Author : Viktor Kuprin

Any starship could request a flyby. Popik received them all the time from the Customs Patrols and the Space Force when they needed to eyeball our ship. If they wanted a bribe that day, they’d come aboard Popik’s old Mod One. He would shake hands with the thug-in-charge and discretely pass some rubles or gold kopeks he’d gotten from here and there.

That’s what you had to do if you were a free trader like Popik, especially if you occasionally hauled illicit cargoes on the side like bootleg vodka or tobacco. The Americans treated tobacco like it was some kind of fission-grade plutonium. But the colonists on the Fringe Worlds gladly paid for it sight unseen.

Maybe Popik was curious to see the ship or, I suspect, he just wanted to give me a surprise. He keyed up the code for a flyby request, transmitted it, and to his surprise the reply came back giving the okay. Back then, before the wars with the Helgrammites and the others, there weren’t so many alien starships in human space. Not like now.

When he called me over the comm, I was playing with dolls in my cabin. I raced to the cramped control center, dragging my favorite teddy bear behind.

“Sit down, Vika, and watch the big televisor,” Popik said. “We’re going to see something special.”

“Is it Poppa or Momma calling? Are they coming?” I asked.

“Not this time, my heart,” Popik replied. “We’re going to see a Tsoor ship, an alien ship. We’ll fly past it in a few seconds. Watch.”

“Da, Popik.” I should have known it wasn’t my parents. Poppa was on duty aboard a warship somewhere in deep space. Momma was away, too, always working in some company office on Getamech. So, when I wasn’t in school, I got to travel with Popik and live in his asteroid domik between our trips to the stars.

A strangely-shaped orb appeared on the televisor screen and began to grow in size. Popik grinned and fired the retros, slowing our approach.

“It’s a Class-4 Tsoor starship. They call it a ‘Porpita,'” he explained.

“That’s a funny name, Popik!” I bounced and giggled, hugging my teddy bear.

The Tsoor ship was a cluster of four huge connected spheres glowing bluish green. Bars of brilliant violet light circled the globes’ equators and vertical axes. I saw no portholes, no windows, no one looking back at us. To me it looked like some giant, magical New Year’s tree ornament.

“Can we flash our lights for them, Popik?” I asked.

He shook his head. “We probably shouldn’t, my heart. The aliens might not know what to make of it.”

Then the beautiful Tsoor starship receded into the distance and was gone.

I watched and re-watched the video Popik had made of the flyby. And all these many years later, I still have that recording. Just a few seconds long, but it takes me back to those happiest of times, back to my dear grandfather.

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