“It’s a ghost.”
Meme spread his aural folds, a dismissive display to imply that no matter how much of his Human scantech’s verbal utterances he collected to process, they would never make sense. His predecessor had tried to convince Meme such species-specific gestures were not appreciated by aliens.
Meme was sure this lack of appreciation had more to do with his predecessor’s unusually small aural folds. During the entire change of command ceremony, he’d needed all of his self-discipline not to stare.
Meme’s own aural folds were magnificently broad, their skin kept well-oiled and supple. He had brought --
“Or maybe it’s not.”
The Human’s harsh voice intruded on Meme’s pleasantly semi-dormant state. Worse, she -- the matter of the creature’s gender having been settled contrary to expectation, costing a fair sum in wagers -- did not appear to have noticed Meme’s display. Nothing for it, the Ar sighed, but to actually pay attention. “What are you mumbling about?”
“Oh. You’re awake?” The Human sat straighter and appeared confused. “Sorry, Captain. I’ve been following a tick in the aft sensor. Might be something.”
“A ship, sir. Shadowing us.”
“No. There is no ‘something.’ No ship.” Meme closed his aural folds. Annoying Human. Their patrol area was days out from the transect gate -- well beyond the orbit of what remained of the Dhryn world. Nice and safe and boring. No one and nothing came here. As if anything could get past the eager clusters of ships further in.
Peaceful. Just the way he liked it.
“Captain?” Merciful silence. Then: “You can’t just ignore this!”
He certainly could.
What Meme couldn’t ignore was the shocking pain of his left aural fold being yanked open. “Captain! We must investigate any intrusion!”
Eyes watering, mouth working, Meme gestured helplessly at his tormentor.
She released his fold and Meme shuddered with relief. But the Human wasn’t done. She leaned forward until her hideous pale eyeballs almost touched his. “Or should I contact the Trisulian?”
Meme shuddered. At last count, there were fifteen hundred and sixty-four ships orbiting Haven’s sun, courtesy of the anxious governments of systems along the Naralax. Most were like this, quick, sensor-laden scouts capable of squealing a near-light com signal to the packet ships waiting by the gate, crewed by those willing to sit in the darkness and wait.
The Trisulian warship was the exception, a bristling mass of threat that gave the Ar hives to even contemplate. As for her grim captain? “Let’s not contact them unless we’re sure,” he pleaded, well versed in the reckless nature of females.
The Human gave him one final glare, then returned to her station. Meme took several calming breaths as he fingered his abused fold. Obviously Human females were no more stable than Trisulian. He could only hope she was capable. The Ar weren’t a wealthy or adventurous race. When the call had come for ships to watch Haven, the Sinzi-ra of the IU consulate on Arer had quietly hired this Human ship and its crew, asking only that the Ar provide a volunteer of their species to captain.
Meme was the fourth Ar to so serve, while the three Human crew had remained unchanged. It was as if they didn’t need a captain at all.
Regeneration : Coming from DAW Books May 2006
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