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.

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