Approximately sixty hours later, Manny made another of their scheduled transmissions to Questor.
“Commander, we’re about four hours from arrival at the fourth planet in system two. Everything’s progressing as expected, including Jon’s annoying habits.”
“My annoying habits? What about you? You’re always talking about some girl you knew when—”
“Gentlemen, can we stay on topic, please?” interjected Barlow. Privately, he was amused, but he didn’t want them to know that. I wish I could be a fly on the wall of that shuttle. The two men couldn’t be more opposite in appearance: Manny was shorter, but looked much stronger than Jon’s tall, slender and lithe appearance. Manny was darker in both skin tone and hair coloring than Jon with his fair hair and blue eyes. Manny was more effusive and outgoing than the quieter, more introverted Jon Hardesty, yet the two men were firm friends.
“Any news yet from Midea from the captain?” queried Manny.
“Yes, good news, I’m happy to say. They’ve finally reached an agreement and managed to obtain nearly everything we wanted, with the bonus of some materials Sara urgently needs. A major problem’s arisen with the life support systems, so you can imagine how Sara’s acting.” He stopped himself short; it wouldn’t do to say too much. “Plus, the landing party has managed to pick up some very interesting information, albeit in dribs and drabs. The planet you’re heading for is known as Rhiava, as are its people. Ostensibly, the Mideans meant this race when they said they’d already met another alien species.
“It’s all a bit mysterious, though. The Mideans used to have regular trade with these people, but a short time back—they wouldn’t be specific precisely when—the Rhiava stopped trading. The Mideans claim not to know why, but the captain says they’re very ruthless, hard negotiators and they could have their own reasons for keeping the facts to themselves. It’s quite possible they’re intentionally giving us a false impression.” Barlow hesitated, as if trying to get all the facts straight in his mind before continuing.
“Apparently, the Rhiava are a strange race, having mysterious, dangerous powers, which have led to the Rhiava keeping very much to themselves, though the captain believes that’s more legend than fact. The Mideans also seem to believe they’re much more technologically advanced than they let on. However, it could simply be just one more story to keep us away. Even so, the captain suggests you approach with caution, but with an open mind.”
“Somehow I feel we know less now than before you filled us in,” Manny said acidly.