Gork and Slarb were not the ones who usually received these types of missions, but the council decided that they had no choice this time. At the general meeting of the Gitfangula council, the war was the only issue that they wanted to discuss in their psychic talk; too many on the council knew that their jobs were in jeopardy and could not hid their fear; too many on the council knew that they had to do something very quickly. After a quick discussion on food yields and birth readings, they brought out both Gork and Slarb forward and gestured to the crowds on the multilevel projector. And as one very deep and serious voice, they shared the following telepathic message:
'Hear us, O citizenry of Gitfang! We know of your grievances and losses! We know that you suffer due to this inexplicable war...'
'Inexplicable?' Gork poked Slarb. 'They started the damn thing for...'
Slarb poked back. 'Shhh! They don't hear us when they chat but someone in the room might hear your stupidness.
They caught up with the rest of the message.
'...As a solution, we have commissioned two of our finest explorers...'
'...To seek out a solution to our woes. They will be sent out...'
'Below our standard rate.'
'...To find the one that can bring balance to our lives and end this useless conflict. Please, accept our wisdom and our decision to pick these worthy souls. Hail Gork and Slarb!'
A warm hum of telepathic applause entered their minds, joined by some of the crowds around them. And it was only when they least expected it that they also received the following private message:
'If you two idiots screw this up, just keep flying. We could always use more soldiers, but you will both be batarch droppings if this does not work. Get it right!'
Gork looked at Slarb.
Slarb looked around.
There was no way to tell who had dropped those extrasensory thoughts, but they had their suspicions. The trip would have to work. A batarch could swallow you whole and pass you through its system before you knew you were being eaten (an interesting form of death in this quadrant).
It would have to work.
So, why did they find themselves chosen for the mission?
Simply put, they were the best at what they did.
Gork and Slarb were two of the best smugglers Gitfang had ever known. They had once been able to disguise and ship entire loads of medical supplies as building material and food supplements, fooling both the enemies of their galaxy and several off-world inspection officers. After more than 200 missions, even the ones who hated their occupation and skills admitted that it was good to have people who could slip in freely between soldiers and weaponry. Their people needed them.
And they were not happy.
'Y'know what happens if we screw this up, right?'
A time window was about to open up in front of their vessel, the Nectar, and Gork was trying to concentrate on the ship's readings and ignore Slarb's voice in his head.
'You know that I have to be precise when we hit it, right?'
'Are you even listening to me?'
Gork tapped at his head as he looked at a monitor. 'Hard to do much else now.'
'Gork, we have carried and shipped many things for many people, but never officially for any government.'
Gork looked up for a moment. He really was confused. 'Why does that make a difference?'
Slarb could barely contain his thought. 'Because they have power!'
Gork laughed. 'And the ones we usually deal with don't?'
'I mean real power!'
'So do I. Remember what almost happened to us on Chachlin 7? Amazed that we are still functioning...'
Slarb paused and was genuinely offended. 'That was a simple misunderstanding of numbers and code.'
'And we were almost...'
'Yes. Remember, I was there...'
'Hmm...' Gork went back to the monitors.
'But this is bigger. This is home.'
'This is a planet.'
'Right. And it is...family.'
Gork was going to injure Slarb, but he knew that the needed his partner unharmed.
'I have...familial units.'
'We all do. Now quiet. I think we are about to get a window.'
Slarb turned away from the controls.
'What? You never...'
'But you never said anything...'
Gork just spoke without looking at his partner of more that fifty sunlaps. 'Prepare for the jump.'
The time window flashed.
Slarb knew that Gork was communicating, but he did not really hear the words. Family was on his mind. Not his family this time, but Gork's. His partner admitted that he did have familial units that still existed and yet...yet... Why wait until now? Why?
'...And we will pass the third sun... Slarb, are you listening?'
'Yes, Gork. Important mission. Find that thing. Exciting.'
If Gork could have blinked, he would have done so.
'You are thinking about my family, right?'
Slarb started to press some buttons on the console.
'Of course, I'm thinking about it. All this time, and I did not know. Could have saved us time....'
'I did not want to talk about it, no matter how convenient...'
Gork stared out of the clear dome of their shared cockpit.
'They are the proudest units in the world. Remember when we got caught? They pretty much cut me off and decided I was not worth their time. So, it is work and travel, work and travel, no family. But they know about this now, so... Pride.'
Slarb wanted to say something, but it was at that exact moment that the ship began to groan and lurch heavily to the right. Several lights began to flash in time with a buzzing alarm.
'What is it?'
'I knew it. Fuel again.'
Slarb was livid.
'I knew that would happen. As soon as we put in the new engine.'
'I thought we would save time...'
Gork switched off the noise.
'All right. Let's find a place to land and we'll recharge. Okay?'
'Yeah, okay. But I want to know more about this whole family thing.'
Gork was not smiling.
Tectonia was the most popular open market in this quadrant of space. Gork and Slarb knew every point of interest in its open concourses and planetoids. You could drive through, get fed, get a new engine, change your sub-dermal print, and find a new hat all in one time jump. You could also idle and wonder why your partner never brought up his family. And after several hours of hovering beside fuel rings as the ship recovered its balance while the tanks refilled, Slarb understood.
'Hey, I... I should not have pushed you.' Slarb toyed with his food source. 'Guess that's why we have done so many of these things together.'
'Whatever got me away from that place.' Gork stared at a distant nebula.
They both realized they had an awkward pause in front of them.
Slarb had an idea.
'Well, have you looked at the thing we're supposed to find?'
Gork brightened up.
'Oh, yes. Cannot really believe it. Looks ridiculous.'
'But still, look at it. Do you really think one of those can end a war? Would we be too busy laughing to actually hurt each other?'
Slarb tried not to laugh.
'Anything is poss...'
Another alarm went off. Gork found a screen flashing beside his seat and again, he had an urge to blink.
'What is?' Slarb switched off this new alarm.
'The item we are looking for. It's here.'
Slarb stopped and looked at Gork for a moment, looked at a small screen indicating the object's presence, and wondered why they were suddenly this lucky.
Gork pushed a few more buttons.
'Straight ahead from our position. Less than 2000 kilometres.'
Slarb considered this.
'We could jump it.'
'No. Let's hit it at our normal speed. I want to see how it reacts to our approach before I start dragging it away from home.'
'Good idea. And I really want to see this thing in action.'
With the fuel cells ready, they converted to regular power and pointed themselves toward a portion of the cosmos they had never visited or even considered worth visiting.
It was, both Gork and Slarb would admit, actually exciting.
Yes, it was exciting. That was something that they would recall as they orbited the planet and discovered that the war was over. A psychic link between themselves and Gitfang provided all the information that the galaxy would need to establish peace: empathy, warmth, a sense of humour and love. The interesting thing about this new world they discovered was that the people on it were not connected on a mental plane, but still managed to live and exist together, despite the occasional outbursts of silly violence.
Gork and Slarb were now heroes, but they did not know it. They would never know it. After they landed on the bright blue planet's single moon, they found that they did not want to leave. They were experiencing a whole planet's history without any type of barrier or strain. Everything was being shared and absorbed. And it was addictive.
Children would study the pair in schools; politicians would name laws and buildings after them. Histories would be published about them. No one would forget them. And everyone wanted to see this new place.
After many years of this, they would eventually be crushed by explorers that landed on top of the Nectar (the astronaut was too excited to notice it under his boot when he first stepped off his craft).
A strange race for Gitfang to learn from...
And for this new discovery, it was also a great occasion and a chance for them to discover just how far they could travel and learn what it was to be...
If only they knew how important they had been for so many...