Sunday Serialisation – Back Paige. Chapter fifteen, part three.

Three hours passed before the QBEs announced another contact from the underwater aliens. This time it was more conciliatory in nature. This time, as Kate and Lily had successfully resolved the video encoding issue and adjusted their image processors to accept it, Andrea was able to see the Ringan. The monochrome image was of a quality that would have pleased the audience to the first human landing on Earth’s moon in 1969 but no-one since. It was not good. The Ringan appeared rounded and many-limbed, its pale flesh protected under what looked like a white multi-segment carapace – rather like a cross between an advanced arachnid and a crayfish or shrimp. Behind Oblynkst Hoolfah, a number of others appeared to be going about their business. They moved rather more quickly than their appearance might suggest, navigating on the four rear limbs, whilst the front four terminated in manipulators of some kind. In addition to this, they sported a short pair of sturdy-looking pincers on each side of their face. The row of four eyes across the top of the face appeared capable of independent movement; those of Oblynkst Hoolfah each seemingly carrying out separate jobs. Only one looked toward the camera, the other three presumably scanning whatever displays or equipment the Oblynkst was operating.

Oblynkst Hoolfah had suggested a meeting in their domain, but as this was more than 20 kms under the sea, where pressures exceed two thousand bars, their invitation was politely declined. As much as neither Xhwntradin nor humans can operate at those pressures, Ringans’ physiology would probably collapse in an environment where the pressure was only one two thousandth of that they had evolved to withstand. The two Rear Admirals and their Commodores were happy to hold a virtual meeting, as were the Ringans. It remained only for the Xhwntradin to be convinced.

Whilst this diplomatic manoeuvring was going on, deep in C-pill’s data labs Katja was overseeing the transfer and reformatting of a suitably edited version of Panpaedia into a five petabyte Small Programmable Interface Data Exchange Relay or SPIDER – a cut-down and specialised version of a BSMMD – in a form that would render it accessible to the Xhwntradin appendages. This would give the aliens a sense of humanity’s journey through time whilst minimising its warlike and acquisitive nature.

“Fancy a trip to the planet?” Andrea asked Joan.

“Sounds fun. Can I bring Gertie? I’m sure she’d like to see it.”

“How many pods do you have?”

“Five, same as you, of course.”

“Of course. Okay, I’ll bring Ishmael, Sarah, Katja and the SPIDER; that’s my five accounted for. We’ll go first and prepare them for you and Gertie. Co-ordinates are coming across now. You follow after five minutes.”

“Okay, Andy. See you down there.”

Andrea, Ishmael, Sarah and Katja materialised on the surface, just outside the Retreat. They approached the building, Katja pulling the device behind her, and noted that there was no sign of Fronglad or Granhalf. A smaller Xhwntrad, looking like a male child, came towards them.

“Ah, humans,” he said, “you look just like the memory said you would. Hello, my name is Franglan of the family Phragnet. You met my father, I think. I know two of you. You are Andrea and Sarah, but I don’t know the rest.”

Ishmael spoke first. “We are very pleased to meet you, Franglan of the family Phragnet. I am Commodore Ishmael Al-Kawazi and my companion is Katja Tuukkanen.”

“I see. Ishmael and Katja. You have no honorific, Katja?”

Katja considered explaining it to the young alien but decided it would be easier not to. “No, I don’t,” she said, “Can I ask how old you are, Franglan?”

“I shall have thirteen orbits after twenty-two more cycles.”

Katja frowned momentarily as she considered what the boy had said. After a couple of seconds her face lit up. “Thirteen? In our culture, thirteen is when you become a teenager – almost an adult. Certainly, one to be taken seriously.”
Franglan’s appendages flashed pink and green, which Katja took to indicate a positive emotion – pride maybe?

“Would we be able to see your father?” Andrea asked.

“Yes, you would, if he were here; but he isn’t, so you can’t,” Franglan said and started laughing.

Holding back her natural reaction, Andrea smiled and asked, “Where is he? Your father.”

“Oh, he’s on his way. He knows you’re here. He’ll probably bring his friend with him. You know, Granhalf. Oh look, here they come now. I can just see their transport arriving.”

Transport number one arrived and stopped outside the building. Fronglad and Granhalf stepped out of it. Franglan ran up to them, bobbed a curtsey to Granhalf [that’s right, a curtsey; I thought it was strange, too] and threw himself into his father’s long arms. Still carrying his son, Fronglad approached Andrea.

“I see you have met my daughter [ah, now the curtsey makes sense]. Isn’t she just the sweetest? I just wish I could persuade her to dress like a girl occasionally,” Fronglad said then, pointing to the SPIDER, “Is that what I think it is?”

In reply, Katja switched the device on. Fronglad and Granhalf showed on their faces a level of delight that you’d need to see to believe; their appendages, and Franglan’s, went fully kaleidoscopic like so many disco lights and they almost started drooling.

“Yes,” Andrea said, somewhat redundantly, “it’s Panpaedia.”

Fronglad’s face took on an air of doubtfulness. “There are some gaps, no?”

“There are,” Andrea confessed. She then went on to explain, “some relatively recent information was deemed by our superiors to be too sensitive to release, they have concerns about compromising global security.”

“But our quest is for knowledge, not strategic gain. The most we are likely to do with any knowledge we gain is talk about it with each other. We never meet anyone outside the Place, so there can be no risk.”

“Fronglad, my friend,” Andrea said, although how she kept a straight face is and will ever remain something of a mystery, “You know that and I know that, but my superiors in the global authority have decided otherwise and I can’t go against their instructions.”

[This, of course, was a lie, a falsehood, a deception or, in the words of one erstwhile alleged leader, ‘fake news’. The truth of the matter was that Andrea hadn’t sought approval for the transfer of data from C-pill to the Xhwntradin from anyone. She had made the decision on her own authority and had, herself, decided what to leave out. What had been, as it were, redacted was not current intelligence of a sensitive nature, but anything that would allow the recipients to correctly infer that the humans of Earth tend to be duplicitous, unreliable, untrustworthy, pugnacious, and self-serving; in essence, not the sort of people you’d want to get into bed with – and I mean that, of course, in the sense of political and/or business treaties, agreements and accords, not what is known in the vernacular as rumpy-pumpy.]

“I understand,” Fronglad said, “I can’t say I’m not disappointed, but I can’t argue against your reasoning.” All the time, his appendages and those of his daughter and his friend were cycling through the full panoply of hues represented on the Munsell colour wheel as they acquired and shared three-hundred Terabytes of (redacted) data on the dramatic and varied history of the now-blighted planet our heroes called home.

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