Once the frenetic activity in their appendages had abated, Andrea said, “Actually, there’s something else we need to talk to you about, but first, there are a couple more of our people I want you to meet.”
Immediately on cue, Joan and Gertie appeared in the trees behind them. Andrea signalled for them to approach. With measured steps, partially bowed heads and holding back any negative feelings that may have been engendered by the unexpected appearance of the Xhwntradin, they approached.
“Let me introduce my friends, Rear Admiral Joan Weinberg and Commodore Gertrude Elliott. Ladies, please meet Fronglad of the family Phragnet, his daughter Franglan and the senior physician, Granhalf of the family Bordonnis.”
Speaking for the three, Fronglad said, “Thank you. Welcome to our planet, Joan and Gertrude…”
“Gertie,” she corrected.
“I prefer to be called Gertie,” she repeated, “Gertrude is too formal. That’s what my father used to call me before walloping me – I mean before administering a well-deserved chastisement.”
“Very well. Welcome, Joan and Gertie – and thank you for that extra knowledge.”
Andrea spoke again. “Whilst we were happy to give you the Panpaedia knowledge,” she said, “there is another, more pressing reason for coming down today. In fact, there are two things it is imperative that you know. Is there anything like a ruling council we should speak to? What I have to tell you has the potential to affect your entire population.”
“As I said before, Andrea, shared memory means that all decisions affecting the population are made by the population. We have no need of a council or committee to regulate our affairs. Whatever you say to us here I shall share. It will be common knowledge within the same cycle. If what you have to say is long, it may be better for us to listen to it in a more comfortable setting. Go with Granhalf to the restaurant. I shall take Franglan home to her mother and join you soon.”
“Can the transport carry six passengers in addition to its operator?” Andrea asked Granhalf.
“No,” he replied, “it’s limit is five. But we may be able to manage.”
Sarah piped up, “If it would make it easier, I would be very happy to accompany Fronglad and Franglan to their home and to the restaurant afterwards.”
“Then it’s settled,” Fronglad said, “come, Sarah.”
Fronglad strode towards the nearest transport. Sarah trotted behind, trying to keep up with him. Granhalf and the others went off to find the next transport, which was at the back of the building.
Half an hour later, they were all seated around the table. Andrea and Joan explained their mission and the reasons behind it and paused for a reaction.
“So, what you’re saying is that you broke your planet, now you want to see if you can do any better on ours?” Fronglad asked.
“Not exactly,” Joan replied, “Yes, we did break our planet, but we did so over a period of many generations. Most of that time, we had no idea we were doing damage. For instance, at one time we were describing a fuel as clean and safe, because its only emission was described as harmless carbon dioxide. It wasn’t until much later that our science had advanced to the point that we understood the damaging effect that carbon dioxide was having on the atmosphere and on the planet’s heat cycle. It took our ancestors a ludicrously long time to realise that burning what became known as fossil fuels was not only harming the planet’s ecosystems but also, because it was all obtained by digging deep into the crust, destabilising the planet’s surface. And so it has gone, lurching from crisis to crisis as each iteration of understanding became necessary and was subsequently obtained. I have little doubt that similar cycles were happening on your planet…”
“Which is why our forebears broke away.”
“And quite rightly. We had similar groups, but none were able to break away as cleanly as you did. However, these cycles eventually resulted in the extinction of many species, including your cousins. We have not yet reached that point, and we hope that, having found out what happened here, we never will. However, our world is over-populated and we need to find a new home for some of our people. The alternative is a cull; selective, but large.”
“But how do we know you won’t damage our home and render it uninhabitable?”
Andrea replied, “I can’t give you any guarantees on that. I do know that our science is much better now; that we know how to respect a planet. Before you ask me, I’ll confess that, of course, I can’t be totally sure that we will always have that respect, that our fundamental nature won’t cause us again to go down unwise paths. No-one could give such an assurance. But I can tell you this: we will start off small, and with the best of intentions. We will not seek to settle anywhere near your Place…”
“Or the places of any others like us who may be elsewhere on the planet?”
“If our scans tell us of any others like you, we shall avoid them also. I shall leave a communicator with you. When you have made your decision, just let us know. We can then talk some more and try to convince you of our good intentions. Whatever we finally decide, you have my assurance that it will be respected.”
Joan then told them what her scans had found on the deep sea bed and the events following that discovery, up to and including the agreement for tripartite talks. This caused the Xhwntradin some consternation. Their shared memory speaks of the arrival of their ships, but nothing further. To find that they had been unwittingly sharing their planet with the Ringans for more than eighty generations came as a shock.
“What have you agreed with them?” Granhalf asked.
“Merely that we would talk together,” Joan replied.
“But they have those weapons!”
“I don’t think they’ll try using them again,” Joan said.
“Not against you, but what of us?”
“Why would they want to use them against you?” Andrea asked, “They have had them for a very long time. They have shared the planet with you for a very long time, but never used them.”
“But according to what you said, they have only just found out that they are sharing with us.”
“That they have been for eighty generations without realising it speaks to how smoothly that has been accomplished. They have not been aware of your existence, neither have you of theirs. That sounds like a good arrangement to me. If we now occupy a part of one of the larger land-masses, such that you aren’t aware of our presence and neither are the Ringans, then that would seem to me to be an ideal arrangement.”
“What if they decide they want to move onto the land?”
“I don’t think they could. The pressure at the depth they are living is two thousand times greater than on land. I don’t think their bodies would survive it.”
“What do you know of their physiology?”
“Sadly, very little. Their communications do include video, which our ships’ intelligences have been able to resolve, but apart from telling us what they look like, it gives no real information.”
“So all we know about them is that they are there, they are belligerent, and they have weapons. We don’t.”
“No, but you have us, and we have weapons many times more powerful than theirs. If we are permitted to settle on Xhwntra, we will enter into a non-aggression and defence treaty with you. That means we will never attack you, and if anyone else does, they will have to deal with us. We will not maintain weaponry here, but we can call on the kind of craft that destroyed the Ringan missile in less time than it takes to ride a transport from the Retreat to the Place.”