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Traveller of Both
Time and Space: Episode 7
A voice in the dark. Chandramatie Bahl’s?
Yes. Definitely. He turned towards it.
Raja Shamshir Talatra….
As he moved closer, he felt warmer. He felt weightless.
He opened his eyes. A soft white light enveloped him. He was floating in the white light, floating somewhere warm.
Chandramatie Bahl leaned over him, her deep black eyes staring into his. Her lips did not move, but he heard her voice inside his head. Raja, it is good to have you back.
He tried to speak, but his lips hesitated, as if they had been asked to do something they had not done in a very long time. Then they remembered how to perform their task. “It’s good to be back,” he said, his voice slurred but much stronger than he had expected it to be.
Another face appeared above him. It was a lean, gray face, with a slit for a mouth, a slight ridge for a nose, and red eyes similar to his own. “Good rising to you, Raja,” the alien face said, in Shamshir Talatra’s native tongue.
Shamshir Talatra crushed the alien’s throat with a swift, unstoppable blow. With a gasping screech, it fell back, out of his sight. He heard its limbs thrashing as it asphyxiated.
“Raja, NO!” Chandramatie Bahl—if it really was her—screamed and grabbed his wrists as he floated naked several feet above the floor in a gray metal room. He flailed about, trying to stand as she grappled him, but he was caught in an anti-gravity field that held him up but gave him nothing to push against. As they struggled, he caught a glimpse of several aliens, robed in blue, cowering nearby.
“I warned you, female,” an electronic voice said, in the Tigers’ language. Plastic-shod boots, coming closer, clacked against metal.
“Don’t shoot!” she replied. “He’s disor—” A moment’s distraction was all Shamshir Talatra needed. He yanked her across himself, both of them crashing to the smooth, warm floor.
As he tried to stand, something seared the back of his neck. Grimacing through the pain, he looked up. Standing over him was another alien, this one armed with a thin rod whose bulbous end glowed red. Behind the alien were several armored figures leveling long rifles of familiar design at him.
The alien’s lips moved and a moment later the same electronic voice translated its words into High Ghuyarashtran: “The very sight of you creatures nauseates me.” The alien drew his booted foot back to kick him in the face. Shamshir Talatra had suffered many, many kicks before, and this one was not anywhere near the most formidable. He caught the foot as it came, twisted it, and yanked, sending the alien sprawling.
“Raja!” Something hard slammed into him as several pulse rifles fired at once. He rolled, then jumped to his feet. Chandramatie Bahl had knocked him out of the way. She stood, unhurt, between him and the aliens. She raised her hands, palms outwards. Stop this, Raja! she implored him. The situation is not as it must appear to you.
Climbing to his feet, the leader shouted something in his own language and the Tau Fire Warriors trained their weapons on Shamshir Talatra again. Chandramatie Bahl backed up, shielding him. “On behalf of my master, I beg pardon for this…error. He is—”
“Yes, errors have been—and continue to be—made, Chandramatie Bahl.”
At the sound of this voice, the aliens lowered their weapons and kowtowed, eyes closed. Accompanied by a bodyguard of Fire Warriors, a silver-robed Tau approached. Pressing both palms together before her face, Chandramatie Bahl tipped her head in greeting. Shamshir Talatra crossed his arms and held the new alien’s gaze.
“Ethereal Aun Elsy’eir Kor,” said Chandramatie Bahl, “please allow me the pleasure of introducing you to Raja Shamshir Talatra, co-regent of the Fighting Tigers of Veda.”
“Welcome, Raja,” the Ethereal said. “I hope my translation device adequately conveys the joy I feel upon seeing your recovery. I came at once upon notification that you had awakened. I am appalled to discover that a miscommunication has resulted in a terrible misunderstanding, which has, regrettably, resulted in disagreement. Please accept my heartfelt apologies. An investigation shall be forthcoming, and corrective actions taken.”
The Ethereal turned to his followers and spoke in their language. The Tau rose to their feet, eyes open but lowered.
Shamshir Talatra looked around for a moment. “Where am I? What’s going on?”
“We are guests aboard a Larshi-class starship belonging to the Tau Alliance,” Chandramatie Bahl said. “The ship is part of a fleet sent to rescue a group of Tau expeditioners who had fallen into the hands of the very Red Corsairs we engaged. Shortly after our victory over the Corsairs, Tiger and Tau forces…met.”
“Another regrettable communications error, swiftly rectified,” the Ethereal added.
“Once the…communications error was resolved, the Ethereal graciously offered the services of his physicians to tend to our wounded. I accepted on your behalf.”
“Where are my Marines now?” Shamshir Talatra asked.
“Conducting a search around the Corsairs’ camp for any Renegades who may have escaped or were not present at the time of our attack. The Ethereal has graciously offered us his soldiers and sensors to assist in the search.”
“We don’t need any help, especially from aliens,” Shamshir Talatra replied. “I want my armor and weapons, immediately. Then I want a full briefing from you, Bahl, within the hour—” He glanced over at the Ethereal. “—privately. After that, I want off this vessel and back to our camp.”
“I hear and obey, Raja,” she said, bowing.
“We would be pleased to continue providing hospitality and services to you—and we would be happy to extend the same to your troops, Raja Shamshir Talatra,” Ethereal Aun Elsy’eir Kor said. “The Tau Alliance is devoted to peace, cultural understanding, and cooperation for mutual benefit. Let us grieve together for our losses against our common enemy and share our knowledge so that those losses need not be in vain. While you have been recuperating, Chandramatie Bahl has been availing herself of our facilities and personnel and has, if I may say, expressed that her recent experiences in our company have been not uninteresting or disagreeable.”
“Shas’el Sa’cea Shi Varkoo,” she said, indicating the alien that had tried to kick Shamshir Talatra, “has been my liaison. From our discussions, I have learned much about the Tau, Raja.”
“I thought you didn’t like the sight of us,” Shamshir Talatra smirked.
The alien’s eyes met Shamshir Talatra’s. “The Ethereal required me to attend to Chandramatie Bahl. Surely you, as a soldier, understand the concept of obeying orders and performing one’s duty.”
“I am a Marine,” Shamshir Talatra snapped. “An Imperial Space Marine. Not a mere ‘soldier.’”
“Perhaps our translation devices require more fine-tuning,” Ethereal Aun Elsy’eir Kor replied. “Any perceived disrespect was, of course, completely unintentional.”
“No doubt,” Shamshir Talatra said.
“Please consider our offer, Raja Shamshir Talatra,” the Ethereal said. “The possibilities for enrichment—for Tau and Fighting Tigers alike—are many. From the little I have learned about your magnificent organization, it would appear that we have many characteristics in common.”
“Pig dung,” Shamshir Talatra growled.
The Ethereal looked to Shas’el Varkoo, who stood still and silent. “I am afraid my translation device did not correctly interpret your reply,” the Ethereal said. “Please grant me the favor of responding using alternate vocabulary selections.”
“Pig. Dung.” Shamshir Talatra said. “‘Many characteristics in common?’ We have nothing in common with you alien filth. You insult us by suggesting it.”
Raja, this is tremendously unwise, Chandramatie Bahl’s telepathy told him.
“I’m tired of you wasting my time, you blabbering, gray-faced baboon,” he continued, pointing at Ethereal Aun Elsy’eir Kor. “I’m going to repeat myself just once: I want my gear, and then I want off this garbage scow. Now.”
Shas’el Varkoo’s eyes slid sideways to meet the Ethereal’s glance.
“A grave misjudgment has been made,” Ethereal Aun Elsy’eir Kor stated. “We deeply regret that you have chosen to leave us so soon, Raja Shamshir Talatra. Shas’el Varkoo will attend to your departure.”
“Assuredly,” Varkoo replied, bowing.
As the Ethereal and his entourage filed out of the room, the medical team followed the Ethereal. Shas’el Varkoo and his Fire Warriors remained behind.
“Raja, I must protest,” Chandramatie Bahl whispered. “This course of action is counterproductive. The Tau’s technology is equal to or superior to our own. Furthermore, this particular detachment practices a unique style of warfare that relies heavily on aircraft. By engaging them in dialogue, we could learn much that would benefit ourselves and the Imperium. We—”
“When I speak, I say what I mean. And I never take back what I say,” Shamshir Talatra replied. “I don’t trust this Aun Elsy’eir Kor and I don’t need him. Now, let’s—”
The door to the sickbay slid shut behind the last Tau civilian. “Now you die, alien filth,” Shas’el Varkoo snarled, and the Warriors fired.
Posted May 2005.
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