Friday, 5 December 2014

Chapter 51. Of New Horizons

Next day, Sunday, I spent six hours telling Benno Adam my story. I told him all I knew about the Awakening, and about my role in it; just as I have humbly set these matters down for you, dear reader, in this brief history. But with the more intimate and personal details omitted, of course.

Now we had another eleven ceremonies to do. That was my fault!

I didn’t march with the Band again. Though I was admitted into the “Friends of the Galactic Marching Band,” and I kept in contact with Mostro for many years. Instead, at each of the ceremonies, I shared with Elise the back seat of Mirandin’s ’mobile. Hoong piloted in the even numbered ceremonies, and Lily in the odd numbered ones. Both were excellent pilots, but Lily was better, I thought. Elise disagreed, of course.

The rest of the Team, rather than standing on a hard and, at the northern hemisphere ceremonies, cold podium, elected to watch in comfort – along with Cristina and Helen, and Olgal as well – from Ramael’s ’mobile. They enjoyed the dance at the end, too.

Rrrela had left Earth on the day after the first ceremony. So it was now Othriel who was the mouthpiece of the Galaxy. He was a much better speaker than Rrrela.

Balzo and Bart Vorsprong had to depart after only two ceremonies. Tuglaydum and Tuglaydee left after the third. They were all busy individuals, and though the Galactic way of doing things allowed them to take as much time off as they felt was necessary, they all wanted to get back to work. But, before Balzo left, Lily and I agreed with him the detailed terms for our new Avoran-based jobs. We would travel to Avoran, with Olgal, soon after the ceremonies on Earth were completed.

The last ceremony was in a freezing Beijing near the end of November. By this time, the Galactic presence on the podiums had reduced, from about six hundred in Washington to less than four hundred in Beijing. Most of those who now remained planned to stay on Earth for a while. Many were entrepreneurs, looking to be early into a new market of several billion individuals. But there were academics too, seeking new knowledge. And tourists, just enjoying being among the first on a new Galactic planet.

There was, however, a group – mainly of Piantur engineers, but also including skilled individuals from other species such as Avor’I – who planned to remain on Earth for several years at least. This was the team, who would build our solar power system. For my suggestion, of solar power to be collected in space and beamed to Earth, had indeed been agreed on as the gift the Galactics would give us to celebrate our new status.

Michael and Gabriel departed in the ’mobile, two days after the last ceremony. They were going to take a holiday, then return to Seraph to look for new work. I told them that, when the next suitable candidate species came along on Perinent, I would be urging Balzo to hire them as Helpers. They laughed. “Been there, done that,” Michael said.

Ramael and Hazael took a two year contract on Earth, as pilots for the staff of the Embassy. And, in the unlikely event it was needed, they could become again the military wing of the Galaxy on Earth.

With Cristina and Helen already working at the Embassy, and Harv’I too now comfortably housed there and taking up his father’s project, that left just the core Team, fourteen of us. Lily and I were already committed to going to Avoran. It was time to find out what each of the others planned to do next.

John and Galina teamed up with a pair of Seraphim – none other than our dark blue robed, food-producing friends, who had named themselves Fortnum and Mason. Together, they bought a vineyard and winery not far from Bordeaux. They planned not only to grow the traditional grapes, but also to experiment with grapes from Seraph, and hybrids. Galina’s expertise in plant genetics would be useful here.

Ben and Sabrina also planned to remain on Earth. Now, a few of the Galactic entrepreneurs had brought with them what they called (when translated into English) “portals.” These machines allowed commercial agreements to be recorded, and goods to be Pulled or Pushed, or physically moved in or out of the portal, accounting for them according to those agreements. And they were integrated with the Galactic banking system.

Portals solved, for example, the problems we had had with paying for that first barrel of beer Cees had Pulled. There were also “retals,” which were sales outlets – essentially, portals with a small showroom attached. Ben and Sabrina planned to gain a good understanding of portals and retals, and to get early into the Earthly market for selling them, and training people in how to use them.

Hoong and Elise also stayed on Earth, after a fashion. For they applied to the Piantur to work on their solar power project. Hoong said that he wanted to make absolutely sure that someone from Earth – that meant him – fully understood all aspects of the new technology. His background as an electrical engineer, and his ability as a Seraphimobile pilot, made him well qualified to help the project. His and Elise’s ability to Pull and Push was useful too. So, they struck a deal with the Piantur, including a ’mobile solely for their use.

Ray and Jenna planned to go with Cees and Marie (and Kenny) to Seraph, and open a restaurant there specializing in Earth food, not to mention Earth wine and beer. We had a somewhat drunken after dinner conversation about what they might call it. I suggested they might name it after me, “The Tiddly Pom.” The suggestion was not taken up.

Shami, I thought, had been the most enterprising of all. She wanted to go back to her old career of teaching, but in a Galactic way. So she had talked with Tuglaydum and Tuglaydee, and arranged to go to the Tuglay home planet to learn their techniques of education. Dede, being Dede, was happy to go along with this.

Shami’s decision was a cleverer business move than might appear. For the gravity on the Tuglay home planet is only around two-thirds that on Earth. Tuglay are not comfortable for any length of time in gravity much higher than Perinent’s. They are, therefore, unable to work at their best on planets like Avoran, or even Earth. There was a potentially huge market for education in the style of and under the brand of the Tuglay, delivered on planets with gravity equal to Earth’s or greater.

While in England for the London ceremony, I had visited my old home. For just long enough to order it refurbished and put up for sale. There had been one other thing Lily and I needed to do before we left for Avoran. Which was, get ourselves a Seraphimobile. And that proved easy. For we heard that Othriel, in his new role of ambassador, was going to need – and was about to receive – a larger ’mobile than the one he and Mirandin currently had. So, I and Lily put in an offer for their old one. Which Othriel and Mirandin accepted graciously.

Ben said to me, laughing, “You’ve bought a used car from a politician. And it’s more than a hundred years old, for goodness’ sake!” (Which was true.) “Was that really wise?”

I replied, “Othriel and Mirandin are not politicians, but Galactics. We have a Galactic contract making clear what they sold us, and there is a fresh twenty-year guarantee.”

Lily and I loved that ’mobile. She loved it for its responsiveness and manoeuvrability. I loved it for its luxurious back-seat comfort. Everyone we took for a ride in it, even Ben, agreed with both of us.

Nine days after the ceremony in Beijing, Lily became the first human to pilot a ’mobile off a planet. She took me and Olgal to the Naudar’I docking station for our journey to Avoran.

* * *

But Lily and I could not, of course, travel the Galaxy entirely independently. We could pilot ourselves to the docking station; and we could put ourselves under sleep-gas for the journey through configurational space. But, at the other end, we needed to be retrieved from the docking station, and taken to our room to sleep off the dose.

When we joined a ship, or went to a cosmopolitan planet like Avoran, it was easy. There were many eager to please Seraphim offering the services we needed. But arriving at Perinent would be another matter. In the end, Balzo had to ask Nansen Ault to negotiate an agreement with the Naudar’I. That, where it was not practicable for us to be picked up by others from a docking station, they would leave it there long enough to give us time to wake up, and to leave in our ’mobile for the planet below.

* * *

Avoran was, as I have said, a cosmopolitan planet. It was a little larger than Earth. There were about eight billion Avor’I on it, and around a billion other Galactics, of almost a thousand different species. The Seraphim population there numbered about twenty million. The human population numbered two.

The Avoran day was longer than the day on Earth or Perinent, almost twenty-nine hours. Avor’I had an eight-day week, of which they generally worked six. And an almost ten-hour standard working day. The fifteen per cent higher gravity than Earth’s, combined with the longer day, was wearing on us physically. So Lily and I needed a twelve to thirteen hours’ dose of sleep-gas each night.

Our workplace was in a large, attractive building near the original capital city of Avoran, also called Avoran, which was in the northern temperate zone. It was set in parkland, as most such buildings were. For the Avor’I no longer had cities as we would think of them. A small fraction of the land on the planet, including its most spectacular physical features, was set aside in the form of reserves. A certain percentage was farmland. Most of the rest was what some might unkindly call suburbia. Homes, shops, businesses, and recreational spaces, all mixed. And without the heavy hand of any central planner.

The Avor’I had air-cars. They operated on the same principles as Seraphimobiles, taking energy from the magnetic and other force fields when they accelerated, and returning it when they slowed. The passengers simply stood against a padded wall. That was fine for Avor’I, who stood up all the time except to sleep. But it was uncomfortable for many other species. So, Seraphimobiles, and the air vehicles of other species, were popular on Avoran.

Almost everyone on Avoran had an air-car, or equivalent. And that meant traffic congestion; which was resolved by computers. Every Avor’I air-car, every ’mobile on the planet had the necessary software. You selected your destination, and were taken to it. It was only permitted to manually pilot ’mobiles when above the usual limit of Avor’I air-cars, about ten kilometres up.

From the office I shared with Lohman and Odam, I had a view of the area where air-cars waited to take off. It was quite a sight. A dozen or more parallel lines of machines, moving slowly forward. At peak times, there could be fifty or more in each line. Then, one or several in the front rank would suddenly and silently accelerate. They left the ground after only a few seconds. Some turned left, some turned right, some went higher, some stayed lower. The computers kept them out of each other’s way.

The work we did in that office, planning and directing the Galactic nursery projects on Perinent, was most interesting and challenging. Every project was different, because every candidate species was different. As was every combination of project consultant (when there was one), Helpers and local project manager. We often found ourselves having to make up the rules as we went along.

Next door, Lily worked in the research department with Olgal and two young Avor’I, Varazh and Belxham. They dug up information about candidate species, and evaluated it. They found, and qualified, the data on which Lohman, Odam and I based our decisions.

Lily and I took an apartment about ten kilometres from the office. The building was in an area where many Seraphim lived. We had about a hundred metres to walk to an excellent Seraph restaurant, where we breakfasted every day, and dined most evenings.

Surprisingly, the Avor’I’s own food was also very good. Descended from predators, they were meat ’n’ taters people. Simple tastes, like mine. But, instead of hunting for meat, they now grew it synthetically in huge vats. Though there were, it was said, still a few reserves where the best-heeled Avor’I could go hunting.

Regrettably, Avor’I are not winemakers; we had to confine ourselves to Seraph’s best. They brewed beer, though, and it was good.

At weekends, we would often go in the ’mobile to beauty spots, of which Avoran had many. In the heavy gravity, we could not comfortably walk as far as we could have done on Earth or Perinent. But the scenery was spectacular, and the paths were mostly easy.

There were plenty of other things we could do. Many different kinds of sporting, musical or cultural entertainments were available. Or we could take the lazy option; stay in bed and enjoy a few hours, or even a whole day, under the influence of recreational drugs.

Apart from the long day and the gravity, there was one more downside to living on Avoran. Our contracts with the Company were, by Earth standards, financially far more than generous. But it was an expensive place to live. Hardly surprising, as it was the home planet of the third richest species per head in the Galaxy. “On Avoran,” went the saying, “you have to pay for everything, even the ground under your feet.”

* * *

Our work took Lily and me back to Perinent twice each Avoran year. Which was much the same length as an Earth year, although it had fewer days. Each time, we would spend eight or nine local weeks on Perinent. And, because Avoran and Perinent are close in Galactic terms, it was only about a Perinent week each way by Naudar’I first class ship.

Much had been done since we had left Camp Two. A room had been built for me and Lily at each of the six camps. At my insistence, radios, like those we had used between Camps Two and Four, had been installed at all six camps.

And an amphibian linguistic and communication expert, Xhovar of the Talaxh, had been recruited to work with the species at Camp Three. Xhovar looked like a large yellow frog, about fifty centimetres long. He could survive on land, or in fresh water, or even – at need – in salt water. His job was to unscramble for us the musings of species such as the Pelino’tqvam and the carnivorous fish they Helped, and to re-scramble our ideas for them in return.

* * *

I have space here to tell you about only one of my exploits in my new job. That was on my very first trip. It was at Camp Four, with the Feh’in. I had previously visited them, and Zherhat of the Toronur their local manager, when their project had only just begun. And everything then had looked good – on the surface.

But now Lohman was very concerned. For things were going slowly at Camp Four. Selecting and Pulling the trainees had taken many times longer than it should have. And the trainees themselves seemed lackadaisical. Although they were unfailingly courteous towards their Tuglay teachers, they were learning only slowly. Lohman sent increasingly strongly worded messages to Zherhat. What he got back was mostly excuses or evasiveness.

I expected that, when I got to Camp Four, I would find Zherhat negative. Perhaps he might even think that I had been sent there to spy on him. But instead, he treated me like a long lost friend, and opened himself to me.

“Lizards!” he said. “Lizards! I’m having enough of lizards!

“Don’t get me wrong. The Feh’in are fine people. They are so nice and kind and polite. But they won’t damn well do anything I tell them to! And our Avor’I Helpers are, again, nice people. But so inexperienced! And Lohman – another lizard! – nips at my stalk all the time. He wants progress reports, and non-progress reports, and whys, and why-nots, and ifs, and buts, and ands.”

I considered, then said in my not-really tone, “Perhaps that may be because he is a monitor lizard?” Zherhat paused for a couple of seconds, then asked his translator to translate what I had said as if it was a joke. Then he waved his leaves in Toronur laughter.

Having worked with Odam for many weeks already, I had learned quite a lot about Toronur. Their society is somewhat hierarchical. While individuals can rise or fall on merit, everyone, at any given time, knows where they stand and who they must obey. There is, therefore, in their language no room for any word like “please,” except for an extremely fawning one.

But Olgal had found out some new (to us) information about the Feh’in, just days before Lily and I left Avoran. It seemed that they had an elaborate ritual of please and thank you, which came into play whenever one wanted another to do his or her bidding.

I decided to test this. I asked the Feh’in team leader, whose name was Dulsada, if she would please come for a private talk with me. And, before she could answer, I told her that our ’mobile was very comfortable, if it pleased her to take a ride in it.

“Thank ru. Thank ru.” said Dulsada. At least, that’s what the translator said. But Dulsada had used two quite different words. Olgal was on to something, I thought.

From my conversation with Dulsada in the ’mobile, it proved to be as Olgal had said. Fail to say please – in at least one of its fourteen variants – when you ask a Feh’in to do a thing, and you will achieve little. Fail to say one of the Feh’in’s eleven different kinds of thank you after the thing was done, and you would not get much co-operation the next time. Why hadn’t we known that before the project started? I made a mental note to investigate when I got back to Avoran.

There remained the technical problem of teaching Zherhat how to say “please” and “thank you.” It wasn’t easy. In the end, we found two “click” sounds he could make, which he didn’t use in his normal language. Then we set up his two-way translator to output these as Feh’in versions of “please” and “thank you.”

From that moment, the Feh’in project went faster and more smoothly than any that had gone before. I was reminded of a phrase, which we humans often used as a happy ending for a children’s story. And I adapted it into the Galactic context, as follows:

And they all worked together successfully ever after.

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