CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN: FIRST MATE
The invitations went out to the civilian prospects for the human members of the crew. There were scientists of all stripes, artists, writers, musicians, hunters, historians, physicians, engineers, mechanics, therapists, teachers, veterinarians, chefs, executive assistants, archeologists, architects, lawyers, linguists, actors, security personnel and even some old politicians, to name just a few of their occupations.
They were picked from every race, every age group, and every country. Some were renowned in their field. Others were just starting out. Some thought their days of making waves were over while others hadn’t even been discovered yet by anyone but Jace and the Osiris. But one thing that they all had in common was a thirst for adventure and a belief that the stars were not simply cold pinpricks of light in a vacuum, but held promise for connection. These people wanted to believe in extraterrestrial life. They looked up at the night sky and hoped.
The initial contacts were made either by email or post, depending on the person’s location and access to the internet. They went out immediately after being selected as Jace intended to leave soon through the gate to Haseon. The Osiris was able to show him these reactions via the cameras on the phones, tablets or computers for those with the technology. Jace, Khoth, Thammah, Gehenna, his parents and the general watched some of them together that first night over dinner in his quarters.
That was after the general had some words for Jace about misleading him about his orders.
The general tipped his wine glass towards Jace and said sternly, “You shouldn’t play games with me, young man. I don’t like looking like a fool.”
“No one does, but I couldn’t think of another way to get you to back down,” Jace told him as he cut into his steak. It was perfectly pink and juicy inside. The smell was heavenly. He tentatively tasted it and immediately took another bite. If this was space paste it was more than adequate. He had sent requests to chefs not only so that they could investigate alien food and ingredients, but help the Osiris make the space paste more palatable to humans. While his brain could be adjusted to enjoy this, the others couldn’t be. “I had enough on my hands with the High Counsellor. And it worked out, didn’t it?”
The general pursed his lips. “Seeing how you wiped the floor with the Alliance, I see that our position is the better one now.”
“I have great respect for you, General Intoshkin. I’m going to pick the crew from the selections you made,” Jace reminded him. “And I’m trusting your people to make the first physical contact with the civilian crew. That’s a far better deal than the Alliance got.”
“Which was to sit down and shut up unless it's to do what you want?” The general’s lips twitched. “I just want us to have a mutually respectful relationship.”
“I agree.” Jace cut into the baked potato that let out a lovely little puff of steam. He loaded it with butter, salt and pepper along with a large dollop of sour cream. He nearly pounded the table with delight as the potato, too, matched his best recollection of it. But he reminded himself that Gehenna was likely fixing everything. Still to have every part of a meal reflect the best thing he’d ever eaten was the bomb. “But, be truthful with yourself, if not with me, did you really respect me until I showed you what I could do?”
The general’s tongue poked at his left cheek. “I suppose I thought you inexperienced and untested. You proved me wrong.”
Ten years of constant training had ensured that he was prepared. But Jace hadn’t even been aware of it. Only now was it all slowly filtering in.
“I don’t blame you. Based on what you knew of my life, who would have thought I would be good at that.” Jace flashed a smile.
“Me!” Gehenna shot up a metal hand in the air.
She was still in her Terminator costume though he knew that she was working on yet another form. That’s where she had been all afternoon.
“Yeah, but you were my teacher,” he reminded her. “You knew what you were training me on.”
“Yes, but it was evident even in the beginning that you were meant for this,” she said.
He felt the Osiris’ grudging agreement with her.
She only realized your worth because I had already identified you as the Pilot, the Osiris said pedantically.
Right, so it was all you then? Jace couldn’t help but be amused by the two AIs oneupmanship.
The Osiris either didn’t get his sarcasm or was ignoring it.
“So you’ve made your choices for the civilian crew?” his mother prompted. She was having salmon, something she rarely ate as out in the desert far from the ocean it would never be fresh. But her expression was pleased as she slid a sliver of fish into her mouth.
“Well, yeah, but I don’t know if everyone will agree. But we can start to see some reactions, if you want,” Jace suggested.
He was actually quite eager to see how people responded to the initial invitation.
“They will not believe the email, I think,” Khoth stated as he meticulously cut the meat of some creature that looked similar to a chicken off the bone.
“No, they’ll probably think it's one of those Nigerian prince scams that even I got on my military email,” Thammah joked. “Remember that, Jack?”
“What I remember is you leading that poor con artist on for days. He was ready to meet you to exchange money for his royal jewels,” his father laughed.
He, too, had a steak, baked potato and salad. From his reaction to the food, the space paste was going down well. He hadn’t told his father that’s what this was considering what happened last time.
He won’t get sick again! Gehenna assured him. I had the Osiris rework the formula for humans. He’ll be totally fine.
That’s good, because we can’t have the human crew incapacitated after every meal, Jace told her.
That would be bad, Gehenna agreed and sent him a puking emoji that actually showed the little smiley face throwing up repeatedly.
He grinned and shook his head.
“It’s when they realize that it’s true that the real fun begins,” his mother said. She tilted her head to the side as she clearly remembered when she’d found out. “I was dazed for days, weeks really. I would touch the skin of the Osiris just to remind myself it was real. I still do it. And now that it’s up and running, or flying, I should say, I am having that feeling all over again.”
“What about the first time you met one of us?” Thammah gestured between herself and Khoth.
“I had been trained,” his mother placed air quotes around “trained”, “for what to expect when I met a Thaf’ell. I studied all of our manuals on your culture, your language, and the customs.”
“And it was all a bust was it?” Thammah chuckled. “Of course it was. Khoth can tell you that one of the ways Thaf’ell prove their superiority even among themselves is to be rude.
Jace turned to Khoth who was seated opposite him at the table again. He avoided the head of the table again. “Is that true? You weren’t rude to me!”
“You had killed a whole battalion of Khul, if you recall,” Khoth said with a faint smile.
“Didn’t want to make me angry, huh?” Jace chuckled.
“I have no doubt that any Thaf’ell assigned here would have attempted to dominate by pretending your knowledge of us was inferior or wrong,” Khoth told his mother.
“I figured that out after a time.” His mother nodded, not seemingly annoyed by it. “But that, in fact, is something we should have put in the manuals. It now is.”
“You’re going to great on Haseon. You’ll seriously enjoy yourself, I think. Managing people is your bag, is it not?” Thammah asked as she ate something that wriggled on her plate by spearing it with a two-tined fork.
“Gehenna has been kind enough to fill me in on the personalities on the Council as well as other species we’ll be meeting,” his mother said with a smile at Gehenna.
If Gehenna had been able to blush, Jace was sure her cheeks would have been a nuclear red.
“Giving my mom the low down, huh, Gehenna?” Jace lifted an eyebrow at his AI.
“Yes! Wait… was that bad? She’s your mom and I know you want her to do well! But maybe I should have asked and--”
Jace held up a hand to stop the flood of recriminations. “No, you did great. I was teasing.”
But if you’re going to give info, please let me know, he sent privately. I do want to help my mother and humanity, but we’re supposed to be neutral. Well, just slightly aligned.
Yes, yes! Of course, next time I’ll remember it! Gehenna assured him and sad smileys bubbled up in an unending stream.
It’s okay. I know you wanted to be helpful and… you do have a crush on my mother, he pointed out.
You make it sound so silly, but I respect and admire your mother so very much and she was so pleased when I helped her. I truly thought you would be pleased to, but now I see I went beyond the proper parameters, Gehenna sighed.
We’re learning this as we go, Gehenna, he assured her. There’s no training for every single situation we encounter--
Oh, but there is! If we take into account--
I don’t want to know, Jace cut her off gently. But isn’t there some equivalent to the Kobayashi Maru? A no-win scenario?
You don’t believe in no-win scenarios, she told him.
Was I channeling Jim Kirk? He lifted an eyebrow.
That is part of your own character! She told him. But no, you just always think there is some solution with some percentage of winning. But there could be a great and terrible cost.
I definitely don’t want you to tell me what one of those situations is, he said, his heart falling into his feet.
No, I won’t. Hopefully, we will never encounter it, she said, but he wondered if she really believed that.
“So you were saying that we could watch people’s reactions to their receipt of the initial email?” General Intoshkin rubbed his hands together. He had finished his steak meal already. He didn’t linger over his food, likely because he was aware that some decision might need to be made that would take him away from it.
“Yes, yes, for sure!” Holographic screens appeared before Jace. He scrolled through them and picked one of the people he really hoped joined them and who was just now about to review her email. “Okay, so the first one we should look at is Dr. Daraja Isa. She’s a Nigerian physician, 57 years old, a recent widow. Two children. A boy and a girl. Both grown and living in Lagos while she is in Gombe.”
He “flicked” the screen with her picture and details to the center of the table where it expanded so everyone could see her. She had short hair cropped closed to a shapely skull. Her dark brown eyes had a hint of an almond shape. She had a broad nose and expressive lips. In the picture he had of her up reminded him of the Mona Lisa in that she had a smile on her face that was faint as if she knew something that others didn’t.
“She’s taken care of the poor and the rich. In desperate areas where doctors are nowhere to be found. Where danger lives and breathes and death is around every corner,” Jace said. “She performed surgery on the ground in the middle of a firefight where bullets whizzed over her head. She’s also set up successful clinics for the poverty stricken.”
“She sounds wonderful, but it also appears she’s doing great work here, son,” his father said with a frown.
“Yes, but she’s restless. She’s depressed. She needs something new. Something hopeful. And I think… I think she would see this as a way to bring what’s out there,” Jace pointed generally to the stars, “to the people of Earth.”
Jace noted that no one seemed either surprised or upset that he knew so much about her and her potential psychology. He knew that the US military had many such abilities and the Alliance definitely had them. But between him and the AIs, he had deeper insights. Or so he hoped.
C’mon, Dr. Isa, be part of my crew! Jace hoped.
“Let’s see what she does with that email. Hopefully doesn’t trash it before reading it,” General Intoshkin said as he leaned back in his chair.
“Depending on her reaction… well, we could speak to her,” Jace said, though he realized that watching her like this was a complete invasion of her privacy and speaking to her would cross another line. But he knew that if it had been him on the other end of that email he’d have thought: privacy be damned! I want to take a risk on this!
The screen in the center changed from her image and resume to a live feed of her sitting in her office. The windows were open and there was a lazy ceiling fan that turned. It was night after what Jace knew had been a long day for her, but her eyes were still bright with incisiveness. Their view of her came from her own camera so it was a frontal image. So they saw the moment she read the subject line of the email.
The subject line was not about some medical miracle she could learn about though that would have had her clicking. It was actually a little corny, but heartfelt, which Jace had sensed was right for her personality. Despite being as tough as nails and calm in a storm, Dr. Isa had to be a dreamer to not be crushed by all the reality she had seen over her nearly 30 year career in medicine.
It was written in Nigeria’s most common language Hausa and asked simply: Do you long for the stars?
That faint Mona Lisa smile was on her lips again as he hovered her cursor over the email. She undoubtedly thought it was some kind of sales email such as: use our product! It’s out of this world! But he knew how much she was longing to experience new things.
So she clicked.
Dr. Isa, he’d written, My name is Jace Parker and I am the Pilot of the spacecraft, Osiris.
Her eyes widened and she shook her head as if denying the email’s words. A look of annoyance was on her face as if she’d been tricked. But she kept reading.
I know what you are most likely thinking: is this a joke? Is this some sort of scam? There is no spacecraft called the Osiris that you’ve ever heard of and you’ve looked. You read articles about Elon Musk’s Spacex and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, thinking that these are the only possible ways civilians will ever be able to go into space.
Her expression became serious. Her eyes passed over the words again and again.
But, regardless, you believe that even if such flights take place in your lifetime, they will be reserved for the rich or the young. Space is dangerous. Other worldly travel even more so. Contact with other species? A pipe dream.
But what would you give for it all to be true?
She highlighted those words unconsciously with her cursor.
You have qualities that I know will be an asset to my crew. And I can give you what you’re looking for. Travel to the stars and other worlds. Interactions, perhaps even friendships, with alien species. And more knowledge of medicine that you have ever dreamed.
If you wish to join my crew, all you need do is reply to this email with a single word: yes.
She shook her head even as her gaze was fixed upon the words of the email.
“This cannot be true,” she murmured in Hausa. “It is madness.”
“She’s going to click away!” His mother cried, looking anxious.
“No, no, she’s intrigued,” General Intoshkin said as he flicked his fingers along his clean shaven chin.
“All she has to do is reply with a yes?” his father asked.
“That’s right,” Jace said.
“At least she won’t worry about getting a virus,” his mother said, eyes wide.
“She’ll do it. She thinks it crazy, but she’ll do it,” Thammah said as she leaned forward against the table, her food forgotten.
“Madness,” she whispered again, but she hit Reply and wrote, “Yes.”
There was an immediate reply. She blinked as she saw it. Another unread email from him in her inbox. Frowning slightly, she clicked on the second email.
The subject was: Welcome to the Crew.
Dr. Isa, he’d written, You’ve made the right choice to join us. You need not pack a bag. Not even a toothbrush or toothpaste is required. All will be provided for you on board the Osiris.
Her eyebrows arched up and she let out a huff of laughter as she said, “No requests for my bank account? My government identification number? Could this be real? No, it cannot be.”
“Do we want to talk to her? She’s the first one to hit reply,” Jace said.
“Hell, yes!” Thammah pumped her fist in the air.
“Yes, yes, yes!” Gehenna enthused.
“You should welcome her personally,” Khoth stated with a smile.
“All right, here we go,” Jace said.
He didn’t even have to instruct the Osiris to do anything. They were connected. Dr. Isa jerked back in her chair as her screen changed to show video images of each of them. Jace smiled broadly.
“Dr. Isa? I know that you speak English as well as Hausa and about seven other languages? But for the sake of everyone here, I hope you don’t mind if we talk in English,” Jace said to her.
She blinked rapidly. “Who--who are you?”
“Jace Parker. Pilot of the Osiris,” he said and gestured around the room. “And these are some of the people involved in the adventure you will soon be joining.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Is this some kind of joke? Like a show where people don’t know they are on television and you make them do foolish things before revealing that everyone has been laughing at them?”
“No, not at all, but I understand why you feel that way,” Jace said as he held up his hands almost as if in surrender. “I can honestly tell you that you probably won’t believe what I’m telling you until you get here.”
“Get where?” she demanded.
“Aboard the Osiris.” Jace gestured around them and another window opened on her computer to show her a view of the Osiris from the outside.
She leaned in closer and her lips parted. “This--this could be special effects. Just CGI. A program. Not real.”
“Indeed it could, which is why I said you won’t believe any of this until you get here,” he told her.
That was when she noticed Khoth, Thammah and Gehenna. Her eyes grew very large then.
“Who are the blue beings?” she asked. “And is that a--a Terminator?”
Gehenna waved awkwardly and cried, “I’m a protector!”
Jace realized he should have insisted on Gehenna switching over to the cleaning bot body or another one, because having the Terminator wave at Dr. Isa probably wasn’t making this any easier for her to believe.
“This is Commander Khoth Voor, my second on the Osiris, and this is Flight-Commander Thammah Pyrrhus, the leader of our fighter craft,” Jace introduced the two Thaf’ell. “As you can see, they are not human. They are just one species of an intergalactic alliance fighting against a dangerous race of aliens called the Khul.”
Dr. Isa blinked at him. He supposed that this was a better reaction than he should have expected. She could have slammed her computer shut and run away.
“That sounds like a television series,” she told him, cracking one of those faint smiles.
Jace grinned. “I know, right?” He sobered then. “But it’s real. Very, very real. And I want you to be a part of it. Your skills, your intellect, your grace under fire will all be things that are invaluable to me and your fellow crew members.”
“This is madness,” she repeated again.
“I know, but the question you really have to ask yourself is: what if it isn’t?” Jace leaned forward and her screen showed his face in the center, larger than the others, as he continued, “What would you give for this to be true?”
There were a few long beats, but then with that Mona Lisa smile, she told him, “Anything.”
“That’s exactly what I wanted to hear,” Jace said. “Now let me tell you what happens next.”