An Alliance Called
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
This is the prologue for a longer Science Fiction project I have been working on, based off of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. I may end up posting more excerpts of the story later on, so keep an eye out and enjoy!
Captain Hippolyta Nassbaum paced the tiny deck of the Ferry as she waited for it to finish its final, excruciatingly slow approach to neutral space for the negotiations. The designated coordinates led to a miniature spaceport, a shabbily built, temporary thing, good for this single meeting. In a matter of days - maybe a week at most - it would fall apart, drifting in jagged pieces through space for an eternity.
“We are one minute out now, Captain,” a tinny, girlish voice spoke through the small wall-vox. “Prepping airlock seals.”
“Thank you, Peaseblossom,” Hippolyta nodded her gratitude to the incorporeal A.I. Her mother had raised her that manners were important, regardless if the recipient was non-human. “Please patch me through to Titania as soon as we arrive.”
“Yes, ma’am. Thirty seconds out now.” While the Ferry A.I. was limited in the scope of its knowledge to the running of its own vessel and navigating space, the arcship’s A.I. was a vast well of knowledge. If Hippolyta intended to strike up a deal with Captain Theseus Radoc of the Oberon, she would not do so without the input of her own ship, the Titania.
There was a muffled thump as the Ferry connected with one of the two docking ports, and the captain threw out a hand to steady herself. A hiss of air indicated the sealing of the lock and the start of de-pressurization.
“Airlock secure,” Peaseblossom chirped. “I am patching through Titania now.”
The Ferry door slid open onto a narrow, dim hallway, the air beyond cool and stale. The Oberon had donated an old air filtering system to the spaceport endeavor, and the device was clearly already on its way out. Hippolyta checked the holster at her side, weapon on stun. Readouts on her data chip showed only one other occupant on the spaceport, DNA verified as Captain Theseus Radoc. Last, she switched on the comm unit tucked behind her ear.
“Hello, Captain,” a cool but refined female voice spoke as if within her own head. “I am ready to begin negotiations.”
“Glad to have you at my back, Titania,” Hippolyta responded in thought. Peaseblossom had created a direct neural link so that she and the arcship could communicate directly without the other captain, or his own ship’s AI, overhearing.
It took only five steps to reach the end of the hallway, and then her door swiveled open into a central room furnished only with a table and two metal chairs.
Simultaneously, the door opposite her opened to reveal Captain Radoc. The room was illuminated only by floor lights, the ceiling transparent to let in the natural light of the nearby star and the amethyst and blush shades of a nebula.
As they both moved to take their seats at the table, Hippolyta took a moment to examine her rival. She had seen him before, but only through vid-feeds when they negotiated shipments for various resources. The feeds, constantly distorted by static, did not do justice to a living person.
Radoc was shorter than she imagined; she towered nearly a full head above him. His golden hair had been swept back into a neat tail that rested on his freshly brushed and polished military jacket, his mossy eyes shadowed by the brim of a cap marked with the colors of the Oberon monarchy and his status as Captain. Despite his short stature, he had a confident muscular build that belied his regal status. The Oberon was ruled by a monarchy, so Theseus served as both Captain and King.
Hippolyta had never put much stock in monarchies, having been elected by her own people after many long years of training, education, and service, and did not deign to defer to him due to his kinghood. If she was to respect him, it would be for his service as captain of his arcship instead.
He seemed to be studying her in a similar fashion, though she struggled to keep from curling her lip when his eyes traveled a rather more blatant path over her body. Men. If it was not for the alliance at stake, she would be dressing him down for that particular discourtesy.
“Shall I instruct him on proper etiquette for treaty talks, Captain?” Titania asked. Hippolyta imagined an accompanying smirk to that comment.
“Unnecessary. But if he keeps it up, maybe send a bug to his shuttle.” Hippolyta answered, only half joking.
“Shall we take a seat, then?” Theseus broke the silence first, gesturing to the sad looking table and chairs. He moved as if to pull back her chair for her in a gallant gesture, but Hippolyta beat him to it. They were both captains here and and she would ensure they remained on equal footing throughout the talk, chivalry be damned. Theseus frowned, but quickly took his own seat opposite her and crossed his arms over his chest in a poor attempt at nonchalance.
“Historic, is it not? The Oberon has not made physical contact with the crew of another arcship since the rescues from the Demeter crash thirty years ago,” he said. “But times are changing and resources are more scarce. And I must admit, the Titania’s offer intrigued me.”
“Perhaps if they didn’t cling to a system as antiquated as a monarchy, there would be a better distribution of resources to begin with,” Titania sniped in Hippolyta’s ear, and she had to keep herself from smirking.
While both arcships did still designate between a crew and passenger-class, it was primarily for the purpose of job distribution on the Titania, while for those on the Oberon, it affected their entire lives. Those unfortunate enough to be born Passenger-Class would live a much harder life, scraping by on whatever leftover resources were not readily given over to the Crew-Class.
Titania had carefully schooled Hippolyta on the known social structures of the Oberon in the months before the treaty talk became a reality. And the captain still was not sure it was worth dealing with the Oberon, but Titania believed it necessary. The arcships had been traveling through space now for over 200 years, and while many passing planets and stars offered valuable resources, they still did not offer a home on solid ground. Hippolyta did not know if the human race could continue to live on through arcships alone.
“Tell me, what is it the Oberon is hoping to get through this treaty?” Hippolyta answered, watching the other captain carefully.
“You have technology that we don’t, such as your intelligent scouting ships, the so-called Ferries. We could certainly benefit from something similar while looking for resources. And we would of course share some of our own technology.” He snapped his fingers, and the door behind him swiveled open for a second time. A moment later, a large metallic beast stepped out of the darkened hallway.
Hippolyta started to her feet, anger surging through her as she reached for her pistol. “A trap! I should have known better than to trust-”
It was only Titania’s cool voice in her mind that stilled her hand. “Interesting. I see Oberon has figured out how to project himself in other forms.”
“This is Oberon?” Hippolyta replied aloud, forgetting in the tumult that she alone could here Titania.
Theseus regarded her thoughtfully before nodding. “Yes, very astute, Captain Nassbaum. Or at least, this is an extension of our great arcship. The creature is called a Goodfellow. They take various animal forms and assist us in daily tasks, often in places where humans would be too inefficient.”
Curiosity now getting the better of her, Hippolyta stepped closer to the creature, admiring the large ruff of copper coils that encircled its head and neck. “And do you speak?”
Theseus chuckled. “Only to me. I believe it is a cerebral implant similar to the one that connects you to the Titania.”
Hippolyta clenched her jaw at his remark. This man thought himself far too clever by half. “So this is the tech that you would offer us?”
“In exchange for your sentient scout ships, yes.” Both Theseus and the Goodfellow nodded. She found it quite unnerving.
“But certainly that is not all you wanted, or you would not have called for such an intricate treaty,” she said at length, leaning against her chair. She felt too unnerved to take her seat again in the presence of the Goodfellow-that-was-also-Oberon.
“No, it is not.” Theseus leaned forward in his seat. “You must admit, Captain Nassbaum, that two centuries is a taxing amount of time to be spent on an arcship. Generations have already passed, and if no suitable homeworlds are discovered, many more will pass on these ships. And if we continue as we are in isolation, the end may come that much sooner.”
“You think to lecture me on isolation?” She bristled.
“No. I think to warn you of the dangers of a dwindling gene pool. We are already experiencing some difficulties with that in our Crew Class.”
“Perhaps if you did not have such a divide between your crew and passengers…,” Hippolyta began, but the Goodfellow cut her off with a snarl that sent a shiver down her spine.
Theseus merely chuckled. “If you do not want me to lecture you, then I would ask that you extend me the same courtesy.” He exchanged a glance with the Goodfellow, and it settled down in a more relaxed position, apparently in attempt to put Hippolyta at ease. “What I propose, along with an exchange of technology, is an exchange of people. Just enough to increase the diversity in our respective gene pools. My Second’s son, in particular, is of marriageable age. If we could find a suitable mate aboard your own ship, I can assure you that the Titania would receive its choice from the resources we have to offer.”
Hippolyta’s stomach churned at Captain Radoc’s revelation. She was not necessarily against arranged matches, since they were oftentimes necessary on her own arcship to further the health of her people, but she hated the thought of forcing one of her own to leave behind their entire lives for the Oberon. It felt like the opposite of her duty as Captain, which was to protect her own. Instead, she would essentially be exiling them.
“He makes a valid point, Captain,” Titania advised. “These dangers are very real. The longer we hold off, the harder it will be to recover from the damage to the gene pool.”
“But could you sacrifice your own people for this?”
“Perhaps some of them will want to go. You have yet to ask them.” Hippolyta hated the logic in the arcship’s voice, yet she understood the necessity of this treaty.
With an inward sigh, Hippolyta straightened. “Very well, Captain Radoc. Your offer sounds acceptable. However, I will not relegate my own people to your crew without first offering them the choice.”
“And how will you do that?” Theseus asked, one eyebrow raised skeptically. “They know little of the Oberon, and even you exude… distaste… for our way of life. It seems very few would choose to leave of their own accord.”
“Then you will come to the Titania, with a selection of your own crew, so that we can truly see what you are like,” Hipployta answered, a plan quickly piecing together in her mind. “Besides, if we are to accept some of your people, they should also be allowed to see what we are like in return. You are even welcome to bring your Second’s son, as you mentioned. Does that sound agreeable?”
She waited patiently as Theseus canted his head toward the Goodfellow in silent discussion. At length, he met her gaze and stood. “Very well, Captain Nassbaum. Your offer seems fair, and I must admit willing passengers would be much easier to integrate into my ship than unwilling ones.” He offered his hand and they both shook.
“We need two weeks to prepare, and I will pass along a list of crew and passengers I will bring with me on this visit. In exchange, I ask that you send a list of prospective matches for my Second’s son.”
Hippolyta was already annoyed by this boy and she had not even met him. Was he so eager to be married off? Or was their some ulterior motive to Theseus’s insistence on this particular match? “Very well, it will be done.”
The discussion quickly devolved into logistics, and two hours later Hipployta finally retreated to the Ferry in exhaustion. She watched the spaceport grow smaller and smaller in her cabin’s window port as Peaseblossom steered them back to the Titania. In a week’s time the spaceport would be completely gone, no evidence to be found of the place where the uneasy, yet historic, alliance had been forged.