“War Journal, Ninth of Retwain. At the behest of the Litin government, I have been reassigned to be ambassador to the Terran Consortium’s Parliament after their emissaries appeared on Litin Prime after the War. It is a great honour to be chosen to represent my people in such a manner. I shall carry out my duties with due diligence as I would any battlefield commission.
They tell me Terra is a beauty.
I shall see with my own eyes.
End of entry.”
29th December, 3899ad.
(102nd Year of the 6th Epoch).
The asymmetrical Wintness-class shuttle roared through the atmosphere.
Smoke and flame curled lazily from the nose of the ship.
General Tynil Draliv didn’t warrant a military escort, or even his own ship. This had been the only available vessel the Litin Defence Force could spare for his stewardship as the new ambassador to Terra. The pilot was as green as grass, and naïve to boot. The shuttle had had to be docked with a passing alien freighter to reach the Terran homeworld.
Draliv, like all of his race, was grey-skinned, mottled with varying shades because of his age. The white hair on his head was a contrast to the black of younger members of his species, whilst the lack of a nose appendage marked him out as not human. He himself was tall and thin, wiry and taut from years of military service.
His new posting was a joke.
He knew it; his superiors knew it.
That’s why they had sent him here, with no resources other than a dilapidated shuttle and a rookie pilot that was to be his aide.
He had wanted to retire.
He was getting old, and his war wounds were bothering him more and more.
He had thought about refusing the post, but they had left him with little option but to accept, citing that he would be charged with abandoning his post, and other such nonsense. Then again, he was far from the prying eyes of the Defence Force –perhaps he could make a new life here without their interference.
This Terra, though, was nothing like Litin Prime.
It was warm and covered with cities.
Not like the ice fields of home.
The human world was a blue-grey-green orb, orbited by a mass of metal. Space stations and starships numbered in the hundreds, many of them operated by the vaunted Terran Navy. In the distance could be seen the moon they called Luna, Terra’s only natural satellite.
The freighter he had berthed on had been held in orbit for several long hours because of a backlog of civilian traffic.
Draliv sat in the back seat of the cockpit, almost hoping for a return of hostilities between the Litin and the Grag Empire. Then perhaps his expertise would be required at home, where he belonged, not stuck on some alien world to ‘represent’ his people in the universe at large.
Maybe they were right in sending him here.
The war with the violent and nigh-unstoppable Grag was over, with the Litin Defence Force winning at a huge cost in life and resources. He was seen as an embarrassment; a relic, almost, useful for nothing other than to remind everyone what had happened.
“We’re in the final landing pattern, General,” the pilot called out.
Draliv hadn’t needed to be told. He could see that for himself, though he wasn’t about to squash the young man’s enthusiasm.
“What was our destination again?” he asked out loud.
The pilot, Junior Lieutenant Deniv, checked his readouts.
“According to the data, we’re to land at a place called Edinburgh, about five-hundred-and-thirty kilometres north of the capital.”
“So we’re not even allowed to land near the capital?” he murmured.
“Nothing, Lieutenant. Carry on; you’re doing a fine job.”
The pilot had a big grin splashed across his young grey face.
“Thankyou, sir. And may I say, it’s an honour to serve with the Hero of the Grag Wars.”
Draliv sighed again.
“You’ve already told me that, Lieutenant. Several times. As much as I appreciate the sentiment, I’m no hero. I only did what was needed during wartime.” He didn’t add that he had done some unsavoury things to do it. Things he was by no means proud of.
The shuttle rattled as they came down out of the cloud cover and above the Atlantic Ocean along what the navigational computer declared was the continent of Africa’s coast.
Terra, or Earth as it was sometimes known, wasn’t much to look at; not by Draliv’s standards anyway. He had seen a few alien worlds, three or four on his way to Terra, but this place seemed to be the most drab. Modern and soulless.
The computer showed him a map of where they were.
Off to their left was something called Atlantis in the distance, a man-made island city in the centre of the Atlantic Ocean. He could see it, a grey mountain reaching for the clouds. They passed over Africa, and across Europe, the names of the individual countries passing his notice.
He got his first look at the capital, London, as they passed over a thin strip of water. The buildings stretched far into the sky, reflecting what little light made it through the grey clouds. It was grim, with no greenery in sight.
“How do humans breathe on this planet?” he murmured.
“I’m sorry, sir?” the pilot asked. He was concentrating on flying, the landing path they were given taking them up the length of the landmass labelled as England.
“Did you read the briefing packet, son?”
The pilot nodded, “Yes, sir.”
“Tell me, what do the Terrans use to keep this planet habitable?”
Deniv brought them up and over a particularly thick patch of air traffic, mostly local hover-vehicles. “I believe they do still have a large area of forest or jungle in the southern hemisphere on what they call South America?”
“Hunh.” Draliv looked out the cockpit canopy. “You wouldn’t think it looking at this.”
“No, sir. Not white enough in my opinion.”
“I was just thinking that myself, Lieutenant.”
He could see Deniv’s big beaming smile in the reflection of the canopy.
“Slowing to approach speed,” the young pilot announced. Draliv didn’t need him to, but he knew the young Litin was green enough that it was still hardwired to announce what he was doing to his superior officer.
“Proceed at your own discretion, Lieutenant.”
There was a cheery note to Deniv’s voice that alarmed him, and the shuttle suddenly dropped out of the sky and hurtled through the air. Although he was within the recommended speed tolerances of the craft, Draliv suspected that the locals wouldn’t appreciate the reckless flying.
“Calm down, Lieutenant,” Draliv warned. “I’d rather not end up as a smear on the side of some Terran building.”
Deniv dropped their speed, but only by a fraction.
They passed over an old section of city that included several older buildings untouched by modern technology, including a large castle smack dab in the middle, protruding from a prominent rock formation. It looked out over the city around it, and hope filled Draliv as he saw parkland around it.
The shuttle’s vector took them around to a landing platform hovering in the sky above.
They touched down on the big metal platform. A figure waited for them, standing patiently at parade rest as the shuttle settled onto its aging landing claws. Hydraulics hissed and the engines wound down to silence.
Deniv shut the cockpit’s controls down, plunging them into the grey light from outside.
They gathered their belongings, Draliv refusing to let the younger man carry his personal possessions and clothes.
The Terran waiting for them seemed alarmed that their ‘esteemed guest’ was carrying his own kit.
“General Draliv?” Although it was a question, the Terran clearly already knew the answer. He was short and stocky, and wore his civilian clothes uncomfortably, as if unsure he should be wearing them. “I’m Owen Markeros; I’ll be your liaison for the foreseeable future. Welcome to Terra.”
“Thank you, Markeros,” replied Draliv. He gestured to his young pilot. “This is Lieutenant Deniv, my aide and pilot.” Markeros nodded a greeting to the young Litin, a stiff and overly formal action that put Draliv in mind of a former soldier that was still trying to adjust to civilian life.
He knew the feeling.
“I’ll show you to your quarters,” Markeros said, gesturing to a set of stairs that led down into the body of the platform.
“I don’t suppose it’s going to be a full embassy is it?” asked Deniv. Draliv wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic or not; only when he looked at the young man’s earnest face could he see that his question was legitimate.
“I’m afraid not,” answered Markeros.
* * *
“That answers that then,” Draliv said.
They stood outside an older building, made of glass and steel like so many of the buildings on the planet. It was twenty storeys tall, and had a decent view of the centre of the city, along with the parkland; it was dwarfed by much of its surrounding neighbours.
The large sign above the door was kitted out in big red letters that had faded over the years. BLUE RAINBOW, it said, though he wasn’t sure why it would be called that.
“It’s a hotel,” Draliv pointed out.
“We have no special accommodation for longtime visiting non-aligned ambassadors, I’m afraid, sir. The embassies on Terra are all owned by larger powers than Litin Prime.”
Draliv shook his head.
“What does that mean?” asked Deniv.
The old general sighed, following Markeros to the hotel reception desk.
“It means our planet isn’t important enough to warrant more than a hotel room in a city far from the capital.” He lowered his voice. “Either that, or it’s a deliberate snub against us.”
Once more, Draliv found himself wondering why he hadn’t just strangled the civilian politician that had made this decision for him. He wondered if the hotel had a decent supply of drink.