Skin of the Enemy by Franz Hansen

An embattled crew find a pair of enemy space lizards drifting helplessly in a broken ship; by Franz Hansen.

"AND SO, we pay our final respects to our fallen comrades." Captain O'Donnell listed off a dozen names. When he said the last name, he paused and bowed his head.

Ensign Tonia Korlova watched the ceremony on the viewscreen in the crew mess hall with two dozen others. She bowed her head with the captain. He continued, "Also to the men and women of the UES Kansas, UES Denmark, UES Erikson, and the UES Venus. Be it noted that they gave their lives in defense of Earth and her colonies, joining the thousands that have already given their lives in this war. We will continue on because of them. And, we will continue defending the Earth Union with renewed invigoration, to be sure that those who died today did not die in vain. We fight now, not only for Earth, but also for them.

"All will stand now as we observe a moment of silence to remember and reflect on their sacrifice."

Tonia came to her feet with the others. She kept her eyes down, staring off into memories. Having joined the crew only four months ago, she didn't really know many of those who had died. Except for Anne Li Su, the chief medic. Anne, with her soft smile, was among the first to welcome her aboard. Her gentle laughter echoed in her memory. It was a mere two days ago that they were in this very room, enjoying a game of chess, as they often did. Now she would no longer enjoy such games with Anne, or laugh with her. Tonia found her eyes blurring. She sniffled and wiped the tears away.

"Dismissed," the captain finally said.

Tonia kept her eyes on the deck while everyone else shuffled out. Then, she felt a hand on her right shoulder. She turned that way, then to her left. Ensign Farr McClance stood there, his face dirty, a lesion down his left cheek, his left arm in a sling. "I miss her, too," he said softly. She met his turquoise eyes, at about the same level as hers. She smiled her appreciation - a small, shy smile - and they followed the others out.

O'Donnell, still in his dress uniform, stepped onto the bridge. He had been on his way to his quarters to change when his helmsman, Lieutenant Tamara Wilder, summoned him to the bridge, reporting a small, unidentified ship sighted. He had thought about just letting Tamara handle it, but they were still pretty close to the Norseen frontier. What if the ship was a scout? What if the scout found them, with warp drive damaged, to be easy prey?

And so, with a resigning sigh, he had proceeded to the bridge.

"Have we identified the ship yet?" the captain asked as he stepped down to the command deck. His eyes went to the main viewscreen. The ship presented there was rather simple in design - consisting of a hull with a pair of FTL engines attached. But the engines were not active, leaving the ship to drift amongst the starry backdrop.

"Not yet, sir," Wilder answered.

"What about lifesigns?" O'Donnell turned to Lieutenant Blackburn at the central science station.

"Scanning now." Blackburn looked up from her controls, her eyes grim. "Reading two Norseen."

O'Donnell swung around to primary weapons control. Lieutenant Commander Jonas Lloyd had just arrived on the bridge and was taking his post. "Jonas, status of their weapons."

He was already getting to work. "Not detecting any weapons, least none active." He met the captain's eyes, a lopsided grin on his face. "They could be disabled along with the engines."

O'Donnell returned the smile, understanding the source of his amusement. He turned his attention back to the viewscreen. Those two Norseen were at their mercy. The predator was now the prey. "I say we blow them out of the sky, Captain," the navigator ventured. "Two less lizards we have to deal with."

He settled into his chair and contemplated the small Norseen ship, helpless in the night. Markus' suggestion was indeed appealing. His officers held their eyes on him, awaiting his decision. He turned to Jonas, his eager fingers twitching to press the trigger. "Forward laser banks charged and ready. Just give the word, Captain, and we can avenge Rick and the others."

Yes, they could avenge their fallen comrades. But, what about the crews of the half-dozen ships that disappeared just before the war? The Norseen had been discovered to be behind the disappearances. The final fate of those crews was still unknown. Perhaps they could get the answers from these two. Blowing them out of the sky then and there would certainly be satisfying, but perhaps they could get something out of them.

An alarm drew his attention to the com-station behind him. "They're signaling," Hester said.

He turned to primary weapons control instead. "Jonas, ready ion cannon one. I want to be sure that ship really is disabled and not baiting us. Then, bring it into the primary launch bay." He turned back to the com-station. "Have Doctor Lynch and a security detail armed with stunners report there and transfer the Norseen to the brig."

Tonia, a med-kit slung over her shoulder, accompanied Doctor Lynch to the primary launch bay. She kept her eyes locked forward and concentrated on maintaining her composure. The doctor had told her they just captured a ship with two Norseen aboard. She had seen images of them before. Lizard-like in appearance, slightly taller than the average human. But this would be her first time seeing them in the flesh, standing within mere meters of the enemy.

They arrived in the launch bay a minute ahead of a five-man security team. The Norseen ship laid before them, suspended above the launch doors by the docking clamps. The lieutenant started out along the catwalk to the ship's boarding hatch. Lynch and Tonia followed while the other four guards brought up the rear. The two ahead of them activated their wrist-mounted flashlights. The lieutenant produced a pocket-sized device, which he attached to the door and forced it open. The other four held their stunners ready.

"We'll go in first, Doc," the lieutenant said, his voice quiet. "I'll call you in when we drop 'em."

Lynch nodded his agreement. The lieutenant eyed the other four of his team and jerked his head toward the hatch. Tonia turned to let them slip by. They disappeared into the dark interior of the ship, their flashlights guiding them. A moment later, a hiss and three zaps of the stunners emerged from the ship. Then, all was silent again save for the constant hum of their own ship.

"All clear, Doc," the lieutenant called.

"You alright?" Tonia tore her gaze from the hatch and what lay beyond. She focused on the doctor's kind, brown eyes.

She nodded, even though it wasn't entirely true. Though security said the Norseen were subdued, she wasn't quite sure what to expect.

Lynch turned back toward the hatch and proceeded in. Tonia followed. The first thing she noticed was the warmth that enveloped them. A sharp contrast to the ship's normal temperature, but not uncomfortable.

They found the Norseen on the deck in the cockpit. The one nearest the door, with brown scale, rested facedown, a gun near its left hand, while the other, with green scale, lay on its back against the console. Norseen with brown scales were male, she recalled, while females had green scales. They really did look like big lizards, complete with a whip-like tail that was half-again longer than their legs. Flowing robes covered their scales from neck to knees. There were four digits each on their bare feet, each ending in claws seven-and-a-half centimeters long. Five digits on each hand with five-centimeter claws.

Tonia thought she saw a pair of bulges under the female's lower jaw. But perhaps it was just the lighting. She gazed over Norseen with contempt. So, this was their cold-blooded enemy. She wondered why the captain just didn't destroy the ship.

"Tonia, scanner." She reached in to a side-pocket on the kit and pulled out the palm-sized device, which she handed to the doctor. He ran the scanner over the torso of each of the Norseens - first the male, then the female. "Lifesigns appear stable," he finally said. "Let's get them to the brig."

After much heaving up four decks and across what felt like half the ship, they had the Norseen in the last cell of a row of six, their legs and hands bound together. Once there, the lieutenant had the bodies searched for additional weapons, including any that may have been hidden beneath the scales. All that was found was a small bag in an inside pocket of the female's outer robe. Those bulges had remained on that one, too. Tonia, her professional interest taking over her contempt for the Norseen, supposed they could just be an anatomical feature. A sexual characteristic maybe?

The brig door slid open, and she turned to see the captain enter. The doctor and lieutenant came to their feet and stepped out of the cell. "How are they?" O'Donnell asked as he joined them.

"They're stable," Lynch answered. "They should be regaining consciousness shortly."


"Besides the laser pistol they had in the shuttle, all we found on 'em was this." The lieutenant handed over the bag. The captain opened it and reached in. He scooped out some kind of flaky substance.

"I'll have the science lab analyze this," he said, dumping the stuff back into the bag.

Rustling and a soft hiss drew the captain's attention to the prisoners. Tonia turned with Lynch and the lieutenant. She found two slitted, copper-tinted eyes staring at her. She felt something crawl down her back and shivered. The temperature in the room seemed to drop several degrees, even though it had been adjusted to match the temperature in the shuttle.

Then, the eyes, belonging to the male Norseen, shifted toward the captain. "I have a few questions," O'Donnell said, his tone savage. "You will answer. Do you understand?"

"No... harm," the Norseen said in a raspy voice.

"Good. You do understand our language." The captain stepped across the threshold of the grated door, approaching the prisoner until he stood over him.

"No harm."

No harm? The words echoed in Tonia's mind. Was that a promise or a plea?

"Yes, there will be harm." Evidently, the captain took it for a plea. "I guarantee you lots of harm if you do not cooperate. Not as much if you do." O'Donnell paused, allowing the Norseen a moment to consider his situation. "What is your mission?"

The Norseen broke eye contact with the captain.

"What is your mission?" the captain asked again, kicking the Norseen. He growled and hissed in response.

"We flee."

"Flee? Flee what?"


Tonia's contempt, at least for these two Norseen, suddenly evaporated. These Norseen were fleeing the war? Why would they be fleeing the war? Could it really be that not all Norseen agreed with their government's decision for war?

"You're defecting?" Skepticism filled the captain's voice; his eyebrows cocked. "Would you mind telling me, then, what happened to our people? The crews of the ships that you attacked several months ago?"

"Know nothing."

O'Donnell crossed his arms and contemplated the prisoner. He glanced at the other, who was now stirring awake. "You better hope you do." He backed out of the cell and started for the door to the security office. The lieutenant and the doctor followed, the former operating the nearby control panel to shut and lock the cell gate on his way out.

The Norseen watched the captain leave. Tonia lingered, her eyes glued to the giant lizard. What was going through his mind, she wondered. What could it mean, they were fleeing war? He turned his sinister eyes on her, and she caught herself staring. She spun around and followed the doctor.

As they passed through the security office, Lieutenant Madison took his place at the desk. "Keep watch on them, Lieutenant," O'Donnell told him. "Alert me if you see them do anything suspicious."

"Yes, sir."

"Walk with me, Bill."

"Aye, sir." As the captain led them out to the corridor, the doctor turned to his assistant, handing her his medical scanner. "You're dismissed, Tonia."

"Thank you, Doctor."

"Ensign, would you take this to the science lab?" O'Donnell handed her the Norseen's bag. "Tell whoever is on duty there to analyze the contents. I want the report in one hour."

"Aye, Captain."

O'Donnell started for the lift with Lynch accompanying him while the ensign departed in the opposite direction. His mind turned over what he was about to ask the doctor. When the war started, he didn't think he would resort to it. But, as the war raged on, and more human lives were lost, it might just be necessary. "Doctor, do we have any truth serum on board?"

"A small supply," Lynch answered, perplexed. "We don't use it much."

"Good. Prepare some." They reached the lift door now, and the captain summoned it. When the doctor still hadn't acknowledged, he turned to him. Lynch remained in profile to him, his eyes unfocused. "Something wrong, Bill?"

Lynch turned to him now, an eyebrow cocked warily, as if O'Donnell had just grown another nose. "You want to use truth serum on the Norseen?"

"That's right." The lift door opened and O'Donnell stepped in. The doctor followed. After calling for the bridge, he asked, "Do you have a problem with that?"

"To be honest, Tim, a few. But, putting aside for the moment the very idea of what you're thinking, what we have isn't calibrated for Norseen. It might be ineffective; it might kill them."

"Then, they die. Or maybe it will give them some incentive to cooperate." The lift stopped and the door opened, admitting the captain and the doctor onto the bridge.

"I must protest this."

O'Donnell stepped up to the railing behind the command chair. His eyes scanned over the battered command deck, carbon scoring on bulkheads and deckplating, consoles destroyed. His officers, their hair disarrayed, slick with dried sweat, some displaying scars on their faces or torn uniforms, all busy at their assigned posts overseeing repairs. His eyes fell on the vacant executive officer's station, once manned by Rick, the most efficient and best first officer he ever had. But now, the station was smashed, and Rick was dead. The damned Norseen!

Finally, he swung back to the doctor. "Noted. Look around, Bill. Four out of five ships destroyed. Nine hundred dead, eleven on this ship - including your own chief medic. Thousands more in the last two months. And that's not including the ships that disappeared before the war. Despite what they say, I'm sure those two in the brig know what happened to the crews. If not, then they know something else useful. And I intend to find out what. So, I want that serum prepared."

Lynch seemed to be preparing a reply, but decided not to. Instead, he nodded; he turned and re-entered the lift.

"Captain, Cardenas reports warp drive is back online," Hester reported.

"Very good." He stepped down to his chair. "Markus, Tamara, set course for Eridanus. Proceed at best possible speed."

With the silky Norseen bag between her hands, Tonia navigated the corridors with most of her mind on the prisoners. She was thinking about what the male Norseen had told the captain. And was that a hint of fear she saw in his eyes toward the end? She shook her head. She probably only imagined it. Norseen did not fear.

She arrived at her destination and paused in front of the door, her eyes taking in the cluttered lab. A pair of technicians were busy cleaning up the debris scattered across the counters and the floor. They looked up from their work to notice her entrance.

"Tonia." She turned to her right to see Farr entering from the other room. He greeted her with his friendly smile. "What can I do for you?"

"Farr, what are you doing here? You're supposed to be resting."

"Yeah, I know. And, I was. But I was going stir-crazy not helping out here." He indicated the room with a sweeping gesture of his good arm. "So, I'm doing what I can, even if it's not much. What's in the bag?"

"We captured a ship with two Norseen aboard. We found this on them." She offered Farr the bag. He took it and set it on the nearest table. He dipped his good hand in and took out a pinch of the reddish-brown and green flakes. "The captain wants an analysis of it."

"Feels organic." Farr brought a sample of the material to his nose and sniffed. "Has a kind of herby smell." He returned the material to the bag, which he picked up and started for the room he entered from.

Tonia followed him. "Have you seen the Norseen?" she asked.

"You mean the prisoners, or Norseen in general?"

"Norseen in general."

Farr led her to the micro-imager, set on the counter at the other end of the room. He set the bag on the counter and activated the device and the monitor connected to it. "Not in the flesh. What are they like?"

Tonia prepared a tray with a sample of the flakes, placing them in a single layer. "They really are like big lizards. A little creepy, especially when they stare at you." Once again, her mind turned to the look she thought she saw in those copper-slitted eyes. She froze in her work and looked up at Farr. "Do you think Norseen can be afraid?"

Farr met her eyes, his face serious. "Of course. I know the common opinion is that they do not, but emotions are universal, including fear. Why?"

"I thought I saw fear in the Norseen's eyes when the captain questioned him." Tonia resumed placing the tray in its designated slot at the bottom of the micro-imager. "And, another thing that's strange. The Norseen said that they were fleeing war."


"The captain thought they were defecting, but I don't think he believed it. Do you think it's possible?"

"Well, I don't know about defecting to the Earth Union, but I would certainly like to believe that there are Norseen who are reasonable." He turned his attention to the micro-imager. About a half-dozen squares appeared on the monitor. Farr operated the controls and zoomed in on one of the reddish-brown squares. He increased the magnification until they saw hundreds of curved chambers within the structure. And, in most of the chambers, a dark spot. The whole structure was covered in what looked like gravel in the magnification. "Those look like cells."

"Muscle cells," Tonia confirmed. But, what use could the Norseen have with flakes of muscle cells? "Could it be their food? Though, this would hardly be enough to sustain them for very long."

Farr returned the magnification to its original setting. "Yeah, it'd be like a whale eating a single krill." He panned the imager camera to another square, a green one this time, and zoomed in. "But I suppose it's possible that the Norseen could survive for long periods on very little food. Cold-blooded creatures tend to have slower metabolisms."

Tonia considered the possibility and nodded her agreement. She refocused her attention on the monitor. It once again displayed a collection of chambers overlaid by the gravel substance, but now they were brick-like. "Plant cells," she identified.

Now, it was Farr who nodded in agreement. "I think you're right; it's their food. At least, a sample of it." He switched off the imager, and Tonia removed the specimen tray. "Or it could be some kind of toxin. We should probably test these flakes for toxicity. Could you get Martin?" He indicated the other room. "That's more his department."

O'Donnell crossed his arms as he glared down at the Norseen through their cage, his eyes locked with the brown one. He turned to the green one, who also watched him, then back to the first. He stood there for several minutes, studying the giant lizards. What was going on behind those sinister eyes, he wondered. What deceptions were they forming to mislead him?

They huddled together in the cool brig. Lieutenant Madison originally had the temperature set to thirty degrees Celsius. O'Donnell had him decrease it by ten degrees - not enough to kill them, but certainly enough to make them uncomfortable. The more uncomfortable they were, the more cooperative they may be.

"Wissh no harm," the brown one said in its raspy voice. "Want peace!"

"Is that what you call the last two months? Thousands of humans dead, at your hands, and you say you want peace?" O'Donnell uncrossed his arms. "What is your mission?" He kicked the grate to emphasize his demand. The Norseen flinched at the loud crash.

The first Norseen leaned forward, its eyes wide. "We flee war! Not want war!"

"What happened to the missing crews?" When the Norseen hesitated, he kicked the grate again and repeated the question, voice raised.

"Labor planet... probably."

"Where? Give me the coordinates."

"Many labor planets."

"Give me the coordinates to the ones where the crews were sent."

"Not know."

O'Donnell fumed and crossed his arms again. "We are preparing a truth serum. You'll talk, one way or another." With that, the captain turned toward the door.

Tonia, with the Norseen bag in her hands, stood beside Farr in the security office; Lieutenant Madison sat at the desk. All watched the monitors displaying the captain and the Norseen in varying angles. The Norseen sounded almost pleading, but could she be simply applying human traits to them? Even as she asked herself that, the captain kicked the grate, and she flinched with the Norseen.

When the captain emerged from the brig, Tonia was still chewing over what he told the Norseen about a truth serum.

"Captain, we finished analyzing the flakes," Farr said, handing the captain the datapad he held in his good hand. "It's their food."

"What?" O'Donnell looked over the report, an eyebrow cocked in disbelief. "That cannot possibly be enough to feed two full-grown lizards for very long."

"My team did find more of it and similar stuff in their ship," Madison said.

"You're sure it's food?" O'Donnell locked squarely onto Farr's eyes.

"Yes, sir. We even checked for toxins, but all we found were traces of minerals and vitamins."

Again, O'Donnell scanned over the report with a critical eye, as if hoping to find a discrepancy. "Alright," he said finally, giving the pad back to Farr. He turned to the desk and instructed the lieutenant to open the intercom to med-bay. "Doctor, is the serum ready?"

"Aye, sir," Lynch answered, his voice impassive. "I'm on my way."

"Is the truth serum really necessary, Captain?" Tonia asked when the intercom was off. "What if they are already telling the truth?"

"Do you really believe that, Ensign?" Tonia considered the question. She actually wasn't sure. "They're Norseen. They're naturally inclined to deception."

She heard that before. Just like she had heard that Norseen did not fear, but Farr had disagreed with that bit of propaganda. "May I speak with them?" She had no idea where that question came from, but she felt she had to speak with the Norseen, herself.

O'Donnell glanced back toward the brig. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt. I don't see what good it will do, but it's your time to waste."

"I'll come with you," Farr said, and he followed Tonia to the door.

"But, leave the bag here."

Tonia stopped, glanced down at the bag, and turned back to the captain. "Shouldn't they get their food back?"

"No." There was such finality in that single syllable; negotiation would not be possible. So, she reluctantly handed over the bag.

As Tonia passed through the door and made her way to the cell, she wondered what she would say to the Norseen. But she was grateful for Farr's presence beside her.

As she drew closer to the cell, she made out two quiet voices exchanging lisping, alien words. The Norseen soon came into view, their attentive, copper eyes turning on her. "Sspeak truth. We. Sspeak. Truth." The male spoke with strength, as if struggling to be understood, or to appear sincere, or both.

"I'm not... I'm not here with the truth serum," Tonia said. She spoke carefully, trying her best to keep her voice still, but her words still seemed to quiver a little. "I... I just wanted to talk with you. Speak with you." She stopped at the grate and lowered herself to her knees, putting herself at eye level with the Norseen. She introduced herself and Farr, who also came to his knees.

"Zehathk." He indicated the other beside him with a tilt of his head. "Mate: Zegedrigthi."

"Zehathk. Zegedrigthi." Tonia tried the alien names a few more times silently.

"Pleased to meet you," Farr said. He acknowledged them with a slight bow.

"You want sspeak. You... lissten?" He narrowed his eyes at them. "Other sspeak. Not lissten."

"The captain believes Norseen are naturally inclined toward deception," Farr explained.

"But we will listen," Tonia said. "You said that you flee war."

"Confederacy live for conquesst. Desire rule over other worldss. Believe ssuperior. Those not ssupport, executed for dissloyalty."

"So, you don't support your government's war with the Earth Union?" Farr asked.

Zehathk threw his head up, and Tonia wondered what the gesture meant. "We not ssupport conquesst. We wissh peace for offsspring." His arms and legs still bound, Zehathk pushed away from the wall and slithered across the floor toward the grate. Using his claws, Zehathk climbed the grate until he was eye level with Tonia. Her eyes locked on the Norseen's, half again larger than hers, his pupils mere slivers. "We wissh peace!"

"Zehathk!" the other Norseen cried, and hissed. Zehathk's eyes shifted away from Tonia's, now looking over and beyond her.

"Back against the wall," commanded the captain's voice. Tonia whipped her head around, her heart pounding in her surprise. Farr was now on his feet, and Captain O'Donnell stood there with Lieutenant Madison behind him, a stunner aimed at the Norseen. Doctor Lynch approached from the security office, a hypojector in hand. "Stand up and step away, Ensign," he said, less demanding, but still very much firm.

"We wissh peace!" Zehathk entreated as Tonia slowly did as ordered.

"I think they speak the truth, Captain," Farr said.

"Well, I don't! Was the last two months peace to you?"

"These two don't speak for the Confederacy. In fact, they explicitly said -"

"You're dismissed, Ensign. You don't need to be here."

Farr stepped back, as if he had just taken a hit to the face. Tonia met his eyes and nodded that she would be okay. Farr nodded back and left the brig.

The whole time, O'Donnell kept his eyes on Zehathk, the Norseen still holding onto the grate. "We'll find out for sure if you're really telling the truth. Get back against the wall." When he didn't move, the captain turned to the lieutenant. "Low setting."

"Captain, please," Tonia begged. Next thing she knew, a pair of blue bolts hit the grate. Tonia jumped back as the charge shot along the metal and repelled a growling Zehathk to the floor.

O'Donnell took the stunner from Madison and stepped up to the cell door. The lieutenant stepped over to the console behind Tonia. "Our truth serum," the captain told Zehathk, "has never been tested on Norseen. Is that right, Bill?" He turned to the doctor, who merely nodded, then back to the prisoner. "It might not do anything. Or it might cause severe brain damage. It could even kill you. We don't know, but we'll find out." A grin more chilling than the Norseen's sinister eyes appeared on the captain's face.

"Not know... missing human location," Zehathk said.

"We will see."

"Please, Captain, this isn't necessary!"

O'Donnell ignored her and nodded to Madison. The cell door slid open. Zegedrigthi struggled to her feet, hissing. O'Donnell turned the stunner on her and fired. She fell back with a trilling cry.

Zehathk growled and started pushing himself onto his feet. O'Donnell swung the stunner on him. "Bill, go."

"Tonia, your assistance, please," Lynch said as he entered the cell.

Tonia found herself frozen in place, watching the scene play out before her. The captain not caring if the truth serum killed the Norseen. The Norseen being mistreated. She had to stop this, but how? What could she do?

"Ensign Korlova," Lynch called to her again, jarring her from her thoughts. "Your assistance."

She stepped toward the cell, then stopped herself as she realized what the order involved. She looked between the doctor and the two Norseen. In the last four months, she had never considered disregarding any of Lynch's orders. But these Norseen only sought a peaceful future for their young - something all parents of every sentient species sought. She could not participate in a procedure that could kill them. She took a deep breath. "I cannot, Doctor," she said, determined to hold her ground.

Lynch continued to study her for a moment longer. His eyes hard at first, but softened as he understood her position. He called for the lieutenant instead. While Madison approached the cell, Tonia whispered an apology to the Norseen and left the brig.

Tonia stopped in the security office and, keeping her eyes off the monitors, listened to the audio feed. Lynch had already given Zehathk a shot. O'Donnell asked his questions. Where were the missing humans? What were their government's attack plans? Weaknesses on their warships. Zehathk replied, unsatisfactory to O'Donnell, so he ordered another shot. Still, O'Donnell was unsatisfied. Zehathk began uttering a hissing groan. Lynch reported a highly increased blood supply to the brain, dangerously high strain on the neural system. There was fierce cry as Zehathk's mate tried once again to rush the captain, followed by the zap of the stunner.

Tonia's vision blurred. She blinked and let the tears fall. She wondered if these Norseen would have felt the same way if it was her imprisoned and being tortured on a Norseen ship.

Zehathk's moaning increased to a shrieking cry. Then, ceased with such suddenness that Tonia finally turned back to the screens. Zehathk was no longer moving. "He's dead," Lynch said. "Brain hemorrhaging, looks like."

"Pity." O'Donnell looked up at the remaining Norseen. Zegedrigthi merely stared at her mate, not moving a muscle.

"What should we do with the other one?" Madison asked.

"Well, it can't understand us. It's no use to us." O'Donnell adjusted the stunner. Tonia gasped and spun away just as the stunner zapped. "Dissect them, Doctor. Learn what you can."

Tonia stood between two beds in a curtained-off section of med-bay. A six to seven-foot lizard on each. Their scales dulled with the absence of life. To her right, Zehathk; to her left, Zegedrigthi. Two Norseen with a different idea of living than rest of their kind, who would have raised their young with the same ideals. Whether or not they would have succeeded, who knows, but now they wouldn't have a chance. She should have tried to stop them. Even if she had to take the stunner and turn it on the captain. She should have made them understand! Now, Doctor Lynch was going to dissect them in the morning, learn their biology, genetic makeup. Information that could be used to kill.


"In here, Farr." She glanced back at the curtain. Farr pushed it aside, then pulled it back into place when he was through.

"I went back to the brig to talk with them some more, and Lieutenant Madison told me what happened. Are they...?"

She nodded and turned back to the Norseen. "They are dead. I should have stopped it. They may not be dead now had I tried more."

"Nothing would have changed, except that you would be in the next cell right now."

"Small enough price. At least I would have tried." Tonia told Farr the captain's dissection orders. "What we learn here could be used to create bio-weapons. Bio-weapons that will kill Norseen, perhaps more like these two, who prefer peace over conquest." She shook her head hard, her mind made up. "I cannot let that happen." She turned and met Farr's turquoise eyes. He nodded his agreement and looked over the bodies.

"What are those bulges?"

Tonia turned to Zegedrigthi's body, the bulges under her chin still present. "I don't know." She stepped up to the head and ran gentle, probing fingers over the bulges. The scales hung loose from the skull and neck. She felt around the bulges, making out a wedge-shaped head, a long body, four limbs, a tail that ended in a point. "It feels like a lizard." She reached around to the other bulge and felt around. The same as the first.

Tonia picked up the laser scalpel from the table between the beds. She set it on the lowest setting and carved along the top of the left bulge. When she had a big enough opening, she put down the scalpel and pulled back the flap until a small Norseen, no more than ten centimeters in length, emerged onto her cupped hands. Her heart leaped at the enormity of the implication. They had just orphaned - or murdered! - two young Norseen - two Norseen who would have been raised to accept a life of peace.

"My God," Farr whispered as he came to the same realization.

Tonia put down the scalpel and reached for the hand scanner.

"Is it...?" he asked softly

"I have faint lifesigns," she said with the same softness. "Hold out your hand, Farr." He extended his good arm, and she gave him the baby. Then, she traded the scanner for the scalpel and opened the other pouch. With the second baby in one hand, Tonia scanned it with the other. "They're both alive. I guess their mother took most of the charges from the stunner." Silence hung between them as they contemplated the two baby Norseen. The babies whose parents they had killed and were about to use to produce bio-weapons. "I cannot allow their parents to be dissected."

They placed the babies in a bio-matter sample container. While Farr took the container to his quarters for safe-keeping, Tonia transferred the adults to the morgue and placed them in the furnace for cremation.

Tonia came to Farr's quarters the following evening. The morning after cremating the adults, Doctor Lynch found out about her defiance and relieved her of duty. Then, Captain O'Donnell found out when he asked for a progress report on the dissection, and she was called to meet with him and the doctor. She reported and tendered her resignation.

"Recent events have demonstrated that I do not belong here," she had explained. "If we torture those who could have been friends, then this is an organization that I want no part in."

She touched the door chime. "Who is it?" came Farr's casual voice. She called her name, and the door opened. Like her, Farr shared his quarters with another junior officer. He kept the young Norseen in his dresser during the night.

She found him in his division, sitting on his bed. He held the babies in his good hand and stroked them with his thumb. The bag of flakes was on the bed beside him, which he had swiped from the security office on his way out. They exchanged smiles. "How are they?" she asked softly.

"Sleeping," he answered as she joined him, matching her volume. "It's a pity my brother isn't here. He's got a thing for lizards." A companionable silence hung between them as they watched the babies sleep. "How did your meeting with the captain go?"

"He accepted my resignation. I'll be leaving the ship when we reach Eridanus. I'll take them with me and raise them."

"At the colony? You won't be able to keep them concealed forever."

Tonia nodded. "I know. Before they're too big to be concealed, I'll move away from the colony and raise them alone. It will be difficult, but I'll manage."

"I'll keep in touch. Let me know if you need anything." They held each other's eyes a moment longer. Then, she put her arms around his body and leaned in against him.


  1. Mankind's legacy of war
    War crimes
    Seeds of hope planted in the end.

    Nicely spun little tale

  2. Engaging from start to finish. Nice read.