Offspring Ch. 032byTalemaster©
I was in the office before 8 AM. Talla was already there. When she brought me my coffee I told her she was to live at the hotel for the next few days and that I had arranged a room for her. She was to take her meals with the rest of the group from now on. I asked her to give the liaison officer a ring and tell her what she wanted in the way of food so they could get it ready. I sent her off to make the arrangements.
At 8.20 Trevor and his men reported for duty. Trevor introduced me to to his group. I could tell they were no greenhorns. Battle hardened, every one of them.
"Sergeant Conners," I said, "there's been a slight change in plans. Talla has asked to join the expedition. She is Oktonian, as you know. I told her if she passes your course she is welcome to come with us. She perceives differently to us and might need some extra explaining what she is to do at times. Is that going to be a problem?"
"My boys and I have trained extra terrestrial races before, Sir. If she is willing to learn we can teach her, even if it takes a little longer to make her understand. We'll look after her."
By 9 AM all were assembled. I asked them to sit down and called Sergeant Conners to my side before addressing the group.
"As of now," I said, "you are soldiers. Sergeant Conners will be in charge of you until we leave. He and his men will teach you what you need to know to survive in a hostile environment. His word is law! He commands, you do! It will not be easy. At times you will curse me and the Sergeant for putting you through this. But, while you are cursing us, remember that your life may very well depend on how much you have been able to learn on this course. So pay attention and follow orders. That's all.''
"Sergeant Connors, they're all yours. Dismissed."
Trevor gathered his troops and left.
I was sitting at my desk making a list of things I wanted done once we were on Olympus when Feng turned up with an Oktonian in tow. He introduced her as Niphie.
"I am Frank Walters," I said.
"Niphie knows," she said. "Niphie is here to do Talla's work. Niphie will go and make coffee for Frank and Feng now."
"That would be lovely, Darling."
She toddled off and started to make coffee without asking where anything was, as if she had worked here all her life.
"How does she do that Feng? She knows where everything is without being shown."
"They are all like that. They must work to some set pattern. Only explanation I've ever come up with."
I wasn't at all convinced that this was the explanation, but it would keep. I would look into that one later. Niphie brought the coffees in, white, two sugars as I always have it, black one sugar for Feng. Fuck set patterns, there was something else at work here.
Niphie left us and went to her reception desk.
"We are having Peking Duck at one o'clock."
"Yes. Remember Dr. Chang? Today is the day."
I had forgotten about Dr. Chang in all the excitement. It would be interesting to hear what he had to say about the Oktonians.
I asked Feng to give me a yell when it was time to go and went back to my lists.
Dr. Chang was a frail old man with sparse hair and gold rimmed spectacles. I was surprised to find standard cutlery on the table instead of the usual chopsticks until I noticed that the old scholar's hands were not as steady as they ought to be. The host had given us all the same implements so the old man wouldn't lose face. It was a lovely touch.
Over lunch Dr. Chang spoke about his time on Okton4.
"When I look back over the last fifty years," he said, "it amazes me how little has changed here in all this time. Apart from a few exceptional people like the Tai-pan this is a rather staid, stratified, one could almost say fossilised, society, where drab everyday life and homosexual encounters are the norm, with little left over for other pursuits.
"One would think the spacers would bring a bit of life and adventure into the place, but that is a fallacy. It is true, they get to visit many different worlds. It is also true they rarely get to see more than the spaceports. For the bulk of the time they are locked up in a ship doing everyday mundane things highlighted by homosexual encounters.
"But then, what kind of society would you expect on a concrete island devoid of women, children, trees, animals, rivers and hills."
Not a bad summary of life in the spaceport I had to admit.
"What about the natives, Sir?" I asked. "How do you see them?"
"The natives are the truly sad part of this place. I can only speak about the Oktonians one meets here in the spaceport because that is all we ever see. These people have obviously been trained to serve us. They perform their duties, however mundane, diligently and well. They never complain or refuse to do a task that is asked of them. And yet, our world must be truly alien to a people such as this. Surely, little of what they meet here would be natural or familiar to them. No wonder they retreat into their daydreams at every chance they get. But then, they may not be sentient beings in the way we understand sentience."
"I am not with you, Sir. Could you please elaborate."
"Has it occurred to you that the creatures we know as Oktonians might be some form of biological robot. It would explain such things as their limited understanding, their loyalty, the lack of complaints and so forth. What we perceive as their daydreaming might well be the robot switching to stand by mode in order to conserve energy."
"It has crossed my mind, Sir, but I know this not to be the case."
I told Dr. Chang of my observations about their language and my subsequent conversation with Talla on the subject. I mentioned that Talla had volunteered to take part in an expedition to an as yet unexplored world and that she was currently undergoing training.
"I believe we are dealing with a highly intelligent race who perceive reality in a different way to us," I concluded. "This leads to difficulties in communication and our mistaken assumptions about each other."
The old man was getting visibly upset by what I was telling him. He had tears in his eyes when he said: "If Talla is representative of her people in general, their lot on this miserable heap of concrete is a tragedy beyond understanding."
"That's what I think, Sir. That's why I intend to do something about it."
"A noble intention, Mister Walters, but what can you do?"
"At this moment Talla is training with my crew. My instructions are to treat her in every respect as an equal. Fortunately Sergeant Conners and the men who are training my crew have trained and fought side by side with extra terrestrials before and wouldn't have it any other way. Talla will live and eat with the others in the same hotel. Initially the hotel management balked at this, but the Tai-pan overruled their objections and they have come to heel. When my people are ready we will depart to explore a new world. It is my hope that these shared experiences as equals will lead to a breakthrough in communication between the races. I intend to build on this."
"Perhaps there is hope for this place after all. Something has to change. No one knows this better than this old man. I wish you every success."
"Everything going right we will depart in about eight days from today. Before we leave we will all have a meal together at the hotel I would consider it an honour if you would grace us with your presence."
"The honour is mine, my boy. I will be there."
"I think we've just found ourselves an ally," said Feng when we got back to the office. "It's good to have the old man on side, he is revered throughout the Chinese community. Even the big bosses listen to what he has to say."
Nothing much happened over the next three days. Trevor and his group were causing a bit of a stir in the dining room at first when they had their meals there in their battle dress. He had Talla's fatigues altered to accommodate her wings and had placed her on the head of the table on a special backless chair to give her room to move. The management complained to the Tai-pan, but quickly changed their tune when they saw the dining room filled to capacity every evening.
Word had gotten around of our expedition and that there was an Oktonian in the group. People who had never been in the hotel before came to eat there just to see this weird group everyone was talking about.
At the end of the third day, just before dinner, Trevor came to see me in my office and put two sets of fatigues and two red berets on my desk. He pointed out the colourful patches sewn to each sleeve just below the shoulder that showed an erupting volcano encircled by the words 'Operation Olympus'.
"I would like if you and Feng would wear these from now on when we are together. I's been my experience that nothing forms a cohesive group faster than a shared uniform."
"Good idea Trevor. Will do. By the way, how is Talla getting on?"
"She is amazing, Frank. As you said, it takes a while to make her understand, but when she catches on what she is supposed to do there is no stopping her. After three days she can dissemble and assemble a gun as fast as any one of my men. On the range she can hold her own with any marksman I've ever seen and on the obstacle course she is giving my boys a run for their money. They love her.
"One of my men put it into a nutshell this afternoon when he said that in another week or two he wouldn't want to be up against her. Above all though, she is enjoying herself. She loves the camaraderie and learning new things. She is happy."
"How can you tell? They don't show emotions."
"We get fooled by the fact they have learned how to smile and laugh. They've learned it from us and do it when they think they ought to. It's not real though. Talla and her people show their emotions with their wing movements."
"Whatever gave you that idea?"
"At one stage I was training ant people from Drogon. They have exoskeletons. Their faces show about as much expression as a medieval knight in armour with his visor down. The only thing that is in constant movement are the antennae on their heads. It occurred to me that this might be the way they communicate feelings. I got quite good at reading them after a while. Talla and her people do very much the same thing, except they use their wings. I can tell now when she understands, when she is confused, when she is happy and when she is annoyed about something. It helps a great deal with her training."
"This is wonderful news, Trevor. Things are going well. I would like to buy all of you a drink tonight, but I don't want Talla to feel left out."
"Talla can drink beer, Frank."
"Yes. Yesterday my boys asked if they could buy her a drink. She said she could not drink spirits or wine, but beer was made from grain and things made from grain were good for her. My boys immediately grabbed her and took her for a beer in the bar. They came back pissing themselves laughing. Apparently the other guests were open mouthed and nearly dropped their drinks when they saw what was going on."
"Good on your boys, but shouldn't we make tracks soon?"
"Yes. I'll round my mob up. Join us in about half an hour. Don't forget the uniforms."
Trevor left and I changed into my fatigues. Feng was working on his computer when I went to see him. He stared at me. I threw him his fatigues and said: "Put these on soldier. I take it you want to come with us to Olympus."
"Who came up with this loony idea?"
I told him what Sergeant Conners had said about uniforms and cohesive troops.
"Makes sense," he said and started unbuttoning his shirt.
The dining room was packed when we arrived. Catcalls and wolf whistles came from our table as soon as they spotted me and Feng in uniform. I motioned Feng to sit down with the others and stepped over to where Talla was sitting.
"Listen everybody," I said. "When Talla first asked if she could come with us to Olympus I told her she would be welcome if she passed Sergeant Conner's course. A short time ago I asked the sergeant how she was doing. He said he was more than happy with her performance." I turned to Talla. "I still want you to finish the course, Talla, but as of this moment you are a full member of the expedition. No more conditions. Congratulations."
There was roaring applause from the table. Even some of the hotel guests who had been listening in were joining in the applause. It was a good sign.
We had our meal and afterwards I bought everybody a couple of beers in the bar. Again we got a lot of curious looks. An Oktonian socialising with humans was unheard of. People seemed to like it though. Many were smiling and there were no disparaging comments.
Niphi brought me my morning coffee when I arrived at the office. With it she gave me two notes. One was from the port authority informing me that the Pygmalion was scheduled to land at 2 PM today. The other was from Arden. He wanted to speak to me urgently. I rang him and said I was on my way to see him.
He took me straight into Nakov's office.
"The Oktonians are worried about the Pygmalion having weapons on board while she is in port." said Nakov after we sat down. "They've asked us to post guards inside and outside the ship while she is here to make sure the weapons don't fall into the wrong hands."
"That's a lot of trouble to go to over a few boxes of weapons and ammunition," I said. "Wouldn't it be a lot simpler if you took possession of the stuff, moved it under guard to one of your secure storage areas and transferred it back to the Pygmalion shortly before departure. It would take far fewer resources and for my money it would be much safer."
"I think everyone would sleep better at night if we did it this way. It's easier on my budget too. I leave you and Arden to make the arrangements. I shall inform the Oktonians myself."
"Perhaps it would be wise to invite the Oktonians to send an observer to witness the transfer and to see that everything is clean and above board."
"Good idea. They will welcome this. I shall ask them to have their man contact Arden for details. Thank you, Gentlemen. That is all for now."
Arden and I went to the officer's mess to have some coffee and a chat.
"I'll ask the port authority to put the Pygmalion down in the Federation area. My patrols can keep an eye on her there. She'll be safe. The Oktonians will like it that she is not amongst the freighters of the traders. One less worry for them."
"Why would she be a worry to them?"
"If she is amongst the freighters they are responsible for her safety, if she is on Federation ground, we are."
"I see. What is your plan for the next couple of hours?"
"I'll go to get my boys briefed and on stand by for the transfer. That shouldn't take long. I expect the Oktonian observer to contact me within the hour. These guys are very prompt as a rule."
"Good. May I suggest the following. The Pygmalion is due in at 2 PM. Allow thirty minutes for the port authority to sort the paper work out, after that she's all ours. Say, you grab your Oktonian observer and we meet at one o'clock at my hotel for lunch. I'll bring Feng. He will come with us. Feng and I will be wearing expedition uniforms, so don't show surprise. We'll have lunch and then time it to meet your transfer crews outside the ship at 2.30. How does that sit with you?"
"Suits me. I'll see you at one. Now I better get my arse into gear and do some work."
We shook hands and Arden left. I had another coffee and went back to the office. Feng was sitting on his computer when I got back. To my surprise he was in fatigues. I told him what I had arranged.
"As of now I'll be wearing uniform as well. I want us to be highly visible as a group."
"You'll like then what's sitting on your desk."
I hadn't looked into my office yet. When I checked there were nine parcels sitting on my desk, each with a name on it. Feng had followed me.
"These are the fatigues for the other members of the party. Trevor told me there will be two more sets for everybody arriving tomorrow sometime."
I changed into uniform. We decided to go for a beer and wait in the bar until lunch time. On the way out we told Niphi to hold the fort.
Darrin Weaver, the Oktonian observer was a dickhead bureaucrat. He tried telling us all through lunch how important he was. Arden, Feng and myself let him prattle on and listened with polite disinterest. I was glad when lunch was over and we went in a Federation minibus to the tarmac via an underground road.
When we arrived the port authority had finished and we were told we could proceed. Arden's men were there with a flattop vehicle to transport the boxes with the weapons. I introduced Arden, Feng and Mr. Weaver to Pedro and Juan.
I explained what the arrangements were. Pedro and Juan were happy. With the weapons off board and Federation patrols looking after the safety of the Pygmalion they wouldn't need to leave part of the crew on board while they were in port. Pedro went with Arden's men to get the weapons while Juan gave Arden the paperwork.
There were twelve boxes which had been sealed by Federation operatives on Earth, each box came with a certificate of content. Arden inspected that all the seals were undamaged and signed the transfer documents. I countersigned and handed the papers to the Oktonian observer for signature. The Arsehole refused to sign, insisting that all boxes should be opened and he'd be allowed to check the contents. Arden explained to him that this was not necessary and that if the boxes were opened the Federation would have to authenticate the contents all over again and reseal. The prick still wouldn't budge. That's when I stepped in.
"Mr. Weaver," I said, "Do you have any experience with a DRF-67 assault rifle?"
"No," he said.
"Have you ever even seen one?"
"No, can't say I have."
"What about hand grenades, land mines and ammunition, ever seen any of those?"
"No. What has that got to do with anything?"
"The boxes stay sealed," I said. "I shall write a report stating that Mr. Weaver refused to sign the transfer papers unless he was allowed to inspect the contents, in spite of him admitting that if the boxes were opened he would have no idea what he was looking at. I shall get everyone present here to countersign my report, attach it to the transfer papers and send it to the Oktonian authority with a copy to the Federation."
Darrin Weaver looked at me as if I had just poured a bucket of water over his head. I looked him straight in the face and said: "I'm sure you don't want this to happen, so be a good boy and sign the papers." I handed .him my pen. He looked at me stupefied, thought for a minute, signed the papers and stormed off in a huff without further word, taking my pen with him.
"Si, Señor. Thees ees our Franco," said Juan in this fake Mexican accent he puts on from time to time and thumped me on the back. Everyone laughed.
Arden went with his men to store the weapons after instructing the minibus driver to take us to the hotel. Pedro got his crew and locked the Pygmalion. It was a bit of a squeeze in the vehicle, but we got to the hotel without too much discomfort.
After introducing them to Niphi I ushered them into my office and bade them sit at my big table.
"What's with the fancy dress?" asked Pedro when everyone was settled.
"I want to create a presence," I said and handed them their parcels. "These are for you. I would like you to wear them on this expedition. Is there a problem with that?"
"You know my boys like a bit of theatrics. It'll be fun."
"Good. There is an empty office next to Niphi's reception area. You can change there. Leave your clothes in the office, I'll get them picked up and cleaned. After that we'll go to the bar for a couple of drinks. Later, we'll have dinner with Sergeant Conners and the rest of the crew."