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Part of Challenger: The Sky’s The Limit

EIGHT – DAY 60

Unnamed Minshara class world
Thursday, August 7th, 2155
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Staring out into the night sky, Major Yu was completely lost in awe of the beauty before her as she watched the evening clouds fill the dark scenery. The stars were glistening against the backdrop and the gentle sound of the ocean lapping against the shore was hypnotic. 

“Major?” A voice said, interrupting from behind her.

Automatically, Yu turned around to see Lieutenant Masuko standing there, her hands in her field jacket trying to keep them warm. Yu smiled at the engineer, “Yes lieutenant?” 

“Our ‘hot rod’ is ready to be tested.” Masuko stated with pride beaming through her smile.

“That’s excellent news!” Yu replied as she uncrossed her arms and began to follow Masuko back to their camp once the engineer gestured for them to head back to their makeshift home. The two women walked from the coastline and inwards passed several trees that were almost like palm trees, except for their spiky maroon leaves. As they made their way through the shrubbery Masuko explained how her team and she had use parts from the other lifeboats to upgrade another one to be a bit faster and more manoeuvrable. As Yu listened to the engineer share the news, she hoped their endeavour had been worth it. Only two days ago they had landed after fleeing from the possibility of being shot down by an alien ship and now what was left of their crew were hiding out on some tropical island. She wondered if they would ever be rescued, however right now she had to ensure the crew survived. Two days ago, she had not been ready to take lead, but that’s where the fates had placed her. The memory of the crew assembling after landing their escape pods and trying to work out what they should do next was still vivid in her memory. When they realised that Doctor Ben-Ami’s escape pod had been shot down and the fact they had lost contact with Shuttlepod One, the crew were beginning to falter in their belief they would survive. The senior most ranking officers had assembled together to discuss their plan of action. Ensign Hennessey had declared Yu the senior most member of the crew present and suggested she assumed command. That had caused rumblings from some of the Starfleet crew when many of them felt that Lieutenant Masuko should be made their acting captain, as she was the highest-ranking Starfleet officer. They didn’t like the idea of a MACO leading a Starfleet crew, however Masuko had declined stating that Yu had the experience and knowledge that they all needed to survive. Stanton’s deputy had also reminded them all that they were all one crew under Captain Burton; he would be ashamed of them for discriminating against their fellow comrades in the MACO unit. Yu had gracefully accepted the role with Masuko agreeing to be their acting first officer. Once the issue around leadership was resolved they went straight on setting up a base camp beside a waterfall that led into a running river. It gave them access to fresh water. Those in the science and engineering departments had been sent to set up a filtering system so they could drink the water as well as find edible vegetation. Ensign Cortez had taken over as acting chief armoury officer and got her people to begin setting up the base camp while First Lieutenant al-Fayyad had taken the MACOs to scout their area and set up defences just in case they were found by the aliens that had attacked them in orbit. Ensign Gonçalves and Petty Officer Kowalski, Challenger’s surviving pilots, had pleaded with Yu to let them go search for Doctor Ben-Ami and her escape pod. Lieutenant Masuko had suggested they could modify one of their escape pods to do it. So, with the two pilots and her best engineers, Masuko had worked hard on the last few days improving its flying capabilities. In that time period they had not been disturbed by their attackers, a sense of good fortune had spread among the crew. Ensign Cortez had believed it might have been down to the fact that a layer of the planet’s atmosphere was ionised and could have disrupted the alien’s scanners. Yu had prayed that their luck wouldn’t run out too early.

Eventually they got to their base camp and Yu smiled at the scene before her. Everyone was wearing their field jackets; many of the crew were huddling around in groups in front of the different campfires they had set up. Tents littered the opening they were staying in while the escape pods had been moved to form a defence perimeter around their camp. Yu caught Hennessey’s smile; he shared a nod with her from where he sat on a knocked down log. He was sitting with several other members of the crew in front of a fire. They were all cleaning the dishes used earlier to serve their evening meals. Ensign Larsen, their second communications officer, had turned out to be quite the cook and had taken on the role of head cook in Chef Lawson’s absence. Some of the foraging teams that Yu had sent out had found what was a crop of vegetables that tasted like a mixture of carrot and coriander. Larsen had turned the vegetables in a soup like dish, which the crew had enjoyed earlier. 

Yu and Masuko soon stopped in their tracks as they reached the upgraded lifeboat. There were no discernible differences to its appearance from where Yu stood but the engineer took the MACO leader around to the rear of the craft to show her what they had done to it.

“We’ve moved two thruster modules from another escape pod and attached them to this one, increasing its speed and manoeuvrability.” Masuko explained as she now led Yu inside. Yu was surprised to see the changes made to the cockpit of the craft. This was where they had done the most work. “We’ve completely upgraded the flight controls, but we’re going to have to test it first to ensure it all works.” She added.

“When do you plan to test it?” Yu asked the pilot. She wasn’t going to ask any more about the technical work they had performed, as she was highly impressed with their work.

Masuko leant up against one of the pilot chairs as she answered. “Cristiano and Adrian are ready to go now if you’re happy for us to take it out for a spin?”

Yu nodded with approval. “If you guys are rested and ready to go then I say let’s get moving. The quicker we find the doctor and her team the better morale will be.”

Smiling with gratitude, the young engineer rushed out of the craft to find the two pilots and assemble the team she would take to find their missing crew.

Yu moved back into the main area of the camp and was approached by Ensign Hennessey. “Ned,” She said, greeting her friend.

“Major,’ He returned as he came to stand next to her. He ended up crossing his arms around his chest to keep warm. He had zipped his jacket right up to the point his neck was completely covered, with his chin just bobbing above the raised collar. He also wore one of the ship’s baseball caps that had the ship’s registration number of NX-03 on it.  “I take it our ‘hot rod’ is ready to go?”

Nodding in response, Yu looked at him as she placed her hands into her own jacket’s pockets. “Sakura wants to take it out for a spin.”

“Do you think they’ll find Ben-Ami and the others?” Hennessey asked, looking at her.

Yu looked back at him. “I hope so.”

“And then?” He questioned.

Yu shrugged her shoulders. “Then do as Captain Burton ordered us. Find a quiet corner and keep out of the way of others.”

Hennessey looked back out at the camp before them. “And just how long do you think the crew will be prepared to follow those orders?” 

Yu, who had followed the communications officer’s gaze, replied. “I’m hoping until we’re saved.”

“Well then I best start working on that subspace radio or no-one will know where we are or that we need saving from New Mars!” Hennessey said and then slowly walked away from the MACO leader.

Yu chuckled to herself at the mention of New Mars. The crew had nicknamed the planet New Mars after they had seen the planet from orbit. It looked like a fully terraformed Mars from orbit (although a few others had said it looked more like Vulcan) and as such they had named it after the fourth planet in the Sol system. 

Looking around the camp she saw the expressions that her crew all shared. None of them looked as happy as they had been when they had launched, the still defeated faces that they had shown to Captain Burton when he had ordered them to abandon ship. Nothing had changed. Not even the idea of them being out of danger from Challenger blowing up and killing them all had improved their moods. She ended up sighing to herself, watching Hennessey walk away from her. She wondered just how long the crew would have to live like this. Would they end up living the rest of their lives here or would they be saved? She knew that they needed some small celebrations at first, so rescuing Doctor Ben-Ami and her party would be the first aim for them all and finding out what happened to Shuttlepod One too would be an added bonus.


Unknown location

 

Kefira Ben-Ami hated her survival course during her time at Starfleet Training Command. She had spent two weeks in the wet, cold and windy hills of the Peak District in the United Kingdom for some of it. She was currently reminded of those two horrible, godforsaken weeks with where she found herself. Since her lifeboat had crash-landed after being shot at by the alien spaceship, she had spent the last two days sheltering within what remained of their crash site.  Fortunately, she and her companions had not suffered any fatalities, except for minor injuries that included some nasty bruises under her left ribs from the collision of her smacking against the lifeboat’s controls on impact. However, they now had to deal with a cold and wet location to survive. 

She was sat in the cockpit, alone with her own thoughts reading the next page of her romance novel when Chef Lawson popped her head around the corner. “Have you seen the approaching weather?” The cook asked.

Ben-Ami sat up in the chair and turned around to look out at the sky. Huge thunderclouds were approaching them. “Are you kidding me?” Ben-Ami said, frustrated at their lack of luck recently. She got up and followed Lawson out of the lifeboat and towards the small camp they had put together.  When the two women had stepped outside Ensign Hathaway and Staff Sergeant Iyer approached them.

“The scanners are stating it’s forming into a tornado.” Iyer reported to his superior officer. “We’re going to have to leave camp and find some shelter elsewhere.”

“Any ideas?” Ben-Ami asked the group.

Hathaway nodded. “Yes ma’am, there’s a number of caves less than a kilometre from here. We can make them long before the tornado arrives.”

“Then let’s grab everything we can carry and need then move out.” Ben-Ami ordered. 

Almost two hours later Ben-Ami found herself following Challenger’s second helm officer as they trekked through the thick woodlands towards the caves that they hoped would protect them from the oncoming storm. It was beginning to get dark and they had already put on their torches.

“Just over this hill.” Hathaway shouted to them all. 

Ben-Ami quietly prayed to herself as a thank you for the good news. The climb up and over the hill took them almost a quarter of an hour but once they were done, they could see the entrance to the caves. 

“Our scanners are being limited in their range by something in the rocks and soils ma’am.” Iyer mentioned with his scanner still in his right hand. “The closer we approach the caves it’s possible they won’t be as effective.”

“I’m sure we won’t be using them that much for the foreseeable future Rupesh.” Ben-Ami answered. 

Eventually they got into the cave and activated their head beacons and cracked some glow-sticks to help them see. They walked a few more metres until they stopped as they reached a large cavern that would be sufficient for what they needed. 

“Let’s setup camp here.” Ben-Ami ordered them. 

Once their fire was started and their bedding sorted the storm had hit. The whistle noise of the strong winds filled the cave with a cold chill. Ben-Ami had already wrapped herself up with the standard issued field jackets along with the thick gloves and a scarf. The four of them all huddled around the main fire while Lawson cooked them something from the field rations they had salvaged from the crashed lifeboat. 

“In the morning, if the storm has passed over, we should consider looking for a source of freshwater and finding anything that is edible.” Lawson offered as she stirred the pot over the naked flames.

“Let’s hope we don’t become too dependent on this world.” Ben-Ami stated as she hugged herself close to the fire.

“Missing the creature comforts from Challenger ma’am?” Iyer asked with a slight chuckle at the start of his question.

“There’s nothing wrong in having a warm place and a comfortable bed to lay in.” Ben-Ami countered.

“Or a fresh pot of coffee!” Hathaway added, which resulted in the four of them laughing at each other.

There was a sudden beep coming from Iyer’s pocket and the MACO soldier took out his handheld scanner to respond to it. He looked at the screen and quickly pulled out his sidearm and pointed it towards a small entrance that would take them further into the cave.

“What is it Rupesh?” Ben-Ami asked as she followed his lead and took out her phase pistol and aimed her torch in the same direction as his.

“I’m detecting a life-sign, or it could be more than one approaching us.” He answered.

The other two grabbed their weapons and by this time Iyer had pulled his rifle around and aimed it at the cave. They started to hear footsteps approaching them over the noise coming from the storm.

Ben-Ami was glad she had not opened fire the moment the life forms had appeared before them. Standing only a few metres away was a teenage boy with a much younger boy wrapped in his arms. They both appeared scared and neglected. Ben-Ami lowered her weapon and slowly approached them. “Hello.” She said, hoping the universal translator would work.

The teenage boy flinched backwards and pulled the younger boy closer to his body to protect it. Ben-Ami got a better look at them both, their clothes were pretty much rags and the older boy’s boots were torn to shreds. 

“We won’t hurt you; I promise you.” She assured him with a smile and gestured for the others to lower their weapons. “My name is Kefira,” She said placing her hand on her chest, “This is Rupesh, Angela and Montana.” She had pointed at them all one at a time. “What are your names?” She asked, indicating to them, hoping the translator had now kicked in.

“Edro.” The teenage boy answered, trying to sound brave. He bounced the boy in his arms and said, “Roburn”

“Well it’s nice to meet you both.” Ben-Ami said, still smiling at them both. “Are you cold?” She asked, wondering if he could understand her.

Edro just nodded at her. “Yes.” He whispered.

Ben-Ami looked over her shoulder at Iyer. “Sergeant, pass me that blanket.” She pointed towards the spare blankets they had taken with them from the lifeboat. 

Iyer instantly grabbed the blanket and brought it over to the doctor. She placed the blanket over his shoulders and wrapped him and Roburn in it. “Better?” She asked.

The young lad smiled and nodded. “Thank you.”

“Come sit by the fire and warm up with us.” Ben-Ami said, still smiling. As they sat down, she thought to herself she would never have considered encountering children this far deep in the woodlands on this world. She wondered if they were inhabitants or had crash-landed here like them. She also couldn’t get over the fact how much they looked like humans. Once again, the universe had thrown another surprise her way.


Another unknown location

 

Jack Conrad was awoken by the sudden noise of a door being unlocked alongside the appearance of a bright light bleeding through the dark room he occupied. The human pilot had been leaning up against the cold wall and was trying to rest as best as he could so he could store some of his strength to deal with his captors. He slowly opened his eyes to see what was happening and was greeted by the sight of four guards entering his cell. He had been in this cell for what felt like days, after his shuttlepod had been captured him and his team had been separated and placed into solitary confinement. Since then his captors had interrogated and probed him. They wanted to know everything about him, the ship, where they came from, literally everything. He had always considered himself a strong individual but after what he had to endure, he no longer thought that of himself. During one of his interrogations he was certain he heard the screams of one of his comrades. It sounded like Second Lieutenant Trommler, but he couldn’t be sure of it. 

The guards surrounded him, with weapons pointed directly at his head. He didn’t have any energy to fight them anymore. He felt absolutely disgusted with himself for not being able to hold up a fight with them, but he had been knocked down too many times and his own physical and emotional turmoil had reached its limits. Two of the guards had picked him up and dragged his body out of his cell. He couldn’t recognise where they were taking him, his eyes were still attempting to adjust to the vivid light around him. The corridors were brightly lit, yet it didn’t feel like it was by artificial light. 

His carriers eventually took him into a room he had not visited yet. Before he could put up a fight, he found many hands surrounding his body. They were literally tearing what clothes he had on him off. Some sort of cutting device was used to rip the fabric off from him. He soon found himself completely naked. That said though when he had been captured his uniform had been ripped off from him and the others and they were just left in their undergarments. This level of humiliation was making him feel sick. His stomach wanted to chuck up what was left in it, but in fact he had nothing left in his stomach, so he was pleased he couldn’t have anything out of his system. He felt two strong arms wrap around his body and pick him up in an almost bridal carry. Placed into an alcove with a glass door on it, Conrad tried to work out what was happening to him. He was covered in what felt like warm water. Eventually he got his balance and whereabouts and realised he was in some kind of shower. Looking down, he was pleased to see that the water was being drained out by small holes that existed in the tiled flooring (he was thankful they weren’t planning to drown him in this tank). Some sort of liquid squirted at him from every direction before more water showered him. He realised it was soap and so helped it by rubbing it over his body and hair. The feel of being clean and fresh was a welcome one. For almost two months now he had not been able to have a proper wash and make himself feel clean. Eventually all the soap had washed off him and the shower stopped. The glass door swivelled open for him and he saw what looked like two masked human men standing before him through the mist. They approached him and gave him what felt and looked like two towels to dry him with. 

“Thanks.” Conrad quietly croaked. His throat felt dry as a dessert and tasted just as bad. He hadn’t expected his abductors to begin taking care of him. Was this part of their plan perhaps? Maybe he had revealed some secret about Challenger during his interrogation and now they were rewarding him? Or was it part of some sort of other ploy to gain his trust? He couldn’t work it out and he felt too tired to. For now, he decided he would comply with what they wanted him to do, just so he stayed alive. He felt embarrassed though as the two men stared at him as he dried himself. 

Once he was done, he wrapped one of the towels around his waist, then he looked at what he thought were his guards. Both of them wore similar uniforms he had seen before when he had been caught. They wore peculiar shaped bonnet-like hats while their uniforms appeared to be sky blue togas with a thick black belt around their waist. They also wore knee high boots with handheld weapons and what looked like a communicator or small computer device strapped on to the belt. One of the men passed him an outfit that was hanging on what looked like an alien shaped coat hanger. The outfit was a pair of shiny dark olive-green trousers, with a grey sleeveless top and a suit jacket that was the same colours as the trousers. He was also handed some underwear and similar black knee-high boots as the guards to wear. Once he put on his outfit, he noticed a mirror hanging on one of the walls. He checked himself out and noticed that suit jacket and trousers clung very close to his body. Brushing his hair with his right hand he pushed it back to how he normally had it in an attempt to make himself look presentable. The guard that had handed him his new apparel then gestured for him to follow them out of the room. As they left the room, they walked either side of him and marched him down a corridor. He wondered if it had been the same one that he had barely seen earlier when he had been taken from his cell. Looking at his surroundings he noticed how abstract the designs and décor of the place he was in. He also noticed a number of windows on all walls looking out onto a cloudy red sky. Almost every wall was a different shade of blue and red with various pieces of artwork either hanging on them or stood on pedestals. He thought he was in an art gallery or a museum compared to a prison. After being taken into a frosty glass lift, Conrad was taken to a large room that had a massive glass ceiling that made it look like an old fashion observatory he had once seen back on Earth. The room was also furnished with different antics and quite regal looking furniture. The guards left him and returned outside leaving him by himself. He began to explore the room, noticing a desk on the raised balcony. Heading towards it, he heard the same doors he entered from open and he was pleased to see the three people who came through. 

“Jack! Am I glad to see you!” Corporal Jenkins said as he moved across the room at warp speed to greet his comrade in a bear hug.

“Likewise, Liam.” Conrad returned after hugging his friend and greeting the other two in a similar fashion. The moment they came in he had caught on that they all wore almost the same clothing as he. However, each of them was in different shades of dark earthy colours. Jenkins wore a suit that was a dark crimson colour. While Trommler had a taupe suit and Metaxas’ was a charcoal colour. “Are you all okay?” Conrad asked them next.

“Apart from being held in captivity and interrogated for what seemed like an eternity, yeah I’m fine.” Trommler replied.

Metaxas and Jenkins both agreed with the MACO soldier. 

“Any idea who they are?” Metaxas asked, referring to their captors, as the four men began exploring the room again.

“None.” Conrad responded as he went back to look at the desk on the balcony. 

“They look Human.” Jenkins stated as he looked at one of the portrait paintings of a man and woman that looked regal in appearance. “And obviously whoever is keeping us has a fascination with art.” He added.

“Of course we do Corporal.” Said a masculine voice from a doorway none of them had noticed before. All four men looked over to where the voice had come from. Where one of the walls had been a hidden entrance was now revealed. The man who had spoken stood in the middle of it with guards either side of him. “You’ll find that many of my people enjoy the fine arts and we celebrate them by displaying them everywhere we can.” He paused as he realised his guests didn’t know how to react to him. “I’m High Advisor Tonisus, welcome to Ardana.”

The four Challenger crewmembers all looked at each other with the same displeasing expression. As the senior officer, Ensign Conrad spoke up. “You have a funny way of welcoming your visitors, High Advisor.”

Tonisus soon bowed his head in an apologetic manner. He wore a long mint green cloak that draped over a similar suit the four humans wore. The cloak was trimmed with a silver pattern around the collar and cuffs. If he was Human, he looked like he was in his late forties/early fifties. This was due to him having thick mop of grey hair, bushy black eyebrows and a goatee beard of similar shades. He extended his arms outward in a peaceful manner as he spoke. “My sincerest apologies gentlemen for your treatment these last two cycles. I hope you can understand that my people are not a spacefaring race like yours and when others have visited us, we have been forced to take drastic measures to protect our people from their violence.”

“You’ve been visited by others not from this world?” Trommler asked, as he stood almost shoulder-to-shoulder with Conrad.

“Indeed, however we have not made it knowledgeable to our public as it would cause mass hysteria.” Tonisus stated. “The creatures we’ve encountered before were called the Carreons and before them we had to deal with quite a savage race known as the Romulans.”

Once again, the human men all looked at each other, recognising both names instantly as the two races had been fighting back on Challenger

Well I’m glad we’re not the only ones who have dealt with both of them.” Metaxas uttered from where he stood near Jenkins.

“Your people have encountered the Romulans and Carreons?” Tonisus inquired. 

“We have and they have been extremely hostile towards us as well.” Conrad replied. “I take it then you are the leader here?”

Tonisus bowed his head again. “I am and I take it you’re the leader of your group as well?”

Conrad nodded. “I’m the most senior officer here.”

“Well gentlemen please let me make it up to you all for our poor hospitality so far.” Tonisus stated. “Would you all join me for a meal?” He offered and gestured for them to join him in the room he had just come from. Once he had moved to the side, the secret entrance revealed a room of similar size and décor with a huge circular table in the middle of it with various dishes and drinks on it with chairs placed around the edges. 

“What assurances do we have that you won’t lock us back in those rooms you have had us in before?” Trommler challenged with.

Tonisus placed his hands together in front of him in a non-threatening manner. “If we wanted you to remain in them then I would have kept you there for much longer, but the information we have been able to gather from you and your craft makes us feel you are not a threatening people. Are you Second Lieutenant Trommler?”

“You seem to know a lot about us.” Jenkins remarked as he and Metaxas moved to stand by their comrades.

“As I said we’ve had time to translate your on-board computers and find out what we need to know to assess your level of threat to us. My military advisors believe you are not to be a threat, particularly as you did not come to us on board a faster-than-light spaceship. However, as I understand it you left your spaceship far behind.” Tonisus answered. “Now gentlemen I’m sure you’re hungry and would appreciate a decent meal. It is almost sunset and the end of another cycle, I would like us to start first contact the right way, a peaceful way. Is that possible?”

Conrad considered it for a moment and felt the other three all looking to him with some guidance. He didn’t have a chance to answer when Tonisus continued talking. 

“Gentlemen you abandoned your spaceship and flocked to my world in an attempt to save yourselves. You could say you have invaded my world inadvertently. However, all I am trying to do now is make amends to how we have treated you so far. Please I must politely insist you join me for a meal to show how sorry we are and possibly discuss how we can help each other out.”

“Alright High Advisor.” Conrad gave in with them and gestured for his colleagues to follow the Ardanan leader into the next room.

Once they were sat down different waiters came in and filled their plates with different cuisines and filled up glass flutes with a green clear beverage that bubbled and fizzed as they were poured. 

“To new friends.” Tonisus toasted as he raised his flute to his guests.

The four men copied the action before sipping on their drinks. Conrad considered the taste to be very similar to fizzy apple cider. Once they had placed their glasses down, they began eating the food in front of them. The palette was a mixture of spicy and sour vegetables along with a type of fried meat that tasted like pork. Conrad had realised just how hungry he had been and found himself eating a lot quicker than he normally would.

“So High Advisor you said we could try and help each other out?” Jenkins probed in between mouthfuls. Jenkins’ question had caught Conrad off guard, and he had realised he was not performing as the senior most officer and leading the conversation. Nevertheless, he looked to Tonisus and waited for his answer.

The Ardanan nodded at first. “Yes, as I said to you earlier my people do not know about non-Ardanans and I think if it ever was to get out it would cause a lot of social issues among the public.”

“Even though we look alike?” Trommler countered back while holding his glass flute before taking a sip of its contents.

Tonisus placed what looked like a small trident for a fork as he responded. “We may look alike Lieutenant however not all species that we’ve encountered share in similar traits. Yours is the first that appears similar to us. The Romulans and Carreons are complete opposites to us.”

“So, what’s these social issues of yours got to do with us?” Metaxas asked.

“My ship that found you all in orbit stated there was more than one of your crafts.” Tonisus explained, “Your escape pods, I believe you call them that? Well they landed on our planet and we’ve been unable to locate them. Our planet is enriched with many resources including one called zenite that can interfere with scanners. If your people were discovered, it would cause mayhem with our citizenship. I’m proposing we work together to find them all and in return we will provide you all with a safe sanctuary here in Stratos.” He offered.

“Stratos?” Conrad repeated, not knowing what Stratos was apart from it being the place they were in.

“Yes, Stratos is our capital cloud city.” Tonisus clarified. “Do you not have cloud cities from where you come from?”

Once again, all four men shared similar looks of surprise. Metaxas, being the inquisitive engineer, answered on their behalf. “No sir, what is a ‘cloud city’?”

“It is a settlement that levitates above the ground level.” Tonisus stated straightforwardly. 

“We’re in the clouds?” Jenkins asked, still in shock from the revelation. “I thought we were in a really tall tower!”

“Stratos is far from being a tower, please see for yourself.” Tonisus offered with his right hand for them to look out of the large windows on the far side of the room.

They got out of their chairs and moved over to the window, instantly they looked out and then down to see what he was saying was true. They could see the planet, several hundred kilometres below them. 

“That is impressive.” Conrad remarked.

“Astonishing that you are able to keep such a large settlement air-bound for such a long time.” Metaxas said.

“Over eight hundred years ago my people built Stratos and our cloud cities. They are the shining examples of our world’s accomplishments.” Tonisus said with pride.

“I can see why.” Trommler said as he gazed at the view before them.

Once they had finished looking out, they all returned to their seats and Tonisus continued with his offer. “As I was saying we would be willing to offer you shelter here on Stratos until you are rescued or able to leave our world safely. In return all I ask is for your people to keep your true identities as off-worlders to yourselves.”

Conrad realised that the older man was now looking at him, as was everyone else in the room. “I’m truly grateful for the offer, High Advisor and for your superb hospitality. I still don’t understand if you’re able to build such magnificent things as your cloud cities and are aware of faster than light engines then why don’t your people explore the stars like we do and expose your people to what is out there?”

Tonisus leant forward from where he sat opposite Conrad. “We have the means to do so, Ensign Conrad, but what we would be exposed to would have huge social ramifications on our people. The Council of Advisors doesn’t feel we are ready to take that leap yet, however one day I believe we will take our place among the stars with races like yours.”

“Well I hope your encounter with our race helps change your perception of the galaxy and that not all of us off-worlders are hostile.” Jenkins commented.

“It has with me and I’m sure by the cycle when my new-born grandson, Palsus, takes his place on the Council of Advisors he’ll be in a world that is eager to explore the stars and welcome off-worlders. Sadly though, there are many on my world who believe we are not ready for that just yet.” Tonisus answered. 

Conrad looked at his teammates. “Well, High Advisor Tonisus you’ve given us a lot to think. If you don’t mind, I would like some time with my fellow comrades to discuss your proposal.”

“Yes of course, however I do ask that you do not take too long. I believe the longer we leave it then the chance of your crew being discovered increases.” He said.

“And what about if we decline your offer?” Trommler said with wonder.

Tonisus appeared not to know how to answer it, but in a true statesman fashion he took in a deep breath and his chest rose and answered the young MACO. “Then we will help you fix your craft and ask you to leave our world at once.”

Conrad looked at the other three knowing that wasn’t going to be a choice they could afford to take. “Very well then High Advisor, I don’t think we have any choice except to accept your offer.”

Tonisus smiled at that. “I’m pleased gentlemen that we’ll be working together for both our people.”