Authors: Christie Meierz
Into Tolari Space
The First Contact Stories
Into Tolari Space
The First Contact Stories
copyright © 2012 Christie Meierz
copyright © 2012 Christie Meierz
All Rights Reserved
Cover design by
Into Tolari Space
is a work of fiction. It is a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, organizations, or events is coincidental.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced without the author’s permission, with the exception of short excerpts used for the purposes of reviews.
Also by Christie Meierz:
(Tales of Tolari Space #1)
Heartfelt thanks go to my husband for believing in me always; my faithful reader Racheal Kline; fellow author
and the current active members of the Pittsburgh Worldwrights who graciously allow me in their midst:
Barton Paul Levenson
John A. Frochio
and Michelle Markey Butler.
And now, the Tolari were calling. The Tolari never called. How could they?
Smithton searched for his shoes. His wife appeared in the doorway, a vision in pink, her loose blouse matching her floor-length skirt. Soft brown eyes twinkled in a flawless face. He didn’t think the blond hair was natural, but he didn’t ask. His first wife taught him that. It had been a painful lesson.
“I’m coming,” he grunted, his bass voice like gravel. He sat on the edge of the bed and shoved his feet into his shoes, using his fingers as shoehorns.
Addie flashed a bright smile and wiggled as she returned to their sitting room. He paused to admire her retreating bottom in spite of his hurry.
but she was sexy. She was sixteen years younger than he was, and she had to have married him for his family’s old money. He didn’t care if she had, as long as she stayed in his bed and out of anyone else’s. She’d been faithful. So far.
With his shoes on his feet, he examined his solid, stocky frame in the full-length mirror on the closet door and shook his head. There wasn’t much extra weight on him, but his build made him look heavy. Most people tho
ught him portly on first sight.
He dragged his thoughts back to the
task at hand and followed his wife, adjusting his collar as he walked. “All right, Addie,” he said. “Let’s go.”
“The signal is coming in on a Terosha frequency.” She put on her ambassadorial aide face as they left their cabin and headed for the
bridge. “It’s originating in a large building in a province near the equator. Looks like they kept whatever communication device the Terosha left.”
He nodded, preoccupied with reviewing Tolari protocols, but there was no more time for reflection. The door slid open. A Tolari face graced the bridge monitor as he walked in with Addie on his arm like an ornament.
The Tolari, he already knew, were humanoid. They were so humanoid, in fact, it would be possible to dress them in human clothing and drop them into the middle of New York City, and no one would look twice. Parallel evolution! It had been all over the interplanetary news networks. Central Command responded by putting the system off-limits to private and commercial vessels. Only Earth Fleet ships like the
were allowed within two light years of Tolar’s star, Beta Hydri. The media whined as much as it dared, and a few entrepreneurs disappeared under mysterious circumstances, but the interdict stuck.
The face on
the display belonged to a man wearing a very pale shade of lavender. White embroidery covered his garment, or what could be seen of it, since the image cut off just below the shoulders. The Admiral was speaking to him. Smithton wondered how in damnation John had managed to transition from sound sleep to impeccable Earth Fleet admiral in less time than it took Smithton to shave.
Damn Tolari calling in the middle of the damn night.
Addie derailed his line of thought. “He’s not showing
,” she murmured.
She was right. The face on the monitor was unreadable. The Admiral turned at the sound of her voice and beckoned to Smithton.
“High one, I present to you Smithton Adler Russell, Earth’s Ambassador to Tolar,” the Admiral said in halting Tolari as Smithton stepped up beside him.
? Smithton swallowed and remained silent.
was clear in his memory from the Terosha drills on protocol. Never, ever, speak first to a Tolari high one. Wait, as long as it takes. Smithton waited.
The face relaxed into an expression of pleased surprise. “I
am the Monral. I rule Monralar.”
or me, high one,” Smithton said. “How may I serve you?”
“I offer an invitation. Visit my stronghold. Stay a few days. We have much to discuss.”
Smithton broke into a friendly smile. “Earth is honored by the opportunity to make your acquaintance. When may we arrive?”
“I am at your disposal when it is night in my province,” he said. “I do not wish my neighbors to be ... alarmed ... by your arrival.”
“You may bring one companion,” the Monral continued. “An aide or advisor.”
Smithton hesitated. Central Command protocol forbid high-ranking diplomats to visit a newly-contacted planet without an escort.
“I pledge my life to your safety, Ambassador,” the Monral said, seeming to guess the reason for his hesitance. “I will walk into the dark before I allow you to come to harm.”
Smithton rocked back on his heels. The Terosha information could be a little vague on most Tolari customs, but it was very clear about what constituted an insult. It would be a potent insult to doubt the Monral’s word after he pledged his life on it.
“You honor me, high one,” Smithton said. “I will arrive after nightfall.”
The Monral made a gesture, and the connection went dead. The bridge monitor cut to a view of the planet below them.
It was an arresting sight.
Tolar was so unspoiled, so pristine, populated by a technologically-backward people, a race of scholars and farmers and artisans with an ancient culture. And it occupied a curiously unclaimed bubble of space between the A’aan’, the Kekrax, and the Fer. A perfect location for a trade hub.
“Well?” prompted the Admiral.
Vice Admiral John Howard was a trim man in his mid-fifties, medium in height and grey of hair, regarding him with piercing grey eyes. Howard was also studying Tolari, but it was a fiendish language, complex and tonal. The difference between a polite greeting and an exhortation to stick a hand in a jar of sea water was determined not just by whether the speaker’s tone was rising or falling, but by how far it rose or fell. Subtle inflections indicated whether the speaker was addressing a superior, an equal, or an inferior.
had needed an exhausting year of intensive study to master it, even with the vocabulary implants provided for a steep fee by Earth’s nearest neighbors in the Trade Alliance, the insectoid Terosha Federation. He knew the Admiral could have understood little of the conversation.
“Addie and I are going down there for a few days,” he said. “Alone.”
Howard crossed his arms over his chest, his face set. “Not a chance. If anything happens to you, I’ll be court-martialed for letting you go down without an escort. And I’ll deserve it.”
“Damn it, John, that was a provincial ruler on the call. He pledged his life we would be safe. It puts his honor on the line. If we doubt his word, it’s an insult. A grave one.”
“I can’t let you do it, Smit.”
“Then I’ll have to call him back and explain I can’t accept his invitation because my damn government’s damned idiot protocols won’t allow me to meet his conditions, and Earth ends up insulting a Tolari monarch. What a great way to promote peace and good will.”
The Admiral snorted. “You diplomats are a real pain in the ass, you know that?”
Smithton gave his old friend a smug grin. Then he rubbed his face. “What time is it in Monralar?” he asked. “I’d like to get some more sleep before we go, if I can.”
“Midday, sir,” said a voice behind him. It was the young lieutenant at comms.
Smithton grunted his thanks and headed back to his quarters to sleep, Addie in tow.
* * *
The Monral leaned back into his chair and allowed himself a satisfied smile. This was a promising start. The humans would be arriving at full dark to negotiate with him. With
, the Monral, right under the Sural’s nose and without his knowledge. He chuckled to himself at the thought of what the Sural could do when he discovered a long-time enemy had brokered an agreement with the Trade Alliance’s most powerful race. Nothing. His smile broadened. The Sural would be compelled by honor to keep the agreement. It would gall him.
Irritating the Sural, the provincial ruler of Suralia and anointed leader of Tolar’s ruling caste, was
merely a welcome bonus. Undermining the Sural’s authority was his main purpose. The Sural had ruled Tolar long enough. The Jorann should let someone else take power.
Someone like the Monral.
He’d spent the last fifty years building and strengthening alliances all over the planet, at the same time doing whatever he could to undermine the Sural’s rule without being traced. When the time came, the ruling caste would see the wisdom of returning to conventional rule, with the Monral as the obvious choice to lead them. The Sural could still keep his province of Suralia, and rumor had it he was not ambitious, that he ruled Tolar only because the Jorann had decreed he would.
The Jorann. The Mother of all Tolari. She could do as she pleased, and what she had a history of being pleased to do was to avoid interfering in the affairs of her children, with the notable exception of anointing her grandchildren to lead the ruling caste. One of them appeared every several hundreds of years or so, upsetting the balance of power along with the ambitions of many provincial rulers.
What the Jorann could do, she could also undo. She could decree that the Sural was no longer the planetary ruler, if she could be convinced to do it.
There was no other way to unseat the man. The Jorann’s grandchildren ruled as long as they wished, and the Sural was no exception. He was impossible to assassinate. Even if someone could get through his stronghold defenses – not a realistic objective, given the absurd number of guards
serving him – he was unkillable. There wasn’t a ruler alive who could match the kind of speed and strength of which he was capable. He was in his prime, fully triggered, fully alert, not yet allowing himself to age: a very, very dangerous individual. If ever he allowed himself to become old and doddering, then the Monral, an expert fighter like every ruler on Tolar, might be able to kill him. As it was, the Sural could kill an assassin before that assassin even knew he was there.
The Monral sighed and pushed himself up from his chair. It was time to prepare his stronghold
staff for the humans’ arrival.
* * *
The pilot guided the shuttle down at the steepest safe angle of descent, coming in over the ocean toward the coast of Monralar to minimize the chance of being seen by and frightening the Monral’s neighbors. It was a rough ride, and he offered profuse apologies once he was able to level out into a smooth descent onto the roof of the massive fortress that was the Monral’s stronghold.
“Don’t worry about it, Commander,” Smithton told him. “I’ve been through plenty of worse.”
Addie agreed by nodding with a solemn expression and wide eyes. The commander laughed and released the shuttle’s hatch. Smithton climbed out of his seat, slung both their travel bags over one shoulder, and stepped out onto the stronghold roof, Addie right behind him. An ominous creak under their feet broke the quiet. He grabbed Addie’s hand and pulled her away from the sagging stonework, shouting at the pilot to get back into the air before that section of the ceiling fell on the stronghold’s inhabitants. The hatch whooshed shut as the pilot sent the small vessel into an emergency lift-off. It rocketed straight up, hovered a moment as if the pilot was making sure the roof wasn’t collapsing, then headed for orbit.
Smithton breathed a sigh of relief. Addie waved at the departing shuttle, though the pilot couldn’t possibly see them. He shook his head. Women.
Wondering where the welcoming party was, he looked around just as a head appeared through a corner of the roof. He stared, then realized that the head was attached to a Tolari emerging from a stairwell. He took Addie’s arm and led her in that direction.
The young male Tolari stopped before them, a welcoming expression lighting his face. Smithton would have judged him to be in his early twenties, if he were human. He was of moderate height, with knee-length black hair tied into elaborate knots, and dark eyes set in a dark-skinned face that was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. His robe, a loose, long-sleeved affair waving in the gentle breeze, was trimmed at the collar and cuffs with white embroidery. Slippers peeked out from under the robe. With a warm smile, Smithton bowed and remained silent. He was uncertain of the young man’s rank, and it was better to be safe.
“I am Farric,” he said, “legal heir to Monralar.”
Smithton’s smile grew broader. He was being greeted by the Tolari equivalent of a prince.
“You honor me, high one. My name is Smithton Russell, and this is my aide and bond-partner, Adeline.”
Farric nodded and gestured toward the stairs. “You may leave your bags here for the servants. My father awaits you in his audience room. Follow me.”
Smithton dropped the bags and followed him down the long stairwell to a curved corridor hung with colored banners. Addie’s head swiveled from one side to the other as she admired them.
“Each banner represents a province allied with my father,” Farric said.
“Your bond-partner does not understand me?”
He shook his head. “She is studying your language, but few of us speak it yet,” he explained. “With respect, it is challenging.”
Farric’s smile made his face much more pleasant. “Yes,” he said, stopping at a doorway. “This is the audience room. Remain at the door until my father bids you come forward.”