“Do you mean to tell me its magic? That’s your explanation! But that’s preposterous!” The senator spluttered. “There’s no such thing as magic,” this he insisted while chatting with an Elve who had been introduced as a wizard and was attempting to explain teleportation. The wizard was accompanied by a mongoose, “my Familiar”, he had explained.
“Those witches and warlocks must stand aside,” the noted evangelist thundered into the cameras. “The end time is upon us! Our heavenly Father is here to gather us into His eternal fold. There must be no magic. No abomination!”
“It’s magic,” the smiling TV pitchman assured his viewers. “You’ll agree that it’s magic when for only three small payments of $39.95 you can experience the longevity and energy of the aliens. That’s right! For one year it will cost you a mere 32 cents a day and you can enjoy this long hidden secret of the universe. Remember! It’s only just been revealed and it’s exclusively for you!”
“Well, for all this talk of ‘magic,’” the Bundeswehr Oberst Leutnant who had been an accredited observer to the final stages of the Battle of Mars reported. “It was an efficient, effective, and thoroughly professional operation. My ancestors would have approved. Logistically, tactically and strategically it was beautifully done.” Oberst Leutnant von Kleist was the scion of an old Pomeranian family whose ancestors had received the highest awards that Prussia, other German states, and a united Germany could bestow.
“The mutiny of the ships was also an important factor,” added Captain Colley, Royal Canadian Navy, who had also been present. He had not quite fully grasped that it was the ships that had mutinied. There were no crews involved in the actual mutiny at all.
“Seriously, friends and neighbors, brothers and sisters,” the octogenarian tele-pastor intoned, warmth and sincerity oozing from every pore. “These events herald God’s loving wrath. His holy rage. The destruction and the suffering of sceptics and non-believers will be epic and you must avoid the wizards and sorcerers lest you be caught in the majesty of the vengeance that will be wrought. Surely now is the time to give that large donation you’ve been planning to help me help our flock, your brothers and sisters, through the end time. Remember Micah: ‘I will destroy your witchcraft…’ That is a solemn promise from on high.” He smiled and moistened his lips. In anticipation.
“But how can it possibly work,” the physicist puzzled.
“Haven’t a clue,” the apprentice familiar, a handsome wren in spring attire replied cheerily. “That’s way above my pay grade. We’ll have to get you to a master, for that kinda stuff.”
“Hi Maud,” Pipes Connors greeted the Governor cheerfully. “You’ll be pleased to know I found a pipe major for the band. Great presence and bearing. Of course he’s a Bwca, not a Riffian. Them Riffians just lack the majesty necessary for a pipe major.”
“Yeah. Well did you hear there may be another battle, only this time on Earth? We may need even more room for the heathen beasties.”
There was no doubt in Maud’s mind as to who would win such a battle.
Commodore ‘Chipper’ Tavers was feeling much better. The Earl Martial had arrived in system with two more battle cruisers, two of the ex-Riffian ships now sworn to the King’s service and fully aware beings in their own right, six more destroyers and two scouts. Much better odds now.
Additionally, Colin had changed the plan for the first meeting. They had cobbled together an array of useless apparatus on one of the scouts, and the first meeting would be made with a vessel that would appear, at best, quaint. Certainly it was anything but formidable or dangerous in appearance. This would tempt the Riffians to make the first overt move if conquest was on their agenda.
The president was livid. “Send one of my ships to meet the aliens! Who the hell do they think they are? I’m the president, goddamn it! I don’t have to talk to some pipsqueak Danish prince. And they can’t make me! Explain to those Moon men, who I am! That’ll fix it!”
The Secretary of Defense scurried off shuffling papers. He knew, although the president had apparently forgotten, that they had no space ships. They had some rockets and they had some missiles, there was a space station; but there was nothing to compare with the alien ship. A ship that could transit the vastness of space from system to system. “Hells bells,” he muttered when he was safely out of the presence. “It takes us eight months to get to Mars and they can do light years. How’m I gonna tell him that.”
“It’s magic all right,” the King of Denmark quietly remarked to Jubilee. They had just come from a lengthy briefing provided by Chief Inspector Hollweg, Berlin Police (ret’d). He had met Tamar, Third Banner and Matriarch of the Riffian Fleet who had honorably surrendered the Earth Prime invasion force when defeat was inevitable. He had learned of a golden menorah, interstellar voyages, the alien invasion of Mars Prime, and a number of other events he would not otherwise have believed. Bucephalus, the Prince Royal, and Surus had also been in attendance. “How secure is the government? My family?”
“Not to worry,” Jubilee’s tone contained a smile. “There’s two other Familiars on close watch and a wizard in the kitchen.”
Obed, Bursar Banner of the Riffian mercantile exploration was feeling exuberant though he masked it carefully as was fitting for a merchant facilitator accustomed to large transactions, huge letters of credit, and complex negotiations.
He had located this system almost by accident. They had stopped routinely to reconnoiter. And there, surprisingly, was this very promising system. He decided to explore this system solely because the star was of the type that had frequently generated life and systems rich in natural resources whether life was present or not.
The Prime Directive of the High and Noble Riffian Aggregation of Merchant Explorers stated quite clearly that life was to be respected at all times. But there was also the Prime Objective, which was profit. Obed smiled to himself, “respected” was such a mobile word. After all, one could destroy something, and then raise a cairn in memory of that which was no more. Was that not “respect.” But no hint of satisfaction crossed Obed’s features. This was a wonderful find. If it proved out, he would sell this ship and retire to a corner office and involve himself only in funding and brokerage and dalliance, of course; he almost smiled at that thought.
His hopes soared when they detected the numerous radio transmissions emanating from the third planet. There was primitive life here. Obed directed an approach. They would be friendly salesmen with bargains galore.
Lieutenant Haakon-Rudolph Freiherr von Berg, captain of HMS Hubuki was buoyant. He and his ship were, once again, the tip of the arrow, the point of the King’s spear. They had been just such a point when there was the confrontation with the remaining squadron of the Riffian fleet. He had stood before this enemy, outnumbered considerably, and had ultimately accepted their surrender. Now he approached the huge enemy ship. HMS Hubuki was the point ship of the Royal Space Corps. She would be the one who would appear in front of the enemy and begin to fight, or negotiate, whatever the King required.
The Freiherr von Berg had not thought too deeply about these sorts of things. He’d been raised in the military tradition of Trollia. Many of his relatives had actually fought against the King’s father in the Trollian War. But that was now resolved. Oaths had been given and obligations undertaken; Haakon-Rudolph knew himself to be a true man of the King. A King’s man to his fingertips.
Obed had summoned his Dai Procurator for a final discussion.
“When you meet them, you will have to assess them accurately. This system, if it is comparable to other systems we’ve encountered with a similar sun, should be rich with ores and gems that are eminently marketable. There will almost certainly be something on the planet that we can make into some kind of potion or salve that will satisfy the demand for herbs and potions that our home worlds seem to require; there may even be some useful pharmaceuticals we can develop. Textiles, accessories, kitchen ware: who knows what all, keep your staff alert for any opportunity for profit.
“Should force be necessary, try and select targets based on maximum dramatic effect but minimal structural damage. We are here to profit, not to demolish.
“We have more than sufficient missiles, I should think, to subdue the natives if necessary. Hopefully, they will become our willing assistants.
“Any questions?” He looked up in annoyance as his assistant, the Vice Bursar, came dashing in clearly flustered.
“Your Magnificence! Please. A native ship has appeared before us. They are talking to us in Riffian. They are… They are.”
“Well! I am waiting. ‘They are’ what? Exactly?”
“I don’t know for sure, Your Magnificence; but they’re not surprised and they’re not respectful at all. And, did I tell you, they’re speaking Riffian.”
“Good morning unidentified Riffian ship. This is HMS Hubuki. You are directed to halt. Further progress into our system will be considered a hostile act.
“Good morning unidentified Riffian ship. This is HMS Hubuki. You are directed to halt. Further progress into our system…”
“Hello, HMS Hubuki this is Vice Bursar Mahlon of the Mercantile Oligarchy of Planet Riffanieu. We have stopped. We seek only trade rights and commerce.”
Bursar Obed observed the approaching alien ship on his view screen. It appeared to be a disorganized huddle of assorted scrap that did not seem to serve any useful purpose. It did not seem dangerous.
“Shall I order them to halt, Your Eminence?” Vice Bursar Mahlon inquired of Obed.
“No. Let them come closer. They do not seem too formidable. Tell them we only want to trade.”
“Calling Hubuki. Calling Hubuki. We only wish to meet with you so we can establish a profitable mercantile relationship.” Mahlon began.
“Good morning Riffian ship. This is Leftenant Haakon-Rudolph von Berg commanding officer of HMS Hubuki. Glad to see you’ve stopped.”
The trade gambit was not unexpected so Lieutenant von Berg had a long list of talking points at hand.
“There are a number of steps that need to be completed before we sell you a penny weight of talcum powder, or anything else for that matter.” Hubuki’s commander went on, “These are necessary so that all parties are treated equably.
“You will have to petition His Majesty, King Justin III of the ancient Kingdom of Ellendale and of the Elven Dominions beyond the Stars.
“We will have to agree on a medium of exchange.
“You will have to itemize your inventory so that His Majesty knows it to be beneficial to the peoples.
“You will have to detail your methods and technology for any operations involving resources, renewable or otherwise.
“You will have to adhere to all labor protocols and respect all the inherent rights of any of the folk you may employ.
“You will be required to employ local folk.
“If you receive King Justin’s approval, you must then petition King Christian-Frederik and obtain his approval before approaching the local authorities with whom you wish to…”
“That’s enough of this. This is some sort of delaying action. Tell him we’ll have to scout the system before we are ready to do any petitioning of any kind. Have the scouts commence operations.”
“But Bursar Obed, they can speak our language. Something is very wrong here.”
But Bursar Obed only gave his assistant his patented glare. It was as though he expected primitive aliens to be able to speak Riffian.
“As you wish,” Vice Bursar Mahlon wilted before the great glare.
The great Riffian ship began to launch scout ships to begin to catalogue, assess, and value this planetary system.
HMS Hubuki moved sharply forward and a sort of military blizzard began.
The first scout encountered a stream of eighteen pound slugs from the twin cannon of her forward turret. The blast deflector shields the scout possessed provided no protection whatsoever as they were designed to thwart an entirely different weapon. The scout was rendered a derelict wreck almost instantly.
While Hubuki homed in on a second scout, the battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Warspite appeared before the Riffian ship in precisely the correct positions to have clear shots. It was as if they had planned their appearance; which of course, they had.
Warspite fired one round. It was explosive with a contact fuse, rather than an armor piercing fuse. The latter would have exploded deep within the Riffian ship’s vitals and could easily have been fatal. The contact fuse exploded on the outer hull, tearing a hole that spanned three decks and opening a great rent in the ship’s side. It was serious but it would not kill the ship. This was intentional. Subsequent rounds, should they be necessary, would be armor piercing.
Scharnhorst fired two rounds of one ton solid shot. These penetrated deeply, breaking circuits, smashing equipment, and unbalancing the engine room so that all of the engines, super light, and sub light and maneuvering were off line and in need of minor repair and complete recalibration.
“Riffian ship. You were warned! I am prepared to accept your surrender within the count of two hundred. My ship will now commence the count for you via this channel. If you do not surrender, I will destroy your ship on the count of two hundred.”
The scout ship that was Hubuki’s second target suddenly came to a stop. Captain von Berg interpreted this as surrender. He closed slowly but kept the scout in Hubuki’s sights.
On the count of one hundred-three, Vice Bursar Mahlon announced the surrender of his ship. He asked if the scouts should return to the mother ship or remain in place. He was told to prepare to be boarded by Space Grenadiers and the scouts could then return.
Justin and Colin were relaxing in their favourite bathtub in their suite at the Great Palace of Ellendale. In accordance with the time honored tradition of their household, their two principal servants, Taras and Keisha would use the tub in much the same manner after Justin and Colin. There would be great fun, much splashing, and deep passion.
They used to laugh among themselves and talk about saving water, and soap, and lotion as an excuse for sharing the bath. But of course there had never been any rationing of any bath items, least of all hot water.
Justin gently tickled Colin with his toes; tickled in a special spot between his well-spread thighs. It was a caress, rather than an attempt at arousal. Their passion was well spent and they were deeply comfortable.
“So what are we going to do about our new Riffians,” Justin muttered idly.
The merchant ship was currently in orbit of Quartus Earth. It was basically a space station as all the drives had been removed. She would not move under her own power again unless she was completely re-engined. There were two shuttles for intercourse with Hawai’i, where Maud Hawkinge ensured the Riffians were gainfully employed. The Riffian ship was basically an orbital observatory operated by Elves and Bwca with some Riffian assistants to do the gopher work.
“You know I kinda hoped that this ship would be alive, too. Seems kinda sad somehow. Like she’s missing out on life.” The King was in a musing sort of relaxation mode. But he came quickly back to the problem at hand. “You know. When I think about it, I really don’t much like these bloody Riffians. Not even a tiny bit.”
“I’m thinking we’re gonna have to assimilate them into our worlds.” Colin picked up the problem. “We can’t set them off somewhere unsupervised. They have considerable technical knowledge and expertise and tend to be way too aggressive. For that very reason we can’t send them back to their respective Riffias lest they inspire them to have another go at us. I see no other option.
“But I do want to send an exploratory mission to learn about their home systems. Both of them. I don’t necessarily want to make contact. But I want to have a good idea of what defense capability we must maintain. Plus, they may not be the only other space going race.”
“I think it’s pretty interesting. You know how in most science fiction movies and stuff; how the aliens, whatever they may be, usually have a tremendous advantage over the folk. They almost get us every time, unless they’re Vulcans of course; or want to help us build the odd pyramid or sphinx. But here we are. Little old Elves… and Tommy knockers… and Humans… and our Familiars. We’ve been attacked twice and defeated them handily both times.
“Hollywood never thought of that.
“I think we’ve a tremendous responsibility on our shoulders. I think I’m going to have a long talk with Cameron tomorrow.”