Human Beings Are Like That
a Roughnecks fanfic by Mr. Hook

This is my first attempt at Roughnecks fan fiction. In fact, this is my first attempt at fan fiction of any kind, but Babydoc’s “Paradox” fanfic inspired me to think about what life would be like on the planet Tophet if the suns never set. In order to have an unending day, the planet Tophet would have to be perpendicular in relation to the solar plane so that only the top (or bottom) hemisphere would be constantly exposed to the sun. Either that or the planet would have to revolve precisely once per orbit, (like the earth’s moon) so that only one side of the planet would be bathed in never-ending daylight. In either case, the “night” side of the planet would be perpetually cold and dead. So with that bit of astronomical trivia aside, this story takes place shortly after the Roughnecks have returned to Earth to a hero’s welcome.


Ambassador Kel'Rae had not known what to expect, but somehow his first glimpse of Earth's blue sky was less impressive than he had anticipated. The single sun was extremely bright yet gave off little warmth. The sky was indeed a deep bluish hue, but only if you looked directly upward, which was difficult to do within the confinement of his exo-suit. Where the sky met the horizon the air was so thick it obscured the landscape with a pasty white haze. The Earth's oppressive gravity made one feel heavy and uncoordinated. The Ambassador's exo-suit had pressure receptors in the joints to compensate for the extra gravity, but even so, walking around for prolonged periods of time was onerous and tiresome.

But the Humans had insisted on nothing but walking around all morning (or was it afternoon? it was so hard to keep track of time with only one sun). They had walked the entire length of the training camp to "inspect" the Skinnie barracks. It seemed to Kel'Rae like more of a prolonged tour than an inspection. The Humans were eager for Kel'Rae to remove his helmet inside the barracks to sample their attempt at recreating a small pocket of Tophet's atmosphere inside the cramped living space. The methane-saturated air was stale and cold, but Kel'Rae assured his hosts (who watched from a safe distance behind transparent plastic) that the air was quite satisfactory, and yes, the ceilings were a bit low, but one could stand comfortably and that was the important thing.

In the staging area were the actual training took place, Kel'Rae was gratified to see that none of the Skinnies who had graduated to Human squads still wore "Talk Boxes" for translation purposes. Kel'Rae had just recently mastered Human speech patterns himself. The alphabet was simple enough, but there were so many words that had similar meanings to other words, so many nuances for each word-idea that he suspected his vocabulary was still quite inadequate. The Skinnie recruits he spoke to insisted that they were were being well fed and treated fairly. Kel'Rae knew that these hardened Skinnie soldiers would have done or said anything that would allow them a chance to seek revenge against the Bugs. Still, he had no reason to doubt that their physical needs were indeed being looked after.

But now there was news that the Bug Queen's vessel had been destroyed by the Humans, presumably the Queen Bug herself had been vaporized in the explosion. Kel'Rae fervently hoped that this was so. With the Bug forces in disarray, every species that had ever fought to free itself from Bug tyranny would finally be on the offensive. The Bugs may not know it yet, but they were already beaten. And yet, what would become of these Skinnie recruits? Would the Human military leaders send them all home, or would they be allowed to take part in the mop-up work still left to be done? Or if the Humans decided that the Bug Wars were finally over and done with, would they conclude that they could no longer justify the expense of importing and training Skinnie recruits?

The Earth-Tophet Treaty stipulated that the Skinnie homeworld was now one nation amongst many in the Strategically Integrated Coalition Of Nations (SICON). But if Kel'Rae understood the rules of this "Federation" correctly, only Skinnies who had completed a "Term of Service" in the SICON armed forces could actually become "Citizens" of this Federation. The only reason Kel'Rae had been considered a qualified candidate for his post was because he had already been branded as a “Citizen.” He had been badly wounded during his first mission fighting alongside the Humans and was the first Skinnie to be sent back to a Human hospital asteroid for much needed medical attention. Shortly after he had arrived at the asteroid, the Human doctors had insisted that he stay to form part of a “Control Group” (which had sounded exciting at the time but actually involved a daily regimen of relentless poking and prodding). Hence, his "Term of Service" had been “waived,” and by the time he was released from the hospital he had “technically” become a full fledged Citizen of the Federation.

So when the Humans decided it was time to establish a Skinnie embassy on Earth and open "formal diplomatic relations" with the planet Tophet, they were at a loss as to who would represent the Skinnie race until some bright lad at SICON Intelligence managed to track down the first Skinnie who had completed a "Term of Service" who also happened to be conveniently nearby and designated a certain Kel'Rae as the First T’Phetti Ambassador to Earth. This was all very confusing for poor Kel'Rae who came from a culture which had never discovered a need to differentiate between "Citizens" or "Civilians" and had never really cultivated a concept of individual "Rights" or entitlements either.

When his Human guide finally lead him to his quarters (something called an Embassy Sweet) Ambassador Kel'Rae was both weary and relieved. Once his Human captor (or was it captain?) had excused himself for the evening, Kel'Rae sealed the air-lock and carefully removed the components of his exo-suit. He was gladdened that he could stretch his arms without touching the ceiling. The Humans had gone out of their way to make any Skinnie feel at ease in this room. The air was still cold and stale, but a least he was able to breathe freely and not have to worry about the power readings on his exo-suit running down. There were bright lamps in each corner of the room which could be adjusted to approximate the light levels of Lesser and Greater Day on the planet Tophet. There were even fans embedded in the wall to make it seem as if a warm breeze were wafting in from the north. Kel'Rae climbed into the hammock slung between two posts near the center of the room and tried to quiet his mind for sleep.

Try as he might, Ambassador Kel'Rae did not have a quiet mind that evening. He was one very worried Skinnie. He had a very important meeting scheduled for tomorrow, and the destiny of the entire Skinnie race could hinge on the outcome of just that one meeting. One of the soldiers on board the ship which had destroyed the Bug Queen had been a Skinnie, the very same Skinnie who had first encountered the Humans face to face on the planet Tophet. And now that Skinnie was here on Earth, probably somewhere on this very base. That Skinnie's name was T'Phai. And Kel'Rae had been waiting to meet him for a long time.

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