The Slp-Og V. Trff looked out of a port and gave an indignant whistle. “It’s winter!”
To this the taller and hairier of its companions returned in a rude voice: “Aren’t you going on-world?” The shorter and more smooth-skinned, to whom the remark had been addressed, didn’t reply at all: she looked out of another port and shivered.
Trff began: “It— Oh,” it said. It fished in the side pocket of its FW pack and glumly adjusted the translator round one slender tentacle. “It’s winter,” it repeated. The translator obligingly translated this into Intergalactic. Unnecessarily: Trff was speaking Intergalactic already, but it was pretty much of a Special Offer translator.
“Yeah, it would be winter: it’s Galaxy Eve,” noted Jhl Smt Wong glumly.
“Trff expected it to be midsummer,” explained the hairy one.
“I’ve told you a megazillion times, Trff, we have Galaxy Day in winter,” she sighed.
“It’s Federation Day they have in summer,” explained the hairy one kindly, looking down his two noses.
Trff hunched itself round its FW pack and asked sadly: “Why are we here, then?"
“They’re expecting me,” said Jhl gloomily. “Didn’t dare to put it off again.”
“They lay on this foul FW feast,” explained the hairy one kindly.
“Shut up! So do your lot!” shouted Jhl.
“The we-it doesn’t: we should have gone to its home planet again, you-it could have spent the whole vacation bathing in scented laa and being stroked with nga’a-nga’a feathers. Like last time,” said Trff pointedly.
“Did she?” asked the hairy one with interest
“Yes, and you could have, too, BrTl, if you hadn’t gone chasing off on another stupid Lost Cause!” said Jhl irritably, hunching herself round her FW pack. “It looks freezing out there,” she muttered to herself.
“I love Lost Causes; nothing pays as well as Lost Cause Guiding,” he said smugly.
“Dangerous and boring,” noted Trff thoughtfully.
“Yeah. Worst of both galaxies: him all over,” noted Jhl.
Ignoring this, BrTl reported smugly: “Success rate seventy percent. Only lost one dumb FW.”
Then they all went back to staring glumly out of the ports.
Finally BrTl said: “Well, come on. Last one off the ship’s an asteroid-brained FW.”
“Put your FW pack on,” ordered Jhl glumly.
“You’re o-breather, aren’t you?” he said, staring at her.
“It’s below S/IG zero out there, that’s not nga’a-nga’a feathers floating down out of the sky, you intergalactic clown!”
Resignedly BrTl assumed his FW pack. “Why in Federation don’t they buy a Meteorologist?"
“Too mean?” suggested Trff, hunching itself round its pack. “Or too poor, if they can’t even afford tran-pods. Though there are other possib—”
“Yeah. Those ones’ll do, though, Trff,” he sighed.
“We do have tran-pods at the big spaceports. My family lives at the back of Blerrinbrig’s System, I thought I’d explained that?” said Jhl heavily.
“What are those?” Trff returned, peering.
“Not tran-pods,” predicted BrTl, shivering.
“What?” said Jhl, peering.
“Those,” it said.
“TREES!” she shouted irritably.
“Didn’t you-it do basic c-based, o-breather Bio at First School?” asked BrTl in a super-kind voice. Since his translator wasn’t on it came over fully as super-kind as he’d meant it to.
“Your translator’s on the blink again,” noted Jhl.
Muttering to himself, BrTl shook his wrist fiercely.
“Bipedal,” said Trff thoughtfully, looking at Jhl.
“Triple A: go to Space Cadet Training,” said BrTl unkindly, still shaking his wrist.
“You-it’s a mammalian,” it noted, looking at Jhl. Since had her FW pack on not much of her mammary glands was visible, but she nodded anyway. “Sexual reproduction!” it recalled proudly.
“Well, don’t look at me, I’m only a product of it!” said Jhl hastily.
“Anyway, one of those trees is definitely alive and it’s not a mammalian,” Trff reported.
“It’s not particularly intelligent, either, is it?” said Jhl drily.
Trff waved an antenna at it and reported: “It is sentient, though not within the meaning of the Act.”
“Good, then ask it what ‘deciduous’ means,” she said unkindly.
“It doesn’t communicate in that way— Wait,” it said. “BrTl, did you-it know trees have an even worse form of sexual reproduction than mammalians? –Not to be anything-ist!" it added hurriedly.
“What? It’s a tree,” moaned Jhl. “Wake up, Trff! A plant!”
“Why didn’t you-it say so in the first place? –‘Trees’; ‘plants’; ‘trees’,” Trff muttered crossly, adjusting its translator. “Piece of space junk!”
“Well, come on,” said Jhl glumly. “OPEN, are you DEAF?” she shouted at the hatch.
I never heard you.
“I’ll turn you off once and for all!” shouted Jhl.
I never heard you, Captain, it sent quickly.
“You are deaf, I’m gonna get you overhauled at the next decent spaceport,” she decided angrily. “I was sending ‘OPEN’ at the top of my mind!”
Sorry, Captain. Chief Engineer Slp-Og V. Trff was sending “CLOSE”.
Jhl kicked it in the guts.
OW! it screamed, opening.
“Works every time,” noted BrTl, going first. “I’ll go first, shall I?” he said courteously. “Galloping grqwary gizzards, it’s BELOW S/IG ZERO out here!” he shouted.
Jhl followed, hunched around her FW pack. “I told you so,” she muttered.
Trff trailed in their wake, whistling sadly to itself, hunched around its pack. It sent Close but the hatch ignored it. “CLOSE!” it hooted.
The hatch closed slowly.
“It does need re-blobbing,” said Trff sadly to itself.
At your orders, Chief Engineer Slp-Og V. Trff, the hatch sent quickly, but Trff ignored it and trailed sadly onwards.
A lot of loose greyish-white stuff lay all around littering up the crinkled Special Offer U-Lay spaceport tarmac. It felt curiously... Trff was tempted to turn the FW pack off for an instant in order to experience the sensation of whatever-it-was on a tentacle, but thought better of it. Instead it aimed the FW pack’s tacto-blob at the stuff. Eh? It gave the tempo-blob a go—mind you-it, that had been on the blink last time they’d had to flat-world. What? Oh, well, what being cared, some sort of FW, c-based, o-breather stuff that lay around on spaceports beyond the last black hole, to Zuittelfink’s Asteroid and gone, at the back of Blerrinbrig’s System.
The three huddled, unhappy figures trudged doggedly across the crinkled Special Offer U-Lay tarmac in the direction of the Terminal Building. A megazillion light-years away.
As usual the temperature of the interior of the Terminal Building was unsuitable to sustain sentient life in any form known across the two galaxies. In this case, stifling hot. Well, it had to be that or sub-zero S/IG. Trff's pale jade fluff began to turn yellowish immediately. It attempted to adjust its FW pack but all their FW packs were pretty Special Offer, so nothing much happened.
Also as usual, but more especially round Galaxy Eve, like it was, the interior of the Terminal Building was stuffed to the bulging ports with pushing, shoving, yelling, baggage-laden beings. All dressed, in the case of those whose ethnic customs permitted dress, unsuitably for the occasion, for the season, and most of all for the interior of the Terminal Building. Most of them were accompanied by pushing, shoving, yelling, and very sticky young ones. Trff drew in its antennae as much as possible and coiled its tentacles tightly round the parcels it was lugging for Jhl and tried to pretend it was on a civilised planet very far away, where the nga’a-nga’a birds sang to two silver moons in a pink sky and the fermented laa flowed like... Well, like it had done last Galaxy Day, would do.
...“Nothing to declare,” said Jhl firmly.
“What’s all this, then?” the FW customs official replied suspiciously.
“Galaxy Day presents for my family. Exempt. Para 64, Subsection (C), Section 578-6, IG Home-World Regulations Number 72/E/43007,” replied Jhl glibly.
“Spaceport lawyer,” he returned sourly, vaguely aiming a lumo-blob at her hand. Jhl stuck her wrist firmly under it and got lumo-ed “EXEMPT”. You never knew when a nice lumo “EXEMPT” stamp might come in handy.
...“You’re a what?” said Trff’s FW customs official, looking dubiously at its small, spherical, fluffy pale green body and broadcasting dubiously: A Flppu?
“A Ju’ukrterian. From Zll. What it says there,” replied Trff clearly, pointing a spare tentacle at its dokko.
The customs official gasped, and clutched her round mammalian ears.
Trff shook the tentacle with the translator on it a few times. “Sorry. This thing’s on the blink. It’s a Ju’ukrterian. From Zll.”
“Oh.” She peered at the dokko.
Trff explained kindly: “Where the nga’a-nga’a feathers come from."
“Oh,” she said. “I’ve heard of them.”
Trff watched with interest as her-its cheeks turned pink. Jhl’s did that, too, must be species-specific. “It could let you-it have a few,” it said carelessly. “Very Special Offer.”
“No, thanks,” she said. The cheeks had gone even darker. Was she-it about to haul off and kick something in the guts? “What’s all this stuff?"
Trff replied glibly: “Galaxy Day presents for its friend’s family. Exempt. Para 64, Subsection (c), Section 578-6, IG Home-World Regulations Number 72/E/43007.”
Fortunately the official didn’t ask what in the two galaxies Trff imagined a family to be, but merely said sourly: “Spaceport lawyer,” and waved a lumo-blob around vaguely. Trff hurriedly stuck a tentacle right under it, you-it never knew when a nice lumo “EXEMPT” stamp might come in handy. And this didn’t look like the sort of place where they’d bother to cancel them when you-it left. In fact it didn’t look like the sort of place where they’d bother, period, because what about those Friyrians over there: they were just walking right on out to that rather nice Crmrokko Super Maxi. Trff itself didn’t go for Crmrokkos, they had a decent turn of speed but their blobs were apt to go haywire in tight corners—no staying power. But if a being wanted something slick, fast and simple, they were a nice little craft.
...“Eh?” said BrTl’s customs official, peering up at him.
BrTl looked down his two noses and smiled ingratiatingly, humanoid-wise. Since the customs official was a male, o-breather humanoid about two IG spans high and BrTl was a male-tended, o/h-breather xathpyroid about five IG spans high including the neck, and a good three at the shoulder, it was perhaps understandable that the customs official, who did after all hail from beyond the last black hole at the back of Blerrinbrig’s System, should have blenched. Especially since BrTl had very long eye-teeth, which to the humanoid raised atavistic memories of o-breather carnivores that had never actually been seen in the two galaxies for over two hundred Intergalactic millennia.
“I said maybe you’d like to take a look at these few items.” –As the strongest of the trio BrTl had been entrusted with the largest packages, including the super-deluxe working model of the Class 4 Standard Intergalactic Space-Issue Plasmo-Blaster, a present for one of Jhl’s younger cognates. (One of those intricate mammalian kinship things: BrTl wasn’t admitting to any being, and more especially not to Trff, that he didn’t have a clue what.)
The customs official looked weakly at BrTl’s two armfuls, not to say several pseudopodfuls, of packages. “Um... What’s this?”
On certain planets, mind you BrTl didn’t have a clue if this was one of them, the super-deluxe working model of the Class 4 Standard Intergalactic Space-Issue Plasmo-Blaster had been declared a proscribed weapon within the meaning of the Act. As it was written into the Constitution of the Federated Worlds of the Two Galaxies that every member planet had the right to interpret the meaning of the Act, on other planets it had merely been declared contraband. On still others it was a popular Galaxy Day present. But he wasn’t too vacuum-frozen sure this was one of them. Therefore he replied ingratiatingly: “A Galaxy Day present for my friend's cognate. Exempt. Para 641, Subsection (c), Section 578-6, IG Home-World Regulations Number 72/E/43007.”
The customs official didn’t say “Spaceport lawyer” but he was definitely thinking it. All he said was: “Where do you want this?”—waving the lumo-blob.
BrTl had depilated the underside of his right wrist especially for this purpose. –The practice of lumo-stamping of course discriminated against extremely hirsute beings. But who wanted to get involved in an Intergalactic Personal/Group-Being Rights issue? Your brood-sisters, immediate family, agnates, cognates, congeners, clonal affines, tribe, sub-clan, glkp group or bond-partner/s, or simply your legal heirs, depending on your type and status, would spend the next megazillion IG years in litigation. And that was only to get as far as a first hearing! BrTl sometimes wished—well, quite often, actually—that he’d taken the advice of an elderly cognate of his and gone into intergalactic law. By now he’d have a palace on Playfair Two, the latest sports model Zwp—the 2400A, probably, no, make that the 2401A, he’d seen it at this year’s Spacecraft Show, it was due for release in the new IG year—plus naturally a deluxe Moodra Dyhillia. Customized. With the new senso-tissue in every hygiene cabinet. And all the crew would be ex-Space Service! Probably the captain would be a full commander, a real—
BrTl jumped ten IG fluh. “Uh—put it there,” he said weakly, holding out the wrist. The official waved the lumo-blob vaguely at it but BrTl shot out a pseudopod—the official blenched, evidently he’d never met a xathpyroid before—and grabbed it, positioning it firmly over the wrist. You never knew when a nice lumo “EXEMPT” stamp might come in handy.
…“It’s a primmo,” he muttered, about a megazillion IG hours later.
“It and you-it wouldn’t be allowed on it without a permit if it was,” replied Trff, who could be maddeningly matter-of-fact. Like all engineers. –Look out, here she-it comes! it sent.
Jhl came up to them red-faced and panting. Her First Officer and Chief Engineer recognised immediately that in mammalian humanoid body-language this meant either that she was about to haul off and kick something in the guts, or that the temperature in the Terminal Building was no more suited to her metabolic rate than it was to theirs. –Well, that figured, thought Trff, thinking of the sub-zero S/IG waste that was the Terminal Building at the spaceport nearest its own brood pen. –Well, that figured, thought BrTl, thinking of the blazing ninety-plus S/IG magma pit that was the Terminal Building at the spaceport nearest his own culture-pod.
“Not a hire-bubble in sight!” she panted.
“There wouldn’t be, it’s practically a white-out,” returned BrTl sourly.
Jhl scowled. “There isn’t one in sensing range, either, asteroid-brain.”
“Public bubble-train?” said Trff.
“It’ll have to be, won’t it? Unless you fancy a walk?"
Trff shook the tentacle with the translator on it. “What?”
Jhl turned it Off. This was strictly against IG law, but then so, very probably, were Special Offer translators acquired on the black market because you’d flogged off your own expensive customized Space Issue models when in desperate straits, or certainly when very broke, somewhere on an obscure FW planet well beyond the back of Blerrinbrig’s System. For good measure she turned BrTl’s Off, too. Then she turned her own Off. That was actually IG-legal, if very rude, unless some being was trying to communicate with you at that precise moment. Then she said very loudly: “Unless you-it would fancy a walk!"
Trff retracted an antenna. “There’s no need to shout!”
Jhl scowled. “Okay, be like that. You-it could probably make it, now it comes to think of it, it’s only 150 IG glps. You-it would probably only have lost three or at the most four tentacles to the frostbite by the time you-it made it to Mum’s hot soup.”
In Ju’ukrterian, which they were both speaking, this last phrase could only be expressed as “to”—meaningless noise—“hot flavoured spicy beverage governed by possessive,” so in fact this was what Jhl had said.
“What?” it replied weakly.
“IT'S 150 IG GLPS!” she hollered.
Trff hunched round its FW pack, emanating misery. “It’ll have to be public transport, then.”
“Yeah. And if you-it or you-it was imagining we’ll get a bubble to ourselves, don’t.”
Glumly they trailed off towards the sign that said “Squiggle Squiggle”—must be Jhl's Bluellian dialect—and underneath, in what was presumably supposed to be Intergalactic, “PUBRIC TLANSPOLT”. It was a primmo, all right.
Sure enough, they had to share a bubble—with a family of five mammalian humanoids, at first Trff and BrTl thought there were six, then they realised that the furry one the smallest one was lugging was not a sentient being within the Meaning of the Act.
But they didn’t really notice them, because almost immediately they all got into another argument over whose fault it really was that BrTl had lost five rafts of super-igs in a 4-D pwm game on that obscure FW planet well beyond the back of Blerrinbrig’s System and had been forced to flog off their customized Space Issue translators to settle his IOUs. They got quite a few odd looks from the two older humanoids and a continuous concentrated stare from the smallest one (not the furry one, the marginally sentient one), but as they were used to flat-worlder planets where the primmo inhabitants could barely stumble through a few words of Intergalactic none of them realised the stares were because they’d automatically carried on speaking Ju’ukrterian.
At long last Jhl yelled: “JUMP!” and Trff sent a panic-stricken mind-shriek of OPEN! at the bubble’s hatch, and BrTl, who was nearest, kicked the hatch in the guts and they all jumped.
Into a dark, frozen—
“OW!” whistled Trff madly. “Help, help! It’s drowning!”
“OW!” yelled BrTl. “This isn’t a stop, what’s wrong with you-it, Jhl?"
Jhl sat up in the snowdrift, gasping. “It knows it isn’t a stop, there isn’t a stop near brood pen!"
BrTl grabbed a handful of rapidly bluing fluff and pulled Trff out of the snowdrift, kindly dusting off a couple of tentacles and a bent antenna as he did so. “Where in the Asteroids of Hhum are we?"
“Nearly at brood pen,” she said. “Well, see that light-blob over there?"
They peered through the white-out.
“It’s the light of your-its brood pen,” acknowledged BrTl.
“Uh—no. It’s the light-blob its”—meaningless noise—“hangs out on the gate when any of its brood (qualifier)”—meaningless noise—“are expected. If it’s dark, it means.”
“Why are we speaking Ju’ukrterian?” he said politely in Intergalactic.
“Were we?” replied Jhl blankly in the same.
“Well, you just said your-its meaningless noise hangs out a light-blob when any of its meaningless noise are expected,” he pointed out.
“No: any of its meaningless noise qualified by brood,” objected Trff.
“True,” BrTl allowed, attempting to brush snow off his neck-hair.
“My DAD hangs it out when any of his KIDS are expected!” shouted Jhl in Intergalactic.
“Very clear,” he groaned, stamping his off-hind leg. Ugh, it had gone to sleep. Or, no: it was getting frostbite! He danced up and down madly.
“What are you doing?” screamed Jhl. “That parcel’s got the working model of the plasmo-blaster in it, it’ll GO OFF!"
“It didn’t go off when BrTl threw his-itself off a moving bubble-train,” noted Trff.
“Why in Federation couldn’t we have unlinked the bubble and ridden it to your home, if it’s not too much to ask?” asked BrTl politely.
“There’s no junction anywhere near here.”
“THAT'S WHY I’M ASKING!” he roared.
Trff and Jhl shrank.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
Jhl sighed. “Quite apart from the fact that we didn’t have the bubble to ourselves, we’d have had to deliver it back tomorrow morning to the nearest junction—that’s thirty IG glps—or pay a megazillion rafts of super-igs in fines.”
“No!” objected Trff in amazement. “It could have talked to the timer-blob!"
“Don’t be an FW idiot, they don’t have automatic check-in at the back of Blerrinbrig’s System,” said its Captain sourly.
“Even easier,” it said, emanating incredulity.
“Asteroid-brain! A little MAN checks you in!” she shouted.
“A small male humanoid?” it said cautiously.
—“Sentient within the Meaning,” noted BrTl sourly.
“YES!” she shouted. “Are you DEAF?”
“No, but it feels as if it may soon be,” decided Trff, retracting all its antennae and hunching round its FW pack.
There was a short silence.
“Do we walk from here?” asked BrTl politely.
His Captain replied grimly: “I do. You can carry it. And get moving, these Special Offer FW packs aren’t built for Bluellia winters.” Hunching round her FW pack, she strode off into the blizzard.
BrTl sighed. “‘I'll go first’,” he muttered to himself. He picked up Trff with a pseudopod, ignoring the Ju’ukrterian’s startled whistle, and trudged off after her.
After a considerable period it sent: Where does this hot, spicy beverage come into it, BrTl?
No idea. But I hope it’s had a few grqwaries waved at it. I could eat a flock of them.
That’s very primmo, BrTl.
I may be primmo, but at least I didn’t spend the entire trip dreaming up ways to communicate meaningfully with a bunch of blobs!
It might have worked, it replied mournfully.
“And grqwaries might have invented the wheel, only they didn’t,” sighed BrTl. He trudged on through the blizzard.
At long last Trff reported: “It can sense sentient beings!”
“They’ll be trees,” he noted. There was an indignant whistle and the soft rustling sound of a Ju’ukrterian it-being withdrawing all its antennae.
Trff was right, however, and they were nearly at Jhl’s father’s farm.
Since Jhl’s father farmed grqwaries and Galaxy Day, on c-based, o-breather worlds, at any rate, was the big time of year for roast grqwary, there were a fair few sentient beings around, buying grqwaries at black-market rates. –Bluellia was pretty primmo, all right, but not so primmo it didn’t have a flourishing black market. Not in igs, no: the Bluellians were pretty primmo but not totally thick. In kind, which was absolutely IG-illegal on worlds within the Federation, and in Bluellian exchange tickets, which were legal tender up to the amount of three farthnums. There being four farthnums to a num, and one thousand nums to an intergalactic credit unit, or ig. One plump grqwary at IG-legal rates was worth twenty-three igs. So there you were. Well, there certainly half the population of this obscure part of obscure Bluellia were. Complete with private bubbles and in the case of the more affluent, actual lifters, why hadn’t SOME BEING been asked to collect them from the spaceport?
Jhl introduced them but what with the frostbite, the milling crowds, and, in BrTl’s case, the smell of roast grqwary drifting from the house, not to mention the fact that until you got to know them very well one mammalian humanoid looked pretty much like another (not to be anything-ist), it wasn't until some time later, when they were actually in the house, sipping grqwary soup in BrTl’s case and watery artificial laa in Trff’s, that they were able to sit up—or down, in BrTl's case—and start taking stock of their surroundings and the company. Well, sort of. Considering they were all humanoids.
The older one with the large mammary glands was a “she”. Closely related to Jhl but neither Trff nor BrTl wanted to go into that too closely. Her name was Mum. BrTl had a vague idea that this was a kinship term but didn’t express it, being unsure of his ground. She didn’t seem to mind being called Mum by everyone, so they did. The older one with the face-hair—BrTl felt almost akin to him, if such a thing could be imagined—was a male, also closely related to Jhl and apparently the bond-partner of Mum. His name was Dad. He was the one that had hung the helpful light-blob out for them on the farm gate. Since Trff and BrTl were both hardened spacers they were familiar with the idea of bond-partnering and were able to take it without blenching. BrTl even started to feel comfortable about identifying the males, they had face-hair: there were two more with it, larger than Dad and to all appearances younger, with loud voices, and these were the ones Jhl had referred to as her brothers. He knew that word, it was like saying they were cognates from your own culture-pod. Only then some more came in and they were dressed the same as the ones BrTl was sure were males, and they didn’t have mammary glands, only they didn’t have face-hair either! Very confusing. They had even louder voices than the hairy cognates. At first BrTl was sure they were working up to a fight, they kept inflicting mild bodily injuries on one another, but after a while it dawned that it was some sort of culture-pod thing. Like pulling the neck-hair of those from your culture-pod, where you wouldn’t have dreamed of doing it to anyone else, not even another cognate.
There were several younger females, around Jhl’s own age, possibly—though it was difficult to tell with humanoids. BrTl was quite interested to see that one of them was feeding her pup. So First School Bio hadn’t been all wrong, after all!
They all, male or female, young or old, talked incessantly, though none of them seemed to be sending, at all. At first they were very polite and stuck to Intergalactic, which they all spoke less than well. A lot less, especially the young, hairless, putative males. But soon they lapsed into the local dialect, so it was just as well—well, probably just as well—that BrTl’s and Trff's Special Offer translators were more or less working.
The lapsing could have had something to do with the fact that the brother called Bht who was one of the bearded males pretty soon produced a large container of a local intoxicant.
BrTl was familiar with primmo intoxicants, he’d absorbed variants all over the two galaxies, and most of them didn’t do a thing for his metabolism. He accepted several glassfuls of this particular intoxicant and, though he appreciated the fact that Jhl's family appeared never to have heard of the Standard Intergalactic glass—these were more like portable bubbles—didn’t manage to get even warmish, though the rest of the company rapidly got very cheerful and even more loquacious. But BrTl left his translator on anyway. Well, it was Galaxy Eve.
The farm was quite comfortable, considering it was on a near-primmo world at the back of Blerrinbrig’s system, to the Asteroids of Hhum and gone, past the last black hole. It even had a Guest Room. Mum allocated that to Trff because, she said, he was the one that really needed a special atmosphere, wasn’t he? After they’d more or less worked out that when she said “he” she meant Trff, it went into it. Since its metabolism merely parked primmo intoxicants, Bht’s variant hadn’t done anything for it, either, and in fact it had gone back to the artificial laa as soon as was polite.
BrTl waited a bit and then called into the room’s comm-blob: “How is it?"
“Come in,” replied Trff gloomily. “It’s not asleep."
The door opened obligingly and BrTl stuck his neck cautiously into the room. Well, the temperature was about right for a Ju’ukrterian. What had happened to the atmosphere, though? “What’s happened to the atmosphere?” he choked politely.
“Mum can’t tell one atmo-blob from another.”
“You mean she bought the wrong one?” he choked.
“Got it,” said Trff mournfully.
BrTl gave a bark of laughter. He choked, withdrew his neck hurriedly, adjusted his Special Offer FW pack—the FW piece of space junk—and stuck his neck into the room again. His neck-hair wasn’t filtering at all well, not at all. “What is it?” he asked politely.
“It doesn’t know, BrTl.”
“You’re the one that did Basic Chemo at Second School, aren’t you?” choked BrTl.
Trff emanated annoyance: it had a Third School degree in Chemo, as BrTl was perfectly well aware. Most engineers did an extra subject, engineering alone was pretty boring, blobs were the dullest almost semi-sentient entities in the two galaxies.
“Well, can you-it manage?” he said, relenting.
“Yes,” it admitted mournfully.
“You could come into my room, it’s only basic o-breather mixture."
“Thank you-it, BrTl, but it’ll be too hot. –Hang on, hasn’t you-it got a proper stall?"
BrTl was used to the way it picked up your thoughts before you realised you were having them. “No,” he admitted glumly.
Trff removed its translator. “Primmo dump,” it said—politely in Slaetho-Xathpyrian, BrTl’s own dialect.
“You could park your neck on the end of its nest,” it offered kindly, still in his dialect.
“Thanks, but I don’t think my FW pack could cope with the temperature. There’s a thing in Jhl’s room that’s got a sort of neck-rest, I might use that.”
All right, it sent sleepily.
BrTl perceived that the lowered temperature—combined with the Ju’ukrterian's need to divest itself of the parked local intoxicant, which it could only do while in doze mode—was doing its usual job, so he said: “Well, goodnight, then. –Are you sure you-it won’t suffocate?”
Its pack’s on alarm mode, it sent sleepily, turning round in its nest.
BrTl withdrew his neck politely but stuck a toe in as the door closed. It didn't say OW! or Don’t! or anything, in fact, so it was a pretty Special Offer door, but he wasn't exactly surprised. When Trff was whistling melodically he crept in—at least, in xathpyroid terms it was a creep, below in the kitchen several of Jhl’s less comatose relatives looked up at their ceiling in fear and trembling—and checked its FW pack, just to make sure. The alarm was on. Oh, well, digits crossed. BrTl crept out again.
“What’s he doing?” croaked M’mri’in, below in the kitchen.
“Dunno,” said Jhl, yawning. “Might be grazing in his sleep, he does that sometimes.”
There was a momentary horrified silence in the kitchen—apart from Bht’s and young Frdd’s snoring, that was.
“Jhl, that’s not safe!" gasped M’mri’in.
Jhl looked tolerantly at her sister-in-IG-law. “Not in this Special Offer dump of Mum and Dad’s, no; it probably isn’t. The ship’s primed to send out restrainos when he grazes in his sleep.”
“Ship!” choked Bhl, her non-comatose brother. “Deteriorating hunk of space junk, more like!” –G’gg, Bhl’s middle son, sniggered rudely.
“It goes. Which is more than can be said of that so-called lifter of yours,” she retorted pointedly. –G’gg sniggered.
“It only needs—”
“Vaporising,” she said.
G’gg sniggered again.
“GO TO BED!” hollered his father.
“Aw, Dad, it’s Galaxy Eee-eeve!” he whined.
Bhl’s chrono-blob immediately contributed helpfully: No, it isn’t, it’s Galaxy Day, local time.
“Yeah. GO TO BED!"
“Or you won’t get the extra-special deluxe present I got you in Plentyville,” said Jhl with a wink.
G’gg’s face lit up. “Plentyville? Really?” he gasped.
S’zaan, his mother, gasped: “Jhl! You didn’t!”
“He’s gotta grow up some time,” said Jhl in a bored voice.
“Yeah!” agreed G’gg, scowling at his mother.
“Jhl, he’s only fourteen!” gasped S’zaan.
“How much is that in IG years?” replied Jhl, sounding more bored than ever.
S’zaan reddened indignantly, glaring at her, but Bhl got up, yawning horribly, and grabbed his offspring’s ear. Ignoring the “OW!” and the “Don’t squash my audio-blob!” and the “OW-OOW!” he said mildly: “Get off to bed or I'll feed your audio-blob to a grqwary.”
G’gg got up and replied to the sub-text: “Can I keep it, though, Dad?”
“Whatever it is,” he noted drily. “Yeah, you can keep it; Jhl’s right, fourteen's old enough to start growing up. –Ten point six-four to you,” he added in a rude voice to his sister.
“I thought he was ten point eight,” she admitted, though not sounding at all remorseful, or even interested.
G'gg paused in the kitchen doorway in horror.
“YES!” shouted his father. “I SAID, you can HAVE it! –However unsuitable it is,” he muttered. “Get going before I change me mind!”
“What is it?” said Bhl immediately.
“Secret,” replied his sister in a bored voice.
Their sister Pt’Rshaa, who had turned up for Galaxy Day minus her third bond-partner (third in succession, fours and even threes weren’t legal under the primmo Bluellian Local Code—one more good reason for Jhl Smt Wong to leave), but with the four offspring of her various unions, said immediately, in a very sulky voice: “I bet it’s something pathetic, anyway."
Everyone ignored her, it was the only way to cope with Pt'Rshaa.
“Oh, well,” said Bhl peaceably: “let’s unpack Tmmi’s super-deluxe Class 4 Standard Intergalactic Space-Issue Plasmo-Blaster!"
To this Jhl replied mildly: “No. It’s for him.” At the same time M’mri’in gave a horrified gasp and S’zaan screamed: “WHAT? Jhl, they're ILLEGAL!”
Jhl took another Galaxy Eve bun. “I’ve had too many of these things,” she noted, biting into it. It squeaked and deflated and Jhl had to lick the blrtlberry jam off her chin, so it was a good one—not that Mum’s blrtlberry buns usually weren’t, she had a great touch with the culture-pans.
“Tmmi’ll be okay, S’zaan,” said Bhl peaceably.
“If he doesn't blow himself up,” noted Pt’Rshaa. She sniffed dolefully at her chemo-blob.
M’mri’in, momentarily distracted—she was Tmmi’s mother but she had the sort of mind that got distracted by almost anything, she was outstanding even for a flat-worlder—looked at her sister-in-IG-law anxiously and said: “You shouldn’t take so much of that stuff, Pt’Rshaa, dear.”
Pt’Rshaa glared sulkily. “It’s the most expensive chemo-blob on the market, it's the purest Oononian super-health compound, and it cost me—”
Bhl overrode this typical Pt’Rshaa utterance with: “Come on, Jhl, let’s open it!”
“Grow up,” she said.
M’mri’in stopped listening to Pt’Rshaa explaining how many igs she’d paid for her purest Oononian super-health chemo-blob and said anxiously: “Jhl, he’s only a little boy!”
“Yeah, that’s what they make them for. –I mean who.”
“Next thing we know he’ll be shooting Dad’s grqwaries with it!” she wailed.
“Or his foot,” noted Pt’Rshaa sourly.
“Intergalactic garbage!” exclaimed Bhl irritably. “He’s not that thick! Anyway, I’ll keep an eye on him. –Or Bht will,” he added on a dry note, glancing at Tmmi’s father’s comatose, snoring form. “Come on, Jhl, be a sport!”
Jhl shrugged. “It’s in BrTl’s room, if you’re that interested. The big package with the pale green sim-tissue and the Customs Dekko that says: ‘Muu’uu Doll. Gift Only’.”
For more than one reason, there was a momentary silence in the kitchen. Apart from the snores, of course. And the bubbling noise of a culture-pan getting ready to prepare the pudding for the Galaxy Day feast.
“Jhl, you don’t mean— Did you smuggle it?” gulped M’mri’in at last.
“No,” replied Jhl on a virtuous note. “See this?” She stuck out her wrist.
They all stared blankly at it.
“Well, you could see it if you had shades on,” she admitted in a weak voice.
“Shades,” her brother reminded her grimly: “are IG-illegal to all but IG-licensed Customs Officials, IG Militia, and Space Patrollers!”
“And IG Minerals Commission officers,” added Pt’Rshaa.
Bluellia had very few minerals. Bhl shrugged a little but conceded: “That’d be right. –Are you mad?” he said to Jhl.
Jhl shrugged. “It says ‘EXEMPT’,” she said in a bored voice.
“Don’t expect any of us to chuck away a raft of super-igs hauling you out of a Federation jail, that's all,” warned Pt’Rshaa sourly.
Jhl shrugged again. “All spacers wear shades. You don’t imagine BrTl and Trff aren’t, do you?”—There was a momentary silence as the less sophisticated of her relatives wondered wildly where in the two galaxies Trff wore its.—“And I want that Dekko back,” she added firmly. “It could come in handy.”
Pt’Rshaa honked into the chemo-blob. “Talking of Muu’uu dolls, you promised—”
“Yeah, yeah. One for each of the little horrors. –It is three females, isn’t it?”
“Jhl!” gasped M’mri’in distressfully.
“All right: girls,” said Jhl crossly. She scrabbled in a pocket of her discarded FW pack and produced her translator.
“Don’t, dear,” said M’mri’in faintly. “It makes your voice sound… sort of strange.”
“It makes an awful noise, you mean,” corrected S’zaan. “What happened to that lovely customized Space Issue one you got when you graduated from Space Fleet Academy?” –Bhl made a rude noise.
“Lost it,” said Jhl briefly, adjusting the translator on her wrist.
“Take it off, Jhl, stop being ridiculous,” ordered S’zaan,
“Yeah: take it off, it might last for another two split IG seconds,” noted Bhl rudely.
“It is a funny colour, isn’t it?” ventured M’mri’in, looking at the strip of not-quite- translucent olive-green.
Pt’Rshaa gave a disdainful sniff—not into the chemo-blob, for once. “Totally tasteless. Like that Thing she’s got on.”
Her sisters-in-IG-law looked dubiously at the Thing. They’d been wondering if perhaps it was some sort of new Intergalactic fashion. But if Pt’Rshaa was calling it a Thing, and tasteless, it couldn’t be. Certainly it was nothing like the wonderful green and red garment that Pt’Rshaa had seen fit to wind herself into for a quiet Galaxy Eve at her parents’ home.
“Durocloth,” said Jhl briefly.
“Durocloth!” they screamed. –Not Bhl, of course: he just looked bored. And sideways at the FW pack. The kids had been playing with it, earlier, strictly IG-illegal though that was. He wouldn’t have half minded having a play with it himself.
“Standard Space Issue,” said Jhl in a bored voice.
“Yes, for Correctional Transports!” said the robust S’zaan, actually sounding shaken.
“No: that’s the Standard Intergalactic grey. This is the S/IG grey-green. Well, you could see the difference if you had your shades— Sorry, sorry.”
“The grey-green’s just as bad: it’s what the warders wear on the Correctional Transports!” said S’zaan, rallying. “Couldn’t you at least wear Service greige?”
“That’s just as hideous,” noted Pt’Rshaa in a bored voice.
“The colour’s immaterial. I wear it because it’s so comfortable. But the greige is too expensive, and you can’t get the grey through an IG C&E inspection, it sets off the—”
“Yeah,” said Bhl heavily. “We get it.” He yawned, and got up. “I’m dropping, I’m off to bed. –You coming, S’zaan?"
“In a minute,” said S’zaan grumpily.
Bhl yawned again, and went off to bed without her.
Jhl ate a last fried vtty nut and went off, too, remembering at the last minute to take the FW pack with her.
In the kitchen, amidst the peaceful murmurs of the culture-pan preparing the pudding for the Galaxy Day feast and the comatose snores of Bht and Frdd, Jill's female relatives looked dubiously at one another.
“Well!” said S’zaan. “That awful Durocloth thing’s contraband, too, you realise that?”
“She’s getting worse,” said M’mri’in, near tears.
“Impossible,” retorted Pt’Rshaa acidly. “Though mind you, that garment’s the most hideous thing I’ve seen her in yet! –And I have known her all her life,” she reminded the sisters-in-IG-law.
After a minute M’mri’in said timidly: “Those goldy specks in the translator: aren't they meant to sort of—um—flicker?”
“In decent Space Issue translators: yes,” agreed Pt’Rshaa on a grim note.
“Oh, dear,” she sighed.
There was a short silence.
“Do you think—?” M’mri’in broke off.
“What?” said S’zaan grimly. “Go ON!”
“Well, are they, do you think?” she quavered.
“Are who what?” said Pt’Rshaa without interest, picking up a vtty nut and immediately discarding it.
M’mri’in looked nervously at S’zaan.
“She means,” said S’zaan, very grim, voicing the speculation that had been exercising the minds of Jhl’s sisters-in-IG-law ever since Jhl had announced her intention of coming home for Galaxy Day this year with her two ship-companions—yes, that made three, quite—“are they in a three, or not?”
“It’s illegal here,” said Pt’Rshaa without interest.
“Pt’Rshaa! She is your sister! Don’t you even care?” gasped M’mri’in, near tears.
“Not much. Well, she could hardly have picked a more grotesque pair to do it with, could she? If she is.”
There was a short silence in the warm kitchen. Even the sweet-natured M’mri’in could only produce a lame: “I think Trff’s rather sweet… Well, its fluff’s very pretty.”
After a moment S’zaan ventured, though without conviction: “Bhl said he thought the big hairy one with all the legs was quite a decent type.”
“Huh!” snorted Pt’Rshaa. She sniffed at the chemo-blob again.
“So did Bht, but you know what he is,” said M’mri’in, looking sadly at her snoring bond-partner. “It was drinking more than he was.”
“Yes.” S'zaan gave Pt’Rshaa a minatory look, and got up. “I’m going to bed. And don’t get up at crack of first dawn, M’mri’in, it’s my turn to give Mum a hand with the culture-pans.”
“I’ll have to get up fairly early, dear,” said M’mri’in, bustling to her feet, "because there’s the hangar-loft to be got ready for J’f and Lle’onee’ya."
“‘Lle’onee’ya'! She was plain L’yn when she married him!” scoffed J’f's sister.
“Yes. And anyway, why can’t the dratted woman do it herself? She’s a daughter-in-IG-law round here, same’s you and me!” noted S’zaan crossly.
“Not when they’ve travelled all the way from Blrtltonia, dear,” M’mri’in protested faintly.
“Is he still stationed there?” asked J’f’s sister, without much interest.
“Yes. And let’s hope the selfish grqwary dropping remembers to bring Mum some blrtlberries this time,” said S’zaan grimly. “I’m off. Goodnight.”
“Nighty-night, dear!” fluted M’mri’in.
“Happy Galaxy Day,” returned Pt’Rshaa drily.
S’zaan went out, still looking grim, and there was a short silence. M’mri’in looked uncertainly at Pt’Rshaa.
“Well, don’t ask me! I've never met a three, I’m a flat-worlder, too!” she said irritably, getting up and putting the chemo-blob in a fold of her garment.
“No. Oh, dear. –She’s swearing more, too, don’t you think, Pt’Rshaa, dear?"
“She always did,” replied Jhl’s sister grimly. “But since you ask: yes, I’d say she is marginally swearing more. Well, she said ‘FW’ in front of Dad, she’s never done that before!”
“No. He’ll be awfully cross if she wears her translator tomorrow,” she noted dolefully.
“Yeah.” Pt’Rshaa peered into a culture-pan. “Ugh, not pudding?” she groaned.
It’ll be delicious, the pan promised.
“You mean it'll be exactly as Mum’s recipe specifies,” she sighed.
“Get on with it,” sighed Pt’Rshaa, wandering over to the door.
“I just wish she could meet a nice man!” said M’mri’in on a cross note.
Pt’Rshaa eyed her drily. “She did, didn’t she? The dashing Fleet Commander Whatsisname, and look what came of— What’s the matter?”
“He called up! I forgot to tell her!” she gasped.
“Good. –Well, come on, M’mri’in, the man’s got IG-illegal bond-partners all round the two galaxies! You don’t want Jhl to be the megazillionth to be left with a little IG-illegal package on her hands, do you?"
“Silly; she’s got more sense than that, she’d check up on his bond-status first thing on the IG Regis—” M’mri’in broke off. “Anyway, she doesn’t want a bond-partner, not even an illegal one,” she said sadly.
“Tell us about it,” agreed her sister-in-IG-law drily.
M’mri’in sniffled dolefully. Resignedly Pt’Rshaa lent her her chemo-blob.
“Ta,” she said, sniffing dolefully into it. “Ooh: this is strong, isn’t it?” she noted pleasedly.
Pt’Rshaa glared but the innocent M’mri’in didn’t resister this. “Come on, M’mri’in,” she said resignedly, taking the chemo-blob back. “Galaxy Day tomorrow.”
Today. Local time, her chrono-blob corrected her.
“Shut up, or you can join the grqwary gizzards in Mum’s Galaxy Eve soup!” she said angrily, sweeping out.
A humble tidy-blob scurried in her wake, picking bits off the trailing hems of her many-folded garment. M’mri’in, whom no-one had ever managed to convince that they were not sentient beings within the Meaning of the Act, side-stepped it hurriedly—poor wee thing! She went out slowly. Oh, dear. It would be nice to see J’f again, of course, she told herself valiantly, though not managing to convince herself. But Lle’onee’ya was so—so—well, picky, really. And so sophisticated, their simple little Bluellia ways would never... Oh, dear.
In their room S'zaan said grimly: “She'll be up at crack of first dawn, you know!”
“Who?” groaned Bhl from under the cover. “Mum? She always is.”
S’zaan got into bed, wincing as her mother-in-IG-law’s old-fashioned clingo bedding duly clung. “Your mother, of course. But I meant M’mri’in: she’ll be knocking herself out doing up the hangar-loft for the sake of that dratted Lle’onee’ya!"
“More fool her,” he said sleepily.
S’zaan sighed. “Yes… ”
Bhl yawned. “Go OUT!” he shouted irritably at the light-blob. It went out and he grumbled into the dark: “Why in the two galaxies can’t Mum and Dad's light-blobs ever take a hint?”
“Old-fashioned,” said S'zaan, yawning.
There was a short silence.
“It still hasn’t dawned on M’mri’in what your sister does for a living!”
“Eh? Aw—no. Well, she’s pretty thick, ya know. But all space traders are smugglers, goes with the territory,” he said, yawning.
“She’ll end up in a Federation jail,” she predicted.
“Only if she gets caught.”
“Very funny, Bhl Smt Wong,” she said dangerously.
“Only kidding,” he replied uneasily.
“She’s broke again, you know,” she pointed out.
“Uh—can’t be: not if she's buying the vacuum-frozen kids super-deluxe plasmo-blasters and Muu’uu dolls and similar intergalactic garbage,” he said, yawning. “Go to sleep.”
S’zaan ignored this and insisted: “She is, Bhl, otherwise why would she be wearing Durocloth? And that dreadful Special Offer translator, she must have picked it up on a junk world!”
“Somewhere Off-Limits, anyway: yeah,” he agreed drily. “All right: she’s probably broke and she hasn’t got her spending priorities right and she’s risking her liberty not to say her IG credit-rating, not to say her stupid neck, smuggling intergalactic garbage halfway across the two galaxies for her FW nieces and nephews. So what’s new?”
After a moment S’zaan, who, in spite of being in appearance about as square and unexciting as a Crypto-Rwthwarian in an FW pack, was not entirely devoid of a sense of humour, admitted with a laugh in her voice: “Nothing, I have to admit!”
“Nighty-night, dear. Happy Galaxy Day,” she murmured.
“Hap’ Gal’y,” he mumbled, going out like a light-blob.
Galaxy Day at Jhl’s family’s farm on Bluellia proceeded on pretty much a predictable course. Allowing for minor regional variations. The day started auspiciously enough, with Mum going into the kitchen very shortly after the crack of first dawn and finding that the culture-pan was doing the pudding beautifully. Then it slid downhill a bit because she mentioned casually to the culture-pan appointed to do the roasting that they had a xathpyroid guest and it pointed out that he could eat a whole grqwary all on his own. Unless the guest was a “she,” in which case she could eat two. Mum rushed out into the yard forthwith and zapped the grqwary that she’d been saving for IG New Year’s Day. –That left the two she’d been saving for Bluellia New Year’s, a celebration not recognised in IG law but for which locally somehow everyone managed to take the day off work.
Everything went peacefully for a bit. M’mri’in soon appeared in the kitchen and she and Mum had a cup of zi—without grqwaries’ milk in it because Mum was saving that for the sauce for the pudding and she was a bit anxious that, in view of the culture-pan’s report, BrTl might also be a great sauce eater—and they comfortably made up a few dozen blrtlberry tartlets to use up the last of the blrtlberries—Mum being confident that dear J’f would bring a fresh supply and M’mri’in not liking to voice her own inner doubts on the subject—and popped them in a culture-pan. It was an old pan but it had been culturing blrtlberry tartlets since Mum’s mum was a girl so it would cope okay. As it duly assured them. As a reward Mum said it could heat the mush for R’shn’s baby after that, and it bubbled away happily to itself.
Then there was a short digression on the subject of the unsuitability of M’mri’in’s daughter’s choice of bond-partner and the utter huggability and general splendidness of M’mri’in’s first grandchild (and Mum’s first great-grandchild), and then M’mri’in went off to pretty up the hangar-loft, taking with her all the kitchen tidy-blobs on temporary loan.
Shortly thereafter, and shortly after second dawn, Mum felt that dear Jhl might be awake and in need of a cup of zi in bed.
So being Mum, instead of using the house comm-blob which worked perfectly well even to the hangar-loft when there wasn’t an actual blizzard or a sunspot storm, she went upstairs herself, and went into the room that Jhl had had since she was a wee thing not much bigger than R’shn’s baby.
BrTl had tried out the footboard of Jhl’s bed and it made quite a comfortable neck-rest, so he’d stayed there. When Jhl came to bed he’d thankfully put his head between her thighs, it was warmest there, and the hair on the top of his head was thin. So they were like that—both fast asleep, with the clingo bedding hurled to the floor and in fact clinging to Jhl’s FW pack—when Mum came in.
It took two cups of zi and a belt of Bht’s special brew to calm her down to the point where she could listen to any sort of rational explanation. After another cup of zi and a blrtlberry bun she suggested off her own bat that maybe BrTl would like her to knit him a warm hat from grqwary down like she made Dad every birthday, and the family saw she was herself again, and dispersed thankfully. With, in certain cases, their intergalactic hangovers.
Naturally J’f and Lle’onee’ya arrived late. Well into the afternoon. The roast grqwaries were drying out in spite of the culture-pans’ best efforts and Mum was getting tearful and S’zaan was red-faced and cross, and all the kids were whining because they hadn’t been allowed to open their presents until all the company had arrived—
“A Moodra Dyhillia?” choked BrTl as it landed—floating down like a nga’a-nga’a feather—in a convenient field, now fortunately empty of grqwaries (though some of those present recognised with a certain grimness that even if it hadn’t been that would not necessarily have stopped J’f).
“He’s chewing up that field, freeze his Space Service eyes!” choked Dad. –He allowed himself to swear. Not “FW” in front of the women and kids, though.
“Customized, I’ll bet,” recognised Bhl glumly.
“They cost more than all of us put together have earned in our whole lives,” recognised Bht, pressing the tips of his fingers gently to his temples and wincing.
“Do they, Dad?” croaked Frdd in surprise.
“YES!” he shouted. “Two galaxies!” he gasped, clutching his head.
“You an’ Grampa an’ everyone can’t of earned much, then, Uncle Bht,” noticed G’gg brightly.
“Shut up,” he groaned.
In answer, G’gg and all the younger boys set off at a run across the intervening sea of sludge towards the Moodra Dyhillia.
“How’ll her Ladyship get across that, I wonder?” sneered Pt’Rshaa, concealing her panic that today’s elaborately wound garment would not measure up to her sister-in-IG-law’s exacting standards.
“She-it’ll use a porto-blob,” explained Trff.
“They cost a fortune!” she gasped.
“Vacuum-frozen J’f’s got a fortune,” said Bhl shortly. “–If you’da stayed on in Space Service, you coulda had a fortune!” he noted loudly to Jhl.
“And a pink Moodra Dyhillia,” she agreed drily.
“How in the two galaxies did he get a permit to land it here?” wondered BrTl. He didn’t care for pink. Though it wasn’t exactly pink. Had a hint of shlaa to it.
“He’s in vacuum-frozen Space Fleet,” explained Bhl heavily.
“He’s a Pilot!” said Jhl angrily. “Acting rank of Captain! And will you shut up about his vacuum-frozen Moodra Dyhillia, they’re tarted-up space junk! J’f’s got the morals of a Quarvaynian kuk and about as much heart as a sentient Cxvrt Class Two, and in case you hadn’t noticed, Space Service DOES THAT TO YOU! –And what’s more, I’d bet five rafts of super-igs he hasn’t bothered to bring Mum any blrtlberries,” she added sourly.
Jhl was right, he hadn’t.
Lle’onee’ya’s garment was much more fearsomely wound than Pt’Rshaa’s, in shades of blue and silver with small silvery blobs looping it up strategically here and there. These, she explained as they tinkled musically and Pt’Rshaa gasped enviously and everybody else jumped ten IG fluh, had been specially cultured to sing. Yes, they were the latest thing, actually, she added, smoothing a wisp of blonde hair.
At this S’zaan—though she’d sworn grimly to herself she wouldn’t—broke down and said weakly: “Lle’onee’ya, how do you make your hair do that?”
“Mm? Oh, this!” Lle’onee’ya gave a careless laugh. “It’s my Oononian mini-web.”—Pt’Rshaa went green with envy on the spot.—“Marvellous for the health of one’s hair, while creating any style you care to name. The stand-out natural look’s all the rage just now.”
“I can’t see any web, Aunty Lle’onee’ya,” said S’draa earnestly, peering at it. “It’s all little blobs, kind of. –It’s galaxious!” she added hastily.
“Thank you, dear, but don’t call me ‘aunty’, that’s so jup,” she sighed. –“Jup” was a new word: S’draa and all the other teenage girl-cousins memorised it frantically.
“Ya not meant to see the web, I read about it in the Senso-Blob News,” said G’gg hoarsely.
“WHAT? We can’t afford that Service!” shouted his father, turning puce.
“I read it on M’km’s dad’s Service, Dad,” he said quickly.
Bhl subsided, muttering.
“If you never let him read anything interesting, Bhl, he’ll end up a farmer like you and Dad and Bht,” noted Jhl detachedly.
“Yeah! See, I tole ja, Dad—”
“SHUT UP!” he hollered.
There was silence, except for Lle’onee’ya’s faint murmur of “Totally jup,” and the disgusting noises of R’shn’s baby eating its mush.
The immediate pre-prandial period was enlivened by Tmmi’s going out in the yard and vaporising the last two grqwaries (the ones that were intended for Bluellia New Year’s, yes) with the super-deluxe working model plasmo-blaster.
Dinner was enlivened by BrTl’s engulfing his grqwary hungrily and informing Mum: “What a delicious starter, Mum.”
And by the company’s discovery that after a certain amount of fermented laa Trff got the hiccups. And by the company’s discovery that G’gg’s glass was full of Bht’s special brew. Though this last might have been expected and indeed had been.
The immediate post-prandial period was enlivened by Bhl’s, Bht’s and even J’f’s vanishing into Bhl’s and S’zaan’s bedroom with the Handy-Pandy-Friendy Guide (Standard Humanoid model) that Jhl had got G’gg in Plentyville and not being seen again for hours... Though some very odd noises came out of the room. Which S’zaan for one had no intention of investigating, as she informed M’mri’in, dragging her forcibly away from the doorway just in time.
The post-prandial period was also enlivened by BrTl’s taking several of the younger ones on his back for a nice gambol over the fields in the fresh air. He only brought down two old-fashioned senso-fences that hadn’t been cultured to cope with anything bigger than a grqwary and triggered off one expensive set of restrainos that didn’t belong to Dad.
The rest of them merely digested during this period. Well, Mum went out to the kitchen and worried the disposal into hurrying up with the disposing and the tidy-blobs into hurrying up with the tidying but nothing in the two galaxies—as, indeed, Dad pointed out—could have stopped her doing that.
After that most of them watched The Big Game. The Big Game was intensely boring and the sim-cast went on the blink in the middle of it, or possibly their sim-receiver did, but at least it gave certain beings the chance for an unashamed doze, a long-recognised intergalactic tradition.
It also gave M’mri’in the chance to come to with a gasp and squeak: “Oh, dear! Jhl, dear, your Commander called the other day, I forgot to tell you!”
“Yeah, the guy with all the sparf on his uniform!” agreed Sth excitedly. “Is he really a friend of yours, Aunty Jhl?" –J’f made a rude noise.
“Yeah. More or less. When did he call, M’mri’in?"
M’mri’in had forgotten but she thought it was yesterday or the day before, or—
“Did he leave a MESSAGE?”
Dad came to at this and said sharply: “There’s no need to shout at your sister-in-IG-law like that; if you led a respectable life like she does, these vacuum-frozen Space Fleet types covered in sparf wouldn’t be calling you at all hours of the day and night!” –J’f chewed his lip a bit and clenched his fists and didn’t say anything. Bhl eyed him sardonically. So did BrTl. Bht didn’t, but only because he was asleep.
Jhl goggled at her father. “If I led a respectable life like she does, I’d be dead of boredom!”
“That’ll DO!” he shouted.
“She’s only teasing,” murmured the soft-hearted M’mri’in. “There’s a message on the receiver, dear. Um, if its blob was working,” she added faintly.
Jhl got up and went out.
...“Vvlvanian CURSES!” she shouted.
“Their comm-receiver’s on the blink again,” noted a voice from behind her right shoulder. “Use the Moodra’s.”
Jumping ten IG fluh, Jhl turned and glared at J’f. “What do I have to do for that? Lick your Space Issue Number Ones clean before next Federation Day parade? Or—no, hang on! You want an introduction to Shank’yar, don’t you?” she crowed.
J’f went very red and glared at her.
“Listen, Service Issue asteroid-head,” she said viciously: “Shank’yar wouldn’t give a Gervaynian worm like you the time of day, much less a promotion to a cushy job at Space Fleet Command!”
J’f had more or less recovered himself. He looked down his nose and drawled: “Service attaché in Plentyville would do. Or to an IG Ambassador on any nice, warm pleasure-planet.”
“Right: I’ll ask him to wangle you a post on Lesser Trylporia,” she said immediately.
J’f went rather red again and said shortly: “O-breather, naturally.”
“Living in the atmosphere on Lesser Trylporia’s like—mm… wading through Mum’s pudding sauce,” she decided.
“Very f— Have you been there?” he gasped.
Jhl just looked at him drily.
“It’s a Category 84-B world!” he gasped.
Jhl just looked at him drily.
J’f took a deep breath. “I suppose it never occurred to you,” he said stiffly, “that your goings-on could put my career in serious jeopardy? If you think Space Fleet Command looks favourably on Pilots with connections like you, you’ve got another think coming! Why couldn’t you take that perfectly respectable posting to Gertunny III?”
Jhl just looked at him drily.
“I know it was desk-bound, but it was managerial level,” he said.
Jhl just looked at him drily.
“I could have got you in as equerry on Blrtltonia, if you’d shown the least interest! You’d have had to take a step-down in rank, but it would’ve established your credibility!"
She just looked at him drily.
“Look, just don’t count on me to bail you out of one of your filthy IG-illegal messes!” he said between his pearly teeth.
“I wouldn’t count on you to bail me out of a bowl of Mum’s pudding sauce. Always supposing that such could be distinguished from your delightful innate self.”
J’f turned bright red and strode back into the family-room.
…“Get through?” said Dad shortly as Jhl came back.
“No,” she said shortly, sitting down.
“Hey, Aunty Jhl, is he a real Fleet Commander?” Sth asked eagerly
“What do you imagine all the sparf was for? YES!” she shouted.
Unabashed, Sth continued: “Hey, was he in the Battle of Hhla AvR?”
“No,” she groaned. “Does he look as if he’s five IG millennia old?”
Sth pouted. “He coulda been. In the olden times, see, they had all this machine junk, see: it could make ya real old! –And alive, I mean!” he explained quickly.
“Expand your life-span. He’s been reading History Fiction junk,” explained G’gg.
“It’s good! In the olden days they really did have machines that could expand your life-span, Aunty Jhl! An’ some of the high-up Commanders, they’re real old!”
“Fleet Commander Vt R’aam is not real old,” said Jhl heavily. “He’s about—um—a bit younger than Dad, I suppose.”
“A bit younger than Grampa?” he gasped. “Two galaxies!”
“Look,” said Dad on a fed-up note, setting down his glass of moonshine, “go over to Frdd R’sn Smt’s place and use his comm-receiver. –If he jibs a bit, just say the words ‘roast grqwary’ to him,” he added on a dry note.
“How old is his receiver?” replied Jhl suspiciously.
“It’s new! It’s real super-deluxe, Aunty Jhl! I’ll come with you!” cried G’gg.
“So’ll I!” offered Sth immediately.
“How?” asked Jhl on a dry note, still not getting up.
Dad sighed, and finished his glass of moonshine. “Get your mate, there, to take you,” he said heavily, nodding at BrTl.
BrTl’s Special Offer translator had coped remarkably well with the local Bluellian dialect until now but it translated this one as “Get your bond-partner, there, to take you.” He got up dazedly. “Er—she isn’t my bond-partner, Dad,” he said weakly.
“I never said she was,” replied Dad in amazement.
“He used a dialect word that—” Jhl tore her translator off. She tore BrTl’s off.—J’f’s face turned white and his fists clenched but he didn’t say anything.—“He used a dialect word for bond-partner that for obscure reasons known only in outer Bluellia has been distorted here to mean ‘being who shares your work-space and/or drinking companion’,” she explained in BrTl’s Slaetho-Xathpyrian dialect.
“How curious,” he croaked in horror.
“It is, when you think about it, isn’t it?” Jhl agreed cordially, replacing his translator.
“Can I wear yours, Aunty Jhl?” begged Sth, forgetting he was into H-Fi for the nonce.
“NO!” roared J’f at the end of his tether. “JHL! Put it on IMMEDIATELY!”
“Desk-bound Gervaynian worm,” she replied amiably. “It’s not IG-illegal to take your own one off.”
“PUT IT ON!” he shouted.
“All right, all right,” she grumbled, putting it on. She peered at it. “I think it’s dead.”
“Give it to your mother: she’ll put it in a culture-pan,” said Dad
BrTl gave a bark of xathpyroid laughter: he thought this was a terrific joke.
When the house had ceased quivering Jhl said weakly: “She does that. Not just with translators: with any blobs. She just asks the pan to warm them up.” BrTl started to look excited. Quickly she added: “Don’t try this trick at your culture-pod, Mum’s got a symbiotic relationship with those culture-pans.”
“I noticed,” he murmured but his voice was drowned by S’zaan’s cry of “Jhl! That’s disgusting!” and Dad’s bellow of: “That’s ENOUGH!”
“It must be working, after all,” she noted mildly.
Her relatives glared.
“Well, come on, who’s coming?” she said.
After the cries of “Me! ME!” had died down, and BrTl had stopped wondering why it was only the small males that wanted to come—he’d worked out which they were from their dress, it was totally different from that of the small females, and both cases aped their elders’ gender-dress—they put their coats and/or FW packs on, got onto BrTl’s back, and went.
There was a short silence. Then J’f said grumpily: “Can’t you talk to her, Dad?”
“She’s putting my career at risk!” he whined.
“Shut up. Who gives a grqwary’s dropping about your vacuum-frozen career, you’re a selfish little Service Issue dropping that couldn’t even be bothered to bring its mother some BLRTLBERRIES!” he shouted.
“It’s the wrong season,” said J’f sulkily.
“Liar,” noted Bhl cordially.
The shouting had woken Bht, so he agreed: “Yeah. Liar. Always was, even as a kid.”
“Yeah. I’ll say this for Jhl,” conceded Bhl: “she’s honest.”
“Honest and an IG CROOK!” shouted J’f angrily, bounding up. “Come along, Lle’onee’ya, we don’t have to listen to this jup lot!"
They exited towards the hangar-loft, Lle’onee’ya complaining as they went that it was cold and those dried snu flowers that M’mri’in had put in there would bring on her allergies, but if J’f wanted her to spend a fortune on Oononian chemo-blobs—
“He’s right in a way, you know,” said Bhl cautiously.
“Shut up,” warned his father.
Bhl shut up.
“What happened to The Big Game?” ventured Bht fuzzily.
“On the blink. And SHUT UP!” roared his father.
And a happy Galaxy Day silence fell in the family room…