Chapter 1: Visitors from Belrain
It was ten minutes to the hour when John got through the gate of the palace complex. He looked to the domed buildings in the distance and had to groan. Why did they need to have the gate so far from the hangars anyway? He started running, despite it not being good manners to be running on palace grounds.
Truth be told he had always felt out of place on the palace grounds. Not because he felt he didn't belong there. He had always wanted to work for the kingdom. And it was all he had ever hoped it would be when he got admitted to the engineering team of the royal fleet a year prior. But he had always felt so plain against the manicured lawns and immaculately maintained buildings. The sprawling gardens were vast and varied, complete with a maze, a stone garden and a bridge over a man-made lake. The palace buildings were tall and imposing, modern and splendid in glass and steel that rose and curved in just the right angles to reflect or block out the suns at certain times of the day. And John was… normal. He was of average height and of average build. He had short wavy black hair and dark brown eyes that were neither large nor small. He felt very nondescript compared to the splendor of the palace. Still, this was the place he wanted to be in. And the palace's splendor would just need to put up with his plainness.
Zipping up his teal engineering jumpsuit, John picked up his pace. The Chief Engineer was going to announce a new project they were going to be involved in, and he’d rather be considered ill-mannered than late for that.
“Cutting it close, don't you think, John?” His friend and classmate from the academy, the tall and lanky Henry, teased as John inserted himself in front of Henry in the lines they formed before the Chief.
“Blame that on my Pa,” John panted. “I was up until way past midnight teaching him on the phone. New SynTab. Dad gave it to him for his birthday last week.”
Henry patted him on the shoulder sympathetically. “Parents.”
“You mean tablets.”
“Parents and tablets,” came another comment from the line. It was from Jessy, another friend. Jessy had messy red hair and a ready and mischievous smile. “It's the combination.”
The Chief Engineer stepped on the raised platform at that moment. “Good morning, engineers. We have a new job coming in tomorrow that's going to preempt some of our current research projects for the next five days. We have visitors from the Belrain Colony.”
Murmurs broke out among the ranks.
“Belrain? Isn't that the colony in the Onos sector?”
“Aren't they the religious sect that keep to themselves?”
“Isn't that like a month away from Andro Terra at warp?”
The Chief, who they fondly referred to as ‘Tanks,’ really did remind John of a tank. He was large and intimidating. Tanks cleared his throat for silence. “On its way here, the ship of the Belrain delegation encountered an ionic storm and sustained heavy damage. As they are fellow humans despite their place of origin, and since the delegate’s captain is a friend of our King’s betrothed, King Nye has generously offered the services of the royal fleet’s engineering team to help repair the damage to their ship. The delegation from Belrain is coming in tomorrow morning on a ship called the Eve. Now, I know you're the best engineers our planet has to offer, but heads up that many of their tech may not be compatible to ours.”
“Ugh, and I was just feeling a breakthrough coming in my research,” Jessy whined. “I mean, I could just feel it.”
Henry snorted. “Yeah, right. I keep catching you lapsing into space all the time.”
“I do not.”
“Do, too. But I agree with how you feel about the interruption.”
“I don’t know, you guys,” John put in. “I’m kind of excited about the visitors. New faces. New tech. New challenges. They all sound pretty fun to me.”
His two friends just groaned.
Excited about the prospect of a new challenge, John spent the rest of the day researching the Belrain colony and what possible technology they would encounter. There wasn't much info on the colony, really. But, foreseeing as he might find himself in need of his older tools, he decided to go home to his parents’ house to pick up the things he might need.
“Oh, you’re home tonight,” John’s father beamed when he found him outside the door. His parents always looked so happy to have him home, and always looked so sad and forlorn when he left.
“Hi, Dad! Yeah, I just needed to pick some things up.”
“Staying for dinner?” His father was about his height, with a build slightly bigger than John’s. He kept his hair short and his beard properly trimmed. Though John could see more white strands in his Dad’s black hair, his bright brown eyes remained as vibrant as ever.
“I can stay for dinner.” John smiled.
He entered his old home and headed for his room with his father in tow.
“We have a foreign ship arriving tomorrow that needs repairs,” he explained. “I’m thinking I may need my old tools since we might be dealing with either legacy systems or ones that are completely foreign to us.”
“You’re too serious about your work, son,” his father chided as John began digging into the boxes under his bed.
“But I like what I’m doing, Dad. I mean, it’s always been my dream to work for the kingdom.”
“I would know, wouldn’t I? You never stopped talking about it when you were young.”
He smiled at his father fondly. “And you always told me I could. And so, I did!”
His father returned his smile with a proud one. “And a fine engineer you turned out to be. But if I had known they’d require you to live near the palace, I shouldn’t have encouraged you too much.”
“Dad, not that again.”
“Your Pa was right. We should have encouraged you to go into the private sector. Maybe you would have even ended up working in the same firm he works in.”
“Dad, you know that it’s the royal fleet that I want to be part of.” He swore both his fathers had some serious letting go issues.
“Are you going off to your engineering apartments again tonight?”
“Stop saying it like I’m leaving you forever all the time. I’m here almost every weekend, and it’s just across town.”
“Then why do you need to stay there? You could just stay here.”
“Dad. I’m twenty-one.”
“How could you be twenty one? You were just a baby, then I just closed my eyes, and when I opened them you’ve graduated university!”
He smiled kindly at his father. “Is Pa going to be late again tonight?”
“Yeah. They have an audit, and will probably be late for the next week. Anyway, we’ll have a proper family dinner when you come back next weekend.”
“Come. Dinner’s almost ready.”
Well, he loved his parents. Clinginess and all. He watched his father fondly as he left and started going down the stairs. Dad was who he looked like. When John was cloned, his parents decided to use Dad’s genes, then Pa’s genes could go to their second child. But the second child never came. Due to the shortage of reproductive cells at that time, the kingdom decreed that couples were only to be allowed reproductive cells for one child.
Packing the tools he had found, he followed his father down to the dining room.
“Hey, Dad, do you know anything about Belrain?” He asked.
“Not much,” his father answered as he set plates down on the round white table. “I know they’re very conservative. Most colonists left the main world because they thought we were too open with other alien species. Technologically, they’re not as advanced as the main world. And I heard they’re a lot more religious. I heard some colonies even practiced a religion where their devotees practiced celibacy. Hey, you’d better stop focusing only on work all the time, or you’ll end up like those celibate priests, okay?”
“Work-life balance, son.”
“Tell that to your husband.”
“Oh, don’t you worry, I will. But your Pa is married to an awesome man such as myself. What have you got to show for yourself?”
“Dad! I’m only twenty-one!”
No one ever expected what they met with when the Belrain delegation arrived the next day. The entire engineering team was stunned. Definitely, the ship was of a schematic they had never seen before. But they were engineers. They welcomed these technological challenges. What they weren’t prepared for was to find the visitors to be very beautiful. Every single one of them. And so, with their senses shocked like this, the royal engineers weren’t quite prepared to suddenly be told that the delegates didn’t want the engineers touching their ship.
“We appreciate your hospitality,” said the Eve’s Chief Engineer. He was slender and his voice was like music. Why was that? How did they do that? “But if you supply us with the parts, we can do the repairs ourselves.”
This refusal of help, however, did not sit well with Tanks. It was clear his pride was pricked. With a dismissive wave, he told the engineers to supply the parts and deal with the delegates. And he left without a backward glance.
Henry gave a long whistle. “Tanks is pissed.”
“Yes, well, it does come off as rude to be refusing such a gracious gesture.” Truth be told, John was a bit bummed out as well.
“Yes, but, guys! Look at them!” Jessy whispered. “Can I just say, what are with those pretty faces! They’re like, I don’t know, elves? But not tall!”
John wasn’t immune to their visual charms. And despite his disappointment, he still found himself staring at the beautiful people as they went about their business.
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