Chapter 9: An Evening's Entertainment
Salimar calls us back. She's finished her work in Requembel and has
decided to join us. Oh, goody; another workout for the projective
teleport. Won't the port authorities be thrilled. We give her our
co-ordinates. She warns the spaceport, calls Edvard, and -- |
Robbie calls Edvard to retract the unit, and tell the spaceport we're done. "Yes, sir."
Oreezanik goes on with its explanation. It seems that the beta-test families became heavily damaged (we assume in rioting) after receiving their new segments with the psionic ganglia. Many of the gangliar segments died and were destroyed. Robbie asks for a family that was particularly involved, and is given the Ppritlin family as an example of recipients of the shape-maintaining ganglia. They fought principally with the Exmonik family, whom they felt were being unreasonable in their accusations of egg-rustling.
Oh. Apparently, stealing the eggs of other families does happen. It is more than a prank, but we're not clear that it constitutes an actual crime. Anyhow, the Ppritlin say they didn't do it.
The Trisknisk family got luck segments, and they contented, with notable roughness, with the Vizziple family.
Salimar bores in on a more specific topic. She wants to know what the psionic signature of the ganglia is (or are). Oreezanik calls over its apprentice, another Hroon, named Sorensessek, who actually has the segments installed.
"May I telepathically examine your experimental segments?" she asks politely.
"Yes, you may. It's the lower arms."
She scans its various segments, learning their different signatures, and concentrates especially on those in the special ganglia segments. She then compares that to the normal version in Oreezanik's lower arms. She is now confident that she can spot them in anyone now.
We ask about what happens to segments that have to be destroyed. "Well, they just go to the knackers, of course," is the bland reply. What exactly do the knackers do with the segments? "Our segments contain a great deal of metal and organo-metallic compounds, so those portions are recycled. The light organics are mulched." The ganglia are light organics.
We will have to talk to the Ppritlin family's knacker, so we get their address and call them on a videophone that looks somewhat like a fire extinguisher with concave sides. We introduce ourselves when the call is answered, and explain that we are calling for Oreezanik.
"About the lousy units?"
"Yes, we're following up on them. May we-?"
"Yes, but we're not your usual Terries." Salimar shimmers in front of the pickup. "May we come and talk with you?"
"Oh, sure." We get their address and head out. Kritnikren leads, and we follow in the saucer. Kritnikren is bumped only a few times on the trip, and Gannar manages to avoid almost all contact with other... things.
The Ppritlin family house/garage is smaller than the last shop we were at, because these people are Quass, not truck-sized Hroon. There are open doorways, but not many with doors in them. "Greetings, sentients," calls Robbie to announce our arrival.
A Quass rolls up. "You're the Terries who were coming?"
"Yes." We're led into a chamber with some pieces of furniture and another Quass. We make a few perfunctory introductions, and start in. In response to our first question about the regenerative segments, the first Quass is firm and absolute: "They didn't work."
The second one interrupts and contradicts it. "They did work, and they even worked well. It just wasn't enough." We expect more brangling, but the disagreement ends there, and we continue with our information gathering. Their knacker is Kroshy the Plick.
We learn that bad eggs are discarded without calling the knacker; sick or damaged segment larvae are taken to the doctor/vet/mechanic. Each family grows all the traditional segments of its clan; for specialty segments, one goes to a shop and gets a nymphal-stage segment. These are the easiest to integrate into a person. The experimental segments were painted in Oreezanik's shop's colors: yellow with black stripes. How handy.
We ask if there were any side effects present with the regeneration segments installed. They only noticed that they were very fast healing with the modules in place. Kate makes up some possible (or impossible) side effects -- nausea, dizziness, itching, rust, shortness of exhaust -- and inadvertently alarms the Quass, who turn out to be hypochondriacs. At least there are no side effects. We thank them and take our leave.
Once outside, we call Kroshy the Plick at work, but get no answer. We aren't surprised; it's now quite late. We decide to call it a day, and ask Kritnikren about places to stay and places to eat. Our guide looks a bit blank. We suggest that we could sleep in our flying saucer at a campground. He is happy to tell us where one is located. As for food, it offers us dinner at its place. The food here hasn't killed us yet, so we accept its kind offer.
Our food is synthesized, which we expected. It is synthesized by someone with no acquaintence with "Terries." The result is a gruel of textured vegetable protein. Kate is quite happy with it; it has the meatiest taste of any gruel she's ever had, and is absolutely lump-free. The others have no enthusiasm for the meal, but it is nourishing, and it does fill us up.
Kritnikren gives us directions to our parking place, and asks to learn the results of our investigations. We agree to tell it and Oreezanik what we find out, and head off. Gannar leads us directly to our open area, and we park. Salimar sets wards around our perimeter, and we settle in for a quiet night.
Robbie doesn't settle; he has ambitions. He goes outside, and tries to shapeshift into a Plick. He develops wheels and an extra elbow joint, but nothing more. He shifts back, and tries again. The second try is more successful, and he is now a Plick in a black and silver paint job. It's hours and hours until morning, so he pings Salimar and asks her to lift the wards for him, so he can go out and explore. She's peeved by his interruption, but she does it.
"Hi," says the Veem in the bar. "Nice paint job."
Robbie has not bothered to change from his black and silver to the standard red and yellow. He nods and watches the bar scene. A Hrev is passing out drinks, and people seem to be paying by EFT. They also seem to be gambling, or doing something even odder with sticks tossed on the floor. There is gossip being shouted around, about the big game, about a glider-creature that flew out of an empty sky, about egg rustling.
Music of a sort starts up; it's essentially steel drums. People start dancing, with pairs and sets of four wheeling around in dizzying patterns. This continues for nearly half an hour before the fighting starts, or perhaps it is merely the continuation of a (crunch) contest. With a few practiced gestures, the band packs up and leaves.
Robbie intercepts them at the door. "Greetings, sentient. I really liked your music. Will you be playing again?"
The bandleader looks around at the brawl with a practiced eye. "Not for a while."
As a substitute, Robbie gets a download from their website, and directions to another place where music might be playing, Nunkfunak's. He arrives there to find The Fight is already in progress. He tries a few other places, to find that music has been supplanted by combat in all of them, so he returns to our campsite.
He wakes Salimar up again, to let him inside the wards. This makes about the fifth time she has been disturbed; there were also three collisions with the wards from curious passersby. She lets him anyhow, and he practices wheelies in the parking lot until dawn.
We awaken, and Salimar turns off the wards. We're hungry. We want terrestrial food. We call Edvard, and order our breakfast, some boxed lunches, and a map of Tlinek. We can do this.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.