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Shepherd Moon, Chapter 21: Blue Skies

 

Speeches –

The Secretary-General, her group and her visitors walked a little behind Queen Margaret and Admiral Daxx to give them some privacy. By the look of things, the two seemed to have hit it off and were having a good time getting to know each other.

The queen looked positively diminutive walking beside the tall Dixx admiral: Dixx were extremely tall creatures, typically as tall as Detterex. As Earthers would find out later, the Dixx and Detterex were the tallest among the known oxygen-breathing bipedals. There was more than three feet of difference between the Dixx and the queen, but the pair didn’t care, and continued on with their boisterous conversation.

Various delegates stopped to greet them. The aliens were unfailingly cordial and shook hands with everyone.

“That was a wonderful speech,” Marc said to Romarkin as they walked the hallways of the U.N. towards the Assembly Hall.

“Thank you, Marc. I hope it went over well with the people.”

“I’m confident it did. Where is... Amelia?”

Romarkin looked back at Marc.

Marc shrugged. “Sorry, I’m still not used to... her.”

Romarkin nodded understandingly. “I know... It took me a long time to get used to her, too. Well… I think she’s just a little delayed. The last word was that she was getting her, ummm, entourage together. I guess she thought she wasn’t going to be part of all this pomp and circumstance.”

“Well, she was wrong. Everyone knows what she’s done to make this happen. People are expecting her.”

“I know. Sahsha said she’d be by shortly. We just have to proceed with everything until she does.”

Pretty soon they were entering the U.N. Assembly Hall, and all the U.N. ambassadors were in attendance - a rare occasion. Romarkin made her excuses, left them and entered the Hall via the back way.

The delegates whose seats were next to the aisle were much envied, as they were able to see the visitors up close. The Federation representatives were gracious and nodded to everyone cordially, and shook hands with the few who offered.

They were preceded into the hall by their security, which doubled as their honor guard. For the First Ambassador, his colleagues play-acted as his honor guard since there were no others to do it, carrying short dress swords borrowed from some of the Seeker’s crew, and several banners Seeker’s quartermaster had hastily stitched together based on the ambassador’s drawings.

They made their way to the new, hastily installed seats in the front row, with a few specially constructed saddles to suit Arachnians.

As they settled in, the queen then followed with her own honor guard, and sat beside the Princess and Prince, as befitting royalty. As for the Secretary-General, she was already on the stage. She went to the podium and began with some welcoming remarks, echoing the themes she'd covered in her earlier speech, and invited the representatives of each of the three ambassadorial races from the Federation to speak.

The entire Assembly was very thankful for the human translators that the U.N. had drafted especially for the occasion.

Each of the visitors waxed lyrical and effusively thanked Humanity for all that they had done. Electronic translators would never have captured the poetic and lyrical nuances of the aliens’ speeches the way the translators did (on special loan from CETI) as the Admiral and the Princess took their time and indulged their poetic, oratorical side. Neither were, however, as poetic as the First Ambassador. He was the last of the three to speak, and took the longest. He ended his long and rousing speech with a heartfelt thanks to the “Earthers,” and in particular, the Lady Amelia and her crew.

Mia being mentioned last was pre-arranged, so that there would be a natural segue to bringing in Mia to the podium to speak. Quiet descended in the hall after the First Ambassador had requested the honor of her presence.

And as the silence stretched out, they heard the sound of marching.

-----

On the trip over, Sahsha had briefed Mia and her people on the expected protocol via their CC’s, but Mia’s Marines were old hands at this (they were part of the Second Marine/Infantry Squad after all), and picked up the routine quickly.

They stepped out of the limo after it had pulled over, and they made their way to the Assembly Hall. Mia’s Marines marched with precision and she and her people just followed them.

They halted just outside the hall, politely waiting for their cue. And when the First Ambassador finished his speech, the Marines resumed their march, making their footfalls especially loud.

At the entranceway, the lead Marine called loudly, “Admiral on deck,” and the Marine beside her raised the Seeker’s colors.

With precision, they marched down the aisle and arrayed themselves at the foot of the stage. The officers filed by the aliens and the queen, saluted while marching with eyes right, and continued on. Mia, being quietly coached by Sahsha via her hidden CC, stood in front of the alien delegates and bowed in the Elyran style. She then stood in front of the queen, saluted and waited for her liege to acknowledge her.

She then proceeded up the stage. She bowed to the First Ambassador, and the Ambassador relinquished his position.

The Marine with the Seeker’s colors raised them high, and though it wasn’t arranged, everyone broke into spontaneous applause.

“Honored delegates of the U.N.,” Mia began, “ambassadors from the Galactic Federation of Free Races, Madame Secretary-General, your Royal Highness. Thank you for your warm welcome. It’s great to be home.”

And this was met with thunderous applause.

 

Jetsetters –

After all their plans, after all their worrying, everything went as smoothly as Mia and her people had hoped. For the aliens, it was like their sacrifices were worth it since all that they’d set out to accomplish were successful.

After days of speeches and ceremony, copies of the draft treaty they labored to craft were circulated amongst all the U.N. delegates, and Sahsha provided all the news outlets with copies as well. Mia, the Secretary-General, and all the “Earthers” involved in its creation, thought the document good, and that it was so uniform and generic in its language that no special interest group would have any objections, and there was no security-sensitive material in it so none in the military would find it objectionable. It was actually on the instructions of the Secretary-General that Sahsha gave copies to the public.

For the coming weeks, the aliens and the draft treaty were the main topic of discussion almost everywhere. All the humans seemed to have opinions about the treaty, and almost every news program had at least a piece on the treaty, or the aliens, or both. Several fan clubs dedicated to either Ren or Tasha sprang up (although they were respectful enough to not call themselves “fan clubs”). And any show that had new video or pictures of the aliens or Mia got the highest ratings for that day.

Secretary-General Romarkin had several marathon meetings with the Security Council, the representatives of the Spacers and the leadership of all the major-power countries on the planet. And, in less than a month, they had come to a consensus: the treaty was acceptable, and the EDF was instructed to proceed with the plan. What was called the Harbinger Program was given the green light.

In that month, while the politicians did their thing, the Federation representatives were given a whirlwind tour of the planet Earth with Sahsha as their personal tour guide. They couldn’t see everything, of course, especially with only a month, but Sahsha made a special effort to show them the most interesting places, and those that she believed showcased the humans and their home planet at their best.

The rest of the alien crews also had an opportunity to see the planet as well, though they did not benefit from Sahsha’s personal touch - during their free periods, and with passes in hand, the aliens, in small batches, had time to go around New York City while some were lucky enough to win government-arranged week-long twentieth-century style sightseeing Caribbean cruises via ship-board lotteries.

Sahsha had messages delivered to the Keeper of the Heritage and his staff, inviting them to join the crew people joining the cruises or the month-long tour, but Cale, the Dravidian who participated in their lectures, politely declined the invitation, and said they would prefer to stay onboard the Dixx flagship. He said Earther “TV” would be more than sufficient entertainment. Instead, he said the Noble Born would prefer to spend his time meeting with the race’s academics (Jennifer Priestly foremost among them) and religious scholars.

Sahsha took the hint, so she had the U.N. PR office make special arrangements to facilitate just that. Also, within that same day, Federation communications people were able to tap into all the local TV programs via recoded radio signal - the new channels replaced the canned videos the Federation people were getting before, but with appropriate Elyran subtitles and dubbing.

The PR people were apologetic that the programs would be delayed by two Earth hours because they needed the time to add the subtitles. That, however, wasn’t completely true: the subtitling and the dubbing were automated and only required little time to code. The real reason for the delay was that the ATAC people, supplemented by Jerry Bhavnani’s CETI analysts, needed to edit all the feeds to make sure that stuff the government didn't want transmitted were taken out (such as tactical information or information on proscribed tech like Phase-Wave). And, with over a thousand channels, this was not easy to say the least. Thank goodness the by-subscription channels weren’t included, otherwise the delay would be very, very, verrry long.

It was obvious to the aliens that the Earthers were censoring things since static-filled blank screens and jarring cuts made the edits obvious. The aliens didn’t mind this much since it was expected, but their science staff was ecstatic nevertheless. This was the best way to learn about the Earthers in the shortest time possible. And with selectable subtitling and dubbing, they were even making headway in learning Earther speech, not just in the “dialect” they found out was called “English” but in other Earther tongues as well.

Though the references provided them before by Seeker’s crew didn’t include language manuals, they did include a couple of dictionaries. The crew of the Talon had started using common Earther phrases: “hello” became as much in use as “t’chahn” was. And watching Earther TV programs became the thing to do during off hours.

“Earther-speak” became the in thing onboard Talon. Never was mess hall talk more fun than peppering the discussions with Earther words, and the most popular people were those that could recite whole passages from their favorite Earther shows’ dialogue. And because of a CETI decision to not edit the language, the Earther’s transmissions were embarrassingly rich in colloquial swearing and other things... And common throwaway words like “gotcha” or “dude” became part of common on-board ship-talk. It was good Reena did not stand for profanity, whether in Elyran or English, so Elyrans avoided the racier Earther words and phrases, and ship-board life did not degenerate into a polyglot mishmash of bad behavior and alien swear words.

Talon’s two scientists who doubled as their linguists suddenly became the most popular people on-board, and were pestered for language classes. But despite all of the information they were getting, they told everyone they wouldn't be ready for months. So they eventually caved, put pride aside and asked the Earthers for help. And And the Earthers said they’d be sending their best. Jennifer Priestly would therefore be on her way via a Type-Two cruiser just finishing her shakedown, and should be back in a week to arrange for face-to-face language classes, as well as her tête-à-tête with the Keeper. But even while in transit, she had already started her classes, in the same manner as their old Channel A, B and C meetings.

-----

In the meantime, the Federation ambassadors continued with their sightseeing.

The Earthers found that, for the most part, the Elyrans liked the same things they liked, and trips to the beach and amusement parks were highlights. As for the Dixx, they liked going to parks, and going on walking tours through Yosemite’s forests, but they didn’t like going to the Amazon - they had trouble with high humidity combined with high heat – and tended to overheat, something akin to heatstroke.

And for all the theories of the exobiologists, the aliens weren’t so alien that the people couldn’t relate to them. It was mostly because the visitors had experience dealing with other alien peoples and cultures, and made it easy for the Earthers.

For Ren, Tasha, Daxx, the First Ambassador and their staff, first on the agenda were all of the things that Mia and the others promised them - in-depth tours of manufacturing plants, farms, electronics factories and the other things they had discussed in their long meetings onboard Seeker.

The host governments were more than accommodating and arranged everything.

Two Airbus A300-1000H Hypersonics were spruced up specifically for use by the visitors. No one said that was overkill. They needed the suborbital ballistic shuttles, otherwise they would have needed to commandeer a Type-Two or something, just to get around the planet. And that was patently ridiculous.

The enormous ballistic passenger planes were fast enough to keep up with time zones, and the ride they gave was smooth and comfortable enough that they allowed the passengers to do their sightseeing during the daytime and rest during the night-time: Sahsha had set up their itinerary such that their schedule allowed them fourteen solid hours (with slight variations) of “sightseeing time” followed by two five-hour stretches of “night time” that the pilots used as their flight window, and the passengers used for resting, for quiet, relaxed conversations, for reading, sleeping or their equivalents, with about an hour snuck in there for any interviews the news outlets wanted or for consultations with the U.N. people.

It did, however, require meticulous planning so that their tours coincided with local daytime via Mach 5-plus suborbital flying. If a diagram of their flight plan was traced on a map, it would look like spaghetti.

Their transportation felt more like apartments rather than planes: when they stepped out of them, they were always greeted with sunshine, and when they were done, it was always evening. And the inside felt just like apartments unless one chanced to peek out of the large round windows and saw the clouds as they passed below them.

All of the aliens were given tiny translators so they didn’t need anyone to translate for them. In reality, though, they were, however, just radio-based relays that interfaced with the U.N. VOX translator system. That way, any enterprising Elyran or Dixx who tried to open them and study their innards would have just been disappointed to see nothing special other than a voice-activated radio transceiver - they weren’t even Phase-Wave. (Sahsha regularly replaced translators that were “accidentally” damaged, no questions asked.)

A large advance contingent from the U.N. protocol office also made sure that the places the aliens were going to visit were all environmentally okay, courtesy of squads of U.N. inspectors equipped with lifesigns belts with Elyran-style yochus from the Talon’s stores. And several covert security personnel (provided by the US Secret Service, MI6, Mossad, the Lunar Defense Corps and the Muslim League) accompanied them, providing unnoticed, unobtrusive protection.

So the Federation’s first ambassadors to Earth got to see the enormous shipyards and spaceports of Singapore, the enormous manufacturing and electronics plants of Beijing, the large research facilities in Bonn, the underwater farms in the Aleutians, the sprawling urban “ghetto farms” of the Bronx, the cattle and animal farms of New Zealand, the electronics plants of Silicon Valley, the plastics and synthetics labs of South Africa, and the largest military training camp in US territory which was located in Washington State. And of course, time at Waikiki, walking tours amongst the forests of Yellowstone, New Zealand, Anthony Bourdain-style pub crawls and restaurant meals (In the 24th century, no one knew who “Anthony Bourdain” was anymore, except as being part of the generic term for bar-hopping and eating good food.)

The highlight of these tours was at the end, of course - their two-day visit to the Isles of Scilly, and every one of the Federation ambassadors was happy and excited to see their new “home away from home” in person instead of just in pictures.

The Sciollian locals seemed quite proud of their little corner of the Earth, and eagerly showed their visitors around their islands. And as they were conducted around, Ren and Tasha had an opportunity to observe how the Lady Amelia treated her subjects.

To them, it looked like the islanders seemed excited to see their duchess, which wasn’t unexpected since she had been away from them for a while.

They noted that Mia didn’t seem to believe in flaunting her power over her subjects. She would acknowledge the ritual obeisance of her people (the bowing, the “My Lady’s,” “Your Graces” and so forth) in a familiar, matter-of-course kind of way, and was quite friendly with them, even calling some of them by their first names.

In truth, of course, Mia’s actions were a result of practice and a lot of preparation. She had tried to commit all of the material the Cornwall Tourist Board provided and was therefore familiar with “her” new duchy, and she had also studied the personnel file of key people on the islands, memorizing their names, faces and personal histories.

So the islanders were impressed and accepted Mia as something akin to their new Mayor, and happily followed her “requests” the few times she deigned to ask.

-----

The aliens already knew most of the facts and figures of the islands and just tried to soak the place in. The air was crisp, cool, and, above all, it was dry, so Daxx and her staff didn’t feel uncomfortable walking on the verge next to the strip of sand that circled Tresco, the largest of the islands they would be allowed to lease. And despite the occasional spray of water, Daxx and her people actually felt quite at home.

The locals talked about the kind of weather they had, and the kinds and quantities of Marine life that abounded in the surrounding waters.

The First Ambassador commented that he thought there was a lot of it, and it would probably yield catches large enough to support the islanders.

“Actually, Ambassador,” Mia said, “nothing from the sea is really farmed. True, the locals would occasionally catch some but mostly for sport, or if they had a hankering for something fresh, or it was for a special occasion, like tonight.”

“Tonight, My Lady?” The Arachnian politico asked.

“Tonight, the county council will be hosting a special meal in your honor, using the catch of the day, and local game and produce. Sciollians are quite proud of our cuisine.” Mia smiled down at the Ambassador.

They spent the entire day roaming the islands, and many of the islanders got to meet them. It was fun for all involved, although the Elyrans and, most especially, the Dixx, got worn out pretty early in the day, and decided to end the tour at around three in the afternoon. Nick suspected that it was because of the unaccustomed higher gravity of Earth (Earth gravity was eleven percent stronger than the Federation average).

In the evening, a special black-tie affair was hosted by the Sciollian Council (Mia explained what “black-tie” meant). The ambassadors insisted that the affair be conducted like a normal Earther event, and the protocol officer went though how such an event was conducted. The aliens again wore their formal attire except that Tasha decided to wear the “little black dress” that Sahsha had given her as a gift when they toured Rodeo Drive a few days ago. From the reaction of the Elyran and Earther males, Tasha knew she chose well.

As for Mia, she was wearing a simple, long black dress and high heels. It was a simple sheath dress but, with her fabulous figure, the sheer, stretchy material and the bare back and shoulders made her the center of attention, even more than Tasha was, and the Elyrans just gravitated towards her.

The Earthers sort of kept their distance, however. Tasha was Elyran royalty, and Mia was the Lady Amelia after all, as well as the Admiral of the Fifth Fleet.

The event itself went over without a hitch, and their guests enjoyed the dinner in the dining room of the Council’s Main Hall surrounded by a lot of local memorabilia, mounted armor, mounted heads of animals and large paintings of military victories and other significant events of the Islands. Their host apologized that several of the pieces of memorabilia were only reconstructions, and took pains to point out the ones that were still original.

Their guests enjoyed the event largely because of the novelty and the ability to openly chat with the locals. Sitting and having a formal dinner was fun, and the food was quite good. Nothing over the top but very traditional nevertheless. The aliens found eating the meal with Earth eating implements manageable but very unorthodox. Slicing up their food themselves instead of having them pre-cut was unusual, but they rationalized that, by doing so, they could eat bites in the sizes that they wanted. Mia and the others nodded like they knew, but it was an unusual idea for the Earthers – pre-cut food had the stigma of pre-packaged food, and therefore of lesser quality.

It was explained that the practice of scanning and exchanging food before the meal wasn’t normally done, so the tourists didn’t expect it, although the Elyrans’ scanners were discretely placed beside their plates in case they wanted to scan anything.

Talking during the meal was something that they expected, and the subject matter included a wide range of topics, as usual, although the discussions were less fact-finding than they were a getting-to-know-you kind of thing.

After the meal, they retired to the Main Hall’s library for more talk and after-dinner drinks. The Arachnians found a growing fondness for coffee – plain black, as usual - while the Dixx liked Earther desserts – the sweeter the better. The Elyrans loved Earth-style wines and champagnes even though they learned that they couldn’t hold their Earth alcohol as well as the Earthers. As for the Arachnians, they loved vegetable juices and drinks. Their all-time favorite Earther drink was the Bloody Mary.

So the Elyrans and Earthers enjoyed flutes of champagne and glasses of port, the Dixx with cups of fruit cocktail in syrup, and the Arachnians with tall Collins glasses of Bloody Marys with the prerequisite stick of celery.

The evening ended companionably when they realized that Tasha had actually fallen asleep. With Ren’s permission, Mia volunteered to carry her to their room. Ren’s and Tasha’s personal guards were scandalized that Ren agreed, but they could not go against His Highness’ wishes.

Ben let them into the suite assigned to the royals. As Mia walked through their door, their guards bowed and took positions by the door. Mia went to their bed and put the Princess down. Ren bent over and tenderly gave her a kiss. He took off her shoes and turned to Mia.

“So, I guess I will see you guys tomorrow, then?” Mia asked.

“Yes.”

“Ummm, well,” Mia said awkwardly, “good night then.”

Ren went to her and gave her a hug. Mia didn’t know how to react. But out of ingrained instinct, she hugged him back.

“Thank you Mia,” he said.

“Oh, it was nothing, Your Highness” she pshawed.

“No, it is not.” He sighed, and let go. “These past few weeks – they have been like a dream, like the culmination of all that we have worked for. We paid for this with the lives of our people and our friends. For their sake, this expedition must succeed. We cannot let their sacrifice be for nothing. And thanks to you, it has indeed succeeded.”

Mia looked down at the little Elyran.

“Never think that you are alone in this, Ren. I will do all I can. And I will be there for the two of you. Whatever happens.”

Ren started to cry. “I know that, Mia,” he whispered, and gave her a fierce hug. “I know.”

Mia had to bend down, but she didn’t feel too awkward doing that. As for Ren, he didn’t feel too awkward at all. Normally, he wouldn’t be hugging any random female, but he trusted the Lady Amelia, and he trusted in the depth of his connection to his bridge, Tasha. He wasn’t partner-less like Ben, and felt safe. That reminded him.

Ren hastily let go of Mia. “Ben?” he called. “Would you please show the Lady Amelia out. I, ummm, have to get Tasha ready for bed.”

Ben bowed. “Of course, My Lord.”

As they stepped out, Ben had a whispered talk with one of the guards, and walked Mia back down to the library.

“I told them that the Prince and Princess need some rest so they should not be bothered,” he explained to Mia.

“We missed you at dinner,” Mia said.

“I apologize, My Lady. It was just... I decided not to join. I am not feeling quite myself tonight.”

After a moment of silence, Mia stopped on the stairway and faced Ben. “I cannot pretend to understand what is going on, but I will do anything I can to help. Just tell me how.”

Ben sighed, and smiled sadly. “It is strange that Elyrans and Earthers are so alike. It is like we are the same. But there are differences. Tonight is a case in point.” He reached for her hand. “Thank you for the offer. I would ask for help if I need it. Believe that.”

Mia smiled at the Elyran. “All right.”

They continued to walked down the stairs. “So...”

Mia giggled a little. “So.”

“Did you notice?”

“Notice what?”

“The Prince called you by your name.”

“Ummm, he always does. I don’t...”

Ren shook his head impatiently. “No, no. What I meant was, he called you Mia. Not “Admiral’ or ‘Lady Amelia.’”

Mia looked at Ben. “I don’t...”

“Perhaps Earthers are more casual in how they address each other. Quite unusual in this day and age. Most races are not so casual. To be addressed with one’s proper title and name is only appropriate. None may presume to call another so casually as the Lady Tasha or Prince Ren did you just now, since this is a right reserved for family and close friends. On Elyra, indeed most everywhere, no one else may presume to. To do so is considered quite a substantial breach of etiquette in most Federation societies.”

“Oh...”

“The feelings of My Lord and Lady have changed towards you. Much in the same way as the First Ambassador’s have. You have buried yourself into their hearts. You are much more than a colleague to them now. More than a friendly, helpful alien. To use an Earther phrase, you have shown your true colors to them. You have shown where your heart lies, and where your loyalties lie. For most of us, doing that does not come easy. Who can you trust to show your true self to, after all? So it is not easy to divine the hearts and intentions of others. But with you, it seems that we can do that quite easily. If that kind of character is normal for Earthers, then thank the Messiah that our peoples have become friends.”

“You know, you remind me of the First Ambassador...”

Ben giggled. “Yes, I know what you mean. He does talk a lot.”

They were nearing the library.

“Then what are you trying to say?” Mia said.

Ben sighed. “The Arachnians have a tradition of adoption – that, for whatever reason, those that are worthy of the family or clan, or have an extraordinary need, are adopted. A whole ritual is devoted to it. Nothing too complicated – nothing as formal as the ceremony you went through with the Torch of Freedom. And I see you wear around your neck the First Ambassador’s family crest. The First Ambassador has bestowed upon you a great honor and has admitted you into their clan.”

“Ben...”

“As for us Elyrans, there is no such ritual or ceremony. Except, perhaps, through marriage.”

“Ben...”

“My Lady, the Prince called you Mia! He allowed you to carry the Princess to her bed!”

They had stopped right at the library’s door, and people looked at them curiously.

“Let’s take a walk,” Mia said. They stepped out through some sliding doors and onto a verandah that overlooked the beach, and further on, the Atlantic Ocean. A small walkway was connected to it that led down to the beach, but neither decided to go down.

“Ben...” Mia said.

“My Lady,” Ben said, “he allowed you to carry his love to bed. He called you ‘Mia.’ You are part of their inner circle now.”

“Ben...”

“You are family to them now, in all but name. It...” He hesitated.

“What’s wrong, my dear?”

“Oh, nothing. All I am saying is that it’s a good thing. And I am proud of you, if you will forgive my impertinence in saying so.”

“Oh, Ben,” she said in mock exasperation, leaned down and gave him a hug.

Ben stiffened in her embrace and started to tremble.

“Oh no!” She let him go. “I hope I didn’t do something wrong again?”

Ben took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. “No, My Lady. I am fine.”

“Well, all right.” She leaned on the railing. “I appreciate what you’re saying. I guess I didn’t get the nuances of what’s happening. I suppose my confusion is a cultural misunderstanding...”

“Perhaps. However similar we appear and seem to be, Elyrans and Earthers are not the same in certain ways.”

Mia nodded. “But you know,” she looked at him, and smiled. “I disagree. I think we are more alike than not.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you watch TV?”

“What?”

“Earth TV. Do you watch it?”

He giggled. “What? TV? Yes! It’s my most favorite thing!”

“I have a suggestion. Have you tried watching old television classics? Shows and movies from the twentieth century, I mean.”

“Well, I haven’t come across any. There are too many channels...”

Mia smiled. “Talk to Sahsha. I’m sure she can help you find the right ones.”

“I do not understand you Earthers,” Ben grumbled under his breath. “Sixteen thousand channels. And many of the programs are repeats or duplicates.”

Mia shrugged. “You’re not the first to say something like that.”

“Why are ‘television classics’ so special?”

“They were made over three hundred Earth years ago. The style of the shows is a little dated, but they have the virtue of being sensitive to many of the proprieties that we still hold to, and are able to show them with less… artifice, I guess, so it’s easier to understand. Watch some of them and you will realize that we are more alike than not.”

Ben bowed. “As My Lady commands.”

-----

The following morning, all parties were up early, eager to tour the islands some more, except for the Lady Tasha, so Ben decided to remain behind to help her through what the Elyrans coyly called the “morning ailment,” leaving only Ren to join them.

After Ren tried explaining what it was in a very long, evasive, vague and roundabout way, Nick went, “Ah! A hangover!” And all the humans in earshot laughed. Nick blushed in embarrassment.

With a questioning look, Ren asked why that was funny, and Mia, still giggling, waved it away, saying it wasn’t important, and she would explain later.

Before starting the day, Ren handed Mia a note from Tasha. She broke the wax seal and unfolded the note.

“Dearest Mia,” the letter began, “I apologize for last night. I suppose I felt more tired than I realized. I believe that it was your fault, that you did not warn me sufficiently about the potency of your Earther ‘champagne.’”

The word “champagne” was followed by what looked like a squiggly equal sign, except that it used tildes in place of dashes. Mia asked Ren what that symbol meant; apparently it was the equivalent of an LOL emoji. Mia chuckled and read on.

“My Ren and I thank you for your discretion. We were not wrong when we decided. You are a soul that we can trust. Ben thinks so as well, Amelia eem zheh t’aime. I will see you and Ren later – with much love, Tasha li zheh t’aime.”

Mia didn’t want to expose her ignorance, but the phrase “li zheh t’aime” seemed to be a variant of “eem zheh t’aime,” which, she knew meant “my beloved.” An educated guess told her it probably meant “your beloved,” but she’d have to leave finding out later if she was correct or not.

She looked up to Ren, and his expectant and happy face telegraphed to her his feelings, and she enfolded him in a hug. “Thank God for the two of you, Ren,” she whispered into his ear, and let go.

Ren let her go, and after Mia straightened up, Ren reached for her hand and kissed her palm. Ren’s smiling eyes were bright with unshed tears.

The cues were different, Mia acknowledged, but she couldn’t be wrong with the sentiment.

“Let’s go, my dear,” Mia said. “Time to show you your new place.” She crooked her arm and waited.

Ren had seen this in some of the Earther TV programs he’d seen, and put his arm through it, and they walked out into the morning sunshine.

-----

People from the Army Engineering Corps accompanied them and discussed some construction ideas while they waited for the submersible. The federation envoys talked about their preferences for living quarters, and the engineers dutifully took down notes.

After a bit, a couple of large “sea skimmers” – flying saucer-shaped submarines designed for shallow underwater operation – rose from underneath the water. They were used a lot in underwater colonies and farms, like the ones they used when they visited the Aleutians. The visitors all climbed aboard and the skimmers sank into the sea.

The panoramic windows allowed them to see the islands from under the sea. The shallow rock and coral formations were ideal for building underwater living quarters for the aquatic members of the Federation, Mia noted. The engineers tried to get some ideas but the aliens weren’t being too cooperative since they were too busy oooh-ing and ahhh-ing. The Seabees were frustrated because the aliens focused more on the sea flora and fauna rather than on what they were saying. But it was fun for the visitors, especially how Mia and Nick made the tour more than just about construction.

It ended all too quickly for everyone, and their Federation guests were acting a little melancholy. That was understandable - it was the last day of their month-long global tour of Planet Earth.

The Sciollians wanted to arrange another dinner but made do with a simple afternoon meal served out on the beach. And after a quick exchange of gifts and short speeches, they took a launch to their planes, and made the quick trip back to Kennedy Spaceport in New York. They arrived late evening.

Instead of disembarking and checking into a hotel, everyone decided to stay onboard their planes, and the people from Kennedy shut down the landing strip they were on and rerouted all the planes around them, letting the two large Airbus shuttles stay on the landing strip overnight.

-----

Yet another round of speeches had to be made, and everyone dutifully did what was expected of them. They then had a series of closed-door meetings to plan out the Harbinger Programme, breaking it down around the important parts of the plan. There were several things that the “Earthers” proposed that did not go down well with the Federation people but they knew that there really was no choice but to accede to their suggestions.

So, after completion of the thorough month-long repair, refuel and refit of the five remaining Federation cruisers, courtesy of the people from the New Copernicus shipyards, all of the Federation ships were one hundred percent ship-shape, and everyone was raring to go.

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About the author

Bobbi-C

  • Washington DC
  • Mistress of Confusion

Bio: Bobbi Cabot is a transgender girl in her thirties (35 y.o. as of 2016), who transitioned in 2005. She is known as "Roberta J. Cabot," "Bobbie-C," "Bobbie," "Bobbi" and "Bobbi-C" in the sites where she posts her stories.

Though not a professional writer, Bobbi is under the delusion that she writes passably well and indulges this delusion by sometimes posting stories, which is, thankfully, very seldom.

Bobbi's day job (the phrase "day job" is hereby stressed) involves being the big cheese of the overseas BPO practice of a Top 100 computer technology corporation.

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