2951-01-11 – Tales from the Service: Ramiro’s Sagittarian Diplomats

As soon as Ramiro announced on the ship’s intercom that the passengers could move about freely, he heard hatches hissing down the gangway as his passengers did precisely that. The hatch behind him was open, and he heard low, hissing voices drift from the cabins into the ship’s lounge, where they subsided into a susurrating background hum.

No doubt, the trio of xenos were conversing in their own language; Ramiro made no attempt to listen in with the microphone pickups. Their business wasn’t his. He was responsible for delivering them to their destination, not for picking up assorted gossip, and he’d long ago learned his lesson when it came to being inquisitive with the cargo, human or otherwise. The less he poked his nose into the business of his customers, the less they poked into his, and the less there was for anyone to dislike.

“Captain, a moment?”

“Eh?” Ramiro didn’t startle easily these days, so he didn’t jump much at the sudden voice of Captain Larson, the aliens’ Naval Survey Auxiliary minder, who was apparently standing directly behind him. “I’ve got quite a few moments.” He turned his crash-padded chair around until he was facing Larson. How she’d ascended the rattling gangway up from the corridor to the cockpit without making any noise was a mystery to be solved later.

“You came highly recommended, Captain, but I must warn you about the appearance of my charges.” Larson held up a hand, as if to establish a barrier between Ramiro and the trio down in the lounge. “They will doubtless dispense with their cowls now that we are off the station.”

“Whatever they look like, Miss Larson, I’ve handled worse.” Ramiro shrugged. It was, by his lights, quite true. After that last cruise with Livia aboard, when she’d forced him to help her supposed friend escape to Cyclone, he doubted there was much in the galaxy worth getting agitated about.

“That is just what I wanted to warn you about.” Larson shook her head. “The are not precisely, ah, ugly, by human standards. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

Ramiro folded his arms and waited for Larson to come to the point. If she was worried about him fraternizing in an unapproved manner with these visitors from beyond the Gap, then his desire to keep his connections with Livia hidden from his attempts to acquire official transport contracts had succeeded beyond anything he could have hoped for.

“They are diplomats.” Larson raised one eyebrow. “Experienced ones. Don’t forget that, no matter what impression suggest.”

Ramiro shrugged. “I’d guessed they were, to be coming this far.”

Larson scowled, clearly unhappy about how the conversation was going.

Ramiro wondered what it was that she was trying to communicate; all he could conclude so far was that the trio below would remind him of children or baby animals, and that he was not to treat them as such.

Before Larson could back up and try again, a device on her belt chimed. Leveling one finger at Ramiro in a way that she certainly intended to be meaningful, she turned and hurried back down the gangway. This time, her boots rattled the floor panels the way Ramiro expected.

Turning back to the controls, Ramiro double-checked the course he’d put into the computer, checking it against the Maribel system authority’s range of approved outbound vectors. The Navy and the system authority had gotten into the habit of changing the inbound and outbound rules every few days, doubtless out of some misplaced hopes of improving the defensibility of the system if it were suddenly attacked. If he drifted outside the range of approved vectors, he could expect to be overhauled, searched, and fined, regardless of Larson’s credentials.

Once he was satisfied as to the permissibility of Jen Daley’s course, Ramiro locked the controls and headed down the gangway. Low voices filtered out of the lounge, mostly raspy and unintelligible. Among the voices, he heard the clinking of glass, which could only be from the glassware that was supposed to be locked in the liquor cabinet. Shaking his head, he rounded the corner. “Excuse me, but wasn’t that-”

The rest of Ramiro’s chiding died unspoken in his throat. The trio of aliens stood around Captain Larson, each holding a whiskey-glass full of some sort of syrupy golden beverage. As Larson had indicated, they’d dispensed with their heavy robes, and were wearing instead garments of darkly shimmering, silk-like cloth which clung to their slim bodies and revealed every wiry muscle in their weirdly-jointed limbs.

It was the faces of the xenos, though, which had caught Ramiro off-guard. The moment he stepped into the lounge, three pairs of reddish-brown eyes like ruby cabochons set in golden faces fixed on him. Those eyes, set into such serene, human faces, made the trio more alien than any coldly mechanical Angel or squid-like, invertebrate Reacher. The impression Larson had given Ramiro that he should expect the creatures to look childlike was validated, but only for an instant; the creatures reminded him more of elfin idols come to life.

“We apologize for invading the storage unit.” One of the creatures stepped forward and bowed slightly. It was, Ramiro decided, probably female, its voice significantly higher than that of the one who’d spoken to him before, but still raspy, and its movements inexpressibly feminine. “It was a necessity.”

“There’s something in the polymer of the disposable cups that they don’t like.” Larson shrugged. She was drinking out of one of these. “I brought plenty of proper glass, but they found yours first.”

Ramiro, regaining composure, shrugged. “Just… put them in the cleaner when you’re done. The cabinet is locked because of the liquor, not the glasses.”

The female’s mouth tugged upwards into a hesitant smile, and Ramiro knew by how foreign the expression was to that round, golden face that smiling was something they’d learned to do to reassure humans. “We would not invade such supplies without asking.”

“I appreciate that.” Ramiro, realizing he was still standing in the door, took two more steps into the lounge.

Larson raised her cup toward the slightly taller being nearest her. “Captain, this is Ambassador Ghalr. His associates are Orulh and Rhila.” She gestured in turn to the other standing near her, and the female who’d moved toward Ramiro.

“Pleased to make your acquaintances.” Ramiro bowed his head slightly, once again missing Livia’s presence; con artist or no, she had been so much better than he at putting passengers at ease. “Do you still need to access your cargo?”

Ghalr nodded, then raised his glass and drained the liquid inside with one smooth, silent motion. “If convenient, Captain.”

“Come with me.” Ramiro led the ambassador aft to the hexagonal chamber behind the lounge, which on one side led to the boarding ramp, on another to the umbilical airlock, and on a third led into the engine room. Stooping, he tapped his uniform cuff against the hatch in the floor, then stood aside as it opened and slid away to reveal a ladder descending into the dimly lit cargo bay.

Turning to the ambassador, Ramiro indicated the ladder. “Can you manage this climb?”

The golden-skinned diplomat answered only by setting his feet on the first rung and descending with no difficulty. For such a senior person, Ramiro couldn’t decide how old Ghalr was; there was no spring of youth in his movements, but nor was there any of the hesitation of age.

At the bottom, Ghalr stood aside to let Ramiro descend and lead him to the netting-encased pile where the port stevedores had stored the diplomats’ belongings. Ramiro pulled back the netting waited as Ghalr checked the labels on several containers before opening one and surveying the contents. Only now did he notice that the containers were metal-walled, rather than the more common, lighter, cheaper polymer.

Without so much as reaching into the box, Ghalr replaced the lid and stood aside. “I am satisfied. We may return.”

Frowning, Ramiro led the way back to the ladder and let the diplomat ascend. He didn’t particularly care what was in the box, but why did the diplomat need to look at it, if it wasn’t needed?

Though I am not satisfied of the veracity of this rumor, it is being told here at Maribel that a delegation of diplomats from the Sagittarius Arm power known as the Grand Journey passed through the system a month or so ago. That would line up acceptably with Ramiro’s story, if true, and would provide a possible identity for the strange creatures he reports ferrying into Farthing’s Chain.

What is publicly known about this alien faction is limited: their ships share technological similarities with Incarnation warships, suggesting technological interchange between the two when the precursors of the Incarnation reached Sagittarius, and the Reachers supposedly speak of the Grand Journey in very positive terms. Some reports suggest this faction is multi-species, but most indicate that it is no threat to the Incarnation. Contact with the Grand Journey was first made by the Lost Squadrons, though it seems this first contact was hesitant at best.