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Toast Of The Town
by Rick Tornello

The captain of the star ship Je-Nna reread the star chart screen. It indicated that the planet they were orbiting had not been visited in centuries. Add to that, the planet was so distant that its existence was lost somewhere deep in the historical archives. It had no name. Only a single expeditionary flight had been made but there was no report in the record other than contact had been made. It was by the dint of a data entry mistake in the navigation software that the ship was orbiting here.

The weapons engineer scanned for RF and sensor transmissions. Computer analysis indicated a low level of technology but at least they had radio. The Captain sent a message broadcast over a number of frequencies indicating their arrival, location and some other data. She kept the shields on full just in case and waited for a response.

She didn’t have to wait long. The computer translated the message as “Welcome to the Je-Nna captain and crew. We haven’t seen outsiders for a very long time. We welcome your arrival and look forward to celebrating with you. Arrangements can be made securely. Please respond, signed Planet EH Welcoming Committee.”

“Well, now we know its name, Planet EH, ” laughed the captain. And to the crew she stated, “It appears as if we’ll be the toast of the town. I’d like to get 10 volunteers to transport on-planet with me.” She always had an upbeat character. There was always a demand for her ship when there was an opening. The whole crew volunteered requiring a lottery to be drawn up.

The co-captain and weapons engineer decided not to pull rank and to remain on board while monitoring the celebration below. She transmitted their location and the procedures being undertaken to the home federation. For some reason there appeared to be a problem and the transmission engineer was on-planet with the rest of the visiting crew. “Shit” she said. “Can anyone fix this?”

A junior engineer stepped forward and offered his service. “Ma’am, I’m not an expert but I have some experience in this sort of thing.”

“Please have a go at it,” she commanded.

Meanwhile on planet the landing party was being given a parade through the planets’ capital. A feast was planned for later the next day. Screens throughout the planet broadcast the arrival of the off-planet guests. The pictures were transmitted to the starship Je-Nna too. Businesses shut down for the declared holiday.

The co-captain decided to research the history of this planet. In the ship’s library for hours, she stumbled upon a section dealing with odd and possibly dangerous locations and this planet with no name showed up. She requested classified access. After reading the data she felt she needed to contact the captain immediately.

On the non-local sub quantum com she raised the captain. “ Sir, you must leave the planet immediately. You and the crew are in possible danger.”

The captain laughed, “Yeah I know. It’s a planet of cannibals. Well, it was at one time and that’s why we never heard back from that first exploratory ship. They explained it and have been very apologetic. They changed their ways centuries ago. It was based upon a nutritional deficiency that they had no medical technology to overcome and just lived with it. A cure was discovered and now, like any family, they have skeletons in their closet that they usually don’t discuss. We’re on our way to a dinner invitation with the premier of the planet. In fact, I’m in his palace presently. Check the coordinates. He says we’re the “toast of the town”, to use one of our expressions. It seems they have been monitoring us for some time. I’ll get more data on that technology as soon as I can. They reverse engineered the technology from the ship that landed here centuries ago and would guess a few other unlucky crews too. It appears rather advanced. Funny our sensors didn’t pick it up.”

“Yeah, funny,” replied the co-captain sarcastically. “I’d get off there. It seems our COM systems are jammed, compromised or some such nonsense. And how many times have I been wrong? I don’t trust them.”

“You’re always such a buzz-kill. Just stay linked. I believe this is beyond their tech levels. Captain signing off.”

Now off line, the co-captain tapped the weapons engineer stating, “ I don’t trust these creatures. I have a strange feeling they’re hiding something. I’ll pull the ship out some and make some excuse regarding our transmission malfunction. I bet they had something to do with it. You get the shields up on anything you feel warrants it.”

“Yes ma’am sir. I’m ahead of you.”

“Engineer do you have a fix on the problem?” She asked.

In the mean time, the premier had listened to the whole conversation between the captain and co-captain. He looked at his aide and asked, “Well, what do you think?”

The aide replied, “They underestimate our technology. That’s good. We’ve jammed their deep space transmissions for now. I believe they are developing a work-around so we have to make a decision. I know we haven’t gone cannie in centuries but sir…”

Just then the Captain walked in. She said, “Your majesty we are so pleased to be here. You are a joy to be with especially after so many years in space and just being so formal and all that. This is the first place in years that I feel so alive.”

The aide whispered to the premier, “Look at that smile. Look at that well formed body, the muscles and my god she looks good enough to eat…for old times sake?” He wiped his face of a bit of drool.

The premier was taken by the captain and in a split second decided.

As The Je-Nna left that planetary system, the captain and crew never knew how close they came to actually being the toast of the town.

By Richard Tornello 2021