Log Entry 161231.200

You could be forgiven for thinking that this was the end of our adventure to Tikarra Island, but you'd be wrong. Now there was a bigger question to answer. What happens next?
The High Emperor of Dirria, Honka, wanted to know what lay on the island. He wanted to hear tales of adventure, and he wanted to learn what had happened to the previous adventurers. But what could we tell him? What should we tell him? What were our options? And which one would Starfleet approve?
We surmised that we had three possible paths …

We could tell the truth …
The Dirrians had come to the island and killed the Mairne. In retaliation, the Mairne had killed the Dirrians. It could so easily be the beginning of a war, a war started by misunderstandings. So many wars were started that way. But those events took place a long time ago. It was entirely possible that peaceful relations could be established between the Mairne and the Dirrians, but was this world big enough for an emperor and a king? The Dirrians were rather precocious and Traeth was doubtful that the High Emperor would recognise the authority of the King on this tiny island.

We could tell a lie …
But which lie to tell?
If we said that there was nothing here, Honka would be most dissatisfied. Traeth had told us long before we came here that if we found nothing, we would have to make up a story. We would certainly have to report something even if it was something particularly mundane. But how would we explain the disappearance of the Dirrian adventurers? Could we get away with saying that there was simply no trace of them? Could we make the place sound dull enough to discourage Honka from organising a second expedition?
To ensure that we did discourage him, we could make up tales of monsters that terrorised us, and that we only just got away with our lives. But would that really put him off? The Dirrians may have an inbred fear of water but were they starting to get over it? Traeth had certainly braved the waves as had nearly two dozen before him. Was it only a matter of time before Dirrians conquered their fear of water completely and ventured to the island again?

We could disappear without a trace …
We could all beam back up to the Earhart and ride off into the sunset, never to be heard of by the Dirrians again. Traeth was the only problem there, but he was deeply unhappy on Dirria and I sensed that he would readily come with us and resettle on Earth or some other Federation planet. But with Dirrian relations continuing to improve with the Federation, it would be only a matter of time before they learned the truth. The whole Federation would lie for us.

Log Entry 161224.199

Fear? That seemed strange. The Dirrians may be a little fatuous but I'd seen no evidence of violence in their nature. Arunga continued.
"It was nearly a year later when the others arrived—twenty of them. We saw them coming and debated our options. We didn't want the events of before to repeat themselves. It was horrible watching a man burn to death, so we went quickly to the beach and removed all the celabub leaves before they landed. In retrospect, we should have left them there, then they would have burned." There was malice in his tone. It quite took us aback.
"They landed on the beach, and our forefathers, eager not to startle them, left them to their own devices for a day. It had been a very hard journey for them and they needed to rest. It would have been rude to impose upon them when they were so unprepared for company.
"As before, they lit a fire and camped on the edge of the woods. They appeared to sleep well that evening and the following day, our people went to greet them. A party of twelve of our most important dignitaries left our village, passed through the forests and approached the bipedals on the sand—that's what we call you, by the way: bipedals.
"With arms open and bearing gifts of flowers, the party emerged from the trees. With smiles and pleasantries prepared, they did not expect what happened next. The bipedals drew their weapons and let loose a hail of arrows. Yes, your kind, without word or reason, slaughtered the party in just a matter of seconds, and then it got worse. Having massacred our party, you—the bipedals, I mean …" He paused, visibly upset by what he was about to say, "… took their bodies … and skinned them." He gulped hard. "And then … they roasted their bodies … and consumed them."
My hand slapped over my mouth in shock and horror. I felt physically sick.
"Only one escaped to tell the tale."
It took a few moments for us to digest the horror of what had happened to the Mairne. In retrospect, I suspect that the bipedals, sick with hunger, shot the first animals they saw as a source of food. Undoubtedly, they had no idea that the cats were the sentient natives of the island. If they had, I'm sure things would have been different. But they weren't different. This was the way it was.
"What happened next?" I ventured. "We know that the Dirrians never left the island."
"Of course they didn't," replied Arunga. "We did the only thing a nation can do when war is waged upon them. We fought back.
"We waited until they ventured into the forests. They would be more vulnerable among the trees where their arrows would be less effective. Once there, five hundred Mairne descended upon them." He smiled triumphantly. "A seething mass of claws and teeth, they didn't stand a chance. In the time it takes to sing a single lullaby, all twenty of them were slain and then, as they had done to us, the Mairne ate their carcasses."
We were silent for a moment.
"And stuck their heads on pikes in the forest," added Al.
"Yes, as a warning to those that follow."
"But you have not harmed us," pointed out Rutter.
"No, because you are not like the others. You have been respectful, curious and kind. It became apparent to me that your intentions were not like the others. We may even have approached you earlier if it hadn't been for—" and he turned his eyes to Traeth.
"Oh, but Traeth's a good man. We were childhood friends. He's not like other Dirrians!"
As the words left my mouth, I knew it was wrong and began beating myself up about it. Traeth was different, but he didn't want to be. My demeanour must have shown my instant regret because Traeth placed a reassuring hand on mine—something else a Dirrian wouldn't do.
"It's okay," he said. "In this instance, I'm glad to be different."

Log Entry 161025.198

Arunga sighed heavily and then he began the tale.
"It was one hundred and ninety-three years ago—" Traeth and I exchanged glances. It wasn't a thousand years after all. It seemed that the Dirrians were very poor historians. "—when the giant arrived. We had seen him for months before, fishing in the seas on his little craft, but then he came and landed his raft on the beach. Our people hid in fear. We had never had a giant on the island before and we were unsure as to his intent."
Yes, I suppose compared to these felines, even the tiny Dirrians would be giants.
"My people stayed hidden in the trees at the edge of the woods and watched him. He dragged his raft ashore and then set about making a fire. It wasn't a very good one. While his initial kindling was dry and burned well, as soon as the flames were feeding, he added bundles of damp leaves to it. The fire began to sputter and fade, throwing out black smoke, so he threw on more and more of the damp kindling."
"He was making a signal fire," explained Traeth. "To tell his family he had arrived safely."
"Ah! That would make sense. Sadly, he did not succeed."
"Oh, but he did. Our history tells us that Farrell—the fisherman, did light a signal fire to tell of his safe arrival."
"He may have done, however," Arunga looked down sadly. "While he did arrive safely, his good fortune did not last for long I'm afraid. Among the leaves that he piled onto the fire were those of the celabub tree; a most unwise move. Rich in highly flammable oils, they suddenly caught, a ball of flame mushrooming into the air. He was not expecting it. Your man was caught in the blast and his clothing caught fire. If he had run into the sea, he may have stood a chance, but he did not. Instead, he ran around in circles on the beach until he finally collapsed. There was nothing we could do. I'm afraid he perished."
Silence fell as we all thought about Farrell's misfortune.
"He was buried on the edge of the woods, but his grave has long ago been forgotten beneath the great trees."
"So you didn't actually meet him?" I ventured.
"No. It was those that came afterwards that we came to fear."

Log Entry 161017.197

So, I'm sitting on a previously unexplored island on an alien world. I've made first contact with a new, sentient, alien species by rolling it onto its back and rubbing its naked tummy. It takes a while for all that to sink in.
Meanwhile, Tom looked up at me with a somewhat bemused expression on his face.
"I think I'd like to get down now," he finally said.
"Oh, sorry," and I hurriedly righted him, setting him onto his feet. Everybody followed suit with their felines, all of us feeling rather awkward.
Tom made his way over to the central bench. He jumped up onto it and sat down, an ear twitching and his tail flicking. I wondered if that was in annoyance. It certainly would have been if it was Beastie, but how similar where they to our own humble, Terran felines? The other cats took their places on the steps, all looking to Tom for direction. Somewhat subdued, we humanoids tried to seat neatly and respectfully on the steps too, which isn't easy when you're not a cat. Our bottoms are a lot bigger than a feline's and our legs a lot longer.
Tom raised his chin haughtily into the air. He debated for a moment and then, with a mere flick of his paw, commanded his cats. They hesitated for a moment but a second more impatient flick sent the majority of them on their way. We were left with just eight of the beings—the inner sanctum perhaps.
"My name is Arunga," Tom began, "I am king of the Mairne and these are my people."
"Nice first contact, Jen," muttered Rutter into my ear. I elbowed him in the ribs.
"I'm ever so sorry," I said, feeling I should apologise for having treated him with such indignity. "I feel I've been rather disrespectful. I mean, I don't usually roll people onto their backs and tickle their tummies."
Arunga giggled—he actually giggled!
"I'd like to think not, but you are forgiven. I accept that it was naivety rather than ignorance, and it was certainly a more preferable greeting to that provided by those that came before you."
We gasped audibly. It seems that at last, the mystery of the missing Dirrians would be solved.

Log Entry 160924.196

Nearly the end of the day and I'm ready to move on tomorrow morning just so that we have something more to do. The boredom is demoralising.
Al and I cleared up after our meal which was, I have to say, amazingly good. Rutter had pan fried the fish, adding some pre-cooked rice from the ration packs and fresh herbs that Traeth foraged. It was a beautiful fish risotto. (Rutter will make someone a lovely wife some day.)
We had lots of company too. Yes, the smell of fresh fish brought them in their droves—the cats. And yes, fools that we were, we shared our dinner with them picking out the prime bits of fish and feeding them to our new friends. It was still lovely.
After that, we all migrated back to the mud-brick building. I don't know why; we just did.
Entering the structure, we found the cats assembled there once again. This time, though, they did not retreat. We sat down among them, fussing and cuddling them, and enjoying their company as much as they were ours. Even Tom had forgiven me.
He sauntered over, the other cats making way for him and climbed up onto my lap. Very gently, I tipped him over to rub his belly. I held him like a baby, nursing him in one arm with his hind legs splayed and dangling freely. I buried my fingers deep in his rich fur and massaged his tummy. He purred loudly.
"Do you think they are sacred?" asked Al. "I mean like Egyptian cats?"
Traeth had no knowledge of the Egyptians so we explained how felines were worshiped by the them, some even being mummified after death, and that killing a cat, even accidentally, could have incurred the death penalty.
"It would seem to make sense," said Traeth. "These animals are very well looked after."
"Are they as big as this on the mainland?" I asked.
"We don't have them at all on the mainland. The only other cats I've seen were those on Earth."
"How peculiar! I wonder why they are unique to this island."
"Could they have come from Earth?" Traeth asked.
I shook my head. "Doubtful. I suppose if a ship had crashed here long ago, but would any ship have had more than one cat? And Terran cats aren't nearly so large. What about yours, Al?"
Al had been raised by her Aunt Edith on a remote farmstead in the mountains of Oveda Prime with nineteen cats and a cockatiel named Rodney. She was eight years old before she saw another two-legged being so she knew her cats well.
"No, ours were quite small—fat but small."
"These guys aren't fat," I argued.
"No, I think they get a lot of exercise during the day, but they are well fed." Al massaged the one she was petting, checking it over like a practised veterinarian who was used to disguising his administrations as cuddles. "They have very good muscle-tone and a good covering over their ribs. They might not be fat, but they are fit, well fed—and groomed." She pointed to a statuesque, long-haired, white cat sitting on the top step.
"A coat like that needs lots of grooming to keep it tangle free and she doesn't have a single knot." She gently pulled the lips of her cat up to expose its teeth. It shook its head indignantly but soon forgave her as she returned to the massage. "And their teeth are excellent. This girl's quite old jugging by her skin—it's fuller and looser on older cats … see?" and she gently tugged at the cats tummy to show the extra folds of fur, "but her teeth are in excellent condition."
I played with Tom's fur, twizzling it around my fingers and then soothed his enormous front paws, studying his claws. They were neat, clean and sharp with no ragged edges, almost manicured. She was right. They were in beautiful condition.
"Oh, good grief!" I suddenly exclaimed. "They've got opposable thumbs!"
Immediately, everyone began inspecting their cats to verify the fact.
"Crikey, Jen! You're right! I bet that makes them good at climbing trees."
As the other three prattled on, their conversation droning in the background, the cogs in my mind were working furiously.
I looked hard into Tom's face. It was so expressive. He had stopped purring and was gazing intensely back at me. One eye narrowed and his brow furrowed. He was frowning at me, I mean really frowning.
"Um … guys," I said softly, but they didn't hear me. "Guys!" I said a little louder, without breaking eye contact with Tom.
"Yes," said Rutter as they hushed and looked to me, waiting for me to speak.
"I think you'll find …" I paused.
"Find what?"
"Um … well, I think you'll find … that, um … the people never actually left the village."
A silence followed while they digested what I had said.
"What do you mean … never left? The village is deserted."
"No, it's not. It's the cats."
Another silence and then Rutter burst out laughing.
"The cats! You're saying the cats are the natives?" he scoffed.
"Yes. I am," I said resolutely. "Everything is scaled for the cats—the pods, this building, everything."
"How do you make that out?"
"The pods are perfect for the cats. Even the entrance is designed for them. It would be really awkward for even a small Dirrian to climb inside one of those, but a cat can get in no problem at all. Even the bedding is for cats, and we've seen them going in and out of them to nap all day. Even this place is perfectly scaled for cats."
"No, it's not," said Rutter, looking at the ceiling above his head. "Look how high the roof is. It's nearly six feet above the ground at the lowest point."
"Most prominent buildings have high ceilings. Think of churches and important public buildings on Earth, Qo’noS or Vulcan. They all have high, vaulted ceilings, but look at the steps. These aren't steps at all. It's seating for their senate and that bench in the middle is the podium for their king or emperor."
The guys considered my argument in silence. In the meantime, I leaned my head down even closer towards Tom's face. The whiskers above his eyes twitched against my face.
I smiled and whispered softly to him, "You are sentient, aren't you?"
He lay quite relaxed but pensive in my arms, pursing his lips as he debated. He pushed my hands away with his big paws and sighed.
"Well, now that you mention it," the cat finally said.

Log Entry 160922.195

Traeth and Rutter had nabbed the task of preparing the evening meal, eager to have something to do. They were determined to make something tasty so had spent the afternoon fishing in the river. Despite their limited equipment, they had five rather sorry looking fish to show for their efforts. We were quite impressed that they had managed to catch anything at all, but what could they do with such a measly catch? Both assured us that they could make something of them so Al and I, neither of us being known for our culinary prowess, wandered off.
We decided to explore the village again, not that there was anything new to see. We'd done it to death, as they say.
There was still no sign of the villagers. If anything, the cats seemed to be taking over. That's what kept convincing me that the people would return—the cats, that is.
The inhabitants obviously thought a lot of these felines because they were all so well fed and beautifully groomed, and it was evident that they lived here. The cats were quite at home, jumping in and out of the little huts to nap. I was sure the people would return soon.

Log Entry 160921.194

Mid afternoon and we made another hot drink. We didn't really want it but it was something to do.

Log Entry 160920.193

The day wore on and we were getting really bored. Traeth was making a cord out of bits of dried grass by plaiting them together. He was trying to see how long he could make it and how strong.
We weren't hungry so we skipped lunch and strode back over to the mud-brick building. To our surprise, we found it occupied by more than thirty cats! Tom was sitting on his bench looking like he owned the place while the others formed his audience sitting on the stone steps that descended into the atrium. None of them scattered, but they definitely found our presence disturbing. They retreated from us, eyeing us suspiciously. I'll be honest, we ignored them.
We made our way into the centre where, once again, I sat on the floor next to the bench while Al, Traeth and Rutter sat on the steps that the cats had vacated. I tried to tickle Tom, but he was having none of it. He got up and strode off, his tail flicking the air angrily. It briefly crossed my mind that I might have upset him but I was soon distracted by the chatter. We wittered on for a while about nothing in particular and then got up and left. None of us said why, but all those cats glaring coldly at us probably had a lot to do with it.

Log Entry 160919.192

Elevensies came and not a moment too soon. There was so little to do in the village. We had explored it from one end to the other countless times and nothing changed other than the cats. They were getting quite brave now and wandered in and out as though checking on us.
We braved heating some water using a phaser and made a hot drink, which was very refreshing after the cold beverages of the morning. Tom joined us, as usual, and again I picked him up and fussed him. He was becoming more and more receptive to my cuddles although, when Rutter challenged me again as to how I knew he was a boy and I tipped him up to check his tackle, the look on Tom's face was veritably indignant.
"See!" I exclaimed, pointing out Tom's jewels. "He's a boy!"
Tom wasn't very impressed by that at all and soon struggled out of my arms. He accepted another soothing stroke, though, before he ambled off indignantly, his tale high in the air.

Log Entry 160918.191

When we emerged from our tents in the morning, we found two of the large cats still in our midst. One was a very pretty, long-haired, black and white creature. She was sitting directly opposite my tent with her paws folded neatly beneath her chest. The second was the big, ginger tom.
"Perhaps I should give him a name," I suggested.
"What makes you so sure it's a boy?" asked Rutter.
"He's a boy. Everything about him says male. I can see it in his face."
Rutter studied the two cats. He wasn't what I'd call a cat person but he was fond of Beastie so was familiar with them. He couldn't see what I meant though.
We made breakfast, just emergency rations as we still didn't want to light a fire or cause a disturbance with phaser fire or whatever, and sat in a circle chatting. As I sucked my rations out of the packet, Tom (yes, I've decided to call him Tom. Not very imaginative but he doesn't know that) ventured over. He stood at arms length, his little nose twitching in the direction of my rations.
"I think he wants some," said Al.
I squeezed a little bit out onto my finger and offered it to him. He came a little closer, sniffed it gingerly and then gave it a single, tentative lick. His nose wrinkled and he shook his head. Then he thought about it, stepped forward and took another lick. He looked pensive, as though trying to decide if he liked it or not. He decided that he did and ate the lot, his rough tongue sanding my fingertips. When it was gone, I squeezed a little bit more out and offered it again. He accepted that too. In fact, he looked to be really enjoying it, certainly more than I was.
"What flavour is it anyway?" asked Al.
I checked the packet (because you can never be sure otherwise).
"Bacon and egg."
Rutter's brow wrinkled in disgust and he shuddered. "Urgh! How do they get bacon and egg in a packet?"
"Same way they get roast beef and Yorkshire pud in one, I suppose."
Rutter studied the label on his. "Pilchard and banana," he joked.
"It might as well be. I swear the only difference between them is the label."
By now, eager for more of my 'bacon and eggs', Tom was standing with one paw resting on my knee and the other suspended in mid-air, waving it gently as he begged for more. Too soon for him, it was all gone. I told him as much and I swear his little face fell, so I reached down and petted him between the ears. He didn't pull away at all this time. He had become quite at ease with us.
The chatter continued and I became distracted by it so I wasn't really paying attention to what I was doing. Without thinking, I suddenly swept Tom up in the same way I would have done Beastie, and tipped him into my lap. He went rigid.
"Oh! I'm sorry, Tom," I cooed as he struggled himself upright. "I didn't mean to frighten you. I just thought you'd like a proper cuddle."
He seemed to find my voice soothing, so I chatted away to him. He stopped fighting and his muscles relaxed a little, so I pampered him with both hands taking long caresses that ran from the top of his head to the tip of his tale. Reassured that I meant him no harm, he settled into my lap and began to purr loudly, his sharp claws kneading into my leg. He looked up at the black and white cat and winked at her. As though he had just given her consent, she got up and approached Al. She held out her paw and gave a silent meow asking for similar attention.
"Aww! Are you jealous? You want a fuss too?" asked Al. She may be a Klingon, but she's a softy when it came to cats, so readily obliged.
We both sat cuddling the enormous felines while Rutter and Traeth cleared up the breakfast things. We then set about deciding what we should do next. After an extensive debate, we decided we would remain here for the day. The natives may still be hiding and might return. However, if they didn't, then tomorrow we would respect their desire for privacy and move on.

Log Entry 160917.190

We slept well last night, although we did have a number of visitors of the four-legged variety. The big, ginger tomcat was most conspicuous but he wasn't alone. He came with friends—at least a couple of dozen and they were all equally large.
It was warm when we settled down for the night so we had left the flaps open on the tents with just the mosquito nets in place. It meant we could lie in our sleeping bags and look out, just in case the villagers returned.
They didn't. Only the cats came.
They came into camp and peered at us with eyes that glowed brightly in the moonlight. They came right up to the netting and looked in at us, staring directly into our eyes. It was almost a procession as they came by, one by one, and inspected us. They were very curious about us indeed.
Other than that, the night was uneventful.
I like uneventful.

Log Entry 160911.189

We continued on our way, Rutter telling us animatedly all about the intricacies of the internal combustion engine. Apparently, he's quite into these things and even owns a vintage biplane back on Earth. Al and I both cast each other a glance at that snippet of news, barely able to suppress our grins. Oh, how the other half live!
All in all, it took surprisingly little time to descend down into the basin. The path, although still narrow was clear and easy to follow. It seemed to lead directly into the village too, which blew my theory that it might be abandoned right out of the water. If it was deserted, the path would have been overgrown.
The ground levelled off as we neared and the trees thinned revealing lawns of grass between them. I say lawns but they weren't neatly trimmed with stripes or anything. It was more like parkland with trees dotted about and probably grazed by rabbits, goats or whatever the Dirrian equivalent was, rather than being tended. We could also see the first of the wooden huts through the trees, but they weren't wooden at all.
Igloo shaped, they were low and built of branches, leaves, sticks and mud, all bound together like a bird's nest. The entrance was in the side, about halfway up, round and just large enough to crawl through. Not very practical for getting in and out of, but it would keep the draughts off those sleeping inside, probably.
Despite the path, though, the village was deserted and may have been for some time. It was hard to say. If it had been recently abandoned I would have expected to see spent fires, pots and pans, clothes on a washing line—that sort of thing, but none of those things were evident. Other than the igloos, there was no indication of anybody living there at all.
I braved a peak in one of them to see if there was anything there that might give an indication of habitation. It was warm and cosy with a soft lining of feathers and fluff from plants and animals, but other than that, it was bare—distinctly lacking in personal possessions or household goods. Yet, everything was in good repair. Even the bedding was freshly puffed, smelled fresh and was clean. I became convinced that the village was inhabited, but where was everyone? Had our arrival frightened the natives off? I aired my thoughts with the rest of the team.
"I agree," said Al, her head emerging from one of the huts. "I think the village is occupied too, and I think the pods are just for sleeping in."
Pod was certainly a very good name for them. They were definitely pod-like.
"But if all they do is sleep here, where do they live?"
"What about over there?" said Traeth, pointing towards the stone structure.
It certainly warranted investigation, so we weaved our way through the huts towards the building.
To our surprise, it wasn't built of stone at all. It was beautifully constructed from more basic materials. The walls were a series of square columns made from neat, mud bricks that supported a low, thatched roof with a gentle apex. Between the columns, wattle and daub screens stretched, filling the gaps to form solid walls, but they didn't reach to the ceiling, thus allowing light to fill the room. The mastery with which it had been built, the regular size of the mud bricks had all made it appear much sturdier than it was from afar.
We had to duck down in order to enter through the wide doorway (simply the omission of a screen between two columns) but once inside, it was roomier than we had anticipated. although it wouldn't hold more than a hundred people at most. The floor was beautifully laid in stone tiles, plain but expertly laid, and it stepped down into an atrium. In the middle of that stood a solitary, low stone bench with sides that arched up into scrolled edges, and in the middle of it sat the most enormous cat I had ever seen!
It was a typical ginger cat with a white breast but was easily the size of a large Staffordshire Bull Terrier. He was sitting with his paws tucked under his chest and glaring at me in the evil fashion that cats reserve for strangers invading their space. Of course, I immediately went into cat mode.
"Hello there, little puddy-cat!" I cried in my best, super-friendly cat voice.
"Little!" exclaimed Al. "He's ENORMOUS!"
I crouched down and made my way gently towards him, eager not to frighten him off. I made the usual kissing noises that cats like and spoke in gentle tones. He, on the other hand, continued to glare at me through intelligent, bright green eyes that told me I was an idiot. It never ceases to amaze me how expressive a cat's face can be.
"Careful. He might take a swipe at you," warned Rutter.
"You wouldn't do that, would you, my little friend," I cooed.
As if on cue, he pulled a paw out from under his chest and let it dangle menacingly over the edge of the bench. I could see the tips of his claws peaking out of the ends—little razor blades that could strike in a moment, just like my Beastie's.
Rutter laughed but I ignored him. I sat on the floor in front of the cat and continued to chat to him in soft tones.
"Now don't you be frightened," I said to him. "I'm just going to reach out with one little finger and tiggle your liggle head."
Rutter leaned into Al and asked quietly, "Does she talk to Beastie like that?"
"'Fraid so," she confirmed. I could hear the contempt in her voice, which was a bit rich bearing in mind she was just as bad.
Slowly, I reached out with my index finger and touched him on his neck, just underneath his cheek. He withdrew a little but not enough to break the contact. His fur was rich, soft, warm and thick. Gently, I tickled him, turning my finger in a figure of eight through his fur, and gazed into his big bottle-green eyes that never left me.
I inched my finger slowly up to his cheek, aiming for that sweet spot where Beastie and most cats love to be petted. Once there, I rubbed gently, all the while continuing with more sweet words. As my finger hit the spot, the eye nearest my finger twitched in pleasure. I could feel his conflict. He wanted to resist but the temptation to succumb was too much. He heaved a sigh (can cats sigh?) and surrendered, pushing his head closer to my finger. Soon his head was buried in my hand as I massaged his face. He even began to purr.
"Oh, you are a big, sweet boy," I said.
Rutter heaved a sigh too. "Well, at least we've made first contact with something," he laughed.
"Yes, but what do we do now?" asked Al.
She had a point. If the people had evacuated the village because of our arrival, would they return? Or were they watching us from afar? More worryingly, would they, like their ancestors, want to chop our heads off and shove them on spikes?
The light was starting to give so after a debate, we decided that we would set up camp just outside the village in the trees. We thought about taking shelter in the stone building but decided against it. We didn't want to offend them or insult them by dishonouring what might be a sacred place.
I said goodbye to the cat and we made our way back through the village and pitched our tents. We didn't light a fire but only because we could see no evidence of the villagers having any at all. We weren't sure what that meant but didn't want to risk anything. As Rutter had pointed out, this was basically a first contact situation and none of us wanted to fluff it up.

Log Entry 160819.188

We remained in good spirits, chatting and laughing as we made our way down the slopes towards the village. The path continued to weave through the forest until suddenly, we spotted a blast of vivid colour. It's hard to explain just how bright the colours were because Dirria is such a bright planet anyway, but I'll try.
I have already mentioned that the forests of this world are verdant and green, and speckled with blooms that are really big, flowering high up in the trees. The blasts of colour we spotted, though, were visible between the trunks, splayed across the forest floor. We approached inquisitively and broke through the tree line to find ourselves on the edge of a small, open glade. Thick, emerald green grass bordered the area, but the middle was an explosion of colour. Blues, pinks, reds, oranges, purples, whites, yellows—every colour under the sun formed a thick carpet. It was glorious.
"Wow!" I couldn't help exclaiming.
"It's awesome!" gasped Al beside me.
The colours rippled gently in the soft breeze. I took a deep breath expecting lots of splendid perfumes to serenade me, but there was nothing. The blooms had no scent at all. I commented on it to Traeth but he could shed no light. He'd never seen the like of them before either.
Not wanting to spoil such a beautiful display, we decided to walk around the edge. It didn't occur to us to question why the path disappeared beneath the carpet of flowers.
We trod carefully around the circumference marvelling at the colours, the petals fluttering in the breeze … and that's when I got overly curious. I bent down, screwing my eyes in an attempt to focus more clearly on one of the flowers. I moved forward but didn't see the tree root in the thick grass. My foot caught in it and I flew forward with a little yelp, arms outstretched.
As I hit the flowers, they flew up—a massive cloud of colour, thick like a swarm of locusts. They weren't flowers at all! They were hundreds of thousands of butterflies.
They battered against my face and beat against my clothing. I closed my eyes tightly against the melee and my arms thrashed in the air to ward them off. They shushed around me, whirring, and in the thick of their beating wings, I heard someone scream. I think it was Al (but she'll never admit to it). I certainly heard Rutter cuss—words I've never heard him use before! And then it was quiet again.
When I opened my eyes, all the colour had gone. It was just green grass in the glade now.
I looked behind me and spotted Traeth first. He had dropped onto his knees and had his head still buried in his arms. Then I found Rutter and Al. Both looked startled but were grinning broadly.
"You are a dipstick, Jenny!" said Rutter.
Al asked, "What's a dipstick?"

Log Entry 160806.187

It was a little after noon on the third day when we breached the top of the mountain— just as Rutter had promised, and looked down into the basin below. The volcano had been extinct for hundreds if not thousands of years, as evidenced by the forests that heavily carpeted the sides of the crater. They were so verdant and green, a speckled with blooms that must have been massive. They looked animated, as though they had just been snatched off the easel, freshly painted by a Naïf artist, and in the centre of the crater a lake lay, its aquamarine blue surface shimmering in the sunlight.
Birds squawked and circled in the air above and as I looked up, a huge butterfly came down. I'd like to say it fluttered but with a wingspan of nearly half a meter across, it more or less just dropped out of the sky. Being the twit that I am, it frightened the bejeebers out of me and I squealed like a silly schoolgirl. The others laughed as I flailed about, fighting the thing as it flapped about in the air above me like a ill-tempered duvet cover on a washing line, but they did have the good grace to agree that it was an exceedingly large butterfly!
Despite my little scare, it was all breathtakingly beautiful and we stood admiring it for some time. Al screwed her eyes up as she peered hard towards the lake and nudged me, pointing towards the water's edge. There, snuggled against the shoreline was a settlement. It wasn't very big but had one stone building and a number of smaller, wooden huts, but we could see little else from up here. The cover afforded by the trees hid much of it.
"I can't see any signs of life," said Traeth.
"Maybe the savages got to them," replied Rutter.
"We don't know that there are any savages," I said in all seriousness. Rutter looked at me in disbelief.
"Skulls? Remember? I don't suppose those people chopped their own heads off and shoved them up there!"
"But who knows who did that and when. Dirrian history isn't particularly exact over its dates. That was probably centuries ago. The people that did could be long gone and these people might be really friendly."
The chorus of tuts told me of their disagreement and Al pulled a face.
"I would have thought that if it was centuries ago, the skulls would have disintegrated completely by now. I mean, they are exposed to the elements and everything."
It was a valid point, but if it wasn't the Dirrians from Traeth's tale, who was it?
Traeth interrupted my thoughts.
"Always the optimist," he said. "Even when the ship is sinking, Jen will be the one saying, 'Oh well, at least we won't have to wash the decks tonight'."
I'm not sure that was particularly funny but Traeth said it so matter-of-factly, we couldn't help but laugh.

Log Entry 160730.186

If it hadn't been for finding five skulls stuck on the top of pikes, Tikarra Island would be idyllic. It's lush, green forests are not too dense, there aren't lots of bugs to bite and annoy, and the temperature and humidity is just about right. As I say, shame about the skulls.
It was evident that they had been there for a very long time, undisturbed. The bones were yellowed and crumbling, and each one wore a mossy green cap, but the path that led to them was in regular use. Although narrow, the earth was bare. Even in an English field, if untouched, the grass will start to cover a footpath in less than a week. That the bones had been placed by the path served to warn travellers to beware if they chose to proceed. I wondered, what travellers?
Nevertheless, we pushed on, trekking further into the island making exceptional progress. As the afternoon sun dipped into the trees, we found an area where we could camp for the night. I won't call it a clearing, but the forest had thinned enough to allow us to put up our tents and make a camp fire. Rutter reckoned we'd breach the top of the mountain tomorrow and then we'd be able to see the valley below. As we prepared an evening meal, he explained the geographical characteristics of the island, a long extinct volcano. It was a bit dull but I nodded politely and made all the right noises.
As night fell and we sat around the campfire in the darkness, we decided we should set up a sentry. I didn't fancy sleeping alone while Al stood guard and the tents weren't big enough for three, so we agreed to stand watch in twos. Besides, it would ensure that no one fell asleep while on duty.
"Can I ask a question?" asked Traeth. "If Jenny is an Acting Ensign and Rutter is a full Ensign, why is Jen in charge?"
"'Cause Jenny's T'Roc's pet," replied Rutter before I could respond.
"That's not true!" I retorted indignantly. "If anything, we're all her pet project!"
"No, Jen. I just got caught up in events. I'm here by fate and circumstance."
"How'd you make that out?" argued Al.
"You were the one that picked the fight with me."
"You were being an arse!"
I burst out laughing at which everybody stopped and stared.
"Oh dear! Aren't we a bunch! But—" I said before they could argue further, "—the only reason I'm leading this mission is because I'm the one that got us into this mess because I wasn't paying attention. T'Roc gave me the assignment to teach me a lesson. I picked Al and Rutter for my team for their experience and expertise, otherwise Rutter would undoubtedly be leading it."
"Glad you recognise the fact," snipped Rutter to which I simply rolled my eyes.
Boy! Have the three of us come a long way since that day in the cargo bay. T'Roc must have known something. Why else would she have thrown us together, locking our destinies into a single outcome?

Log Entry 160723.185

We camped out in two tents: Al and I in one, Rutter and Traeth in the other. We ate early and told tales around our little campfire for most of the evening and then, under a starlit and cloudless night, we climbed into our beds and fell asleep.
The night passed uneventfully and I slept really well, far better than I could ever have anticipated. I awoke in the morning to the smell of freshly cooked bacon wafting into the tent. I turned to stir Al but she was already up and gone. I quickly dressed and emerged into the bright morning sunlight to find my three companions around the campfire with breakfast well under way. They were laughing and joking. I was really pleased to see how well they were getting on.
With excitement fuelling us, breakfast was soon a distant memory. We cleared everything away and broke camp, making sure our fire was well and truly out. We didn't want to start the first forest fire on Tikarra Island.
Rutter and Al led the way following a trail, too narrow to have been made by people that led from the beach through the woods. The trees reached high into the sky. They were verdant and green, and heavily peppered with big, brightly coloured blooms that sprang from the trunks of trees, running their entire length. Whether they belonged to the trees or were parasitic like mistletoe, I couldn't say. Many reminded me of bromeliads with petals like leaves that were brightly coloured in the middle with reds, pinks and oranges but blended into blue or green outer leaves. The same tuneless birds twittered in the trees like a chorus of six year olds with cheap recorders, and some rather annoying insects buzzed around our ears. All in all, though, it was quite tranquil. Certainly no evidence of monsters.
The terrain was hard and the undergrowth thick, so we continued to follow the narrow path upwards. As we climbed the air grew close. We had plenty of water and Rutter, an experienced outdoorsman, had lots of equipment to log our progress and detect fresh water, so we were in good spirits. To pass the time, we bantered and were speculating about all the things that could have happened to the explorers. So far, we had the obvious monsters (both sea, land and avian), a plague, starvation, alien abduction, a colony of Dirrians secretly living on the island having fallen in love with the local Amazonian tribeswomen, zombies that came and ate their brains in the middle of the night, cannibals (they'd gone mad through lack of food, killed and eaten each other) and drowning.
"Let's be honest, guys," I said. "I doubt there's anything really dangerous here at all!"
"Twenty two people disappeared here!" argued Al. "People don't just vanish! They get … eaten by monsters … or vampires!" she added excitedly. "We've not considered vampires!"
"Or werewolves," chipped in Traeth, giggling.
"Or something else entirely could have happened to them," interjected Rutter very calmly. "In fact, I'd go for the something else option."
He had stopped walking.
"What sort of something else?" I asked without really looking.
"The sort of something else that chops your head off and shoves it on a stick in the ground."
"Eh? What?"
We caught up with Rutter and looked ahead. There, five tall spikes had been driven into the ground. Atop each one was a Dirrian skull.

Log Entry 160717.184

"So they all perished?"
Traeth shrugged. "Who knows … but the Emperor wants to find out."
"This is crazy. If what you say is true—and I do believe you, but it doesn't make any sense! Why couldn't he just tell the truth and ask us to investigate the matter for him? And why did you come so willingly on what you're telling me is a one way trip? If Tikarra Island is so mysterious and fearsome, why are you here? What did you do that was so bad to make the Emperor order you onto this expedition—you and only you?"
Traeth chewed on the inside of his cheek and looked down shamefaced.
"You have to remember, Jen. I don't fit in here anymore. I'm like—oh, what was that expression you used to use … a square peg in a round hole."
"So because your face doesn't fit, you get sent on a suicide mission?" I was starting to squeal.
"Yes. This is Dirria, remember. This is the Dirrian way."
"That anybody who's a little bit different gets … discarded?"
"Yes. And I'm doubly different. Not only because of the time I spent on Earth, I'm taller than your average Dirrian."
"Dirrians don't like tall people. You know that."
"You're not tall."
"I'm as tall as you are."
"And I'm not tall!"
"Not for your species, no, but how do you feel when you stand next to someone who is really, really tall, like Rutter."
Rutter is taller than me but not by so much. However, the vision of Urtok towering above me in the lift at the Academy came to mind.
"And the Emperor dislikes me because I am tall, as most Dirrians do."
I was flabbergasted. "But aren't there any tall Dirrians?"
Traeth shrugged.
"Incredibly few. Dirrians are very vain and consider height unsightly. On Earth, in 20th century China, did not the women have their feet bound in order to keep them small."
"Yes, but it was a barbaric practice banned in 1912."
"But it took place. Less than a hundred years ago, babies over a certain length would be euthanized at birth in the belief that a long baby would become a tall and ugly adult. It was a practise that has been part of our custom for millennia. Because of that, over the centuries, our people have grown shorter and shorter, thinner and thinner. We may not slaughter our babies anymore, but I still represent everything they don't want in their genome. Even my parents, if they had lived, would have shunned me by now, I'm sure. Among the Dirrian people, I am considered a giant."
"So the Emperor sends you to Tikarra Island instead."
"Yes. It's an easy way to get rid of me and, in a way, I quite liked the idea."
"Liked it? Why?"
"It sounded nice. Going to a deserted island where I could live out my days in solitude, away from the Dirrian people. Somewhere where I wouldn't be scorned and snubbed."
Al stepped forward. "Can I ask a question?"
"Of course."
"If the Emperor disliked you so much, why did he have you in the Palace?"
"Because, at the moment, all he has with the United Federation of Planets are trade agreements and he wants to join, but he has no experience with other races and even less understanding of their ways. When he heard from the delegation you met on the Drakonia about me, he actively sought me out. For the first time in my life, somebody wanted me—"
"For all the wrong reasons," chipped in Rutter.
"Yes, but someone wanted me! "
"But not now?"
"No. He's realised he doesn't really need me. He's interrogated me as he can. It didn't take long. I wasn't on Earth that long, after all. And now I've outlived my usefulness."
"So you're happy to come here to die?"
"Or live out my days in peace and tranquillity."
"Alone!" I shouted.
"But only if the monsters don't get him first," added Al cheekily.
Traeth fell silent and sucked his lips in hard as he debated.
"Okay," he finally admitted. "I didn't think it through. And I do regret that you got sucked into it as well."
Rutter folded his arms and grinned. "It didn't occur to you to contact Jen and ask her to help you emigrate to Earth?"
Traeth's shoulders fell as he realised his stupidity.
"No," he admitted soulfully. "The thought never occurred to me. I haven't been thinking straight at all if the truth be known."
We stood on the beach, our eyes playing tag with each other. In the end, it was Al that broke the silence.
"So if you wanted to come, why did you just have a dickey fit on the beach?" she scowled.
Traeth sighed.
"I don't know. I was filled with so much panic I suppose." He sighed heavily.
I could see his sorrow and distress. I reached out and touched his shoulder to which, against all Dirrian tradition, he fell into my arms for a hug. He was right. He wasn't Dirrian anymore. He pulled himself away sharply and beamed a smile to show he had pulled himself together.
"But I'm okay now, so what's next?"
We debated our options taking into account the time of day, how soon night would fall and our need to find a suitable place to camp. We decided, unanimously surprisingly, to pitch our tents on the sand at the edge of the woodland where the land was flat and we were far enough away from the sea not to be threatened by the tide.

Log Entry 160708.183

It didn't sound like the most terrifying of tales and we said as much, which prompted Traeth to continue the story ...
* * * * *
The High Emperor was not pleased at the loss of his fisherman—the only fisherman on the whole of Dirria, so he made a very dramatic decision. He ordered the captain of the Imperial Guard to build a raft to take twenty men to Tikarra Island.
You'd have thought it would have been simpler to just order some of his servants to go fishing instead but (ignoring the ingrained fear of the sea that all Dirrians harboured) no one other than Farrell knew how to fish. So it was that the captain of the Imperial Guard recruited a band of carpenters to build the raft and twenty unlucky souls to man it.
Progress was incredibly slow. You have to remember that Dirria had no maritime history at all. Rafts, sails and oars had to be designed completely from scratch—and tested in water. Neither the carpenters nor the sailors were happy and over the following months, an unprecedented number of foot injuries were recorded.
Highly skilled carpenters became unusually clumsy, dropping hammers on sandaled feet and managing to drive nails through toes. It was a voyage of discovery in so many ways, because no one knew how to swim either. No one had even considered the possibility of swimming, so basic life jackets had to be designed to help keep a newfound sailor afloat should he fall overboard.
The project could so easily have been thwarted but over time, those carpenters and unlucky sailors became heroes. Considered especially brave for working so close to the water, they became revered and were treated as honoured guests wherever they went. Ladies buzzed around them like bees around honey, and their families were held in high regard simply by their association.
The accident rate dropped, but progress didn't go any faster as no one felt inclined to kill the golden goose. The carpenters dragged out the work to make the most of it, and the sailors stretched out their training in shallow water as long as they could, to delay the fateful day when they would have to go out of their depth and sail across the sea.
It was nearly a year but finally, they were prepared for the voyage. The raft was made, the training had been completed and they were ready to sail.
A great celebration was held on the beach to bid the brave crew farewell and bon voyage. The Emperor was there and his kitchens laid on an exquisite banquet on the beach with the crew and their families as VIP guests. At midday, the raft was launched and the crew set sail for Tikarra Island among a sea of tears and joy. A little under five hours later a signal beacon was lit indicating their safe arrival and then ... nothing more was ever heard of them again.

Log Entry 160620.182

Traeth began his tale with the words 'a thousand years ago', but like most legends, the date could not be told with any accuracy. It could just as easily have been a few hundred years or ten thousand years ago, so let's just say long, long ago instead.
Long, long ago, the Dirrians were no braver than they are now when it comes to the sea. For preference, they lived inland and the more affluent you were, the further inland you lived, much as it is today.
Farrell was born to a very poor family of farmers. So poor were they that their lands sat atop a cliff overlooking the sea. The views were both spectacular and frightening and as a young boy, Farrell would look out over the sea from the cliff tops and watch the animals that lived within it swarming below its surface and leaping above it from time to time. In the distance, like a big green pimple on the silky blue surface of the ocean sat the island of Tikarra. Remote and untouchable, Farrell often wondered about it. He would sit near the cliff's edge staring out to sea at it, wondering if people lived there and if so, what they were like.
Behind him their farmland stretched with their home on the horizon, but the land was as poor as the family. It wasn't particularly fertile and produced barely enough to feed the animals let alone the family, but for generations they had persisted, tending the crops and animals. They managed, but only just until deep in the middle of one winter's night, a great storm blew up. Storms were not uncommon but this one was particularly bad. The waves battered against the cliff face relentlessly for hour upon hour until finally, it gave way. With a mighty roar the land tore itself free and crashed into the sea, sinking below the waves, gone forever. Come morning, the extent of the devastation became clear. Farrell's family had lost nearly two-thirds of their farmland to the sea. How would they survive now?
Farrell, a young man by now, felt he had to help his family as best he could, but while his father, mother, brothers and sisters worked day and night trying to keep the family solvent by working the land and scavenging for extra food from the forests, Farrell turned to the sea. It was the sea that had stolen something from them, and it was the sea that should recompense them.
Farrell set about a project and determined to build a raft so that he might get closer to the animals that lived in the sea and catch them. He built it in secret, though, because he was as fearful of the sea as the next Dirrian, yet he had a strange desire to explore it. He had always felt its calling and now he had an excuse to adventure further than any other Dirrian ... as long as his courage held.
It took several months for Farrell to build his raft and several more to design a net to catch the fish, but when he came home one night with his first catch, his parents were both horrified and delighted. That night they dined on fish—probably the first Dirrians to ever eat fish and it was beautiful.
The next day, Farrell's mother took the rest of his catch into town and sold it making a handsome profit. Soon, word reached the palace of this new food and it wasn't long before Farrell was fishing for the High Emperor himself. Each day, Farrell would collect his nets and take his little raft out onto the ocean and fish. Each night, he would return home with his catch which his mother would then take and sell to the palace ... and so the days rolled on.
But Farrell was still a young man and it was a lonely existence on the sea. No other Dirrian, even his siblings, were prepared to venture out with him. The sea still held great terror for them so while Farrell's fear diminished each day with its familiarity, his boredom increased until finally, he declared that he was going to go to the island of Tikarra. His parents pleaded with him not to, but Farrell would hear none of it. In the end, all they could do was make him promise to light a signal fire when he arrived to let them know he had arrived safely, and a second one before he left.
The following morning on the beach, Farrell's parents said farewell to him, his mother sobbing softly and continuing her pleas but to no avail. Farrell set sail and they watched from the shoreline as their son sailed off towards the island of Tikarra. It was a beautiful, clear day and they could make out his little raft almost all of the way across until it was nothing more than a speck. An hour or so later, they saw the smoke from Farrell's signal fire rise into the sky and felt great relief ... but that was the last they ever heard or saw of Farrell. There never was a second signal fire.

Log Entry 160605.181

Rutter drove the boat up onto the island, beaching it on the sand. It wasn't quite as white and pristine as the one we had left. There was lots of debris strewn across it; twigs and leaves from the surrounding woodlands as well as the shells of molluscs and bits of seaweed. It was still incredibly beautiful though, just more relaxed and informal.
Al and I helped Traeth out of the boat and he darted from our hands up the beach to the nearest tree, which he threw his arms around, sinking onto the ground. He hung onto it for dear life, as though afraid that if he let go, the dry land would disappear from beneath him.
Rutter, Al and I got everything out of the boat and then I told Rutter that he could arrange for the Earhart to retrieve it.
"Ah! So we won't be sailing back then?"
"No way," I said quietly. "Traeth's done well to do it once. We'll beam him back to the mainland at the end of the expedition."
Rutter's brow furrowed.
"I think I'd rather leave it here, if you don't mind. Just in case ... You never know..."
I laughed. "If that's what you'd prefer to do, I don't have a problem with it."
It was getting quite late in the afternoon and, ideally, it would have been perfect to camp here on the flat sands of the beach, but I knew we should move inland if Traeth was going to regain enough of his senses to continue the journey. We collected our stuff together and mounted what we needed onto our backs and took Traeth's packs to him. He looked up at me pitifully, his face ashen.
"I am so sorry," he mumbled, tears forming in his eyes.
"Don't be daft, man!" I chastised. "You've just done something that no other Dirrian has done before you. You're a true adventurer among men."
"No," he said. "You don't understand," and he began to sob, dropping his head shamefully. I bent down to him and with my knuckles, gently pushed his head to look up at me.
"What don't I understand?"
The tears came hard and fast now.
"Come on, Traeth. You need to tell me. What don't I understand?"
"HE LIED!" he screamed hysterically, so loudly that we all pulled back a little. A few moments passed but it seemed Traeth wasn't going to volunteer anything more, so I asked.
"Who lied?"
In between broken sobs, he finally replied. "The High Emperor ... he lied."
Al, Rutter and I exchanged glances. We could see this was going to take a while, so we settled ourselves around Traeth, making ourselves comfortable, and then he confessed everything that he knew.

Log Entry 160528.180

I'm not going to pretend that Traeth was brave as the little boat cut through the water. In fact, he sat gibbering in the bottom of the craft, not sure whether to be more afraid of the sea to the left of him or the water to the right of him. It was strange water too. It rippled around us in rainbow colours, not like an oil slick, but ribbons of translucent watercolour that wouldn't mix. The sea couldn't have been kinder to us as we gently rose and fell on the gentle swells. The sun was shining brilliantly, warming our faces and drying our damp clothes, and a gentle breeze created by the journey caressed us softly. We couldn't have asked for better conditions as we slid across the water, relaxing in the idyllic conditions.
Takara Island rose from the sea like a rough, emerald gem. It was green and verdant with brown gullies cut into the sides—very beautiful and tranquil.
"Oo! Look!" squealed Al, her face alight with glee.
Just to the right of us (or is that starboard) a shoal of fish broke the water's surface like a school of dolphins, leaping out of the water in graceful arcs. Each one was about half a meter long and fantastically coloured in the blues and greens of peacock feathers, each scale dotted with a golden eye. Their bodies were beautifully streamlined but in place of pectoral fins, they had paws, almost invisible they were tucked so neatly against their slick bodies. A fantastical dorsal fin ran down the back, the rays of which were shimmering deep blue and fanned with emerald-gold skin between them. They were amazing! And just like dolphins, they chose to run along side us, as curious about us as we were about them.
Sadly, Traeth wasn't as impressed. When the creatures appeared, he went into hysterics. Terror filled his eyes and he screamed in sheer fear. He began to flail about in the boat, his arms thrashing wildly around.
"For crying our loud!" shouted Rutter, desperately trying to steady the vessel. Traeth attempted to stand up, unbalancing the vessel badly. It rolled heavily to one side, which sent him into an even higher state of panic. "We're going to capsize!" screamed Rutter anxiously.
Traeth fell and the boat lurched deeply the other way. Desperately trying to clamber to his feet again and again, he fought off our every attempt to settle him. The boat careened furiously from side to side, each roll more exaggerated than the last.
We fought him to the bottom of the boat once more and I straddled his body trying to hold his legs down while Al tried to use her body to hold his torso still, but our struggle caused the boat to continue to loll from one side to the other. Water sloshed over the sides, soaking us all. A fish, caught in the mayhem, leapt into the little craft with us. It flapped about in the bottom of the boat by Traeth's face, sending him into a state beyond hysterics. He was uncontrollable, flailing and screaming and fighting against us.
"Jeese, Al!" screamed Rutter. "Do something before we capsize!"
"Yes, sir!" she shouted back cheerily, somehow managing to throw a salute at the same time. She rose above Traeth and thrust her hand down onto his neck. She found the pressure point she wanted with ease and expertly silenced Traeth. The moment his body fell limp, she released her grip, flipped him over onto his chest, secured his hands behind his back and sat on him. His face, she turned to one side and tilted to make sure his airway was clear, was deathly white.
"Thank you," muttered Rutter as the boat settled again into its sedate passage.
"Bloody hell, Al!" I exclaimed. "I think you've killed him!"
A faint moan from his lips proved otherwise.
"Not at all," she quipped. "I merely applied enough pressure for him to loose consciousness. He'll be awake soon."
"And then what?"
"Then I sit we him until we reach land." She then signalled me with her hand. "Would you mind sorting that fish out and then you can secure his legs for me."
Obediently, I did as I was bid. The fish had grown weak from its own struggles, so I held it gently in the water so that the sea would swill through its gills. I felt it revive, its muscles tightening so I let it go, and it darted off into the mêlée of the shoal, re-assimilating itself into the group. I settled near Traeth's legs as directed. He had begun to sob.
"It's okay, buddie," I soothed. "You just lie there and close your eyes. Pretend you're sunbathing in the garden or something."

Log Entry 160514.179

Traeth studied the little blue and white boat quizzically as it lay on the beach.
"So how does it work?" he asked, shuffling his feet nervously.
I didn't understand the question so asked him what he meant.
"Well, look at it. It's wonky. We'll all fall out."
True enough, as it lay on the sand, it was leaning at an angle, but all that proved was that Traeth had literally no understanding of how a boat floats upon the water.
"When we get it in the sea," I explained, "the keel drops below the waterline so that it's level."
Traeth looked horrified. "You mean it sinks!" he exclaimed.
"I suppose, in a way, a bit of it does, yes, but the bulk of it remains above the water. The bottom board," and I smacked it with my hand, "ends up about level with the waterline."
He still looked unsure.
"Look, we'll show you."
Rutter, Al and I rolled up our trouser legs (for what good it did us. We still got soaked) and dragged the boat into the water until it was floating in the shallows.
"Ah!" exclaimed Traeth when he saw how it floated in the water, but then he became anxious again.
"Come on then," I smiled. "You said you were going to get in."
"Yes ... but how?"
I grinned.
"You can either wade out and climb in ... or, if you don't want to get your feet wet, Rutter can give you a piggyback."
I knew that neither option offered much comfort for him. The Dirrians aren't big on physical contact with strangers (they're not that keen on hugging their own family) and I remembered how shocked Traeth had been at the orphanage. We have no thought for how often children touch each other, be it playing tag in the park, brushing each other's hair or huddling in the corner of the library looking rude words up in the dictionary. Then I remembered how I had hugged him at the palace earlier. He had returned that embrace warmly, so he was right, he had changed.
"Come on," I encouraged and held out my hand. "I'll help you."
Traeth didn't take it but stood studying the water suspiciously.
"Look, it's not deep. You can still see my feet on the bottom. Take my hand and we'll get you into the boat first."
I could see Traeth summoning up his courage, but his face was pale and he gulped air. Then he swallowed hard and reached out. As his fingers touched mine, they were cold and sweaty. He gripped my hand hard, really hard, so hard it hurt, but I said nothing. Al came forward and held out her hand for him too. He took it and between the two of us, he took the tiniest, little steps edging cautiously out into the water. It barely covered his feet and he stopped. A bead of cold sweat trickled down the side of his face and dripped into the sea.
"It's okay," I soothed, encouraging him on another couple of steps until he was ankle deep in the warm ocean.
"You're doing great, Traeth. You've come further than any other Dirrian before you."
Traeth began to laugh, a strange mix of hysteria and exhilaration. His grip tightened further and I winced at the pain. Traeth was oblivious to it; he was concentrating on his feet as he took more steps. Now he was shin deep and I could feel his whole body shaking. His breathing was strained and erratic and his hands where slick with sweat but he didn't relent. He was determined to do this.
The water licked at his knees and his eyes darted back and forth to the little boat bobbing up and down before him. He suddenly let go of Al's hand and grabbed the gunwale. The boat swayed furiously at the sudden movement and he squealed.
"It's okay!" I shouted. "That's normal. It'll be settle when we're all in it."
Al grabbed his arm to steady him, and we, rather clumsily, helped Traeth into the boat. We set out quite gently but as our fumbling turned into manhandling, Al suddenly took matters into her own hands and quite unceremoniously picked him up and tossed him into the boat. Poor Traeth squawked as he landed and lay there, giggling maniacally and clinging to the bottom boards like a newly-rescued shipwrecked sailor.
Al turned to me and mouthed an apology. I replied with a sheepish grin.
Rutter held onto the bow line while Al and I returned to the beach and picked up our equipment to load it into the boat. Finally we boarded, and Rutter too. We took a moment to organise ourselves and encourage a jittery Traeth into a sitting position in the middle of the boat, his buttocks on the bottom board. We wanted to keep him as low in the boat as possible where he would feel the safest and help us maintain the little vessel's stability.
Rutter fired up the engine. It roared into life, startling Traeth for a moment, and then it settled into a deep, throbbing purr. Finally, we were on our way.

Log Entry 160507.178

The completed sandcastle stood proudly on the beach. It looked as though it would stand for eons, it was so well built but, as with all sandcastles, it would be gone with the next tide.

The sun was high in the sky and the warm, salty seawater sluiced leisurely between my toes. Traeth was standing beside me, eyeing the sea with deep suspicion as it lapped gently at his feet. He leapt gingerly back at every lick, giggling nervously.

"So what is it that makes you so afraid of the sea?" I asked.

"Look at it!" he exclaimed. "It's so big!"

"Well, yes. It is big but the land is big too, and you're not frightened of that."

"But the land won't drown you."

"No, but it has this nasty thing called gravity that'll kill you if you fall off a high bit."

Traeth laughed. "Yes, but land is honest. You can see what lies at the bottom of its mountains and cliffs. The sea is deceitful. It looks so beautiful, like a sheet of glass sparkling in the sun. It looks solid and tangible, but beneath its surface, what manner of secrets does it hide? How deep does it go? How dark does it get? What creatures does it hide?"

"Nothing too sinister. My scans show fish, crustaceans and various large mammals for the most part; very similar to Terran sea life in fact."

"You scanned our seas?"

"Yes, of course I did. I wanted to know if your ingrained fears stemmed from something in your ancestral past. On Earth, we have lots of stories of sea monsters—kraken, giant squid and octopi, mermaids and sirens—most originating from some factual creature. If your ancestors were terrorised by such animals, it might explain that instinctive fear."

"Oh! I suppose that does make sense."

We stood for a while longer, watching the gentle sea undulate. Al and Rutter were messing about further down the beach, Rutter threatening to dunk Al. He had his arms about her waist and was swinging her around. She laughed, giggled and screamed but it was all in good fun. If she wanted to, Al could easily floor Rutter with a single blow.

"They get on very well," remark Traeth.

I laughed. "Yes they do. Now they do. They used to be sworn enemies, though." I laughed again. "Once upon a time, he was my sworn enemy, too."

Traeth sighed heavily. "Things change," he said. "People change."

"You mean me. Have I changed?"

"No. I didn't mean you; I meant me. Since my return to Dirria so many years ago, I just don't fit in any more. I'm a bit of an outcaste. Earth changed me. It made me ... different. I don't know how, but it's true. I know it, my family knows it, everybody knows it."

There wasn't anything I could say. His experiences were his alone. I hadn't been there to feel what he felt.

Traeth took a deep intake of breath and exhaled slowly. "And that's why I'm going to get into that bloody boat and we are going to sail over to that bloody island."

Log Entry 160425.177

So far, we've spent nearly three hours on the beach. Traeth was incredibly nervous at first, and if it hadn't been for the relationship we'd had as children, we wouldn't have got him anywhere near the shoreline. As it was, we began by encouraging him to take his shoes off and stand on the dry sand with us. It was a good seventy metres from the sea itself but still invoked fear in Traeth. However, we did get him to join us on the soft, warm sand with his eyes closed (to shut the sea out) and after a while, he did admit that it felt rather pleasant between his toes.
Nearly thirty minutes later, we sat down, still only a few feet from the trees, and Traeth began to explore the beach with his hands, sifting the sand through his fingers. He was ignoring the sea as best he could but wasn't brave enough to turn his back on it, but he was beginning to feel some of the pleasures of the shore on a warm summer's day.
Another half hour passed and we began to encourage him down to the damper sand. It took a while as after each step he took, he was compelled to sit and watch the waves gently rolling in to assure himself that it wasn't going to do anything dramatic—suddenly rear up and swallow us all whole, for instance.
Once there, we finally started building sandcastles, or rather, sandcastle—one very big castle indeed. We used the mugs from our backpacks as buckets and made a rather impressive building. Traeth made tall turrets, stacking mugs of sand one on top of the other, working out the optimum height possible before they collapsed.
Traeth always was a stickler for detail and he hadn't changed. Having discovered how well you could mould the wet sand, he sent Al to the water's edge to fill a mug with water, so that he could dampen it to its optimum consistency to make impressions in. Each stone was marked out on the building and windows engraved into the sides. On the top, castellated walls with detailed walkways completed the building. It was a very fine sandcastle indeed.
I'll be honest, it was a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon, interrupted only by my chiming intercom. I answered it to find the captain at the other end.
"You don't appear to have got very far," T'Roc said. I couldn't disagree, but I wasn't going to hurry things.
"My apologies, Captain, but if this mission is to be successful, we must be patient."
I could feel her rolling her eyes at me from down here. I stepped away from my team so that I wouldn't be overheard and lowered my voice.
"Sir, may I speak freely?"
There was a slight pause before she responded.
"Knock yourself out, Terran."
"And in private?"
A silent tut echoed all the way from the bridge, through the atmosphere of Dirria and resonated across the beach. A few moments later, T'Roc responded.
"Just you and me now, Terran. What's the problem?"
She had obviously left the bridge and was now in her office.
"No problem, but you did assign this mission to me. I know it's not a big deal in the great scheme of things; in fact, it's a very minor mission but it is a mission nonetheless, and I'd like to do it properly."
Silence ensued.
"Sometimes, Terran," she sighed. "I swear you must have some Betazoid blood in you. It feels like you can see right through me. Yes, I am impatient to return to normal duties, but you're right. This is a mission, even if it is only a little one." She sighed again, this time more heavily. "Just make sure to bring me back a stick of rock."
The comms channel shut abruptly and I could envisage T'Roc leaning back in her chair, tenting her fingers and scolding herself. Maybe I was right, but no one loves a smartarse. I'd pay for it at some point, undoubtedly the next time I screwed up.

Log Entry 160417.176

As the smell of fresh sea air seeped through the forest, Traeth grew anxious. It wasn't like an ordinary fear of something, not like being scared of spiders or whatever. No, so tangible was it, I could almost taste it.
The trees began to thin and slats of blue sky brightened the way ahead. The scent of the salty sea grew stronger, and the verdant, green grass beneath our feet grew scant as the fertile, black earth gave way to soft, golden sand. Suddenly the trees broke and we found ourselves at the edge of the most beautiful, clean, white, sandy beach you had ever seen. I don't think even Risa could rival it.
The sands stretched out to either side of us, embracing the sea in a rich, deep hug, its surface rippled with perfect symmetry. The water sparkled like blue crystal and rolled lazily onto the sand with barely enough energy to retreat again. The sky above was deep azure blue. Whispery clouds swirled in currents somewhere far above, but here, on the ground, there was barely a breath of wind.
It was glorious.
Waiting for us was a neat little blue and white boat with an outboard engine on the back. Hmm, I wonder if Rutter can pilot that, I thought.
"Wow!" exclaimed Al. "Can't we just stay here and sunbathe?" she laughed.
Looking at Traeth's face, ashen with worry, I decided that it was probably a good idea to spend some time on the beach before graduating onto the sea. I unzipped my boots and peeled off my socks before stepping onto the soft, warm sand. As it squished up between my toes, it felt heavenly.
"Come on," I said brightly. "Let's build a sandcastle!"
"You're kidding, right?" said Rutter.
I shook my head.
"No. Traeth needs to gain some confidence and what better way than experiencing the joys of the beach first hand. Anyone got a bucket?"

Log Entry 160403.175

Preparations got underway very quickly. After all, there was no point in hanging about. T'Roc and I returned to the Earhart, and no sooner had our feet materialised on the transporter pad than she instructed me to select my team.
"My team? Aren't you coming with us," I asked.
She looked at me and laughed quite mockingly.
"No, this is your playtime. Pick your bestest of friends to amuse yourself with, get your kit together, have fun, stay safe and play nicely." She was being sarcastic.
It didn't take me long to assemble my team: Al, Luke and Rutter. That would make five of us with Traeth. Technically, Rutter is a little taller than I would have liked for the expedition, but his experience and training far outweighed any of those concerns. Anyway, Traeth wouldn't mind Rutter's height.
We arranged to meet Traeth in a little wooded area near the beach. That was as attempt to keep Traeth's panic to a minimum. From there we would stroll down to the beach and take a boat (replicated by the Earhart) over to the island. This was on Honker's insistence. I didn't approve, but apparently, he wanted Traeth to experience the whole seafaring thing in its entirety and then report back. I could see that this terrified the life out of Traeth, and I'm quite angry that the High Emperor would insist upon such a thing, bearing in mind this fear was so deeply inset into every Dirrian in existence. He didn't want to go, but he didn't care if he petrified another in his pleasure quest. However, I decided, for the sake of diplomacy, that we would give it a try. If there were any problems, though, I would abandon the boat idea and we would transport over to the island instead. There was no way I was going to torture my friend for some childish Emperor's pleasure.
We arrived in the little wooded area, which turned out to be not so little. Standing amongst the trees of giant tulips that stood thirty feet tall, I felt more like Alice in Wonderland than Jenny Terran, Starfleet Officer.
Traeth was waiting for us, looking somewhat pale as he squat by his little bundle of possessions. It wasn't a proper backpack, though, just a bindle. As we arrived, he stood up, picking up the stick and resting it on his shoulder. He reminded me of Dick Whittington.
Seeing the amount of kit we had, he apologised and looked quite shamefaced.
"No worries," I quipped. "Dirrians don't camp so we came prepared. We've even brought a backpack for you with some personal items in that you may not have thought of. There's room in it for your own stuff too. Come on," I smiled. "Let's get you sorted."
As we transferred Traeth's possessions into the backpack, I introduced the gang to him. He cheered up a little more with each hand he shook.
"I'd forgotten how friendly Humans are," he smiled weakly.
"I'm not Human, though," cut in Al in a friendly manner. "I'm—" and she stopped dead.
My, oh my! Was she starting to embrace her Klingon heritage after all?
"Klingon," I grinned, unable to resist the tease. "The word you're looking for is Klingon!"
Rutter and Luke smothered grins as Al glared at me.
"I know!" she barked.
Traeth nudged me. "It's just like old times!" he whispered loudly and looked truly happy.
With Traeth now more suitably equipped with a rucksack on his back and proper footwear (he'd come in sandals!), we set off. Traeth was now very chatty, expressing his surprise and pleasure at just how comfortable the pack was despite its weight, and the boots. How did I know his size for instance? I didn't let on that as I had stood next to him yesterday, I had compared his feet to mine. After all, does a magician reveal his secrets?

Log Entry 160326.174

I was still frustrated by the fact that I didn't know what was going on. What had I volunteered us for?
"I don't understand why the High Emperor needs us to do this for him," began T'Roc, making herself comfortable on the sofa. She leaned forward and poured a cup of the mysterious beverage from the pot that remained from breakfast. It would be stone cold by now but it didn't seem to bother her. In fact, as she sipped it, an eyebrow rose in satisfaction. "It's not exactly difficult or specialist, and he has the whole of Dirria to call upon, so why does he need Starfleet?"
"Fear," replied Traeth.
"So it is dangerous then," I interjected.
T'Roc tutted. "Oh, put her out of her misery, for goodness sake."
Traeth laughed. "The High Emperor wants members of the Earhart to explore Tikarra Island for him."
"What's so important or terrible about Tikarra Island that it requires Starfleet?"
"Nothing, not that anybody knows of anyway."
"Then why us?"
"Ah, that's my fault, I'm afraid," said Traeth. "Honka and I—"
"The High Emperor."
"You're on first name terms with the High Emperor!" I exclaimed.
He laughed. "Yes. When the delegation returned from the Drakonia, he heard all about your tales of me and sought me out. He was intrigued to know more about Earth and its people. Since then, I've been interrogated endlessly about my time on Earth ... and that's where things go wrong." Traeth sighed. "The problem is that I didn't realise what he was after. I regaled tales of our adventures as children, through the eyes of a child. I inadvertently painted you as being some brave and intrepid explorer."
I wasn't quite sure how he managed that. We never ventured more than a few miles away from the orphanage, but as Traeth continued, I got the gist of it.
"We were just children on a great adventure. We made our own entertainment ... where scaling a steep embankment became ascending a mountain; climbing that big oak tree in the park was conquering a monster and do you remember those big stone pillars that we used to leap along the top of?"
I did them. It was a sculpture: an arrangement of large bollards between one and three foot high, each one about a foot across. A line of them snaked across the park, through flower beds and lawns. I'm not sure if we were supposed to stand on them or not, but the park keeper never minded—as long as we didn't squash his azaleas that is.
"That was us traversing a great canyon via stepping stones a thousand metres high! Below were targs, dragons and other carnivorous beasts waiting to devour us should we fall." His voice echoed the excitement we felt in those adventures so long ago, and I smiled remembering it well. "And then there were the Great Adventures."
I think I must have looked blank there because Traeth reiterated further.
"The treasure hunts in the park! Come on! You must remember!"
An elusive, vague memory began to surface.
"There was me, you, Lucy, Berry and Rufus and you'd create treasure hunts and games for us. Like the time you sent us all off with a little box and a list of things to fill it with. We had to find a yellow flower, a simple leaf, an acorn, a smooth stone, a twig shaped like the letter Y, a seed—lots of stuff like that."
Now I remembered.
"Quite the entertainments manager, weren't we," quipped T'Roc.
"It was just something for everyone to do. Otherwise the weekends were really boring."
"Still commendable; sounds like it took some organising."
"Not really. I did most of the planning during history."
T'Roc tittered and shook her head. Traeth continued.
"And you took us off to explore places. We went into town, various cafés, shops and museums, the parks, the lake—"
"Ah! The lake!" I screamed. Suddenly it all made complete sense.
"You remember the lake then?" said Traeth.
"Yes, and you were terrified of the water!"
"As are all Dirrians."
"Ah!" cried T'Roc in realisation. "And that's why the High Emperor wants us to explore the island for him."
"Exactly. Honka wants to know what's on the island but all Dirrians have this deeply inset and somewhat irrational fear of water."
"But he could just transport himself over there and explore it for himself," I said.
"We don't have transporter technology."
"Okay, but we could transport him over there and then he could explore it for himself."
"Do you have air conditioned tents and hot tubs, plus enough supplies to feed thirty servants and a battalion of chefs and kitchen staff? Trust me, Terran, you won't get Honka nibbling of the end of a single Kit-Kat shared between five kids."
"Okay, but he could send a party of Dirrians—I mean get us to transport a party of Dirrians to the island."
"He is, thank you very much, Terran."
I frowned, not appreciating what he was saying.
"Me, you fool! I can't say I'm overjoyed at the prospect, but he's sending me—with you! He wants us to go over there, discover new things and then come back and regale with him wondrous tales of adventure."
"But what if there's nothing there?"
"Then, just like in the park, we make canyons out of flower beds and mountains out of embankments because if we don't," Traeth rolled his eyes. "I don't even want to think about it—" I gasped wondering what horrible, dire punishment might await us. Traeth continued. "He'll sulk for months!"

Log Entry 160312.173

I scuttled behind T'Roc desperately trying to keep pace. I wasn't sure if I should just drop back and give her some time to cool off or to follow her, but thought the latter wisest for the time being. Besides, where else would I go? I suppose I could have wandered around the gardens for a time, but that didn't seem right somehow. So I followed her back into the palace and up the stairs to our room. I wasn't even over the threshold before she let rip.
"You really have no idea what you've got us into, do you? You are such an idiot at times! The worst thing you can ever do is try to cover up the fact that you haven't been paying attention. Your mind wandering is bad enough, but then you try to wash over it! Have you always been this stupid?" she screamed at me, although it wasn't really a scream. T'Roc had an uncanny ability to yell without raising her voice above a loud whisper. I must learn to master that technique some day.
"More or less," came a voice from inside the room. Surprised, we both turned to investigate.
Sitting on a chair in the corner was a Dirrian. Even sitting down, I could see that he was taller than your average Dirrian but he had the unmistakable and characteristic pale skin and dark hair of his race. He smiled smugly at us. We just stared at him.
"In answer to your question, Captain, yes, she has more or less always been a bit stupid. I don't know what she's done this time but I don't suppose it's any worse than any of the stuff she did as a kid."
My eyes widened. Could it be? Was it? If it was, he had changed almost beyond recognition. Traeth had been a small, puny child with pimples and a permanent sniff. This young man was the complete opposite. Still small and thin compared to humans, he was healthy, athletic even, and his skin was like alabaster: flawless, smooth, perfect.
" Traeth?" I ventured.
"Well, how many other Dirrians did you spend your childhood with?"
I was so delighted to see him, I forgot all about protocol, and all about to T'Roc. I ran past her to greet him, throwing my arms around him as he stood up to welcome me. We laughed; we embraced like the long lost friends that we were. I had never imagined that I would see him again. Even coming to Dirria, his home world, I had never assumed that we would meet again.
"You've changed so much," I exclaimed. "I hardly recognised you," I said.
"And you haven't changed a bit," he replied, pushing me to arm's length so that he could study at me better. "Now, let's see if I can help you figure out of this mess."
Ah, yes. The mess.