First Of The First Sample.

Note To Readers

This is the translation provided by the AI of Mark, Friend of the People, using British English idioms and American English spellings

It is customary in the galactic military culture for all ranks to be addressed with a non-gender specific form or honorific. This is because not all species have two genders. Some reproduce parthenogenically, with no need of a second gender, some have three or more genders – which makes their sex lives complicated – some change gender through their natural life cycles and some – are very weird. With some it is simply very difficult to tell which gender they belong to, so assigning them a gender specific honorific is fraught with the risk of getting it wrong. As there is no English equivalent with the commonly used non-gender specific honorific, the translation of the form of address for all officers in this book is ‘sir’ regardless of gender.

 

1. A Threat Delivered

The wormhole at the edge of the small nondescript solar system became active again. Having been virtually unused for hundreds of thousands of years, it had become extremely well used in the last few months.

It all started when the wormhole delivered a small but capable invasion force of well-organized outcasts. They systematically destroyed all the off-world research stations, orbital space stations and satellites. Then they descended upon the only inhabited planet in the solar system and attacked the relatively primitive population, overwhelming their unprepared military and engaging in a campaign of genocide. This was quickly halted by the intervention of a galactic independent army, given logistical support by one of the People, and more directly, albeit unwillingly, by a human who had recently been made a Friend of the People.

The wormhole activity culminated in transferring the largest invasion fleet the galaxy had seen for nearly a billion years into the solar system. Once the invasion fleet had passed through and assembled, it promptly disappeared. Only a certain member of the People, Ker Din Ser Forn, or Alan, as he was known to some, knew what had happened to it, and he wasn’t saying.

The devastated civilization of Gnn’Ath, the planet so undeservedly attacked by the outcast army led by Tk’ng Dach Rm, was now being assisted by the Boran Medical Emergency and Recovery Group, a voluntary charitable organization who assisted in medical emergencies and helped populations recover. The name says it all.

Now another heavily armed fleet arrived, unannounced and unwelcome. The fleet took up position in orbit around Gnn’Ath and ten military landing craft descended to the new capital of Taurakan, the old capital having been destroyed in an incident involving a fusion bomb and a well-meaning but inept attempt to defuse it.

The landing craft settled in front of the new Government House and five hundred heavily armed and armored soldiers disembarked, forming defensive positions around the landers, complete with magazine fed mortars, heavy duty pulsed beam cannon and motorized surface to air missile batteries. Who they thought they were defending themselves from is not clear, as the previous invasion had totally destroyed the entire planet’s military forces. The enthusiasm was commendable, though the logic for such a show of force might be questioned.

Last to disembark, surrounded by his personal guard, was Major Bryd Sa Dett of the Herassan Federation Army. He strode straight up the steps and into the reception area. His personal guards relieved the two Gnn’Athian armed guards of their weapons – one of whom until a few days ago had been an apprentice tailor and the other a junior clerical officer in the nation’s vehicle licensing agency.

The Major stopped at the front desk and demanded the terrified receptionist tell him where the First Minister was to be found.

Escorted by his armed guard, the Major marched down a broad corridor and up a wide staircase that led to the double doors of the First Minister’s office. At his instruction, two of his guards kicked the doors open. He strode in and stopped in front of the First Minister’s desk. The First Minister leapt to his feet, gulped, and said, “Can I help you?”

“I am Major Bryd Sa Dett, Commander of the Herassan Federation Combined Armed Forces expeditionary force. Our mission is to retrieve Hess An Sur, First Born of the First Family of the Herassan Federation Of The Five Planets to her rightful place.”

“Well, I wish you every success Major, but I am afraid that due to the recent unpleasantness on our world, we are not in a position to offer you any assistance at the moment. Would you like refreshments? I will order tea and biscuits.”

The Major slammed his fist on the desk, making the First Minister jump. “You are in a position to assist, and you will do so. I have reason to believe that sooner or later, Her Highness, the First Born of the First will return here. When she does, you will inform me with this.” One of the guards placed a small device on the First Ministers desk. “It is a communication device that you will use to tell me when she arrives. We will collect her and never trouble you again. If you fail to contact me, we will bomb this city into dust from orbit. If you or your people try to prevent me from my duty, we will use lethal force to ensure compliance. Is that clear?”

The First Minister gulped again. “Crystal clear Major, but I don’t understand. Her Highness the First Born of the First Family of the, umm, wherever it is, has never visited us. Until we were invaded we thought we were alone in the universe. We certainly didn’t have any alien royalty visiting us. If she hasn’t been here before, how can she return?”

Resting both his hands on the edge of the desk and leaning forward until his face was only a few centimeters from the First Minister’s, the Major said, “She was with the army that cleared the outcast scum from your planet. She will return. You will tell me when she does, and we will collect her. Would you care for me to demonstrate the consequences for your miserable little planet if you don’t?”

“No, Major. A demonstration isn’t necessary, you can rely on me.” the First Minister said nervously. “The communicator, how does it work?”

“You press the red button on it and speak. You shouldn’t have too much trouble working out which one it is, it’s the only button on it. Don’t fail me.”

The Major pushed himself off the desk, spun on his heel and marched out, followed by his retinue.

2. Orbit

The Swift blinked into orbit above a planet with two small moons. The planet had a few blue patches, but it was mostly covered in cloud.

“I thought you said this would be interesting?” Mike said. “If this is your idea of interesting, give me advanced warning next time and I’ll go and have a sleep while we’re there. In fact, I’m going for a sleep now. Wake me up when we’ve left”

“But this is Gnn’Ath!” Mark exclaimed.

“That damp and gloomy little shit-hole where you tried to blow yourself into atoms with a fusion bomb?”

“That was an accident. Anyway, I thought Sally would like to have a discussion with the First Minister of Taurakan after he was so dismissive about saving his race from Tk’ng Dach Rm’s assault.”

“Where? I thought you said this was Gnn’Ath?” Mike said.

“Taurakan is the country where we attacked the invasion force base and includes the Southern continent where the last of the fighting took place.”

“Oh, yeah. It was their capital that you flattened with the fusion bomb.”

“I was trying to defuse it! Anyway Sally, do you want to meet him and give him a kicking?” Mark asked.

“Not really.” Sally said. “Victims rarely show gratitude for being saved. They usually blame their rescuers.”

“Very true.” Mike said. “You and Alan for example.”

“That’s not the same!” Sally snapped.

“You never explained why you dislike Alan so much. What happened?” Mark asked.

“It’s complicated, as you and your People friends say when you don’t want to explain something.” Sally said, glowering at him.

Mark turned to Mike. “Can you tell me?” he asked.

“That’s for Sally to tell, when she’s ready.”

“Damned right! And now is not the time. I’m going for a run.” Sally turned and stomped out of the command center.

“This is going well.” Mark said. “I thought this would make you both happy. You think it’s a boring shit-hole and now Sally’s in a foul mood. I think I’ll just go and kill myself.”

“I can help you with that.” Mike said.

“You’re all heart.” he answered.

“Cheer up Mark. It could be worse.”

“How?”

“Simon could be here.”

Mark laughed. “You’re right. I suppose we’d better go somewhere else. Got any suggestions?”

“Yeah, I suggest you relax. We’ll stay here for now. Sally will soon calm down, but I’d keep out of her way for a while if I were you. I’m going to. She might like to go and have a look around later. I’ll contact the Boran Medical Emergency and Recovery Group and we can meet up with them.” Mike said.

“Who are they?”

“They organize volunteers to help out when there has been a natural disaster, or a plague, or a war. Sally called them in as soon as the fighting was over on Gnn’Ath. They are very experienced and have protocols agreed with the People when they are dealing with pre-emergent civilizations. She has friends who work with them, so if they are here, she will probably want to go and see them.”

“If they help out when there has been a natural disaster, why haven’t they been to Earth? We’ve had enough of those in our history.”

“The only circumstances they will intervene in a pre-emergent civilization is when it has been attacked by a post emergent enemy. How often has that happened to Earth?”

“Uh, never, as far as I know.”

“That would explain why they’ve never been there. Come on, a session of unarmed combat training will take your mind off things and I can enjoy myself by giving you a good beating.” Mike said.

“In your dreams” Mark grinned, and they blinked to the gym.

3. Old Friends, New Friends

The lander settled gently on Gnn’Ath. Sally, Mike and Mark stepped out to be greeted by a reptile a bit bigger than Mark and a stocky mammalian female. Both were dressed in white jumpsuits. The female mammal had torn the legs off her jumpsuit to make shorts and removed the sleeves to expose thick muscular arms. They ran to Sally and almost crushed each other with hugs.

“They seem excited to see each other.” Mark said to Mike.

“The reptile is Touren Ud Sen, the mammal is Bekkreshan an Erret. Sally hasn’t seen them for a long time.”

“Do you know them?”

“No, but Sally has spoken about them in the past, and I spoke to Touren to arrange to meet here.”

The reptile called Touren came over to Mike and Mark. “It is good to meet you Mike.” Turning to Mark she said: “You must be Mark.”

“Yes, I must be. And you must be Touren.”

“I have heard of your exploits, Mark, Friend of the People and slayer of Tk’ng Dach Rm. I was expecting someone, uh, bigger.”

Mark sighed. “No, this is all I am.”

“Mike spoke about you too.” Touren said.

“I hope she had something good to say about me.”

“Now you mention it, no, she didn’t. But Sally is unnaturally fond of you, so you must have hidden talents.”

Mark sighed again.

“I’m kidding, Mark.” Touren grinned, showing a mouthful of white dagger like teeth. “You have a great reputation as a warrior and Mike was very complimentary.”

“Don’t tell him that!” Mike said. “He’ll get delusions of adequacy.”

Touren grabbed Mark and lifted him up in a crushing hug. “Thank you for making my dear friend Sally happy.” She put him down and he folded at the waist, bending over and struggling to breathe again. Touren continued, “I hope you will be my friend too.”

While Mark gasped for air, Bekkreshan came to join them. Mark, still bent over, put his arm up to her, “Just a moment,” he wheezed. Then he spoke to his AI: “For god’s sake Kate, can’t you adjust my phase shift armor to protect me a bit better?”

It was a friendly hug.” his AI answered.

“You need to re-evaluate what is acceptable to me! If it stops me breathing, it is not acceptable. Got it?”

I will adjust the protection levels against friendly gestures accordingly.”

 “Didn’t you detect any stress in my vital signs that you monitor so assiduously?”

Yes, but according to the Earth archive, many humans derive pleasure from physical stress. I will ensure that you do not suffer physical stress from a friendly interaction again.”

“Or an unfriendly one.”

Or an unfriendly one.” his AI echoed. “However, it may reduce the pleasure that you enjoy when mating with Sally in future.

“I’ve told you before, we do not mate!”

Of course Mark. I’ll rephrase that. It may reduce the pleasure that you enjoy when you copulate with Sally in future.”

We don’t copulate either!”

You don’t?

“Well, yes, we do. But you make us sound like animals!”

You are animals Mark, just as I am a machine. We cannot deny what we are. Or do you consider yourself to be above the corporeal realm, some kind of god-like creature?

“Now you are just being deliberately annoying. You know what I mean, and you know what I want you to do. Would you please do it?”

Of course Mark. I do so enjoy these little sessions of banter.”

“Are you all right Mark?” Mike asked. “Are you having a stroke or a chat with your AI?”

“Don’t you ever have problems with your AI?” he asked.

“No, but you have a Peoples AI which is so, so smart, and you are so, so dumb.” she answered.

“I don’t want to interrupt, but I’d like to introduce myself to you. I am Bekkreshan. Don’t worry, I won’t hug you. You seem a little fragile.” She turned to Mike. “Did he really kill Tk’ng Dach Rm?”

“Yes I did!” Mark snapped. Then he said: “I’m sorry Bekkreshan. That was rude of me. I did kill Tk’ng Dach Rm, but only after he had badly injured me. Stories of my prowess as a warrior are vastly exaggerated. I am pleased to meet you and I hope that both you and Touren will become my friends.”

Sally stepped forward. “He’s not being modest; he really doesn’t think he is a warrior. He’s not been trained; he has very little experience and he doesn’t like fighting. It’s a pity, because he is a natural. I’d always want him next to me in a fight, as well as in bed.”

“Sally!” Mark said, blushing.

She grinned. “He comes from a sexually repressed pre-emergent civilization.”

“Reminds me of someone I met about four and a half thousand years ago,” Touren said, “but less violent.”

“So how long have you been on Gnn’Ath?” Sally asked, abruptly changing the subject.

“Just a few days.” Touren answered.

“There’s nothing for us to do here.” Bekkreshan said. “We’ve been kicking our heels, supervising some construction to help out and pass the time. They have no use for our skill sets.”

“They don’t want help preparing to restructure their society now they’ve been exposed to the galactic culture?”

“No, they want to take their time and do it themselves. The First Minister of Taurakan has taken the role of spokesman for the Gnn’Athians and seems sensible and pragmatic. It wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t end up leading a World Government.”

“The First Minister?” Mark said. “We met him not long before we left here. He was an arrogant arsehole. He was so obnoxious when we met him that I thought Sally would want to come back here and beat him up. Verbally, of course.”

Bekkreshan frowned. “That doesn’t sound like him. Would you like us to arrange a meeting Sally?”

Sally and Mark answered simultaneously, Sally saying “No!” Mark saying “Yes!”

“I’ll make the casting vote.” Mike said. “Yes, we would like to meet him.”

Sally rolled her eyes and said, “OK, but you,” pointing at Mike, “do not speak unless I specifically order you to. That is an order, soldier.”

Mike snapped to attention. “Yes Sir!”

“I mean it Mike. We’ve just stopped a war here; I don’t want you starting another one.”

“Maybe Bekkreshan and I will join you when you meet him.” Touren said.

“Good idea.” Mark said. “If Mike looks like she might say something you can hold her down and gag her.”

“Sah Lee, we aren’t adding anything here, can we travel with you for a while?” Touren asked.

“You’ll have to ask Mark, it’s his ship we travel in.”

“Sah Lee? Isn’t your name Sally?” Mark asked.

“Of course not. It’s just the name I took when we were on Earth.”

“So Simpson isn’t your family name either?”

Sally shook her head in disbelief that Mark could have thought her real name was Sally Simpson. Hadn’t he heard of the song by the Who? “Of course not. Sah is my family name, Lee is my given name. My people, the Sek Farn, always use both parts of our name together, so I am Sah Lee.”

“Should I call you Sah Lee now?”

“That’s what I, and everyone else, normally hears when you say Sally, and when they say Sah Lee, your AI translates it to Sally, so you can call me Sally, as you are used to it.”

“Why did I hear Sah Lee when Touren said it?”

“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask your AI. Anyway, Touren and Bekkreshan will be traveling with us for a while.”

“Is that all right with you?” Touren asked Mark.

“Of course. Any friend of Sally’s is a friend of mine.” Mark answered.

“Will you have enough room for both of us?” Bekkreshan asked.

“He’s got a Peoples ship.” Mike said. “We’ve got enough room for a modestly sized civilization to move in.”

Mark said, “Yes, of course Bekkreshan. You and Touren are welcome to travel with us and stay for as long as you like. When you decide what you would like your quarters to look like, send it to my AI and I will have them prepared for you. You can have as much room as you like, and you will have the use of a Peoples synthesizer. I will give you access to the ships internal transport, so you can move around it by blinking.”

“A Peoples ship? Whose is it?”

“Mine of course. Did you think it was an Uber?”

“Uber?” asked Bekkreshan.

“Never mind, but yes, it is mine. I’m a Friend of the People, so I have a People’s star ship.”

“I know a little about Friends of the People.” Bekkreshan said. “I met one once before. He didn’t have his own ship. I’ve never heard of a Friend of the People getting their own People’s ship before.”

“Really?” Mark said. “I just asked for one and got it.”

Bekkreshan shrugged and turned to Touren. “What shall we have?”

“Standard crew quarters to start. We can plan something better if we decide to stay a while.” Touren replied, then said to Mark, “If that’s OK?”

“Of course. Send the specification you want to my AI. When can we meet with the First Minister?”

“We’ll need to go to New Government House and arrange it with his assistant.”

“I’ll come with you.” Sally said. “We can catch up on the way there.”

“Shit! That means I’ll be left by myself to babysit the mammal again.” Mike said.

“Do you like beaches?” Mark asked her.

“I love beaches!”

“Let’s go down to the south. The weather is good there right now and there are huge empty beaches.”

Mike grabbed his hand and pulled him to the lander. “Come on then. We can go skinny dipping!”

“Yeah, and I’ll miss you too.” Sally said to their backs as they ran onto the lander.

“Your friends seem a little immature.” Touren said.

“Yes, they are, but they seem grown up compared to the others in my team.”

“And isn’t ‘Mike’ a male name? Is she transgender?”

Sally laughed. “Oh no, she’s all female. It’s a long story and involves an Ant. I’ll tell you all about them on the way to New Government House. Do we walk, or do you have transport?”

4. Catching Up

“I thought you were both going to settle down on a quiet resort planet when you left my army?” Sally said as they walked to the town center.

“We did.” Touren said. “We got bored. We re-joined the Boran Medical Emergency and Recovery Group. We don’t want to be in an army again, at least, I don’t. I’m not sure about her though.” She gestured to Bekkreshan. “She has a violent streak in her.”

“That’s not true!” Bekkreshan retorted. “Well, only a bit. My race was warlike but have adapted to a peaceful existence now. We thought we could do some good with the Boran Medical Emergency and Recovery Group, but our specialty, as you know, is taking selected individuals from exposed pre-emergent civilizations and preparing them for leadership in a post-emergent galaxy. This is the first exposed pre-emergent civilization since the Aarnth, and we’re not needed here, so we’re ready to quit now. But I’m willing to bet that traveling with you, there will never be a dull moment!” she grinned.

Sally sighed. “You may be disappointed. Things have changed now. For me, that is.”

“Mark is that important to you?”

“Yes, but not in the way that you think. I mean, he is personally important to me. I am extremely fond of him, in a way that I don’t understand, but that’s not it. For the last four and a half thousand years I have been single mindedly pushing myself to make myself the best fighter, and the best commander of the best army, so that I can kill as many outcasts as possible and to track down and kill Tk’ng Dach Rm. Now he’s dead, his army defeated, and the remnants imprisoned by the Tolen, I suddenly have no purpose. My whole universe has been turned upside down. I don’t want to fight any more. I have left my army – although I am still nominally in charge, and I am re-evaluating my whole existence. I’m even realizing that my hatred of Alan may have been misdirected.”

“Alan, you mean Ker Din Ser Forn?”

“Yes. I came across him again when I took some of my soldiers on an exercise on Earth. That’s where I met Mark. Ker Din Ser Forn was there on an Archivist assignment and he was using the name Alan at the time.”

“So you don’t blame him for the loss of Aarn anymore?”

“I don’t know what to think. And what makes it more complicated is that Mark has gone from being a timid and weak pre-emergent nerd to become a highly skilled and talented warrior with the use of a star ship and weapons billions of years more advanced than any other civilization. He doesn’t realize it, but apart from the People, he is the single most powerful person in the galaxy, and I am just a weary soldier who has lost the motivation to fight, which makes me completely useless.” 

Touren put her arm round Sally’s shoulders. “Sally, we have known you longer than anyone else in the galaxy. You are not useless; you are a leader.” Looking at Bekkreshan, she said, “I think we have found our new role.”

“I don’t want to be a project for you.” Sally said stiffly. “I’m fine thanks.”

“You’re not a project! You’re a friend. We love you Sally. Of course we want to support you. You’d do the same for us, wouldn’t you?”

 “Yes, but that’s different.”

“How?”

“Well, it’s what I would do if you were in the army.”

“Like you do with Si’ir Monn?” Touren said.

“Yes, like that, so it’s not the same.”

“For an intelligent woman, you can be very dense. It’s exactly the same. Well, almost. The principle is the same. We’ve helped you before, we are going to do it again. That’s what friends do. OK?”

Sah Lee smiled. “You are my oldest friends. I guess I owe it to you to let you think you are helping me.”

“Bekkreshan, you hold her still while I hit her.” Touren said, laughing. “We’re nearly at New Government House, so best behavior.”

5. On The Beach

As the lander settled on the sand, Mike and Mark could see that the beach was empty. Miles of glistening pale sand with not a soul in site. The landing ramp slid down and Mike ran out, hopping on first one foot then the other as she pulled off her boots, flinging them across the beach. As she ran down to the surf she wriggled out of her jumpsuit and threw that to one side and plunged into the sea. Mark followed more sedately and walked to the surf line. He took off his boots and put them neatly together on the sand, pushed the legs of his jumpsuit up to his knees, then took a few tentative steps into the water. It reminded him of childhood day trips to Sandbanks beach. His parents would get him up very early in the morning and they would drive down through the New Forest to beat the traffic and get on the beach before it got crowded. His mother would buy him an ice cream for breakfast while his father found a spot on the beach he liked. His parents would lay on the sand getting sunburnt for a couple of hours, then, late in the morning, they would drive to Bournemouth for lunch. Then his father would hold his hand as they followed his mother round while she shopped for clothes. He sighed. Those were happy days, before he was seven, before everything changed.

As he paddled slowly through the surf, lost in thought, Mike suddenly leapt out of the water and pulled him over, shouting “Come on, have a swim. The water is gorgeous!”

Mark struggled up, snorting water out of his nose. “Are you mad! You could have drowned me!”

“In twenty centimeters of water? I’d have to sit on your head to drown you. Shall I try it? Come on you wimp, there are lots of fish out there and they have no fear of me.”

“You soaked my jumpsuit!” Mark snapped at her.”

“Take it off! You can’t swim in it anyway. Come on Mark, have some fun for a change.”

“Fun? I remember fun. It was a long time ago.”

“Mark, I’m warning you, if you don’t start enjoying yourself soon, I’m going to drag you in here and make you.” Mike said with a grin. “We’ve got this huge beach all to ourselves, the sun is shining, which makes a change for this shitty little planet, the water is clean and warm. What more could you ask for?”

“A Mister Whippy ice cream van?” he said.

“Yeah, whatever that is. Now get your jumpsuit off and come into the water!” Mike turned around and plunged back into the sea.

“Get into the water Mark. Have a swim Mark. Enjoy yourself Mark. Easy for her to say.” he muttered as he took off his jumpsuit and soaked underwear. “Kate, I don’t swim very well. Can you prevent me from drowning?” he asked his AI.

Yes Mark. If you recall, your phase shift protection was originally designed by the People as an environment suit. It would protect you while you walked on the surface of a neutron star, so splashing about in a bit of salty water won’t stretch its capabilities. I can adjust your apparent mass, so you float a bit more than you would normally, and provide you with an air supply, so you don’t need to inhale any water.

“If you can do that, why did I get a load of sea water up my nose when Mike pulled me over? It was really unpleasant.”

Mark, I am your AI, not your nanny. Try to act like an adult, not a needy child. You’ll get on better with everyone if you can learn to do that.”

“Bloody AI.” Mark muttered as he carefully walked into the water and fell into a clumsy doggy paddle, keeping his head upright and out of the water.

Relax Mark, you are quite safe. Pay attention to the images I am about to show you and copy them. I’ll start you off with breaststroke. It’s quite easy. When you have mastered that, I’ll show you the front crawl.”

“I don’t like getting my face wet.”

Your phase protection will keep you dry, but I suggest that you get wet before getting out. Mike is likely to mock you if you walk out of the sea completely dry.

“Are you sure you’re not my nanny?”

Just follow the directions, you’ll soon be swimming.”

*****

Two hours later Mark staggered out of the sea, exhausted and dripping with water. Mike ran out of the waves onto the beach and flung herself down on the sand.

“That was fun, wasn’t it?”

“It wasn’t bad.” Mark said, trying to suppress a grin.

“Careful Mark, you might burst a blood vessel if you keep that up. How about a run along the beach?”

“Seriously Mike, I’m bushed. Let me lay in the sun for a while.”

She jumped up. “I’m going to get a drink from the lander. Do you want one?”

“Sure, thanks.” he said. “It will be in the synthesizer.”

A few minutes later, Mike returned with a mug of her hot, herby smelling tea and a large glass of ice cold cola.

“I’m going to lay in the sun for a while and get a tan.” Mark said.

“Me too.” Mike replied.

“You can tan? I didn’t know reptiles could do that. Does your skin go a darker green?”

“Of course I don’t tan, you dipshit. The only things that change skin color in sunlight are some mammals. Just the ones that look like they live under a rock most of the time, like you.”

“So why do you want to lay in the sun?”

“I’m cold. I’ve just come out of the sea. Like most reptiles, I’m ectothermic so I need to warm up in the sun. Don’t you know anything about physiology?”

“Not about yours. Alien physiology wasn’t on the curriculum at my school in Romsey. You know, Earth not knowingly having any aliens on it.”

“You’re the alien here, mammal boy. It’s lucky I haven’t been wounded in action and had to rely on you to treat me.”

“You’d have been OK. My AI would have told me what to do.”

“Yeah, I was forgetting. There is some intelligence inside your head. It’s just not your brain.”

“Just a thought, do you get any benefit from sunshine?”

“Yeah, it helps me see where I’m going.”

“No, I meant, health benefit.”

“Just because I’m green I’m not a vegetable. Oh, my AI has just told me that your species photosynthesizes vitamin D in sunlight, like a plant. That makes sense. I always said if you were marginally less intelligent we would have to water you.”

“If you fall asleep in the sun, I’m going to bury you alive.”

“If I have to listen to much more of your crap, I’ll help.”

Mark lay back and closed his eyes, enjoying the heat of the sun on his body. He smiled as he thought that a year ago, back on Earth, if someone had told him that in a year’s time he would be laying on a beach on a planet god knows how many light years from Earth, swapping insults with an alien soldier who had become one of the closest friends he’d ever had, he would have thought they were crazy. Not to mention him fighting and killing a psychopathic reptile hell-bent on ruling the galaxy, and having his own star ship. And yet, it all seemed quite normal now. He was drifting off to sleep when his AI spoke.

Mark, wake up. Sally wants to speak to you.”

“Tell her I’m busy.” he said sleepily.

Do you think that’s a good idea? The request is flagged as urgent. You’re connected.

“Hi Sally. You OK?” he asked.

“Drop what you’re doing and get back here right now, and don’t let Mike out of your sight. Keep her close and have weapons ready.”

Mark sat up, fully awake now. “Why? What’s she done? Should I restrain her?”

“Don’t be an idiot. Make sure she’s armed too. Get back here now!”

“But…” his voice trailed off as he realized that Sally was gone.

Mike jumped up beside him and leaned down, grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet. “Come on!” she said, “Get back to the lander. Run!”

Swimming, and laying on the beach in the sun naked was one thing. Being dragged at a run across a beach two hundred meters to the lander by an overgrown lizard while completely naked was another. “Can’t I put my jumpsuit on first?” Mark pleaded.

“You can get a fresh one when we’re on board. Come on!” Mike said digging her claws into his wrist.

Mark could have stopped her, but she seemed to think it was important to get back quickly. “Set a course to Sally’s location please Kate.” he asked his AI.

Already done Mark, and I’ve ordered new boots and jumpsuits for both of you. They will be in the synthesizer when you get on board, but we will be making an emergency take off, flight and landing, so you might want to get strapped in as soon as you get inside.

“Oh great.” thought Mark. “Now I’m going to have to explain to Sally and her friends why I have been on the beach with Mike and we’re both naked.”