This is the latest in a series of fanfic prequels to Isaac Asimov's early story "Black Friar of the Flame", detailing the history of humanity's interactions with the reptilian Vegans. Previous stories are "New Management", "An Audience with the King", and "Repurposed". And now, without further ado, the first installment of
by Johnny Pez
Captain Wern Thorba had to pause for a moment as he left the boat to let his eyes adjust to the dim sunlight. The Sirians lived under a sun that was nearly as bright as Vega, so they tended to keep their spacecraft decently lit. The Sirians' Terrestrial allies, though, lived under a dimmer sun, which gave the planet Earth an eerie twilight quality to the Vegan's eyes. Thorba knew in an abstract way that the Terrestrials found their sun's light to be perfectly normal, but he could not escape the feeling that they must secretly find it as unsatisfying as he did.
The view around the boat was equally unsatisfying, but his time with the Sirians had taught Thorba that all spaceports looked pretty much the same, and that it was unfair to judge a world based on the appearance of its spaceport. As he and his men stood by the open hatch of the boat, Thorba saw a self-propelled vehicle -- a bus, the humans called it -- approaching. As he often did at times like this, Thorba tried to imagine such technology being used on Vega VI, his own world. It wasn't easy. The bus would have a difficult time navigating the narrow streets of Lhasinu, capital city of his native Kingdom of Lhasi, and probably an equally difficult time making its way along the rutted dirt roads that ran between Lhasi's cities. Not to mention the fact that the vehicle's hydrogen-combustion engine was centuries in advance of anything found on Vega VI.
The trip on the bus was uneventful as they crossed the wide concrete plain of the spaceport's landing field. Ahead was a terminal building done in what Thorba had come to think of as standard human architecture: rectangular, with a flat roof and glass sides. The bus came to a halt near a pair of glass doors, of the equally standard human sort that slid aside automatically as you approached. Thinking back to his first day as a recruit as Lhasinu Base back on Vega VI, Thorba could still remember his shock at first encountering automatic sliding doors. At least a quarter of the Vegans who had come to Lhasinu Base to sign up with the Sirians had been unable to cope with the doors, convinced that evil spirits must be involved in their use.
As Thorba and his men left the bus the doors slid aside, and they were approached by a human male in the uniform of the Terrestrial Space Navy. He had evidently been well briefed for his mission, for he came directly to Thorba and saluted, saying, "Captain Thorba, I am Lieutenant Tatupu, your liaison." Since humans and Vegans had a difficult time telling individuals of the other race apart, Thorba assumed that Tatupu had relied on his uniform's rank badges to distinguish him from his men. He might be wrong, though; it was possible for members of one race to train themselves to recognize distiguishing characteristics in the other.
Tatupu was taller and broader than most of the humans Thorba had met, with the usual black human hair. Thorba had mostly become used to the appearance of humans, but he still found hair disturbing. Fortunately, Tatupu, like most human males in the military, kept his hair very short, which made it easier to ignore.
Thorba returned Tatupu's salute and said, "Good day, Lieutenant. You will be in charge of escorting my men through customs, correct?"
"That's right, Captain. If you and your men will just follow me, I'll get you all sorted out."
Tatupu led the Vegans through the terminal while Thorba made sure that none of his men strayed off. They mostly avoided the crowds of humans by making their way through an otherwise empty corridor. As far as Thorba knew, he and his men were the first Vegans to visit Earth, so he doubted the corridor had been constructed specifically for them. No doubt it had been designed so that important humans could avoid the crowds, and the Terrestrial Space Navy had commandeered it for the Vegans' benefit.
The corridor led to a large room, dimly-lit as everything else on Earth was, occupied by a desk with a human female sitting behind it. She had hair as dark as Tatupu's, but longer, and rather elaborately styled. Her skin was darker than the Navy man's, and she wore civilian clothing. The two humans conferred for a few minutes, and then Tatupu turned back to Thorba and said, "Ms. Walsh tells me that everything is in order. I have a vehicle waiting to take you and your men to the hotel where they'll be staying."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Thorba said. "Lead the way."
Another stretch of empty corridor led to another set of sliding doors, which opened out onto . . .
(to be continued)
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