Offspring Ch. 029byTalemaster©
I went to the office early. Talla was dusting the shelves and the mineral specimens in my office when I arrived.
"You don't have to do this Talla," I said.
"The cleaners don't do a very good job," she said. "Talla makes sure everything is first class. Would you like Talla to make you some coffee?"
"That would be lovely, Darling. Thank you."
I was on my second cup when Talla told me Al Dalrymple wanted to talk to me. I took the call.
He told me that, as expected, his superiors were not prepared to authorise the weapons I had asked for, but would allow the hand guns.
"Look, Al," I said, "why don't we meet tomorrow at twelve in the dining room and discuss the matter over a meal and a couple of drinks like the civilised gentlemen we are."
I knew he wasn't going to miss out on this. As expected he told me he would be there.
I had hardly put the phone down when Feng turned up. I told him what Al had said.
"Are you going to accept their offer?"
"Not on you life, Feng. When I was talking to him I had an idea. I need your help."
"What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to find me a film clip of some soldiers fighting a very large ferocious creature. You are the computer genius, if anyone can find something like this, you can."
"This will be fun. I know just where to start looking."
Feng went to his office to start work. I did not want to interrupt him and busied myself with some of the space probe pictures of the planet we were to go to. It didn't have a name yet, only the number the astronomers had assigned. The majestic mountains and the Mediterranean like sea reminded me of something out of Greek mythology. I decided to call the planet Olympus. The abode of the Gods. It seemed a good name for this world.
I was still playing around with my images when I heard Feng laugh out loud.
"Just come over here and have a look at this," he yelled.
I went to his office and Feng started the clip. It showed a group of soldiers fighting a dragon like creature the size of a house. The special effects were excellent, especially the scene where the dragon ripped apart a human body with his claws, dripping blood, gore and guts everywhere. The acting and dialogue was wooden and unconvincing. The sound track consisted mainly of screaming, shooting and explosions. I judged it to be a scene from an old Chinese horror movie.
"You cant show them this," I said. "They'll know it's fake. It has B-grade movie written all over it."
"It's perfect," said Feng. "By the time I'm finished with it even you will believe it's real. I can't do it here, I don't have the gear."
"So what are you going to do?"
Feng was already on the phone. He spoke for a while in Chinese and hung up.
"I just spoke to a friend of mine. He creates video games. All the gear I need is in his studio. I should know, I got it for him. He owes me a few favours. If I go over there now we'll have the whole thing in the bag by this afternoon."
Feng left brimming with excitement like a schoolboy on his way to a football match.
I couldn't get back into what I had been doing and left for an early lunch. I couldn't bring myself to share Feng's enthusiasm. To me he was going completely overboard. I would have preferred something a little less spectacular like perhaps a tiger or a rogue elephant. If it didn't work out what he was doing we'd have trouble coming up with an alternative. I realised I was worrying and went for a brisk walk through the dismal streets of Okton4 space port after I had finished my meal. It didn't help much.
I returned to the hotel and had a few drinks with some spacers in the bar. At four o'clock Feng rang. He said he was in his office and that the clip was ready.
Half an hour later I sat in Feng's office in front of the big screen. The show was about to start. Feng screened the original clip first.
"This is what we started off with," he said. "And now, without further ado, cast your eyes on this marvel of inspiration and technology."
It started off with the logo and jingle of some news service followed by a female newsreader introducing the lead story of the day. The set, costume and language was mid 25th century. She spoke of an ill fated exploratory expedition to Danos, a planet in the Arcturus system. After stating that there were a number of casualties and that what was left of the explorers were lucky to have left the planet alive she finished off with a warning that the images were extremely graphic and were likely to upset some viewers. What followed was the footage Feng had pinched from the movie, but what a change had come over it. Feng had cut out all the ham acting and close ups of the actors, he had dimmed the scene somewhat to give a twilight impression. The film was unsteady, slightly out of focus in places and askew at times, as if taken by a terrified camera man with a hand-held camera. The newsreader gave a running commentary explaining what the audience was seeing. The clip closed off with the news service logo and part of an advertisement introducing some laundry detergent. The whole thing looked and felt like a genuine 25th century news broadcast. It would scare the living daylights out of Alfred Dalrymple and his masters.
"We really should show this to your uncle before we hit Mr. Dalrymple with it."
"Already in the mill. I spoke to him earlier. He's got some business here in the hotel as luck would have it. Let's adjourn to your office. He'll be with us in about half an hour or so."
The Tai-pan arrived shortly afterwards. He took one look at my office and laughed.
"The office of a man with muddy boots and dirty fingernails as you so aptly put it, Mister Walters," he said, still chuckling.
"That's the impression I tried to give, Sir."
"Well done, I approve. Now, what do you want to show me."
I offered the Tai-pan a beer, which he accepted. We sat down and I explained the situation we were in.
"I needed something to convince the Oktonians that the weapons we asked for are necessary. This is what we have come up with. I switched the screen on and rolled the footage from the Chinese movie. The Tai-pan was horrified.
"You can't show them this. They'll know it's garbage," he said.
"I have no intention of showing them this."
"Then why are you showing me?"
"I want you to see for yourself what this genius nephew of yours has done with it."
With that I rolled the doctored version. The old man's face lit up. He was grinning from ear to ear.
"I have seen some scams in my time, but you two......." He left the sentence hanging in mid air before he continued. "Remind me to never buy a used space ship from you guys. If that doesn't work I don't know what will. By the way, where did you get the woman newsreader from?"
"It's not a real person. It's a computer generated avatar."
"I didn't know it could be done so realistically. It is the news reader who makes the whole thing so believable. I am impressed Gentlemen."
"We've just made his day," Feng said after the Tai-pan had left. "The old bugger loves a good scam."
Neither of us fancied a lesson today. We cancelled our appointments and decided on an evening at Feng's Chinese restaurant.
I sat in my office thinking about my upcoming meeting with Al. It irked me that all my negotiations with the masters had to go through another person. I could not control, or even know, how Al presented my case to his superiors. If only there was some way to talk to them directly. It occurred to me I was trying to do that already in a way.
There was the film clip. Al's bosses would see that.
When Feng arrived I asked him If we had a camera on the premises.
"Well," he said, "our mobile phones have a camera built in. If you need something better I can get Mr. Wu to send us what you need. It can be here within an hour. What do you want it for?"
"I want to explain to the masters directly what I want to do and why. We'll record it and append the film clip. This way I'll be able to present our case without intermediary."
"Way to go," said Feng and made a phone call.
I sat down and made some notes what I wanted to say and when the camera arrived we made the recording.
I started off with introducing myself as the leader of the expedition. I showed some pictures of the planet surface and the analysis of the atmosphere. I pointed out the oxygen content.
"I find the oxygen content far too high for a world as described by the astronomers," I said. "To me that indicates large areas with vigorous vegetation. Where there is vegetation there may be animals and possibly intelligent natives. Some of these may well be dangerous and hostile. We need to be prepared for such an eventuality.
"First contact with an unknown alien world is never without danger. There have been disasters in the past. We have searched the archives and found a record of an ill fated exploratory mission in the Arcturus system. I have appended the newscast to this report.
"I do not expect to find anything as violent as the creature in the recording on the world we are about to visit. Still, I would rather err on the side of caution when it comes to our ability to defend ourselves. There is a lot at stake for both Oktonians and the Chang Corporation with this project. I want to get it right. A failed expedition will help no one.
"My analysis has indicated it might also be feasible to grow rye and produce Pumpernickel on this world. I have engaged one of the best agronomists in the known worlds to investigate such a possibility. He will be member of our expedition. I don't need to point out what it would mean to Okton4 if its most important commodity could be produced only ten light years away.
"The attached footage speaks for itself. Let us hope we won't run into anything even remotely like it"
Feng did some editing, put the whole thing together and loaded it onto a memory stick to give to Al. We also sent a copy to the Tai-pan.
Lunch with Al went as expected. When I showed him my presentation afterwards he was stunned. He didn't even query what he had just seen.
"You don't negotiate, do you?" he said after a pause. "You dictate terms."
"No, Al. The project dictates the terms, not me. I've participated in a number of such missions, in some as a member, others I led. Nothing as bad as we've seen, but there were many hairy situations where we had to fight. I've never lost one of my men. I don't intend to start now."
"I shouldn't be telling you this, but I think they will accept your terms. You only lost out by a few votes the last time When they see this and hear about the Pumpernickel they'll come around. Incidentally, how serious are you about the Pumpernickel?"
"At this very moment the agronomist is on a freighter from Earth, due to arrive in a few days. He's not only the best man I could find, for my money he's the best there is. He brings with him a specialised, state of the art laboratory. We are paying him a small fortune. I think that means I am deadly serious about it."
"The possibility of producing Pumpernickel so close to us will have them excited to say the least. It will change the way we do business."
"In what way, Al?"
"Look at our main trade. Huge freighters loaded with Pumpernickel arrive from Earth and return with Zabuyelite. The freight costs are enormous. We can cut down on freight by supplying the refined metal, but that would mean most of the the Pumpernickel freighters would have to return empty. There are some savings in doing it this way, but by the time you add the refining costs you are actually worse off. Being able to meet even part of the Pumpernickel requirement from sources close by would make it an entirely new ballgame, much in our favour."
I would have dearly liked to ask why the Pumpernickel was that important but I judged it was too early for such a question. Al was getting more open, best not to spook him. Let him tell me things at his own pace.
After Al had left I wrote a short memo to the Tai-pan about Al's reaction and what had told me. The old man would be interested in this. Feng and I called it a day and went upstairs for drinks.
There wasn't much traffic. When I went to the bar to get the drinks I noticed two Oktonian bar maids having a conversation in a different language. When they noticed me they looked embarrassed and continued in Federation Intergalactic. I remembered having heard this language once before, right at the beginning when I arranged for my sex permit. The receptionist had spoken it on the phone. I wondered what that was all about.
I told Feng what I had observed and asked what he thought about it.
"I know they make some strange noises when they think themselves unobserved. it might even be some primitive language. Why should anyone care. We can communicate with them, that's all that matters. As you know they aren't very bright. It doesn't matter if they are capable of some childish banter amongst themselves. There is nothing there that would interest us."
"It is a language, and it's far from being primitive, that much I know."
"How would you know that?"
"Just now I overheard two of the barmaids speaking it. I only caught some snatches of the conversation. They stopped when they noticed me and continued in Federation Intergalactic. They seemed embarrassed, as if they had been caught doing something wrong. It reminded me of the first time I heard it.
"When I first arrived I went to arrange my sex permit. The receptionist made a phone call and spoke in that language. I don't think she was even aware of doing it. Maybe she was new on the job. After she finished her call she told me what I had to do to get the permit. She had evidently asked what the procedure was and received her instructions in that language. No primitive childish babble is capable of doing that. At the time I thought nothing of it. It's the sort of thing you come across on many worlds, natives speaking in their own lingo when they talk to each other. The Oktonians are evidently keeping it from us and use it exclusively when they think themselves unobserved. It's only the second time I've heard it in all the months I've been here. I wonder why that is. We must find out."
"Why must we find out? I grant you it's an interesting theory you have there, but what's the use? Even if you could learn their language it wouldn't tell you much. You know how dumb they are. You have to teach them everything. They have no imagination and no curiosity. They do not enquire into things and learn from them, as we do."
"Perhaps the Oktonians are nowhere near as dumb as we think they are."
"Oh, they're dumb alright. Take Talla. As you know she can read and write, like most of them. How they were taught to do this and by whom we don't know, but they can.
"Anyway, Talla ran out of paper in the middle of a job. I didn't have any white paper so I gave her some yellow paper I had been using for some reason. She didn't know what to do with it. I actually had to show her that one could write on yellow paper, she was alright after that and used it. It made me curious. I got some blue paper and gave her that. Same thing. I had to show her all over again.. Now that's dumb. You can teach them something and once they have caught on they can do it well, by rote. Change something and they are stuffed.
"They are like robots, you can program them, but anything that the programme doesn't cater for is barred to them. You have to re-program if you want them to do something different. Actually, the robot analogy fits well, they don't seem show or respond to affection, for example. They understand loyalty and appreciate when they are treated well, but that may be part of the programming too."
"I don't buy it, Feng. There is more to them than that. Put a wig and some plastic tits on them, stick them in an evening gown and if it wasn't for the wings you'd think they were human. We judge them by our standards because they resemble us in so may ways. We assume too much. If they were like the ant people on Drokos or the Tarr on Terigon with their tentacles we would see them in a totally different light. Fact is, in spite of their resemblance to us, we are dealing with an alien consciousness and an alien mind. Who knows what they are capable of. They may yet surprise us."
"They are what we see. It would have shown up if they had other talents."
"Like it shows up that you and I can time travel?"
"Oops. I see what you mean."
"Look, we've always thought that our ability to time travel is the result of the drug acting on some part of us we can't define. We saw the Oktonian ladies as no more than a carrier of the drug. What if they had a very real hand in providing us with that ability? They might be, like us, roaming other dimensions in forms we can't even conceive. We are doing it, why can't they? It would explain a lot."
"I have always marvelled at your ability to take the most outrageous theory and present it as a rational proposition. You've been pretty right so far. I'll go along. Where do we start?"
"I want to start with Talla. Leave that one to me for now. It might confuse her if we both start asking the same questions."
"You mentioned a while back an old Chinese scholar who has been here for over fifty years and is writing the history of your people on Okton4."
"Yes. Any relation to the Tai-pan?"
"He's family. I don't know how he fits into the hierarchy, I've never asked. What do you want him for?"
"I would like to hear what he thinks about the Oktonians. He must have seen a lot more than either of us."
"Good idea. He loves his Peking duck. It'll have to be lunch, he doesn't like late nights any more. Leave it to me, I'll arrange something."
I went to the office early again in the morning. Talla was already there. When she brought me my coffee I asked her to stay.
"Sit down Talla," I said. "I want to ask you a few things."
Talla took one of the plain chairs from the table setting and sat on it sideways so the back of the chair wouldn't conflict with her wings. She just looked at me, waiting for me to speak.
"Tell me Talla, I have noticed that you people have your own language. I have also noticed that you only speak it when you believe yourself unobserved. Is it a secret?"
"No, no secret. We believe that it is very rude to speak in our language when there are people around who cannot understand what is being said."
"Is that why the girls were embarrassed when they noticed I had overheard some of their conversation?"
"I want to learn your language. Will you teach me?"
"Is it forbidden?"
"No, not forbidden. Not possible."
"Why is it not possible?"
"Frank sees, smells, tastes, feels, hears. Talla sees, smells, tastes, feels, hears, other, other, other. Not possible for Frank to understand other."
"So what you are telling me is that your people have perceptics which are not part of human consciousness and that this makes the language of your people inaccessible."
"Talla does not understand perceptics."
"Sight, hearing, feeling and so forth are perceptics, part of what we perceive."
"Sight, hearing, feeling are all very different things, how can they also be the same thing called perceptics? We have difficulty understanding how and why humans group different things together. There are many things we don't understand about humans and there are many things humans don't understand about us."
"Then we should have many more of these conversations and try to get to know each other better."
"Talla would like that."
At that moment Feng turned up and we left it at that. Talla returned to her reception desk. I told Feng about my conversation with Talla.
"These people are not dumb," I said. "They have difficulty understanding the way in which we perceive reality because their perception is radically different. There is some common ground, that's why we can communicate with them, but there are barriers."