Chapter 3, part 1
She Stays With Us
The Trader Emergency Coalition
1,000 years ago, outside Trader-controlled space
"All right people gather round!" Harrison barked out.
The command crew of the Protev colony frigate formed a circle around Harrison as he continued talking.
"I've instructed our diplomatic staff to prepare a welcoming ceremony in the cavern outside. It is planned for tonight, and there is very little time. Therefore, if you see anyone in a yellow jacket, please get out of their way. Pass this around the ship. We need every minute we have to be ready to welcome the Family into the Trade Order!"
"They've agreed, then?" One man called out.
Harrison shook his head. "No, they will be asked at the ceremony. It will be a surprise. A pleasant one, hopefully. I cannot see them turning down such a lucrative offer, though, can you?"
The crowd laughed in agreement. Exclusive rights to be fast tracked on the Trade Order admissions list? What sovereignty wouldn't wish that?
"Come now, Lieutenant Harrison, tell me for what purpose we are going to your people's docking station."
"I told you," said Harrison with a grin, "its a surprise."
Portugal cocked his head curiously. "That is an interesting word. "Surprise." What does it mean?"
"You don't know what a surprise is?" Harrison couldn't keep the incredulity from his voice, though he tried to hide it.
"We do not," said Portugal tightly. Harrison winced at the sound of his voice. "Will you explain it?"
"I apologize Brother Gibbings, I misspoke. A "surprise" is something unexpected that one does to another. Usually they are pleasant."
"Unexpected?" Portugal's eyebrows rose. "Curious."
Curious? But Harrison couldn't inquire further. They had reached the unmarked door that led to their "docking station." Harrison still thought of it as a cave, albeit a large one.
"A cavern..." Portugal muttered.
"What?" Said Harrison, startled.
"A large cave, it is called a cavern."
"Oh," said Harrison in the same confused tone. "All right..."
Now what had he been thinking about? Oh, it was gone now. Whatever.
"Brother Gibbings," said Harrison majestically, placing a hand on the door's lever. "We of the Trade Order, gentle in our sovereignty, gracious in our trade, extend to the people known as the Family the outstanding and unique offer of immediate acceptance into the Trade Order upon the signing of the Charter of Membership."
With that he flung open the door, and the diplomatic party began.
"Bring out the treaty!" Harrison roared as his diplomatic staff cheered Portugal Gibbings and the other Family members that had followed him into the cavern.
Four diplomats came down the ship's ramp, holding the immense treaty in their hands. The Charter for Membership into the Trade Order hummed faintly as it was placed on an empty table near Harrison. Harrison beckoned the Family members over, and tapped the Charter when Portugal and the others approached.
The holo-document glowed faintly as a female voice began reading its contents.
"The Charter for Membership into the Trade Order. The purposes of the Trade Order: To maintain peace and interplanetary security and to prevent and remove threats and acts of aggression to the peace of the Trade Order. To develop friendly ties between intersystem and intrasystem planets, based on the principles of free and unrestricted trade, equal rights of all Traders, and to strengthen the universal market.
"All members of the Trade Order shall act in accordance with the following Principles: 1. This Order is based on the principle of sovereign equality of all its members. 2. A member planet will not assault or be involved in an assault on another member planet. 3. A member planet will not assault a nonmember planet unless specifically advised to by the Trade Order. 4. A member planet will agree to give economic aid to another member planet, if requested and within reason. 5. A member planet will present one representative from its planet at the Trade Order Council (TOC) for an eight-year term. 6. A planet wishing for admittance into the Trade Order must have an approval rating of 70% or higher. 7. If at any time a member planet's approval rating drops to 30% or below, the Trade Order Council (TOC) retains the right to vote said planet out of the Trade Order, or impose precautionary restrictions or limitations on said planet as the Council sees fit. 8. If a planet is expelled from the Trade Order, it may reapply for membership if it meets the preliminary requirements. However, the Trade Order Council (TOC) retains the right to deny a second-time applicant even if all qualifications are met. There can be no third reapplication. 9--"
"Enough," said Portugal curtly, and Harrison paused the treaty's repetition.
"What is it?"
"We have already given you our answer, Lieutenant Harrison, although perhaps you did not understand what you were hearing. Our answer is no."
Around the room, many mouths dropped open. They were refusing?
"We have not come here to listen to your demands of confirmation into your culture. We are here to make our own demands. There is a woman aboard your ship, a Lutrice Hawken. Bring her to us."
Harrison gaped. They wanted what?
The other Family members circled the Protev frigate and the diplomats. Harrison could see that other Family members had filed into the room while the treaty was reciting its contents. They now encircled the entire room, and they wore dark, menacing cloaks with intricate runes spread along the sleeves. For the first time, Harrison found himself asking the question, what exactly were the Family members?
"You heard us." Portugal's voice was harsh, completely opposite to the light, friendly tone he had used as the Family's sole diplomat. "Bring the woman to us."
Harrison started. The blasted man's eyes had changed! Instead of resembling Trader's eyes, they now were pure white, without even a pupil. They seemed to burn with a hidden power. Harrison looked around, and saw the Protev's crew all looking at him.
"Blasted stars," he murmured, and hurried up the Protev's ramp. The diplomats carried no weapons, but so far Harrison had not seen the Family carry weapons either. Perhaps with the help of the Protev's crew...
But no. When Harrison entered the bridge, he found everyone frozen. Literally frozen. Men and women rooted to their places as if by an unknown force. Harrison looked out at the room through the bridge's enormous frontal window. The Family members' eyes all blazed white as they stared fixedly at the ship. Harrison shuddered and moved on. He was halfway down a hallway when he heard a scuffling sound outside of a door. He paused, making sure he had heard correctly. Yes, there was a noise coming from the inside of this sleeping quarters. Harrison checked the name lasered into the wall beside the door. There was none. That meant that several crewmen slept here. Well, though Harrison, its better than nothing. He hesitated slightly, then pressed his thumb to the door pad, unlocking it.
The door swung open, and something hit him in the face.
Harrison fell backwards with a curse. Stars swam in front of his vision as he heard a young man's voice call out, "Oh, sorry sir! I thought...never mind that! I'm so sorry sir, is there anything I can do?"
Harrison shook his head to clear his vision. An anxious youth met his eyes, hovering uncertainly near him. In his hand was a large frying pan. A cook, perhaps?
"What the hell are you doing, son?" Harrison managed to croak out. That boy had an arm!
"I...the crew suddenly froze, captain! I was with Miss Hawken at the time, and--"
"Hawken?" Harrison interrupted. "Lutrice Hawken?"
"The boy nodded. "Yes sir, and--"
"Take me to her." Harrison grabbed the boy by the scruff of the neck and threw him into the hallway. "Now."
They entered the Protev's medical bay.
"Lutrice is here?" Harrison whispered. Why was he whispering? There was something to the room, the slow hum of machinery seemed so much louder with the total silence aboard the ship. Through another porthole, Harrison made out the dim shapes of the Family members, their eyes glowing fiercely. How long had he been in the ship, fifteen minutes?
The boy nodded in confirmation. "Yes sir, she's just around the corner."
Harrison followed the boy to a bed hovering slightly off the floor. In the bed was a woman. And in the woman's eyes was stark terror.
No, not terror, Harrison thought. This woman is crazy.
"Can you hear them?" She moaned as Harrison moved closer to her. "Ohh, I can hear them. Whispering to me...they want me to come to them. You won't let them take me, will you?"
Harrison shook his head, speechless and slightly frightened by the woman's manner. Was she talking about the Family? How did she know they wanted her?
"When did she...start acting like this?" Harrison asked the boy, who had indeed turned out to be one of the cook's sons.
"The day we arrived here, sir," the boy hesitated. "No, it was the moment we touched ground down here, sir. I remember. I was handing out dinner to her and all of a sudden there was a shudder in the ship as it settled against the ground, and poor Lutrice here, she up and threw her meal all over me, screaming. After several hours she died down and then...she was like this. Since then."
"Muttering about how they wanted to get her?"
"Yes, sir.." the boy hesitated again. "You won't give her to them, whoever they are, will you sir? I know she must be crazy and all but...will you promise me you won't hand her over?"
"Help me get her to her feet," Harrison said, getting an arm around the woman.
Strangely enough, the woman put up no fight. She muttered softly to herself and petted the hair of the young cook, who smiled worriedly at her. Harrison wondered if at one point the two had been in a relationship. True, the woman was a little old for the boy but...
"Help me move her," Harrison said roughly. It had been nearly twenty minutes since he had entered the ship. What would the Family members do to his diplomats if he failed to show?
Together they managed to half carry, half drag the terrified woman to the air lock before the ships' ramp.
"Sir..." The boy said hesitantly.
"Yes, son?" Answered Harrison absentmindedly. He was preoccupied with the coming confrontation. What would Portugal do when he handed over the woman? Would he hand over Lutrice? Out of the corner of his eye he saw the frying pan arcing towards him.
Harrison ducked and the frying pan missed his head by inches. The boy cursed.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, son!" Harrison yelled. He dove away from the boy as the frying pan came around for another pass.
"You were going to turn her over!" The boy screamed, crying. "You were going to give her to them! You can't do that!"
Harrison ran his hand through his hair. He had taken shelter behind a set of controls in the middle of the room, and was for the moment outside of swinging range. Harrison sighed.
"Son, I'm only going to ask you once. Drop the frying pan and move over to the wall!"
The boy sobbed. "Never! I'll never let you give her to them!"
Harrison unsnapped his pistol and raised it to his shoulder. A sight popped out and zeroed in on the boy's hand.
"Please, son, don't make me do this!"
"You can't give her to them!"
Harrison fired. The boy screamed as the bullet tore through his hand and spun him to the ground. Harrison walked up to him and hit him in the head with the butt of his gun. The boy stopped screaming as he fell unconscious. Harrison rummaged in a corner until he found a med pack, and took out what he needed. He applied a bandage to the boy's ruined hand, which contained something in its adhesive parts that stopped the bleeding and cauterized the wound. He then took out a pair of electric handcuffs and cuffed the boy, attaching the cuffs to the wall of the bridge. The cuffs hummed gently as they latched onto the smooth surface. The boy wouldn't be going anywhere until Harrison was ready to deal with him. He gathered the woman in his arms, as she had fainted during the gun shot, and walked out to meet Portugal and the Family members.
Lutrice froze the moment she laid her eyes on Portugal Gibbings. No! Her mind screamed, but her mouth was frozen. She could only look helplessly at Harrison as Portugal moved swiftly in and took the woman from his arms.
"Calm yourself, sister," Portugal murmured, his eyes a solid white. To Harrison's disbelief, Lutrice calmed at the touch of the Family member and her breathing regulated. She smiled dreamily up at him, and then fell asleep.
"Take her," Portugal said, motioning to two of the Family members lining the cavern walls.
They moved in, one taking Lutrice's legs, and the other grasping her upper body. They left the cavern.
"Now," said Portugal, turning his glowing eyes on Harrison. "You will tell your leaders that we declined their offer. Nothing more. You will go wherever you want, I do not really care. But neither you nor your people will ever come back here. Is this understood?"
Harrison nodded, his whole body shaking. What else was he supposed to do?
The corners of Portugal's mouth twitched in a smile.
"Good," he said, and swept his hand across Harrison's face in the same way he did to Lutrice. Harrison's vision swam, and darkness came only a moment later.
When Harrison woke again, he was lying on the floor of his Protev frigate. He started, looking around with wild eyes. Had that all been only a dream? Nothing more than a horrible, terrible dream? But no, it was not to be. There was a haunted look in his men, a common stamp of fear across their faces. And attached to the wall was the cook's boy, his arms chained together. Harrison rubbed at his eyes with his hands. Why did these things happen to him? His men were looking at him questioningly.
"Get the Council on the phone," Harrison ordered, standing. "Tell them its urgent."