"Keep in mind that we are visiting an alien world whose people
we are trying to make an alliance with." Raymond Alcott fixes the
other inhabitants of the shuttle with a stern eye. "Be polite and
stay out of trouble." This time the man looked directly at the 58th
and Commodore Ross frowned. There had been few problems with the 58th
when McQueen had been their squad commander. But McQueen was gone and
Hank Jenkins was their commander now. And Jenkins rode them way too
But the Wild Cards were still heroes and the best ones to represent
Earth, everyone had to admit to that. So the five core members of the
squad was here, along with their squad leader.
Alcott continued to talk but Ross listened with only half-an-ear.
Earth, he and everyone else had recently discovered, had been in
negotiations for the past several months with an alien organization
known only as the Conclave. He still didn’t have the full story but
apparently the proposed alliance had hit a serious snag some four months
ago. Well, now it seemed to be worked out and all concerned were meeting
on a Conclave planet to work out the details.
The Saratoga had been the closest ship so, upon General
Radford’s suggestion, it had come ahead to pave the way, as it were.
The Conclave had suggested an informal meeting between members of the
Earth Military and members of the Conclave. It was just pure luck that
Alcott, a specialist in alien relations, had been on the Saratoga.
Ross felt the shuttle descended and he looked at General Radford,
seated beside him. His old friend smiled at him grimly, shrugging
slightly. Ross felt even further out in the dark then he had originally
felt. He didn’t even know what these new aliens looked like!
The shuttle landed and the door opened. Within moments, everyone was
on their feet, though the others waited until Radford and Alcott moved
toward the exit. The next minute, they were outside, blinking in the
bright sunlight. Ross stood in the calf-high grass. . .gloriously green
grass. . .and stared in well-concealed happiness at the forest
surrounding them and the clear blue sky above. When was the last time
he’d stood on a planet? He could barely remember.
"Good morning." The voice that spoke was pleasantly deep
with a Scots accents and all looked to see a tall, distinguished man
standing not too far away. "Welcome to Rathorn. I’m Bruce Ffolkes."
He stepped closer and now they could see that his receding hair was
salt-and-pepper and his eyes were grayish-blue. He smiled benignly at
them. "You may leave your bags, someone will fetch them to the
house. Now, if you’ll follow me. . ?"
He spun on his heel to follow a cobblestone path and the gaping group
had to hurry to catch up. Alcott matched the other man’s long strides,
the others following behind. "A human? What’s a human. . ?"
"There are approximately two thousand humans on Rathorn."
Ffolks said. "And several more thousand scattered among the
Conclave worlds. You didn’t know that, did you?"
Neither Alcott or Radford answered but their frozen expression spoke
"I didn’t think so." Ffolkes smiled. "You’ll be
staying with the Komeesee. I rather think you’ll like him." And
Ffolkes smiled the smile of a man who knew something they did not and
said no more.
The house they were approaching was low slung, built partially into
the hill and made mainly of stone. Folkes opened the door, waving them
into a wide foyer. As he closed the door, Alcott finally spoke.
"Komeesee. . .isn’t that the position that was causing so much
trouble. . ?"
"Oh, yes. But it’s been worked out." Folkes paused before
a pair of wooded French doors. "The Conclave elected to go with
someone of their choice. Such a pity McQueen was killed." He
tsked-tsked but, oddly enough, his eyes were dancing with amusement. He
swung the French doors open and stepped inside.
Uhn? Ross threw Redford a hard look, wondering what the hell Ffolkes
meant but his friend only gave him a sheepish look.
"Yes, it is." Alcott gave Ffolkes a rather forced smile.
"I had hoped we could have worked something else ou. . ."
Alcott stopped dead, making a noise like he was choking and Ross stepped
forward in alarm, only to freeze himself.
The room they were in now was large and airy. There was a sunken
sitting area in the center of the room and a fireplace directly opposite
of the door. Bookshelves lined the wall to the left and sliding doors to
a cobble-stoned patio was to the right. Between the sliding doors and
the fireplace was a desk and leaning back against the desk was a man. A
man he knew. . .
"McQueen!" There was incredulous joy in Hawkes’ voice and
the man smiled.
"McQueen? Oh, no." Ffolkes’ voice was amused but the look
on his was innocent. "McQueen’s dead. Just ask Jenkins. You saw
him die, right Jenkins? Brought back his dogtags and everything, right?
Jenkins stared at him mutely.
Ffolkes’ smiled, waving a hand at the man in question. "No,
no, this is McQueen’s twin, who just happens to have the same name.
He’s the Komeesee."
Alcott’s head jerked around to stare at the Scotsman. "Wait a
minute! You said the Conclave. . ."
". . .choose the Komeesee. And they did."
Ross ignored the exchange though he did wondered at the implications
being voiced. He was too intent on studying the man before them.
McQueen. . .for it could only be the T.C. McQueen he had known for so
long, despite what Ffolkes said. . .looked much the same as he
remembered, though his silvery hair was longer then he’d ever seen it.
Except. . .except this man was more relaxed. At home in this unusual
situation. He was dressed casually in an open-necked black shirt, black
jeans and calf-high hide boots. Metal bracers encircled each wrist and
hand. After a moment, Ross stepped forward with a smile, holding out a
hand that the other man clasped firmly.
"Glen." And his name rolled smoothly off McQueen’s tongue
as the man smiled back then his light-blue eyes slipped past his former
commanding officer to the kids he once commanded. The look he gave them
was intensely proud and filled with pleasure, at least until he spotted
Jenkins. Then his eyes turned as cold as space. After a long moment, he
turned to look at Alcott and Redford. "Welcome to my home."
"Your. . .home?"
McQueen smiled and it was the smile of the cat who’d eaten the
canary. He opened his mouth but before he could say anything more, a
voice whooped from the hallway behind them. "Heads up!
A figure eeled through the 58th, leaping up and over Jenkins. A hand
snatched away his cap and the figure tumbled to the ground, finally
coming to halt in a crouch near McQueen’s feet, clutching the cap and
hooting to himself.
"Gau. . .what are you doing now?" McQueen’s eyes
softened. Reaching down, he rumbled the almost-white hair of the man in
front of him. The man looked up at him, a vague smile on his face. . .a
face that matched McQueen’s perfectly. Maybe a few years younger but
virtually identical. "Gwain, you’re supposed to be keeping an eye
"Hey, he may have the mind of a three-year-old but it’s the
mind of a very clever three-year-old." The man who stepped into the
room and past a suddenly stiff-spined Shane Vansen was not really a man
but an AI, an Artificial Intelligence. In fact, Vansen recognized this
particular type of AI. She had played a mean game a pool against another
of his type on the pleasure ship, the Bacchus. "I don’t know how
but he always seems to know when you don’t want him to be someplace.
Have you noticed that?" He stretched out an arm, offering McQueen
the toy raccoon he carried.
"Yes, I have." Taking the raccoon, he dropped into a crouch
that matched Gau’s. "Y’know, sooner or later, this isn’t
going to work anymore. Hey, Gau?"
The other man hooted, staring at the hat vaguely before noticing at
the raccoon now resting on McQueen’s knee. The sounds he was making
grew excited and he reached for the toy but McQueen didn’t release it.
Gau gave him a hurt look and rocked slowly, eyes blank.
"You know the deal, Gau. The cap for the raccoon." There
was soft laughter in his voice. "The raccoon’s more fun."
Gau swayed for a moment longer before dropping the cap and reaching
for the raccoon with both hands. This time, McQueen let it go, picking
up the cap and tossing it without looking at Alcott. His eyes were on
the man in front of him, now happily clutching the toy to his chest and
crooning to himself.
"I don’t think we have to worry about that not working anytime
soon." Gwain smiled, looking at Gau with fondness. Gau turned
uncertain eyes toward the AI before smiling brightly, if more than a
little vaguely. The AI moved to crouch behind Gau, hands resting lightly
on the man’s upper arms. "Come on, Gau. Let’s take Rikki
outside, eh?" Gwain’s voice was incredibly gentle as he coaxed
Gau to his feet. Vansen never would have believed it possible. "The
cats are out there."
"Kaaaaaaaaaasssssss. . ." The man crooned, looking
expectantly at the sliding doors. The AI slid a door open and guided the
man outside, still crooning softly to himself or maybe to Gwain. McQueen
stood, watching them with a fond smile.
"Cute." Jenkins spoke with his usual tact. "Where’d
the vegetable come. . ."
There was a wet, squishing sound as McQueen’s fist, backed by
hard-hewed muscle and covered with the metal bracer, smashed into
Jenkins’ nose. His other fist snapped up in a wicked uppercut,
colliding Jenkins’ chin with enough force to throw the man off his
feet. The next moment, he was looking up groggily just as McQueen’s
foot slammed into his chest.
"Listen to me, you shit-head." McQueen’s voice was colder
then space. "I don’t trust you worth a damn so you just stay away
from Gau. And I mean far away. Go near him and Gwain has orders to kill
you. And trust me. . .your body will never be found."
He shoved himself away from the prone, dazed man and found himself
face-to-face with an outraged Alcott.
"You can’t do. . !"
"Yes, I can." McQueen turned and walked back to the desk,
reaching for a flat case laying there. "Hern!"
An alien stepped into the room, giving the newcomers their first
glimpse of a Conclave alien. This one stood maybe seven-foot-tall and
looked very much like a humanoid wolf, covered with golden fur. It. .
.no, he. . .grinned at them, revealing a sharp array of teeth.
"Yes, Komeesee?" He glanced at the man laying on the floor,
his hands cupping his bleeding nose. "Fall down, go boom?"
"Col. Jenkins ran into the Komeesee’s fist once or
twice." Ffolkes had folded back the doors of what proved to be a
bar and was mixing himself a drink. "Haul. . .errrr, show him to
the infirmary, will you, and have him tended to. And have someone keep
an eye on him, Hern. We don’t want him running into any more
The alien grunted and picked up a thick cloth from a nearby table,
handing it to Jenkins before hauling him to his feet. "Don’t
bleed on the floor." Hern guided the man roughly from the room.
"McQueen. . !"
"Don’t worry about him. As long as he stays away from Gau,
he’ll live. Now, you’ll be shown to the rooms you’ll be using
during your stay. Your things are already there. I suggest you put them
away and close drawers and doors firmly. Gau likes to explore. He
won’t open anything that closed up but his definition of closed can
occasionally differ from the norm. Tara! Cassidy!"
"Yes?" Twin voices came from behind them and everyone
turned to stare in surprise at the two young people standing behind
them. They were dark-skinned with light blond hair and light blue eyes
and a disturbing resemblance to the man standing behind them. Both were
dressed in nothing more than swimming suits and metal bracers identical
to the ones McQueen wore.
"Show everyone to their rooms please."
"Of course." Again the echo of light voice and deep.
"This way please." The twins stepped back, out of the room and
into the hall. General Alcott glared at the seemingly oblivious McQueen
for a long moment before finally turning to follow them.
McQueen watched them go. He couldn’t help but have a feeling that
he had handled that badly but seeing Jenkins had thrown him off-balance.
And he had hoped to keep Gau hidden awhile longer. Oh, well. Nothing he
could do about it now.
He turned toward the patio, smiling at the sight of Gau climbing up
onto the ‘statutue’ facing the house. Khadaji could stay still for
days and he would if need be. Not that he would need to. Gwain sat
nearby, watching the man scramble over the Gryphip gleefully.
Why, even the statute looked happy.
end scene four