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Terra Incognita

Copyright © 2007 David E. Rutan

Here is a short story Terra Incognita in its entirety. Printed out at 1 1/2 line spacing, it's about 20 pages. It's about 5,300 words.


D. Eliot Rutan

Captain's Log of the Koplushian Spaceship Itsen: 18th day of the 6th month of the year 1082 of the Intelligence Era. We have been penetrating Sector 42 for nearly a month and are near our mission's mapping destination, a G-class star. To date we have not been challenged by anything which would explain the disappearance of five Alliance ships in this area, also termed the 'Unknown Sector.' I anticipate no problems exploring the star system ahead of us.

From the Journal of Shengek Barinium, Observer for the Koplushian Council. 1082, 6, 18. The crew of this ship is in good spirits as we approach our destination. I'm glad to be here, away from Koplushia for a while. Although I was told this when I was assigned to this mission, it's odd to think that during our month-long voyage, over 14 years have passed back home. Dad must be about sixty four now! I feel a little guilty at not staying to help rebuild, but I was assured that exploration was just as dangerous as living on Koplushia right now.

Shengek waited impatiently for the doors to open as the lift brought her up the few levels. She was alone in the lift, but then it was 7:01 in the morning. That meant she was already late according to the timestrip over the control panel. A quick pull brought her braided hair out of the collar of her long blazer. The voice of her father echoed in her mind. You're a Barinium, and that means dignity. She quickly stepped through the parting doors and hurried to the conference room.

As she entered she could see Captain Karpla, Commander Mugbee Elo, his first officer, and Cherino Mai, the ship's Astronomer. Others of the senior staff were also present. Shengek paused inside the door long enough to say, "Sorry I'm late Captain."
"It's good to see you, Observer Barinium," said the Captain. "I thought perhaps I neglected to tell you about this meeting."

"No sir, I turned in a little late." Shengek stepped to her place and took a seat, the whole time berating herself for spending so much time with the handsome Commander Elo. He was in his early thirties, just five years older than she, but had such interesting stories of his time in the Space Service. She picked up the sheaf of papers before her and pretended they were interesting.

The Captain continued. "Astronomer Cherino was just telling us about our destination. Please go on."

"Yes Captain," said the Nideen woman. "We've tracked eight planets in the system. Looks like that's it. The outer four are gas giants, and the inner four are solids, with the third one out looking promising. It definitely has an atmosphere and a good amount of water, only about a quarter is land in the form of several land masses."

Here Cherino put up a holographic graphic of the world in question. It rotated in the air above the table before them. At the mention of land masses, the view changed to one stripped of the cloud layer, so that the continents could be seen. To Shengek, one of them looked like an elongated side view of a human skull. She stifled a yawn that threatened to force her mouth open.

Cherino continued, "The axial tilt would give this planet noticeable seasons and the rate of rotation is well within parameters for life. The revolution about its primary is just a little less than our year. It has one large satellite."

"Any evidence of civilization?" It was Mugbee who now spoke.

"We've detected no radio emissions, and thus far have not seen any evidence of nighttime illumination. If there's civilization, it's pre industrial."

"Thank you. We'll be within probe launching range in a few days," said Karpla. "We should know more by then. Commander, providing the habitability checks out, I'd like you to lead a landing party. Our science teams will want to collect samples for study."

Mugbee nodded. "I'll start selecting a team."

Captain Karpla dismissed the meeting.

Shengek met Commander Elo later in the dining room after duty. The food on the Itsen was the usual fare: some rehydrated supplies from the beginning of their voyage, some fresh leafy greens from hydroponics and an ever increasing share of foodcubes. As she sat down at the plastic topped table, Shengek asked, "Any idea what they'll name the planet?"

Mugbee spoke between bites of his protein bar. "No idea, but I'm confident it will be appropriate." He smiled wryly as he motioned over Shengek's shoulder for someone.
She unwrapped her cutlery just as a young man in a lieutenant's uniform came to the table. At first Shengek thought it was a steward. "I'm fine," she said. Then seeing the uniform, "Oh, I'm sorry."

Mugbee, gesturing, introduced them. "Observer Shengek Barinium, I'd like to introduce Lt. Erui Thairk. He's the ship's linguist."

"Please to meet you, Lieutenant," she said.

Mugbee motioned for Thairk to sit. He did so. "I thought it would be good for you to meet in case you end up on the landing party."

"I'm hoping we find some sort of civilization down there," interjected Thairk. "I'm hoping to add to my collection."

"What is it you collect, Lieutenant?"

"Languages, of course. I already speak Breehah, Vritian, Nideen, Onifian, Normian…"

"Enough," said Elo. "Go back to your table, Lieutenant." Thairk rose, looking flustered and returned to his table along the back wall.

"Needn't be so brusk with him, Mugbee."

Elo shrugged. "He asked me to introduce you, so I did. Besides, he was gawking at you." Elo smiled briefly.

"Was he? Well, he's only a few years my junior…"

Elo smiled again and leaned closer across the table. "Should I call him back over? What would your father think?"

Now Shengek smiled at Elo. He knew of her father's high position on the Koplushian Council and the propriotous attitude he had towards his only daughter. She spoke to Mugbee in equally low tones. "No need. I have good company here."

"Yea, and that's another thing," he said. "During the whole month we've been out here, I've never asked you. Why is an attractive woman such as yourself way out here instead of doing your duty to repopulate Koplushia?"

Shengek reddened visibly at the statement, partly from modesty and partly from anger from what Mugbee had said. "My father thought it best if I got off planet for a while and an assignment on an exploration vessel seemed appropriate. We're not so bad off back home that the women are made to be baby factories…"

Mugbee stopped and put his hand up. "I'm sorry, Sheng. I didn't mean it quite that way, but I know the Apocalypse decimated your population. That's got to be a setback."

"Koplushia isn't exactly a garden spot right now, but it will recover. Our space settlements are helping us out until that time comes." Her voice had trailed off. Then there was silence for a minute. Mugbee put down his fork slowly.

"I know. I'm sorry. Sometimes my mouth speaks faster than my brain."

Shengek flashed him a smile. "Only sometimes?"

Captain's Log of the Koplushian Spaceship Itsen: 20th day of the 6th month of the year 1082 of the Intelligence Era. We have entered orbit about the third planet of the G-class star. Our probes have confirmed the habitability of the planet and have discovered evidence of sentient life on the surface. I am putting Commander Elo in charge of a landing party to explore the area near one of the villages and, if possible, make first contact with the inhabitants.

From the Journal of Shengek Barinium, Observer for the Koplushian Council. 1082, 6, 20. I am to accompany the landing party to the surface! Mugbee says it's because the Captain wants an Observer there for the first contact. It will be nice to walk in fresh air on the surface of a green planet. I hope when I return to Koplushia that it will be green again.

The lander was pitching in the atmosphere and the motion threatened to make Shengek sick. She knew from the proximity of the ground in her viewer that the trip was almost over. The beige duty uniform she had been issued for this 'outing' was rough and chafed her armpits and neck. She longed for her soft clothes. At least an Observer's symbol had been affixed on the shirt above her left breast. She still had some dignity left. Oh no! A sudden tilt of the lander caused her to heave the contents of her stomach onto the floor. As would be typical, moments later, the ship settled down, landing vertically on the ground.

The engines died. Shengek unstrapped, and grabbed some paper towels from the overhead bin to clean up the mess, revulsion filling her as she did so. Mugbee, casually striding down the aisle with his co-pilot, Lt. Midje, saw her, and said, "Someone have an accident?"

"Yes. Me!" she fumed.

Mugbee motioned someone over. It was the Med-tech, Glorin Traid. "Let me help you with that," she said. Glorin looked to be past middle age. If she had been an explorer all along, Shengek wondered how much time had passed during her career if one figured in the effects of time dilation.

The two women finished up and then joined the others outside the ship. Mugbee greeted them with an announcement. "I'd like to welcome you all to planet G-V 42.53-III. And let us hope they rename it quickly as that one stinks!" Light laughter from the crew followed.

Shengek saw one of the specialists setting up a pole to test the air, and another was putting out small traps. A third specialist was taking samples of the plants immediately around the ship. Commander Elo, Lt. Thairk, and Lt. Midje were standing together near the cockpit end of the lander. Shengek and Glorin Traid walked over to them.

"If you're ready, we'll start off for our first objective," said Elo. "There's a small village or something just the other side of those hills."

"How long should it take to get there?" asked Thairk.

Mugbee shrugged. "Maybe an hour, if we push it."

"We didn't want to land too close and this meadow was perfect for set down," said Midje.
Mugbee hoisted his pack onto his shoulders. "If you've all got your gear, we'll get going."

The hike to the village took well over an hour. They had entered an area of trees choked with underbrush. It was hot and the flying bugs were voracious. Either the repellent they wore was ineffective or it was ineffective against these particular bugs. Shengek wondered if Mugbee hadn't purposely chosen this latitude because it supposedly resembled his homeworld of Vrit so well. The meadow they had set down in was filled with waist high grass, but here they were struggling to break through thick undergrowth. Mugbee stopped ahead.

"Thairk, get up here," she heard him whisper. There was something ahead of them, something low and hairy and painted with white and red streaks. If she was seeing the skin, it was dark olive in color. As Lt. Thairk approached it, he was making sounds. Was he trying to soothe it?

Suddenly the thing stood up. Shengek let out a small gasp.

"It looks human," said Traid.

And evidently male, thought Shengek.

As Thairk was trying to wave them to silence, Elo muttered, "Uwo Vhaim!"

The native quickly turned and disappeared into the undergrowth. "Damn!" said Thairk. He walked back to the group.

Elo consulted the tracker on his wrist. "We're very close to the village. Looks like we're dealing with humans." He adjusted his mag-rifle and checked it. Lt. Midge did the same. "We'll approach the village slowly. I'll lead. Lt. Thairk will be right behind me. Your friend might recognize you. Midge, you bring up the rear and watch the ladies."

As they approached the village the undergrowth thinned out. They began to hear sounds of children laughing, wood being scraped on wood and, off in the distance, a few stray drum cadences. Shengek made her way up to Mugbee. "What did you mean back there by, "The Sixth?"

Mugbee looked at her and smiled. "Kanum dagarmengwe pandla?"

She shook her head. "Not much. I remember enough Vritian to understand that much though. What did you mean?"

Mugbee stopped for a moment. "I thought you knew I'm an Engrethist."

"You did mention it, but… Oh yes, the Prophesies. Surely you don't believe them."
He began to slowly walk again, but turned to look at her. "Surely you cannot not believe them, after what they foretold about the Koplushian Apocalypse."

Shengek stayed silent and hung her head for a moment. "It's true that a few of them could be applied to that, but they're also very vague."

Mugbee smiled again. "I guess it depends on one's point of view, but I can't help but bear in mind that this might be the sixth planet of aboriginal humans. Engreth said it would be so." With that the conversation was dropped.

Captain's Log of the Koplushian Spaceship Itsen: 22th day of the 6th month of the year 1082 of the Intelligence Era. Our landing party has discovered primitive humans on the third planet and has initiated contact. They appear to be only at the level of the stone age, but have been confirmed as human by Med-tech Traid.

Sensors have indicated the approach of three large unknown vessels. I have recalled Linguist Thairk and the science team back to the Itsen. Commander Elo and Observer Barinium will continue with the first contact.

"Lieutenant Thairk reporting in, Captain." The young Lieutenant stood looking expectantly at Karpla.

"Mister Thairk, there are three unknown vessels approaching us from the interior of the sector. I'll need you at your best for first contact. We are currently broadcasting friendship images at the vessels. I don't think I need remind you that no spacecraft have ever returned from this sector."

"No sir, you don't. The same thought occurred to me. I'll do my best. When should the Unknowns arrive?"

Karpla looked over at Lt. Leslai at the Helm. "They are approaching at half light speed. That puts them within weapons range tomorrow at 10:50 hours," said Leslai.

Thairk whispered to himself, but audibly, "Surely we're not firing on them…"

"Only in self defense, Lieutenant," said Karpla. "We've got a big day tomorrow."

Sleep evaded Erui Thairk and the morning came too soon for rest. He reported for duty early and took a seat at a computer terminal. The Captain was right. Over the past score of years no fewer than five ships had entered sector 42. There was even a list of missing Vritian ships from pre-Alliance days. None were ever heard from again. The Itsen was likely the only one to actually get off a message before… whatever happened, happened.

Sector 42 was also nicknamed the 'Unknown Sector' because it had never been explored while adjoining areas had to some extent. A map of that quadrant of the Alliance showed that the unexplored region was considerably larger than just one sector. Could the Unknowns…

"Getting an early start Lieutenant? Very commendable." It was Captain Karpla, standing right behind him.

"Yes, Captain, I…"

"I see you're doing research on the area. Again, very commendable." Captain Karpla strode to his command chair and sat down. He was sipping his morning caffeine. "Unknowns just coming into our weapons range, Captain. They've been slowing as we expected. Definitely coming to us."

"Very good, Mister Leslai. Break orbit from the planet. We may need to maneuver."

"Aye, Sir. Breaking orbit."

The Itsen waited, well clear of the planet and its moon. On the screen the three Unknowns were becoming clearer. The design was unlike anything on record. They looked like sleek, multifaceted domes with semicircles inscribed on the upper surfaces. If there were any markings, they were indistinguishable to the human mind.

"Captain, Lt. Midje requests permission to launch for his return to the planet." Said Com-tech Glin. "We're still within landing range."

Karpla was watching the ships approaching, but glanced over at Glin, "Permission granted. Commander Elo would never forgive me if he were stranded for long."

A moment later a beam leapt from one of the Unknowns. The force of an explosion rocked the Itsen. "The lander's been destroyed!" said Leslai.

"Shields up! Battle Alert!" ordered Karpla. A klaxon wailed throughout the ship. "Mister Leslai, Target missiles on the lead ship."

Thairk turned in his chair to face the Captain. "Sir, if we're going to talk to them…"

Karpla spun around to him. "Don't tell me how to run my ship. Lt.Glin, send this message to the Hostiles: Attention alien vessels, This is Captain Dagrith Karpla of the Koplushian Spaceship Itsen. We are on a mission of peaceful exploration and mean you no harm. Please respond."

Thairk turned back to his station and continued working.

"Message coming in Captain," said Glin.

"Put it on screen."

Thairk finished what he was doing and turned to the main screen. On it was a huge, tripedal cephalopod with tentacles. The sound that accompanied it was best described as a slurping/sucking sound, like that of a drain emptying, punctuated by gurgles.
Karpla turned to Thairk. "What do you make of it?"

"Very interesting, Sir. I'd need to hear more to sort it out though. Thairk made some experimental slurping sounds, trying to imitate what he'd heard. "Captain I have an idea…"
There was a flash and Itsen shook. "You may not get a chance if this keeps up. Mister Leslai, fire those missiles!"

Four missiles sped towards the lead ship. A beam leapt out from it and destroyed the missiles. The beam was then turned on the Itsen. The ship rocked and a few of the control panels exploded into sparks. Leslai reported, "That one hit our number four field generator. It went right through our shields!"

"Ready the particle beams," ordered Karpla.

Thairk stood up, "Captain, if I may…"

"Particle beams armed and ready, Captain."


The beams were aimed at the lead ship, but just short of the lead ship they were deflected off at an angle, harmlessly heading into space.

Another blast from the Hostiles. The Itsen shook more violently this time. Thairk fell towards the Captain.

"Port side field generators are gone, Sir," said Leslai.

Thairk pulled himself up to Karpla. "Sir, if I may. I don't see us winning this fight. None of our ships have ever returned from this sector, but I have an idea."

Captain Karpla looked at him. "Yes, Lieutenant? What is it."

"We need to talk to them. It's obvious we don't understand them, nor they us. We've the same situation the exodus fleet had with the Blaisardees."

"What would you suggest?"

Thairk went over to his console and pressed a button. "Let me go over there, alone. It's the only way. One man won't be a threat to them."

"Are you mad?" asked Karpla. "What's to stop them from firing on you as they have the ship?"
"I've just sent them pictures of what I intend. I think they'll be curious enough. If you'll notice, they've stopped firing. Once I'm over there, I'm sure I can communicate with them."

Karpla looked at the three alien ships on the viewscreen. "Very well, Lieutenant. We'll try it your way."

Captain's Log of the Koplushian Spaceship Itsen: 23rd day of the 6th month of the year 1082 of the Intelligence Era. We have been attacked by three alien vessels of immense power. Our weapons and defenses are useless. Our field generators are damaged and may not be repairable. Lt. Thairk has convinced me to allow him to attempt first contact with these unknown aliens. I can only hope his is right in his plans.

On the screen, a single spacesuited figure floated out from the Itsen. Using only the maneuvering backpack, the figure moved slowly towards the nearest Hostile ship. A square of light appeared in the ship and a long mechanical arm extended out, sporting a claw. It grabbed the spacesuited figure and pulled it in. The square of light closed.

From the Journal of Shengek Barinium, Observer for the Koplushian Council. 1082, 6, 23. We've been alone on the planet for two days, well Glorin Traid, the Med-tech is with us, but she spends most of her time with the natives, gathering data, I suppose. Lt. Midje was to return this morning with the lander and the ship's been out of contact with us. I hope all is well. One of the native children has taken a liking to Commander Elo. His name is Bagumba, I think. He follows us around as we explore the area. It could be that he's been assigned to help us learn to speak.

Mugbee smiled as usual as he approached Shengek. He found her sitting on a flat rock by the small stream that flowed near the village. Further down, it widened into a rocky pool where the village women washed out the rudementary clothing they wore.

"Any word from the ship?" ashed Shengek.

Mugbee shook his head. "Aglaiya," he said, using the natives dialect.

Shengek frowned. "I hope they come soon. I hate this place. The bugs bite," she swatted one on her arm, "it's hot, and there's nothing here, but savages and animals." At that a loud bird cawed overhead.

Mugbee paused, slowly taking a step back. He had just been given a ceremonial staff, but now rethought the idea of showing it to her. "Look at the bright side," he said, trying to cheer her. "We have air to breathe, food to eat, and… look at the scenery. Where else would you see a moon like that." He indicated the semicircle rising behind her.

Shengek turned to look over her shoulder and suddenly shrieked and jumped towards Elo. "Snake!" she cried, pointing. Mugbee laughed. "A snake? I'll take care of it." Mugbee strode over gallantly holding out his ceremonial staff. He put an end of it in a loop of the snake, and flung it about five meters away. "Your snake is dispatched, Madam."

Just then, Bagumba, the native boy, broke through the brush gibbering quickly and pointing back the way he'd come. "What's he saying? I don't understand it," said Shengek.

"I can't tell," said Mugbee. "I thought he said something about Traid. He's going too fast. Let's just follow him."

They ran behind the boy through the village to where the trees opened up to a grassland. Bagumba stopped and pointed, several of male villagers were there, holding spears at the ready. Shengek saw a large fourlegged animal out in the field. She could also hear the screams of Glorin Traid. Before she could say anything, Mugbee aimed his mag-rifle. He fired and the animal howled, then fell over. The villagers rushed ahead. They dragged the animal a short distance and began gutting it.

Shengek was frozen in fear at what had happened. She saw Mugbee run up to where Traid was and crouch down. She saw him look up at her, the look on his face told her everything. The shake of his head confirmed it.

She cried. When Mugbee walked back to her, she pushed him away, screaming, "I hate this place! Do you hear me? Call the ship right now and get us off this stupid planet. I hate it here!"
Mugbee kept his distance and said, "I can't. The Itsen must be out of range or we would have been contacted."

She screamed again, wiping the tears from her cheeks. "'Skuit this whole world! It's a living Hell!" Shengek began running towards the village and Mugbee followed. She ran into the hut they had been 'given,' throwing herself down on the mat. Mugbee stayed outside.

Bagumba appeared at his side and Mugbee strove to get across to the boy that Shengek should be watched. He then went back to where Glorin Traid lay. The village men had gathered and Mugbee managed to arrange for a pyre as was typical for Koplushian interments.

The sun was setting when Mugbee entered the hut. Shengek had fallen asleep after her rage. He turned on the lamp from his kit and shook her gently. She stirred. "There's no easy way to say this Sheng." She turned over and propped herself up on one arm to look at him expectantly.

"I've arranged the pyre…"

"Oh," she said quietly."Do we have to?"

"No, you don't have to, but I wanted to give you the chance to…"

Shengek coughed and stood up. She poured some water from a gourd into her hands and washed her face. "I'm sure I look a mess."

"That doesn't matter here," said Mugbee. "I mean…"

"The truth is fine for now," she said, trying to adjust her hair without so much as a mirror. "It's not about me."

They left the darkness of the hut and entered the dimness of the outdoors. Shengek swatted a bug on her arm absently. "Damn bugs."

Glorin Traid's body had been wrapped in an animal skin and rested on a platform made of arm thick logs over a pile of similarly sized wood. Torches surrounded the pyre, being stuck in the ground. The native they knew as 'The Chief' came over as they approached and said a few slow words. Shengek still couldn't quite get what was said, but Mugbee answered in the affirmative. The chief handed Mugbee two torches. He looked at Shengek.

"I'll do this alone if you like."

She shook her head. "No I need to go through with it. Glorin deserves it."

They approached the pyre together, the other villagers stood surrounding it at a safe distance.

Mugbee said, in singsong fashion, "Kani ronostewa kanum."

Shengek, beside him, repeated the petition in Koplushian, "Zoeg leereetai siv." Then they plunged their torches into the pyre together.

Captain's Log of the Koplushian Spaceship Itsen: 5th day of the 7th month of the year 1082 of the Intelligence Era. It has been two weeks since Lieutenant Thairk crossed over and entered the alien vessel and we have heard nothing from him yet. Our ship's Space Folding Field Generators have been repaired, but it will be at least another two to three weeks before the map of hyperspace is complete enough for us to make a jump. Three of our crew, including Commander Elo, Observer Barinium, and Med-tech Traid are stranded on the planet below. It is unknown exactly how the aliens would react to a rescue mission, but one of our landers was already destroyed trying to return to the planet. I hold hope that Lt. Thairk knows what he's doing.

Captain Karpla sat looking at the viewscreen showing the three alien vessels. He wondered what was going to happen and he wished there was a right action he could take. Every minute that passed reminded him that no ship had ever returned from sector 42.

"Sir, message coming in from the alien spacecraft," said Lt. Glin.

"On screen," said Karpla.

The face of Erui Thairk came on the display. He looked tired, but well. "Captain, you have to leave immediately, they want you to leave."

"It's good to see you too, Lieutenant. What do you mean. I can't just leave you over there and we still have some people on the planet."

Thairk looked annoyed. "You don't understand, they don't want you here. If you don't leave you'll be destroyed."

"And you?"

Thairk's eyes kept darting left and right as if keeping an eye on his hosts. "It's not about me sir. It's about you. Get the ship away before it's destroyed. I've been able to delay them this long so that you could make repairs, now go!"

"Mister Thairk, I told you before…"

"Thairk's face became furtive."Oh Seg, they're targeting… Go!" The screen went blank at that point, and a blast shook the Itsen.

"Mister Leslai, get us out here. Full thrusters towards home. Now!"

Another blast hit the ship. "That was a field generator on the starboard side. One more and we'll be walking…" said Leslai.

"Get us away! Now" barked Karpla.

Another blast hit the ship as if to help them along. The lights on the bridge blinked this time.

"We're going, damnit! Leave us be!" yelled Karpla. Another blast hit the ship, this one a bit softer.

"Are they pursuing, Mister Leslai?"

Leslai checked the scanner readout at his station. "No sir, the hostiles are out of range. They're letting us go."

Karpla slumped back in his chair in relief. Hardly a successful mission for him. "Lt. Glin, send a message to Koplushia telling them our status. The Itsen is on her way home."

From the Journal of Shengek Barinium, Observer for the Koplushian Council. 1082, 7, 20. We've been on this hellhole of a planet for a month with no contact from the Itsen. Even Mugbee says it doesn't look good. He believes he saw a few tiny flashes in the sky about 15 days ago. I hate this place because I'm stuck here.

Shengek had finally resigned herself that she was stuck on this planet. It wasn't a joyous prospect to be sure, but it was what life had given her. Bagumba continued to help her learn and the women of the village seemed to welcome her company, especially as now she could start talking to them. They listened intently to her stories of other worlds and places, asking for clarifications about things they would never truly understand. Then they would go about their daily chores.

Often she and Mugbee would find a spot away from the village where they could talk.

Conversation together was the only thing left of their former lives. No longer was she an Observer for the Koplushian Council and no longer was Mugbee a Commander aboard the Itsen. Shengek began to wonder how long their clothing would last. Would they both end up dressed in animal skins, or less like the natives? She missed her father, but at least he was on Koplushia, not this primitive planet.

One evening she found Mugbe on the nearby rise of the land looking into the evening sky. "Naming that moon again?"

He nodded.

Shengek paused. "It is a beautiful satellite, Mugbee. Koplushia doesn't even have one, not that I would have seen it anyway."

"Vrit does. It's named Tinvitar. That's the name of a goddess from our ancient myths. She was the Goddess of Steadfast Love." Mugbee paused, and took an audible breath.

"Looks like it's up to us to name this planet after all," said Shengek. "Do the natives have something they call it?"

"I've asked. The best answer I could get is 'Mother'. I'd still prefer Uwo Vhaim."

"As you wish. Uwo Vaim. Sure you wouldn't settle for Loo Suitl?"

Mugbee laughed. "Close enough. In Vritian or Koplushian, it still means The Sixth."

Shengek smiled. "And the satellite?"

Mugbee shook his head. "I couldn't figure out what they call it, but I think naming it Glorin would be appropriate."

Shengek nodded solemly and sighed. "I do truly hate this place."

Mugbee looked at her. "I know."

"What's to become of us? Are we really abandoned on this… this…"

"Rock?" finished Mugbee.

"Hellhole," she answered. "Is there any hope we'll be rescued?" Even in the twilight, he could see she was becoming distraught.

"Sheng, I don't know. We don't know what happened up there."

She looked up at the moon named Glorin, and back to the ground.

"What I do know," he said, "is that I'm alive and you're alive. The best hope we have of rescue is if we stay alive. The villagers here are friendly and they've begun including us in their group. I think we're safe as long as we stay with them."

Shengek sighed and glanced at the moon again. She wiped her eye and sniffed. "I have to get back to the village. I promised the women I'd help prepare for tomorrow's meal."

"I'll walk you back. I promised I'd help the men get ready for the hunt. While the power unit in this lasts," he indicated the mag-rifle, "the village will eat well." Mugbee stood up, glanced at the moon once more, and accompanied Shengek back to the village. They lived out their days on the planet and no one ever heard from them again.

Captain's Log of the Koplushian Spaceship Itsen: 15th day of the 8th month of the year 1082 of the Intelligence Era. We are almost out of Sector 42 where we can stop and repair our field generator for the jump home. A message from Koplushia states that the Alliance is placing Sector 42 under Protected status and that no ships are to enter the area. The Council has rejected my recommendation for the name of the star system and has named the planet Karpla. The star shall be known as Karplashuin. The aliens however, are to be called the Eruithairk, after the brave Lieutenant. When repairs are made, this ship is to begin exploring beyond Nideen space. Who knows what we'll find out there?

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