by Bill Kowaleski
|Cast of Characters and Species||Table of Contents|
Chapter 22: A Junket to Tertia
Part 1 appears in this issue.
“But you’re right. Eridaneans have always succeeded by wearing down the opposition, burying them in bureaucracy, talking them to death while putting up just enough of a fight to hold them off. It’s not going to work with Green Band. I think we need to contact the Cygnians’ own local police force.”
“They could be infiltrated by Green Band. They could go along, say, sure, we’ll help out, and then do nothing when we get attacked.”
“Yes, that is a possibility. If we could bring in a Cygnian to talk to them, he could tell immediately whether they were being truthful.”
Nigel paused, looking out the window. Their transport craft was lifting into the air on its anti-gravity beam. The passengers’ faces showed surprise. They grabbed onto the seats in front of them and craned their necks in all directions.
As the ground fell away, the full extent, the massive bulk of the tunnelport became visible. In its center was a hub, perhaps a kilometer in diameter, the place where McDermott had met them with the transport, and radiating from the cylindrical, glass-walled hub, shaped like a medieval turret, were eight long spokes, the hallways that held the tunnel entry points and kiosks.
McDermott stood again and addressed them, “We’re on our way, everyone. This is an anti-gravity transport, so we’ll rise up to one of the travel levels and then begin moving parallel to the ground. It’s about twenty kilometers from here, so it should take about ten minutes.”
Nigel returned to the security issue. “You know, Mr. McDermott, the GFG representatives should be in the Cygnian sector by now. They were coming in for the ceremony tomorrow. Don’t you think we could ask them to contact the local Cygnian police?”
“Yes, that’s what we have to do. As soon as we get to the hotel, could you take care of that?”
The transport made no noise and seemed to be floating. But anyone who looked out the windows could see the ground below rushing by, while the transports moving in the adjacent lane passed so quickly that they were barely a blur. It was almost like being in a jet airliner and seeing another airliner pass closely while traveling in the opposite direction.
Senator Clayburn couldn’t help but keep his nose glued to the window, trying to take in the sights rushing by him. Ahead he could see a gigantic, crystalline structure, like something out of a fairy tale. It jutted into the unnaturally bright electric blue sky with sharp, glassy points, narrowing from a base that he estimated to be at least a half-mile on a side. The transport slowed, drifted downward, and aligned with an opening in the fatter part of the structure, sliding smoothly into it and coming to a rest.
Clayburn’s new best friend, Mr. Zhang, quickly found him as they assembled in the docking area. “Heavens, Senator Clayburn, that was quite an adventure, wasn’t it?” His eyes gleamed as brightly as a ten-year old boy’s after riding a roller coaster.
Another member of the American contingent, fellow Senator Marshall Bourbonnais from Mississippi, normally an ideological antagonist of Clayburn’s walked over. “My heavens, Senator! That was a mighty excitin’ ride, I must say!”
Senators Bourbonnais and Clayburn were as different physically as their political philosophies. Bourbonnais was an imposing man, six feet four inches, large in the middle, looking like an ex-football player who’d given up on exercise. His elephantine head featured huge ears, jowls, gray, thinning hair that always seemed just a bit too long, bushy out-of-control eyebrows, and a perpetually pink complexion. He always breathed heavily, as though he couldn’t supply enough oxygen to his considerable body mass.
Clayburn was a trim man, four inches shorter, wearing black-rimmed glasses much like Mr. Zhang’s. His round, small-featured, everyman’s face gave him an air of approachability that had served him well in political life. He presented the image of a middle-aged financial consultant who ran marathons, which he did in fact do when he wasn’t sailing on Lake Michigan.
Bourbonnais was hardly the marathon or sailing type. He preferred going out in his beloved fishing boat, actually quite a large vessel capable of handling the rough Gulf of Mexico waters, and hauling in the big fish. After the excitement of a fight with a marlin, what could be better than some of his namesake drink: bourbon, on the rocks, with friends and fellow Republicans?
Clayburn smiled, nodded his head, and replied, “Yes Senator, I got a thrill from it too. Mr. Zhang and I were just discussing that. By the way, allow me to introduce Mr. Zhang from the Peoples’ Republic Cultural Office.”
Bourbonnais grabbed Mr. Zhang’s delicate hand with his huge bear paw, causing the poor Chinese official to wince for just an instant. “Senator Marshall Bourbonnais from the great state of Miss’ssippi, suh. A pleasure to meet you.” His voice boomed so loudly that it echoed in the huge docking area.
“Yes, most pleased to meet you Senator,” Zhang replied. “I am not so good with American geography. Could you tell me please where is Mississippi?”
The question evoked a long response in which the beefy Senator not only drew a map on his hand, but also presented a condensed history of his state, which he painted as undoubtedly the most beautiful and livable place in the country. Mr. Zhang listened patiently, a smile slowly growing on his face. Just as Senator Clayburn attempted to get in a good word about Illinois, Nigel shouted at the group.
“OK, everyone, we’re going to head for the elevator and go down to the lobby. We’re at the hundredth level here, halfway up this incredible structure, but the elevator will have us at ground level in no time. We’ll take the large-group car, so we can all stay together.”
Little more than a minute later, the wide doors of the group elevator opened to a scene impossibly strange, yet oddly familiar. The space they walked into was enormous, almost like being outside, yet enclosed, feeling a little like a sports stadium with a roof, only much bigger. Intense, bluish-white light shone through the walls and the roof, if a two-hundred story atrium could be called a roof.
The intense light illuminated an interior space that definitely had the look and feel of a hotel lobby. Creatures were moving in all directions in large numbers and, from their vantage point near the elevator, in a space raised perhaps a meter above the general level of the lobby, the tourists could easily see lounges, large counters, a corridor of shops, and three areas that seemed to be restaurants.
The activity throughout the lobby came from human-like creatures that Senator Clayburn immediately thought of as little green men. They were slightly built, bipedal, none more than six feet tall, with smooth, pale green-gray, hairless skin, large, bulging bald heads, oval faces, huge, black, oval eyes, no discernible nose, and a human-like mouth. It was impossible to determine whether an individual was male or female.
They wore many types of clothing that hung loosely on their slight bodies, though a kind of Roman tunic in a wide variety of colors seemed most popular. Their two skinny arms ended in hands with the most delicate, childlike fingers. But there was nothing childlike in their behavior. As soon as they saw the group of humans, they began gathering around, buzzing with excitement.
“My heavens,” one of the nearest Sirians said. He was wearing a bright red tunic that stopped at the knees. “Such a strikingly beautiful species. What are you?”
Nigel stepped forward. “We are humans from Earth. We’re here on a tour. Please allow us to get to the check-in kiosk.”
Nobody moved. Another Sirian, this one sporting a dark blue tunic said, “Let’s all have a party in the Orgy Room. You could all just come right over, no need to check-in until later.”
This suggestion seemed to be quite agreeable to the assembled crowd. They began streaming in the direction of one of the lounges. Nigel took advantage of their movement to direct the humans in another direction, heading toward a large bank of desks some distance away.
One of the Sirians noticed that the humans weren’t following them. “Hey, what’s the problem? Aren’t you here to have a good time?”
“No,” Nigel replied, “this is actually a contingent of business and political people here on a very serious mission. Could you please have some respect for that fact?”
This Sirian, who wore only a small white bikini covering the midsection, replied, “Hmm, what a bunch of boring creatures you are! We could show you such a good time if only you’d give us the chance.” He or she, it wasn’t possible to be sure, finished the statement with an expansive, dismissive wave of a delicate hand and wandered toward the lounge. The entire gaggle of randy Sirians continued into the Orgy Room, apparently intent on making appropriate use of that venue with or without the humans.
Senator Bourbonnais looked back and forth from the crowd of Sirians streaming into the lounge to Clayburn and Zhang Zhi Peng.
“Well, I do declare! I have never seen such a thing in my life! Did they wanna have sexual relations with us, another species?”
Senator Clayburn had to be careful. While he was aware that Sirians were on Earth in disguise, that information was top secret, and he certainly didn’t want to reveal it to the Chinese. “Yes, Senator, that’s what I got out of that strange little exchange. Quite a shock.”
Mr. Zhang smiled thinly. “Maybe it would be fun to try it. Why not? We’re here on a strange planet, we should join in, try their pleasures.”
Senator Bourbonnais looked at Mr. Zhang as though he were himself an alien, backing away as he said, “Go right ahead, Mr. Zhang, maybe you Chinese like puhversions, but I’m gonna stick to good ole’ American pussy if y’all don’t mind.”
Zhang’s smile evolved into a smirk. “This is why we Chinese will surpass you Americans. We are more flexible, our minds are open. We do not limit ourselves.”
They had reached the check-in kiosk where Nigel showed them how to find their names and get their room assignments. Clayburn moved to a free kiosk well away from his companions, happy to escape Mr. Zhang’s tiresome superiority and Senator Bourbonnais’ “good ole boy” act. As he stepped away, looking for the elevator to take him to room 18043, he noticed McDermott and Nigel, standing close together, leaning against one of the glasslike walls. He approached, picking up their conversation in mid-sentence.
“Believes that the indigenous police are compromised. I think that seals it. We shouldn’t go tomorrow.” Nigel looked up at Senator Clayburn adding, “You might as well know this too, Senator. Green Band is intent on disrupting our ceremony, keeping us out of that theme park we’re supposed to visit tomorrow. Manager-John, who is the Cygnian equivalent of the CEO of Galactic Fusion Generators, says he thinks the local police are infiltrated and can’t recommend using them.”
“If we don’t visit the Cygnian sector, we lose a lot of the purpose for this trip,” McDermott whispered. “I don’t think we should give up on it yet.”
Just then a most remarkable thing happened. A blue-gray furred Cygnian wearing a brown backpack, looking like a small, lost bear that had somehow wandered into the hotel lobby, stepped off of the elevator, twisted his eyestalks side to side a moment, and then trotted directly toward McDermott, Nigel, and Senator Clayburn.
“Gentlemen,” the Cygnian transmitted. “I am Ethnologist-Mark of Galactic Fusion Generators. Mr. McDermott, Mr. Thacker, we have previously met.”
“Yes!” McDermott boomed. “Mark, how are you? This is Senator Jack Clayburn. Jack, Mark was on the rescue mission to Tertia. He was very helpful in achieving Keyshawn’s freedom. He also worked with us on the initial rollout plan for Upper Zion.”
“Very honored to meet you, Mark,” Clayburn struggled with how to shake hands, but Mark quickly solved the problem by rising to his hind legs and grasping the Senator’s hand with his tentacled paw.
“Pleased to meet you, Senator. I am sorry to jump right into explaining my presence, but the situation requires immediate response.
“I have been urgently dispatched by Manager-John to assist you. I understand that the Cygnian Sector Indigenous Police are infiltrated with Green Band members and thus could further disrupt tomorrow’s planned ceremony and tour. This disruption could even result in bodily harm to the Earthlings attending. I have an idea to rectify this situation.”
Ethnologist-Mark produced a tiny chip from his backpack. “On this chip is a contract I propose we execute with the Indigenous Police. GFG will pay the associated costs. This contract goes into enormous detail setting quotas and goals for the Indigenous Police in regard to providing protection tomorrow. I have an appointment with their leader just one Tertian time period from now. If you agree, I will execute this contract.”
“Well, how will that help us?” asked McDermott. “They can sign a contract and still disrupt...”
“No, Mr. McDermott, if they sign the contract, they will place themselves in a very difficult situation. The thing about Cygnians you must understand is that we are focused on goals, focused on meeting the letter of any contract. It would make it almost impossible for them to join in on the disruption. Achieving quotas, goals, it is an obsession with us.”
“They could just refuse to sign the contract, couldn’t they?” asked Clayburn.
“Yes they could, but they would not. To refuse to sign would be an admission of collusion with Green Band. It would so severely compromise the organization that all the leadership would probably lose their jobs. It puts them in the position of having no choice. I must tell you, this is a truly brilliant idea, and I am so proud of having thought it up.”
McDermott smiled, remembering how Keyshawn had told him of Mark’s considerable ego. “So if you execute that contract with them, then we’d better show up tomorrow, is that what you’re implying?”
“Exactly. There would still be a demonstration, Green Band would still stir up the locals, but the Indigenous Police would supplement the Eridanean protection. It would be more than adequate.”
“I don’t know,” Clayburn cautioned, “We cannot have a melee with members of this group getting hurt. I just would rather be sure.”
“I am ninety-eight point four six percent sure that this will prevent any physical harm to your party.”
Nigel interjected, “You can bet that was calculated on one of their very famous probability systems. Cygnians sell their probability calculation services all over the galaxy, and they’re always spot on.”
“You are correct,” Mark said. “Actually, this is calculated based on some worst-case parameters that may not even be present tomorrow.”
They stood silently a moment, staring at each other.
“Mr. McDermott, this is your show. What do you want to do?” Nigel asked.
“I hate indecisiveness, let’s do it.”
Copyright © 2019 by Bill Kowaleski