Thursday, 31 October 2013

Chapter 8. A Railway Journey, and a Friendly Squirrel

“Yes,” Michael said to me the next day. “There is a party of three Skobar currently on the ship. But none of them were on Perinent. And they are four segments down-axis from here. It is not a comfortable journey.”

“Were these individuals on Skobar while the project was in progress?” I asked. “Did they experience the effects on their home planet of what was being done on Perinent?”

“Yes,” said Michael.

“Then I think I can learn from them,” I said.

* * *

Opposite the hotel’s main elevator shafts, I had already seen a guarded door. Those who went through that door presented large, red tickets. Two days after my conversation with Michael, I found myself presenting such a ticket to the tall, rather birdlike, black-uniformed guard.

“Ah – four segments down and return,” he said. “You are going to segment 24?”

“I am going to the segment where there are Skobar,” I replied carefully. That seemed to satisfy the guard. “Please follow me,” he said.

He led me to a long, thin room – “A railway carriage,” I thought. With several areas, glassed off from each other, of seats – and what looked like toilet facilities – of many different shapes. The one he led me to had, on the outside, a large sign showing “//---” – the Galactic symbol for 24. (Galactics use the binary system for small whole numbers, since it is common to all species.)

This area had already an occupant, who looked like a chocolate-brown squirrel, with a body about a metre long, and a tail of similar length.

The guard drew aside the door. I entered, and found the atmosphere stale and farmyardy. The guard closed the door behind me, bowed and retreated. The squirrel smiled at me, then gave the Galactic informal greeting for strangers. “Well met, friend.”

“Well met,” I replied. “I am Neil of the Humans of Sol-3.”

“And I am Rrrela,” the squirrel replied. “I do not use a species name any more, only my individual name.”

It was my turn to make conversation, and I couldn’t think of much. “I wonder,” I asked eventually, “where you have come from?”

After a slight pause, the squirrel said, “From which segment, you mean? I have come from 16. I am going, like you, to 24. And what, pray, brings you on this journey?”

“I am going to learn what I can from the Skobar, a species who recently became Junior Galactics. I am trying to help my species follow in their path.”

“I wish you and your species success in your quest,” said Rrrela.

I chose a seat near Rrrela – it quickly fitted itself to my shape. It was not long before the train started moving. The motion was gently boring, in a tunnel, with always the feeling that we were going slightly downhill.

“Watch out when we enter the new segment!” said Rrrela suddenly.

A few moments later, the train was surrounded by brilliant light, and I saw that we were travelling slowly on a tiny thread high above the ground. The land below looked very inhospitable, and there was a slight greenish tinge to the atmosphere.

“This is Segment 21,” said Rrrela. “You could not survive in its atmosphere unaided. Too much chlorine.”

We lost altitude steadily, and eventually rolled underground and in to the station of Segment 21. Some passengers got off. I noticed, in particular, a pair of large, green, troll-like beings. A few others got on. No-one joined me and Rrrela in our Segment-24 enclosure.

There was a long wait in the station. “First,” explained Rrrela, “they have to vacuum clean the area for those who left at Segment 21. And they need to allocate, and to fill with the right atmospheres, sections for those going further down-axis. Only then can they let on the passengers for those segments, and only then can we go.”

I waited patiently, and talked with Rrrela about many things.

Three times this rigmarole was repeated. And then, I was in Segment 24. A brightly-coloured sheep – or so I thought – came to let us out of the compartment. Rrrela turned to me. “May all your doings bring you justice and happiness,” he said.

“And the same to you,” was all I could muster in return. Rrrela smiled.

The sheep led us to the exit. The atmosphere was still farmyardy, but it was less noticeable. The sheep took my ticket, said, “Ah! Seraphim accommodation. That is easy enough.” Then punched buttons on a machine, and said to me, “Wait here till a transport chair comes to take you to 66F255.”

“How do I know when and where my meeting with the Skobar is?” I asked myself a little forlornly. No-one had told me how I found my way to meet the Skobar. Maybe, I thought, this was an initiative test. Could it be that to come all this way, and to miss my meeting with the Skobar, would make me and the human race the laughing-stock of the Galaxy?

“Do not worry,” said Rrrela behind me, showing that he was a telepathic receiver, if not more. “There are Seraphim in this segment as well as in segment 20, and they know you are coming. Sleep without fear, and Ramael or Hazael will contact you when you are rested.”

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Chapter 7. Of Lohman of the Avor'i

One evening at dinner, Michael told me there was a visitor who wanted to see me the next day.

“His name is Lohman of the Avor’I,” said Michael. (The “h” was hard, much like “ch” in the Scottish “loch.”) “He works in the Company for Galactic Advancement, and he is an assistant to Balzo, who has the overall responsibility for our project. He has been briefed by Balzo, and he wishes to meet you and to pass on to you the information he has been given. I have arranged for you, Neil, to meet him tomorrow, in room 0B420, at the 110th revolution of our day.”

110 revolutions meant midday, or three and a half hours after our usual getting-up time. So after dinner, instead of going to bed Lily and I went to the library to find out as much as we could about the Avor’I.

And they were some species. Lizards in origin, but having adapted themselves to walking upright. Their reputation for getting things done was the strongest in the Galaxy, and it showed in their position in the per-head Galactic wealth list – third. (Who were first and second, I wondered?)

* * *

Morning, our time, came. Because of the time we had spent in the library, breakfast was late and a bit of a rush. Lily and I arrived at 0B420 with – by my best guess – six minutes to spare before the meeting.

Michael met us at the door. “Lily,” he said, “to speak with Lohman of the Avor’I is for Neil only, as Team Leader. Even I am not allowed to attend this meeting. Please wait outside with me.”

I went in, and saw a tall upright lizard, with dark green skin and wearing a bright orange robe. As he saw me, he smiled.

“Greetings,” said Lohman. “I am Lohman of the Avor’I of Avoran-2, and I represent the Company for Galactic Advancement.”

It was good that he was a speaker in sounds. For a start, it gave me plenty of time to reply. This was the first time I had been addressed in the formal Galactic manner. Our contacts with other species in the hotel, or in the ship’s parks, had always been informal. I had to compose myself.

“I greet you, Lohman,” I said. “I am Neil of the Humans of Sol-3, and I lead the Team on our project.”

“Well met, Nil,” said Lohman. That meant I’d passed the first test. It also told me that Lohman couldn’t pronounce my name. Why the translator didn’t compensate for it, I didn’t know.

“I have been asked,” he continued, “by Balzo, manager of the project, to tell u more about it. But it is best, I think, if u ask ur questshuns first. So fire away.”

(I didn’t know it then, but after his meeting with Bart Vorsprong, Balzo had studied human slang, and had started using it with his assistants, including Lohman.)

“Right. First, why are we going to Perinent?”

“Because it is a good place to do what u need to do. The Galactic force feelds there are – helpful. From Perinent, u can easily interfare in what happens on Earth. U will be able to Pull Hoomans from Earth; bad individals for punishment, good individals for training to be leaders. And u will be able to Push them back, when u need to.”

“Second,” I asked, “exactly what standards do we human beings have to meet in order to be accepted as Junior Galactics? Where is the finishing line for this project?”

Lohman looked fazed. He was an Avor’I – a competent member of the species who controlled more Galactic projects of consequence than any other. And he had been asked an awkward question by this, not so young, whipper-snapper from a species who, however talented, had not yet been admitted even as Juniors!

But Lohman knew what he was doing. Michael had told him that I had looked at the Galactic Association’s Statement of Principles. So he asked me if I had read those Articles – a nod from me – and how well I felt the human race currently measured up.

“Bloody awfully,” I said. “But the problems aren’t caused by us humans, but by the political species that are among us, and want to rule over us.”

Lohman thought, They still suffer a political sub-speshes among them, but they are almost ready to become Junors? Maybe they come nair to an Awakening. It is very, very unoozhul for all three Transishuns – Personal, Soshul and Economic – to occur at the same time. Indeed, only five speshes Awakenings have been recorded in Galactic history. Including the Avor’I.

Including the Avor’I.

He looked at me, and I looked at him, and he knew that I knew what he had just thought about, and that our two species had a lot in common.

And I knew that somehow, without knowing how, I had acquired some ability to receive thought. I had started a journey from being a mere transmitter towards making myself into a full telepath.

Our conversation continued. Lohman explained, among much else, how the proposal to admit us as Junior Galactics would be put forward by the project manager and consultant – Balzo and Bart Vorsprong. And that, after review and agreement by the top figures in the Company for Galactic Advancement, our admission would be ratified by the Board of the Galactic Association. Then the celebrations could begin.

Lohman eventually said, “We must move on. When u get to Perinent, u will take over a camp formerly occipied by a speshes called the Skobar. They are now Junor Galactics. U will have help from the Seraphim, but mostly u will have to do everything for urselves. U will have about one month of Earth time, before the project consultant, Bart Vorsprong, visits u to start the project ringing.

“There will be a project manager on site – Harv’I of the Elo’I. He is a good individal, but the Elo’I are a difficult speshes.”

And after a pause, and with a smile, “U must make ur own decizhuns, Nil.”

To which I replied, “Do I ever do anything but?”

We both chuckled. And so, it was time for the parting. “I wish u everything I wish for myself,” said Lohman.

I could find no better parting in reply than, “Have a nice day in a great Universe.”

* * *

After Lohman had departed, Michael and Lily led me to the hotel bar. I was exhausted. Fifty minutes’ conversation with an Avor’I had tired me more than a whole day’s walk in the park.

“Wow,” said Michael, “did you make an impression! Not always the right one, of course. But you did a great job; you made a bond with him. When Lohman gets off this ship – and he hasn’t much further to go – he will signal to Balzo, ‘These humans are special.’”

“Right,” I said, and then, “Are there any Skobar on the ship? If so, I want to meet them.”

Monday, 14 October 2013

Chapter 6. Of the Pedia

I spent much time in the hotel’s library, both with and without Lily. And I learned much.

One resource, in particular, I found invaluable. It was called the “Galactic Information Exchange.” It was a fount of knowledge from Galactics, for Galactics. It could, of course, not entirely be trusted; but, when wrong, it could be, often quickly, corrected.

But we humans, in a way, were ahead of the Galactics. For we already had an Earthly example of such a resource, and a snappy name for it: Wikipedia.

The Galactic Information Exchange was generally considered to be reliable, except on contentious issues. Certainly, it was more reliable than the Earthly Wikipedia, because it used the input of experts effectively, and had strong mechanisms in place to prevent bias by authors or editors.

And I learned much from it. I understood, for example, the layout of a ship like 18162-V. Cone-shaped and three thousand or so kilometres long, it was divided into sixty-four sections or segments. Each (after the first few, which contained the drive mechanism) provided a different combination of gravity and atmosphere for its passengers. Yet I could find nothing at all about the physics of the drive which powered the ship. (This was behind a paywall, I found out later.)

And, of the species who piloted the ship, the Naudar’I, I could find little, except that they are one of the very few Galactic species who are incorporeal; that is, made entirely of mind rather than matter.

But I found out much about the Seraphim. That they are, as Michael had claimed, the most sought-after pilots in the Galaxy for journeys within solar systems. That they live in pairs, but have no gender. That they do not need sleep, and do not die, except by violence or accident. That they are, per head, the 43rd richest species in the Galactic Association.

I also remembered that Michael had named our project consultant as Bart Vorsprong of the Tefla. I looked up the Tefla, and found them to be a large constricting snake species, very skilled in science and in law, but who also delight in jokes and puns. And are 12th in the Galaxy’s rich-list – well above the Seraphim.

And there was an article on Bart Vorsprong, too. It was not overly complimentary – perhaps it had been written or edited by a rival, testing the limits of the medium. Yet, it admitted, he was co-author of the definitive work on the many different ways by which Galactic species reproduce. And he was now a professor in the Department for Species Emergence, in the Company for Galactic Advancement.

It looked as if we humans had on our side someone who could, perhaps, run rings round anyone wanting to deny us Junior Galactic status.

* * *

I also looked for information on the Galactic Association. There wasn’t much, but I did find the Statement of Principles of the Association. I noticed a few interesting clauses there:

  • (Article 2.) The Galaxy is an honest place. Knowing use of lies, deceit or double standards by Galactics will lead to graduated ostracism of the individuals, and where necessary in extreme cases, expulsion of the species.

  • (Article 3.) The Galaxy is a peaceful place. Violent aggression is not acceptable among Galactic species, or against species who are candidates for admission to the Galactic Association.

  • (Article 5.) The Galaxy is a free place. Any Galactic individual may do anything they wish, as long as they accept responsibility for the consequences, and are not aggressive, malicious, dishonest or unreasonable.

  • (Article 7.) The Galaxy is a productive place. No Galactic may put any obstacle in the way of others’ wealth creation, unless they or others are provably harmed by its effects.

  • (Article 11.) The Galaxy is a place of individuality. Each Galactic individual is to be respected as, and judged according to their actions as, an individual.

  • (Article 13.) The Galaxy is a just place. Individuals deserve to be treated, in the round and over the long term, as they treat others.

  • (Article 17.) The Galaxy is a place of moral equality. No Galactic may claim any right to do anything which they deny others the right to do in similar situations.
* * *

When I spoke to Michael about these things, he was astonished by how much I had learned. “Where did you find all this?” he asked.

“In the Pedia,” I replied.

With furrowed brow, Michael asked, “Media?”

“No, Pedia.”

I had just changed the Galaxy – in a small way. Many of those travelling in ship 18162-V were soon convinced, and it spread through the Galaxy as the travellers dispersed. The Galactic Information Exchange was no longer always called by that name, but frequently by a much catchier one: the Pedia.

I did that!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Chapter 5. Of Life in the Ship

I see I have failed to tell you some important things about the conditions we lived in on the ship 18162-V. The gravity, for example. It was a little less than Earth standard. And it was produced, as you might expect, by rotation.

As I learned later, the ship was shaped like a cone, rotating about its axis in about six of our minutes. The living areas were on the inside of the cone. We were about a third of the way from the cone’s point to its base, so that near the base the rotation would produce around three Earth gravities, more comfortable for those species from heavier planets.

The public areas of the hotel were hot by Earth standards, about 30 degrees Celsius. The atmosphere was quite dry, too. Our rooms, and the meeting rooms the Seraphim reserved for us, were a little cooler, around 25 degrees. Some of the Team, particularly John and Galina, found it too hot; but those who, like me, would have enjoyed a warmer world, basked.

The atmosphere was Earthlike, with a little more oxygen than we were used to. It smelled OK. I also heard that there was about three times more carbon dioxide in it than on Earth, and almost none of the inert gas argon – some Galactic species, apparently, are allergic to argon.

There was no day or night in the hotel. The lights were on all the time, unless you turned them off in your particular space. That meant that we had to agree on a cycle of what we would think of as night and day. When I asked Michael about this, be told me that Galactics usually picked a power of 2, and made their day-cycle that number of revolutions of the ship. In our case, that would be 256 revolutions, a little longer than an Earth day.

“How long is the day on Perinent?” I asked Michael.

“Actually, it’s shorter than on Earth,” he said. “About two hours shorter.”

“So, shouldn’t we have a shorter day here too, to get us acclimatized?”

Michael gaped, but I continued, “Why don’t we establish our day-cycle as 220 revolutions, not 256? About 22 of our Earth hours?”

“It is not normally done so,” said Michael after a pause. “But I know no reason why not. Let us do that.”

* * *

Each day, at the evening meal, we would all meet to enjoy each other’s company, the knowledge and wisdom of Michael and Gabriel, and the food and wine of the Seraphim. And the wine was most pleasant, tasting as good as or better than Earthly wine, and higher in alcohol.

Maybe it had other effects too. For the Team began rapidly to pair off. Ray and Jenna were already a couple; and John and Galina soon acquired, via request to the ship’s management, a room together – with extra cooling.

It was the women who took the initiative. Lily wanted to be the Team Leader’s woman; and it didn’t take long in her bed to convince me that I wanted that too. Marie, likewise, enraptured the shy Cees. Sabrina picked the maverick Ben, more than twice her age. That left two pairs a little better matched in age, Dede with Shami, and Hoong with Elise.

Michael and Gabriel seemed pleased that we had paired up so quickly; after all, using only half the number of rooms saved the project many credits.

* * *

To communicate with other species, each of us had a small translator machine. I fitted mine to the middle finger of my left hand. When we encountered other species, our translators converted the other species’ language into spoken English for us. And the others’ machines translated our English into their own means of communication. It might be sounds, or light patterns, or dots on moving paper, or (very rarely) smells; or it might be telepathy.

I soon found something strange when I met telepathic species. They seemed to be able to understand me without needing translators! But I couldn’t understand them in return without my machine. Even stranger, if I spoke to a telepath with Lily present, she could tell me what the reply was before my machine could.

When I asked Michael about this, he said, “Few species are fully telepathic; yet many have some ability to communicate by thought. Of you humans, about one in five hundred can transmit, and about the same number receive. You are a transmitter, and Lily is a receiver.

“If you wonder why Gabriel looked uncomfortable when he first met you, it was because he is a receiver, and he understood your thoughts. In your presence, it was very hard for him to remain silent, as the Code of the Seraphim at that moment required him to do.”

* * *

A few days into the journey, I asked Michael to tell me more about Perinent. “You’ve already told me about the length of the day,” I said. “But how else will the conditions we face there differ from what we enjoy here?”

Michael took me to the library. It was a bit like an Internet café, with lots of different species perched in front of terminals on various kinds of chairs and frames, all intently typing, speaking or transmitting in different ways, and seeing, hearing or otherwise receiving the results.

There, Michael showed me how to search and navigate, and how to configure the terminal to show pages in English. Then, I looked up Perinent. Physically, Perinent-2 was a typical habitable planet. A little larger than Earth, but less dense, so the gravity would be about ten per cent lower. A world with greater extremes of climate than Earth, because it had more land and less oceans. It had six camps on it, described as “Galactic nurseries.” Equally distributed over the planet, four in 45 degree latitudes, the other two on the equator.

“Our home will be Camp Two,” said Michael, showing the one in 45 degrees north, on the opposite side to the longitudinal zero.

I had many more questions to ask, but I decided that was enough for now.

* * *

We of the Team soon settled into a routine. The fixed point was the joyful evening meal, occupying two hours or so of our twenty-two-hour cycle. After dinner, Lily and I would take the sleep-gas. A standard dose (far less than we had been given in the Seraphimobile) gave eight hours of deep, refreshing sleep, and ensured that we had no problems with the short day-cycle.

Then, after breakfast, we might spend the day in the library finding out and understanding more about the Galaxy, or exploring the parks around the hotel. Sometimes on foot, a good way to meet other guests doing the same. And sometimes flying in two- or four-seat aircars. Our section of the ship, known as Segment 20, was about fifty kilometres along the axis, and a little less than two hundred to circumnavigate. So there was plenty to explore.

Hoong was the best pilot among the Team – good enough, indeed, to be asked several times to taxi-drive for species who were not physiologically equipped to pilot themselves. Lily was a pretty decent pilot, too.

After the day, back in the room, Lily and I would clean ourselves. And then we would both enjoy the pleasure she made, until it was time for dinner again.

It was too good to be true. And I was being paid for it! In an account on Tener-3, one of the Galaxy’s strongest and safest banking havens, my credit was building up. And, by Earthly standards, plenty of it too.