(And the Polynesian Space Marines didn't make it into this piece....)
“Captain,” protested the Chief Navigation Officer with all the formal reserve of a senior naval officer on duty and addressing a superior, “you cannot go abducting children from newly contacted cultures simply because you believe them to be savages.”
“Why not?” Captain Rorsthorm had his hands clasped behind his back. The tailored uniform tailcoat suited him and the decorations declared that he was the possessor of a successful naval career, an impeccable Norstrian pedigree and a full, voting party membership.
“Do you really want a reputation as a man who steals children?” The Chief Navigation Officer let one ice-blonde eyebrow raise just a fraction. His expression remained otherwise cold and he looked exactly like a stock picture of a party official of good bloodline appointed to the services.
“This is a scientific study, and a completely different matter,” replied the Captain. “They’ll go straight down to the Science Department where the necessary classification studies can be undertaken before we send our data packet back to Fleet Headquarters. It’ll be commendations all round for getting the integration process underway quickly.”
At that point the ship’s actual political officer rapped on the bridge’s doorframe to request admittance.
The captain looked over at him and his accompanying shore team, “Do you have them?”
“Oh, yes,” said the political officer, “we do. Even the two you selected on our visit to the village.” He stepped aside to show two brown skinned adolescents, one of each of the usual apparent genders. “I still question the wisdom of this course of action, sir. There are far too many things we don’t know about this planet yet.”
“Science will give us the answers we need,” said Captain Rorsthorm confidently. “Take the children down to Science and let them get started.”
“Have you told the Chief Science Officer what you expect him to do?” The Chief Navigation Officer sounded bleak, but he always sounded bleak.
“He will receive his orders when the children are on the way down to him. He’s Navy and Party,” Rorsthorm slid that one in because he could tweak the noses of both these semi-independent officers with it at the same time. “He can follow orders, and he’ll see the necessity.”
“Sir, these are people.” The political officer was being carefully deferential now.
“Not unless and until the classification studies show that they fit within the Party’s parameters,” said Captain Rorsthorm genially. “Either way, my co-operative staff and I are looking at promotions out of this.”
The adolescent girl chose that moment to speak in a burst of vowel-heavy syllables pronounced precisely and ending on a rising note.
Even as every Navigation staff member on the Bridge, including the man who’d helped guide the shore team’s pinnace to the surface and back, turned to look at her Captain Rorsthorm said, “See, savages. Nothing like a civilised language at all!”
In the shore team the Petty Officer Navigator suddenly shoulder charged sideways into the two men who were behind the children and said something sharp and peremptory in what sounded like the same language the girl had used. Both children sprinted into the Bridge and took shelter behind the Navigation Desk that was currently supporting a holographic display of the inner solar system. The Petty Officer Navigator managed to follow them onto the Bridge but he took a position shoulder to shoulder with the Chief Navigation Officer and the other two Navigation Officers who were on duty and had come forward to join their Chief.
The Chief Navigation Officer said very precisely, “Captain, this is now a Navigation Guild matter and we cannot permit you to continue with your intended course of action.” Behind the line of four men facing down the Captain there were four other Navigators, all of them at the Navigation Desk with the children now. Two Petty Officer Navigators were working on the Desk and the other two, a Petty Officer Navigator and a Leading Hand were doing something under the Desk in its supports.
Captain Rorsthorm said, “What do you think you’re going to do, Chief Navigation Officer? The Navigation Guild is a long way away but I am here.” He smiled nastily.
At the same time the political officer said, “I’m going to rouse the First Officer,” but everyone ignored him, even when he went to the communications desk, leaned over the duty communications specialist and started frantically pushing buttons himself.
The Chief Navigation Officer replied with his usual cold precision, “Captain, if we are here, then the Navigation Guild is here. If you persist in attempting to conduct classification studies on any native or other inhabitant of this planet, then I will strand you and your ship here.”
“You can’t do that.” Captain Rorsthorm’s voice was flat. “You or political can take the specimen individuals to Science and I’ll have the commission of the other one. Matters will proceed in accordance with my orders. I would point out that the children don’t have to be alive when they get to Science.
”Gentlemen,” the Chief Navigation Officer’s voice had picked up an extra note of….something, “dump the ship’s Navigation Core.” He added to the Captain, “None of you are going home now. Ever.”
“Stop them!” The command was aimed at the rest of the Bridge crew who’d been torn between professional self-protecting disinterest and mounting disquieted concern.
The children dropped down behind the Navigation Table. The two men who’d been doing something in the supports of the Table stood up, each armed with a heavy anti-personnel long arm that they handled competently. The Chief Navigation Officer raised a hand to point at the Captain, to make a point that gentleman assumed, but the point turned out to be a handgun that the Chief Navigation Officer apparently kept up his sleeve in a spring-loaded holster.
“You have two other shifts of Navigators on my ship who aren’t here,” Captain Rorsthorm was seethingly furious. “How are you going to protect them from me?”
“Protect us from what, sir?” That was the Navigation Second Shift Senior Officer calmly walking onto the Bridge without asking permission, armed with another handgun, as were the other Navigation Officers with him. The other ranks Navigators had more of the heavy anti-personnel weapons and the Captain wondered with a sudden chill what else they had. “Chief, the Core backups have been derendered as per protocol. Are we doing this?”
“We are, Second, much as I would prefer another option.” The Chief Navigation Officer added, “Third we’re leaving. Open it up.”
The Bridge crew watched in astonishment as the Navigators opened the access to the Bridge emergency evacuation pinnace without triggering the alarms and started filing in with the children. The two Petty Officer Navigators working on the Navigation Table finished what they were doing and the Table stopped working, So did half of each of the helm consoles.
As the helmsmen were frantically trying to get their positional data back from any of the remaining on-board systems, and the remaining Navigators withdrew across the Bridge to the emergency pinnace, the ship’s First Officer arrived at the entrance to the Bridge still in sleeping shorts and a wrap. “I go off duty to sleep and what happens?” He surveyed the half-dead consoles, the armed men, the open evacuation exit, and asked, “Barratry, Chief Navigation Officer?”
“Only if we were taking your ship,” replied the Chief Navigation Officer, his hand gun still directed at Captain Rorsthorm. “My report will centre on refusing to obey an unlawful order leading to a withdrawal of services, as set out in the Navigation Guild’s contract with your government.” He was still moving backwards, and as he reached the entrance to the pinnace he added, “Good luck. You’re going to need it.”
Then he was gone into the pinnace, the airlock closed, and the First Officer had the presence of mind to order, “Emergency hull seal – there’s no airlock on our side!”
The emergency system sealed the hull breech left as the pinnace pulled away just in time. “If you will permit me, Captain,” said the First Officer, “I would like to put some clothes on before dealing with the current crisis.” Rorsthom just stood there, looking at where the pinnace had been attached to the ship. “Ah…. Helm, can we maintain orbit with what we have left?”
On the pinnace Chief’s Daughter A’lilia was asking in her own tongue, “But what happened? Who are you? How do you speak our language? What did you do to your ship?”
Her friend, Hu’i, said, “They fly through space, A’lilia. May be they can learn languages with a thought?”
The Chief Navigation Officer flexed mouth and tongue muscles stiffened from speaking Norstrian and replied in the language his man had used to the children, “Lady, I am Senior Wayfinder Paule Hinneke of the Tokerau line of the A’motawa family from Toro Aporo. Our paramount chiefs signed a contract with the Norstrian government to guide their ships through the stars because we didn’t want to give them our navigation data. Today the captain violated the terms of our agreement and I withdrew our services.”
A’lilia sat up very straight on her bench, copying her father’s posture when he did official business in a chiefly audience. “Are you a chief among your people that you have such authority to act on behalf of your paramount chiefs?”
The Senior Wayfinder bowed slightly. “I have the authority of a war subchief, Lady, and these men are my warband.”
“You look like the rest of the crew of that ship,” she said accusingly. “You all do.”
“We were picked for this mission partly because we look like we fit their racial physical ideals,” explained the Senior Wayfinder. “They would not have been as happy to have us on their ships if we had long, dark hair up in buns and brown skins marked out with tatau,” he shrugged, “but I do have cousins exactly like that.”
A’lilia giggled a little. “As do I. What happens now?”
“I send my people a message while we take you two home to your people, and then I imagine that our chiefs will talk to each other.” He smiled warmly for the first time in what seemed like years, “If only so my chiefs can apologise for any offence I may have caused.”
Hu’i gave an apologetic cough and said, “I’m sorry, sir, but what’s your red haired man doing?”
That made everyone in the cabin look at the Third Shift Leading Hand Navigator who was looking in a mirror and examining his short red hair. He looked up, feeling so many eyes on him and said, “What? I was just wondering how long it will take my hair to grow out. If I go home with it this short, my own mother won’t recognise me.” They laughed about that among themselves as they shed the uniforms that were no longer theirs and prepared to be diplomatic when the pinnace landed.