Sunday Serialisation – Back Paige. Chapter twenty, part one.

Captains Tarquin Stuart-Lane and Algernon Pippington marched into Commodore Ishmael Al-Kawazi’s ready room, saluted and stood at ease.

“Take a seat, gentlemen,” he said. When it became clear that the two men were squabbling over the seat closest to their boss, he added, “There are two seats, for pity’s sake.” He pointed to one chair, then the next. “Stuart-Lane, you sit there and Pippington sit there.”

The two officers sat, suitably chastised, the looks passing between them indicative of the competition and mistrust they shared.

“Now,” Ishmael said, “we need to put Sir Prijs into an extended orbit to carry out more detailed surveys. This will be a four-week tour of duty that we shall divide into four periods of one week. Each of you will captain the cruiser for one week, then return here to change over. This will continue until the task is complete. At the same time, our Jinthate friends and partners will be carrying out on-planet investigations aimed to support the next stages of our overall mission. Am I clear?”

“But, Sir,” Tarquin whined, “I have a wife and child…”

Before Ishmael could respond, Algernon interjected, “Have a child? You are a child!”

“Not helpful, Captain,” Ishmael admonished, “I understand your concern, Tarquin, but you aren’t alone. Algernon here has a… what are we calling him, Captain?”

“Partner, Sir.”

“Yes. Algernon has a partner whom he will miss and who will miss him as much as you will miss Anusha and Arty and they you.”

“But it’s not the same, Sir,” he bleated.

“Planetary laws, RSR Rules and Regulations and Ship’s Standing Instructions all say it is, Tarquin, and who are we to argue with UN resolutions, R&Rs and SSIs? Eh?”

“As you wish, Sir, but I still don’t think that the same rules should apply to normal people and…”

“And what, Captain?” Ishmael yelled, his face turning to a shade somewhere between a boiling lobster and a pickled beetroot.

“Nothing, Sir. Remark withdrawn.”

“I should think so. Once more and you’ll lose privileges, Mister. Now, I think you owe Captain Pippington an apology.”

“Must I?”

“Yes, Captain Stuart-Lane, you must. Unless, of course, you have tired of being called Captain.”

“What’s the alternative?”

“How does Midshipman sound?”

“Captain Pippington, I am truly sorry if you were offended in any way by what you believe I was about to say.”

Algernon looked at Ishmael. “Was that an apology?” he asked.

“Probably as close as we’re likely to get to one, Algernon. Certainly closer than any I’ve heard before from Stuart-Lane. Now. Do you both understand what I require of you?”

“Sir, yes, Sir,” Algernon said with enthusiasm.

“S’pose so,” Tarquin mumbled without.

“Good. Who’s taking the first shift?”

“I would be happy to,” Algernon offered.

“Very well Captain. Prepare for departure at zero nine hours tomorrow. Dismissed.”

The two officers stood and saluted. Algernon Pippington marched out of his commander’s ready room, Tarquin Stuart-Lane slouched behind him, mumbling like a disgruntled teenager about how unfair everything had become and how no-one ever took account of the fact that he was now a father with parental responsibilities to shirk as well as his military duties.

Algernon’s wrist comm beeped. He looked at it and saw that a briefing document had been made available to him. He retrieved the tablet from a back pocket and studied the parameters of his new mission. The bloody toff will never understand this lot, he chuckled to himself. He ignored the funny looks he was receiving from just about everyone he passed. Of course they had no idea why he was laughing so hard. How could they? That made him laugh even more.

Tarquin received the same notification. He looked at the briefing and said to himself, never mind, Pipsqueak will have been doing it for a week before I have to, so Karolina will know what to do. He, too, started laughing. The difference between Algernon and him, though, is that Algernon had both an understanding of why he was laughing and a good reason for doing so. Tarquin laughed because… well, it could have been anything. He may just have seen the point of a joke he was told weeks previously, or maybe a random thought amused him. It is likely that we’ll never know why Tarquin laughed. In all probability, he’ll never know, either.

Thursday Thing – week 18

My first thought for this weekend was to spend some time on exercise to address some of the issues I’m facing with my painting. Then I thought it might be fun to try to do something with a picture of a pair of Pygmy Falcons I took in South Africa back in 2005 – a sister shot to the one I displayed here.


Dreadful, isn’t it? On reflection. I think I should have stuck with my first idea.

Instead of that, though, I tried another landscape tutorial



Sunday Serialisation – Back Paige. Chapter nineteen, part two.

At exactly ten o’clock the following morning, Paige Boyle had her PA activate the pad on which she was standing and, before she could say thank you, she appeared in the pad bay on board C-pill.

An hour later, she, Farid, Dr Green and Andrea stepped into the pods and materialised in the woodland just outside the Retreat. Eaten Messe appeared beside them.

“Before we go in,” Andrea said, “remember your briefing. Farid and Louise, as you know, the Xhwntradin don’t look like us. You’ve seen their images. Don’t be surprised, or if you are, don’t let them know. Eaten, did Jinnis brief you?”

“It did. I know what to expect and I’m hoping that I look sufficiently similar to Jinnis that the Xhwntradin won’t be surprised.”

“Okay,” Paige said, “I’ve told Fronglad whom to expect, and that two of our party haven’t had contact with any Xhwntradin before. We should be okay. They’ll be waiting for us in the building.”

The party approached the building as though they were out for a Sunday afternoon walk: casually but deliberately. The door opened and they saw Franglan looking at them.

“Hello, Andrea, Paige… we don’t recognise the rest.”

“Hello, Franglan,” Paige said. Thank you for meeting us. Allow me to introduce Lieutenant-Commander Farid Levrentiev. He is our head of diplomacy and external relations. Beside him is Commander Doctor Louise Green. She is our deputy chief medical officer and is a psychiatrist and counsellor. You have met the Jinthate Jinnis Keet; this is its friend Eaten Messe.”

“Thank you. We are pleased to meet you, Farid, Louise and Eaten. Please come in. I know you were only expecting to see my father and Granhalf, but I’m afraid the lure of seeing you was more than some of our number could resist.”

They walked into the hall and saw Fronglad and Granhalf seated on a raised stage, with five empty chairs around them. The ‘audience’, for want of a better word, consisted of more than one hundred Xhwntradin in a mix of ages and genders, all displaying high levels of curiosity – at least, that’s what Franglan said the shimmering hues of better than a thousand appendages indicated.

The party took up their seats and went through the necessary introductions. Happily, no-one showed surprise, no-one felt threatened and, most importantly, no-one emitted an alarm call. This was fortunate, as alarm calls seem to self-propagate amongst the Xhwntradin, and none of the humans present wanted to experience the massed screams and cries of more than a hundred spooked individuals.

“I can speak for our community, both those present and those not present. We have studied your proposal and look upon your plans with favour.”

More than one thousand appendages displayed a hue best described as shocking yellow. Such was the effect that the protective membrane automatically closed over Eaten Messe’s eyes and all the humans had to turn away to avoid being blinded.

“As you can see, we are in agreement on this. The question is, what happens next? How do we bring it to effect and how long will it take?”

“Don’t expect it to be quick,” Paige said, “We need to get approval from each of the other groups before we can set up the entire network.”

“Thank you, but can’t you obtain approval from one group and connect us to them; then move to the next group and so on, until you’ve seen them all?”

“That is how we must proceed, Fronglad, but first we have to make contact. You will recall what it was like when our species first encountered each other?”

“Thank you. Yes, of course, but the shock was short-lived, and we soon realised that you did not intend us any harm.”

“I have a suggestion to make,” Farid said, “To avoid putting more stress on them than is necessary, could, perhaps, one of you travel to the settlement with us? If the first approach is made by someone who looks like them, might it perhaps be easier to open up a dialogue?”

“Thank you, Farid. That is a sound suggestion. However, that will only work if the groups have evolved in parallel, if we at least look the same.”

“That’s easily solved,” Eaten Messe said, “we can image members of each of the groups to see if they look alike, and our scans will also show whether their cranial and intellectual development are similar to yours.”

“How will you do that, without being seen and alarming them?”

“We have ways of imaging and scanning that they will never be aware of. It will not harm them, physically, mentally or emotionally.”

“Would you be able to obtain any DNA samples? It would be useful to compare a range of theirs with some of ours.”

“Let me think about how we can do that,” Eaten said, “If it is at all possible, then we shall do as you ask.”

Louise wasn’t totally comfortable with that idea. “Isn’t all this rather intrusive and disrespectful? What about their right to privacy?”

“I know nothing of this right to privacy of which you speak. What is it?” Granhalf asked.

“It is one of the so-called human rights arbitrarily declared on Earth. There are, of course, no absolute rights, only those we choose to grant or assume,” Paige said, “We will show these other groups the same respect we have shown you and shall continue to show you. Now, what do you say?”

“Cover your eyes, we’re taking what your language calls a straw poll.”

“Very appropriate, given the colour,” Farid said as a thousand appendages again displayed bright yellow.

“It is decided,” Fronglad said, “we shall await your contact when you have more for us. Meanwhile, who wants to eat?”

As the crowd dispersed, the humans and Xhwntradin spread themselves between two transports and sped through to the Place, stopping outside the restaurant. As soon as they entered, the human contingent realised that this was no ordinary working lunch. The restaurant had been laid out as for a banquet. Franglan showed them to the top table, where sat also her father and Granhalf. The rest of the tables were populated by, it seemed, all those who had previously been assembled in the building at the Retreat.

“All these came from the meeting?” Paige asked.

“Goodness, no,” Fronglad replied, “We received about two hundred and fifty requests for places at the meeting, but we could only accommodate one hundred and ten. We allowed self-selection, the rest are here now; one hundred and thirty eight in total.”

“That’s interesting. How does this self-selection work? I doubt it’s something we could achieve – every one would want to be in the first tranche.”

“As they do here, but we have procedures for self-selection that prevent any sort of conflict.”


“It would be too complex and time-consuming to explain now, suffice to say it works, and none of those who didn’t make the first cut feel in the least aggrieved.”

“But we won’t be having any substantive discussions here, so what do these hundred and thirty eight get from it?”

“They are in your presence. They can absorb your auras. It will give them something to tell their grandchildren. That is enough for us.”