Bort McWebsbert was standing on the landing pad outside the Parliament Buildings, waiting while the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Craig B. Macdonald, finished making arrangements with his staff for the trip up to Wolf.
Macdonald was going to be traveling to Mars aboard our fair frigate, and as the senior captured officer in our custody (and frankly, the only one from the other side any of our people wanted to deal with), Bort was going to come along, to help smooth over the initial meetings that would precede the Mars Convention.
This, I should tell you, was early January of 2234. That’s significant for a couple of reasons. First, it reveals that we are indeed in a new year for our series of reminiscences (in case you were worried!), and second, it tells you something about the weather on Capital Island.
Namely, that there was a slight blizzard blowing. The wind was gusting up to 110 kph, which probably sounds like a lot, but isn’t unusual for a Capital Island winter. Snow was coming down, heavy and very wet because it was only a few degrees below freezing, and it was mostly drifting sideways.
All of this meant that it was hitting Bort up side the head, so to speak. And our poor Asteroid-born counterpart simply had no experience in dealing with such a trauma. If you’re from Venus or the Belt, you may never have experienced snow either. In point of fact, many of the people who live on Earth never get the proper North Atlantic blizzard experience.
It’s generally a Canadian thing. A Capital Island thing in particular.
Anyway, Bort was freezing, wet, and trying not to let his discomfort show while Craig Macdonald, a Scotsman not entirely unaccustomed to this sort of weather, made sure his staff had everything they needed out of his ministerial offices, and then ushered them aboard.
Now, my editors were surprised that Macdonald was doing the ushering himself – surely a minister wouldn’t stand out in a blizzard for logistical purposes!
Well, frankly, they’re right. Many ministers would get aboard the pinnace and wait for their staffs to sort everything out, but Macdonald was one of the few politicos who Daragh Ryan didn’t hate, remember. He was one of those ‘lead from the front’ types, and also partially bloody insane.
And not wanting to appear in any way less weather-worthy than a politico, Bort wasn’t going to board the pinnace before Macdonald did. Not long before, anyway.
His teeth were chattering, though, and he seriously wondered how the hell humans managed to survive in environments where they couldn’t program this sort of thing out of the weather.
Sure, space is much colder than a blizzard, but somehow the blizzard felt worse. Chilled him to the bone. Space could do that, but he’d be dead before he felt it. Capital Island wasn’t so merciful…
Hm. That’s a very twisted point of view, which I’m going to now conveniently leave behind. Because Craig Macdonald finally headed for the ramp of the pinnace.
“Ready, Admiral McWebsbert?” the Foreign Minister asked – yelled, really – as he pulled his collar higher up around his face.
“Yes sir!” Bort bellowed back.
Macdonald waved up the ramp, and Bort gave in. Leading the way, he entered the pinnace and immediately took a relieved breath. The air in the government small craft was carefully processed and filtered, just the way he liked it.
Brushing off his Defense Command-provided jacket with his hand, he headed for a window seat, then pulled off the coat and stowed it overhead. Sitting, he presented an unusual sight for the staffers and the Minister as they boarded behind him: a red-clad Martian Admiral was on their flight.
Yes, Bort was back in uniform. Hostilities were over, and this was a diplomatic mission, so it seemed appropriate.
There’s a funny story about that, though. The uniform Bort had been wearing when he was captured was pretty much trashed (and slightly radioactive). We cleaned it and tried to restore it, but it was beyond saving, so the one he now wore was actually off the costume rack from a war movie. Not kidding. The only place we could get a Martian Admiral’s uniform in time for Bort’s departure was from a motion picture set. Apparently our theft set the production of Red Menace back three days.
Wearing a costume that was supposed to be his uniform was apparently somewhat unsettling to Admiral McWebsbert – it felt right in some ways, and totally wrong in others. At least the costume had fully-functioning microfilament bags for decompression… not all movie costumes are fully functional, but parts of Red Menace were going to be filmed in space, so they’d sprung for all the fixins.
As the pinnace loaded up and the hatch shut, Macdonald dropped into a seat across the aisle from the Asteroid Admiral, then buckled his seatbelt and let out a huff, “Looking forward to the trip home, Admiral McWebsbert?”
Bort looked at the Foreign Minister, then had to bite back a retort.
Macdonald, like many politicos, was astute enough to see that something was left unsaid, so he prompted, “What’d I say?”
“Home,” Bort’s tone was more gruff than usual.
Macdonald had been dealing with Bort enough over recent weeks to have a pretty good rapport with the Admiral, so it only took a few seconds for him to recognize his error, “Right. Back to Mars, then?”
Snorting a laugh, Bort shook his head and looked out the window, “Whether I’m looking forward to it or not, we’re going, sir.”
Macdonald grinned at the resignation, “That’s exactly what I said to the PM. Minus the ‘sir’ part.”
Letting the conversation taper off from there, Macdonald settled back in his seat, and a few moments later the pinnace’s engines roared and the craft launched itself into the blizzard-ridden skies.
Half an hour later, Karen and I arrived in Wolf’s landing bay two observation deck. As I’ve said, our fine ship was going to transport Macdonald and Bort and the rest of the advance team to Mars, and I tell ya, we were incredibly excited.
I really should lay off the sarcasm…
“This’ll be a great trip. I’m so excited I want to fall over,” Karen said dryly, folding her arms as we peered through the glass out onto the deck.
I didn’t say anything for a second, trying to figure out if there was a way I could make a joke about her quip. Nothing came to mind, “I can’t work with that.”
Karen glanced at me, “What?”
“You want to fall over? I can’t come up with anything to go with that.”
I shook my head, “Let’s be honest, it’s not the greatest setup for repartee you’ve ever put out. There’s not even a double-entendre there. How are we supposed to generate smoldering tension if there isn’t a double-entendre?”
Karen pursed her lips and puffed out her cheeks thoughtfully, then nodded, “Good point.”
She then took a few seconds to come up with something a little more playful. But like me, she was running dry on clever turns of phrase with double-entendres.
“I’m fresh out,” she said at last, then frowned and shook her head. “God, we’re stuck in such a pedestrian groove.”
She was right, and this wasn’t a new development for us. What we were complaining about here was our seeming inability to reacquire some of our cheeky humor from before the war… and hell, even from during the war. We were both feeling so drained at the start of 2234. Hostilities were over, and we wanted to get back to our cavalier, house-collapsing ways… but everything felt flat.
This was a problem. And it was going to arguably lead to even bigger problems.
Bottom line: we were both trying too hard to be clever and witty in each other’s presence… to bounce back from the fatigue of the war… and we were failing. Spectacularly.
“Should we stop trying?” I asked after a pause, and Karen glanced at me again and shook her head.
“We’re just exhausted. Once we get back into the swing of things, it’ll come.”
She didn’t sound completely convinced, and I wasn’t either.
But it wasn’t worth worrying about; we were still together… back together, in fact… and we had the opportunity to restore our old ways. That was a good thing.
Sorry, I keep thinking ahead. I’ve over-analyzed far too many aspects of 2234 in the years since, so it’s slightly habitual. For now, the diplomatic pinnace was coming in.
There was no ceremony as the black craft slipped into our bay, and then set its feet down on our deck. The space doors closed behind it, the bay repressurized, and Karen and I headed out there at an easy pace to meet our esteemed passengers.
By the time we reached the small craft, the ramp was already coming down. We waited briefly for it to settle on the deck, then looked up at the hatch and waited for someone to come through.
Sure enough, Craig B. Macdonald led the way, carrying his briefcase in one hand and a box of files under the opposite arm. It looked precarious.
As he came down the ramp, Karen and I looked at each other with frowns, but we didn’t get a chance to fail at repartee, because he called out a greeting to us.
“Aha, Admiral, Commodore, hello. Thanks for ferrying the politically-inclined of us to Mars!”
He said that with some difficulty as he balanced everything he was carrying, and then he didn’t stop at the foot of the ramp to say anything more – he hurried past us toward the hatch. That was, well, unexpected. Elected officials carrying their own files just seemed uncanny.
“Are all your leaders as uncommon as that man?”
Karen and I both recognized Bort’s voice, so we looked back to the pinnace just in time to see him descend, carrying only his kit. None of the staff had wanted to give a Martian any boxes of files to carry – we liked Bort, but it still seemed like a bad idea to give him a box full of sensitive ministry files, just in case.
Unnecessary precaution, of course, but seemed prudent at the time.
Because one of Bort’s hands was free, he extended it to Karen, then to me. We greeted him with smiles that weren’t forced – we hadn’t seen this man in months, but we’d parted on good terms, and we knew that since he’d arrived on Earth, he’d been very cooperative with Foreign Affairs in getting the convention arranged.
We weren’t friends yet, though – I suppose friendships with enemies take more than a few pleasant conversations to solidify.
“Welcome back aboard, Bort,” Karen’s greeting was warm, and our Asteroid counterpart nodded.
“Glad it’s under different circumstances,” he said.
“Damned right,” I agreed, and then I nodded in the direction Macdonald had gone. Whether he’d been aboard a Predator-class frigate before, or just had an uncanny sense of direction, I have no idea, but the Foreign Minister was heading for the lounge, and a flight deck technician was kindly holding the hatch open for him.
“We better catch up with him.”
Karen and Bort nodded, and so we did – while the poor ministry staff started unloading the many materials they’d brought with them to facilitate the planning of a peace conference. I never asked what was in all the boxes… probably better that I don’t know.
Anyway, that’s enough for this chapter. I think third time may indeed have been the charm, so let’s move on to something else.