by Bill Kowaleski
Creative Destruction is a sequel to the novel Brighter Than the Stars, in which Earthlings meet technologically advanced space aliens. The Cygnians come only to do business, but their schemes to sell fusion-powered generators become contentious and competitive.
Many human and alien characters return from the previous novel, including Jim McDermott and his team, who try to reduce the risk of societal upheaval that the new technologies threaten. Meanwhile, many different groups are either plotting to steal the technical advances for their own purposes or trying to destroy it and drive the Cygnians off of Earth.
|Cast of Characters and Species||Table of Contents|
Chapter 22: A Junket to Tertia
Even Senator Clayburn, the consummate extrovert, the man who never forgot a face or a name, felt challenged to remember just who everyone was in the Tertia tour group. There were about thirty people in all, from at least ten different countries, many races and sexes including two gay people (the self-identified ones; there could have been more), a sampling of religions, eight different languages.
It was the ultimate exercise in planned diversity, but the group, while still on Earth, hadn’t done much mingling, instead breaking into tight clumps of similar people. Because of that, even by the time they were queuing up to walk through the altverse tunnel to Tertia, he’d said nothing more than hello to all but the four other tourists who comprised the five-person American contingent.
As a ragged line formed, Nigel Thacker, playing the role of tour leader, walked down it distributing the small communicator chips that would allow everyone to understand all the different species that they might want to talk to and, as a side effect, to understand each other also. He briefed them on their upcoming adventure, ending with:
“We’ll be entering Tertia through their massive tunnelport. It’s something like the biggest airport you’ll ever see, but with dozens of different kinds of creatures walking, flitting, and crawling around in it. Please never touch anyone and be unfailingly polite. This is critical! We must make a good impression, let the galaxy know that humans are civilized, trustworthy creatures. They will be judging you.
“Once we reach the human sector, you can let your hair down a little, enjoy yourself. But do remember that you are ambassadors of Earth the entire time you are on Tertia. Okay, let’s walk slowly, I emphasize slowly, through the tunnel. Stay about ten meters apart. The tunnel can only handle a certain amount of mass at a given time and could close the entry point if it is overloaded.”
Senator Clayburn stood near the back of the line, behind a man with whom he’d never spoken. The man, slightly shorter than Clayburn, perhaps fifty years old, wearing black-rimmed glasses and a loose-fitting, dark blue running outfit that suited his trim frame, turned with a broad smile and said, “At last we can talk. I believe you are the American Senator, Mr. Clayburn?”
“Yes, Jack Clayburn, and do call me Jack.”
“You Americans, always so informal. I am Zhang Zhi Peng, I work in the cultural ministry of the Peoples’ Republic of China. I am very pleased to meet you, Jack.”
He said Jack with difficulty, clearly wanting to use more formal address.
“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Peng.”
“Oh, excuse me, it is Mr. Zhang. So sorry our way of saying names is different from yours.”
“No problem, Mr. Zhang. Are you excited about visiting another planet? Even though I’ve done this once before, I’m still quite enthused.”
“Oh, yes, maybe a little scared also, but did I hear you say that you did this before?”
“Yes, it was a top-secret mission at the time. I and some others negotiated the introduction of the Upper Zion fusion complex. We went to Cygnus Prime, not Tertia, so this is my first trip to Tertia.”
“Fascinating. What is it like to walk through this altverse tunnel?”
“It’s very dark and you feel light, almost like you could float. You walk on a surface that feels like an air mattress. Two people became nauseated on my trip, so now they feed us an anti-convulsant before we go.”
“Ah, that explains the mandatory breakfast we ate.”
“Exactly. So, Mr. Zhang, do you have any particular goals, anything you want to get out of this trip?”
“Well, Senator Clayburn,” Zhang replied, returning to more comfortable formal address, “it is, I believe, no secret that my country is most unhappy that we were not included in the initial discussions about this new technology, that a British oil company and the U.S. government worked in secret to bring this reactor to American soil. China has energy needs that are projected to be far greater than America’s within a very few years, and we need to have a place at the table. I am here to establish that place.”
“I see,” said Clayburn, thinking that Mr. Zhang’s claim to be in the Cultural Ministry was transparently false. “I must tell you, Mr. Zhang, that everyone who was not included in the initial discussion, and that is the vast majority of the world, is angry about that, but we felt we needed to start on a small scale, to introduce this huge technology shift in one place, and to allow the inevitable backlash to play out before widening the scope.”
“Yes, in Western societies, such a backlash would be inevitable as you say. But in China, with no long-established energy cartel as a power center, we could have implemented this easily countrywide with minimal upset. By introducing this technology into your open societies first, you invite discord. We could have paved the way and then the West would have had no choice but to follow us. Much smoother that way.”
Clayburn was silent for a minute as the line began to move slowly toward the black, swirling tunnel entrance. Mr. Zhang was right, and of course, for that very reason, the U.S. and Britain could not have possibly involved the Chinese. It would have meant that the Chinese would be implementing fusion much faster than the West could, putting America and Europe at a terrible disadvantage. He struggled with a diplomatic way of replying.
“There is much truth in what you say, Mr. Zhang, but let’s be honest here: this technology was discovered in America and Britain, and so those countries chose to first exploit it. You know very well that neither country would be willing to come to China and offer it to you for free.”
“Yes, of course, those old rivalries get in the way. But soon we will have fusion power also, one way or the other.”
Clayburn opened his mouth to ask what that meant, but decided it might be best to let it go. They shuffled forward silently for a moment, now just two or three minutes from taking their turns in the tunnel. Mr. Zhang turned again to Clayburn. “I am told there are many things to do on Tertia: gambling, good food, possibly beautiful prostitutes. Which are you most looking forward to, Senator?”
“Everyone having a good time with no problems. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
“Ah, very excellent sentiment. I agree, but let me be honest: I am hoping for some very exciting women.”
“Where would the women come from, I wonder?” said Clayburn.
“Maybe they recruited them from Thailand, or something like that,” mused Mr. Zhang. “I will ask when we get there. But I agree, this is a perplexing question.”
Just then, Mr. Zhang reached the front of the line. Nigel directed him into the tunnel. He took a deep breath, his face turned white, his eyes opened wide, he plunged in. As Clayburn followed he watched with some amusement as Mr. Zhang strode forcefully into the black swirl, onto the squishy surface, grasping the guide rope tightly with both hands.
Once in the tunnelport entry room, a tiny closet that could only hold five people at a time, Mr. Zhang’s head swiveled until he stumbled from dizziness. One of the other tourists had to grab his hand and guide him into the hallway, cautioning him not to wander away.
And it was in the hallway that every tourist was most astounded, for here they were deposited into the swirl of Tertian life, all fifty-one species walking, waddling, flitting or lumbering down the three-kilometer-long terminal hallway, sometimes in large groups, but always in large numbers.
The hallway was lined on one side with hundreds of squat doors and, on the other, with a gaudy, clashing cacophony of kiosks. The squat doors led to tunnel entry points, tiny rooms, hardly more than closets, like the one where the Earth tourists had first exited the altverse tunnel, while the kiosks sold samplings of the highly varied diets of fifty-one very different species as well as mementoes, travel aids, sun filters, guide apps, clothing for those who wore clothes, almost anything that a citizen of the League might want to pick up at the beginning or end of a Tertian adventure.
Jack Clayburn felt as overwhelmed as the others by the strangeness, the odd, bluish light, the unfamiliar smells that his brain tried to make sense of, interpreting them as clove, grass, and a faint sense of rot. The Cygnian-designed nano-machines in their noses and lungs, and on their skin quickly adjusted oxygen levels and effectively filtered anything dangerous out of the air, but let odors get through, adding to the feeling of being somewhere exotic and completely different. This definitely did not feel in any way like pastoral Cygnus Prime. It was instead a place of crowds, noise, and blatant commerce.
The thirty Earth tourists had finally all assembled, lined up along the tunnelport door side, taking up half the hallway’s width. Nigel marched them past kiosk after kiosk, each emitting different aromas. Jack would catch a whiff of a delectable aroma and feel sudden hunger only to be nauseated a second later as they passed a different kiosk.
They walked for a minute at most and then turned into a doorway where they encountered, for the first time in any of their lives, Eridaneans. Almost everyone gasped. Mr. Zhang turned to Jack saying, “They look so much like a Chinese mythological creature.”
“Yes,” the Senator replied, “the half-man half-horse creature is in our mythology also, though this one looks more half-horse, half-lion, except for those arms coming out of the neck.”
Mr. Zhang nodded in silent agreement as one of the three large, tan creatures tossed its magnificent mane to one side and spoke. The high-pitched chirps that came from its mouth were resolved by their translator chips to: “Welcome, Earth creatures, to Tertia. I am Captain Hrukalar of the Eridanean Customs and Immigration Service, Tertian Division. Please present your identification to me and my associates so we can process you against the list we have. Once you are verified, you will be released to enter Juturna, our capital city. Please stay with your guide. This is a place where much happens that you may not understand. We would not wish any harm to come to any of you.”
Captain Hrukalar then tore off her translator chip, motioning for Nigel to do the same. She leaned very close to him. “We have intelligence that Green Band is going to stir up trouble during the ceremony at the Enclosures History Panorama, that Peace and Happiness ceremony or whatever you call it.”
“Peace and Brotherhood,” Nigel quickly corrected her. “Will we have an adequate security force?”
Captain Hrukalar tossed her mane several times, then pulled at her hair, a clear sign of embarrassment. “Well, umm, the paperwork is not complete for adding personnel to the force. It is a day off for many, and they need overtime pay, and to approve that requires a High Director’s signature, but no High Director is currently available, and—”
“OK, I get it,” sighed Nigel sadly. “The usual Eridanean ‘It can’t be done’. I don’t suppose the Cygnian Sector Indigenous Police would want to help out. They are flexible, at least.”
“I hadn’t actually thought of them, to be honest.”
Nigel steamed inside, trying his best to hide his feelings, hoping that Captain Hrukalar would not be as good at reading human facial expressions as all Eridaneans were at reading their own. He put his chip back on and said, “Let’s proceed.”
After the processing, Nigel herded the group further down the corridor until it opened to a gigantic hall, spreading left and right as far as he could see. Running along the far end was a ten-meter-high wall of windows letting in intense, bluish-white light, with doorways to the outside spaced along it. Nigel turned the group to the left, walked for two minutes, and then turned them to the right toward one of the doors, each marked with a unique cursive figure.
“Door fourteen,” announced Nigel. Senator Clayburn squinted in the intense light. Was that a familiar figure he saw just outside of door fourteen?
“Welcome to Tertia, everyone,” Jim McDermott shouted heartily. He was wearing loose-fitting khaki cargo pants and a gaudy red and blue aloha shirt that would have looked ridiculous on many men, but worked on his trim, chiseled body. He motioned toward a long, squat, silver metallic box lined with windows all around starting halfway from the bottom.
A door opened at the far right, making it look like a bus without wheels. McDermott pointed toward the door, and the visitors began entering. Clayburn climbed aboard. Inside, it felt eerily like an earthly motor coach with the same plush seats, center aisle, and small rack above. Since everyone’s luggage was being transported separately, the group was quickly seated. McDermott stood in front.
“Everyone, we’ve had a change in plans. Instead of heading right for the Cygnian sector, we will first go to the Sirian sector and be housed at their largest hotel, the Sirian Pleasure Palace. Sirians, my friends, are a sensual species that delights above all in sex. They’re going to come on to you, so get used to it, but they take a refusal quite well. Then, tomorrow, we have plans to visit the Cygnian sector. We may run into some challenges there, so this is still tentative. But I hope to work out the security situation in time.”
A low murmur erupted among the tourists. One of the gay men, a Norwegian biologist, tall, blond, and imposingly handsome, stood and asked, “What is the security issue, sir? We really want to see the Cygnian sector. That is the species visiting Earth. We must learn more about them.”
“I understand, Dr. Solvag, and I know that you have plans to study the Cygnians on their home planet also, but there is a potential problem and, if it’s not safe, we’ll visit the newly-built Earth sector first and work out the security measures before going to the Cygnian sector. We’ll get there eventually.”
That seemed to mollify Dr. Solvag but, as McDermott sat down, Nigel rushed up to him, pushing into the same seat, whispering: “I was told by the Eridanean Captain of Immigration and Customs that Green Band is planning a disruption. Is this what you’ve heard?”
“Yes, exactly. We’ve got to get more security personnel, but these goddamn Eridaneans need two weeks to get anything done. How did they ever defend themselves from attack? While the enemy is advancing, they’d be pushing paperwork around.”
“Well, Mr. McDermott, as you know, I am an Eridanean also, and—”
“Oh, right. Forgot that. Nothing personal.”
Copyright © 2019 by Bill Kowaleski