Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
The mammoth multi-functional spaceship, the HMS Drebbel, descended slowly through the skies of Beta Bevatt and settled gracefully onto the undulating surface of the planet-wide ocean. For the next two hours the giant ship filled its ballast tanks and gradually submerged beneath the waves. Now a submarine, the vessel powered its way toward Meta DeStad, The City of the Fish.
Six months earlier, the first mission to Beta Bevatt detected the underwater city, built and populated, by fish. Of course, “fish” describe the Earth-base analog. Xenobiologist had a more accurate technical description of the streamline aquatic life on Beta Bevatt, but to the layman, they looked like fish, and swam like fish, so they called them fish. But that is where the similarity ended. These fish were sentient. They had a language, cared for their young, cultivated seaweed gardens, and even raised shrimp-like food in a pen built entirely from a reed that they meticulously weaved into a large sphere using finger-like appendages on the ends of their pectoral fins. The Fish were friendly and hospitable, not unlike the primitive American Indians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. And the humans wanted to cultivate that relationship, so they kept the mothership hidden, and only interacted with the Fish using their quiet hydro-magnetically powered fish-like submersibles. Apparently, the ruse worked, because the Fish accepted the humans as distant, if not peculiar, cousins.
However, several months into the current mission, the Fish came to the humans requesting help. It seemed that the Fish had a great enemy. A pod of predators that swam in from the north and attacked their city around the same time every year, and that day was approaching. The prior year, the predators had killed 20 percent of the inhabitants of Meta DeStad. They were hoping that the human-fish could join them in battle.
“Captain,” pleaded the Science Officer, “we have to help. We’ve befriended these creatures. We can’t abandon them in their hour of need. Sir, we have over fifty manned submersibles, and they are all faster than anything in the sea, we can defend the Fish.”
“Tom, I understand your feelings, and I want to help too, but we can’t interfere in the natural selection process of Beta Bevatt. If the Fish were meant to survive, they’ll have to do it on their own. My hands are tied.”
“Please, sir, can we at least arm our submersibles? That way, if you change your mind, we’ll be ready to help.”
The captain studied his bridge officers. There was mutiny in their eyes. In his mind, he knew they would obey his orders, but in his heart, he wasn’t so sure. Perhaps he should buy some time. Maybe, the predators wouldn’t come this year. “Okay, Tom. But mark my words; no submersible may leave the ship without my direct order. Is that understood? Good. Now, go ahead and begin making the modifications.”
Two weeks later, the predators arrived. “Captain,” announced the sonar operator, “they’re coming. But sir, I’m picking up the sounds of screws churning in the water, and transmissions. Sir, I recognize the language. They’re Centari. It’s a hunting expedition. They’re hunting the Fish for sport.”
“What! Those bastards,” exclaimed the captain. “The Centari Treaty forbids them from entering this Sector. Okay, it’s no longer a natural selection dilemma. Launch all of the submersibles. Wait, belay that order. Launch all but one. Commander Eckland, you have the Conn. I’m joining to lead this fight.”
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