"Do you always carry your laser rifle with you, commander?" Gamiel, the Trokan representative, asked. He stretched his hands toward the desolate landscape. "As you can see, this is a peaceful world. There is no violence here."
"It's something of a security blanket," Commander Sebastian McCloud said, as he eased the rifle down on his shoulder. He wore a sardonic smile like a medal on his chest. "I've gotten used to it."
Gamiel, like all Trokans, had thin folds of skin instead of lips. He showed only a limited number of smiles or frowns. Still, the folds twisted into a puzzled, if not condescending, expression. "But shouldn't a race such as yours, one that has begun to travel the galaxy, be less insecure and more..." he used a Trokan word McCloud didn't know. The commander turned to Lt. Tequesta Lynquest, who was a skilled linguist.
"Roughly translated, the word means psychologically whole, mature, emotionally sound," she said.
"So he just called me emotionally immature?"
The ambassador has a point, commander," said chief diplomat Andric Fellows. Fellows had the advantageous trait of looking like a diplomat. Tall, with small spots of gray streaking his dark hair, he had an aquiline nose and chin chiseled into his features. "There's no danger here. The Trokans are unarmed and pacific. Yet you and your squad are tramping around with weapons. Your actions appear hostile and provocative."
"We've found that everything is not always as it appears."
"I've also noticed, Lieutenant," Gamiel said, "that although you carry your rifle in your right hand, your holster carrying your sidearm is on your left side."
"I'm ambidextrous," Tequesta said.
"That always sounds sexy when you say it," McCloud told her.
Her furious laser stare could have melted icebergs. He quickly added, "Or not. As the case may be."
She looked around. "There's something wrong here. This is SUBB. Totally SUBB." Scowling, she walked down the path toward the small Trokan hamlet.
Fellows stared at McCloud with a puzzled frown.
"Military slang. Stands for 'screwed up beyond belief.' Tequesta is a Christian, so she is diplomatic. Other Spacehawks have a different word to begin that phrase."
Fellows looked at the near-frozen ground and the barren trees devoid of leaves. The bare limbs were offered up to the sky as if in surrender. "It's not paradise, but I don't know why she should say that."
"Tequesta has been in a sour mood ever since we hit this planet, and I don't know why. Usually, she's very vivacious. Her laugh can sweep away gloom and depression. When you hear her, you join in."
"She's not laughing now," Fellows said.
No, she wasn't.
A frigid world, Troka's climate was akin to northern Canada. The temperature was a few degrees above freezing. McCloud and Tequesta had donned winter jackets and looked out on the brittle land through blue-tinted snow glasses. While there was little animal life, two soldiers had been poisoned when they brushed against thorny bushes. Troka was not going to be a popular tourist destination.
To guard against the weather, Gamiel and other Trokans dressed in clothing similar to a monk's habit. Only their gnarled hands and the stoic faces could be seen inside the brown cloth. The thick material provided protection from the cold and from the high, swirling winds that often howled over the landscape.
"It is a harsh planet," Gamiel said. "I'm sure most other races would not like it. Perhaps that explains your lieutenant's displeasure."
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Copyright 2008, George L. Duncan. All rights reserved.
After 30 years in journalism, I'm an editorial writer with the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Va. A novel of mine "A Cold and Distant Memory" was published in 2004. A second novel "A Wine Red Silence," a greatly expanded version of the short story in The Sword Review, will be published later this year by Capstone Fiction.