Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Chapter 50. Of the Galactic Marching Band

There were still twelve days to go before the first and biggest of the ceremonies, which was due on the last Saturday of October.

The Galactic embassy was a hive of activity. Parts of it were already in full use, housing and serving the many Galactics who had already arrived. Other parts were still being built. There were many Garut’nim busy assembling things. Even busier were a species called the Piantur. They looked like tall, purple penguins, and Michael told me they were the Galaxy’s top engineers – 18th in the rich-list.

Ramael and Hazael met us when we arrived. With them, I was surprised to see, were Cristina and Helen. “We didn’t want to go back to our old life in Amsterdam,” Cristina said. “So we stayed with Ramael and Hazael in the ’mobile. Now, we have taken jobs on the staff of the Embassy, and this is our home.”

Hazael gave us copies of the detailed plans for the twelve ceremonies, which he had put together based on my list. Looking at the plans, I noticed that the Galactic Marching Band was due to play a leading part. “That might be fun,” I said to Gabriel, “for those of us, who are musicians, to play in the band at the big ceremony.” “It can be organized, I think,” he said with a smile.

As it turned out, only Marie and I from the Team were musically inclined. Gabriel took us to meet Mostro of the Vivar, the captain of the band. He was from the planet Vivro-2, and his species’ own induction into the Galaxy had been famous – enough so, for Bart to have used it as one of the examples in his report on us.

Mostro was physically closer to human than any other Galactic I had yet met. In fact, if his skin colour had had a little more pink and a little less blue, he could have passed as a Scandinavian.

Now, there is almost no discrimination in the Galaxy. Beyond, of course, the obvious and rational discrimination; those who behave well are treated well, and those that behave badly are treated badly. But the Galactic Marching Band was an exception to this rule. To qualify, you had to have exactly two legs, at least one windpipe, and a certain degree of musical ability.

But all was not lost for musicians of other bodily configurations. For quadrupeds, for instance, there was the Galactic Trotting Band, which had been centre stage at the ceremonies for the Brjemych. And, for insect species, the Galactic Six-legged Harmony, and for spiders the Galactic Eightfold Way. Regrettably, species with odd numbers of legs, such as the Galant’I, had to be left out of the fun.

Marie and I both qualified on legs and windpipes. But musical ability? Mostro said to us, “I will audition you the day after tomorrow.” Michael took Marie back to her home to pick up her flute, while Gabriel organized the loan to me, from a local enthusiast, of an E flat bass tuba.

Galactic musical notation is, at first sight, very different from Earthly. But it follows almost exactly the same principles. So, it is not hard to learn; nor is it hard to transcribe between the two. And a march, after all, is a march, is a march.

The audition was a breeze. After I played a few bars to Mostro, he said, “That is good, but you could play louder.” I obliged. Of course, that was playing while sitting – marching is another matter. So, Marie and I had several days of tough practice ahead.

But I determined to do yet more. With the help of several Band members, I re-arranged for the Band “The Liberty Bell” and a march I myself had composed years before. And we translated them into Galactic notation, just in time for the Band to learn them. It was a hectic week’s work.

Lily, on the other hand, was interested less in the band than in the aerial display and fly-past which would conclude the ceremony. “I want to pilot in the display,” she said to Gabriel, in my hearing. “You and Michael will be on the podium, won’t you? So can I please borrow your ’mobile for the ceremony?”

Gabriel paused, then said, “We can do better than that. Othriel and his partner Mirandin will be with us on the podium, and their ’mobile is not so far planned to be used in the ceremonies. It is the smallest and easiest to pilot model we make. It is much the same size as an Earthly family car. It has only two passenger seats in the back.”

We went to meet Othriel and Mirandin. Their robes were a dark, lustrous green. Othriel was taller, and looked older, than any Seraph I had yet met. He told us that he had now completed his stint as Chief Seraph, and had been offered – and had accepted – the post of Galactic ambassador to Earth.

Mirandin, like Gavantchin, presented herself as female. She was quiet and soft-spoken, but she also laughed a lot. And it became clear how this partnership worked. Othriel dealt with matters mental, and Mirandin with matters physical, including piloting.

When Lily asked Mirandin if she could pilot her ’mobile in the display, she said, “Yes, of course, as long as you first satisfy me that you are a good enough pilot.” So, Mirandin took us to her mobile. I rode in the back. The leather seat had been much sat in; for Othriel was a back seat passenger. It was also soft, deep and luxurious.

Being near cities, we avoided interfering with Earthly air traffic by first going straight up like a lift, to a height of more than fifteen kilometres. Then we flew north and west, to near Churchill, Manitoba, where it was polar bear season. There were hundreds of the critters. And to think that politicians had tried to tell us that we were endangering them.

* * *

After Lily had passed her test with Mirandin, we went to see Bart Vorsprong, who had arrived a day or so before. He had another Tefla with him, whom he introduced as Benno Adam. “Benno is a field historian,” said Bart. “That means, he collects eye-witness accounts of historical events, and assembles them so his readers can understand the processes at work. He has come here to find out about your Awakening, so he can write a book about it.”

“I would like to talk to you, and to each of your Team,” said Benno. “To get your view of what happened.”

“I doubt that we the Team can be of much help,” I replied. “After all, we were on Perinent until just a few weeks ago.” “I understand,” said Benno. “But you have had a large-scale view of the Awakening. Your evidence will be of great value to me.”

I made an appointment for the day after the big ceremony.

* * *

It was Saturday. It was Washington DC. It was the end of October. It was early afternoon. It was cloudless and cold, not far above freezing. We, the Galactic Marching Band, assembled near the Capitol. Our uniforms were black and yellow, very bright and striking.

Normally, the band had 48 members, not counting Mostro – a 12x4 formation. With Marie and me as well, we had 50 – so Mostro had ordered 10x5. Marie with her flute was in the second rank on the right, and I with the tuba was in the middle of the back rank.

We set off, playing the Liberty Bell. There were thousands – no, hundreds of thousands – of people lining the Mall. They cheered.

There was no “security” presence. Nor any need for one; for Ramael was hovering his ’mobile just ahead of us and to our right. In any case, with so many good people around us, if anyone had tried to make trouble they would have been very quickly either shot or lynched.

I looked up at Ramael’s ’mobile during a few bars’ rest, and saw Cristina waving to me. She has the best seat in the house, I thought.

It was three kilometres down the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial, where Rrrela would welcome humans into the Galaxy. And it took a while. For, even not counting us humans, there were 20 different species among the players in the Galactic Marching Band, and all had to go at the pace of the slowest. Which was about three-quarters the pace of an Earthly marching band.

About half-way down, I turned the music, and my march was next. I had named it “The March Without a Name.” And I fondly remembered the Lewis Carroll-esque conversation I had had with Mostro…

“The march has no name?” he asked.

“No,” I replied. “The name of the march is ‘The March Without a Name.’”

“Ah, I see. So the march is called ‘Without a Name?’”

“No. The name of the march is called ‘Sine Nomine.’”

It went on for a while. Then Mostro cried, “So what is the march?”

In reply, I played the first four bars on the tuba…

We marched on, and came to the Memorial, ending with the Liberty Bell again. We pulled away a little to the right, and on our left there came up a parade of a hundred or so Earthly movers and shakers, who had followed us from the Capitol. More than half of them, I am proud to say, members of our first, second or third waves.

Rrrela Himself stood on the steps of the Memorial to welcome us into the Galaxy. He was flanked by Othriel and Mirandin. Behind him were Michael, Gabriel, Balzo, Bart Vorsprong, Tuglaydum and Tuglaydee, and ten of the Team – but not Lily and Hoong, who were completing final preparations for the display. Behind them, again, were several hundred other Galactics, including Olgal and Benno Adam.

Rrrela’s speech was not memorable. But what he said didn’t have to be memorable. The pictures told it all. Humans joining the Galactic fold at last. Peace, prosperity and justice beckoned.

Then came the display, led by Ramael, who suddenly took his ’mobile up, and looped it. Then the other Seraphimobiles arrived. There were about two dozen of them, and they performed a silent, complex looking dance above the heads of the crowd. Among them was Mirandin’s ’mobile, piloted by Lily and co-piloted by Hoong. Lily was doing a grand job; no casual observer could have told that one of the pilots wasn’t a Seraph.

And then, higher up and not so silent, came the interstellar ships. Four Toronur, three Piantur. Two roaring Garut’nim cargo pods.

And, last and loudest, Harv’I of the Elo’I.

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