346 JR / 2225 CE
Year of Hr'Gen 2152 (octal; 1130 decimal)
House-of-Chiefs, North Hills Tribe, North Continent High Tribe
Eyan, Eyani Nation (Jeffersonian Republic Protectorate)
“If we’re going to do this, we should do it now.”
“Yes, Ha’Nah, there is no sense in waiting. But who do we send?”
They were at the North Hills Tribe’s House-of-Chiefs, which was probably the largest native-built structure on the planet. In a small, private room to one side of the Chief’s Couch, Dr. Hannah Ehrling, formerly a Commander with the Space Patrol Medical Corps, sat on the smooth, hide-covered log bench that Eyani used for couches, beds, and chairs. On another bench across from her reclined Gr’Tho, son of High Chief Gr’Chut, and Vice-Chief of the North Hills Tribe, which led the North Continent High Tribe, which, following the Liberation of Eyan from the Terran Empire by that same High Tribe (assisted by Republic Marines), effectively ruled the planet.
The topic of discussion was what to do with Eyan and the Eyani. The consensus in the Republic - the only nation whose word carried any weight, after the Republic-Empire War - was to let them loose to pursue their own destiny as best they could in the aftermath of Imperial occupation, slavery, and atrocity. Unfortunately there was a lot of argument as to how. The question had gone back and forth through Senate and House of Representatives, round the Pentamvirate, back to the House and Senate again, until someone had the bright idea to at least allow the Eyani to send an ambassador to the Republic so they could be included in the conversation. Now Ehrling, Founder and Chairwoman of the Foundation for Eyani Independence, had to help the de facto crown prince of the planet pick that ambassador.
She wasn’t sure he’d like her suggestion.
The conversation continued, shifting randomly between Jeffersonian English and the North Hills Tribe dialect of Eyani, as each practiced the other’s language then abandoned it for their own in moments of need for clarity. “My people dislike leaders who are not chosen by the led,” Ehrling reiterated. “Still, a member of your family is the logical choice.”
“There is not much of my family left,” answered Gr’Tho. “Father is needed here, and there are no others of age, except....” His voice trailed off.
“Except you, friend Gr’Tho.”
The Eyani turned his head toward the Human female and stared - then he closed his mouth and furrowed his brow in a remarkably human expression of thought. “Of course you are right, friend Ha’Nah.”
Gr’Tho nibbled on a roast kaka leg and considered. He knew how the two-legs of the Republic High Tribe felt about hereditary leaders - and, even being one himself, he had to admit they had a point. The Empire was led that way, he thought. And I saw how their ‘governor’ of my world groomed his son as an heir, the same way father taught me - and yet not the same.
“Friend Ha’Nah, would your people accept me, feeling as they do about my place and how I came to be in it?” he asked.
“They will carry that thought in their minds, of course,” Ehrling replied, “but they know that you are our friend, that you fought beside us against the Empire. For now, that counts for more than your customs of leadership.”
Gr’Tho could only be satisfied with that. “How long will it take to make plans for me to visit your Chiefs, then? What must be done, that they will accept me as the rightful ambassador of my people?”
Ehrling smiled. “Most has already been done. Gr’Chut has been recognized as Highest Chief by all the other Tribes; all that is needed is for him to declare you his official ambassador, and the Pentamvirate will accept you as such.” She produced a piece of shorra hide from her jacket. “I visited him earlier today.”
“Things move so quickly?” Gr’Tho asked, used to the plodding formality of Eyani custom.
Ehrling smiled again. “My people respect speed of thought and of action,” she said. “We are an impatient race, in many ways.” Gr’Tho thought about that; about the frustration of Ehrling and her assistants as they struggled to convince, first his father Gr’Chut of the need for recognized Eyani independence, then lesser Chiefs of the need to support Gr’Chut. He also thought of an earlier incident: the orak-like stillness of a Ranger, of three hands of Rangers, as they waited for Imperial soldiers to walk into their weapons, then their equally orak-like ferocity when the perfect moment came to strike.
There are many sides to Ha’Nah’s people, he realized fully for the first time. More sides than the Empire to their minds - but fewer to their tongues.
Ehrling spoke again. “Eyan is the center of much attention, even more than during the War. Yours are the first people we have ever met that are not our own kind; my people wish to know all they can about yours, to better know ourselves and to prepare for meeting other kinds of people on worlds yet unknown to us. This makes your independence more important - and more likely - than ever. -It also means there’s a ship leaving Eyan Station for Monticello nearly every day. This document-” she passed the parchment to Gr’Tho- “is all my people need of you, besides yourself. You can depart at any time.” Gr’Tho glanced over the parchment, written both in the Eyani script which had flowed comfortably through his mind since cubhood and the alien En’Glish, with which he still struggled.
‘You can depart at any time.’ He thought about that. His son - his only surviving child - was safe enough with Gr’Chut; he had not taken another mate since Ta’Nek had died in battle beside him; his father’s traditional tribal vassals could see to the shattered remains of his household and his few surviving possessions. He asked, “Would you come with me, friend Ha’Nah, the better to plead my case? -And to keep me from making a thamma’s rump of myself?”
Ehrling laughed in the way of her people, which most Eyani interpreted as a battle challenge. Gr’Tho knew better, but still found the display disturbing, as did the House Guards, who could be heard shifting nervously outside despite their education. “You’re not that bad,” she said as her laughter died down. “No, I must stay here; Gr’Chut asks my counsel more even than you. But a message can travel between here and Monticello in no more than half of one of your days, and I have already sent and received such messages, arranging an assistant for you – Tr’Huf, of a Plains tribe, who has lived on Monticello with her parents since the end of the War. She knows the ways of my people, and can explain them in ways familiar to your mind.”
Gr’Tho nodded, appreciating Ehrling’s efforts and the logic behind them. “How long will the voyage take?”
Ehrling frowned. “That’s the bad news - a typical passenger ship would take nearly half a year, yours or mine. Even a military ship like our new frigates would take two thirds as long, and it’ll be hard to get you - or anyone not a crewmember - onto one of those. Half a year is probably what it will take, but at least you’ll be able to communicate with Eyan and Monticello in the meantime.”
Gr’Tho sat, chewing, thinking. There was little to hold him to Eyan at present; his son, Gr’Cre, was probably better off with Gr’Chut and that household, at least for a time - and besides, fostering was an ancient Eyani tradition. “It would be helpful,” he said, “if an assistant could be found to accompany me on the voyage; someone familiar with your ways, like this Tr’Huf. It would be more helpful if such a one could go on with me to Monticello and join Tr’Huf in assisting me there. Your ways - even your words - are still new to me, after all.”
Ehrling cupped her chin in her hand as she lay on the couch. “I have just the Eyani in mind. He’s on Eyan Station now; I can get him down here-”
“No,” said Gr’Tho, suddenly deciding, and the tone of command was in his voice. Ehrling, a former military officer, felt the old familiar grip of discipline - in his people’s way, Gr’Tho was a military officer too, and outranked her. Aiming deliberately, Gr’Tho fired questions. “The voyage will take half a year?”
Ehrling said, “Yes.”
“This assistant you are thinking of, he is in the Sky-House now?”
“I must meet the ship that will take me to Monticello at this Sky-House?”
“Yes.” Inwardly Ehrling smiled; this was the Gr’Tho she knew, the warrior, the explorer, the one who instinctively rose to a challenge no matter how strange or unexpected. She answered his questions, and so helped him form his plan of battle.
“Then there is no sense in wasting more time,” Gr’Tho stated. “Friend Ha’Nah, if you would make arrangements?” The tone of command was subdued, now - never absent, of course, but no longer dominant. Gr’Tho was somewhat embarrassed to have spoken so to his friend, but saw in her eyes - Their eyes, he thought; the two-legs’ eyes are so much like our own - that she was not offended. She nodded.
“I’ll have him meet you at the Station. Shuttles leave Equator Island for there four or five times a day; I can fly you to the spaceport myself and brief you before your shuttle flight.”
“Then I would like to leave after breakfast tomorrow.”
Ha’Cre Memorial Spaceport, Equator Island
“Welcome aboard Confederate Passenger Lines Flight 904. We will be departing for Eyan Station in approximately ten minutes, and docking at about fifteen hundred hours local and station time. Our flight attendants will be happy to assist you in any way. Please make safe all projectile and energy weapons before liftoff. Thank you for choosing Confederate Passenger Lines, and have a pleasant flight!”
Gr’Tho, still learning the two-legs’ language, nonetheless got the gist of the message, and unloaded his two war-trophy Imperial pistols, inserting the little plastic chamber plug/flags as his Human friend had taught him. That was no challenge; like these Republic two-legs, his people learned early how to handle weapons. What gave pause to the heir to the North Hills Tribe’s chieftaincy was the acceleration couches. They were almost the right size - a little long, perhaps a little too narrow - but completely the wrong shape.
Before he could begin struggling with one, however, he turned to the sound of a two-legs calling his name. “Ambassador Gr’Tho?”
As politely as his throat could manage for alien ears, he growl-grunted in response, “Yes?” He examined the two-legs; it was a female, much smaller than average, a slightly different color, with subtle differences in the face, especially the eyes. The two-legs have Tribes as we do, Gr’Tho thought, though they mate between them more frequently. Friend Ha’Nah said that it improves the race by combining the different qualities, making offspring that are stronger and more versatile, and also brings the whole race closer together by proving that one Tribe is not so different from another.
Gr’Tho remembered how the other High Tribe of two-legs - the Empire - had turned one Eyani Tribe against another, how easy it was for them to divide his people and then to conquer them.
He also thought of his mother, from the Green Sea Tribe. I was always a better swimmer than the other cubs in my village, and could still climb as well as any.
These Republic two-legs can teach us about more than tools and weapons.
The two-legs female spoke again. “I am Lin Chu, one of the flight attendants. We were told that an Eyani would be on board, and we have prepared a couch for you. Right this way, please!” She flashed her teeth and for a moment Gr’Tho tensed; then he remembered that the two-legs - Humans, Vice-Chief, Humans, he reminded himself - called that expression, with the teeth exposed and the corners of the mouth turned up toward the eyes, a smile, a sign of friendship, pleasure, amusement, or other non-threatening emotions.
Gr’Tho followed the Human female around the central shaft that contained the passenger and cargo lifts and various control equipment. About a third of the way around the circular deck from the lift doors, two of the Human-style acceleration couches had been removed and replaced with a larger unit, configured for the belly-down, six-limbs-hanging style in which most Eyani reclined. It was just the right size, shape and height for the average Eyani male. Lin Chu asked, “Do you require assistance with your harness, Ambassador?”
Again Gr’Tho paused; an Eyani’s Harness, constructed from strips and flaps of leather (traditionally the hide of the fierce, predatory orak, hunted and killed by the cub in his adulthood ceremony), was a badge of rank, and equally important, a way to carry weapons and equipment. Though covered in fur, an adult Eyani felt as naked without his or her Harness as a Human did without clothes.
Then Ha’Nah’s teachings came to him again; in the Human language, the word for “harness” did not have so special a meaning. He realized the flight attendant was referring to the restraint system that would keep Gr’Tho and the other passengers from being dashed against bulkheads when the shuttle lifted, or drifting around the cabin in weightlessness while it traveled to the new star in Eyan’s sky, the House-That-Flies - space station, he corrected himself - the Humans had built.
Gr’Tho raked his eyes over the couch and its restraints, sizing it up as he would an enemy, or an animal to be hunted. “Let me try,” he said to the Human. He lay down on the couch and found he could easily reach the straps and buckles, pull them across his body with his arms and mid-limbs, fasten and adjust them. He tested their strength; he might be able to break them, but would probably injure himself in the process. He pressed the release button and the restraints slithered off him, retracting into the underside of the couch where he had found them.
He noted that the restraints worked with simple levers and springs, not entirely different from a crossbow, instead of using the Lightning Slave. Wise people, these Republic Humans. He glanced at the other passengers and saw that, like him, many of them carried knives and such instead of, or in addition to, the Volcano Slave machines like his pistols. They trust themselves more than their magic. He thanked the Human female and pulled the restraints around him again. She smiled again and moved away to help a Human youth with his restraints.
Gr’Tho found that his couch also contained a viewscreen, using the same standardized controls as other Human units he was familiar with. He found he could access external views of and from the shuttle, and a variety of news and entertainment channels. Sound came from a flexible contraption with soft bulbs on the ends. Glancing at the other passengers he saw many with similar devices over their heads, the bulbs fitted into their ears; Gr’Tho correctly reasoned that this was so as not to disturb other passengers with the sound from one’s own programs. He found the hearing device to be correctly shaped and proportioned for his head, and found volume controls in the touch-sensitive screen.
He paused again, considering, then thought, Of course. I can’t be the first Eyani to have traveled in a Human ship, and the Humans of the Republic High Tribe have many times proven their thoroughness. They take pride in the things they build, as we do.
Though I must say they have more to be proud of than we, so far.
Hence Gr’Tho’s mission; as Vice-Chief of both the North Hills Tribe and the North Continent High Tribe, son of the Highest Chief and second most powerful of all his people, he would represent his world in dealing with the Republic, seeking to strike a delicate balance between the advances the Humans could share with his people and the upheavals those advances would cause in Eyani society.
Now that the Empire was destroyed and his people were no longer slaves, his father had pressed (at Ha’Nah’s insistence) for recognition of Eyan as an independent world. Gr’Tho was that world’s first official Ambassador. He hoped to make his father, Gr’Chut, proud - and that got him thinking again. Our history has been written for more than two eights of lifetimes, and in all that history, males have led our people and females have served. But father has told me of his old friend, High-Chief-of-Ships Fu’Ent’Es.
Fu’Ent’Es was not always a Higher Chief. When father first met him, he was Chief of a single ship, only recently risen from Vice-Chief when his own Chief had been terribly wounded in battle.
The wounded Chief Fu’Ent’Es had so recently replaced had been a female. So also was his own new Vice-Chief. Gr’Tho looked around the shuttle cabin and saw that half the servants - flight attendants - were, in fact, male. The voice he had heard when boarding, the voice of the Chief-of-Shuttle - Pilot, or Captain - was also female. I must remember that in the Republic High Tribe, males and females are equal, and have been so for more than four lifetimes - longer even than their High Tribe has existed.
Gr’Tho also remembered the females of his own race, not least his own mate, who had taken up weapons and fought at his side against the Empire, and the females of the Republic who fought beside and often led male Human warriors, and friend Ha’Nah, Healer-Chief-of-Healers.
Equality is a dangerous concept. Those of the lesser Tribes will resist it - there may be war among Eyani again. And if equality is given too soon, too quickly, too widely, the very fabric of the Tribes may unravel.
Ha’Nah said that her own people faced the same problems, but in time overcame them. It may - it almost certainly will - take far more than an Eyani lifetime, but I can see that equality will come.
So many challenges! Peace can be as hard as war. But these Humans faced their challenges, and we Eyani can do no less, if we would have them treat us as equals.
The female Human pilot’s voice came on again. “Liftoff in thirty seconds. Please secure all loose objects and fasten your couch restraints.” Gr’Tho listened as the shuttle growled and gurgled and clanged and hissed like a great sea beast from his mother’s legends. He double-checked his restraints and split his viewscreen to show four different views of the launch.
The engines ignited. Gr’Tho had visited the spaceport before, and knew that what he felt as a minor vibration and a growing sensation of weight was, outside, a mighty roar and a startling acceleration. He watched his screen; in one corner the spaceport grew small, while in another the shuttle did the same, balanced on a blue-white torch.
For some eights of breaths the sensations continued; the rumble of the engines, the increased weight. In the viewscreen his world shrank, became curved, became a ball sparkling blue and white and green. He knew he was not leaving forever, but still the sight, and the thought of what it meant, touched him deeply.
He wondered if the Humans felt the same way about their worlds. It must be different for them, he thought. They have so many worlds, and they travel between them as we do between villages.
He looked at the other passengers. Naturally, a few were looking at him, since he was the only Eyani on board and still a novel sight; but the eyes of many were fixed on their own viewscreens, set to the same channel as his, watching the planet Eyan spinning beneath them.
Humans and Eyani are not so different, Gr’Tho realized. We both grew from similar worlds, and from the sky they must be equally beautiful.
The rumble of the engines stopped and the sensation of weight left - completely. Prepared, less by Ha’Nah than by his own skill as a swimmer, he did not feel discomfort, though he heard retching from the opposite side of the cabin as one of the less-adaptable Human passengers used his spacesickness bag. “You may now move about the cabin.” As passengers loosened their restraints and tumbled about for various reasons, Gr’Tho was content to remain in his couch - he would have other opportunities to cavort in weightlessness, and found the sensation not very different from swimming.
He used his viewscreen to watch his world, and to gather tidbits of information about how Humans lived and how their machines worked. The viewscreen showed him Drawings-That-Move, that illustrated what he should do in the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency; while most of the procedures were designed with Humans in mind, the ambassador was gratified to find additions specific to his own people, using the Eyani written and spoken languages.
Other moving pictures showed and told him how the shuttle worked. He got the impression that these lessons were designed for Human children, but did not let that offend him. Where the Lightning Slave, the Volcano Slave, and other Human things were concerned, he was a child.
Ha’Nah said that many eight-cubed lifetimes ago, Humans lived as we do now, as we did before the Empire came - and that all the marvels I see were built by Humans, each being invented and discovered over lifetimes, building on and combining with those that had gone before.
If they can do it with only their two hands, surely we can do it with our four.
Several more eights-of-eights of breaths passed as the shuttle traveled through space. Gr’Tho persuaded the viewscreen to show him the shuttle’s path, and found himself receiving a lesson in elementary orbital mechanics. He was not displeased; his grandfather of honored memory had written that all knowledge is good, and his friend Ha’Nah had likewise taught him that knowledge is power. He did not understand all of what he saw, but knew that he - and more importantly, his people - could, in time.
He fiddled with the viewscreen controls again, and a larger speck of brighter light appeared against the stars, slowly growing to become a giant, slowly spinning wheel. The pilot’s voice came through the cabin again: “We are now beginning our approach to Eyan Station. Please secure all loose objects, return to your couches, and fasten your restraints.”
Frolicking, tumbling children - and a few adults - swam and pulled their way back to their couches and strapped in, while experienced flight attendants gracefully flew through the air, collecting floating toys, pens, and other personal items and returning them to their owners. Shortly thereafter the shuttle began to lurch as the maneuvering thrusters fired, correcting its course and aligning the vessel for docking.
Gr’Tho watched the hub of the giant wheel approach in his screen; it did not spin as the rest of the wheel did. The children’s lessons told him why. The spinning wheel gave weight to the people inside, keeping them from floating around, like a stone in the slings used by the Plains Tribes, while the hub remained still, making an easy target for ships to mate with. Six arms branched from each end of the axle, which protruded from the hub on either side of the wheel, and as the shuttle grew nearer Gr’Tho could see ships docked there.
Between the Thinking Machines that Humans called computers, and the skill of the pilot, there were few course corrections. Soon the docking port loomed huge in the screen, and with a clang and a jolt, Gr’Tho’s first short spaceflight was done.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Eyan Station. We hope you had a pleasant flight, and we thank you for choosing Confederate Passenger Lines.” The flight attendants helped the passengers release their restraints and leave their couches, and guided them into the central shaft, whose lift cars had retracted, leaving clean, padded, well-lit tubes for the passengers to float or pull themselves through. Gr’Tho joined the others and entered the station.
Synchronous Orbit, Eyan
“Welcome to Eyan Station. Built by SpaceHab Corporation in 342 JR from prefabricated components, the station’s rotating wheel section is 250 meters in diameter, and the stationary central axle is 320 meters long. There are six docking pylons at each end of the axle, and a seventh docking port in each axle tip, allowing up to fourteen ships to dock at any time. Additional docking ports along the axle can accommodate up to twelve shuttles. Currently Eyan Station has a capacity of three thousand persons, with plans to double this capacity in the next two years by extending the axle and adding a second wheel section.”
Standing at the information kiosk, Gr’Tho pressed another button and received more current information.
Ships currently docked are:
Ships scheduled to arrive are: