by Nina M. Osier
Minder's Series, Vol. 2
Captain Maisie Thurlow just wanted to rescue her big sister, Eve, from the remote world where a star liner’s lifeboat crash landed 20 years earlier. Instead, Maisie and two comrades — the only survivors from her own ship’s crash — became stranded there themselves. Another 18 years have passed, and Maisie has settled into a planet-bound life with her husband (who used to be her XO) and their children. Does it matter anymore if they’re rescued?
Yes, it does, because the madness that Eve’s Planet visits on Humans is making a spectacular comeback. It also matters to Ala of the Rinii, an alien scientist obsessed with carrying out the last wish of a Human she inadvertently killed; and to retired “minder” Forrest Cashman, who’s never given up on bringing the lost children from that crashed lifeboat home.
Second in the series that began with High Places!
ISBN 1-59431-785-2 Science Fiction / Futuristic Romance
"The creature had a mission for which it gave up its life. We are responsible for seeing that mission completed. We cannot rescue its comrades ourselves; we would kill them just as quickly as we killed the creature itself, if we brought them aboard one of our starships. So we must carry word, somehow, to others of their kind."
Ala seldom spoke forcefully, and she'd never before spoken to this many of her fellow Rinii at once. The aging scientist could scarcely believe she was doing this now. Looking out over the Diplomatic Council's well filled chamber, meeting the gaze of each Council member in turn because to do otherwise would give unpardonable offense, she kept her boneless body upright on the raised platform by signaling its surface plates to lock themselves in place. Each Councilor twined around a resting-pole, and worked at a data station set within that pole. Ala, called before them after seasons of pleading--and after her report on the creature her research ship had snatched from a faraway planet when it signaled its need for emergency transport had been thoroughly analyzed by Council staff--neither had nor needed data access just now. She must make her case as best she could with voice and memory and intellect, and then accept whatever decision these representatives of the Rinii Federation of Sapient Worlds might render. She would have no second chance.
So what would she do, if the Council refused to authorize the mission that would with any luck be her last venture into deep space? Never in all the centuries of Ala's life had she faced an absolute conflict between duty as she perceived it and orders as her superiors had issued them. Would that happen to her now, at what should be her career's glorious apex? As if a career as obscure as hers could have such a thing…!
She would have trembled if her body plating had allowed it. She finished her presentation by adding, "We have located the creature's world of origin. That seems the surest place to find others of its kind that will be capable of understanding its last message, and of rendering the aid it died to secure for those under its protection."
Now she could lower herself from locked-plate erectness and slide across the platform and down its exit ramp. Could take her place at the data station provided for that purpose, outside the Council's chamber and away from its members' direct view, and respond to each question that individual Councilors might pose. She no longer wanted to tremble, because being cross examined over a commlink of sorts felt just as familiar as standing before a mass of fellow beings had felt unfamiliar. As a Rinii scientist, she'd been doing this since her first days of training.
"You're certain that the creature's memory engrams translated accurately? That you understand what it truly wanted, and that you haven't misread its worthiness to command our assistance?" The first question came in before she had time to settle herself, and Ala read genuine excitement in the fact that it was actually two questions asked without a pause between.
"Yes. I'm certain. Strange as the creature was to me in terms of its body systems and life requirements, its thoughts were remarkably like those of a Rinii." Would she give offense, with all of the Council and its staff members listening in, by answering thusly? If so, Ala couldn't help it. As a scientist, her first duty must always be to the truth. Not to species pride, and certainly not to any ancient beliefs this Councilor or any of the others might hold to fondly. "Which conforms to the theory that true intelligence is essentially the same, no matter what sort of physical husk may have evolved to house it."
This was going well. She knew that when no one contradicted her, or even chided her for adding that pedagogical explanation. Which she hadn't meant as giving instruction, and therefore possible insult, to one of her betters; she'd "spoken" via the data station automatically, after scores of seasons spent giving instruction and guidance to those younger and less experienced within her own profession.
The Councilors had caught her excitement. For the first time since Rinii travelers lifted from their home planet in their first primitive spacecraft, and began building their now vast network of sapient allies, they were being handed a chance for first contact with a species completely unlike their own. With beings so strange in appearance, and so incompatible in their environmental requirements, that the biggest problem Ala and her team faced might well be finding a way to get the creatures called "Humans" to recognize the Rinii as fellow sapients. The being that had called itself by a curious combination of air vibrations--air of a sort that Ala could no more breathe, and live, than it had been able to breathe Rinii atmosphere and survive for more than a few agonizing seconds--had not been able to conceive of Ala's transporter room crew as anything but a terrifying group of animal predators. So Ala had to assume that Miles Mindlothian's fellow Humans would take the same view when they, too, saw their first Rinii.
So be it. Ala knew her duty, and so--she was realizing with relief, as the questions reached her station one after another--did the Diplomatic Council's four score members.