Day 21. 78 pages, 36,404 words.
The Ogres were surprised at Truck’s ability to talk so ‘pretty’, and were even more astonished when she showed them the transcription equipment that turned her hand and finger gestures into sounds that emitted from her suit. This was deep-level technological sorcery to the Ogres, who didn’t really have that much in the way of fine coordination. If you wanted something bashed with a club, though, forget about it. Fat Tuesday and Big Thundering Bjørn were your guys.
After an extended tour of the warehouse and a lot of standing around and waiting for the Ogres to snuffle at things or the humans to prattle at each other urgently, they ended up in a poky little chamber in a below-ground part of the rambling structure. Well, it wasn’t particularly poky, but two Ogres and an aki’Drednanth had a way of making even the most spacious chamber seem cramped.
“Please do unto us the kindness to have sumptuous golden […],” warehouse caretaker Boriel Belal said as Massington attempted to make himself comfortable in the slightly-too-small chair. Boriel proffered a deep platter of soft, round yellow cakes that Massington assumed to be sumptuous golden something-or-others. It did sound like rather an ostentatious name for what he took to be fairly simple foodstuffs, but the antique Xidh the humans spoke threw the occasional hilarious bit of lingo into the mix. And the humans did seem to like their grand turns of phrase. “Katter produceth them himself,” Boriel added.
Massington plucked a sumptuous golden whatever from the platter, gave Truck a doubtful glance and waited for Mos to warn him about the dangers of the sumptuous golden somesuch if it was going to. He couldn’t have found two more nonverbal-communication-challenged companions to share a first contact mission with, however, so was forced to smile at Boriel Belal and Katter Boylson, and take a bite from the hand-made delicacy. Well, he could only hope that when Belal said Katter produceth them himself, he meant that Katter fashioned them from an assortment of non-toxic ingredients, not that Katter had a … a gland or something. Possibly related to his job as faeces-archivist.
The likelihood of Katter having a sumptuous golden whatsit gland seemed negligible, though. Once Massington tasted the little cake and found it to be fluffy and warm and sweet almost beyond belief, he decided that it didn’t really matter if Katter did have a sumptuous golden whatsit gland. If he did, it was evidently in perfect working order, and what was alien contact without a little exotic fare and acceptable digestive risk? He was a Fleet ambassador, Machine Mind Organic Interface to the Greater Molran Species, walking – or in this case sitting – among humans for the first time, and he had to step up – or in this case sit down – and do the things an intrepid and open-minded explorer might be expected to do. Besides, he had no doubt that he ate far less-healthy things on a regular basis.
“It’s very good,” he said, taking a second bite. The two bites accounted for two-thirds of the cake and, he calculated, approximately two-thirds of his recommended dose of sugar for the next month. “I’m sorry I didn’t bring anything … I feel I should offer you some refreshments from my ship.”
“Humans would find thraba bars quite indigestible,” Mer spoke up smoothly, “even those printed on their blandest setting. We will have to continue the culinary exchange at a later date,” it took up the explanation in swift Gund, and the humans nodded understandingly.
“Sure t’would please me beyond measure, wert thou to partake in but another,” Boriel urged, and Katter nodded with an amusingly familiar chef’s pride and anxiety. “Or, yea, e’en a gross […].”
“One more,” Massington said queasily. “I certainly wouldn’t dream of taking a … gross.”
Adithol Wren, meanwhile, was fiddling with a clunky white box attached to the far end of the table.
“It is argovision,” Boriel Belal confided, pointing at the box. Wren had a panel open in the side of the device now, and was poking at the spongy-crystalline black interior with a black-dusted metal tool clearly designed for the purpose. “The Argoth-box. Very old. Also most discreet, so we may […] communications a-quiet.”
“I see,” Massington said, although if this was a piece of human technology that didn’t shout deafeningly into the galaxy at the speed of light, it would be the first he’d seen.
“Adithol is immune to the spots,” Boriel added cryptically.
“Lucky Adithol,” Massington murmured. “I hope I’m immune to the spots.”
“Of course you are,” Mer said. “What do you take me for?”
Adithol closed the panel, wiped his hands on his robe, and craned to look at the side of the box facing the seated party. When the smooth white surface refused to do what he clearly wanted it to do, Adithol gave the argovision device a swift whack on the top with the flat of his hand. A picture appeared.
“That’s Captain Char,” Massington said, and felt his ears tremble slightly. “And Lalliard Left Sock. And … they’re … that’s the representative leadership of the Earth contact convoy. They’re here on Earth now?”
“Aye,” Adithol said, pleased. The image point-of-view pulled back to reveal a big table in a spacious room, with humans and Five Species members sitting and enjoying a diplomatic-friendly chat. Rather like the setup here in the warehouse, in fact. Except for the bigness of the table and the spaciousness of the room, of course. And the slightly more formal attire the people on the argovision were wearing. “We get sound in […],” he went on, and tapped his head, presumably referring to his technological implants. “I shall endeavour most […] ensure that […] yea, for indeed…”
“I can carry sound across,” Mer said. “Just give me a moment to get a toe-hold.”
“They’re not broadcasting this,” Massington said, aghast. “There were such detailed plans of how to deal with the different human groups…”
“No, they decided on a series of private, informal, small-group preliminary meetings,” Mer said.
“And this secret argovision thing,” Massington pointed. “How is that getting a picture from inside this private meeting?”
“Our […] sponsor, landlord, master, patron of the warehouse,” Adithol explained, “CorpHead Fagin […] grand design within the very heart of Detroit, Lostlake.”
“He wills that we see these […] events,” Boriel added.
Katter pointed at the argovision. “N’naba means feeble,” he said, evidently in response to something only the augmented humans could hear. “Why do they call the miniature automaton feeble?”
Massington looked. “What? Oh, that’s just a giela,” he started to explain casually, and the mild-mannered warehouse cultists completely lost their minds.
I am anxious to see if there is a symbolism to Fat Tuesday eating the moons of Big Thundering Bjorn. Or if those names have gotten lost in the annals of 10,000 years.
My current thinking (it probably won’t enter this story, Bjørn and Tuesday are characters from elsewhere in the urverse) is that the gas giant was named Big Thundering Bjørn out of mythical homage, and because you can’t have Bjørn without Tuesday (and possibly because Tuesday is a known snacker), that was the name they gave the mining facility.