Chapter 4

 

 

“Chief, Krilore has a different physiology than ours, so yes, this is a somewhat painful hosting, but nothing that is too hard to overcome.”

“And he’s friendly?” 

Lee mentally winced.  “Krilore is friendly and mainly curious,” was all he said. 

“What’s its agenda, sir?”  It was Collier, a fairly new lieutenant assigned to weaponry.   The voice was understandably suspicious. 

Crane was uncomfortable, realizing that he hadn’t thought to ask Krilore that pointed question yet.   He remembered that she had called her spaceships, scout craft. 

<We are a star-faring race and very curious, Lee.  We have explored many systems, mostly without the indigenous life forms even knowing that we’re there> 

“Exploration, curiosity,” Lee answered aloud. “Krilore keeps asking me questions, none of them security type questions, so for now, I am accepting the explanation I have been given.” The finality in his voice precluded any more questions in that line of thought. No one else asked anything. “Okay, let’s go get the admiral and the rest of the scientific team.” 

That seemed to be the popular goal in mind, so everyone quickly left the room.   In fact, Crane thought, more quickly than usual.  

Then it came—the question.  <Why are there no females serving on board your submarine?> she asked, her tone accusatory.  

Before he could answer, Doc said, “I hear that Cookie has fixed some good food tonight.  Swiss steak, mashed potatoes, veggies, the works.  I’m hungry. So let me finish my tests and by that time dinner will be served.”  Doc looked absolutely ready to salivate.  

Crane laughed softly.  He was feeling a bit better; the headache was just a slight pounding, the relative warmth inside the boat had eased the aching in his joints and muscles.  Dinner sounded pretty good after the day he’d had.  Then he felt something stirring and he remembered Krilore’s question.  Women serve in many areas in the Navy, but not on submarines or combat destroyers.  There are a variety of reasons, but I suspect the main one, which is incidentally the reason I proscribe to, is because a great many men would be distracted by serving with females.

<That is an illogical answer, Captain, and you know it!> 

No, it’s not, Krilore!  I may not have worded it exactly right, but if you understood the human physiology, culture and history a bit better, you’d not be questioning it.  Up until recently, most men have considered women to be ‘the weaker sex,’ more vulnerable and more emotional.  And before you bristle up again, let me explain.  We don’t rely on ‘hosts’ for mobility.  We do it all ourselves.  Women, as the bearers of young, have always been considered nurturers in most of Earth’s cultures. He remembered his own mother and all the times that she had comforted and taught him, and in the last years up until her death, supported him.  In that regard, she had certainly not been ‘weaker.’ He focused back to answering Krilore’s question.   And as the bearers of children, women have also been considered a very precious resource for the future—of future generations.   Men have traditionally been the protectors. It was the man’s role to protect his wife and children from all dangers, be it animals, environment or other men.  It’s a tough habit to break after millennia of it being that way.  Physically, men are stronger.  It’s kind of hard for me to think of a woman hoisting some of the equipment we have here on the boat….

<Part of it is sexual, too, isn’t it, Lee?>  Krilore was much calmer, but Lee still thought she was a bit irritated. 

Crane hesitated in his answer, but not his progress toward sickbay.  At least he was getting better at that.  I guess it is, he admitted reluctantly.  We have had female scientists on board and I have noticed that I have been distracted at times—harder to focus on my job.  And I know for a fact that the men have, too.   Again, part of our physiology, I suppose. 

<When she was feeling better, while we were waiting for you to come, Dr. Crawford told me that this distraction, or should I say attraction, is part of an almost instinctive function that is part of the survival of your species.  Like our periodic stimulation urges> 

Lee almost did stop in the middle of the corridor when he thought of the girls who had stimulated him.   Or visa versa.  He felt heat rising in his cheeks and then he laughed softly.  Doc and Chip glanced at him, but didn’t ask any questions.   I suppose so.  You have to understand, though, that this vessel does engage in combat on occasion and, uh, we have to be able to focus. 

<On killing one another>  Definitely an undertone of disgust. 

They had reached sickbay.  At the door, Chip excused himself to return to his duties.  Lee walked in and sat in the chair next to Doc’s desk.  He knew what was coming next.  You know, Krilore, I think….  “Ouch!”   Doc had just found a vein for the blood test.  “That one hurt, Doc.  Quit thinking about food and focus on your job!” Crane said with mock sarcasm. 

“You’re a fine one to talk.  Having a deep conversation with your guest?” 

“Politics,” was all Lee would say.   Krilore, I guess you have a good case for saying we’re a bloodthirsty lot, but to be totally fair, there are a lot of humans like Harriman Nelson who are also trying the best they can to bring peace, too. 

<Yes, I suppose so, but it just seems ironic that a supposedly peaceful research vessel is armed to the gills, so to speak, with missiles and torpedoes> 

How do you know about our armaments?  And that brings to mind a question of my own. 

<Your armaments?  Lee, your mind is so focused on your submarine, your Gray Lady, you call it, how could I not know?> 

Heaven help them if an enemy learned to read minds, Crane thought sourly.   Doc put a band-aid on the inside of his elbow and took the blood sample into his lab for testing.  

<What is your question?>   Her thought was heavily tinged with humor.  

I thought you as much as said that my mind was an open book. 

<Your mind is, but there is so much to consider, that you might as well be specific so there is no misunderstanding> 

Okay, then, what is your real purpose in coming here?  To earth, that is. 

If Krilore were human, Lee would have sworn that she had just sighed.  <I told you, Lee.   We are a curious race.  Since we have gained the capability of space travel, we have explored farther and farther out.  That is our nature> 

He wasn’t quite satisfied, but Lee knew he wasn’t going to get more.  

“Okay, Skipper,” Doc told him.  “Until I do the tests, there is nothing further we can do.  So should we return to the wardroom and pick up some chow?" 

“Sure, Doc.  I think that would be fine,” Crane responded.  He stood up, feeling the joints protest slightly.  

“Then a good night’s sleep is next.” 

“No argument from me, Jamie.”  

Doc again scrutinized him.  “Maybe we need to keep Krilore around.  You’re actually agreeing with me.”  

“I’m just tired, Doc.  Abominably tired.” 

“I can imagine.”  He motioned Crane ahead of him and then headed toward the mess.  

<Lee, why would you not tell anyone that I am a female of my species?> 

Why indeed, Lee thought.   He realized just how much mileage Chip would get from such disclosure, but that would be in jest, mainly.   Chip would certainly not feel any differently about him.  But the men?  He was sharing ‘space’ with a woman, albeit a female of another species—how would that go over with the men?  He was the captain, for crying out loud!  He was getting strange enough looks from everyone because of his admission of hosting duties.  Even the word presented a somewhat strange connotation.  Myriads of thoughts rushed through his mind, but there was nothing concrete he could offer to Krilore. 

<Your men would have less respect for you because I am here?>   She sounded incredulous.  

I don’t know!  Humans and **vreestrich are different.  I know you haven’t told me about your people yet, but just from physiological differences alone, I can see that.  And each human is different to some small degree.  So I can’t really answer that one, not totally.  It’s just . . . awkward for me, Krilore. I can’t say exactly why.  Chalk it up to cultural differences or to my own background.  He and Doc walked into the officer’s mess where the stewards were just beginning to set up for dinner.  While he wasn’t currently feeling the same enthusiasm for the food that Doc seemed to have, Lee realized that he was hungry.   

“Be with you soon, Skipper, Doc,” Cookie called out from the galley.   

“Don’t rush on our account, Cookie,” Crane replied.  

<I will not bother you more on that issue, Lee.  I will think on what you have said and what I have seen.  I will leave you to your nourishment>  

I suppose you will let me know if something I . . .ingest isn’t compatible with your physiology? Lee asked.  

<That is considerate.  Yes, I will.  Usually, whatever a host ingests is broken down so that compatibility isn’t an issue, but there was something about your drink—coffee, that seemed abhorrent to me.  As you said, something that I cannot explain>  

It was at that moment that a steward set a mug of coffee down in front of him.  “No thanks, Brady.  Something a bit less caustic?” he asked with a smile.  “Doc has ordered sack time for me after dinner.”  

“I’ll take it,” Doc said quickly and pulled the mug toward him.  Brady nodded and then left.  As he reached for the sugar, Jamieson said out of the side of his mouth.  “Krilore giving you some dietary advice?  Maybe he should let the admiral host him.  That might be the ticket to cutting out the smokes.”  

Lee decided to take a chance.  “She.”  

Doc was pouring cream into his coffee.  He turned to stare at Crane even as he continued pouring.  “Did I hear you right?”  

“Doc, your cup runneth over,” Lee said with a wry smile.   

Without a glance at the heavily creamed coffee, Doc continued to study the skipper.   “Krilore is a female?”  

Crane nodded and returned the gaze, watching the gamut of emotions play on the doctor’s face.   

Finally Jamieson grinned.  “I bet you’re getting a real education, Skipper.  Can I assume that the politics you were discussing had something to do with….”  

“Commander Jamieson, Krilore is a member of another species,” he hissed, trying to keep his voice down.  Junior officers were now filing into the room.  “While there are similarities in our two species, there are even more differences.  And,” Lee threatened, “I don’t have to tell you what we were discussing anyway.”  

“Of course, you don’t have to.  Some of it was kind of plain to see when we left the meeting.”  With that Doc finally looked at his coffee, took a sip and then shoved it away with a grimace.     

“Serves you right,” Crane growled.   

<I think you made your point, Lee> Krilore said, the thought bemused.  <Melissa told me, when she realized that she would not make it to the rendezvous site, that I would learn much from my next host>  

She had a lot of faith that you would get that host, didn’t she? Lee mused.   

<Melissa said that whoever came to the rendezvous would be male>   

She paused and Crane felt a slight current of hesitation.   Then it dawned on him.  The admiral had planned on him being the next host.  He didn’t specify that he come, but Nelson didn’t specify anyone else and it was sent in their private code.  The admiral chose me, didn’t he?  

More hesitation.  <Do not be angry.  You probably were more correct than you could imagine, Lee, when you called me an emissary.  I hold a position equal to your own, actually higher.  I am the leader of this expedition.  My position is above that of the captains of the exploratory crafts.  Yes, Admiral Nelson said that you would be the best choice, but we would not allow him to give you any details, nor to ask you if you agreed to this.  He strongly protested, but finally sent the message you received>  

Crane said nothing as he pondered what Krilore had just told him.  While he was pleased that the admiral had felt he could handle this, he was still irritated that Krilore didn’t trust Admiral Nelson enough to let him divulge information that would have made this transition easier.  

<That is just the point, Lee.  We have learned through sad experience that we cannot totally trust anyone, at least at the beginning.  Our exploration would have been totally clandestine had it not been for the unforeseen problems that we experienced with our craft.  Your people’s scientific encampment just happened to be nearby>  

Most likely it was a good thing for you that there were people with the scientific knowledge to help you.  By the way, why did you decide to divulge that information to me at this point? 

<I am coming to the conclusion that you are an honorable entity, Lee>  

Thanks, Krilore.  I can be very suspicious by nature of my trade, but do also try to be fair.  I also trust the admiral, whose instincts are usually right on the mark.  Now, while we’re asking questions, just what brought your spacecraft down? 

<It was a bombardment of particles from a magnetic/radiation belt that circles your planet.  It had changed slightly since our initial pass by a few years ago and it disabled our propulsion units>  

Ah, so it’s doubly fortunate that you met up with Admiral Nelson.  He has studied the Van Allen Belts extensively. Lee left it at that.  He saw Cookie dishing up the dinner and noticed that Doc was not sitting next to him.  As he started to get up, muscles again protesting, Jamieson came toward him with two trays.   

“Got it, Skipper.  You were kind of off, uh, into space, so to speak, so I took the liberty of getting your tray.”   

“Thanks, Doc.  I appreciate it.”   He had practically done nothing this entire afternoon/evening and he felt as limp as wet paper.  He said as much to the doctor.   

Doc sat down next to him, unfolded his napkin and began to dig in.  “Very good food tonight.”  

“Did you tell Cookie this was my tray?” Lee asked, gazing at what seemed to be a mound of food on his tray.  Half again as much as he usually picked out.  

“Yup, Skipper,” Doc said, his face deadpan.  Just before he took a bite of potatoes, he said softly, “But you do realize that you’re eating for….”  

“Don’t say it, Doc.  Don’t even think it,” Lee interrupted, angrily picking up his fork.  

Doc just looked innocent as he worked on his meal.   The two men ate in silence, then Crane got up, handed his half-finished tray to one of the rates who offered to bus it for him and stalked out. 

 

 

 

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