Earth-based Orbital Patrol Officer Daxton Miller peered through his standard issue LongView scope at the vast, starry emptiness of Space. The scope's heads-up display showed no activity as he panned to the left and to the right. All was clear.
Dax reached forward to his portable communication device, which was clicked into place in his patrol vehicle's dashboard. He scrolled down the list of destinations and selected "Terran Orbital Defense, station 19C," home base. As his patrol vehicle came to life and aimed itself toward Earth, he fastened the LongView back onto his belt. He poked at the screen again, sending a communique to his team that he was heading back planetside.
He glanced out the window of the vehicle and saw a vessel approaching. He quickly tapped "Cancel," then grabbed onto the manual controls of his patrol vessel and punched the throttle while activating the indicator lamps and automated warning messages.
Inside the cabin of the approaching shipping vessel, according to Dax's readouts, sat a number of Exans, extraterrestrial beings bound for Earth. A recorded message in Terran English played back within the vessel's interior, then repeated in a handful of other, widely understood Terran and Exan languages. "You are being stopped by orbital law enforcement. Vacate your current transport lane and deactivate propulsion systems immediately." As the alternate translations warbled from the vessel's speakers, the laughter of Exans rang out through the length of the mostly unadorned, rectangular ship. Its speed increased slightly as an alien appendage adjusted the controls.
The computer of Dax's patrol vessel sensed the speed and energy output of the vessel increase, and automatically activated the secondary, slightly more forcefully-worded warning recordings. Dax focused hard on the opposing ship. He brought his patrol vehicle alongside the small freighter and gestured through his viewport to stop.
In response, an Exan with long, thin, barbed quills covering the back of his head and neck glared at Dax through the viewport, bared his teeth, and flared his cranial spines outward as though trying to appear larger. The ship increased its speed further.
Dax clenched his jaw muscles. In a moment, he was directly behind the exan vessel. With a series of beeps on his console, system procedures were activated. A thin beam of energy appeared between the two vessels, then disappeared, followed by another, thicker and steadier beam of light. The Alien vessel was stopped, its engine was disabled, and its momentum arrested by an orbital-grade tractor beam.
Dax remembered his training. Protocol was to wait for a second Orbital Enforcement officer to arrive to assist with the stop. Dax pressed his communicator in the dashboard again and spoke the proper code to let dispatch know who he was, and that he had detained a vehicle. "Ten twenty-five, alpha one orbital."
There was a pause. Then, in place of the usual dispatcher, his supervisor's distinctly gruff voice glitched back, "Alpha one, negative. Ten-sixty-six, please acknowledge."
What was 10-66 again? He didn't hear that one often. He poked the screen of his portable docked in its place in his vehicle's dashboard, and opened the procedural manual. He swiped to the section on radio codes. "Release from custody," it read. He had never gotten back a 10-66 from dispatch before while on orbital patrol duty.
Dax stared at the communication controls, then looked out his viewport to the Exan vessel. Had his supervisor forgotten what had happened on Earth just over a decade earlier? It was a ship vaguely like this one, if he wasn't mistaken, and it had been used as a massive weapon when it was piloted at full pulse into a population center. This ship could be headed straight for the station, or worse. He had to stop it. Lives could be at stake. This was the reason for his job's very existence.
It must be a misunderstanding, the thought. He pressed his communicator again. "Ten-ten, sir. Repeat, Exan shipping and transport vessel, loaded for bear with alien life signs and possibly cargo. Prior to disable and tractor, it was headed directly for a main population center. Please. Advise."
There was a shorter pause, then, "Affirmative. Ten-sixty-six, Officer. That's an order."
Dax gaped for a moment, doubting what he had heard. He managed to get his wits about him and crackle back, "Ten-four." He deactivated the tractor beam.
There was a moment of hesitation as the automated "please fly safely" message played and was translated. The the engine ports of the alien vehicle began to glow bright with motionless exertion then, when the inertial dampeners were suddenly deactivated, the transport lurched into motion, spewing over-rich thermal exhaust from the flooded engine in a blue-green flare of plasma in its wake as it sped away.
Dax sat for a moment, deflated. He pressed his comm again . "This is orbital, Alpha One, I'm ten-seven. Going home."
The following morning, Dax double-tapped the screen to wake the garage's user interface, and scanned his portable. He heard the machine whirring to life as as his vehicle was lowered into place. The large garage door slid upward and his patrol vehicle inched forward into the loading zone, then sat idle. "Hopefully," thought Dax as he entered his car and snapped his portable in place on the dash, "today will be boring."
As the vehicle hovered in place and increased its altitude above the patrol station's garage platform, Dax's portable chimed, and the vehicle's screen came to life. "Planetside orbital units, respond to a violent altercation at the Downtown Medical Facility. Exan male, large build, code X, and Terran male, medium build. Witness says they are agitated and creating a possibly dangerous situation. Use caution."
Code X. He didn't need to look that one up. It had originally referred to Xeltans, one of the more consistently problematic varieties of Exan. They bore long, poisonous spikes on something like half of the total surface of their skin. Every encounter Dax had ever had with a Xeltan told him that they were prone to getting irrational, and could rarely be reasoned with once triggered. Nowadays, Code X could refer to any variety of Exan that bore some aspect of their anatomy that was potentially dangerous to human biology. Dax hoped it was one of the more mundane and less lethal ones. So much for having a boring day.
His portable had detected the location from dispatch and was already displaying a travel plan on the screen. Dax tapped the confirmation button, then activated the communicator as his vehicle began its navigation toward the hospital. "Ten-four, dispatch, Alpha One on route."
The building looked completely normal from the outside. Dax had half expected to see a crowd gathering, or some other indication that there was something going on inside, but there was only the usual hustle and bustle and vague uneasiness of a hospital. Even as he entered, the usual group of worried relatives and tense visitors barely glanced at him.
A nurse saw Dax enter, recognized his uniform, and beckoned, "Officer, it's this way."
Dax followed the nurse as she waved something near a sensor to unlock a door. It opened to reveal a long hospital hallway, harshly lit and nondescript. "An Exan was starting to get pretty aggressive," she explained. "I called as soon as I saw things start to go south between him and a human patient." A sudden left turn through an open door brought them into a waiting room.
A very tall Xeltan was standing quite close to a cowering, terrified Human male. The immense Exan was muttering something under his breath in that unmistakable snarling Xeltan tongue. The Exan finished his incomprehensible threats in Terran English, "Humanist DIRT!" He raised his muscular, spiked arms, and aggressively pushed the Human's shoulders, causing his victim to stumble backward into the wall and nearly fall to the floor.
Dax quietly told the nurse to go wait for his backup officer in the lobby. He did his best to make both beings aware of his presence and establish a calm environment. "Excuse me! Is there a problem here?"
The Xeltan's head whipped in Dax's direction, his amber-green eyes wide and dialated, his sharp teeth bared, and his cranial quills flared to maximum extension. As though in slow motion, Dax could see the alien's muscles flex, his immense weight begin to shift, and his feet start moving. The Exan was about to hurl his entire, immense, poison-spiked form at Dax.
In an instant, Dax grabbed the TASER beam on his left hip and aimed it at the Exan. The wide, translucent beam that issued from it's muzzle, like a flashlight or a tractor beam, only lasted for an instant. The massive Exan froze in place, twitching slightly, then collapsed, stunned.
After cuffing the Exan, Dax snatched up his portable and crackled a communication to base. "Requesting backup in the arrest of that Exan male, large build, code X, in a non-reciprocal aggressive altercation with a Terran male, average build, downtown medical center, come back, ASAP.
The pause was thick with tension. The Exan groaned and squirmed slightly in his cuffs. Finally, the answer came, "Negative, ten sixty-six, issue citation to Terran suspect, code H."
Code H. Dax knew what that meant because he had recieved training at the station just a matter of weeks ago. It referred to a new, very controversial, law.
In recent months and years, there had been a growing call from among some Terran authorities to take legislative action against what some claimed was the greatest threat to the security of all beings: humanism. After the unprovoked Xeltan attack on Earth shook the planet to its core, anti-Exan sentiment had spiked. Anti-discrimination laws had always been a tender subject in Earth's history, but this time was different. Tempers flared hot on both sides, and the debate had been fierce and long. Some said the law took too long to pass, that the true impact of humanism needs historical context, and a critical eye. Eventually, the anti-humanist law was passed, and took force of law. Now, patrol officers like Dax were left to sort out the enforcement details. When his boss said "Code H," it meant "Arrest the Human, ignore the Exan, we don't want to flare tensions with Exan communities and provoke another attack."
Just then, Dax heard the distinct soft metallic clattering sound of another patrol officer's utility belt behind him. He turned to see a patrol officer he didn't recognize (a female Exan, a Mondan, whose uniform's nametag said "Kasprak") entering with the same nurse who had guided Dax.
Dax rolled his eyes to express his frustration to Officer Kasprak. He leaned close and briefed her on the situation. She looked determined, unconflicted, and ready to do her job.
"Understood," Kasprak replied. "You want to take point, or should I?"
Dax sighed, glanced back to make sure the Exan hadn't recovered yet, and thought for a moment. "I don't think I can do this one. I recuse myself. I have to go talk to the chief."
"Understood." Mondans were famously agreeable and conflict-averse, though for whatever reason, they still made excellent patrol officers. She allowed herself a smile and small chuckle. "Heh, good luck, Miller."
Dax threw open the door to the office of the Patrol Chief, his boss. "We need to talk."
The Chief looked up from his screen, surprised to see him. "Dax? What the hell are you doing here? What happened at the hospital?"
"Backup arrived, I briefed her, and now I'm here. We need to talk."
The Chief sighed. "Dax. Did you let the Exan go, and arrest the humanist before you left?"
Dax felt a faint shadow of anger in the pit of his stomach. "I don't think he was a humanist. I was there. He was terrified. He was practically in the fetal position, and the Xeltan was about ten seconds from going critical. He tried to charge me. I had to tase and cuff him."
The Chief looked over his reading glasses at Dax. "Dax... You're not a humanist, are you?"
Dax's felt his nostrils flare, and his lips tighten. "Oh, come on, Chief, be reasonable. You know me. Don't go there." Dax was doing his best to keep his voice down.
"Dax," the Chief's voice took on a hurried and official demeanor, "If you're not willing to do your job, you'll be reprimanded. If you're going to get aggressive in my office, we don't need to have meetings anymore, and I especially don't need a humanist officer on my orbital team."
Dax sat in the chair on his side of the desk, took a deep breath, and leaned forward. "That wasn't my intent, Chief. Come on. What is this really about? Why are you doing this? Level with me. What's really going on here?"
The Chief looked Dax in the eye for a long moment, then sighed and shook his head. "Look, Dax, trust me, I wish I knew. This is all above my head. I'm sorry. Give me your portable and badge, you're no longer authorized to be in this building. I don't want to have to call security."
The door to Dax's dwelling slid open. He stepped through and rubbed his face with his hands as it slid shut behind him, the autolock clicking into place. He clomped off both shoes. With a finger pressed to his dispenser's display, he ordered a drink, "ale." He released the button and turned around to hang up his uniform jacket.
Behind him, he heard the dispenser's synthesized voice. "Sorry, you have exceeded the daily caloric limit for your current profile. Do you wish to override?"
Dax rolled his eyes and turned back to the device, "Ugh, yes!"
There was a pause while the device's indicator momentarily spun, then, "Sorry, you no longer have the sufficient citizen privelages override the dietary settings of the selected profile. Do you wish to contact support?"
"No! Just forget it." Dax sighed heavily and double-tapped his main viewscreen to turn it on. "Public feed," he commanded.
A commercial was the first thing that loaded onto the screen. It showed various Exans relaxing, or working, or farming, or laughing with Human friends, interspersed with stock footage of the beautiful natural scenery of Earth. The music was gentle and serene.
A voice spoke with over-long pauses in between each sentence to allow the music to play. "What is truly Terran? Absolutely nothing. When we go beyond our orbit, we return with the best the universe has to offer. In a way, Earth was brought here, piece by piece. We found the best of our home, away from home. We can't wait to see what wonderful things we'll bring home next." The screen faded to a logo with dynamic, sweeping lines; the emblem of a commercial spaceline company.
"What the hell did that have to do with a spaceliner?" Dax wondered idly.