If you missed the start of Alien Secrets, Flight of the Kestrel book 2, here is the link. To help your imagination, my idea of Roy Stubbs is a young Nicholas Lyndhurst.
Stubbs and Tomos were both given the first shore leave shift. Sick of Tomos seeming to know everything because on his cargo ship he’d been everywhere and knew most cultures, Stubbs decided to separate from his ship mate. His wrist itched in its brace as it healed. He hadn’t been everywhere and didn’t know Casparan, but Caspar was part of the Planetary Alliance and most people spoke Standard. Stubbs figured he’d be fine on his own.
The overcast sky reduced the tinge of Caspar's two red suns, and he was glad of his thick jacket. If not for the orange leaves on the trees and the oddly sharp scents, he could almost be at home in Ireland on Earth.
He wandered into the town and strolled past little houses and big shops, not in width - in height, which seemed incongruous. Casparans were shorter than humans, so that would explain low ceilings in the houses, but why the higher ceilings in the shops, when they didn't encourage visitors?
The houses were unpainted light grey stone, but the shops were rendered and brightly painted too. It was about midday, and there were a lot of people about, mostly dressed in the traditional brightly-coloured long tunic and slim trousers. He saw few non-Casparans, which made him feel conspicuous. He was more than a head taller than everyone else. Most people ignored him, but there were one or two who scowled at him, just for being an off-worlder.
After a while he got hungry and approached a couple of women to ask directions to a cafe. He came up behind them and touched one woman on the arm to attract her attention. He was not prepared for the reaction. When she turned round and saw him, she screamed and clung to her companion, trembling. He tried to explain.
'It's all right, I won't hurt you. Please.'
A crowd gathered, and the men were angry, gesticulating and shouting. They spoke their own language, and he didn't understand. He started to panic. The captain told them not to get into any trouble, and he didn't even know what he'd done.
'Hey!' The shout stopped the babble of voices and everyone turned to a figure behind the crowd. Tomos gave a deep bow and opened his arms, palms up. He said a word Stubbs didn't catch and bowed again. The people smiled and moved away. Stubbs gave a huge sigh.
'What did you do? More to the point, what did I do?'
'Did you touch her?'
'I only touched her arm to get her attention. I was looking for somewhere to eat.'
'You didn't read the briefing, did you?' He raised a hand to still the reaction. 'It's all right. We all do it the first time. Come with me and we'll find a cafe.'
Tomos put his arm round Stubbs' shoulder and led him away. Stubbs wanted to be angry with him, but couldn't. He was being really nice about it and had rescued him from a situation that could have got nasty. They found a cafe that catered for non-Casparans, and Tomos helped Stubbs order food suitable for human consumption. They sat in the larger chairs, then Tomos explained.
'Their height makes them belligerent, not wanting to be belittled, but it also keeps them from causing too much trouble, as they can't easily fight a much taller man. It was taller men that conquered Caspar many years ago, taller men who otherwise looked exactly like them - Ochrans. When Ochrans discovered Casparans they believed that since they were smaller, they should be treated like children and servants.' Tomos scowled.
'Caspar only gained independence about 70 years ago. Consequently, they stand on their dignity and can seem stuck-up and haughty, but it's just a self-preservation mechanism. The way the Casparans kept their pride was to develop a high regard for dignity and manners. You have to be careful to be polite - lots of bowing and gestures.'
He demonstrated the bow again. 'This is a sign of respect. It's safer to do it with everyone you meet. And don't touch the women, nobody touches the women.'
'But what did you say?'
Tomos grinned. 'I told them you were an ignorant off-worlder.'
'Oh thanks.' Stubbs pulled a face. 'You just know everything, don't you?'
'Hey!' said Tomos, frowning. 'And you make snap judgements. Is that why you've been offhand with me?'
Stubbs reddened. 'Well, you're always showing off …'
'And here I thought I was getting you out of a sticky situation. On board I was offering to help, not showing off. It's good to know you're not the only one the engineer can call on. Still, if that's the way you feel …' Tomos began to get up.
Stubbs grabbed his arm. 'No, I'm sorry. I do get prickly. Before you came, I was the youngest of the crew and I'm always trying to keep up.'
Their food and drinks arrived as Tomos sat back down. They barely started their meal when Tomos put down his cup and motioned to catch Stubbs' attention. Two female Casparans approached their table and bowed. Stubbs looked to Tomos for guidance. He could see another row coming. Tomos stood and bowed and Stubbs followed his lead.
'Good day, sisters,' Tomos said, 'how may we be of service?'
'Will you talk with us,' the one in front said, 'about … out there?' She swept her hand over her head, and the other girl giggled.
'Would that not be frowned on?' Tomos asked carefully.
'We frown on being frowned on,' the first girl said, and both girls giggled again.
Stubbs was nervous, but nodded to Tomos' questioning look.
'Very well,' Tomos said, 'we would like to talk with you when our meal is finished, but I do not think it appropriate here. If you will wait for us under the tree across the road, we will follow you to somewhere where your … integrity will not be compromised.'
Stubbs took the initiative and bowed as he asked, 'Please, what are your names?'
The girls giggled again and looked down as the first girl said, 'Birsha,' pointing to herself, 'and Emim,' pointing to her friend
'My name is Roy,' Stubbs said, 'and this is James. We will see you soon.'
They left and Tomos and Stubbs sat down and quickly finished their meals.
Stubbs brightened. 'Well, I'm glad I have you to look after me. Talking to girls is another thing I'm not very good at.'
Tomos laughed. 'Just one thing, please, don't tell them any details about the ship, just generalities.'
'Okay, okay, I'll be careful. Now what shall we do with them?'
'We don't do anything - remember, you can't touch the women. They only want to talk to us.'
'Oh well,' Stubbs said, 'that'll be a first.'
They met the girls under the tree, keeping watch on passers-by. They didn't want to attract attention.
'You are either brave or foolhardy,' Tomos whispered. 'Where can we talk without being seen together?'
Birsha took Emim's arm and beckoned them to follow. They walked a short way from the town centre, to a park with pretty flower beds and paths shaded by trees. The orange foliage was not as soothing to the eye as the green that the boys grew up with, but there was an air of tranquillity about the place. The girls led them to a bench in front of some bushes and signalled them to sit. The girls walked on and turned a corner.
'I wonder where they're going?' Stubbs said.
Tomos smiled. 'I think I know. Look through the bush behind us.'
As Stubbs peered through the leaves the girls came into view and sat down on the grass.
`Good day again,' Tomos said quietly. 'What would you like to know?'
Birsha began. 'Since independence, women have gradually been allowed a wider role in society, but it is still a fight. We want to join the PACT Academy and work in space –'
'But we want to know if it is worth it,' Emim interrupted loudly, to be shushed by Birsha.
'It depends what you're expecting,' Tomos said. 'Space is immense, and even with warp drive it can take a long time to get to places, so there's a lot of routine.'
'That gives you time to study, though,' Stubbs said, 'so you can get more qualified, or do research, or pursue a hobby.'
'If you've never been out there though, it can be amazing,' Tomos said. 'Different planets, different people. Space stations, scientific research ships, cargo ships.'
'He grew up on a cargo ship, you know,' Stubbs said. 'How weird is that?'
'Do you not have a home planet then?' Birsha asked.
Tomos laughed. 'Well, my parents are from Earth, and the rest of my family's there, so I always say I'm from Earth.'
'Is it dangerous in space?' Emim asked.
'Not if you're in a good ship and properly trained,' Tomos said.
'Unless you get sent on missions,' Stubbs said. 'I was shot on the last one.'
'Oh, you poor thing!' Emim said, and both girls made a keening sound in sympathy.
A man in a dark green uniform approached Tomos and Stubbs along the path. Tomos cleared his throat in warning. The man strode up to them.
'What are you doing here?' he demanded.
Tomos nudged Stubbs and they both rose, bowed and sat down again.
'We are on shore leave while our ship is being repaired,' Tomos said, 'and came to enjoy the scenery.'
One of the girls gasped, and the man heard it. He bent down and peered through the bushes. 'Who are you talking to?'
'We were talking to each other, sir,' Tomos said. His mouth dried, he pressed his hands on his legs to stop them shaking. He stole a look at Stubbs and hoped he wouldn't react.
The man called out, 'Sisters, were you talking with these aliens?'
The girls jumped up and Emim said quickly, 'Oh no sir, but they were talking about their lives in space and we stopped to listen. Out of sight, of course.'
Tomos' heart clenched. Out of sight? That does it.
Birsha must have realised too. She said, 'It would not be appropriate for us to speak to the aliens, so we listened to their conversation from here. They had no idea we were listening.'
'I think it's time we returned to our ship,' Tomos said, getting to his feet.
'Yes,' Stubbs said, joining him. 'Thank you for allowing us to enjoy your beautiful city.'
They bowed and, at a nod from the official, quickly left.
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her athttp://eepurl.com/bbOsyz