we rushed up it. Weps covered the rear and shouted ‘Last In!’ as she entered. Reins immediately started pulling it back out.

At the exit, a cargo net waited to carry us all. We jumped in, reporting to Reins that we were all out of the tube. She let go and turned to run for the door. I dialed her private suit channel as we bounced around in the net. The beam from her helmet light lent a particularly ominous tone to the tunnel.

“So, you must have made good time. Donning the suit, cycling the airlock, transit to the ship, and to the blockage. Real good time. Oh, and picking out a hollow tube. How long did that take you?”

“Sir,” she reported between breaths, “I dressed out as soon as you departed and waited in the airlock in case you needed assistance. And the tube was already there. By the way, if we need to take on reaction mass from a comet before we return home, we’ll have to rig a new flow pipe.”

“But still, the leap across from Excelsior, that must have taken…oh, wait, did you use a rocket?” She rounded the last corner and legged it for the exit. Some sort of lighting started to illuminate the walls and we could hear a rumble from some engine or another machine.

“Actually sir, it wasn’t that far.” Excelsior’s giant-airlock was directly opposite the hatch of the alien vessel instead of standing off as ordered. Ruspahar was doing a precise job of matching velocities and headings.

Our rescuer leaped across the space and slammed into the lock. She cushioned us from the shock as well as she could, but the impact knocked most of us out.


The recording played out on the conference room screen. The alien vessel reached threshold and vanished. Ruspahar had followed it as long as possible, noting it’s heading on entry to hyperspace as precisely as possible. Like any good executive officer, he’d followed the orders I would have given, if I’d been conscious. The navigators were trying to identify a possible destination.

“Okay,” I told my department heads. “Make your best estimates, load absolutely everything into a Pulse and let the eggheads on Earth check our work.”

“Yes, sir. Do we tell HQ that we intend to follow?” Everyone showed mixed reactions to the suggestion. I shook my head.

“No, no need to put the duty officer on Heinlein Station in a tizzy. Tell them we’re about to go hyper, and resume heading for our assigned star system. Give an estimated date for our reentry to normal space, then everyone in and out of the chain of command can have that long to figure out what orders they want to give us. Dismissed.” Everyone screened off with more alacrity than usual, except for my two problem children. The XO and the Eng faced into their screens with stoic resolve. I looked back and forth between their faces.

“If this were a 3D drama, this would be the point where I dress you down for disobeying orders. Then I’d wink and give you medals for saving my life. Or there’d be a pregnant pause before I said thank you.

“This isn’t drama. You saved my crew by risking more of my crew. Including your dumb selves.” Ruspahar took a deep breath, and started talking.

“Sir,” he began, “we did ask the crew if anyone objected to a rescue before we made a move.”

“And how long has this ship been a democracy? How long have I ever really cared about the opinions of people I’ve already given orders to?” I think Reins was about to offer my executive some support, but a glare silenced her.

Then I dropped into a chair and put my feet on the conference table. “On the other hand, you were right.” I sighed. Russ relaxed, Reins looked confused. “You understood my priorities, you took initiative, and you saved my crew. I’ll forgive a whole lot for saving my crew. No medals for this little mutiny, but no courts martial, either. Now….” I looked sternly towards them again, “…in the future, so you’ll further understand my priorities, if I’m the only one in danger, do not risk your lives for me. I don’t want the crew exposed to danger for my sake. That includes the two of you!” I screened of and headed for my shower. I didn’t have to put them in for medals. HQ loved a good rescue and they’d take care of that for me. Probably throw in a parade. I paused at the mirror to wink at myself. We must keep up the proper forms.

Shortly after that, I stepped out of my shower to find an audience. Lissisi stood on my table, buck naked and arms spread wide.

“You saved him! Man in whole world it is that my heart for!” Oh, great.

“Lissisi, you’re drunk. Your accent always comes out when you’re drunk.” I grabbed my jumper and dressed. She made the same effort humans do to conquer inebriation by enunciation.

“Captain… I… want… to… thank… you… for… not… leaving… Chuffers… behind. He is… the father… of my children.”

“You don’t have any children.”

“Not YET! Men! Not within a one of you the slight of a poet is!” She swigged from a flask. I found myself looking her nude form over and wondering where she’d hid it.

“What do you want, Lissisi? Besides clothing.” I found a dry watch cloth and draped it over her. She fought her way clear and stamped to my side of the table.

“You saved life of my love. I am to thank you.” She sat down on the edge of the table and waved towards my fly. I kept both hands under her to catch her if needed. “I offer myself to you. Ancient Fuscanan tradition.”

“You’re not Fuscan, and I’d have done it for anyone. You don’t owe me anything.” By then, though, she was asleep. I moved her to the center of the table and bedded her on the towel. I was about to call the XO to arrange repatriation to her bunk when my door chimed. My little door, actually. Above the elf entrance to the catwalk along one side of my stateroom, the screen showed the face of Chuffump.

Lilliputian sexual mores changed faster than Paris fashions. I had absolutely no idea what the relationship between the two was. And there was no telling if discovering her here, now, like this, would be something they’d tell their grandchildren or would cause a riot in the elf complement. I folded half of the towel over my naked visitor and let my sober one enter. He shuffled along the walkway until he was across from me. He knelt and raised his hands in some sort of gesture.

“Captain, words fail me…”

“Chuff, you don’t have to…”

“Please, Captain. You made a conscious decision today. You wouldn’t abandon me, even at grave personal risk. I must thank you. The honor of my family demands that I… Do you hear something?” For such a tiny thing, Lissisi’s snores would frighten wolves. I’d never been near a sleeping elf before, and didn’t know they were capable of such clamor.

I briefly considered some sort of lie. But growing up watching sitcoms warned me that in that direction lay half an hour of mayhem. Rather than descend into farce, or spark rumors, I peeled the towel a little bit and let him see who it was.

“She came to thank me.”

“Oh, sorry sir, I didn’t realize you were… you had…” He made to leave us alone together.

“Oh, god, man! No! I mean, she’s cute, but she’s…you know we could never…I didn’t. She’s here for you.” That wasn’t quite what I meant to say. “Really. She said you were the love of her life, and she wanted to thank me, and then she passed out.”

“Love of her….?” He froze, not reacting while I picked him and his life of love up, put them both in my data tray, and carried them out. Chuffump stood staring at the sleeping woman.

“Check her breathing, will you?” He knelt close to her, stroking her face and shoulder where they poked out of the towel. A few steps took me to the lounge, two more steps to the elf end of it. I verified no one was lounging and deposited them near the door. As I picked her up from the tray, she woke…sort of.

“Captain? Ben? Your wildest dreams must make!”

“Yes, dear. We already did.” I kissed the top of her head as gently as I could. “You were wonderful.”

“Straight damn,” she muttered as I put her in Chuff’s arms. He smiled, nodded thanks to me, and disappeared down the hall. I stood there for a second, grinning, until I noticed someone else was there. At the other door to the lounge, Assakarr stepped into sight.

She looked to where the others had exited, then turned up to me. A big grin broke out on her face and she gave me a thumbs up. “About hagga cadaz time! Those two been in blind orbits for a year.”

“Any chance,” I sighed, “of keeping this a secret?” Her big smile warned me of the futility of that hope.

“Biggie captain save a man’s life AND give him a cast-off concubine? A secret, too? Fat for that chance.” And she was gone. I leaned my face as close to the passageway as I could get.

“I know where you sleep, Assakarr. Two mallet lengths to the right of the XO!”

I turned back to my stateroom with one thought floating on top of my mind. If they called me ‘biggie’ what the hell did they call the giants?


Her Lady Albalureindis asked for a private meeting with me the next day. She requested it be by screen, I assumed the better to look deeply in my eyes and tell me it was all her fault.

“Captain,” she started, “Commander Ruspahar has a promising career in the Space Corps. I’m just in temporarily, so it wouldn’t really be a loss for the service if I were held responsible. And, I was. Responsible, that is. I suggested a rescue and talked him into it. If anyone should be taken to task for it…”

“Relax, Duchess. Really. I’m the CO. That means I put his strengths in his evaluations, and,” I tapped my temple, “his errors in here.”

“You’re blackmailing him?” she accused, eyes going all squinty.

“No, it’s called grooming. I just figure it’s a learning experience for him. Ruspahar’s going to make a good CO some day. It’s part of my duty to the Corps to develop the officers of its future.”

“Oh. So… so what are you going to put in his eval for this?”

“Oh, there’s a block I mark. ‘Willing to do stupid fucking things for a shipmate or the mission.’ It’s standard eval boilerplate.” Her expression turned thoughtful. I decided I’d better start filling out a training event report any time she screened me.

“Do you really think the Corps will make him a CO someday?”

“I realize there aren’t any non-humans in command of hyperspace capable ships. But the progress of civilization is always in the direction of liberalism. There are bumps and backsliding, but ultimately blacks, women, children and telemarketers have been recognized as having the same rights and deserving the same privileges as everyone else.

“Hell, the press on the first evidence of intelligent aliens, with his name prominently placed in the rescue description, will speed that along.”

“So…you don’t think he’ll get in trouble?” She seemed really concerned that my voiced threats from earlier were going to affect her shipmate’s career. I assured her the opposite was true, and predicted that next Pulse we received would bear me out.


A few days later, I was advancing my queen when Doc entered my stateroom. He watched me staring at the board for a while, then sat in the seat opposite me.

“Practicing?” he asked, taking two white pawns up to fiddle with.

“No, I’m playing an actual game. Big stakes.” Doc looked in vain for a screen or other indication of how my opponent was sending their moves.

“You playing ghosts for money, Skipper?” I pointed to the board where he finally noticed the black queen walking up to take mine. He looked closer to see that the entire black side was elves in chess costumes. He looked aghast at the pieces he’d been juggling around, but the white pieces, mine, were all soft plastic. No harm done.

“What are you doing? Um, sir?”

“If they win two out of three games against me, then one of the elves gets to name the next planet we find with life on it.” I took the queen with a knight, and gently placed her to the side. She let fly with a Bronx cheer as I did.

“Oh.” He was scanning the pieces to find his two elf medics. He recognized one of them when she, as queen’s bishop, moved up to take my knight. “How will they determine which elf?”

“Moot point,” I said. “Rook takes medic. Checkmate. Again.” They took it in stride, gave me a good-natured cheer, and started taking off the costumes. Doc and I helped pack the set and they filed out. After the door closed behind them Doc sat running a finger along the chess case.

“Where’d you get this, Ben?”

“Gift from a Lilliputian admiral at the dedication of the hull. The elves challenge me every system for naming rights. Or, I have another set of black pieces if I’m playing anyone…taller. Want a game?”

“My chess game resembles my skill at fishing. Throw stuff out there until someone tells me I’m out. No, thanks. Darts are more my speed. Got the exam results.”


“Nothing on the suits, no indication anything got through the suits, no indication there ever was anything to go through the suits…you’re all clean.” Negative results could go around by email, or be discussed during the department head meeting. I waited. “I understand a lot of people were …emotional…over the efforts on the other ship.”

“Yeah. And?” He hesitated. His hesitation didn’t scare me, Doc always made sure he meant to say what he finally said.

“I’ve…I’ve seen a lot of things in the service. Some of them really tragic. Especially….especially when someone doesn’t know their own strength. People can get hurt real bad. And if they’re not used to the other’s size…”

“Oh, that. Nothing happened. Nothing was going to happen.” He looked at me skeptically. “Really. Yes, I saw her naked, yes, she’s cute, but all I did was pick her up and put her to bed. Well, I had some help with that…”

“I should say SO!” He was even more skeptical. What the hell? “You put her to bed?! You picked her UP!?! How the hell did you do that? We packing a crane on board I don’t know about?” It was my turn to look at him odd.

“A drunken elf made a pass at me and another elf took her home. What are you talking about?” Then I realized the only crew member that’d need a crane to tuck in. “Are you suggesting that I and Reins….?” He held up his hands, palms towards me.

“All I know is that she got rather…upset at the thought of you being in danger. Not the crew. When she called Conn, she said ‘We’ve got to save him.’ Not them. And you should have seen the look in her eye when you weren’t conscious after the rescue. She laid everyone out on her console, but kept checking you for signs of life.

“I’m just saying…well, I know your personal standards on fraternization. Just, just be careful, Ben. And I’m not talking about heart breaking, here, as much as shoulder dislocation.”

“What, you don’t think she could just respect me as a person or an officer?”

“You didn’t see her. That wasn’t institutional loyalty. Just…be careful. And do lots of stretching exercises.” He got up to leave, then turned back. “Now, who exactly was it you saw naked?”

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