Farah followed Ophelia deeper into the mines. They didn’t have far to go before they saw them. The EIG’s “gnomes.” At least, a small group of them. Eight in total. The tallest among them was barely over ninety centimetres tall. They had pale blue skin and sunken eyes in a variety of reds, yellows and oranges. They had thick white hair, pointed ears and an androgynous build.
The group began chattering in high pitched chirps, their tiny arms reaching for their weapons.
Ophelia activated her universal translator and knelt down, presenting her arms to demonstrate that she had no weapons in hand.
“I’m Captain Ophelia Wester of the Cerberus,” she said, keeping her voice at a normal conversational level and speaking calmly. “May I ask who you are?”
One of them, presumably the leader, stepped forward chattering quickly and angrily. The translator whirred in Ophelia’s ear, trying to process the language.
A second gnome put their hands up and spoke in a calmer, more measured tone, presumably trying to calm the leader down.
The leader gestured emphatically at Ophelia & Farah, still speaking very angrily.
Farah stepped forward slowly, set her pistol in front of her and knelt down.
“We mean you no harm,” she said. “We merely wish to know why you’re guarding this place. We aren’t with the miners but, perhaps we can persuade them to stop doing whatever it is that’s upsetting you.”
Farah gave the gnomes a kind, gentle smile. The sincerity of which wasn’t lost on the little blue people.
The leader visibly calmed and began chattering to their fellows in quiet chirps.
Ophelia wished he would speak with them directly so that the translator could get more to work with. She noticed Kat approaching and silently gestured for her to stay back.
The second, calmer gnome stepped forward, chirping in a calm, measured tone.
“I’m sorry,” Ophelia said. “I can’t understand. “Please, talk a little more.”
The gnome repeated what sounded like the same chirps, speaking more slowly and deliberately. Then did so again. The fourth time, the translator kicked in. “We are the gnowlins. I am Jayla. You come in peace?”
“We do,” Ophelia assured them.
“You are not with the others?” the leader chimed in.
“We are not,” Ophelia said.
“Liar! You came from where they dwell. You are like them. Yet, you dare claim to be different!”
“Peace, Ilyin,” Jayla said. “They have made no hostile moves. They have spoken peaceably with us. They have put aside their arms,” Jayla looked pointedly at Farah. “In this, they are very different.” Jayla turned back towards Ophelia. “Let me ask… Obelia of the Cerberan, what are you doing here?”
“And why is one of your own skulking in the back like a thief?” Ilyin demanded.
“We were asked to examine these mines,” Ophelia answered, ignoring the way they said her name. “As for Kat,” she gestured for her to move forward. Kat complied, taking a seat beside Ophelia. “She was just concerned that you might try to harm us. So, she held back in order to assess the situation. I believe that you can appreciate the sense of taking such precautions.”
“It is certainly something we understand,” Jayla said. “You said you wish to examine this,” they gestured around. “Why?”
“They’re spies!” Ilyin insisted.
“Calm yourself, Ilyin,” Jayla said. “Let Obelia answer.”
“My crew and I take jobs from different people,” Ophelia explained. We were asked to look around. We weren’t told about you and your people. I… suspect that our employers wished to pit us against you. But, we are not killers. We have no interest in fighting you. Therefore, I humbly request that you grant us permission to look around the area.”
“You can’t be serious!” Ilyin exclaimed. “We are at war and you would demand free run over our lands?”
Jayla held up an arm. “They did not say that, Ilyin.” Jayla turned to Ophelia. “Please, forgive my other. She is concerned. The others… the ones you work for… they are a very bad people. They have torn into our lands, tainted what is ours and refuse to cease. It would not behoove us to let them know what the layout here is.”
“What do you mean by tainted?” Kat asked.
“Their machines leak fluids into our food and water,” Jayla explained. “The fluids cause great sickness. We tried pleading but they would not yield. We were forced to try and repel them.”
“Sickness, huh?” Ophelia muttered. She grabbed her communicator. “I’ll make you a deal. We have a great medical expert aboard our ship. If you’ll permit us to look around, I’ll call him to see what he can do about your sickness. And we’ll vow to not betray any of your strategic secrets or tell them anything else that they could use against you. We may even be able to convince them to change their mining process so that they aren’t hurting you.”
“Then you could co-exist!” Farah exclaimed. “Wouldn’t that be better than killing each other?”
“It’s too late for that!” Ilyin said. “They…”
“Enough,” Jayla said. “I believe that your intentions are good. We will grant them with two additional conditions. Your examination patrol will have three pairings with you at all times and there are certain areas we will not grant you access. Just to be safe. I believe that you can appreciate the sense in taking such precautions.”
“Deal,” Ophelia said. She grabbed her communicator. “Paul, we need you down here. We have some sick aliens who need your help.”She looked over at Kat. “Kat, go pick him up and show him the way over here. We’ll have a little chat with our friends here.”