“You are fit for duty,” Doc Williams said to
me on the morning of the seventh day after I had completed my exercises.
He looked at the chronometer above his desk. “Report to briefing room
“Aye, aye, Sir. Thank you, Sir,” I replied.
I lost no time in getting dressed. Slipping into my battle fatigues I
was ready to leave sixty seconds later.
“One more thing, Lieutenant,” the doctor said as I was stepping across
the threshold. “You will experience a slight discomfort from time to
time. According to ancient folklore you will be able to feel approaching
rain about a day or so before it arrives. I can’t vouch for that but the
discomfort will be real. Take it easy on those days.”
“Yes, Sir. What kind of discomfort? Pain?”
“Perhaps a slight sensation of pain, yes. Also you might get the
impression that your ankle is brittle when you step on your right foot
after having been sitting for a while. Be careful. Most of the time you
will be all right and feel nothing.”
“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.” I was eager to leave sick bay.
“We, that is the medical researchers, have spent uncounted years trying
to find out why that should be so, but we have not been able to isolate
the cause. It is an enigma, the same as aging is. Are you aware that our
best brains have labored for centuries trying to find out exactly why we
“No, I haven’t given it much thought,” I replied, fidgeting just beyond
the threshold. I could see the seconds slip by on the clock above Doc
Williams’ desk. He apparently was not to be hurried.
“Of course, you wouldn’t,” he said. “You are still young. People don’t
worry much about aging until they approach the two hundred mark. Then it
becomes ... What’s the matter? Are you feeling light-headed, like
“No, no, I am quite all right.” When he said that about people living
for more than two centuries I noisily took a deep breath.
“Are you sure?”
I nodded. “Yes, Sir. I am quite sure.”
“I guess you are. You look all right to me. A bit elevated blood
pressure. But I can understand that. Yo u are eager to get to the
briefing room. As I was saying, people don’t think much about aging
until they are about two hundred years old. It is the last fifty or
seventy-five years that has them worried. We know exactly how the aging
process works and what goes on. What we don’t know is why.” His eyes
fell upon the clock on the wall above his desk. He had kept me here for
five minutes now, talking about geriatrics.
“Oh yes,” he continued, “they do want you in briefing room one. Be
careful that you don’t have to spend another week here. Dismissed.” He
I saluted and left, eager to be out of his sight lest he change his
Suddenly I felt like being in a different world. And I was. I was back
in a world of action, in a world where everything had a purpose. I
almost ran all the way to briefing room one. My broken ankle had healed
completely. I felt no pain, not even any weakness. It was as if I had
never had an injury.
I arrived at the briefing room at the same time as Commander Yonge did.
He was quite an aloof person. Nobody had been able to get near him on a
personal level. Unlike the captain he kept himself apart from the rest
of the crew. I saluted and halted, letting him enter first. He returned
“How are you feeling, Kester?” he inquired.
“As good as new, Sir. I am glad to be back on the active roster again.”
“Good show,” he said and went into the room. I followed him.
The room was not even half full. Chief Engineer Sun Lee was sitting at
the table. Commander Yonge picked a seat next to him. On the other side
of the chief engineer I noticed weapons officer Bill Johnson. Bill
Johnson? He had been second in command of the weapons deck. What had
happened to Lieutenant Baker?
Navigator Petra Baird sat across the table from Chief Engineer Sun Lee.
I picked a place next to her. She smiled when I pulled out the chair.
“How are you?” she whispered.
“Fine, fine,” I whispered back. “And you?”
“Fine too. I am sorry I could not come for the past couple of days. We
were practicing simulated attacks almost nonstop.”
“Attention!” Pilot Yasuda shouted from the door, putting the accent on
the last syllable.
We all jumped up. Captain Litvak, tall and imposing, entered, followed
by ranger Earl Mackenzie. Then the second officer came into the room,
Lieutenant Ruth Appleyard. She was a new face. At last Pilot Louise
Yasuda closed the door.
Captain Litvak stood at the head of the table for a few moments,
“Please be seated,” he said at last, and turning towards me he
continued: “Good to have you back on the active list, Kester.”
“Thank you, Sir,” I hastened to reply.
We all pulled our chairs closer to the table as we sat down. The captain
remained standing and cleared his throat.
“What happened to Commander Brainswaithe?” I whispered to Petra as we
both took our seats.
“She was ordered back to Earth. Promoted to first officer. Had to take
some courses, I believe,” she whispered back.
“This briefing is to familiarize you with the purpose of this patrol,”
the captain began. “As you are all aware we have a ranger contingent
aboard, led by Sergeant Mackenzie. Before we go to our patrol position
near Tora Two we will stop at Tremaine, I mean Outpost Twelve, and land
the rangers. There have been reports of enemy activity on the surface of
the planet. It will be the task of Sergeant Mackenzie and his detail to
ascertain Coleopteran strength and their tactics, if possible.”
The briefing lasted for almost two hours. It was the first time that I
was thoroughly briefed on our adversaries. They actually were beetles,
about one and a half meters in height, dark in color and tremendously
vicious. They were physically strong and could run considerably faster
than a human. Of course during the voyage from Earth to Inverness I had
gleaned some information on the enemy. They were called Coleoptera or
beetles. I had naturally assumed that beetles was a nickname for them
and that in reality they were mammals. The term Coleoptera did not mean
anything to me.
Sure I had seen caricatures of them. But again I had wrongly assumed
that they were not beetles, but only portrayed as such. Human political
leaders was also drawn in caricatures in the form of birds or bulls or
on occasion as worms. I did not dare ask anybody. Naturally the others
aboard ship took it for granted that I - like them - was a product of
their time and thus was thoroughly familiar with the events of that
“You look great,” Johnson said to me when we were back in the corridor
at the end of the briefing. “How was it in sick bay.”
“It couldn’t have been as bad as that. Yo u spent a full week there.”
“Not by my choice, Bill. Certainly not by my choice. I understand that
you are now in charge of the weapons deck. Congratulations.”
“Don’t misunderstand my next question, Bill, but what happened to
Johnson laughed. “I squeezed him out. He was superfluous.”
I stared at him.
“No, no,” he said, “not really. He was transferred. As I understand it
he had applied to become weapons officer on a ship commanded by Captain
Hank Soo. It seems that they trained together a long time ago. So when
the position became available on Soo’s ship - well, I don’t mind. I
always wanted to be in charge of the weapons deck. Come on, let’s have a
drink before we return to normal space.”
The four of us, Petra Baird, Louise Yasuda, Bill Johnson and I drifted
towards the smaller wardroom halfway between the shuttle deck and the
weapons deck. For some unexplained reason the four of us stuck together.
Louise Yasuda had her eyes on Bill Johnson and he did nothing to
discourage her. Bill always struck me as an all right guy. He was a bit
on the skinny side and so was Louise. Petra on the other had tended to
lean towards the - well, let’s say that she was well proportioned, well
padded, without actually being fat. She was lively and fun to be with.
We had our drinks. This time we all opted for hot chocolate.
“It won’t be long now before we will meet the enemy,” Petra was saying
as she drained the last of her cocoa. “We are already in the transition
“Transition zone?” Bill questioned.
“Yes, the zone where the probability of meeting the enemy becomes real.
Once we reach the vicinity of Outpost Twelve we are in the battle zone.”
“Oh!” Johnson looked at his chronometer.
“Listen guys, I’ll have to get to my cabin and then to the weapons deck.
Normal space is in forty-five minutes. See you.” He patted Louise on the
cheek and then rushed off. Louise also left.
Petra moved closer to me. She let her hand slide onto my knee.
“I hope you are not upset,” she whispered. “It is really true. We
practiced all the time, battling fires, evacuating wounded personnel and
of course attacking the enemy. This is the first free time I have had
since leaving Inverness.”
“I thought that you were no longer interested in me,” I slowly replied.
“I missed you.”
“Did you really?”
I put my arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer to me. “Yes, I
did,” I said softly. She leaned against me and closed her eyes. For a
few seconds we were content being close to each other.
“When we are back at Inverness we will all get several days of
furlough,” she said dreamily. “Maybe we can do some exploring together
“I would like that very much,” I replied and I meant it. The chances of
getting back to my own time seemed more remote than ever. Petra put her
arm around my waist and pulled me as close to herself as she could.
“They have some completely unexplored areas there,” she continued.
“Wouldn’t it be exciting to be the first humans to set foot there?”
“It certainly would,” I concurred. “And with you it would also be fun.”
“I hope that you will not be disappointed at some future time. I am
really quite an ordinary girl.”
“I doubt that, Petra. If you were you would probably be still on Earth,
working in some dull, uninteresting job. Here you are on an
interstellar warship, holding one of the most important positions on
“How do you figure that?”
“Without a navigator - how could we find our way?”
“I suppose you have a point. And now that you mention it I see that it
is less than half an hour before we cross back into normal space. We had
better get up to the bridge.”
“Yes, we had better. How fast the last quarter hour has gone by, Petra!”
“It has indeed, Carl. I hope that we will have many more periods like
that in the future.”
“So do I, Petra. So do I.”
She stood up as did I. For an instant she looked at me. Then she quickly
bent forward, kissed me and was gone. It was so unexpected that I got no
chance to hold her or to reciprocate. Slowly I also left the wardroom.
Five minutes later I found myself at my station on the bridge. Petra
stood at the navigator’s position, not far from me. Next to me the
second officer’s place was still vacant. The captain and first officer
were also still missing. But one of the helmsmen was on duty, and the
auxiliary engineering station was occupied by an ensign.
“Twenty minutes to normal space,” the helmsman called out.
I flipped a number of switches and began powering up my station. The
large forward screen was still dead. Next to it the navigation screen
showed a computer generated star map and our location on it. To me it
made little sense. There were points of light all over, some faint, some
bright. It was a three-dimensional representation and to my untrained
eye utterly confusing. It showed our location as a slowly blinking
“Fifteen minutes to normal space,” the helmsman called out. Commander
Yonge and Lieutenant Appleyard entered the bridge.
“Good to see you at your station, Number Three,” Yonge said as he
stepped across the threshold.
“Likewise,” Ruth Appleyard concurred, nodding in my direction.
Yonge stopped behind me for a moment, studying my board. I had it fully
powered up by now although all the gauges were still on zero. My station
was almost identical to that of the first and second officers. In an
emergency the ship could be run by me.
We also had an auxiliary bridge just past the engineering section from
which the ship could also be run, in case the bridge was damaged.
At ten minutes before normal space the captain arrived.