Time and Again

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

Hospitality

 

 

“Wilma, I received a communication from the Directorate that you are needed back in New Chicago on a matter of security,” Theo announced. 

Pulling her eyes away from her distant companion, she gazed down at the quad.  “Now?  Can’t the Computer Council and Major Orlov deal with it as they have while I’ve been gone?” she asked. 

“They wanted your input on several matters while you are still here.  Before the Searcher leaves for another voyage.”

“But we’re going to be here for another month, at least.  Why now?  We just got here,” she protested.

“I believe it has to do with the security shield.   It seems apparent that it needs improvement in light of the various forces that have attempted to attack Earth in the past several years.  They seemed anxious to deal with it now,” Theo replied. 

Wilma stood with her arms crossed, her frown deepening as she watched Buck continue to explore the floratat. 

“Buck will be all right.  In fact, I believe this will be good for him,” Theo said. 

She nodded.  “When do they want to meet?”

“The day after tomorrow, sixteen hundred hours.”

“I can handle that,” she said, relieved.  “That gives us time to finish the negotiations here.  Buck can take care of the minute details of the various kinds of terraforming we are interested in.”

Buck came back toward them, a smile on his face.  “I decided that it’s too nice a day to be crabby,” he declared.  “Should we see what other floratats the Lagrithians do?  Earth doesn’t just consist of golf greens and bubbling brooks.”

“Of course,” she said, smiling in return.   Buck’s humor was infectious. 

“This is a wonderful floratat for foothills areas like what used to be the Ohio River valley,” Buck explained.  “But if you are going to have these people working in the long term, around places like New Phoenix and the other cities in North America, you need to see what their mountain or desert or coastline habitats look like.”

“Then let’s find Breearth,” Wilma suggested.  As they reached the entrance to the floratat, the door slid open.  Breearth was waiting just outside the doorway with another Lagrithian female. 

She smiled and bowed.  “Did you find this floratat satisfactory?”

“Yes, indeed,” Wilma said.  “And there will need to be very few modifications for something like this one.”

“Excellent!” Breearth exclaimed, waving her long fingered hands in delight.  “Would you like Mreesa and I to show you another floratat before the banquet tonight?”

“Banquet?” Buck and Wilma said at the same time. 

“Oh, yes.  We always have a welcoming banquet for our new clients.”

“The decision is not final,” Theo said.

“That does not matter.  First, we have a welcoming banquet because we treat all we meet as friends.  And second, because we are so very confident that you will like our work that we believe you will decide to let us reform parts of your planet.  Even if you decide not to employ our services, you will still have enjoyed our hospitality,” Breearth said lightly. 

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Buck said with a laugh. 

“What type of floratat would you care to see next?” Breearth asked happily.

“Do you have the Grand Canyon?” Buck asked, an innocent look on his face.

Breearth and her companion looked puzzled.  Wilma just rolled her eyes. 

“Ah, never mind.  Do you have a desert floratat?” Buck asked. 

   

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“This is an incredible discovery,” a short Lagrithian exclaimed.  “It is exactly what the Elders have been searching for.” 

“What have you found, Dr. Foreenizor?” another Lagrithian asked, curious at what had so animated his leader.    

“I have found a rich and primal source of zeermor and an almost equally rich source of wristis,” Foreenizor said.  “Both of the perfect chemical makeup.” 

“Then we will negotiate zeermor and wristis instead of using galactic currency,” the other Lagrithian stated.   “I am sure the terrans would understand.” 

“Jreeshnar, we might be able to negotiate for some, but these elements are important for the life forms on this planet as well as to us.”  Foreenizor rubbed his long fingers up and down his arms.  He almost shivered in excitement.  “No, this is what the Elders provided for a long time ago.” 

“I do not understand,” Jreeshnar said, feeling something ominous creeping up his spine.  He wasn’t sure about the direction of this conversation.   

Foreenizor, knowing of his second in command’s loyalty, took his subordinate aside where no one else could hear their conversation.  “As the leader of this ship, I have been given knowledge of the hidden directives,” Foreenizor said.  “And the hidden knowledge, the hidden but sure knowledge that our people are dying.”   

“What?” Jreeshnar exclaimed.  His face registered, first shock, and then dismay and disbelief.  Anger flashed but was quickly suppressed.  “Are you sure?  How?  And why haven’t more been told?” 

“Yes, slowly, but surely it is happening.   As you know, the orbit of our planet had by small degrees moved closer to the binary.  We used various means to stop that movement, but we could not reverse it.  Right now, the slight deviation in our planet’s orbit hasn’t caused noticeable change in our atmosphere or the environment.  But there have been changes.  Changes that will soon become obvious to all.   It has been determined that zeermor and to a slightly lesser degree, wristis, in great quantities are the only thing that will save our planet and our race. To negotiate for a small amount would be less than useless.”  He paused.  “And why didn’t we tell the populace what is going on?  Jreeshnar, imagine the reaction if we told the people that within five generations the race would be dead, the planet of their nativity a husk.  It was felt best not to panic our people, but to quietly look for the elements that we needed before the changes wrought by the orbit deviation became obvious.   The directive indicated what was to be done if these elements were found.  It is too bad that this has occurred on a populated planet, but it cannot be helped.  We do not have time.  If we do not take action, within three more generations, it will be too late to reverse the trend.” 

Jreeshnar gazed at his leader in horror.  “I had no idea, Doctor," he stammered.  "Of course, we must do what we have to, in order to save our people.  But how do we obtain these elements?  The Earth people will not willingly give up their planet and I seriously doubt they will sell it.”  He paused, then asked trepiditiously, “What does the directive say we must do?” 

“The Hidden Directive instructs us, as leaders of our vessels to simply exterminate the Earth people and salvage what we need from the desolate planet.” 

“But even Earth’s enemies would object to blatant extermination, I believe,” Jreeshnar pointed out. 

Foreezinor saw the horror stricken look replaced by a quiet determination.  He knew that Jreeshnar would give him his full support.  And the question was a viable one. “Earth people almost exterminated themselves with war a half a millennium ago.  It would be no surprise if some mutated disease decimated the entire human race.  It might take up to a solar year, perhaps, but if sickness appeared planet-wide, the Earth would be put under quarantine and that would spell their quick doom.”

“Yes, I see what you are saying and see that this would be the only solution.  What kind of sickness would we use, Doctor?”

“We will devise a suitable virus.  The Earth delegates will be tested without their knowledge.  We will do this during their sleep cycle,” Foreenizor explained. 

Jreeshnar nodded.  “And the future of our race will be assured.  It is drastic.  But if it is necessary….”

“Yes, but for now this will only be known to you, me and a few technicians.”  Foreenizor gave his adjutant a meaningful gaze.  “You do understand that, do you not?”

“Of course, Doctor Foreenizor.  I understand perfectly.  You can count on me,” Jreeshnar said fervently.

“Yes, I knew I could count on you, my friend.”

 

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“My friends, please enjoy yourselves,” Breearth said happily.  “All of this food is fit for human consumption.  These are foods closest to those with which you are most familiar.”

“Thank you,” Wilma said, staring at the food-laden table before them.

Buck studied the array of food laid out on the table in front of them.  Even Princess Ardala’s banquets didn’t boast this much food.  “And to think I was planning on watching what I ate,” he muttered.  

Wilma looked thoughtful and then leaned over toward him.  “Watch it as long as you like, Buck, and then eat it,” she said, her look serious, but her eyes twinkling merrily. 

Buck blinked and turned to his comrade in amazement.  She grinned.  Suddenly, he couldn’t help it; he burst out laughing.  “Wilma, you have been around me too long.”  She laughed with him. 

Buck pulled out the chair designated for Wilma and motioned for her to sit down.  For once she didn’t object, but smiled and took the seat.  He sat next to her, while Twiki, with Theo stood nearby.  Breearth and her companion, Mreesa, sat down at the table with them. 

Despite some differences in texture and taste, Buck found the various foods delicious.  After they finished eating, the small group talked a while longer, enjoying a sweet drink of Lagrithian make.  Finally, Buck yawned, trying unsuccessfully to hide it.  “I think I am ready to hit the sack.”  

“So am I,” Wilma said.  “I didn’t think what we did was so strenuous, but apparently it was.”

Breearth looked puzzled.  “Perhaps it is slight differences in the atmosphere on our ship.  But please, let me show you to your quarters where you can sleep,” she said.

By the time they reached their rooms, which were right next to each other, Buck could barely keep his eyes open.  A Lagrithian approached as he was about to enter his room.  “Excuse me, but we were wondering if Dr. Theopolis and his ambu-quad would care to spend some time going over floratat specifications.”

“Yes,” Theo replied, and then looked at Buck.  “Unless you desire to be involved in these discussions.”

“No, no, Theo, you two go for it.  You can fill Wilma and I in on everything tomorrow,” Buck told him, yawning again.  He was puzzled as to his seeming fatigue, but figured that Breearth was probably right.  Theo and Twiki left and Buck pulled off his flight tunic as he walked toward the bed.  He didn’t get as far as taking off his pants.  As soon as he sat down, he simply flopped over and fell into a heavy sleep. 

In the morning, he awoke feeling strangely like he had a hangover.  “Oh, man,” he muttered.  “I’ve got to lay off the Lagrithian joy juice.”

Twiki beeped and then said exuberantly, “Good morning, sunshine!”

“Not so loud, Twiki,” Buck said reprovingly.  He sat up and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.  The fuzzy dullness soon dissipated and he felt somewhat better. 

“Are you all right, Buck?” Theo asked, concerned.

“Yeah, I am now.  But man, I felt like the morning after New Year’s Eve for a moment.”  Buck stretched and padded to the bathroom.  He stopped and stared at his feet.  Somehow he didn’t remember taking his boots off.  But he must have, or else Twiki did.  Shrugging, Buck went on in and shut the door.  Later, after he had showered and shaved, he stood in front of a small wardrobe, studying the clothes that their Lagrithian hosts had left for him.  They appeared to be perfectly matched to his height and form.  Holding his towel around his waist with one hand, he felt the fabric and found it to be surprisingly soft and lightweight.  What the hell, he thought.  They were considerate enough to leave these; he would be considerate enough to wear them.   Save wear and tear on the extra flight suit he had brought along.

“Nice threads, Buck,” Twiki quipped after he had dressed. 

“Thanks, Twiki.  It’s comfortable, too,” he said, rubbing one sleeve of the moss green jumpsuit.  It was even more supple than the Directorate flight suits.

Turning to his companions, he asked.  “Did you two have a fruitful evening?” 

“Yes, indeed, we did, Buck,” Theo replied.  “We worked out schedules and payments.  And they will discuss floratat details with you after we have seen several more of them.”

“Sounds great, Theo,” Buck said.  “We need to be looking at mountain and prairie floratats today.  For New Denver and New Tulsa.”

“Yes, then it should only be a matter of details.  The Computer Council decided to let them work on four areas first and if we like their work, we’ll have them do more, including some of the cities in Europe and Asia.”

“Great, Theo.  Let’s find Wilma and get started.” 

As it was, Buck had to wait for Wilma.  She was a bit slow getting up, a fact that Buck found somewhat strange.  Wilma Deering was so disciplined that she was usually waiting for him.  “Apparently she can’t hold her Lagrithian liquor any better than I can,” Buck murmured. 

 

 

 

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