Arthur stood at the healing tank and once again wondered what had drawn him there, as so often in the past couple of days. He had just been standing on the bridge, listening to the banter of the best pilot he’d ever had and his head of security, who complained that they were actually on a science mission but lately had been reduced to transporting more or less precious cargo half across the known universe or providing taxi services to some dignitaries, when their communication officer made a little sound.
“Mithian?” Arthur knew that he shouldn’t call his crew by their first names while they were on duty. It was unprofessional and reduced the distance he should have as a captain.
“There’s…I’m catching something that sounds like a distress signal…” Her face screwed up in concentration, Arthur knew better than ask questions. She was listening, trying to make sense of what she was hearing. “It’s not in any language we’ve encountered before, though.”
Silence fell over the bridge and they exchanged glances. Mankind had spread out over the universe in the past millennia and even though evolution had done it’s job and adjusted the humans to their new environments, they had yet to encounter any highly developed life form that didn’t originate from Earth.
Mithian was fluent in about twenty languages that were spoken throughout the Union and the rest was fed into the ship’s computer, so they could easily communicate with everyone. That neither she nor the ship ever heard the language the distress signal was in could only mean one thing: They had encountered an alien life form.
Arthur’s heart was beating faster. This was why he had joined the fleet. When he was five years old, he had looked up into the night sky and told his father that he would become a captain in the star fleet and that he would be the first to meet ‘sky people’ as he had no better word for it. It looked as if his dream would come true.
“Distance?” He took a deep breath and fixed his eyes on the big screen that projected the space around them.
Lance typed hectically on his panel. “Seems to come from that wide empty space that borders the Maccian Nebula.”
“How long does it take us to get there?” It would be a diversion but they were a ship of the star fleet of the Union. They could not let a distress call go unanswered, it would have been against any moral standards that were ingrained in every single one of his crew.
His science officer shrugged. “A little hyperspace jump…”
“We could make it in half a day.”
Arthur straightened up even more. “Gwaine, take us there.”
He could feel the excitement around him and could barely contain his own. Whatever was waiting for them out there, it would be new territory and that was what they all signed up for. On the other hand, there were protocols to follow if this case ever happened and he needed to prepare the rest of the crew for what was probably coming.
“Leon,” he turned to his first officer.
“You have the bridge.”
Arthur couldn’t get enough of the fine features and the sharp cheekbones, the long fingers and the dark unruly hair. The only give-away that he wasn’t looking at a human were the ears. They were sticking out quite a bit and had little pointy ends. If he didn’t know better, he would have guessed that someone had been dressing up to look like a character from that ancient science fiction show or the fantasy movies that were still shown on one of the nostalgia channels in the middle of the night.
“There it is!” Gwaine had yelled out when he got sight of the vessel.
After talking to the ship’s head medical officer, who happened to be his sister, Arthur had made sure that Mordred cleared one of the cargo areas and secured it the way they were trained for. He had made an announcement to the rest of the crew. The excitement floating through the ship was almost tangible and made him smile. He knew, though, that it was probably dangerous to meet alien species and had Percy double-check on all the security measures that the protocol dictated.
“Scan for life forms.” Arthur didn’t even notice that he held his breath when Lance performed the scan.
“Alright, time to introduce ourselves. Mithian?” Arthur got up from his chair and straightened up to his full height.
“No answer, Sir.”
“Open an audio channel and have the computer translate into every known language. Maybe we’re lucky and whoever this is understands one of them.”
She typed away on her panel and then turned back and nodded.
“This is the Union Ship Camelot, I am Captain Arthur Pendragon. We caught your distress signal. What’s the reason for your emergency?”
There was no answer and after a while of tense listening, the crew started to throw each other glances.
“Lance, is there any movement?”
Looking up from his panel, Lance shook his head. “Negative.”
“Gwaine, get us closer. Percy, meet me in the shuttle dock.”
Leon’s head snapped around. “But Arthur!” It was rare that Leon called him by his first name while they were on duty. “Wouldn’t it be safer to haul the vessel in with our tractor beam?”
They had gone through this back and forth. Of course it posed a danger if they were boarding an unknown ship they got no response from. There might have been defense mechanisms they had never heard about or the atmosphere was deadly to them. There also might be valuable equipment on the ship that they could examine or even use that might get lost if they just brought in the passenger. They all had sworn to serve the Union and protect every living creature in it, so Arthur had decided that the life form was in Union territory and therefore needed their protection.
“The bridge is yours, number one.”
Of course they didn’t neglect their scans and soon found out that the air inside the vessel would be breathable for them. They still didn’t discard of their helmets when they finally entered. Who knew what kind of bacteria or virus-like things were floating around that these creatures needed to live but that would kill them instantly? It would have been a lie, though, if he said he wasn’t excited and wanted to squeal like a school girl that they were the first humans to set foot on an alien ship.
Lance guided them through to where they could find the alien. It was soothing to have his voice coming over the speakers in his helmet. It was like a connection, a life line to the Camelot and it kept him from getting distracted by his urge to explore the entire vessel.
When they finally opened the doors to the cockpit, Arthur was almost disappointed. The creature seemed to be unconscious and had sunken over the controls. Other than the ears poking out from a thick mop of hair and being really skinny, it looked like any other human, though. When the creature didn’t respond to being addressed or their careful shakes after touching it’s shoulder, Percy simply hauled it over his shoulder and they made their way back to the shuttle.
Morgana and her medical staff had been on stand-by and took over as soon as they were back on board. When Arthur was out of his space suit and de-contaminated, he pressed his communicator. “Doctor Pendragon?”
“Captain?” It was almost funny how Arthur was on a first-name basis with everyone in the crew but his sister.
“We’re in the sick bay now after discovering that the alien is humanoid and close enough to our own biology that we can try to heal him with our means.”
Why don’t you wake up?
Arthur caught himself as he was reaching out to touch a hand against the cylinder of the tank. Morgana had assured him that the alien was even closer to their own biological structure than a chimpanzee and therefore she had tried to treat him with everything they had on board. He didn’t have any visible injuries and her scans didn’t come up with any internal damage either.
“He might have put himself in a healing statis.” She suggested.
“He?” The alien looked like man, but then again, it was an alien. Who knew? Maybe this species all looked alike and you needed to know them to find out which ones were male and which female? Or maybe they didn’t have any sexes at all? Or they could be whatever they decided to be?
“Arthur,” Morgana laughed. “We had to get him out of his clothes to examine him properly. Trust me, he is very much a he.”
Clearing his throat, Arthur hoped that the blush he felt on his cheeks wasn’t visible. “Alright. How long will that take? And how can we help him?” He hoped that Morgana would go back to professional mode and she did him the favor.
“If only I knew. He might look like us, but he’s probably so advanced that he can do things that will be very interesting to examine.”
“He will be treated as our guest, not as a specimen sample for your experiments.” For some reason, he felt very protective of the alien already.
“Of course only if he lets me. Maybe some good conversations will enlighten us.” She smiled as she checked some displays.
“He needs to wake up first. And then there’s the language barrier. The good conversation might have to wait a while.”
Morgana had made the decision to put the alien into one of their healing tanks. That way, he could take all the time he needed and the solution in the tank provided nourishment and offered medication.
That had been three weeks ago.
The first couple of days, their rescue mission had been the number one talk in the hallways and the mess hall. When there was no change in the alien’s condition, the crew had turned back to the usual gossip and it was almost as if they had forgotten about his existence.
Arthur just couldn’t. He went through his days the way he did before, made decision, praised where praise was due, corrected what he had to correct and focused on delivering their cargo. More often than not, he found himself in the separated section of the sick bay, standing in front of the healing tank. It was as if the alien was calling out to him, drew him in, wanted his presence.
Shaking his head, Arthur almost chuckled. It wasn’t true. It was an alien and the very first one of his kind that they met and therefore he was interesting. Nothing more and nothing less.
Still, Arthur could recall the look of the alien’s face when he was in his bed at night and longed for the moment he would come to and he could find out who he was. What he was. The mission he was on. What had brought him into the situation they had found him in.
A team had salvaged what they could from the alien’s little ship and it was all stored away in the cargo hold that was sealed. If the containers held experiments or just personal mementos, they couldn’t tell and Arthur had decided that they wouldn’t be opened by anyone but the alien himself.
Once again, Arthur stood in front of the tank. It was in the middle of the night and he should be in bed, sleeping, getting enough rest for another more or less exciting day, but it had felt like someone had called his name until he woke up and knew where he had to go to.
“What do you want?” He whispered. “You called me, I’m here.”
If the lone medical technician who had the night shift noticed, he didn’t show.
The lines on the display changed. “Is this normal?” Arthur asked out loud. Before the technician had made his way over, it looked as if the alien was taking a deep breath.
Then he opened his eyes.
Arthur stumbled back. He was so used to the familiar sleeping figure that the blue eyes that seemed to focus on him in wonder, came as a shock. He didn’t know what he had expected. Maybe some kind of colour that wasn’t normal for humans? Purple, maybe? Or orange? Or probably a shape of pupils that clearly marked him as non-human? Like a snake or a goat or something? But no, the alien had blue eyes, a very intense blue and they were trained on him.
The technician checked displays as the alien reached out his hands and touched the glass.
“He wants out. Let him out. He’s ready.”
Morgana, still tying the belt of her silken bathrobe, ran into the room. “What’s happening?” She took over from the technician, checked the displays and then, for the first time, looked up. “He’s awake.”
“Let him out!” Arthur insisted.
“Shouldn’t we establish some form of communication first?” Percy had rushed into the room, too. “He might not be delighted that we caged him in like that and seek revenge?”
Arthur knew that he needed to say this. He was the ship’s security officer and the finest he had ever had. He shook his head, though. Holding the alien’s gaze, he repeated “Let him out.”
Without looking, he knew that Percy had his hand on the handle of his blaster and Morgana held that weird device that could scan you but also zap you, but she pressed a few signs on the display next to the tank and very slowly, the front slid to the side.
The alien watched all this with wide eyes, before he looked at Arthur again.
“Hello.” Arthur tried a smile. Before he could rattle down the standard phrases the academy had drilled into him, the alien took a step out of the tank and then collapsed into his arms.
Immediately, they all had sprung into action to steady the alien and help him over to one of the beds. Morgana had run more tests, the technician had helped, Percy had watched all of it with tense anticipation and Arthur knew he had been in the way.
After a while, the alien said something.
“Whoa, alright…this isn’t going to be easy.” None of them had understood a word. “Let’s try this differently.” Arthur felt the eyes of everyone in the room on him, when he gestured towards Morgana. “Morgana.” He said before pointing to Percy. “Percy.” Finally, he pointed to himself and went “Arthur.”
The alien’s eyes lit up with understanding. “Arthur.”
“That’s me, yes. Who are you?” Arthur gestured to him.
Looking from one to the other, the alien repeated their names. “Morgana, Percy…Arthur.” A contagious smile spread on the handsome face.
Arthur chuckled. “Yes, that’s us. And you? Who are you? What is your name?”
The creature sat up a bit straighter. “Merlin.”