Chapter 1: Broken routineEdit
A small, average-looking spacecraft floated in the void of a small, average-looking solar system. It had just come out of FTL-speed, after dropping off a drone near another solar system, where it would start its explorations. It was one of many, as the Bewk often sent something to explore wherever there was something even remotely interesting. Apart from colonised planets, of course. It was part 1 of the Act of the Hiding, that they would not contact another species until someone contacted them.
The Act of the Hiding was about to end.
Esk-Kete, Lead Deckman of the SDVS Alternative, noted something on the Liaetin (LIght-Acoustic Equivalent Tracking INstrument). There was a second ship, where no ship was meant to be. He turned the radio on, taking a moment to listen in to the radio shell that surrounded his planet. This second ship had probably homed in on that, and was now attempting to locate one of their ships. Whether it was for well-intentioned purposes, or something more sinister, he had no idea. He sent a message to Dek:
Unidentified ship located. Coordinates being sent. Awaiting contact from unidentified ship.
Now that the situation was beginning to sink in, Kete was becoming more nervous. Well, at least I know they're there, he thought. The only thing more frightening than the sight of a beast is the absence of the sight of a beast. He looked at the communication screen, projected below the main feed, awaiting for anything to show up on the monitor.
Chapter 2: Standard procedureEdit
A medium-sized, specially kitted spacecraft floated in the void of a small but interesting solar system. It had been cruising in sublight for a while now, doing nothing but scanning the planets below. This was the only Salsene ship in this sector, sent out specifically to study this star and its satellites. If there were any other sapient species here- great! The more the merrier.
First Contact protocols remained the same as ever.
There was a radio shell around this planet, but the Salsenes were blissfully unaware of it. They didn't actually know that their radio receivers were all down, or that a saboteur was on board their ship, but they did detect a foreign spaceship.
In the CIC, there was a sudden burst of activity. The captain, Jando Sallet, grinned. "Open projection! First Contact time!"
The age of promotions for contacts had passed- demonstrated partially by the presence of Zyrothans and Atrenids on board the Salsene ship. Cultural exchange was well underway, and the modern Salsenes were very different from those who had first left for the stars.
The image of a strange creature appeared.
"Greetings! I am Jando, captain of the Salsene Grand Fleet Ship Illuminatrix. We come in peace."
Chapter 3: First interactionsEdit
Keke flinched slightly at the sudden appearance of... something on the screen. It was completely unlike anything he'd seen before. It stood with its body facing the same direction as its legs, and its arms were where its front legs would be if it was a Bewk. It didn't even have any middle limbs. After taking in this strange creature, Keke spoke in reply.
"Greetings. I am Esk-Kete Lead Deckman of the SDVS Alternative, and we welcome you to Dek and the Aur system."
If it was talking in a civil manner, then he might as well be civil to the alien back. He blinked, his two iris-less pupils disappearing for a second in the eyelids and then becoming visible again.
Chapter 4: Learned by experienceEdit
Jando mulled over the alien for a moment. Its limb format was definitely unusual, and not something he had seen before. But there were so many unusual sapients, and novelty had stopped being as notable.
"Thank you for your kindness. We anticipate peaceful and profitable relations in the future."
He cleared his throat and then looked back up at the screen.
Keke slightly opened and closed his jaws, in the equivalent of a nod. "If any of our kind happen to have xenophobic reactions, we apologise," he explained. "Our first glimpse into the galaxy's sophonts, though, happened to be of a warzone. One of our drones landed..." He took out a video map from a draw, and fiddled with it for a few seconds. He then showed it. "Here," he finished, gesturing at the location that had been highlighted.
He then realised he'd completely forgot about something. "I forgot to introduce my species. We are Bewks," he said. "We are a carnivorous species, descended from small arboreal carnivores, that came down from the trees after an extinction event happened around 20 mya."
"Ah yes. We are the Salsenes, from the planet Ishtar. That world is dead now, though. We evolved from amphibians, as you can probably see."
Jando narrows his eyes at the screen, to see the video map better.
"Ah, Bellus. The centre of our conflicts with the Kerarans."
The Bewk nodded. "I have no idea what an amphibian is, or a Keraran either, but I'm presuming that an amphibian is a bipedal type of animal and a Keraran is bad news." Keke said nothing for a few seconds, then continued, "Is there anything else that we need to do in first contact?"
"Oh, an amphibian is an animal that is at home in both the water and on land. You're right about Kerarans- they are an advanced race from another galaxy who seek only to conquer and kill."
He thinks for a moment. "Standard procedure would have us go to your ship, or vice versa."
Keke thought about that for a second. "Are you sure ship-crossing would be a good idea?" he asked. "Body language may not work as well as planned. For example, our kind will often hit people they've met with their tails if they decide that they're friendly enough. Children with pets often learn that it doesn't work with other species through the hard way."
"Tail-hitting, hm. Given the size of your species, that could be very hazardous. Could that be.... reined in?"
"Probably," Keke said. "Another minor problem might be our species' habit of random tackle-fights during minor disagreements... We should probably go to your ship, and have those who keep pets or those who deal with animals as those who go. I keep a pet at home, so I'm good. Just remember that, though we probably won't do it to you, it still might be an idea to keep away from the tail and various stuff like that. And it'd be worth remembering that two of us might suddenly slam each other, and then go back to being best friends in about ten seconds."
"Our facilities may be too small for sapients of your size, though. You might not be able to enter the ship, so I think only yours could be the one on which we met."
"Ah..." Keke said. "Well, this is sort of awkward..."
"Agreed. Any ideas?"
"No. None at all."
"Well, we might be able to meet at ground level, if it suits..."
"That might be the best idea." Jando nodded.
Chapter 5: MeetingEdit
The Bewk ship settled on a large, flat artificial island that had been used as a landing pad for ships since the Bewk first invented FTL travel. It was plenty large enough for both the Bewk and the Salsene ship to land on. After some questioning with the crew on who had any pets, or did work with animals, the team was selected. Esk-Kete stepped out of the ship, on to the solid concrete ground.
The Salsene ship descended too, coming to rest directly opposite that of the Bewks. Its landing ramp descended with a soft hiss, and a small group of Salsenes stepped out.
"Here we are." Jando walked over to Esk-Kete. "It is good to meet you in the flesh."
Kete nodded in reply. "It is. Although those two over there..." He gestured towards a pair of Bewk who were apparently arguing over something. "They're going to have a tackle-fight in roughly seven eks."
"Sounds like we should stay clear." Jando watched them worriedly. He then turned back. "So, Viperius. A whole new galaxy to explore for you."
All the Bewks moved away from the two slightly. Then they crashed in to each other in a vicious roaring heap with blows that would kill a Salsene. None of the Bewks seemed particularly interested. "Yes, a whole new galaxy," he said. "It's a big place. We've attempted to prepare, though. What's the average sort of military of the races of your galaxy? Just so we know we won't get slaughtered at the first attack of a whatever."
Jando scratched his chin. "Militaries here are very variable. Most species have warships capable of orbital bombardment and the like, as well as advanced ground weaponry, but your size would probably give you the advantage man-to-man. Ones you should watch out for are the Flesh Thieves, Craan, and Elisri. Particularly the Elisri. There are other, far more powerful races, but they tend to keep each other in check."
Kete nodded. One of the Bewks had taken out some sort of device, and was taking a few notes. The two who had been fighting had suddenly stopped, and were now in a bit of a calmer discussion than their previous one had gone. "A tackle-fight usually calms arguments down," the note-taker said as a brief explanation. "By the way, how far did you find our radio waves from? We used to have a block around our planet."
"It was a very weak shell around seventy-light years in radius, probably the first signals you sent out. We did think it odd that after that there was so little."
"Maybe you should check that a bit later," Kete said. "It's been down for fifty or so years, and we could hear it loud and clear from where you found our ship."
"Hm. It is very possible that our astrogator was messing with us."
"I have no idea what that is."
"The man in charge of course plotting, finding locations, and so on."
"Hmm. Well, the equipment might have also glitched, or we had the wrong type of radio. You should probably check with them, just to be sure."
Chapter 6: The Littlest BewkEdit
The note-taker, who had introduced himself as Lae-Pel, walked along the corridor. He was the smallest of the Bewks who had permission to meet the Salsenes, and so was the only one who could reasonably fit within the ship's corridors. He had insisted that there would be no problems, and he wouldn't injure anyone by clubbing them or attempting to engage a tackle-fight. "It's just for culture stuff," he reassured a slightly paranoid Salsene for about the twenty-fourth time.
"I saw what those two did out there. You'd kill us!"
"I have experience with both children, pets and those who are disabled," he replied once more. "And not once have I injured any of them. Now if you don't like being so close to me, you can simply move away." Pel looked at the lead Salsene, in an attempt for some backup. He was getting slightly stressed from the alien, and although he wouldn't do tackle-fighting, he had only said he wouldn't injure any Salsenes. He was severely tempted to hit the Salsene upside the head with his hand, which wouldn't do damage if he only used the front segment of his arm for providing the force.
"Calm down, Prolun. He's not going to kill you." He sighed. "Sorry about this."
"No offence taken," the Bewk replied. "I'd presume it's perfectly natural to be nervous around a new species that has a habit of random violence." He remembered what he was actually on the ship for. "This is a very nice ship you have," he said. "It's easier to get around in than our ships, too. Well, not with the physical walking around and everything, seeing as it's built for either bipeds or more compact and smaller quadrapeds than my own species, but the design is easier to follow." His train of thoughts carried on. "By the way, who are the tall black and the six-limbed purple species? I would guess that, if there's four sapient species currently known to every Bewk in existence, there's going to be a whole galactic community. Where do both they and your own fit in? I apologise if I'm rambling."
"The Atrenids are the candle-headed humanoids, and the centauriformes you're most likely to meet are the Zyrothans. Those are both very widespread. All the races just get along, I guess- our governments can't control how each one of our kind interacts with individuals from other species, and there are plenty of mixing pots. Society is probably converging on one, universal culture for all Viperian sapients. Then what? Who can say."
Pel nodded. He couldn't think of any more questions for now, so he stopped talking and continued walking. He noted that, although he usually felt quite small, he was still nearly twice as big as the largest Zyrothan he'd seen. It was quite odd.
The Salsene led him to the bridge. "So, this is our command centre. And... yeah. Lots of computers, centre of control."
"Pretty impressive," he responded, looking at the copious amounts of technology.
"What's your race like with computing?"
"We're fairly good," Pel said. "AI that can explore alien planets, good screens, using a bit of self-organising computing... Y'know, stuff at that level."
"Ah, okay. How many planets have you explored?"
"If my memory is working well, we've sent drones off to at least 160 planets, although about fourty of them are still being explored," he responded. "We've had exactly 27 planets visited by manned spacecraft, due to the Act of the Hiding needing us to check around for any sapients in the area. About 35 of our missions were called off due to alien activity..."
"You sure were cautious. We just threw ourselves at the galaxy with open arms."
"It's good to be safe if the only species you've seen well is one that would easily obliterate us. I believe that I have a film of what decisions the drone made, if you would like to see it."
"Yeah, please!" The Salsene smiled.
"Okay," the Bewk said, taking a phone-like device from one of his pockets near his tail. "By the way, who was that just now? They looked like they were being a bit paranoid," he said, glancing to a certain Salsene, "since they were going a bit fast and had a very large coat and hat."
"Which one?" He cast around, looking for the subject. "Oh yes! Hey, you!"
The figure began to sprint, pushing through the crew and through the door.
The guide shrugged his shoulders. "I didn't recognise him."
"I have a feeling that some random guy who runs when you acknowledge him is bad news. Is that normal in your cultures?"
"I wouldn't say it was..."
Chapter 7: SubterfugeEdit
Running into the crew quarters, quickly discarding his heavy coat and taking off his hat, the Salsene stopped to breathe heavily for a few seconds. That had been too close. He began to push both of the items underneath a bed, and had just finished when a curious Bewk and Salsene entered.
"Good morning." He managed.
"Good morning," the Bewk replied. "Just checking, but are you that guy who was in the coat and hat? Since you sound like you've been running, and you sort of smell like the coat and hat."
The Salsene closed his fingers around the grip of the Mincer machine pistol in his pocket. "Nah, not me."
The guide sighed. "Come on. We haven't even seen engineering yet."
"Oh, okay," the larger sapient said. He looked back at the other Salsene. "I'm Esk-Kete," he said, introducing himself. "If you see any random people in too many clothes, can you ask them why they feel the need to wear all of them? In case it's perfectly normal for them." They then left the room, with the Bewk muttering something that sounded rather similar to "All these Salsenes smell the same..."
Digging underneath the bedding, Tarmo Jarrot pulled out his circuit breaker. He took his coat back out from under the bed, and hid his weapon underneath it, then hurried off to the port flak turret, which sat with its guns pointing neatly at the Bewks below.
"So this is the drive core. Pretty, eh?"
"Looks a lot more powerful than any drive I've ever seen."
"I imagine it is. Produces a heck of a lot of static, though, so we can't spend too long with it on. What're yours based on?"
"It's based on fusion," he replied. "I don't really know the specifics, though."
"Sounds practical. I must confess I don't actually know what powers our engines- it's a state secret."