I'd like to thank Mulligan and Steve T for their assistance in turning this into a better story than my initial effort, any errors remaining are of course mine.
Ensign Harry Webb, newly commissioned in the Confederacy Space Navy, paused to look at the vessel docked alongside the space station and silently cursed his luck at being assigned to this pathetic specimen of a ship for his first assignment.
Through the viewport the young man could clearly make out the less than sleek lines of the USS Maiden Castle. She was one of the many Castle class corvettes used by the Navy since its introduction to the inhabitants of the planet Earth and the revelation that doom threatened them all with the approach of the Sa'arm.
Harry's time at the Naval academy on New Annapolis had prepared him for the role of a junior officer in the Navy with a specialisation in tactics, an area he didn't see serving on one of these pretend ships would enhance. He'd managed to achieve a position in the top five of his graduating class and was the only one of those who'd been assigned to a corvette; only time would tell what this assignment would do for his long-term career prospects.
The simple fact that the Navy had two corvettes for every other ship in its inventory didn't mean a thing to the disappointed young man as he approached the Marine at the end of the ship's boarding tube. The Marine came to attention as he approached and saluted, possibly a little casually but Harry wasn't prepared to question the man's attitude.
He offered his ID card as he announced, "Ensign Webb to join the ship's company."
The Marine didn't reply; he simply flicked his eyes to a screen on his left and then jabbed it with his finger. Almost casually he handed back the ID card, saluted and then spoke for the first time. "Thank you Sir, if you'll make your way to the ship, the duty officer will meet you at the hatch."
Harry returned the salute and gripping his small day sack in his left hand he made his way along the boarding tube, thankful that the tube was fitted with the artificial gravity plates. Having to navigate the same tube in free fall with every one watching was not the sort of thing a newly commissioned officer wanted to happen to him.
As Harry walked along the tube he ran through the details of the Castle class ships in his mind. Technically they were classed as a patrol or escort vessel with a nominal complement of six officers and thirty-eight ratings. They were just short of eighty metres long and had a mass of two thousand, two hundred tonnes, which might be a lot for a ground vehicle but when compared to the Presidential class attack carriers, which came in at nearly a hundred times that, they were dinky. The key details as far as he was concerned were the minimalist weapon fit, a forward arc plasma torpedo launcher as the main strike weapon and two class one particle beam projectors in three hundred and sixty degree hemispherical mounts to support it.
In simple terms it meant that anything dead ahead of the ship could be hit by two beams and a torpedo, which was a fair punch but away from that it could be down to a single particle beam. Throw in the four-point defence systems for protection against incoming missiles, systems that Harry didn't even consider as weapons and you had everything that the corvette had to offer.
Not particularly inspiring to a young man who'd commanded the massed batteries of a close support ship, at least in combat simulations if not in real life.
Shrugging his shoulders Harry checked himself over and prepared to meet the officer of the day as he stepped out of the boarding tube and into his new home.
Harry braced up and saluted the United Nations colours that had been adopted as the human's flag and was fixed to the wall above an embossed ship's shield and held the pose as the officer of the day stepped forward.
The officer of the day returned his salute casually and stuck out his hand.
"Welcome aboard," he said, "I'm Roger DeSilva."
As Harry shook the proffered hand he realised that the man before him held the same rank he did. He was shocked that an Ensign would be the officer of the day and his thoughts must have been clear on his face as Roger grinned.
"That's right, I'm the officer of the day and now that you're here there will be three of us to carry out the job."
"Three," gasped Harry in surprise.
Roger was nearly laughing, "Come on," he said turning away from the hatch. "The skipper is on the station so you won't get to see him until later."
The Ensign led Harry through a couple of hatchways before pointing up a ladder, "Your quarters are up there," he looked at Harry and added, "Be prepared, they are not much bigger than you had at the academy."
He glanced at Harry's day sack and motioned him up the ladder, "Dump your bag and I'll take you to meet the rest of the wardroom."
Harry obediently scrambled up the ladder and entered a small suite. Roger hadn't lied, it wasn't much bigger than the space he'd had but at least it was private. He dropped his bag on the desk and didn't waste any more time looking around before he returned to the companionway and the seemingly jovial Roger.
The wardroom was through one more hatchway and was empty as the two Ensigns entered. Roger dropped into one of the comfortable looking seats and waved towards another.
"I'm glad you're here," he said, "doing day on, day off was becoming a bind."
"They have Ensigns doing Officer of the Day?" asked Harry unable to keep the surprise out of his voice.
"Yeah," said Roger. "It surprised me when I got here six months ago but when you think about it who else are they going to give the job to?"
As Harry contemplated what Roger had said the young man called out "James!"
Thirty seconds later a man stuck his head into the wardroom and looked around.
"James," said Roger, "This is Harry Webb, he's joining us. Harry, this is Staff Sergeant James May, he's the ship's steward and the greatest provider of essentials I've ever known."
The steward frowned at Roger and nodded in simple greeting to Harry.
"Any chance of getting a pot of tea?" asked Roger to the steward.
"I'll get one sent in, Sir," replied James as he disappeared back through the hatch.
"We've got pretty much a full crew now," said Roger. "Which means the Captain, who is a Captain, the Exec and the Chief Engineer who are Lieutenants and you, me and Kerry. Throw in the thirty-six ratings and you can see that we're only two short of what the book calls for."
A pretty woman in the plain grey smock of a concubine entered the wardroom and silently deposited a tray carrying a teapot, milk jug, sugar bowl and two mugs on the occasional table between them.
"What about concubines?" asked Harry after the woman had departed as silently as she'd appeared.
"Each of us has one aboard," replied Roger with a casual wave around the wardroom, "the crew get one between six."
Harry raised an eyebrow at that statement.
"I know," said Roger, "the bigger ships may have the room for every one to bring a concubine but we're pretty short on space here hence the one in six rule. I wouldn't worry about it though, we don't have time to do the dirty with them really as we're generally standing alternate watches as it is."
"Then why bring them?" asked Harry.
"We may not be getting a chance for any fun but the rating's concubines may be 'doing the dirty' each and every watch in order to service their assigned six masters," replied Roger. "And they need to keep the ship clean in the meantime.
"So the ratings get to play and we just work?" said Harry.
"If we get stuck on convoy duty, yes," replied Roger. "I'm sure things are different on some of the other possible tasks but we've been running supply convoys forward for the six months I've been here."
Harry shuffled forward and lifted the teapot before glancing up to Roger.
"White with one, please."
Harry nodded in response and poured the tea into the two mugs and then added a dash of milk to each before dropping a heaped spoon of sugar into the mug he'd designated as Roger's.
Sitting back he asked, "Have you any idea what job I'm going to be given?"
"If the skipper doesn't change things around you'll be running Sensors and Communications," said Roger as he sipped his tea. "I'm the gunnery officer and Kerry Bogdanovich is the logistics officer."
"You mean they've got us actually heading sections?" asked Harry. "Is that on paper or for real."
"Oh it's real enough," replied Roger. He set his mug back on the table before continuing, "I'm guessing that in an ideal world we'd all be at least second tour Ensign's or even Lieutenants before we got the responsibilities, but we are what we are. The Exec keeps a pretty close eye on us and that makes things easier, believe it or not; but it's your section and you get to run it."
"Just a suggestion," said Roger seriously, "If your Gunny tells you something you'd do well to listen. Most of the senior guys are either ex-wet Navy or have been out here long enough to learn their way around and they're pretty cool when they're dealing with us newbies."
"I'll remember that," replied Harry as he sat back and took a calming sip from his mug.
On the other side of the station from the Maiden Castle her skipper, Captain Rodger Young sat in the office of the station commander and read the typed message he'd been presented with. Across the desk from him Commodore Jack Black frowned as he watched, he'd already read the message and knew it was a little unusual.
'USS Maiden Castle is detached from convoy duty to investigate reported anomalies in the Beerat System. This is a possible first contact situation and extreme caution is to be observed. The Beerat System has not been visited by Confederacy vessels for over one thousand Earth years and the core database is to be considered inaccurate at this time.'
"The core database is to be considered inaccurate at this time?" repeated the Captain as he looked up, his tone making it a question.
The Commodore sat back and grinned, "According to the Confederacy database Beerat has four planets and only the second has any sort of life on it. Development wise, the natives are supposed to be at about the stage we were at about two thousand years ago by now."
"And the anomaly this mentions?" asked the Captain suspiciously as he waved the order about.
"A passing freighter dropped out of hyperspace to collect methane from the outer atmosphere of the fourth planet and detected radio signals," replied the Commodore. "They hightailed it out of there and reported the fact when they got to their destination. Things percolated upwards as they do and that mission order came down for you."
The Captain did a quick calculation in his head as he sat there and drew a couple of conclusions.
"It should take us a week to get there, a couple of days to take a look and a week to get back," he said softly.
The Commodore frowned at that remark, "Take your time about the whole thing Rodger, drop out of hyper a long way back and slide through silently. Take at least a month and be sure of your findings, then head on back."
"We're not really cut out for sneaking up on a planet, Sir," pointed out the Captain. "The Recon squadrons are much better suited to that task."
"True, but we haven't got any of their birds to spare so it's your task," replied the Commodore.
"I'll get together with my Exec and we'll plan out the mission, Sir," said the Captain.
"Get back to me if you think of anything that might help," concluded the Commodore.
Captain Young rose to his feet and saluted his superior. "We'll get it done, Sir," he said before turning smartly and marching away.
Harry was resting in his abbreviated pod when the ship's AI informed all of the officers, including him, that a briefing would take place in the wardroom before the evening meal.
Harry consulted his internal clock and found that he had enough time for a quick shower before he needed to make his way to the meeting.
The only decision he had to make was what to wear and he forced himself not to put on his dress uniform, pressed undress uniform was the right choice.
Entering the wardroom early he found that the only person present was Roger, who waved him over as he entered, as Harry approached he was relieved to see that Roger was dressed in the same uniform he'd picked.
"We sit along this edge of the table," explained Roger as Harry got close. "The Captain will be in the middle on that side of the table with the Exec on his right and Mr. Kazlowski on his left."
"The Chief Engineer?" asked Harry.
"Sorry," said Roger. "I forgot you don't know who's who. The Exec is Lieutenant Sam Bird and the Chief Engineer is Lieutenant Josef Kazlowski."
"And the Captain?" prompted Harry.
"Your orders didn't give his name?"
"No," replied Harry, "I was ordered to report to the Officer Commanding USS Maiden Castle."
"Uhmm," murmured Roger before adding, "He's Rodger Young."
Before Harry could ask anything else the door to the wardroom swung open and a magnificent redhead strutted into the room.
As she was wearing the insignia of an Ensign it had to be Kerry Bogdanovich but she didn't act like she was the lowest of the low in the Navy's hierarchy. The woman before him had taken the full augmentation package that only the Marines usually picked. Kerry was two metres tall and stacked much to Harry's delight, she also moved with the confidence of a full-grown panther.
"Kerry," called Roger, "come and meet Harry."
The woman swivelled to look at Harry and he felt like he was being examined under a microscope. He barely refrained from puffing up his chest and acting like a peacock, instead he held out his hand and waited to see how she'd react.
A smile lit up her face and she grasped Harry's hand before giving it a firm shake.
"Hi," she said, "welcome aboard."
"Hi to you too," said Harry as he struggled to keep his eyes on the woman's face.
"Kerry, have you any idea what the meeting's for?" asked Roger breaking up what could have been a difficult situation.
"Not a clue," she responded, "I thought it would be a warning order for the next convoy but that isn't leaving for another three weeks."
"Yeah," said Roger, "I checked on that and found that we'd been scratched from the escort detail."
"I didn't know that," said Kerry, as she looked thoughtful. "That must mean we're being sent off somewhere else. I wonder where we're going?"
The door to the wardroom opened and the senior officers of the Maiden Castle came in as a group. All of the Ensigns stood and then sat again as the Captain waved them back to their seats.
"Mr. Webb," said the Captain, "I'll see you after this briefing," he stated with a smile. "In the meantime consider yourself the sensor officer and pay attention to this briefing."
The Captain called up a hologram that the AI generated above the dining table, "We have been tasked to investigate the Beerat system, which is here," the AI generated hologram shrank and panned to highlight a single system. "The four planets have been named as Mead, Beer, Pils and Ale," the Captain glanced around the table and added with a grin, "I think the astrogator that named this system needs to be checked for his drinking habits."
A subdued chuckle rippled around the table before the Captain continued, "A short time ago a freighter dropped in on the system to grab a scoopful of methane from Ale and picked up electronic signals from the planet Beer. They immediately hightailed it out of there and reported the matter to the authorities at their destination."
The Captain continued, "According to previous records the planet Beer should be about two thousand years behind Earth in its development and I'm sure you all know that we didn't have radio two thousand years ago."
He paused for a moment, "So we are going to take a look at the place and see what we can find."
This announcement was greeted by silence as each person digested the information they'd been given.
"We will be going in cautiously," said the Captain waving towards the hologram. "We will drop out of hyper a long way out and come in silently on a ballistic course through here." A yellow line appeared in the hologram describing a parabolic curve that looped around the systems star and took them close to the planet Beer on the way out.
"We will do a full spectrum scan of the planet's emissions as we approach the star and assess the data we develop. If it is necessary we will make a closer pass of the planet on the way out," a red line appeared in the hologram, "if not we will break away behind the star and head for home."
"Any questions?" asked the Captain.
"Is there a reason for the cautious approach?" asked the Exec.
"Not that I've been told," replied the Captain, "I think it's because of the progress that appears to have been made. Was it natural or has there been some sort of outside influence, like with Earth."
The Exec nodded.
When there were no other questions the Captain looked around the table, "For now I need you to give the plan some thought and see if you can come up with any suggestions. We will be leaving in five days and should be away for about a month if all goes according to schedule."
After another look around he indicated Harry Webb, "Come with me," he said, "We'll have a chat whilst the rest have dinner." He glanced at the Exec and added, "Make sure there's some left for us."
The Captain led Harry to his ready room, which in reality was a small office situated two bulkheads forward of the wardroom. He casually waved the young man towards a seat next to the wall as he moved behind the cluttered desk.
As he dropped into the comfortable looking leather swivel chair behind the desk he said, "I'll try to keep this interview short, Mr Webb, or we'll both end up missing our dinner."
He rocked back in the seat, "First off, let me welcome you aboard the Maiden Castle," he said. "She's a small ship, as I'm sure you've noticed, but she is an efficient one and hopefully in your time here you will be able to contribute towards keeping her so."
"As I told you in the wardroom, you will be the ship's sensor and communications officer. That means that you will be running the sensors when we approach Beer and I'll be relying on you and your section to give me all the information you can."
Harry swallowed as he realised the enormity of his task he'd just been given; a task he was sure wouldn't normally have been given to an Ensign.
The Captain looked at him with a slight grin, "Don't let that worry you too much, Mr Webb. Your section Chief is an experienced hand and will provide the sort of backup you'll need to do a good job, if you listen to him that is."
"Yes, Sir," responded Harry, both to the statement and the implied threat that things would go badly if he didn't listen to the Chief.
"Good, now what I want you to do for the next couple of days is get with him and see if there is anything we can get on board or do that will improve the performance of the systems we've already got installed. Keep in mind that we will be leaving soon and anything you attempt must be completed and tested before we depart."
Harry nodded, "Yes, Sir."
The Captain gave Harry a serious look for a moment, "I know that you don't consider this a good assignment, coming to a corvette straight out of the academy. I didn't either when it happened to me. But you'll find that you get more responsibility on a corvette than you would on a carrier and whilst your performance won't be seen by a Commodore, neither will your fuck ups."
Captain Young grinned, "Do a good job here and your fitness report will make excellent reading when the next promotion board comes around," the threat of what would happen if he didn't perform up to standard was left unspoken.
Harry had started off looking sick when the Captain had described his feelings exactly but as he listened a look of interest and then determination had crossed his expressive face.
"In the meantime you will need to get your concubine aboard and settled as soon as possible because things may get a little hectic before we depart."
The Captain stood and Harry did likewise, "Now, let's go see what James has got for us in the way of food and get you introduced to the Exec."
"Well, I for one am glad that Harry picked you," said Karen.
"Me, too," replied the grinning Sylvia.
Karen grinned in response, "I know you are," she said, "I just don't think that I'd have enjoyed been cooped up on that ship."
"Harry did say things were going to be cosy," said Sylvia, "and you'll be getting bigger in a couple of months."
Karen stroked her flat belly and smiled happily. "Are you packed?" she asked, "Harry's going to be here in a few minutes?"
Sylvia pointed to the small bag she'd placed by the door.
"That's not a lot of stuff," commented Karen.
"I've left all the toys for you to use," said Sylvia, prodding her fellow concubine softly. "I'll have the real thing to deal with my needs."
"That's the only down side to not going," agreed Karen, "but I'll probably get the next trip and you'll end up remaining here."
The two of them had identical figures thanks to the wonders of nano-technology; the only real difference was in coloration. Karen was a soft blond with a light tan and Sylvia was a redhead with a fair sprinkling of freckles. They'd both been in their late twenties when Harry had picked them to accompany him during his extraction and neither of them had any complaints about the way they'd been treated since then. Harry had proved to be both a considerate master and willing to listen to their opinions, a fact that they knew wasn't always the case for their fellow concubines.
This was the first time since they'd arrived on the world that was to be their home that the two concubines were to be separated. When they'd arrived on Brak the three of them had spent four months together getting to know one another before Harry had been taken to New Annapolis for his training. Whilst he was away Karen and Sylvia had successfully turned the pod they'd been assigned into a home, a home that Harry had only spent a week in before he'd been order to join his ship.
Now he was expected back to collect Sylvia before he went off on his mission, his first as an officer.
"Do you think you'll get passed around?" asked Karen as the pair tried to relax.
"I've no idea," said Sylvia.
"How'd you feel if you were?"
"To be honest I'm not sure," said Sylvia. "I've thought about it a lot, especially after I heard how Admiral Charteris treated Estelle when she was on the Gorgon."
"She wasn't even his concubine at the time of the Mercury Incident," said Karen as she shuddered at the memory.
"It seems like the whole of his staff just enjoyed inflicting pain on their women," agreed Sylvia.
"I suppose he picked his own staff and they'd all be the same sort of people," said Karen.
"I hope that's it," said Sylvia, "then the people I'll be with will all be like Harry."
Karen grinned, "I doubt if they'll all be as forgiving as he is."
"True," said Sylvia, "but I'm sure he'd come to my rescue if things did get out of hand."
"So you do expect to be traded, then?"
Sylvia thought for a moment and gave a slow nod, "I suppose I do," she replied.
"I'm home!" yelled a male voice from the front door.
"Harry!" responded the two women as they jumped up and ran to greet the returning sailor.
"That looks about right, Chief," said Harry as he glanced up from the display screen.
"Sure does, Mr. Webb," replied Gunnery Sergeant Erik Longstaff, the Chief of the sensor section.
Harry nodded before adding, "Well done, people, it looks like we've got it working." His announcement was greeted by grins all round as the members of the sensor watch and the extra help from the deck watch felt relief that their hard work was over.
Fitting the AN/SLQ-132 electronic warfare package had not been an easy task as it was designed for a much larger ship. The external fitting had been relatively straightforward given that the module fitted on to a standard pod attachment. It just meant that the corvette lost twenty percent of its storage capacity, which caused problems for Ensign Bogdanovich but not for the sensor section.
The problem for Harry and his people had been running the necessary cabling from the pod to the sensor station and that had resulted in several bulkhead hatchways being locked open. If time had allowed they'd have run the cables along the ceilings and properly sealed them through the bulkheads but they didn't have the time to do that.
All aboard hoped that they didn't end up in combat and find that they were breathing vacuum because of this necessity
The ship had been underway for two days and it had taken them that long to get the fitting right and the diagnostic programs to agree that all was well with the system. Between now and when they dropped out of hyperspace it was up to Harry and his Chief to ensure that the rest of the sensor operators could get the most out of the new system.
Harry had ensured that the standard training package had been included in the kit when he'd signed for it back on the space station and Chief Longstaff had prevailed on certain acquaintances he knew to provide customised training simulations to really test his people.
Harry had also got the AI to upload various electronic signatures for planets in the Confederacy from the historical archives, believing that they were likely to be looking at old entertainment style signals rather than military ones.
"OK, Chief, let's get things packed away and start figuring out how to use this wonderful bit of kit."
Erik Longstaff chuckled, his new boss may be young but he seemed to have the right attitude and wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty, which counted a lot in his book. Too many of the new Ensigns he'd met thought they knew it all and that they were just here to give orders, no matter how meaningless.
"Right you are, Mr. Webb! Kazinski, Mellor get the tools put away and then chill out," ordered the Chief. "Petrov, take Williams and check back along the cable run and make sure it is out of the way and that we haven't left anything laying around. When you've done that report the fact to Miss Bogdanovich," he grinned, "Then you get a rest, too."
He turned to the last members of the sensor crew; "You lucky ladies get first go with our new toy."
Sergeants Joy McFadden and Helen Mirror grinned back at their Chief and slid into the seats before the console, one of which had just been vacated by Ensign Webb.
As the various people began their allotted tasks Harry closed in on Chief Longstaff, "Keep a space open for me to have a play with the kit, Chief."
Erik nodded, "We can both have a go in an hour, if that's all right with you, Sir."
"That's fine," replied Harry, "It'll give me a chance to tell the skipper how we are doing and get a shower and some clean clothes," he said indicating the grease stains across the front of his shirt.
"OK, Sir, see you in an hour," responded Erik before he moved back towards the console and the session that had just started.
Harry reclined on the bed after his shower and sighed.
Sylvia sat across the room from him and smiled, "Happy?" she asked.
"I think so," he replied as he slipped his hands behind his head. "I'm definitely not unhappy, that's for sure."
"It's been a hard few days, hasn't it?" asked his concubine.
"That it has but I think we're ready now," he said, "We'll find out for definite tomorrow when we drop out of hyper."
"Do you think it's going to be dangerous?"
Harry smiled as he looked at his concubine, "Not really," he replied. "I'm actually expecting it to be boring."
Sylvia raised an eyebrow at that.
"That's right," said Harry, "boring." He paused for a moment, "Think about it. We're going to drop out of hyperspace a long way from the planet and then fly through their system without using any power. Even with the speed we're carrying we'll take a good week to get clear and that's if we don't need to do the second pass."
Sylvia frowned at his answer.
"If the planet is like Earth was we will be picking up television and radio signals and that will be it. The AI will take a day or so to translate the language before we can watch the signals and know what they mean."
Harry rolled onto his side. "By the middle of the week we'll all be looking for something to relieve the boredom."
Sylvia smiled, "Have you any thoughts on how we'll do that?"
"I'm sure I'll think of something," he said returning her grin, "I've actually been offered a temporary swap."
"A swap?" responded Sylvia sharply.
"Yes, a swap."
Harry remained silent and Sylvia felt herself starting to sweat, even with the air conditioning.
"Who with?" she asked, her voice conveying her concern.
Harry was enjoying himself and took his time to answer.
"Chief Longstaff was wondering if I'd like to have a go with Mai-Ling."
"The Chinese girl?"
"That's her," said Harry, "she belongs to Staff Kazinski and is the sensor section's concubine for this trip."
Sylvia's brows furrowed as she contemplated the swap, "What would be involved?"
"I'd get Mai-Ling and they'd get you."
"I'd have to do what any of them said?"
"That's right," replied Harry frowning as well, "You know that already."
"Would they want to use me at the same time?"
Harry started to get an inkling of where this conversation was going. "Probably," he said watching carefully for Sylvia's response. "I'm not sure if the women would want to use you at the same time as the men but I'm fairly sure that you'd have to take two or three men in one go."
He saw Sylvia swallow before he added, "I've heard that Chief Longstaff can be quite hard on his women."
"Hard?" gasped Sylvia.
"Yes," responded Harry softly. "Apparently he'll take his hand or a strap to them if they don't please him."
Harry was surprised when Sylvia blushed; the fact that she was naked made it easy to see her nipples perk up as she listened to him.
"Does the thought of having a stiff prick down your throat and Chief Longstaff in your ass excite you?"
Sylvia was lost in the fantasy, "Uhmmm, maybe that would be nice," she said as her own hands started to drift towards her own pussy.
Harry glanced down at the tent he was creating in the towel wrapped around his waist.
"To be honest," he said, "I'm not sure if the Chief is trying to see if he can manipulate me or whether it's a real offer."
Sylvia blinked as the vision faded away.
Harry grinned at her, "But I'll try to find out," he said. "If it's a genuine offer I'll see what I can arrange for the trip back to Brakat."
"Oh, yes!" hissed Sylvia.
"Now come here," ordered Harry, "and take care of this," he said as he whipped the towel away revealing his stiff prick.
Sylvia flew out of the chair and dived onto the bed, growling in the back of her throat as she grasped his prick.
Harry closed his eyes and laid back, a smile playing on his lips as his concubine engulfed his erection in her willing mouth.
"Uhmmm," he murmured...
"Mr. Webb, enlighten us," ordered the Captain.
The ship's officers were once again clustered in the wardroom, this time for a briefing on what they'd discovered concerning the planet Beer.
"Sir," responded Harry, "as we anticipated we were able to pick up a wide array of signals as soon as we dropped out of hyperspace. The AI was able to establish a language profile within six hours and generated a full translation service in real-time eight hours later."
"So far we have been able to monitor both television and radio broadcasts that are comparable with those that Earth would have been putting out in the mid nineteen fifties." Harry consulted his data pad, "The things that we've found surprising so far have been the complete lack of what we would describe as military type signals. There has been no search or tracking radars, military style radio communications or encrypted communications from what could be considered military installations."
"Another glance at his data pad and Harry continued, "The next unusual aspect of this planet is that all of the broadcasts are in a single language with very little in the way of accents or dialects. It's as though a single people have populated the planet and have been in communication the whole time."
The Exec frowned, "Why do you say that?"
"One of the accepted hypotheses concerning language and the way that it developed on Earth is that it appeared in multiple places at about the same time, hence the variety," replied Harry. "Another is that language develops through time and that it takes an appreciable time for changes to percolate through a culture. The greater the separation of the various speakers of that language, in communications terms, the longer these changes take. If they have the equivalent of television or radio then everyone hears the changes at the same time and adopts them. If these changes have to travel at the speed of a walking man it can take decades for these changes to occur throughout a culture, by which time other changes have occurred at the centre."
The Exec nodded his understanding and Harry continued with his briefing.
"As I said, this planet has a single language with very little variation. In addition, it doesn't seem to suffer from war."
All fidgeting and fiddling stopped in the wardroom at this statement.
"No war?" queried the Chief Engineer.
"None that we've been able to find," said Harry. "We've monitored a couple of education channels, similar to our own Discovery channel and there hasn't been a single mention of conflict. The normal entertainment channels have nothing resembling the war or western films we we're used to seeing before the Darjee arrived."
"To be honest," said Harry looking around, "from what we've been able to observe I would say that this planet hasn't had any form of conflict for at least a thousand years. In that time they have managed to establish the sort of life style that most of the Confederacy planets now have without nearly destroying themselves in the process."
The Captain had already had Harry's preliminary findings and this conclusion wasn't a surprise to him. "So you believe that if this race had achieved space travel the Confederacy would have welcomed them with open arms."
"Yes, Sir," responded Harry.
"What do they look like?" asked Roger DeSilva.
The Captain answered Harry's look with a nod and an image began to appear above the wardroom table. "It's a bit difficult to get a sense of scale from what we've received but they appear to be a metre and a half tall, bipedal with a blue coloration." Harry grinned, "If it wasn't for the tail they'd look very much like us."
"Tail?" said Kerry.
"They have a tail that's about a half metre long projecting from the base of the spine," replied Harry. "One tentative conclusion we've reached is that under the current fashion trends the female of the species displays this tail whilst the male covers it up."
"Because of fashion?" asked Kerry.
"So it appears," replied Harry. "We've seen pictures on various channels that show both parties with their tails exposed or covered but from what we take to be current programming, news and what have you, that is the case now."
"So what would you conclude?" asked the Captain.
"That this is a peaceful planet that may be worth developing so that its population can join the Confederacy but that humans should not be involved," said Harry.
"We're too warlike?" asked the Captain.
"Yes, Sir," responded Harry firmly.
"I agree," said the Captain before he turned to the Exec. "Do you think we need a second pass?"
"I don't think so," replied the Exec, "We've got an awful lot of data that we haven't processed yet but there is nothing that indicates a threat and the longer we hang around the greater the risk of discovery."
"Anyone else wish to add anything?" asked the Captain.
When no one did he gave a brief nod, "Right, we'll break away when we're behind the star and head for home."
As everyone relaxed the Captain looked at Harry and said quietly, "Well done, Mr. Webb."
Harry felt himself flushing at the praise, "Thank you, Sir."
Thirty six hours later and the Maiden Castle was sliding towards the orbit of the planet Beer, the planet itself was well away from their current position and didn't present any sort of danger to the ship.
Harry was about to go off watch when the system pinged and a red light began to flash. He turned to the console and watched as Sergeant Mirror's hands flashed across its surface with practised ease. Moving in behind the operator he waited until she seemed to settle down and asked softly, "What have we got, Helen?"
"It looks like a hyperspace foot print," she said, "several small foot prints is all I can say for definite at the moment."
"OK, keep an eye on it and let me know when you've got a positive identification," said Harry. "I'll go tell the Captain that something's up."
As Harry turned to do as he'd said the Captain strode into the Combat Information Centre and headed straight for him.
"Well?" he asked.
"It's a hyperspace footprint, several small sources is all we have at the moment," reported Harry.
The Captain frowned as he considered his options. Who could be dropping in from hyperspace?
Really there appeared to be only two options; it could be another Confederacy vessel, which had to be considered as a slim chance given the way he'd been ordered to investigate. Or the Sa'arm!
The Sa'arm were known to have despatched small reconnaissance forces throughout this part of the galaxy looking for worlds to exploit and for any threat to their well-being. Was this one of those missions?
Captain Young looked at the course plots that had appeared in the holographic display of the system and noted that his ship's current course took them very close to the predicted course of the new arrivals. If he did nothing to attract their attention there was a good chance that he'd cruise right by them without being noticed.
Science Fiction /