They served us breakfast on the trip. It was typical travel food, pre-packaged and soggy, but it was filling and my stomach seemed to be taking it well. At least it wasn't military rations. I mean, we were at the hands of the government here.
The flight wasn't a long one. We left from New Earth at 9am GST, that being around 4:30am in New Phoenix, and arrived in Torus space at around 10:15 GST. We floated there in space for a long while, the Captain chattering into his comm, apparently conversing with the New Phoenix command center. I took the time to attempt to get to know my fellow ambassadors a bit better.
Seated directly to my left was Senator Ibn Kazin, who had been fast asleep since departure. It didn't seem like a good move to wake him, so I turned to my right, looking across the aisle, and saw a woman I didn't recognize. I introduced myself, and she did likewise, identifying herself as Anne Littleton. It turned out, as you well know, that she was the researcher who had first received the message from the Torus aliens.
We were all understandably nervous about our impending appearance, and I quickly realized that no one was really in the mood for chit-chat. Very little was known about the aliens. We knew that they understood our language and that they wanted to see us, but we were unclear on what they looked like or even what form of life they were.
My training as a linguist told me, after hundreds and thousands of times through the two rather simple text messages, that their language was harsher, more grating than ours. Their apparent trouble with soft Cs and Rs, and their stressing of words with hard Gs and Ds was a clear indicator of this. Still, that told us nothing. I wondered once again what I was doing on this mission.
We got word from the Captain that we were about to commence docking around that time. Everyone visibly tensed up, excepting Kazin, who stayed asleep, snoring slightly. I noticed the track marks on his arm. Another tranquilizer addict. The ship began to vibrate lightly as the engines powered up again. I watched through the widow next to Kazin as the silvery expanse of the Torus' hull slid past. It grew larger and larger until it took up the entire view, its exterior surprisingly devoid of rivets and pockmarks.
Docking took another few minutes, the harsh clank that signified the airlock's locking telling me when we were there. We all stood, except Kazin. I shook his shoulder and he stirred a little, glancing around himself and grunting. I looked across the cabin, out the other window, and sighed. The League ship was just coming in to dock.
Unhappy murmurs traversed the length of the cabin, rippling like wind-driven waves on a lake. The AEU was still fairly unhappy with the League. We had discovered the Torus, we had been contacted first by the aliens. We didn't understand why the League had been invited, as well. The captain motioned us forward and out of the airlock.
I suppose it's safe to say that all of us were a bit surprised at what we found inside. It was a huge corridor, well-lit and clean. The walls curved gently away from us, until the passageway disappeared from sight. The air was warm and stale, the temperature hovering around body temperature. The most significant surprise, though, was that it was completely empty.
Kazin stumbled out of the airlock behind me, coughing out, "Well, where the bloody hell are the bastards?"
It was a good question. There was no one there to greet us. There were no visible footprints on the deck. I caught that thought and reminded myself once again that there was no reason to believe they even had feet. They could be air beings of some sort and floating before us right now. I somehow doubted that.
There had been some doubt as to whether or not there would be an alien ambassador to meet us when we disembarked. The messages had said nothing of a greeting party; they had been only an invitation to come see the Torus.
"Well, I'm gonna go find em," I heard from behind me. The old senator made a move to push through the small crowd, and the Captain put his hand on the man's shoulder, stopping him.
"You need to wait until we get clearance from Base, Senator."
"Don't give me that shit, Junior. I don't have time for it."
The Captain sighed and shrugged at Kazin. "I still can't let you go off alone, sir. Just wait here." He disappeared back into the airlock and we heard the ship's hatch shut behind him. For a brief moment I was paralyzed by the fear that I'd be left here, in this massive floating donut.
After a few moments of nervous chatter, we heard noises from the airlock and turned toward it. It was the Leaguers, shuffling out and glancing around, looking as confused as we must have a few moments before.
I explained to them, "No one was here. We're waiting for clearance to explore this thing and try to find them."
The moaned and complained as they were prone to do. I stood there in silence and listened to them, proud once again to be a member of the AEU. The Captain came out a few minutes later and signaled us that it was okay to walk around and explore. The ship's sensors had found no humanoid life on the station. That wasn't total assurance, but it was enough for the Base to let us go.
We walked off, down the corridor, leaving the League representatives behind. None of us looked back.
(Excerpted from: Levin Strauss, "Levin Strauss: Life and Travels", 2247)
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