Read an Excerpt
From "Hard Crash"
Our communications system appears to be damaged. I am receiving no response from you. Jaldark, please come in. You need to effect repairs so that we can communicate.
Jaldark, please come in.
Tlaimon Kassant sipped a cup of hot jiksn. He had the late shift, the solitary shift, and he liked it that way. His people were known for their close-knit bonds and love of socialization, but Tlaimon was considered unusual in that he preferred his own company for a few hours every day. He considered his "oddity" a boon, as he was paid twice as much for being willing to go the entire night by himself. Most Intarians liked to work in huddled groups.
All alone for the night. What a pleasant thing. Easy job, too; watching the monitor for things that seldom happened. Most ships communicated their arrival long before they showed up on the monitor. They were always eager to get to Intar. It wasn't as well known in the quadrant as Risa, admittedly, but then, what planet was?
Tlaimon stretched the retractable tentacles that served as arms for the Intarians and lazily brought the gaze of his multifaceted eyes toward the screen.
The cup of jiksn fell to the padded floor unheeded and bounced twice. Its contents formed a pool of sticky lavender fluid. Tlaimon swore a deep oath under his breath, while his two hearts raced with fear at what the screen revealed.
Something large was approaching the city from space. It was several million kilometers away, but it was closing fast. Too fast for comfort. He adjusted the controls swiftly, his tentacles more deft than any humanoid's clumsy digits.
Tlaimon could see the outline now. A ship of some kind, though the computer kept flashing that most frustrating of words, "Unknown," on the screen. It was long and spiky and promised destruction if it continued on its trajectory.
Tlaimon quickly hit the button that would translate his message in every language known to the Federation.
"Attention, alien vessel," he said in a voice that trembled. "You are on a collision course with a major population center of our planet. Adjust your course to bearing one-four-seven mark eight, and you will avoid impact."
The ship didn't change its position one millimeter. Either it was unaware of the impending disaster -- for surely it would be destroyed upon striking the planet if it continued at its present speed -- or else its crew didn't care.
Unpleasant scenarios crowded Tlaimon's mind. Was this a suicide run? A dreadful first strike that would mean war?
Who would possibly want to make war on us? Tlaimon thought wildly.
There was nothing else for it. Trembling, Tlaimon extended a tentacle and tapped the white button that would alert the government that a disaster was descending upon the capital city of Verutak, with all the inevitability of dusk at the end of the day.
* * *
Jaldark, what is going on? I have heard nothing from you. Everything appears to be intact, and yet we remain unable to communicate. Please respond. Please attend to the communication damage.
Are you still receiving this? Jaldark?
* * *
Bartholomew Faulwell smiled to himself as he took the items from the replicator. What he was doing had become, over time, a ritual of sorts. He took the crisp, off-white paper, enjoying the feel of it in his hand; picked up the smooth pen filled with just the right shade of black-blue ink. Sometimes, if he wasn't careful, the ink would stain the tip of the third finger on his right hand. It brought him an uncommon rush of pleasure whenever he chanced to look upon that smudge before it wore off, because it reminded him of the ritual, and the ritual brought him closer to Anthony Mark.
Of course, there was no convenient way of getting the actual letters to Anthony. Once Faulwell had composed them, had gotten the words exactly right, he'd read them aloud into a subspace message and, poof, off it would go. It was impersonal, but it was the only way. On the rare opportunities they had to meet, Faulwell would give Anthony the letters in a box, as a special gift. But the simple, physical act of writing the letters -- all of which he opened with the words "Just a brief note," regardless of how many pages the letter would then go on to become -- made Bart feel akin to the myriads of wanderers who had gone before: the sailors of ancient Earth, the early spacefarers, all those who knew distance from those they loved and tried to bridge that distance with the written word.
Words, written or spoken, were almost as dear to Faulwell as Anthony.
He took a breath and settled down in a chair in the quarters he shared with Stevens. He instructed the computer to provide soft, instrumental music as a pleasant background, and began to write.
Just a brief note to let you know that our last assignment was completed successfully. It was not without its tense moments, however! Some days, this mission becomes just a trifle too exciting for a boring old linguist like me to handle. It is always such a pleasure to have a calm moment now and then to write down my thoughts and feelings to you, my dear, and know that, as you read these words, you will, in some small way, share in my adventures. How are you getting along with your new colleague, the one you called in your last letter the "Pompous Windbag?" Has PW come around to your way of thinking yet? I cannot imagine you would be unable to win him over once --
A klaxon sounded. Yellow alert. The slight linguist sagged in his chair and groaned. Time for another adventure.
"Will the following crewmembers please report to the briefing room." Bart listened, but his hopes of peacefully continuing with his correspondence were dashed when he heard his name among those listed. Carefully, he capped the pen and left the letter on the table.
He wasn't usually summoned to briefings unless he was an actual participant in whatever mission they were about to embark upon. Still, he remained optimistic. With any luck he'd return to his letter in a few moments. After all, not every "adventure" on which the da Vinci embarked required a linguist.