2951-08-09 – Tales from the Service: The Envoy’s Proposal 

While the Gilhedat are probably only coming to Confederated space in numbers of a few hundred or less, my inbox certainly over-represents these beings in terms of the stories sent in. Nearly everyone who has encountered them seems to want their story featured in this space. 

That being said, I do not think we will do many more of these stories; there are other sapient species native to the Sagitrtarius Frontier whose stories deserve to be told as well, and we expect a resumption of military operations soon which will also create further material for the Tales from the Inbox series. Though I appreciate all the other Gilhedat accounts sent in, there seems to be a very distinct pattern to these encounters which seems beyond the scope of this series or this embed team to analyze. 

Nestor Palazzo watched in amazement as the other star-captain and the golden-skinned alien left his ship’s lounge. He didn’t think that Cremonesi was in any physical danger, but the idea of negotiation with the Glitters tied his stomach in knots all the same. 

“Why do you fear us?” The female – Drase – fixed those pupil-less scarlet eyes on Nestor again, and he felt the blood drain from his face. Those eyes, he was certain, saw more than they should. “We bear no weapons.” 

Nestor looked away. Couldn’t she just see why he didn’t want them on his ship? Why he couldn’t survive a voyage of even a few days in their company? Wouldn’t any denizen of the Reach have very nearly the same reaction? 

“You have no secrets worth preserving, Captain Palazzo.” She continued, her tone lower and almost compassionate. “And even if you did, why would we gain from learning them?” 

“Secrets?” Nestor shook his head, still refusing to meet the Glitter’s penetrating eyes. “What’s inside my head is my own. Damned private. Like the ship, but that didn’t stop you.” 

“I am sorry. The initiative was mine. Your colleagues were only too glad to assist.” 

Nestor chuckled hoarsely. That was probably the closest he was going to get to an admission that Desjardins had used his official override codes to grant them access to his ship. “I’m sure they were. Nobody else wants you any more than I do, do they?” 

“I am afraid not.” Drase paused for a long moment. “Have you really been alone on board all these years?” 

“Damned right.” Nestor had gotten his start in space as an engines tech on one of the big passenger liners, but those ships had teemed with enough human life to make him glad to see the end of every voyage. After inheriting his great-uncle's modest estate, he’d been able to strike out on his own. It was a simple, monotonous life, but it was one he’d dreamed about as a child, and it was one which suited him well. Nestor had never been accused of working well with others. 

“I see.” The tone of these two words suggested that she saw too much for Nestor’s liking. “To us it seems a sad existence.” 

“Look.” Nestor turned around, squaring his shoulders. Drase’s posture and bearing had changed to something a bit more human, a bit less aloof. “With all due respect, get out of my head and see to your own affairs. Save your pity for someone who isn’t living his dreams.” 

Drase smiled, though there was something uncanny about the expression, an incomplete copy of the real thing. “I do not envy your dream. But if you would permit, I, and only I, would like to share it.” 

Before Nestor could decipher what she meant, one of the two others, face still expressionless, stepped up behind Drase and whispered something in her ear. Her monosyllabic response did not seem to satisfy the other, but he backed away all the same. 

“Hold on.” Nestor finally put her words together into an arrangement that made sense. “I won’t take all four of you to the Sprawl, so you think I’ll take only one at a time?” 

“Perhaps I should explain our purpose in traveling to human space, Captain.” Drase held up a hand, indicating her compatriots, both in the room and otherwise. “We seek to increase understanding of your kind and its nature. Our kind has seen too much of what the Incarnate has shaped for our liking, but it remains to be seen whether this shape is an aberration. That study will be a work of many of your decades. Perhaps many of your lifetimes.” 

Nestor frowned. “You think you can learn something of humanity by riding along on my ship? I go months without seeing people sometimes. All you’d have to study is...” He paused. “Oh, no. Hellfire, you must be mad.” 

Drase took a step forward, holding her arms out. With every move she made, she seemed to grow more human-like, though the uncanny sense that every movement and every gesture was a copy remained. “It is bold perhaps, but it is not madness. There is much you stand to gain, and much I stand to learn for my people.” 

Nestor stepped back. “I, uh.” He didn’t know why it was so hard to simply refuse and turn away. He wondered if the Glitter woman might be using some sort of mind-game to influence his thinking, to muddy what should have been a clear decision. 

As if reading this thought, Drase smiled. "What you feel is not of my creation. I only sensed it before you did." 

Nestor frowned, following the muddled feeling through his thoughts until it dove down into imponderable places. He was no longer so afraid of having his thoughts looked into – in fact, he was more worried that this sensation might, in time, turn into a cracked-tooth ache. 

“You do not know what it is?” 

Nestor shook his head. It was vaguely familiar, like a strain of music heard once a long time ago, but he had no word for the sensation. 

Drase held out one slim, golden hand. “Then, if you will allow me, I will help you learn.” 

2951-08-02 – Tales from the Service: The Unwanted Envoys

Nestor Palazzo let the woman lead him out of the Survey offices and onto Grigoriev’s main concourse, where a sparse crowd, mainly composed of repair techs and mining-rig workers on leave from their work-sites, meandered between the few scattered commercial frontages. He didn’t like how familiar this Cremonesi was being with him, but she was a fellow spacer, the captain of her own vessel at that, so she deserved a bit more leeway than he’d permit any other.

“I’d wager you’re right about Desjardins setting you up.” Cremonesi kept her voice low, so it was almost drowned out by the conversations of passers-by. “But he’s too smart to get caught doing it. If you want these Glitters off your ship, screaming at him isn’t going to do it, certainly not quickly.”

Nestor shook his head. “You offering to take them up to the Sprawl, then?”

“The credits would have to be real damned good.” She shrugged. “I hate passengers, but this kind would at least not make a mess or try to get too chummy. Especially if they are mind-readers. Then they’d see how little their company’s wanted, eh?”

“And lots of other things.” Nestor winced and shuddered at the thought of a gaggle of mind-reading xenos flitting about his ship, staying out of sight but reading his thoughts all the same.

Cremonesi laughed, and it was a harsh, barking sound unused to being heard by any ears but her own. “Sure, I guess. If they really can sift through our thoughts, it’s their loss to try.”

“Their loss?” Nestor looked down at the other spacer for the first time since they’d left the Survey offices.

“Can’t be anything but.” Cremonesi tapped her temple with one forefinger. “Think of all the pointless nonsense your neurons get up to when they aren’t getting seriously used, then imagine getting all of that from everyone in the room, all the time, on top of your own. Poor bastards would probably bleed out the ears if they had to sit in third class on a tramp liner.”

Nestor considered this perspective. Perhaps Cremonesi was right; perhaps simply buying a group of Gilhedat transit tickets would never have done. Even if she was wrong, someone aboard would see what they were and recall their supposed mind-reading powers, and the poor crew of the liner would have a riot on their hands.

Cremonesi slipped away into a shop for a moment, then reappeared with a sack and handed it to Nestor. He frowned at her, feeling the familiar weight and shape of a bottle of Ruby Mash, Grigoriev Station’s notoriously potent locally-produced liquor. The stuff was more of an industrial solvent than a sipping drink, but with the military overseeing the transit route, few ships coming across the Gap carried anything better that could compete with it.

“Just in case we need it.” Cremonesi arched an eyebrow. “If they really are mind-readers, I mean.”

Nestor shrugged and led the way toward the dock containing his Macie Kurtz and its unwelcome would-be passengers. He felt like he should attempt to make small talk as they walked, but every time he snuck a look over at his erstwhile companion, she seemed hardly to be paying attention to him anymore.

Despite the ship having been his home for more than two T-years, Nestor braced himself as the hatch at the top of the boarding ramp unsealed. “With any luck they’ve left already. If they got in, they can get out.”

Cremonesi shook her head. “Friend, you are not that lucky.” She gestured forward. “Lead on.”

Nestor sighed and headed into the ship, climbing the steep, textured ramp up from Macie Kurtz’s belly to the habitation deck above the cavernous cargo hold that made up most of the ship’s internal volume. Cremonesi was right; the passengers’ cluster of cargo crates was still sitting at the landing where it had been left by whoever let them in. He sidled past them, once again eyeing the strange magenta and white insignia emblazoned on each one.

Though he’d been gone more than a standard hour, Nestor doubted that any of the four Gilhedat had moved a muscle since he’d departed to see Desjardins. Three of them were standing precisely where they had been, and the fourth sat in a chair facing the viewpanel. Only those standing turned their golden faces and ruby-red eyes toward him, and just as before, he felt those eyes peeling back his thoughts, layer by layer.

Captain Cremonesi shouldered past Nestor and into the lounge before he could compose himself. “Captain Palazzo is not able to get you where you want to go. Who told you he could?”

The three figures standing in the middle of the room looked at each other, then at Cremonesi. Nestor saw her flinch, but she squared her shoulders and stood her ground, looking between them for an answer.

After several seconds, one of them spoke. “We were informed that this ship was soon to transit to the central habitat at Sagittarius Gate.” It was a female – though these creatures bore none of the standard human body-shape markers for femininity, its voice and bearing made its sex entirely clear.

“This is a cargo runner, not a passenger craft.” Cremonesi gestured behind herself toward Nestor. “This man is not equipped to be your host. You need to find another ship.”

“Lack of comfort in transit is of no concern.” The female xeno stepped forward, her skin seeming to glitter. “Our errand is of importance.”

Another of the creatures placed his hand – by bearing, it must have been a male – on the female’s shoulder. “Allow me this moment, Drase. I believe I comprehend their purpose.”

The female turned and looked at her companion, then stepped back, her face going as blank and expressionless as it had been when Nestor had entered the lounge.

“I see that you are as much a star captain as our unwilling host.” The male extended a hand toward Cremonesi. “So I was, once, but no longer. Come, let us talk of solutions that do not trouble good Captain Palazzo.”

Though I too have heard the rumor of so-called telepathic aliens, I think the more likely explanation is the one given to one of our regular contributors by passengers of this kind some months ago. True interspecies telepathy is likely impossible, however, these Gilhedat seem to be hyper-observant and capable of easily picking up on and interpreting the mannerisms of almost any sapient creature.

This is little comfort to those who are trying to keep secrets from them, of course.

[N.T.B. – Or for those who are trying to negotiate with them. Supposedly, the Glitters sent to interact with humans are mainly envoys and ambassadors; whoever is set to be their opposite number really has drawn the worst lot a diplomat can draw.]

2951-07-26 – Tales from the Inbox: Envoys at Grigoriev

Grigoriev Station is one of several installations built or expanded by the Navy in the environs around Sagittarius Gate. While the station is small compared to the notorious Sprawl, it has the advantage of orbiting a heavy terrestrial world whose surface is mainly ocean, where water and other organic substances critical to maintaining human life around a lifeless blue-giant star can be harvested with relative ease. The supply runs to and from this station are handled mainly by small-tonnage independent haulers, many of whose skippers and crews were already in Sagittarius when the conflict started and were picked up by Bosch’s Lost Squadrons.

Evidently, Grigoriev is also a convenient dumping ground for Navy ships returning from far-flung patrols with unplanned passengers, even when those ships intend to return to Naval facilities in Sagittarius Gate. I suspect Admiral Abarca has issued orders preventing civilians, especially Sagittarius-native nonhuman civilians, from spending any time aboard Navy facilities in the Sagittarius Gate defensive area, though I can find no public order to this effect.

This sort of order seems needlessly broad, but I can see the intent behind it; the Navy is worried that The Incarnation might recruit spies to secret themselves among the stream of nonhuman petitioners and refugees which always flows toward The Sprawl. Perhaps there is information in his hands more concrete than a mere worry.

[N.T.B. – It could also be as simple as discouraging these xenos from hitching a ride on Navy patrol and scout ships. The Navy is not a passenger line, after all, and hopefully making that route inconvenient will encourage them to find other rides.]

Nestor Palazzo barged into the office of Station Grigoriev’s Alien Sapience Welfare Officer, sparing only a glance at the dark-haired woman sitting on the near side of the desk. “Desjardins, you are a real bastard, do you know that? A real damned bastard.”

The woman half-turned, one hand reaching inside her coat, but she froze when Lieutenant Desjardins raised a hand and an eyebrow. “Captain Palazzo, if you’ll kindly wait outside-”

“Get them off my ship.” Nestor pointed one thick finger at the Aswo. “Now. You had no right.”

“Got a Nuisance problem, friend?” The woman smiled knowingly.

Nestor looked down at her properly for the first time. Though she was slim almost to the point of emaciation, her sharp-edged face had nothing of frailty in it, and very little of beauty. She was a

“Captain Cremonesi, please.” Desjardins stood, placing his palms flat on his desk. “Now, what is it precisely that you think I had no right to do, Nestor?”

“You know what you did. You know I don’t move passengers, especially not xenos. I don’t care if they’re going where I’m going. I don’t care how many credits Survey is paying.” Nestor pointed behind himself, picturing the cluster of xenos huddled together in his ship’s tiny lounge. “You want those things moved to the Sprawl? Hire someone who wants the trouble.”

“I am afraid I don’t know what you are talking about.” No expression of concern or confusion disturbed Desjardins’s face. “If you are having a fare dispute with customers who fall under my protection-”

“Off my ship.” Nestor stepped forward, towering over the still-seated Cremonesi and over Desjardins. “I will inform my clients that you are personally responsible for the shipping delay.”

“I don’t see how I am responsible for any delay.” Desjardins rapped his knuckles on the desk. “Are you having a disagreement with one of our resident xenos or not?”

“You let them on my ship. I know you did.” Nestor gritted his teeth. Nobody, especially not a sniveling coward of a rear-echelon desk-officer, toyed with him like that. “When I pull the security records-”

The woman stood and slid between Nestor and the Aswo, leaning on the edge of the desk. “If he really did lead a bunch of Nuisance onto your ship while you weren’t looking, I’ll hold him down myself while you shoot off bits of him.” She stuck out a hand. “Palazzo, was it? I’m Cremonesi, skipper of Tycho Spike. Why don’t you start from the beginning.”

Nestor glanced between Desjardins and the woman. The fact that the Survey officer did not react to the idea of having two irate spacers disassemble him with their side-arms was highly suspicious, but he liked where Cremonesi’s mind was at. “Fine.” He warily took Cremonesi’s hand and shook it. “I’ll hold you to that, even though it’s not Nuisance he’s saddled me with. Damnation, I’d almost prefer if it was.”

Cremonesi’s eyebrows shot up. “There’s something out here worse than Nuisance?” She glanced over her shoulder at Desjardins. “What sort of xeno are we talking about here?”

“I can only guess that Captain Palazzo is referring to a group of Gilehdat who I introduced him to at last night’s function.” Desjardins shook his head. “I have no control over their movements, of course.”

“Gilehdat.” Cremonesi frowned in thought. “You’re talking about Glitters. God, I didn’t know there were any of them here.”

Desjardins winced. “Their own chosen word for their own kind is much preferred, Captain.”

Cremonesi rolled her eyes to show what little she thought of this request. “The Glitters are probably the most polite things anyone’s met out here, aren’t they? Why would they slum it riding on a cargo mover?”

“Polite, hells.” Nestor shook his head. “Everyone knows they’re mind-readers, and worse.” He shivered at the memory of those piercing red eyes peering past his face, peeling back the layers of his very soul. “Desjardins got them aboard my ship even though I told them last night right in front of him that I don’t do passengers.”

Desjardins shook his head. “The Gilehdat are registered diplomatic envoys, and that places them outside my responsibility. I was merely being a polite host and showing them which skippers they needed to talk to for passage to The Sprawl.”

“Then why are they on my ship?” Nestor stepped around Cremonesi to reach for the Aswo, who backed up a step and remained out of reach.

“You want them off?” Cremonesi once again interposed herself. “Forget the Aswo. I’ll get rid of them for you.”

“Really, Captain Cremonesi, I see no need for you to-”

“Stow it, Desjardins. If you’re not going to help him, I might as well.” Cremonesi threaded one thin arm around Nestor’s bicep. “Let’s go see your ship, and your Glitters. I’ve been meaning to test that mind-reader rumor out for myself.”

2951-07-19 – Tales from the Service: The Meraud Enigma 

Miss McGuiness’s account does not include any indication of the cruel and creative torture which many rumors and survivor accounts attribute to Meraud prison facilities. True, she did not report all of what she saw – or even most of it – but her account goes on to indicate that what she observed on day seventeen was far from an anomaly.  

Perhaps, as she would later go on to suggest in her post-script, the guards too are prisoners of a sort; perhaps even the Incarnation has lost the purpose of its efforts on Meraud, and it continues them now only because ceasing them and shifting personnel elsewhere would be an unnecessary logistical burden.  

Hadley McGuiness had been watching the compound in the valley for nearly an hour when the alarms blared, echoing mournfully off the frozen hillsides on all sides. Few of the figures shuffling about within the outer wall even paused what they were doing, but the figures in each of the guard towers jumped to attention, pointing their laser rifles down into the prison.  

This panicked reaction lasted only a moment. As one, the perimeter guards, responding to new directives reaching their mind-chips, turned their attention outside the camp boundaries. Those on the side nearer Hadley’s hiding-place briefly scanned the treeline, then returned their attention warily inwards. Those on the other side of the prison started firing, apparently at random, into the trees. Their lasers were silent, but the cracking sound of frost-shrouded tree-trunks exploding into splinters found its way up to her, after a momentary delay. 

The shooting stopped even before smoke from the small, sullen fires the lasers had set to rise into the powder-blue sky. The guards, as one, turned their attention back to the enclosure and the ragged prisoners shuffling about therein. The alarm tailed off a moment later. 

Hadley tapped the control on her wristband to mark the time-code. She had not seen anything like this yet in her long vigil, and could not help but speculate what the Incarnation intended by this action. Was this a surprise drill to test the readiness of the prison-guards? If so, it seemed a pathetic sort of drill, which would prepare those men for attack only by a hapless mob. Any real force of attackers would stay far back in the trees, targeting the guard towers with indirect-fire weapons, like infantry missiles, and picking off sentries with long-range sharpshooters, assuming that force didn’t have armored vehicles capable of bulling through the cordon and into the camp in defiance of all the guards and their weapons. 

At the sound of a shrill whistle some minutes later, the prisoners dropped their various morning tasks and staggered into a triple-row line-up. That they did this without the direction of a single guard had been strange to Hadley on her first day of watching this prison, but a few days later she’d seen the consequences of the inmates failing to fall into lineup quickly. Four days later, she’d seen the consequences of two prisoners not being in their places when the guard-barracks door banged open. They had been beaten and tied to a post, blindfolded, in the middle of the enclosure, where they were left in even the killing cold of night. 

They hadn’t died, of course; the guards seemed loath to kill their charges. Just before Hadley had given up her vigil and gone back to her camp, the guards had crept up and placed a tiny electric heater at their feet, just enough, probably, to keep the exposure from becoming fatal. The next day, after line-up, the guards had cut them down and set other prisoners to dragging them into one of the huts. 

What made watching this camp so maddening for Hadley was that there were no individuals down there, not even in the eye of her meta-lens magnifier. All the guards wore the same thick, insulated uniforms, the same black gloves, and the same face-obscuring arctic-temperature helmets. The officers were distinguishable by colored shoulder-tabs, but they rarely appeared, except at line-up and other special occasions anyway. 

The prisoners were, despite Hadley’s sympathy, no better. They were all clad in a mixture of dully mismatched rags which, from all appearances, were heaped in a pile within each of the huts at sundown and donned more or less at random by different people the next day. Differences in height, build, and even sex were swallowed up in the lumpen bulk of these head-to-toe coverings, and she never saw the guards peeling back hats, cowls, or scarves to check the identity of particular prisoners. They were, apparently, entirely interchangeable. 

Everything Hadley had been told pointed to this camp as a one-way destination; anyone sent there was, according to prisoners rescued from other facilities on the world, never seen again. Despite this, she had, in her seventeen days of vigil, not seen a single prisoner killed, nor a single body pulled limp from the huts. Furthermore, though tracked crawlers arrived every two days with crated supplies, no new prisoners had arrived to be added to the lineup. In seventeen days, this supposedly hellish prison to which the doomed were sent had neither gained nor lost a single inmate. 

The two wretches tied to the post overnight, however, were far from the only residents of this little satellite facility who had suffered as Hadley watched. Every one of those ragged figures huddling in ranks had to earn his or her meager ration through physical labor of the most menial sort. From the moment line-up was dismissed until the next sounding of the whistle nine hours later, each of them had to devote themselves to whatever task the guards directed for them. Sometimes these tasks had some purpose – cutting timber to repair the perimeter wall or the structures within, for example, but more often, there was no purpose whatsoever.  

Even now, as the big man with the red shoulder-tabs marched up and down the lineup wagging his gloved finger in the faces of a few prisoners at random, a handful of blue-tabbed guards were clustered near their barracks, heads together in a discussion of what tasks they might put the prisoners to for the next nine standard hours. No doubt, a team would be taken out beyond the gatehouse to fill in the trench the prior day’s work team had painstakingly carved out of the half-frozen soil next to the road. Much of the pointless make-work involved digging or moving soil from one place to another, often only for it to be moved back a day or two later. 

That pointlessness was what made Hadley’s vigil all the more frustrating. By her own rough estimation, at the rate of work being performed below, the camp could have rebuilt itself anew once every two or three standard months, excepting the prefabricated staff barracks where the guards lived. The prisoners, forced to work as they were, could have cut a new road to another camp through Meraud’s rugged hills in six months, or cleared a landing field for spacecraft in nine months. She had come to see whether the prisoners were being tormented in ways other than their work, but so far, all there was to see was work – rigorous work that was, wherever possible, without any sort of goal or accomplishment. 

Perhaps the place was the result of some misfiring dictum within the Incarnation’s master plan for Meraud, which no higher authority had noticed. It certainly didn’t bear much resemblance to the fevered stories she’d been briefed on, but it also didn’t bear resemblance to the supposedly hyper-rational, planned cruelty elsewhere on this world of prisons. The facility seemed to be coasting forward in time, its staff and prisoners having long since forgotten why they were there. 

As the guards divided their charges into work teams and marched them to whatever tasks had been agreed on, Hadley wondered what was going on in the chip-corrupted minds of those laser-rifle toting brutes. Did they realize how pointless it all was? Did they have blind faith that someone at a higher level understood? Or did they perhaps see clearly a purpose in all this that she did not?