LXXXIV

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Submitted Date 09/15/2022
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Siniman established the ship into a smooth equatorial orbit and turned the gravity generator down before he clicked into the protocol that would awaken the Duke from his artificially induced hibernation and release him from his gee couch. The Duke—that's what everyone called him, he was a member of the Insid Royal Family, although exactly where he fit within it was unclear—would not have been able to get up under the normal one-gee environment anyway, and during the few times when he had been conscious during the one-gee run out to Enceladus and unable to rise, nearly unable to move at all, he tended to get grumpy and start issuing crazy orders that Siniman and his crew were then obligated, at least in theory, to follow. The Insid ambassador had briefed him several times pre-mission about the need to treat the Duke as carefully as possible. "Now, your crew only needs three hours of full gravity in every 24 to maintain bone density and muscle mass," the ambassador had blithely announced to him on the video comm link he had been patched into during mission training in San Francisco seven months prior.

"More like six," Siniman interrupted.

"Six. Fine," the ambassador responded. The tops of his wings were visible behind him, moving steadily, and Siniman knew the Insid was actually hovering in a room somewhere in a ship somewhere in orbit around the Moon. It was where, by specific edict of King Thal Insid Sip, the Insid were required to park their ships when engaging with humans. The King, like the Duke, wasn't really a King, but it was useful to think of the Insid authorities in ways analogous to human authority, or at least medieval human authority. "That means you can turn your generators down for the other 18 hours or so of your daily cycle."

Siniman frowned. "You're asking me to inconvenience 28 human crewmen who have jobs to do for the sake of one Insid who does not," he responded. "How about I turn down for one hour a day and we'll keep the Duke asleep the rest of the time."

"That is very unsatisfactory," the ambassador responded.

"Whatever," Siniman answered. Across from him, Admiral Dave Beckley frowned. The admiral was out of camera view, but he was monitoring the exchange on his own channel. He caught Siniman's eye, waved his hand, and mouthed Get on with it. Siniman turned back to the camera. "I can't make any promises except to do whatever seems to me to be in the best interest of my ship and my mission."

There was a pause as the ambassador turned and then another Insid, a female, flitted into the camera view. The two Insid squeaked to each other in their own language, the older male sounding like a doggie squeaky toy being repeatedly squeezed and the younger female answering back in what sounded like a bassoon being practiced by a not-very-good beginner. The squeaky talk was what was studied and learned by humans; it had a structure that could be grasped, it had labels for objects that paralleled nouns, it had some sound groups that stood for actions paralleling verbs, and it had some other features that resembled human grammar. The bassoon talk had no such structure and was so alien that it could not really be explained by the Insid. Siniman had learned a few of the squeaky words during the pre-mission training, but had promptly forgotten them when it developed that the Duke was to be kept in hibernation for several days at a time. When the generators were turned down and the Duke was awake, his command of English was sufficient to make that language the preference on both sides. The ambassador turned back to the camera. "I am informed that the Duke will arrive to your location on Tuesday," he said. "Are you prepared to receive him?"

Siniman looked to Beckley, who nodded, frowning, and then back to the camera. "That's affirmative."

"The Duke will be in stasis and will arrive via unpiloted transport, along with the necessary supplies and miscellaneous items. The limit generators will not work in Earth gravity, so once the transport lands, the radioactives will need special handling."

"We are aware of that."

"Please be prepared to render full diplomatic courtesies as the Duke arrives and his flag is transferred to your vessel," the ambassador said. "We will require video proof of protocol compliance, and then we will release control of the Duke's statis to you for your own initiation of hibernation."

"Courtesies? Won't he be asleep?" Siniman asked.

"Asleep or awake, the Duke is the Duke," the ambassador said. Once again, he looked off camera and spoke in the squeaking language. As he did, Beckley rose, strode into camera view, and started squeaking himself, to Siniman's surprise. Back and forth, the two of them squeaked over each other, and after this exchange was over, Beckley reached up, flipped off the screen, and returned to his desk.

"What was that all about?" Siniman asked.

"Nothing, nothing," Beckley responded. He had opened the middle drawer of his desk and was pawing about in the papers located there, then he looked up and barked "Barney! Get in here!"

The door across the room opened and a uniformed officer—a major—stepped in. "Yes, sir?"

"Barney, I need the file on Scimitar Project and I want you to put in a call to Alistair Reys at Mars Fourteen, will you do that?"

Barney's Yes, sir and his departure was lost to Siniman's immediate comment: "Reys? I thought he was still in prison."

"He got out three months ago," the admiral replied. He was once again rooting around in his drawer. "Ah, here it is," he said. He brought out a small folded slip of paper, which he held out to Siniman.

"What's that?"

"It's the code to the vaults downstairs. Take it."

"You sure it's okay for me to have that."

"If I give it to you, then it's okay. Take it." Siniman took it. "Now go downstairs and use that code to open up Drawer 35. Bring back up here what you find in there."

Siniman stood for a moment, as if contemplating whether or not he should do as the admiral ordered, and then his training kicked in. "Yes, sir," he said. He turned and departed without a word.

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