Chapter 23 – At Tau Ceti Space Station

Michael – Learning New Tools

Millicent made everyone put on new clothes before leaving the ship. They were one piece suits made of black and blue cloth. The suits fit closely and seemed vaguely indecent on women. Felicity was uncomfortable with the clingy nature – there was little to the imagination on her curves and she thought they were unseemly. Millicent made a crooked smile and said, “They are far more conservative than other options.”  She looked the group over gave a crisp nod and said, “You need to blend in more. Corsets, ruffles and high collars with ties might be proper in London, but not here.” She then said, “Besides these suits are a great deal more than covering.  They can be emergency space suits.  They have armor built in.”

Jason interrupted saying, “The suits provide knowledge.  Touch your wrist and ask a question.”

Michael watched John eye his suit with a raised eye brow and then touch it and ask, “Where are we relative to London, England?” Michael could see a screen of light appear and a diagram that showed stars. John pursed his lips and said, “It answered the question.  Can’t say it provided it much context.”

Michael touched his wrist and asked, “What is the station made of?” A screen like those of the labs showed up and long list of materials appeared. Many he did not recognize.  He commented, “I am going to have to work on what I ask.”

Felicity pursed her lips saying. “Charles was more helpful.”

Millicent said sharply, “He isn’t here and we’ve explained why. That will be the last I hear that subject or that name. We are in Guild territory now. Watch what you say at all times.” She moved towards the door and said, “You will see many things that will seem strange. You will need directions. You may need protection. The suits will explain matters, provide locations and directions, and your suit will protect you.  If you touch the other wrist, you will be able to communicate with everyone else.”  She looked around and said “The answers may not be helpful if your question isn’t worded well as Michael and John have found out.  Keep questions simple until you are au fait with your new reality.  The knowledge has been collected by me and …my assistant to help you deal with the complexity of life on the station and elsewhere.”

Felicity huffed and then touched her wrist and said, “What’s the point of this suit?” Michael could see a list of features. At the bottom, Felicity read with a crinkle in her eyes, “Millicent can’t follow you everywhere.” The others chuckled and she said, “It almost sounds like…your assistant.”

Millicent said, “On some matters, he is hard to hide. Now, for those who are interested in their useful features in protection, follow me to the gym. The rest of you start figuring them out.”  Michael heard John ask, “What is the nature of matter?” and then heard him say, “Well that’s bloody simplistic.”

Michael considered the suit. When he was learning a new task or tool, he started with basics. At his console he asked, “What is the purpose of this console?”  A paragraph displayed explaining the console’s ability to survey the surroundings of the ship. He asked “What can it find in a survey?” He got a long list of capabilities, ranges, and tolerances for the substances the device could detect. He then asked, “How can it be improved?” The screen remained blank save for text saying, “Insufficient Information available.”  He moved around the bridge and repeated the process.  Felicity’s station was more complex than he imagined. There was more to record management  than he imagined.

Millicent slipped in as he was reviewing the navigation panel. From behind him, she asked, “Any questions, Mr. Richards?”

Michael looked at her and then looked at the wrist of his suit. He said, “I am beginning to understand the knowledge base pretty well at this point. At least I’ll know why I get useless answers.”

Millicent sat down at the operations station and said, “Then you are ahead of Mr.O’Connor and Miss Weiz. They keep arguing with the suit.”  Michael smiled at the thought. She leaned back and said, “You have progressed remarkably well, Mr. Richards…Michael.”

Michael’s mouth opened. Then he snapped it shut looked away. He could feel a flush. He said, “I suppose I sounded rather silly a few months ago that first day in the warehouse.”

Millicent put her finger to her chin, squinted her eyes and  said, “You sounded perfectly normal…human one might say.” She relaxed and spun to work on the panel.  “I have been pushing everyone hard for months. Charles has been chiding me since the encounter at Smith’s flat.” She looked around and then said, “Others express their stress in different ways. Jason loses  patience.  Rachael gets angry. John… well John retreats.” She said, “Your stress and frustration at the beginning may have made my later demands…less difficult. Regardless, you have been an excellent student.”

Michael blushed and shuffled. He then looked at the communication station and said, “I suppose I have had help staying focused.” His eyes watered a bit thinking of Felicity’s recovery. He choked a little and said, “It’s bit much to winge when others are facing worse.”

Millicent’s face softened a bit and said, “Just so. Focusing your help on someone can screen out other noise.” Then she got up and said, “Well if you thought this ship was impossible, I can hardly wait to hear what you call a walk in the halls of this station.”

Michael made a show of stiffening to attention and said, “This crewman will endeavor not to embarrass the captain,” and made a sharp salute with the back of his hand on his forehead.

Millicent came over, put her hands on his shoulder bent down close to his head and said, “You never have, Michael. And you never will.”

Liam – Customs Clearance

A landing joined the two ships.  The large warehouse had a doorway that, Liam presumed, led to the station.  While there was plenty of space between the ships, he, Rachael and John positioned themselves between Millicent’s group and Smith’s small group.  Liam overheard Michael hiss, “I’ll his pound his ass at the first available corner.”

Liam stepped over to Michael and made to adjust his suit and whispered in his ear, “No you won’t boy.” Michael frowned at Liam. Liam leaned in closely and said, “If Smith doesn’t beat you to a pulp, I will.”

Michael hissed back, “But he hurt…”

Liam stepped back and continued to fiddle with Michaels suit sayings, “I was there, boy.” He then stared in Michael’s eyes and said, “I was there. And I would beat several of ‘em. But we are about to step into a foreign port in a territory that ain’t disposed to like us.”  He nodded to the arriving trio of Smith, Carter-Frasier and Redman.  “Don’t know about you, but I’d rather not burn any bridges until I know the lay o’ the land.”  Liam saw Jason staring in his direction defiantly and Eleanor stiffen and stare as well.  He said louder, “That goes for everybody here. There’ll be no family squabbles while we are ashore.” He stared back at Jason and Eleanor who turned away.  He returned to his position in the space between the two groups.

Alfred Redman came up, dressed in the same one piece blue and black suit as everyone else. Somehow he managed to make it look starched. He leaned in and asked, “Are we to expect problems?”

Liam looked over at Jason, Michael and Eleanor who were muttering but shrugging.  He blew his cheeks out and said, “I don’t think so.” He squinted at Alfred and said, “If there is, try not to do any permanent damage  if mine get away from me. I’ll lock ‘em up if I have to.”

Redman smiled, “I can work with those constraints. However, I am not sure who would be permanently damaged if I faced Mr. McNeill again. Last time he left me with a bit of a limp.”  He rubbed his knee in mock drama.

Liam snorted and then said in a low voice, “He telegraphs his punches and leads with his right.  Try not to damage anything we might need …like his head.” Remand tipped an imaginary cap, but stayed silent.

Millicent and John Smith led the group through the large door into the hallway. Like anything in a port, everything was oversized. The doorway had to be twenty feet high. The hallway they entered was at least 60 feet wide. The tall ceiling had tracks that must have held equipment such as hoists.  Waiting in the hallway was a short man. He was wearing a suit like the crews, but a light grey and a looser cut. The similarities stopped there.  He was at least a foot shorter than Simone which made him no more than 4 feet tall.  He had a slim build. He had a large hook like nose. Those features alone would have made him stand out in London. He had long bright blue and purple hair that was pulled into a pony tail. And his ears came up to tall points that went far up his head.

Liam exclaimed, “Cor, he looks one of the wee fae folk.”

Millicent turned to Liam glared at him saying, “You might not understand him, but he understands you. Quiet!” She then began to gesture to the crowd and point to the door. The short man puffed out his chest and pointed to a notebook.

Redman leaned and said in a low tone, “The man is a bit officious.” The purple crowned head turned in their direction and huffed. Redman turned away and whispered very quietly, “And has remarkably good hearing.” Redman faced away and continued a running commentary. Liam could see that Neville was doing the same for Rachael and John. Others were moving closer to hear.  Redman narrated, “There is some discussion about documentation…it seems we have none. He is none too happy about the paperwork involved.”  Smith started speaking forcefully and glaring at the small man. The official fussed a bit and then left.  Liam looked at Redman who shrugged and said, “Smith pointed out strange foreigners arriving is a regular occurrence.  He then mentioned it would be a shame if we were delayed in our meeting with Adu Silverbeam.  Smith then asked for the man’s name and badge so the delay could be properly explained to Silverbeam. It seems he would bring the documentation for us to file when we come back.” Redman paused and said, “It’s an old technique. Winifred’s father was a master of it.”

Liam muttered, “Damn entitled aristocracy.”

Redman pursed his lips and said, “True, but they are handy at times. Like now. “

Millicent and Smith followed the small man and waved the group to follow. Customs  had been handled.

The group entered what seemed to be a main thorough fair. Fortunately Millicent and Smith paused because the group had come to a standstill. The scene on the street made the brightly coiffed customs official seem sedate. Bright colors were everywhere. The single suits that everyone favored were all the colors of the rainbow and many were the entire rainbow.  The purple hair and fairy ears were only the beginning of the strange shapes.  The street was full and the variety life was overwhelming.  Some beings were taller than Millicent and Smith and some well shorter than Simone. They were thin and broad. There was one whose torso was a cylinder covered in hair. Most of the beings seemed to have two legs although that was far from universal. Many had extra joints and at least one couple had no legs that were visible. The coloration of individuals was equally varied. Again most had a skin tone similar enough to their group as to seem normal.  Others were grey looking as if they were near death but there movements indicated quite the opposite. There was a group of smaller individuals whose skin was a shade of green. They were led by a taller individual.  Who was waving and pointing at the building they just came out.  There was a couple who seemed oddly blue and another who were deathly white.

The sound was deafening.  Like London or Prague only the variety of sounds was not human tongues but  squeaks, honks, grunts, hisses and many other sounds. Millicent’s group huddled close together as if clumping might hide the sights and sounds. For once, Neville Carter-Frasier looked at ease by comparison to the rest. Redman periodically checked his screen for information but otherwise had his usual non-committal expression.

Liam came up and said, “How the bloody hell are you so calm?”

Redman pointed to the back of his head and said, “Smith installed devices to help us follow conversation or I dare say we would be equally upset.”  He looked around and said, “Knowing what the crowd is saying isn’t as comforting as one might expect.”

Millicent said, “We are heading to a doctor now. Right now the best thing you can do now is be quiet …and please avoid remarking about other people.”

Liam heard Rachael shout from in the huddle of people, “Can we get a move on? For once, there a city I can move in without help or a sore back.  I don’t give a rat’s ass if I can’t understand a damn thing. Get out of my way so I can enjoy all this lovely smoothness.”

Millicent clapped sharply and said, “Well said, Miss Weiz. Move along now.”

Redman bowed slightly to Liam and said, “Apparently we will be making an early meet with some customer. “ Redman touched the back of head and said, “Don’t worry too much getting the device…I hardly noticed the drilling.” Smith called Carter-Frasier and Redman to the front. The three of them left and there was an easing in the group with the other crew on its way. Liam followed Millicent and muttered, “Bastard.”

Eleanor – Getting the Translator

The doctor’s office

The group walked through the busy corridors. Calling them corridors seemed odd as they were wide as any good size street in London. Millicent led.  Liam brought up the rear. Eleanor and Simone were near the front and staying close together. The noise was overwhelming at times. They passed shops with beings shouting in front and pointing to windows. In that sense, it was little different from London or Prague.  It was just the variety of sights and sounds that made the scene all so strange. Millicent guided them into a different corridor that was busy but had no barkers or shops.  Others in the hallway were also quieter easing the cacophony.

The group stopped in front of a large set of doors. Eleanor could feel Simone tense. They had reviewed the Translator installation procedure. Its similarity with the collaring process experience by Simone was alarming. Millicent had tried to reassure Simone but little could be done to ease her fear. Eleanor simply promised to stay with her.

Millicent said something and the doors opened. The room had a long counter opposite the door and a large screen on one wall.  Millicent went to the counter and was greeted by someone who was nearly as tall as Millicent, but very thin and grey. Its head was triangular and almost heart shaped.  The eyes were large and almond shaped.  Millicent and the greeter spoke at length, but in a quiet and calm fashion unlike exchanges at the dock.

Finally, Millicent turned to the group and explained, “We are at a doctor’s office. I have arranged for the installation of high quality translators for all of you. Once in place, you will be able to understand nearly everyone around you.  You should know they already understand you.“ Eleanor smirked as Millicent glared at Liam. Liam became very interested in the big screen. “For those of you who have not checked in advance; this is an invasive procedure. There will be some connections made to the speech centers of your brains.” Simone’s hand tightened on Eleanor’s, but she faced forward and held a grimace.  “They will need to work on you in two shifts…any volunteers?”

Eleanor asked, “If I go first, will I be able to be present for Simone?”

Millicent pursed her lips saying, “That is unusual.” She looked at Simone whose eyes were big and lips quivering. Eleanor’s expression hardened a bit. Millicent’s expression softened a bit saying, “There is a recovery and you need to stay immobile.  It may be best if Simone went first if you are staying with her.   I will arrange matters. I expect the doctor will understand.”

Eleanor felt Simone bury her head in her should saying, “I don’t’ know if I can do this.”

Eleanor whispered, “I’ll be there and I will smack him a good one if he hurts you.”  Simone laughed and choked.  John, Rachael and Felicity also chose to go first. Millicent said with a smirk, “I shall warn John’s doctor about his predilection for passing out.”  There was laughter and the tension eased as the first group was led to the operation rooms.  John looked at the ceiling saying, “I will never live that down.”

Operation Preparation

The operation room looked remarkably like the medical bay on Millicent’s ship. Next to the examination bed was a tall thin being with a heart shaped face and the very large, almond shaped deep black eyes.  The doctor gestured to the table.  Millicent came in and spoke to the doctor at length in a strange language.  As Millicent spoke, the doctor’s color changed from a beige grey to a bright red. Millicent pointed to Eleanor and spoke some more. The color changed from red to a light blue. The doctor nodded at Eleanor and pointed to a spot by the table. Millicent then spoke to Simone, “The screen will show some sentences. Read those. That will allow the room translator to work with you and the doctor.

Eleanor helped Simone position herself face down on the table. Then the screen appeared and Simone began to read. “Hello, my name is Simone Campbell. Three times nine is thirty six. The colors of a rainbow are red orange yellow green blue violet.” More sentences continued.

Finally the doctor now spoke and Eleanor heard an odd voice. “I am told you are familiar with human anatomy. This will make my job easier. Now I am going to have you read longer paragraphs. Reading will help me map your speech and language patters more closely with your translator. This matching will make detecting and translating emotion, context, subtext and humor much better.”

Simone choked a laugh and said, “Good lord, I could have used this in France five years ago.”

The doctor paused for a moment and said, “Even our translators have limitations, Miss Campbell. No one understands French humor.”

That caused Eleanor and Simone to laugh. The screen filled with more words and Simone began to recite the long paragraphs.  They began as nonsensical recitations. “Two-finger John sickens me. A token of gratitude tells the tale of towers. Nothingness shoots pineapples with a machinegun.”  Slowly the sentences changed to coherency. “I started out with nothing  and still have most of it left. If practice makes perfect, and I am doing it wrong, then I am doing it perfectly wrong.” Then technical passages began to appear,  “An atom is the smallest constituent unit of ordinary matter that has the properties of a chemical element. Every solid, liquid, gas, and plasma is made up of neutral or ionized atoms. Atoms are very small. However, atoms do not have well defined boundaries, and there are different ways to define their size which give different but close values..”

Eleanor raised her hand indicating she had a question. The doctor came over and leaned close so their voices would not interfere with the mapping. Eleanor asked, “Does everyone have the same readings?”

The doctor nodded and then said, “Initially and then the program tailors to the person. Miss Morgaine has added some special information requests around technology and science.” Eleanor nodded in return and the doctor returned to monitoring the process.  After about 30 minutes, the doctor said, “Miss Campbell, I will need you conscious as I perform the surgery.  You may notice some things, but there will be pain blockers.” The doctor sucked in a breath and said, “But your fear will make this surgery more difficult.  For this I can only say you will not be abused.”

Getting the translator

Simone’s grip on Eleanor’s hand got very hard and Eleanor heard a small whimper.  Eleanor leaned down and said, “I’ll be here. We’ll brass this out.”  Eleanor looked around the table. She pointed the area directly in front of Simone’s head and asked, “If that area is blocked, her right and left will still be open. Can you function like that?”

The doctor looked at the area and said, “It is not ideal. Perhaps if I know what you have in mind…” and then waggled fingers towards the area.

Eleanor lay down on the floor face up towards Simone with her long legs pointing out. While under the table she winked at Simone and blew a small kiss.  Simone laughed and said, “You are absurd.”

The doctor could be heard saying, “You are certainly tall for your species. I shall accommodate your frame.”

Eleanor said up to Simone, “There you have it. I am tall and absurd. Now let’s talk about the shopping to be done here. Millicent says I should see their furniture stores.  I think that is a bit too much like a working holiday.  I think I might find clothes that actually fit without altering. What about you?” There was a quiet high pitched whirring sound and Simone closed her eyes.  Eleanor quickly said, “Stay with me. I’m not leaving.”

Simone said with a small stutter, “I..I think a music shop might be nice. I …wonder what people listen to out here. And a furniture shop would be nice. Just to see what is fashionable.”

Eleanor sighed dramatically and then smiled and said, “If you insist.” She kept the small talk going. Every so often the doctor would ask Simone to say something but otherwise continued to work without saying much.

Finally the doctor said, “The procedure is complete. I recommend that you rest here an hour to let the nanites do their job and heal the sutures.”

Simone’s eyes went wide and she said, “That’s it? I hardly felt a thing.” Eleanor patted her cheek and rolled out from under the table.

The doctor helped her up and said, “That is as it should be. Anything else is barbaric. The doctor bowed to Eleanor and said, “You were helpful in calming her. My work was easier as a result. Are you prepared for your procedure?”

Eleanor leaned down and said to Simone, “Wait for me before you leave.”

Simone said lightly, “I need a furniture advisor. Silly…of course I will wait.”

Eleanor nodded to the doctor who led her to another room and her own implant.

Rachael-Waiting for Others

There was an itch at the back of Rachael’s skull that defied scratching. Her hair remained intact by some miracle. But then the whole operation and outcome were a miracle. The tower of Babel was restored[1] – a simultaneous translator to allow her to hear and understand all. People were now comprehensible.  The receptionist was discussing payment with a man who looked like the prickly customs agent. The screen was showing some entertainment show involving people like the doctor and receptionist.  Even the magazines seemed to be readable and that made little sense to her.

John and Felicity were resting in lounge chairs as they waited for the rest of the group to finish. Rachael was bored and moved over to observe the screen with the entertainment. A small being came over and pointed to her chair and asked, “Why are you riding in a chair?” Rachael closed her eyes and sighed.  It did not matter if the child looked like her or looked like a hairy barrel, they all asked the same question. A being designated as female and seemed to be a mother hushed the child by saying, “Don’t bother the human.”

Rachael opened her eyes and looked to the large mother. She was about the same height as a human, but cylindrical with no obvious body curves. Clothing covered her body, but there was every indication that she was covered with hair. Rachael looked at the being in front of her that was a stubby version of the mother and holding a doll that matched its features. Rachael answered, “I fell rather badly. Afterwards, my legs stopped working.”

The large young eyes suddenly got bigger and said, “The doctor could not fix you?” The mother called out, “Gza’ah, hush…leave the human be.”

Rachael put a hand up that she hoped was recognized as a calming gesture and said, “I wasn’t near a doctor that could help me.” Rachael pursed her lips as the child stared at her. She said, “I suppose it could be worse. I move a lot faster than my friends now.” She leaned in and whispered .“ And if I get tired people push me around.”  The suit designated the child as male – a young boy.  The arm holding the doll was bandaged.  She asked, “Why are you at the doctor?”

The boy squeaked and jumped back to his mother who held him protectively while glaring at Rachael. Rachael felt confused and pulled up information about the beings. The cylindrical bodies were Menanggung. In general they are very protective of children and distrustful of strangers. Except the children thought Rachael. They also were partial to sweets. Rachael rummaged through a side pocket and found a hard candy. She looked at the protective mother and then got out three. She looked at the boy and said, “Watch this!” She pressed a button and the arm of her chair changed to a table. The boy stared and the frightened look switched to curiosity.  She said, “You would be surprised how few tables fit my chair.” She laid out three candies and said, “I have come a long way for a human. They aren’t much, but join me in a candy?” She unwrapped one and stuck it in her mouth and made “mmm” sounds she hoped translated right.

The mother picked up one up and unwrapped it with stubby fingers. She sniffed it and wrinkled her nose.  Then she licked it and her eyes got wide. She handed it to the boy who licked it himself and then his eyes got wide as he tasted it. The mother bowed a little to Rachael.  Rachael held up the third candy to the mother and said, “For you? Or for a brave boy after a visit to the doctor.”

The mother took the candy and said, “Thank you…” Rachael nodded in return and turned her chair to join John and Felicity. Behind her she heard, “I hurt my arm. The doctor is supposed to fix it.”

Rachael turned her chair and said, “Then you are really brave because I did not know your arm was hurt.” The boy got a bit braver and showed her the bandage which had blood showing through.  Rachael whistled and said, “I’ll bet there is a story for that.”

The boy then began to explain. The mother looked distressed as he gave the details of a remarkably familiar incident involving horseplay and sharp edges. Rachael nodded and smiled briefly at the mother to let her know it was ok and returned her attention to the boy who had moved from the incident to explaining something about his doll.

Liam, Jason and Michael came out followed by Millicent. The receptionist called out “Gza’ah”.

The mother came over and said, “That is us…thank you…for distracting him. He was very nervous.”

Rachael said, “He was no bother. And I need to learn how to meet …people.” She nodded over to the gathering group and said, “and I had to wait for my friends.”

The mother bowed again and the boy waggled his hands which Rachael’s suit said was a wave of friendship. He whispered loudly, “They are not nearly as scary as the stories.” The mother hushed him again as they walked into a room.

Getting Supplies

Liam walked with more confidence than he felt.  Millicent had provided a list of the foods and sundries, a shop address, and a contact.  Getting the goods didn’t worry him. He expected, with her name and bank account, they would get stock without a problem.  It was other things that were starting to bother him.

He could now understand all the conversations and announcements around him.  That made the craziness he saw in the hallways tolerable. The bright colors, strange beings and other strange sights were starting to feel common, if not normal.  With a few days, he might even think it was normal.

However, now that he understood the conversations, there was a dark undertone in them that he had not expected.  People moved out of their way. But they were not moving to be polite to the new comers. They were parting out of fear. The whispers were occasionally translated and he could snatches like “careful, you don’t want to mess with them,” and “watch yourself, you can’t know what they’ll do.” He had no idea what was going on but making friends was going to be harder than he had hoped.

He checked the map on his wrist and turned another corner. The map now flashed a green spot on the screen indicating the shop was down this passage way on the left.  As if on cue he heard John ask, “Liam do you know where you are going? Because I’ve got no clue and I am not convinced we are going to get back to the ship.”  Liam turned around to respond only to see Michael whispering in John’s ear and pointing to his wrist. John blushed a bit and said, “Michael was explaining something. Still, are you sure?”

Liam said, “Millicent gave me the location.” He pointed down to the shop down the passage. He motioned to John to join him and the big man moved forward. They continued walking. Liam said in a low voice, “We are in a strange port. I am smart enough to get directions and the lay o’ the land before striking out on my own.”  He paused a to look at a poster that seemed to be advertising some food item and then said, “although there was a fine establishment close to our ship that bears further investigation.” John laughed and moved back to join Michael and Felicity and walked a bit more confidently as they arrived at the shop.

The interior was unlike any shop Liam had entered. There were no shelves of food and goods. Instead there were long tables with screens like what was in the environmental lab. The only similarity with the shops of home was the clerks who seemed to attach themselves to customers looking at the screens.

Michael looked around and said, “Now what?”

Liam said, “Wait a moment lad and I think you will have an answer.”

Sure enough there was a tall being who looked like the doctors of the clinic they had just left.  The being had the same rainbow color smock as every clerk in the shop. The clerk was tall and very thin. The face was heart shaped with large dark almond eyes that never seemed to blink. The skin color was grey but seemed to change to a light red when it came up to Liam and asked, “How can we serve you?”

Liam smiled and said, “My employer recommended Ciom Olo.  Millicent Morgaine has worked with him before.”

The clerk stared at Liam for a moment and blinked once slowly.  The clerk said, “Ciom Olo  is currently helping another. Can I assist?”

Liam looked around, scratched his chin and said, “We’re new here and I’d rather stick with someone I know, if you catch my drift.”

The clerk stared again. This time there were two slow blinks and his skin went a darker pink red. The clerk turned to one side and Liam could see a screen like his own glowing. The skin changed to a light blue.  After a few moments, the clerk returned and said, “Ciom Olo  expects to be another 15 minutes. He informed me of Millicent Morgaine and her needs. You can wait for Ciom Olo  or I can help you until Ciom Olo  is available.”

Liam scratched his chin again and then said, “No need to wait I suppose if you can get us started.” He nodded to Felicity, John and Michael and said, “They will have the lists and such.”

The clerk nodded to Liam and then turned to the group and said, “My name is Oexan Lili. With whom do I have the pleasure of working?”

Liam could detect no sign of pleasure or discomfort in the look or body  frame. But after years of working as a taxi hack, he could recognize the effort made in customer service. Liam responded, “I am Liam O’Hannigan.” He pointed to the others in turn, “The big one is John O’Malley – ship engineer. The woman is Felicity Richards  – communications and organization. Attached to her is her husband – Michael Richards. They will be doing the shopping.”

The clerk bowed slightly to each and pointed to an open screen. As they moved towards the screen, the worker said, “I have never worked with humans before. Please excuse any rudeness.”

Felicity, bless her, replied, “Well, we have never shopped like this before and I appreciate your patience while we figure things out.”

The screen lit and the clerk began the pitch saying, “We will see a list of available food stuffs suitable for humans.”

Liam found a bench to lean on while he waited.  Felicity, Michael and John discussed foods and equipment. Millicent had warned them not to expect chicken and beef, but there would be good substitutes.  As Liam waited, another clerk came up and said, “You are Liam O’Hannigan?” Liam looked over the clerk who was another of the tall thin creatures.  Liam replied, “I am.”

The clerk was wearing the same rainbow colored smock. but there were badges on it. The clerk bowed and said, “I am Ciom Olo  . I apologize for not being available. I trust Oexan Lili is helping you?”

Liam relaxed a bit and said, “The young ‘uns are doing the shopping. I have been told to negotiate the bill with you by Millicent.”

The clerk turned a bright blue and waggled fingers and said, “Millicent Morgain will negotiate with Death for the pennies on her eyes.” He bowed slightly and continued, “You will be given a fair price Liam O’Hannigan. I have no wish to face Millicent Morgaine if she felt cheated.” The being blinked once, the color toned down a little and then he said, “But I see no reason to make your work easy.”

Liam chuckled and said, “I’ve no problems with a bit o’ profit. But even Millicent needs to watch her funds with you lot or you will drain her dry.”  Ciom Olo  waggled fingers again and the two watched the shopping proceedings. Liam asked, “Ciom  I  am new here and I do not have the lay o’ the land.  I’ve heard some strange things in the halls on the way here.”

Ciom Olo blinked eyes and said, “The translator has difficulty with your colloquialisms. But I understand the last. And what strange things did you hear Liam O’Hannigan?”

Liam watched the group as they worked with the clerk.  They pointed to items and talked. The clerk’s color was almost neutral with a hint of red. Liam pulled up the explanation of the species the Kaum langit.  They are highly intelligent and highly sensitive to the moods of other people. Their skin color will change to reflect moods: anger, fear, contentment.  Liam said quietly, “People fear us. People fear humans. Even your clerk seemed…nervous…when he approached us.”

Ciom Olo  puffed out small cheeks. The skin went pale. The big eyes blinked twice. Then Ciom Olo  put a four fingered hand on Liam’s shoulder and said, “Friend Liam O’Hannigan. I call you friend because of your association with Millicent Morgaine. Friend Liam O’Hannigan, I know there is nothing to fear from you or other humans. But you should know there has been much …talk and news in the past years since Millicent returned to Earth.”

Liam narrowed his eyes but continued to watch the shopping and said, “Talk and news? I guess a simple man like myself needs some explanation.”

Ciom Olo’s head wagged from side to side a motion Liam’s screen interpreted as a chuckle. Ciom Olo continued, “if you are simple, then our negotiations shall be quick and profitable.”  Ciom Olo lowered his voice and said, “News stories appear that talk of your home world. It seems you are barbaric. You have horrible wars, enslave others, have little regard for the future of your world and generally lack culture.”

Liam turned and said, “That’s crazy.” He huffed and said, “Even if all of that is true, and I’ll grant it is, it ain’t fair. We can learn if we get half a chance.”

Ciom Olo nodded and pointed in the direction of the shopping saying, “I know. The young ones show no fear and are quite adept. Oexan Lili is completely at ease.”

“Selling us beads no doubt.”

Ciom Olo said, “That reference doesn’t translate, but if I guess…maybe, but not too many or I will hear from Millicent Morgaine. You will be treated fairly here Liam O’Hannigan. But your story is being created for you .”

Liam grimaced and said, “I suppose it should all sound familiar to me. Lord knows Jolly old England does the same damn thing. Someone needs to justify our…civilization.”

Ciom Olo tighten the grip for a moment and said quietly, “Then you understand.”

Liam rolled his eyes and said, “Do I need to ask the source of this news and talk?”

Ciom Olo pulled the hand back and said, “I think not. No need to state the obvious and some things are best left unsaid in busy shops.”

Liam said, “Does Millicent know?”

Ciom Olo waggled fingers and said, “She will hear the same chatter you did on the way over.  She is neither deaf nor stupid. She knows by now.”

Liam said, “Will Millicent’s friends and allies still be interested in meeting with her?”

Ciom Olo paused and blinked slowly once.  Ciom Olo said, “I think those that know her well and those who have worked with humans see the absurdity of the messages. Others less knowledgeable  will have questions.”  Ciom Olo waved at the transaction happening at the screen and said, “You and your friends need your own campaign. Call it an effort to rehabilitate your image.”

Liam groaned and said, “Lovely. Perfectly, bloody well lovely.”

They watched and the shopping appeared to be finished. Felicity waved at Liam while Oexan Lili blinked in the direction of Ciom Olo. Ciom Olo said, “It seems shopping is done. Now it is a matter of negotiating the price.”

Liam straightened up  and brushed off his one piece suit and said, “Finally something I can understand.” He looked at the price that was shown on the screen and took a shocked look saying, “Good lord, man. You’ll bankrupt us.”

Ciom Olo’s head wagged from side to side and said with

[1]  Genesis 11:5,6. “And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are all one people, and they all have one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”