Chapter Three of The Start of EternityEdit
Humanity quickly spread through its home galaxy, but ventured no further. Even into the late Foundation Era the nearest neighboring galaxies remained as little more than mysterious lights in the sky... -Encyclopedia Galactica
A cute galaxyEdit
Five days after leaving Tokishira the Many Sails completed a long hyperspatial jump and was at optimal viewing distance from the Large Magellanic Cloud. In order to take advantage of the fine view, Fint and Lorn-Kru had a date on the observation deck. Fint was trying to explain the concept of a romantic rendezvous, but the concept was meaningless to Lorn-Kru. "Look, Lorny, I know even your pathetic species has some concept of beauty. Can't you understand that when you sneak off somewhere to meet your lover you are thinking about how beautiful your lover is and you want to take your lover to a beautiful place in order to make it a beautiful experience?"
Lorn-Kru wondered how calling your lover's species "pathetic" contributed to a beautiful experience, but decided thon was being too analytical. "What if your lover decides that the romantic location is more beautiful than you are?"
Fint tried to decide if that was an innocent question or if Lorn-Kru was being cruel. She decided that it was just an honest question from the clueless hermaphrodite. Fint replied, "He better have the sense to pay attention to me anyhow."
Lorn-Kru still felt a shudder every time Fint used the word "he". It was clear that she wanted Lorn-Kru to learn to play the role of a "he", but among the Ouwui, the terms "he" or "she" implied a sexual pervert who denied half of thons hermaphroditic nature. For Lorn-Kru, the beautiful view of the galaxy they were approaching did provoke what thon thought of as an intellectually-based sense of awe and wonder because of the billions of stars and millions of worlds with untold numbers of living and thinking beings. The crew had now been briefed on the nature of the civilization that existed in this minigalaxy, and Lorn-Kru was eager to visit it and learn more.
Lorn-Kru had learned that there was a 15,000 year old space-faring culture here, populated by humans and half a dozen other species. The Huaoshy had taken humans off of Earth many tens of thousands of years ago. Then, when the Huaoshy were defeated at Earth, they had simply continued their project of pushing humans along the desired cultural development path....it just all happened on worlds of the Large Magellanic Cloud rather than in the Milky Way Galaxy.
Fint noticed that Lorn-Kru was staring at the minigalaxy rather than gazing into her eyes. Fint could now quickly recognize when Lorn-Kru was lost in thought. She had also gotten past her natural tendency to get angry with Lorn-Kru when thon slipped away like this, even when it happened at the same exact moment she was warning him to pay attention to her. When thon went off into deep thoughts like this, the easy solution was for Fint to just blow warm air into thons ear, as she did now. "You drifted off again."
Lorn-Kru came back to thons senses. "Sorry. I simply cannot look at this cute little galaxy and not think about how humans have developed here, in such a normal way...while they made such a mess of their home galaxy."
Fint decided that for the moment it would be a waste of time to continue trying to get Lorn-Kru to act like a love-stricken male of her species. Fint gazed for a moment at the swirl of stars and tried to think of it as Lorn-Kru did, as a giant test tube for sociological experiments. She suggested, "Maybe some day humans and the Milky Way Galaxy will provide a classic case for study and be taught as proof of the value of Huaoshy methods. Then again, maybe some day this mission will be used as an example of yet another failed attempt to strike back at the humans. I've certainly not heard how the Huaoshy plan to make any more progress against the humans now than they have for the past 20,000 years."
Lorn-Kru complained, "The Captain refuses to explain how humans defeated the Huaoshy. It cripples my thought processes to be kept in the dark like this. I can only assume that we will be told the truth at an appropriate time. It is as if we are being tested. How much idiotic secrecy will we put up with before we quit?" Still, Lorn-Kru wondered if maybe the Captain knew what thon was doing. Maybe there was an important reason for this secrecy.
Fint did not envy Lorn-Kru for thons relentless seriousness. "This is why I'm trying to teach you how to have fun. The Captain ordered me to keep you entertained so that you will not quit the mission in frustration."
Lorn-Kru suspected that Fint was joking with thon, but thon could not be sure. "Are you serious?"
Fint smacked thon on the top of thons head with a tentacle. "No, silly. I'm sure Hooski is sickened by the perverted games I play with you, just as you were at the start of this mission."
Lorn-Kru was close to slipping off into deep thought about how humans from this minigalaxy should differ from the humans thon had already met, but then thon paused and thought of Fint. Thon made the required effort to play her game of flirtation for a while longer. Really, there was no point in speculating; soon enough they would meet these new humans and all would be revealed. It was more entertaining to try to understand Fint than fight against the current of Hooski's deceptions. At least Fint was trying to help thon understand her.
Lorn-Kru was disappointed to learn that they had come all this way to the minigalaxy and would not get the chance to visit a human world. Fint had explained that they would meet humans at a Huaoshy base in orbit around a human-populated planet, but they would not actually visit the human world.
The crew gathered for a formal dinner held the day before they reached the Huaoshy base. Captain Hooski had even invited Alkeirs. Hooski used the dinner as an opportunity to explain that they would be taking on human crew members. "Remember, these humans are from a cultural lineage that has been working with Huaoshy and other species for thousands of years. They have a rather sophisticated understanding of their origin, including the idea that all humans originated from the Earth's biosphere."
Wilry asked, "But are these humans aware of the fact that Earth humans defeated the Huaoshy?"
Hooski replied, "Yes, their knowledge of the situation is roughly equivalent to what you now know."
Alkeirs was suspicious. "So are these humans loyal to you or to Earth?"
Hooski explained, "I trust these humans to function as an integral part of this crew. And by the way Alkeirs, the same goes for you. Anyone who is not happy about our mission should disembark from Many Sails. There is interesting work to be done in this minigalaxy."
Lorn-Kru suspected that the Captain was trying to get Alkeirs to resign from the crew of Many Sails, but none of the crew indicated an interest in abandoning their planned mission to Earth.
"There are some details I want to share with you about the humans who will be coming aboard," Hooski said. "They are all experienced users of robots and they are bringing their own robots on board. One of the humans is little changed genetically from humans as they existed on Earth 20,000 years ago. The others are from subcultures where the human form has been artificially modified."
Fint asked, "But what is special about these humans? Why bother to take them to Earth now? What has changed in the 20,000 years since humans defeated the Huaoshy forces at Earth?"
Hooski held up a digital tentacle, "First, it has been 20,000 years since that defeat. There is reason to suspect that the people of Earth might have forgotten the Huaoshy and the reasons why humans were once in conflict with us."
Daanour said, "But according to human legends, Earth was destroyed. I've been wondering if the Huaoshy had something to do with Earth's destruction. If so, there is little chance that such an alien attack on humans will have been forgotten."
Lorn-Kru was startled by that suggestion. "If it is true that the Huaoshy once attacked Earth and destroyed its biosphere then that would explain why humans are so xenophobic."
Hooski denied that thons species had ever harmed Earth. "No, the Huaoshy have always had good intentions towards the humans. When we were kicked out of Earth's star system by the humans, Earth was a thriving world."
Alkeirs was accusatory, "They still might have taken offense at Huaoshy methods. Not every species is a willing puppet of the Huaoshy."
Hooski tried to ignore Alkeirs and held up a second tentacle, "Second, humans in the Milky Way Galaxy have now been having contacts with alien visitors for the past several centuries. They should be able to understand that there is a vast intergalactic culture, ever growing and expanding in this direction. The humans of Earth will eventually have to learn how to get along with other species. Our mission's goal is to help them move towards a constructive relationship with other species."
Fint was not satisfied. "So are you saying that the Huaoshy are only just getting around to confronting Earth now, 20,000 years after they defeated you?"
Alkeirs demanded, "Don't just reply to Fint's question. Don't make us play 20 questions. Why not just tell us the whole truth?"
Hooski continued to ignore Alkeirs. "Fint, there have been earlier attempts by the Huaoshy to reach an accommodation with Earth, but our efforts at reconciliation have always been rebuffed. The last such attempt was over 10,000 years ago, so yes, you could say that we are only just now getting back to dealing with this situation."
Alkeirs did not want to let Hooski leave it at that. "Did you ever previously try to use your human puppets from this minigalaxy as a tool against Earth?"
It seemed clear that Hooski was going to ignore the question, any question from Alkeirs. Fint said, "I think that is a sensible question. Have you previously tried using human agents who are loyal to you as intermediates for trying to repair relations with Earth?"
Hooski was willing to reply to Fint. "Yes, it is an obvious approach and it has been tried repeatedly. But as I said, the last such attempt was long ago. It is now time to try again. If any of you are not comfortable with this, you need not make the trip to Earth. Also, I must warn you: in the past many of our missions to Earth never returned and the crews were assumed to have been lost."
Fint asked quietly, "You mean the humans killed those crews? We face the same danger?"
Hooski replied, "Captured, killed, we do not know. We cannot accurately predict the risks associated with this mission, but I personally hope that things have changed now. Why should the humans feel differently about allowing us on either Tokishira or Earth?"
Wilry suggested, "Maybe it should be enough for us to take notice that the humans do have clearly stated rules. They do not want alien visitors on most of their worlds. Also, we should not forget that they feel particularly strongly about Earth. And when I say 'they' I mean the mysterious central human power that has worked so hard to keep Earth's location secret."
Hoosky rose. The dinner was at its end. "I can only repeat. If you have doubts about the mission, if you fear for your safety, then just walk away. I only want crew members who are enthusiastic about helping on this mission, even given the possible risks involved."
Fint, Wilry, Daanour and Lorn-Kru were off Many Sails and out exploring. Lorn-Kru had never seen so many Huaoshy in one place...the Observer Base was simply crawling with them. They seemed to even outnumber humans.
The base was an extensive series of habitation chambers inside an asteroid. After wandering around the main public spaces, the Many Sails crew members found themselves in a quirky entertainment district. Fint had quickly latched onto two humans and invited them for a drink. They all stepped into a dark and noisy dance hall.
The humans introduced themselves as Avizeh and Ladislas, speaking a perfectly clear though locally accented version of Standard Intergalactic. Fint introduced herself and her crew mates and explained, "We are visiting human worlds and trying to learn why humans in the Milky Way are so xenophobic."
Avizeh sipped an alcoholic drink and said, "There is a mystery about the Milky Way and why there are only humans there. We have a set of stories, a kind of speculative fiction literature all about that, but nobody seems to know the real truth about human origins. Really, most of the stories are just fantastic tales of war, disease and political intrigues."
Daanour explained that thon was an historian. "I'd love to hear these legends. I can also tell you the related legends of Earth from the Milky Way."
Ladislas shrugged. "The Huaoshy have sent several missions from our minigalaxy to the Milky Way, so we have heard their legends of Earth. Most people here seem to prefer our fantasy literature over the rather boring legends from the Milky Way."
Fint was puzzled. She had initially suspected that Avizeh was a human female and Ladislas a male, but now after speaking to them she was not sure. They were dressed differently and only Avizeh had makeup on, but their loose-fitting robes made it impossible to be sure. On closer inspection she could see that they were not conventional humans, but rather, some genetically modified off-shoot. Fint asked them, "Are you lovers?"
The two humans were puzzled and exchanged a glance. Lorn-Kru said, "Please excuse Fint's blunt question. Fint's species is a rarity within our culture, a species that retains sexual dimorphism. Fint is interested in human sexuality."
Avizeh nodded. "I see. Well, things are different here than in the Milky Way. Most humans here have moved away from the original human pattern of male and female. Ladislas and I are a human variant that is engineered to have protogyny. We are female when young, have children, then become male. Ladislas and I are both in the female phase."
Fint pushed the matter further, "But you did not answer my question."
Ladislas explained, "We are raising our children together. We are not 'lovers' in the conventional human sense, but rather, parents living according to a pattern which is popular for our type of protogyny."
Fint was ecstatic, "Wonderful! My own species has a similar splinter culture, so I completely understand. Or, at least, I suspect I do. Just to be clear, were you impregnated by each other or by males?"
Avizeh described the process. "Our children were conceived in the Vivarium using our eggs and microinjection of synthetically generated pronuclei derived from germ cells isolated from our immature male gonads. So we are the parents of our children."
Every member of Wilry's species was a synchronous hermaphrodite. "It seems a rather cumbersome approach, having to accelerate the male germ cell development. In my species there is no such delay; both gametes are available upon sexual maturation of any individual."
Fint tried to explain to Wilry why it made sense for the humans to use a more cumbersome reproductive method. "Remember, humans are a very young species. It is common for young species to gradually move towards fully synchronous hermaphroditic forms."
Daanour commented, "And my species long ago moved past male/female synchrony. We have a single type of gamete. While Wikry's species is totally dependent on ex-vivo fertilization technology, members of my species can either use a laboratory-assisted fertilization step or we can still fertilize in vivo...although, it must be said, that practice is frowned upon."
Ladislas said, "We have learned from the Huaoshy that most species engineer themselves in such ways." She asked Lorn-Kru, "What about your species?"
Lorn-Kru replied, "My people have a consciously-controlled form of sequential hermaphroditism. We can switch from producing male gametes to female in about a year and from female to male in a much shorter period of time. But at the gross anatomical level we are both male and female all the time."
Ladislas nodded. "Interesting, but you are correct, here in this minigalaxy there are only young species, and very many different kinds. One species originated here in this galaxy and the others were imported from the Milky Way. Part of our problem is that the Huaoshy have been pushing for unusually fast cultural changes and diversification here in this galaxy. We have many human variants and have not had enough time to settle them all into stable patterns. For example, many humans view our rather technology-intensive method of obtaining male pronuclei as a type of perversion."
Fint said, "I quite understand. Even under more optimal conditions such prejudices arise. For my species it is the reverse....reliance on artificial reproductive technology is nearly universal. Individuals such as myself with an interest in non-technologically assisted reproduction are viewed as regressive throwbacks to the past."
Lorn-Kru wondered why Fint had been so reluctant to share this secret with thon, but here, with these humans, she had felt free to discuss the matter. Of course, it was the case that Lorn-Kru's species had a strong bias against using artificial reproductive technologies. Apparently Fint saw thon as a kind of natural ally in her rebellion against artificial modes of reproduction.
Wilry changed the subject, "There seem to be a large number of Huaoshy here at this base. Has this always been the case or is there an unusual event taking place?"
Avizeh replied, "I'm not sure what is normal. I've lived here all my life and never visited another base. I've always assumed that most other places are similar to here. It seems like there have always been many Huaoshy, but I am rather young."
Ladislas explained, "In my experience the Huaoshy are rather aloof and mysterious. I know that some humans work closely with them, but most of us have very limited contact with them. Certainly it is the case that young humans like us in their reproductive years have few contacts with Huaoshy. What might it mean if you are correct and there is an unusually large number of Huaoshy here?"
Daanour suggested, "It might be related to our mission. I wonder if there has been any kind of public announcement about our arrival here, our mission and our destination."
Avizeh and Ladislas again exchanged glances. Avizeh said, "Everyone was told to expect visitors from other galaxies...new types of species never before seen here. I must admit, I find your appearances rather odd...if not alarming!"
Ladislas asked, "Please, do not be offended by Avizeh, but we do lead rather sheltered lives here. We know it is different where you come from, that there are millions of different species. However, we have grown up here with only a half dozen different species and we are surprised to find ourselves here sitting next to you! How long do you expect to be here?"
Fint replied, "Apparently not for very long. Our Captain was just expecting to take on a few new crew members. I've already plotted a course back to the Milky Way."
Avizeh said, "Well, enjoy your stay. We should be going, now. Thanks for the drink and the conversation."
They all said goodbye and then Daanour said, "They never really answered to say if the nature our mission had been announced here."
Wilry observed, "And they quickly departed when you raised that issue."
Fint noted, "It might all be innocent. I rather rudely latched onto them and they may have just needed to get home."
"There's no reason to advertise our mission here," Lorn-Kru said. "It sounded like the Captain long ago had information about the new crew members to be taken onboard here. Probably there is a small group of humans here who are aware of our mission, but most people at this base have apparently only been warned to expect some strange alien visitors. We've certainly been getting plenty of strange looks from passers by. These humans are different from those on Tokishira in this regard."
The Many Sails crew members decided to stay where they were and order a meal. Hours later when they finally returned to the ship, Lorn-Kru went to the galley for desert. Jeed informed Lorn-Kru that the new crew members were already on board. "In addition to the humans, there is a member of another species, a Ressese."
Lorn-Kru recognized that species. "Oh, that is another of the species that was transplanted here from the Milky Way."
Before Lorn-Kru could finish thons desert, Fint arrived in the galley. "Well, we are back in space."
Lorn-Kru had not even noticed the departure. "Already? Was Hooski waiting impatiently for us to return?"
Fint replied, "Apparently. And now I have to help Many Sails plot a new course. We are not going straight to Earth."
Lorn-Kru said, "Let me guess, we are going to the Ressese home world."
Fint asked, "How do you know that?"
"Jeed told me that there is a Ressese on board, so I guessed."
"I see. Interesting. Well, I never really thought it through before, but apparently the humans are not really alone in the Milky Way. When they spread out from Earth they forced the Huaoshy to abandon their Observer Bases near several dozen worlds with developing pre-space faring cultures. By the way, the Ressese home world is known as Imfulri."
Lorn-Kru and Fint arrived at the dining hall and found Wilry and Daanour already present and talking with Jeed. Jeed offered to fetch them a drink. Alkeirs came in right behind Lorn-Kru and Fint and started complaining. "Are we going to actually meet our new crew members or are we just hauling them like cargo?"
Daanour speculated, "Hooski might want to give them a formal introduction at this dinner. I did catch a glimpse of the Ressese waddling down the Central Hall and into the Captain's cabin today."
Jeed came back from the Galley with drinks for Lorn-Kru and Fint. "I've been getting to know our new crew members. I've been working with each of them to make sure I'm able to provide them with suitable food for this meal. Humans have some unique ideas about what constitutes food for a formal occasion."
Alkeirs muttered, "And to think I was thankful that the crew was so small and that Hooski called for so few formal dinners...now the crew is growing and we are having more frequent-"
Wilry let loose with both of thons mouths, "Alkeirs, give it a break. We know you hate our food. All you have been doing is complaining. Why not just stay in your cabin?"
Alkeirs sat down grumpily. "Fine. I'll be quiet."
Jeed said, "Well, I wanted to discuss the matter, because I think Alkeirs might have a particular problem with some of the human foods. My automated olfactory test system flagged a potential problem with one of the human foods that was requested to be on the formal dinner menu."
Alkeirs said quietly, "I'm used to suffering."
Fint said, "I have to give you credit, Alkeirs. You are the only one willing to challenge Hooski and the oppressive secrecy that hangs over this mission, but I agree, give the complaining a rest."
Many Sails spoke, "The Captain is bringing the new crew members to the dining hall."
Daanour asked, "What's the problem Many Sails, would it embarrass you to have us caught bickering when the Captain brings in our new crew mates?"
Many Sails replied, "No, but I thought some of you might like to try to make a good first impression. Now behave."
The door opened and the Captain brought in the new crew members. There was a flurry of robotic activity as everyone was seated at the second table and given a drink. Hooski raised thons ornate Captain's Mug. "Introductions are in order. Normally I would have arranged for a training and orientation session before heading out on this mission, but we will use our next stop as our training run. So let me first introduce our new Ressese crew member who has agreed to lead this training phase of our mission. Sahiwha Nennoad has long planned and prepared for this visit to Imfulri." The Captain gestured towards the short and stout Ressese.
The Captain continued, "But, of course, our main mission will involve a visit to Earth and our rather daunting task of trying to repair damages now 20,000 years old. We will be relying on our new human crew members. In order of seniority they are Commander Orleane, Roboticist Esselle, and Geneticist Rewhand."
Welcomes were called out and ceremonial drinks were sipped. The Captain walked over to the table of the original crew, "So, these additions double the size of the crew. The original four crew members, in order of space mission experience, are Engineer Lorn-Kru, Demographer Wilry, Historian Daanour and Astrogator Fint. The independent observer for this mission is Citizen Alkeirs."
Hooski sat down and the robots served the first course of the meal. Daanour turned thons chair and asked Nennoad, "So, what are these plans you have for our visit to Imfulri?"
Nennoad replied, "Unfortunately, I doubt if I will be allowed to set foot on Imfulri itself, but my goal is that we go on record as having made a formal claim for the right to visit the true birth place of my species. The humans have long treated Imfulri like a prison for Ressese. Humans and the mysteries of Earth and human origins are the fundamental problem of the Milky Way and the main concern of this mission, but I'm pleased that the fate of Imfulri has not been forgotten."
Alkeirs was unable to keep quiet. "But how many centuries has it been since Imfulri fell into the hands of the humans? And in all that time, has anything changed the balance of power? We have been explicitly warned by the humans not to attempt to visit worlds such as Imfulri. What sense does it make to try to go there now?"
Right at that moment one of the robots brought food for Orleane. Alkeirs had a particular bad reaction to the odor of Orleane's food. Alkeirs, a veteran of many voyages and frequent exposure to objectionable food odors was still taken by surprise. Alkeirs cried, "What is that horrible stink?"
Jeed was anticipating a bad response of Alkeirs to some of the human foods. Jeed explained, "A common human beverage is coffee, and it is very aromatic. I'm sorry, Alkeirs, but it is a traditional human drink for formal dining occasions."
Commander Orleane stood up and took a cup of coffee off of the serving tray. "The coffee plant was long ago taken off of Earth and it thrives on my home world here in the Large Magellanic Cloud." He sipped the drink. "Not bad, Jeed."
Alkeirs retreated to the far side of the dining hall and applied another coat of odorant neutralizing gel to his olfactory apparatus.
Captain Hooski spoke again, "This mission was put together under difficult circumstances and critical crew members were selected without any chance to avoid problems like food odor incompatibilities. I call on each of you to do your best to work successfully with all of your crew mates. We will keep these formal diners to the absolute minimum."
While Jeed and the other robots began to serve food, Hooski remained standing and said, "There is a topic that we need to discuss as a group. Robots. We have a fairly large number of robots along with us on this mission. In particular, the human crew members have extensive training in how to make use of humaniform robots. By 'humaniform' I mean robots that have the appearance of humans. Some of the robots on this ship can not be easily distinguished from biological humans. They will stay secluded in cabins during out space travel, so none of you need worry about a chance encounter and the need to correctly distinguish human from robot."
Fint asked, "Why bother with these human-like robots? We have been told that humans have a dislike for robots, particularly robots in the form of humans. Won't we needlessly provoke humans by bringing along humaniform robots on this mission?"
Captain Hooski replied, "Yes, all of our information indicates that humans in the Milky Way very rarely make use of robots, and when they do use them it is usually in dangerous industrial settings such as mines where there are unsafe work conditions."
Roboticist Esselle said, "However, on the human worlds of the Large Magellanic Cloud we often make use of robots."
Fint wanted more specific information. "What do you mean by 'often'?"
Roboticist Esselle replied, "We use robots about as much as is typical with inter-galactic civilization. For example, we often make use of robotic servants for tasks such as cooking, as is the case on this spaceship."
Fint pointed to Jeed, "A robot like Jeed is not meant to simulate the form of a particular biological species. What is the purpose of making and using robots that are structurally indistinguishable from humans?"
Geneticist Rewhand commented, "One common use of humaniform robots is as sexual partners. I realize that such uses of robots are frowned upon by most species, but remember, humans are an unusual species. Most humans retain their primitive reproductive drive and have never been genetically altered in the way that most species have so as to make reproduction a more practical and intellectual concern rather than a process driven by instinct and emotion."
Fint commented, "Unfortunately, Rewhand, most of the non-human biologicals in this crew are genetically altered so as to be essentially unable to appreciate primitive reproductive drives and instincts. I'm the only individual here besides you humans that is a member of a species with distinctive male and female genders and body forms."
Roboticist Esselle nodded, "Well, most of the crew need not be concerned about human sexuality. The point is, something interesting has limited the use of robots on human worlds in the Milky Way galaxy. That is a mystery that has never been solved. However, there are legends suggesting that robots were often used when humans first started to spread from Earth to other worlds of the galaxy. Some of us suspect that if we can reach Earth and other ancient worlds then we might find that robots are still used there. In any case, as a roboticist I am quite experienced in how to interact with robots and I normally have my robots with me at all times. I will try to do without their services as much as possible on this mission, but I will make use of them as appropriate."
Captain Hooski said, "Thank you for explaining that, Esselle. Now, please enjoy your meals." The Captain sat down and the formal dinner continued. Over the the later courses there was some lively discussion of the Ressese species and what was known about the world Imfulri. Alkeirs gave up and departed early when a second pot of coffee was brought out from the kitchen during desert.