Well, Wallie and I couldn’t think of anything more extravagant than a warm welcome aboard an alien spaceship. So, as prompted–
‘Welcome, and all aboard! Welcome to the first ever inter-planetary light-speed multidimensional transcendental comprehensive anti-matter spacecraft available for lease! Posi-matter can be used on demand if preferred, but there is more of a smell to it, though the mileage is vastly improved. Accommodations are modest but comfortable, guaranteed with—’
‘Shut it,’ said the commander. ‘You’re the alien?’
‘I am. That, too, is guaranteed.’
‘Here, Sir. Your certificate?’
‘Certificate of what, Sir?’
‘Certificate of ET-Compatibility.’
‘Oh I am very compatible with ET’s, Sir.’
Commander Gills was not amused.
‘Show me your Certificate,’ he said, ‘or I’ll confiscate this can of yours and have you institutionalized for the rest of your life.’
Silence. For an instant, Jas wondered if the alien meant to resist. She wondered if he were an alien at all. She was familiar with the most common breeds, from the Venusian luxury traders to the Plutonian miners, but there wasn’t anything exotic about this specimen. He was humanoid, slender. His complexion was pale, slightly flush, like a bookish but active Gaelic Earthling’s. His chin was smooth, eyebrows distinct and gently arched, forehead high but not dome-mold. His hair was brown, short, falling in light uncombed strands across his brow.
The ship was well-conditioned and he wore a burgundy duster for warmth. The alien reached inside his suit, into the breast of an inner jacket, and produced a stiff blue pamphlet.
‘My Certificate,’ he said. ‘Would you like my Training papers, as well?’
Gills looked over the document.
‘There is no need,’ he said. He frowned. ‘Date 4125. Incarceration and rehabilitation—violent insubordination. 4126. Pilot’s license, with supervision. 4128. Full license.’ He shut the pamphlet but kept it in his hand. ‘Insubordination? What does that mean?’
‘It means “deliberate resistance of command and rule,” I believe, Sir.’
Gills’ face reddened.
‘It does,’ he said, ‘and that’s precisely what you’re doing now. Did they teach you nothing at the Centre before they released you? What are you?’ He opened the pamphlet again. ‘Freelance Norwinian trader. That means nothing—or anything. It could be a thrill seeker. It could be a pirate.’
The Norwinian’s face changed. It wasn’t a shape-shift. It was a difference in feeling, and a powerful one.
‘I am not a pirate,’ he said.
The alien hesitated. When he spoke, it was as if the words were forced from him, they were so tight.
‘I was ordered to transport one Lieutenant Hathway to the Leeward Constellation 9, Sir, and I refused.’
The alien was silent.
‘Will you refuse if I ask you the same?’
‘Good. I do ask. Leeward Constellation 9.’
The commander turned.
‘Alright, men,’ he said. ‘Three cycles and we will reach our destination. I expect you to be ready, kits, suits, and weapons.’
It was the alien.
Gills turned fiercely on him.
‘Sir,’ said the Norwinian, ‘your men—and women—are tired. If I might and if I may: cots are starboard and there is room for all. Tea is at four-thirty, recreation hall. It’s really more of a recreation cupboard, but we—that is, I—like to pretend it’s a hall. Dinner is seven. If you are late to eat, I can’t promise you anything. If you are early, I can promise you nothing.’
The commander stared at him.
The alien was almost affable, looking into the midst of the crew with light-hearted ease. Jas was surprised as the rest by his ability to mood-shift, but there was still a strange twist in his mouth.
‘I am your captain this voyage,’ the Norwinian said. ‘It’s Gully—my name—just Gully. But I have been called “G,” and sometimes “G-Whiz.” Your commander has rightly mentioned my past insubordination but I can assure you that trouble is the farthest thing from my mind. It has and always will be my pleasure to serve you. Everything I have done is proof of that. I had a dear friend, a human friend, whom I lost on a mission to Leeward Constellation 9. It is a treacherous, wild place—its people barbaric and cruel—’
‘—there is no rule there. No control. When you set your foot on that land, you are risking everything—everything. Please remember that, for the sake of—’
The Norwinan stopped. The commander had caught him by the arm, a little roughly.
‘A little pepper to spur us on?’ he said. ‘What have we got here? An amateur actor? You mentioned dinnertime, but you forgot to mention theatre. When were you released? Three years ago?’ Gills’ voice hardened. ‘You’re afraid, Norwinian. You’re a coward. You mention a lost friend, but if you had really cared you would have fought for them and died for them. But instead here you are. Now. Your duty is to transport us to Constellation 9. We will fight for you. We will die for you if necessary. Do you understand me?’
The Norwinian was motionless. His large eyes glistened.
‘Do you understand?’ hissed the commander.
Gills nodded and released him.
‘That’s all I can ask for,’ he said. ‘Let’s not waste anymore time.’