I’m thrilled to bits to announce that I’ve won one of the National Association of Writers’ Groups 2018 competitions. It was for a short sci-fi or fantasy story, aimed at teenagers. In all honesty, I didn’t consciously write it for teenagers (I’m not sure how to do that) but it seems to have done the trick! Anyway, here’s the story – it’s pretty much what it says on the tin.
Captain Pelant opened an airtight door and ushered Ambassador Spole into the room beyond.
“This is the bridge, Ambassador. It is rather compact, as you see – the vessel is designed to be operated by one person; there is barely space for two. This is a freighter: not an ideal vehicle for a diplomatic mission, but the only one that was available, I’m afraid. Perhaps it would have been better to postpone the meeting with Governor Akhan until our own ship is serviceable again.”
The Ambassador shook her head. Her long robe swished around her as she did so.
“With all due respect, Captain, technical issues are your area of responsibility; diplomacy is mine. Akhan is famous for his short temper. He has travelled a long way for this meeting. Were we to abandon it, he would take offence, causing serious damage to our chances of securing a trade agreement with Kalin. You have done well to charter a replacement vessel at short notice. It is fully serviceable, I take it?”
“Oh, yes, Ambassador. The ship is only three years old, and in excellent condition.”
“And is it equipped with communications equipment, including a Protocol Machine? My Kalinese is not what it used to be.”
“Indeed. Here is the microphone into which you will speak, when the time comes. The audio feed from the Governor’s ship will come through these speakers. There is no video, I’m afraid. However, the Protocol Machine will project a simultaneous translation of the incoming speech onto this screen. Any words of uncertain translation will be flagged with question marks. Alternatively, the audio feed itself can be translated.”
“Let’s stick with the text translation,” said the Ambassador. “I’ll get an idea of the tone of the Governor’s voice from the untranslated feed – and I should understand the odd word here or there.”
“As you wish, Ambassador.”
The journey to the meeting point was uneventful. The Ambassador had just risen from her bunk when Pelant informed her that they had entered orbit around the planet chosen for the rendezvous. Sure enough, as they rounded the gas giant’s great bulk, a large ship came into view.
“The sensors identify it as the Kalinese cruiser A-Mahart, Ambassador, as expected. We are a couple of hours early, but so are they. They will be expecting a diplomatic yacht, not a chartered freighter. We need to declare ourselves. Shall I hail them?”
“I’ll do that myself, if you don’t mind.”
Spole leaned towards the microphone.
“To the cruiser A-Mahart. I am Ambassador Zeman Spole of the Tirezian Federation, on board the chartered merchant vessel Emporium. On behalf of the systems of the Federation, I offer sincere greetings to the esteemed Governor Akhan and the people of the Kalin Republic. I humbly ask permission to come on board, in anticipation of an amicable and productive meeting.”
She sat back and waited. Nothing happened. Puzzled, she leaned forward again and repeated the message. Again, nothing. Only after another minute had passed did a voice come through the bridge speakers and text begin to appear on the screen.
Unidentified freighter. This is the cruiser A-Mahart of the Kalin Republic. Please identify yourself and leave this orbit immediately. We are expecting an important rendezvous with another vessel.
Even more puzzled, Spole leaned forward again.
“A-Mahart. We are the vessel you are expecting. It has been necessary to charter a ship owing to a fault with our diplomatic yacht. But I am Ambassador Spole, here to meet Governor Akhan.”
I repeat. Identify yourself and leave orbit.
“I don’t understand. This is Ambassador Spole. Why are you not acknowledging my messages?”
A different, louder and more agitated voice now came through the speakers. The screen of the Protocol Machine was suddenly filled with text.
This is Governor Akhan of Kalin. I am expecting an extremely important meeting with the Ambassador of the Tirezian Federation. I have no business with you. I do not require supplies, nor do I wish to buy or sell anything. Is that clear? Now ?copulate? off.
“I am Ambassador Spole. Why do you not acknowledge?”
What part of ‘go away’ do you ?anuses? not understand? Get out out of this ?copulating? orbit, you ?excrement-for-brains? ?copulators-with-mothers? or I’ll turn my guns on you and fill you so full of ?copulating? holes they’ll be able to sell you as ?copulating? cheese.
Aghast, Spole turned to the Captain. “What can we do?”
“It seems the communication equipment is malfunctioning, Ambassador. The A-Mahart is not receiving our messages, and strange words are appearing on the translation screen. They are about to fire on us. We must comply with their demand and leave orbit, immediately.”
“Then all is lost! My mission has failed before it has even begun. The chances of securing an agreement have slipped through our fingers, all because of a malfunctioning machine!”
Pelant thought for a moment. “I have an idea. These ships have a button that transmits an emergency message, if they are damaged or have casualties who need to be transferred to another ship. Perhaps that will work even if the main comms don’t. Shall I give it a try?” The Ambassador nodded.
After a few seconds of silence, the first, quieter voice spoke again.
Unidentified freighter. I have received a distress message from you. You do not appear damaged. Do you have injured personnel on board? Spole sighed with relief.
Now the louder voice took over. This had better not be ?cattle excrement? If there are no injured people on that vessel right now, there ?copulating? will be by the time I’ve finished with you. Is that ?copulating? clear?
The quieter voice resumed. Freighter: you have permission to dock, for the purposes of transferring injured personnel only. Approach slowly. Any suspicious actions will be met with force.
Captain Pelant slowed the Emporium’s speed down to a crawl as the cruiser loomed larger and larger in front of them.
“I don’t know how to engage the automatic docking mechanism, said Pelant. I’ll have to do it manually. Left a little, right a little. Forward a little. This is really hard. I’m not used to the controls. Left a little… Oh no! ….
The Emporium drifted away from the larger ship. The speakers sprang into life, as did the Protocol Machine screen.
?Untranslatable? You useless ?sexually attracted to farm animals? ?self-molesters? How dare you dent my ship. Try that again and I’ll blow your ?excremental? ?buttocks? into the next ?copulating? universe.
The quieter voice took over. Freighter, do not, repeat do not attempt docking again. We are assessing damage – suggest you do the same. Then we will engage automatic docking from this ship.
“Oh dear. This isn’t going well.” said Spole. “I’ll try and speak to them one more time. Perhaps the comms will finally work now we’re closer.”
“Governor Akhan, I am Ambassador Spole of the Tirezian …”
“Umm, Ambassador. I’ve just noticed. There is a switch here you need to press to turn the microphone on. Didn’t you realise? That’s why they haven’t been receiving our messages.”
Spole pressed the switch and cleared her throat.
“I am Ambassador Zeman Spole of the Tirezian Federation, on board the chartered merchant vessel Emporium. On behalf of the Federation, I offer sincere greetings to the esteemed Governor Akhan and the people of the Kalin Republic. I humbly ask permission to come on board, in anticipation of an amicable and productive meeting.”
Suddenly, the speakers went completely silent. Spole thought for a moment. She was angry now. Akhan was even worse than she had been warned. An aggressive brute of a man. She wanted to take him down a peg or two. But her whole career, and the prosperity of the Tirezian Federation itself, was riding on this meeting. She realised what she had to do. She took a deep breath and pressed the microphone button.
“Governor Akhan. I apologise for the computer fault which, until it was rectified a few seconds ago, has prevented us from sending or receiving messages. This same fault, regrettably, affected our manoeuvring systems, resulting in the unfortunate collision – for which, again, I apologise profusely.
The speakers remained silent. What kind of man are you, Akhan, wondered Spole. How are you going to deal with this situation? At last, the loud voice spoke again, but in a markedly calmer tone than before. Text once more rolled down the screen of the Protocol Machine.
Esteemed Ambassador Spole. I too wish to convey my heartfelt fraternal greetings to you and the people of the Tirezian Federation. I am sorry to hear of your problems, and sorry too that you were unable to receive our messages of welcome. I am delighted to welcome you once again, and to extend to you a warm invitation to visit my humble ship. Like you, I look forward to an amicable and productive meeting. Now, if you are ready, my crew will engage automatic docking so that we may begin without further delay.