By the time the survey mission had ended, and the collected data added to the ship’s store, Eaten Messe had also completed its surveys of the Xhwntradin diaspora. It had found that all but three of the groups, somewhat unsurprisingly the most remote from the others, in the equivalent to the Amazon rain forest on Earth, had evolved along the same lines as Fronglad’s group. Physically they were almost identical, and their languages seemed closely related. Until more detailed studies could be carried out, though, it couldn’t be assumed that the usage of the appendages, particularly in terms of the significance and meanings of colour displays, was also comparable.
Eaten travelled to the planet surface under its own steam, as it were, whilst Andrea, Farid, Sarah and Paige, who had joined them by using her pad, followed in the shuttle. As was becoming customary, they met with Fronglad and Granhalf at the building in the Retreat. Franglan was with them.
“Hello Andrea, Farid, Sarah, Paige and Eaten,” Fronglad said, “Thank you for coming to see us again. Do you have some information for us? Some knowledge of other groups of our kind?”
“We do,” Andrea replied, “For our part, we have carried out more extensive mapping surveys of the planet and now have a complete set of data, which is on a SPIDER in our shuttle craft. We’ll share that with you later, to enhance your knowledge about the planet.”
This clearly pleased the Xhwntradin present, as all displayed alternating pale green and pink appendages. “Thank you. We shall look forward to sharing that knowledge. Will it also show where the others are located?”
“Yes,” Farid said, “It will also show where the Ringans are, below the oceans.”
“Thank you. This is knowledge we shall never use, but it will be most satisfying to have it. What detail do you have of the other groupings of our kind?”
Eaten Messe answered, “I surveyed all the groups that our detailed scans had revealed. Most, like yours, are on islands of varying sizes. They appear physically similar, the languages they use are closely related to yours, that is to say that they show the characteristics of having developed from a common source; and their lifestyles are comparable, even to the extent of developing settlements in deep forest as you have done. We have collected DNA samples, one set of which I shall give to you, Granhalf, the other we have analysed ourselves. I leave you to choose whether you want me to present the results we obtained or if you would rather wait for your own.”
“Thank you,” Granhalf said, “I wish to wait for our detailed results, but would be grateful if you could summarise your findings.”
“Very well. We found no major differences between the various groups, yours included. Common ancestry is clear. I won’t go deeper into that, as you’ll want to see your own results before drawing any conclusions.”
“Thank you. You said most populations are on islands. What about those that aren’t?”
“There are three groups deep in the forests of a large continental mass. They differ significantly from all the others. Physically, they are similar, though their cranial appendages are not well-developed, their body is covered in fine, pale brown fur rather than the hairless mauve skin-tone of the island populations. Their language differs more than any other group and the method they used to construct their settlements is unique to them. Specifically, they are less sophisticated. They have no roads, no form of transport and no large, communal buildings. In terms of their DNA, whilst they share a common ancestry, they appear to have diverged between fifty and one hundred generations before the other groups. As a result, they now share significantly less of their genome with you than the other groups do. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, but it appears to me that their bloodlines may not be as pure as yours and those of the other groups we studied.”
“Are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting?” Sarah asked.
“That rather depends on what you think I’m suggesting, Sarah.”
“That they may have crossbred with another group?”
“No, Sarah. I am suggesting that they may have crossbred with another species. Possibly something brown and hairy.”
“We aren’t here to judge, Sarah,” Andrea admonished.
“But we are,” Granhalf said emphatically, “What you are suggesting, Eaten Messe, is unconscionable. If our analysis leads to the same conclusion, then we would most certainly not wish to align ourselves with those groupings.” Fronglad’s appendages glowed yellow in agreement with his friend.
“So,” Farid asked, “what is your next move? Do you still want to proceed as we’d agreed earlier? Is it your wish to attempt to make contact with one or more of these groups and do you agree that may be made easier if one of you comes with us?”
“Yes, yes and yes,” Fronglad said, “And I think it would be good experience for Franglan to go with you. She must, however, be chaperoned by a female from your group. I don’t want her to be travelling with just males.”
“I would be happy to go with her,” Sarah said, looking at Andrea for approval, which she received by way of a subtle nod, “but don’t you think she is rather young for such a diplomatic mission?”
“Franglan is well versed in the ways of our group, and I am confident that she will represent us well. I have also given some thought to the impact on these groups of strangers appearing unannounced. I have our own experience to draw on, of course. After discussion with Granhalf and others, we are of the view that the arrival of a child, particularly one who looks as vulnerable as Franglan does, will be less threatening.”
“That’s a good thought, Fronglad,” Andrea said, “she will be safe with Sarah, too. In addition, Eaten, of course, is neither male nor female and Farid, who will also go with them, is happily married with a child of his own. I have to ask you, Eaten, did your surveys show any risk of aggression, any weaponry?”
“No, but that isn’t something we need worry about. Your MTS operator can watch them every second they are on the surface and, if anything unpleasant seems about to happen, he or she can hit undo before it does.”
“What does hit undo mean, Andrea?”
“Okay, Fronglad, let me explain how this will happen. We shall take Franglan back to our ship in the shuttle craft we used to come down here. To go to the new groupings, we will use pods like the one we used to get you back here after your visit to us. You remember that?”
“Of course. Very quick and efficient.”
“One of the strengths of that system is that as soon as we send them, we can see from the ship exactly what our people on the surface are doing and what’s happening around them. To get them back again, we simply undo the send. Generally, we do that when the job they went to do is finished, but if there are any safety issues or any danger, that undo or un-send, if you prefer, can be issued instantly.”
Eaten Messe took up the story. “That’s right,” it said, “To show you what it’s like, when Jinnis Keet first travelled to the humans’ planet, it was met by someone who was potentially somewhat volatile. He drew a projectile weapon from his garment and shot at Jinnis. Our controllers saw this and hit undo as soon as the weapon was fired but before the projectile reached it. They then put it back after the danger had passed. That is how quickly we will be able to react.”
“On that basis, I am as confident that my daughter will be well cared for as I am that she will do a good job for us.”