Sunday, 15 September 2013

Chapter 2. The Meeting on Avoran

Balzo of the Avor’I of Avoran-2, senior project manager for the Company for Galactic Advancement, stood at ease behind his desk, and regarded Professor Bart Vorsprong of the Department for Species Emergence, who relaxed in a climbing-frame before him.

Imagine the scene. On one side of the desk, Balzo, showing his lizard ancestry by the gnarlings on his face and by the dark green colour of his skin, contrasting with his light blue robe. Yet also standing almost two metres tall, upright on his highly developed hind legs, making him look rather like a kangaroo. On the other, Bart Vorsprong, six metres long and about the same number of centimetres wide, light green in colour, closer to the anaconda than to any other Earthly species.

Balzo spoke. His voice was a deep bass, and his language not as different from human languages as you might have expected – for evolution often finds parallel paths.

“Welcome, Bart,” he said. “The Board have read ur report on the Hoomans. They have asked me to set up a project to help the Hoomans reach Junor Galactic status. U are our top expert on Hoomans. Will u jon this project as consultant?”

(A linguistic interjection. Like many lizard species, Avor’I – the I is pronounced “ee,” by the way – cannot make a “y” sound. That is why Balzo could not say “human” or “junior.” But he could do an impressive click, the quote character in words like “Avor’I.” He pronounced this click like a “k” said backwards. And he rolled his “r”s like a Russian.)

Now Bart Vorsprong, a Tefla, had neither a spoken language nor telepathy. So he needed technology to understand Balzo’s words. His translator machine converted these words to a series of dark red dot patterns on a reel of paper – or, at least, a substance not unlike paper – which moved smoothly in front of his eyes. As this conversation was private, the ink faded after thirty seconds or so.

“Subject to contract,” replied Bart. Well, he didn’t actually say it. Instead, he took a short drink of ink, and used his tongue to etch patterns on the paper passing before him. The translator, in turn, converted these to sounds in a good approximation of the Avor’I language.

Bart’s answer was a Tefla joke. For contract – an agreement in which two or more parties make mutual commitments – is one of the foundations of Galactic civilization. And Tefla, a quick-witted species descended from constrictors, like to make sure that every possible detail is squeezed out before they will commit to anything. For this reason, Tefla make some of the finest academics, and some of the best lawyers, in the Galaxy. They are also famous for their sense of humour.

The Avor’I have their skills too. For executive ability is rare in the Galaxy. Most adult Galactic species just do what they do. Few Junior species, even, are much interested in getting things done for their own sakes. So, when big things absolutely need to be done, it’s time for the experts. In the whole Galaxy, there are maybe a dozen species who can manage large projects effectively, and the Avor’I are the foremost among them.

“Good,” said Balzo, taking Bart’s answer as a yes. “The Board has suggested we might try again the plan we oosed – with success – for the speshes of Skobar-4. Do u know about that?”

“I know the Skobar recently became Juniors,” replied Bart. “But I have not seen the details. Please show me.”

“There is a planet,” said Balzo, “called Perinent. Perinent-2, to be precise. It is close to several maxima in the Galactic force feelds. From Perinent, it is quite easy to Pull and to Push objects and sentent beengs from and to anywhere in the Galaxy, even on the further side. So from Perinent we can interfare on distant planets, without beeng found out by the natives.

“The Company has set up on Perinent a Difficult Births Oonit, for cases like this. There are six camps, each housing a mixed team of Galactics and candidate speshes. Camp Two, formerly occipied by the Skobar, is now vacant. We are invited to oose it for our project.”

“Who will be the team?” asked Bart. “And will I have to go myself to Perinent?”

“For the second,” said Balzo, “u will need to visit once or twice, but not to be there through the project. For the first, that is what I want to discuss with u today. I have already a candidate for on-site manager, Harv’I of the Elo’I.”

Bart signed a question mark – for the Elo’I are not renowned as managers. “There is a speshul reason,” said Balzo. “The Elo’I have recently admitted that it was one of theirs, who visited the Hoomans’ planet a hundred and forty or so generashuns ago, and started their relidzhuns. They wish to make up for that, by helping the Hoomans reach Junor status.”

“Yes, I see,” said Bart. “And the humans themselves are good at getting things done. In their present state of development, they have too much executive talent for their own good.”

“Precisely,” said Balzo, showing his enjoyment of Bart’s pun – he had put the stress in “executive” on the first syllable, not the second. “So are u happy if Harv’I is project manager in title, but the Hoomans, with ur and my assistance, make the detaled plans? While I myself in person have the responsibility?”

Bart signed the Tefla equivalent of a smiley face.

“The Hoomans are not telepathic, are they?” asked Balzo. “Mostly not,” signed Bart, and then “but a few at least must have some ability. Otherwise they could not have understood the Elo’I who visited them.”

“Now, about the Helpers,” continued Balzo. When a species is about to become Junior Galactic, they are assigned a Helper species to ease them through their early Galactic contacts. “Who do u think would make the best Helpers for the Hoomans?”

“I have no doubt,” said Bart, “that the Helpers for the humans should be the Seraphim of Seraph-2. Their microbiology is very like the humans’ – they will be able to eat each other’s foods without any problems at all. They are good Helpers, and they enjoy it too. And they will very easily be able to learn the humans’ principal language. Indeed, some of them already know it; for Seraphim have been active in our monitoring of human communications.”

“I agree,” said Balzo. “So I will ask for a pair of Seraphim to be assigned full-time to our project as Helpers.

“U know, perhaps,” he went on, “that with the Skobar” – who were, as Bart recalled, a lizard species – “we Avor’I chose to be the Helpers ourselves. I was project manager, and it was tough work. At one point, even the Skobar were calling me Balz-up.”

Bart signed his appreciation of Balzo’s joke. It was unusual to find an Avor’I willing to try to trade puns with a Tefla. This was going to be a fun project.

“With the Skobar,” Balzo went on, “we did two things. One, we Pulled the worst of their ruling classes to Perinent for punishment. Two, we Pulled individals of promise, trained them in leading others of their speshes according to Galactic principles, then Pushed them back to lead the Transishuns.”

“And who did the Pulling and the Pushing?” inquired Bart.

“That was one of our mistakes,” said Balzo. “Because we Pulled the Skobar team to Perinent in the first place, they could not attoon themselves to the force feelds fast enough. So they couldn’t Pull or Push for themselves. We Avor’I had to do it all.”

“So,” Bart sent, “this time, you want to take a team of humans to Perinent by ship, and teach them to do their own Pulling and Pushing?”

“Quite so,” said Balzo.

“Did you have a Teacher species to train the Skobar, or did you also do that yourselves?” asked Bart.

“That was another of our mistakes,” said Balzo. “We planned to oose Avallin, who are good teachers, but they couldn’t get inside the Skobar mindset at all. Eventshuly we got a couple of Tuglay, but we still had to do most of the teaching ourselves. That, of course, put the project way over time and budget. We lost plenty of credits on that one.”

Bart signed that he was considering the matter. Eventually, he said, “Humans, the best of them at least, learn very quickly. I think you should give them the best teachers – which means Tuglay.” (The Tuglay – pronounced “toog,” “lie” – are renowned for being able to teach almost any subject to almost any Galactic species.)

Balzo nodded. “One couple of Tuglay should be within our budget.

“We need, I think, just two more speshes in our team. First, we already have a family of Cherubim assigned to the camp, to guard the Punishment Pit.” To which, Bart signalled assent.

“Last, and most important of all,” said Balzo, “are the Hoomans themselves. We took sixteen Skobar to Perinent, and I think that number was about right. Eight would have been too foo, thirty-two too many. So I want to take sixteen Hoomans for our team.

“What I would like u to do, Bart, is identify which sixteen individals we should look to take, plus a foo reserves. They should be from different parts of the planet, but should easily be able to commoonicate together. I believe their language is called” – and he spoke very carefully, as if using the word for the first time – “Inglish?”

“Many humans speak English, but not all,” said Bart. “But all the best educated among them speak at least some of it.”

“Good,” said Balzo. “They must all, of course, be individals with good Galactic potenshul. They should be evenly divided as to gender. They must be able to spend time away, so will not have families. And u will need to find, among them, one to be team leader. A thinker, with at least some manadzheral ability.”

“Roger,” said Bart, and then when Balzo looked confused, continued, “that is English for ‘I understand, and it will be done.’”

“Inglish is a very concise language, no?” said Balzo, smiling.

The meeting continued to more mundane things, like budgets, expenses, risks and mitigations. But a milestone had been passed. The project to bring the human race into the Galactic fold had formally begun.

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