The IRENICON Part 2

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The voyage of the exploration ship begins

Submitted: November 29, 2007

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Submitted: November 29, 2007

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by

James Gagiikwe

2002

The Pelled Krasc

@

Let the reader acknowledge that in the 8th Cycle after Confederation, the High Council of Garhyar dispatched a Delegation to the Hysaron System in Octym 7. They travelled on the research vessel Pelled Krasc.

@

Jihr Taur' Regc strode down the corridor with two ceremonially dressed security detachment members in tow. Like a slow-motion comet the inset motion-sensor lights dimmed down behind them as they left each bay along the hall. His Uumaiyellow-brown facial striations glistened lightly in anticipation of this formal duty. The two Girii 'grey-skins' ambled along quietly behind him. The detail stopped before the loading dock entrance, each honour-guard took up a position beside the portal and stood, digits touching, with their forearm weapons-pack at parade rest. Jihr Taur' Regc, tall even for an Uuma, brought his elongate body to attention, arms out horizontally, palms up, the three digits and appositive of each hand in the supplicant's position. He felt far from supplication. His rank of Taur' gave him operational authority over the ship's internal security, point-defence and exploration-landing teams. But it was the verbal and very confidential instructions from the High Counsellor of Garhyar to himself and Vizh Ki' Oste that gave him tactical joint authority for the success of the whole mission.

The portal slid open, and the two guards stiffened. Jihr Taur' Regc bowed the regulation obeisance, but held his eyes open. Mu Tai' Gann, first of the party to exit the loading dock, disdainfully took in the meagre escort and asked haughtily, "Where is the Ki' Oste?"

Jirh Taur' Regc answered the imperious Del impassively. "Dhiakholai, Tai' Gann. Vizh Ki' Oste is attending to his technical duties."

"His duty was here," the angry 'blue-faced' politician responded, deliberately omitting the standard greeting response, ‘Dhia-Dhiak’. He stood aside and tapped his foot to show his displeasure. The rare 'Taufang” feathers woven into his cloak glowed an iridescent green in sympathy with his striations. He only wore it to intimidate lesser 'cyclings'. He didn’t realise that it merely made him look vain, which he was.

Jirh Taur'Regc made no comment. Instead he turned his attention to the next home-worlders. The two scientists-cum-diplomats, Li Viq' Dalabar and Vo Viq' Xutha emerged together. Li Viq' Dalabar was short for a Pentar, but his broad smile, full white hair, pale skin and cinnamon robe focused all attention on his deeply intelligent eyes. He surveyed everything, took in everything. The smallest nuisance was recorded, measured and assigned a value. He rarely spoke at meetings, but people listened when he did.

Vo Viq' Xutha was his foil in many ways; loquacious, seemingly youthful, almost frivolous; and as dangerous an opponent as anyone could have when his ethics were attacked. Another blue-face, but of very different model to the Tai'. The High Counsellor had chosen them with care. Outvoted in the selection of Mu Tai' Gann as the head of the Delegation, the High Counsellor had sought to place solid advisers around the pretentious, and potentially harmful, politician.

"Dhiakholai, honoured Viqim", Taur' Regc greeted them.

"Dhia-Dhiak!" the ebullient Viq' Xutha responded on their behalf.

Jirh Taur' Regc's eyes brightened, but he held his poise as the last senior member of the Delegation emerged from the portal. Si' Viyatt Nu, the Delegation’s Chief Administrator. Dressed in a smoky grey robe highlighted by a single golden cord woven at an angle though the material, Si’ Viyatt Nu looked as lovely as Jirh Taur' Regc remembered her. As always, her clothing highlighted her deep fawn colouring. She returned his look frankly, appraising the intervening years, her striations not hinting of emotion. There was, he noticed, a barely perceptible flare of her nostrils. "She has prepared herself well for this flight", he observed to himself. Where she was concerned, his own emotions were in less control, he was sure.

"Dhiakolai, noble Si' Vyatt Nu" he said in a formal tone to cover his bittersweet pleasure at seeing her here.

He darkened ever so slightly as Si' Viyatt Nu dipped her head in polite response, "Dhia-Dhiak, esteemed Taur'", and moved to join her colleagues. Exiting behind her were the four Mawim, glorified diplomatic-clerks-in-training. Jihr Taur' Recq knew that each Maw' had passed stringent psychological assessment and academic training in preparation for this mission. Also, he knew, a multitude of security checks and crosschecks were demanded.

"Dhiakolai, valued Mawim." The Taur' said with a broad smile of greeting.

"Dhia-Dhiak," they responded in awkward unison.

Looking at the youthful diplomats Jihr Taur' Regc recalled dV'Klell's Chant of the Four Houses. PitMaw' Del a 'blue-face' from the land of sailors and merchants, Sho Maw' Pentar of the 'pale countenance' from the land of foresters and craftsmen, Viss Maw' Gir a 'grey-skin' from the land of organisation and empire-building, and Aad Maw' Uuma a 'tawny-skin' from the land of mercenaries and metallurgists. Each deliberately representing the four landmasses and primary ethnicities of Garhyar. Even their surnames had been changed by act of the High Council to represent their land-groups rather than that of their birth families. If they survived this mission, and prospered, then each would start a new elite family line, begat in honour. And each, according to their performance, could expect to rise eventually to positions of prominence in the homeworld government. Or, perhaps, they would seek their careers in the intergalactic trading links that might stem from this first dangerous and problematic attempt to locate another sentient race of beings.

Four crewmen exited last, struggling under the load of the Delegation's baggage. The Delegation moved off in order of rank, as the ceremonial guards assisted the baggage carriers at the rear, more evenly distributing the awkward and excessive cases.

Jihr Taur' Regc pondered these things as he led the delegation along the central passageway in B-Pod to the corridor linking it to C-Pod. His orders were to get them settled in their cabins, and help them prepare for the official welcome-meal with Ki' Oste and the other ship's officers. He kept up a tour-guide monologue as they walked. "The decks are decorated after landmasses from the home world," he explained. "This is B-Pod. Notice the murals, motifs and colours. To star side is level A-Pod. Your cabins are in C-Pod”.

"I'm grateful that the ambient temperature on this level doesn't reflect Pentar's summer humidity," Tai' Gann said truculently. Si' Viyatt Nu turned her slender neck slightly to catch the look of pain that crossed Sho Maw' Pentar's naturally pale face. Tai' Gann represented the mining syndicates of the Tsarit on the High Council, and shared that sub-region's prejudicial dislike of the less temperate zones of the planet.

To rebuke the Tai' without directly challenging his dignity Si' Viyatt Nu softly recited dV' Klell's Chant of the Four Houses

"Del of the blue face", the voyager girt by seas.

Del, the navigator of embassies, merchant of unity.

"Pentar of the pale countenance", forested land washed in winter rains.

Pentar the timbered, pivot-beam of the Confederation.

"Gir the grey-skinned", builders of cities.

Gir the architect of coalition.

"The tawny Uuma", shapers of metals.

The Uuma, warriors of forethought, forging the fourfold alliance.

Inwardly Jihr Taur' Regc laughed at the Tai's discomfiture; who dared not irritate the Si' Viyatt of the High Counsellor. Outwardly he evenly observed, "All Pods are maintained at a standard environmental level, honoured Tai', though some will find it too cool or too hot for a while. Our interplanetary voyagers, representing all Garhyarii, have shown that only a little time is required to completely acclimatise to the temperature on board ship. Here we are," he said as they reached the C-Pod’s central passageway. "You will find your accommodation the best on the ship. The Kirihngayat Ceremony will be announced soon. Ki' Oste requests the pleasure of your company at a meal in one half-nah. I will send a security tech to escort you to the officer's quarters. This suite honoured Tai' is yours," he said as he applied his appositive digit to the scanner. It read his security implant and opened soundlessly. "The door has been pre-programmed to accept your implant Tai' Gann…"

"As well as yours I see" the politician observed coldly.

"Senior ship's officers have access to every portal, honoured Tai', for the safe operation of the ship," the Taur' said with veiled authority. “The crewman carrying your cases has been assigned as your valet. Please activate the intercom for their assistance."

The pompous patrician sauntered disdainfully into his quarters; large by the standards of the ship, but minuscule by his palatial requirements. A haggard crewwoman came in behind with the politician's three cases, and put them on the lounge and was autocratically dismissed. He had no intention of letting the crewwoman see some of the items he’d brought on this voyage. The room's decor was subdued, but of very high craftsmanship. Its wooden parquet of tan and red shades should have been appreciatively appraised for their aesthetics. Instead, Tai' Gann went immediately to his briefcase, activated the lock and withdrew a small silver brooch, a 'Taufang' bird, symbol of his Syndicate. Standing in front of the reflector he pinned it on. Patiently, systematically he walked around the entire four-room suite, lounge - office – sleep - lavatory. Satisfied at last that there were no surveillance devices he removed the brooch and returned it to his briefcase. Only after he had satisfied his caution did he unpack his belongings.

Outside, in the burnished-tan hallway the Taur' Regc had led the party to the next portal. "Our two esteemed Viq' are in this suite." He bowed and disengaged the lock. As large as the Tai's quarters, even shared, it was more than adequate for the two advisers. The remaining group members moved on, while two crew carried in their belongings, and stayed long enough to unpack, point out various features and details, and be politely thanked by Viq' Dalabar. The two Viq began a low conversation as soon as they left.

Before Jihr Taur' Regc could activate Si' Viyatt Nu's portal, she asserted her 'ownership' of the suite by placing an appositive digit on the scanner. "Access denied" her eyes said clearly as she glanced briefly at Jihr Taur' Regc before entering. In many ways her suite was more graciously outfitted than the Tai's. She was, after all the Si' Viyatt, the "High Daughter", of the planet's High Counsellor. Subtle metalwork sculptures accented her room, in the themes of Uuma. When her valet had withdrawn, she began to carefully unpack. She placed several small cycle-mementos on the writing table, adding a personal touch to her quarters. Chief among them was the diaphanous Iksoten jewel that Jihr Taur' Regc had given her so many years ago. Seemingly clear, yet ablaze with endless, captivating depths, the most rare of Uuma's mineral wealth. This was the heirloom of an elite family, priceless; the jewel meant only for a Consort. The consort she could not be for a mere Taur'. As this thought touched her, she knelt in the mendicant position and began to pray to Nivat for His blessings on the voyage and mission. And for Jihr Taur’ Regc.

Nivat, nitowashtikin waptecashna mayaque” she began the ancient, and officially prohibited, prayer to her God and Saviour.

The officer had led the four Mawim to their shared quarters. Less lavish than the other suites, as befitted their lower rank, they were much more ornate than Jihr Taur' Regs' own unit. His duty completed he walked to the Ki's cabin to report; then returned to C-Pod to change his uniform.

Taur' Regcs had lived off-world almost one quarter of a life-cycle. With no home-world wars to fight, his service there had been a series of minor police actions. First, against insurrectionists in Tsarh, then helping stem the food riots in Bisarna. Then, as soon as he reached the rank of Tuum, he had taken off-planet duty, and stayed in the colonies as long as possible. His only home-world time since then had been on furlough. Even then his furloughs had been bittersweet. Without Si' Viyatt Nu to share his cycle he had simply filled in his cycle-time in various colonies.

Whatever hope he had held for himself and his childhood companion had faded with her father's elevation to High Counsellor. Her new status as the "High Daughter" of the home-world's supreme leader moved her far beyond his lower station. A Regcs had been a Tuweld in the armed forces for cycles out of memory. Yet despite the elite status of his family, Jihr Taur' Regc, as youngest son, could never aspire to exalted stations. Certainly not after the reduction-in-force that had accompanied the re-missioning of the military two cycles ago. Not for nothing did the old adage state "Peace is bad for promotion". But no foreseeable promotion could ever place him on consort level with Si' Viyatt Nu.

In the intervening years they had met many times, on his leave, or during her many diplomatic tours of colonies. Their time together had become more and more formal over the years. Now he felt the distance between them. He hoped that it would not interfere with his duty, or her mission to the Hysaronat system.

He let his mind shift to his mission as he changed into his 'shipboard' uniform. The ship would need to transverse 19 Saht of space. Except for the transit crew, everyone else would be placed in "lh'ymin", the state of medically induced prolonged hibernation developed for Garhyarii travel to their more distant planets. The transit crew would rotate through abbreviated terms of hibernation, and would age accordingly. Everyone one else would only age the equivalent of two Rotans.

"Still," he mused, "the High Counsellor has risked a great deal by sending his own High Daughter on this fateful mission." Much could transpire in the rotans they would be away. And, the High Counsellor was nearing the end of his cycle. He wondered, not for the first time, why the High Counsellor had entrusted him with a secret agenda. There would be enough to do simply with the unknown factors of seeking another sentient race! Let alone the pressures of keeping Tai' Gann from undermining the mission through his blundering, or worse. And, the High Counsellor had warned, there may be Delegates, or crew-members, who wished the mission to fail for their own reasons. Not everyone on Garhyar wished to face the challenges of interstellar exploration. Fear was a great motivator, to subversion as well as to competition. And treason was not an unknown transgression among the Four Houses.

The simulated Bahrtiq carillon sounded a quavering melody on the intercom, and Jihr Taur' Regc left his quarters in response to the summoning chords. He looked forward to joining the officers and guests at the Kirihngayat, the post-Confederation 'welcoming-meal', with its deliberate blend of the various welcoming traditions of the Four Houses. While the syncretism bothered him, he valued the symbolic planetary unity it represented. He hoped that the sometimes-fragile unity would withstand the challenges this mission would create. He would do everything within his duty to ensure that it did.

"

The Kirihngayat

@

Throughout the vessel officers and members of the delegation responded to the carillon, left their quarters and headed towards the assembly room for the "Kirihngayat". All gave some thought to the coming mission, but there was neither unity nor harmony among their inner convictions.

In the assembly room the Ki' Oste stood awaiting his officers and guests. As required by tradition he was dressed, uncomfortably, in a crenulated Balynsat robe. As he waited he inwardly re-examined the issues that had occupied so much of his energy for the last few rotans:Garhyarii expansion beyond their solar system. He reviewed the salient points again, hoping to add more insight into how he, and Taur' Regc, would shepherd this mission to a peaceful conclusion.

For him, such meditation was almost poetic. Garhyar, the 'home-world', 6th planet in the Vayasarat. Garhyar, of the eight oceans. and four continents. Garhyar of the sentient life form, the Garhyarii. Garhyar of the "Four Houses". For eight life-cycles the commercially motivated path-finders of Garhyar had voyaged outward from the home-world. Each cycle had extended the outreach of the planet throughout the Viyasarat. Yet, in all their planet-falls, the Garhyarii had yet to meet another sentient race of beings.

In the first phase, space probes had inspected the closer planets, then the giant sun, Viyasut, and finally the outer planets. These probes brought back data on the mineral and environmental resources of each planet. A wild push for outreach, exploitation and commercialisation ensued. The Syndicates arose in vicious competition, undermining the traditional balance of the Houses. To assist this out-rushing exploitation three massive space-transit-depots had been constructed above Garhyar. These transit depots served a three-fold purpose, to launch crewed exploration vessels outward, to act as way-stations to acclimatise colonists, and as the transfer point for incoming freight-shuttles.

The first three planets of the Viyasarat, unnamed and merely numbered, were geologically unstable, molten balls too close to the giant sun for life or colonisation. Automated facilities, orbiting in anti-rotation, operated on the 'cool' sides of each planet, extracting gaseous and mineral wealth. Van, the 5th, twice the size of Garhyar, had proved the easiest to exploit from a technical standpoint. Baz, the 7th, and Vor the 8th, were mere planetoids, with less exploitable wealth. Bidu, the 9th planet, was an aquatic world of lower life forms, and the most scientifically challenging of all.

But mineral wealth, rather than scientific inquiry, has driven the Garhyarii since the First Cycle-of-Cycles ended. The control of Garhyar’s resources had caused the Four Houses to pool their resources to reach into the heavens for replenishment. As the resources on the homeworld were depleted, the Garhyarii sought more and more replenishment on neighbouring planets. So Bidu too was mined, of water-borne chemicals and minerals, of life forms for food. "Why", many Garhyarii secretly cursed, "did Niv people Garhyar so abundantly, but resource it so sparingly?"

This increasing need for resources stimulated new transit and carrying technologies. Design followed pragmatic function as Garhyar's space transit vessels carried processed minerals from the twin planetoids of Baz and Vor, or food concentrates, fertilisers and finished products from commercial colonies on Cazu and Safu, the 10th and 11th planets. In reverse, these freighters carried new population and produce back to the outposts. Commercial and colonial travel had become supremely commonplace. Except of course for the rise of piracy. To fight that, the Interdiction Forces had been developed.

As technology advanced to keep pace with commercial demands, the technocrats and astronomers of Garhyar pushed for exploration; always hopeful that there had to be "the others". Fear was a great motivator, and the greatest of social cancers. Having ceased to fear Niv as technology ruled and faith became pass focusing their fears on their dwindling resources the Garhyarii had found a substitute prime motive. Finding no other beings in their solar system, many began to fear their "aloneness". This in turn spawned two extremist philosophies, two opposite responses to the 'out-there', the Isolationists, and the Expansionists.

The Isolationists were content to exploit their little corner of the universe, and leave the rest of it alone. Their motives were greed and fear. They valued space technology only for its cargo capacities within the limits of the Viyasarat.

The Expansionist; or ‘Carnivores’ [Ab'Garhsheed] as they were more often called, were solely bent on conquest; the subjugation and exploitation of another sector of the universe; regardless of whoever or whatever lived there.

This latest disharmony within the Confederation, which was still negatively influenced by the Syndicates, was as likely to sabotage the mission as was the incompetent arrogance of Tai' Gann. Especially as one never knew which side he was on, except of course, his own.

Two cycles ago the High Council had outfitted a half-squadron of sophisticated research vessels to leave the Viyasarat and travel to the nearest two solar systems, the Bogatim System in Octym 4, and the Hysaron System in Octym 7. Ki' Oste grandfather had captained the Pelled Shau,on that long and rigorous expedition. Eleven rotan after the election of Tai' Nu as the 8th High Counsellor, the Pelled Shau had returned. Ki' Oste recalled the shock that still lingered in his grandfather’s a'tiwell. Ki’Oste had been mildly sceptical of the probability that one planet might contain sentient life. It had caused him great personal disequilibrium. Never a religious man, he was nonetheless forced to begin considering, however haphazardly and haltingly, the possibility that Niv really was the Creator of the Universe, as the Testimony of the 8 Documents consistently proclaimed.

In his youth he had rejected as false the Second Declaration of Niv. Neither he nor almost every other contemporary Garhyarii had ever seen or read that vile piece of culture-destroying garbage. Now, his anger rose just remembering the darkening of their otherwise proud global history…. The rise of the 'Nivat' fanaticism…. the social chaos the new religion spawned…. The immense bloodshed needed to root out all vestiges of the false faith.

The Four Houses had gone to civil war over it, causing untold suffering. The resources of Garhyar had been redirected to combat it, causing economic dislocation and stagnation for almost a full cycle. The derangement of the social fabric was so profound, so cataclysmic, that all Garhyarii history was reckoned by it, marking the end of the 'First Cycle-of-Cycles'.

At the end of 'The Purging', the shattered Four Houses, their populations so terribly depleted, had sought a new beginning for Garhkind, and the Confederation had been born. The mass deaths, the disproportionate resource depletion, the 'Starveling Migrations', brought the Confederation into being to save what was left. From the Purging came unity, harmony, and singleness of purpose. The first lineage of Chi' Teravtilat ruled with the full consent of the Four Houses, and the various Do'chiteron were loyal and patriotic commanders of the Confederation's defences.

These conditions had prevailed in the Confederation until the rise of space exploration and the inter-house Syndicates. Now there was a new centrifugal catalyst, the planets of the Hysaron System. Now Ki' Oste had been ordered to retrace his grandfather’s voyage, and take this 8-member Delegation to make official contact with any sentient beings they found there.

Since its return the Pelled Shau had its propulsion units overhauled and upgraded, mated with the B and C pods, and rechristened Pelled Krasc. The ship had been refitted to take 17 additional crew and the eight high-status passengers. To the original 16 crew were added three other units. Six designated special officers of the Colonial Interdiction Service [CIS], under the Uuma senior officer, Jihr Taur' Regc. Three Science Technicians came to assist the existing Propulsion and Exploration Units. And lastly, 8 general crewmen were assigned as valets for the Delegation.

One of the modular vessel's B-Pod holds had been converted into a dormitory to handle the crew overflow. This gave Ki' Oste a combined complement of himself, 6 senior officers, 2 senior crew-leaders, 6 science-technicians, 7 armed Interdictors, and 13 standard-crewmen. With the two 4-man crews of the Guardian-class “parasite” frigates, the composite force was the largest armed command in the CIS. He suspected he'd need every one of them in the rotans to come.

He had weighed the choice of officers carefully. His vice-captain on previous commands had proven to be a great personal disappointment. Despite her space-time the woman had opposed and obstructed this voyage at every turn. The Isolationists were a powerful pressure-group in the Tailat, so no lasting discipline could be meted out to her. The best he could do was to have her transferred onto the Cazu run. His new vice-captain was Pik Tu' Venne, a Del like himself, and having vast interdiction experience. He was Pro-Contact in his private sentiments, but publicly silent, a useful first-officer.

The celestial navigator, Tan Ng' Ilazor, knew the Hysaron System charts very competently. The Ng's navigational calculations were essential; because of Ki' Oste undeviating trust in a live Garhyarii brain versus the automated computations of D-Anas. Despite his many rotan in space, the Captain hated data-analysers.

After being summoned by Chi' Teravtilat Nu, Ki' Oste had chosen his other officers with additional care. Na Tu' Bihr and Bi Tu' Kehrsu were brought in from the newest Guardian-class vessel, Bayam-Trnod'ynat [Guardian of the Stars]. That ship's ion-repulser systems, fuel-cells and environmental governors were based on the same designs as those used in the Pelled Krasc. Their technical competencies were first-rate; though their factional leanings were only guesswork by the colonial security apparatus. The last choice was the easiest. For second-officer Ki' Oste had chosen his own Consort, Tern Mil' Gnoste, a Pentar. Her personal steadiness as an officer was matched by her intuitive wisdom regarding Garhyarii space-crew psychology. She should spot problems before they became overblown, he hoped.

In addition to his refitted research vessel, two armed interdiction frigates, each with a compliment of 4, were seconded from the interplanetary corsair patrols to serve under his command. The Ev-Trnod'ynat [Guardian of the Wind] and the Pevl-Trnod'ynat [Guardian of the Mist] would accompany the Pelled Krasc to the Hysaron System in Octym 7.

Now the small fleet orbited Garhyar at space transit station Tsaru-Dann, waiting for the "Kirihngayat" to be performed. Once that traditional requirement was completed, the fuel-cells would be brought on line, the ion-repulsers would spool up, and they could begin their epic journey of connection. He smiled in anticipation.

@

The carillon chimed above him. As two catering crew finished setting the table with the ritual items he brought his mind back to the ceremony at hand. The 'Welcoming-Meal' ceremony was one of a number of eclectic ceremonies and rituals that were re-vitalised at Confederation to emphasise the newfound overarching unity of the Garhyarii race. Many civil rituals and religious ceremonies had been thus transformed, blended from common threads, incorporating elements taken from each landmass. So it was with the "Kirihngayat".

The officers entered first and lined up in order to the left of the Ki'; Vice-captain Tu' Venne, Ionator Tu' Bihr, Environmentalist Tu' Kehrsu, Steersman Ng' Ilazor and Second-Vice-Captain Mil' Gnoste. The two CIS officers, Taur' Regc and Tuum' Hvenc lined up after that. The table behind them was laid with a tablecloth of green and red gossamer material. On it sat the three ritual items, a bowl of aromatic water, a plate of Merroe-fruit pastry, and 8 goblets of the potent Bahk liqueur. The two hospitality-crew stood behind the table to assist the ritual servers.

The Barhtiq carillon chimed the traditional tune, and the Delegation entered. The titular head of the delegation, Tai' Gann entered first, dressed in a carmine robe, the 'Taufang' symbol prominently displayed on his diplomatic sash. He took his ritual place in front of the "host", in this case Ki' Oste. The Viqim entered next, and stood before Tu' Venne and Tu' Bihr. Si' Viyatt Nu then entered, gilding in stately silence on crepe slippers. Arrayed in a dark golden robe, flecked with aquamarine highlights, her long auburn hair was tied at the left side in the traditional ‘maiden's circlet’. While her face was an impenetrable mask of formality, the Iksoten jewel was displayed prominently on her sash of office. Only Taur' Regc knew its origin, and only he could hope for its significance. She took her assigned place in front of Tu' Kerhsu. The four Mawim then entered, in strict continental order and took their assigned places in front of the remaining officers. Except for the carillon playing softly, this was all accomplished in ritual silence.

"Honoured guests" Ki'Oste began when the Barhtiq ceased, "we welcome you, and offer you our protection. Honoured guests we welcome you, and offer you rest. Honoured guests, we welcome you, and offer you refreshment. May the peace of Niv be yours under our covering, and may you live a second Cycle."

Tai' Gann made the ritual response on behalf of the Delegation. "Honoured Host, we accept your hospitality. We will stay and enjoy the peace of your protection, the joy of your rest, and the strength of your refreshment. May the peace of Niv remain with your household for a second Cycle."

A female steward had quietly come up beside the Ki'. She placed an embroidered towel across his forearm, and offered him the silver bowl of scented water. The Ki' spoke the required phrase, "Honoured guest, rest yourself from your journey," and held the bowl out for the Tai to ceremonially cleanse his hands. The Ki' then passed the bowl and towel to the next officer who repeated the words and task. And so it went down the line.

The atmosphere was thick with conflicting psycho-social signals. Mil' Gnoste picked up a crackle of tension passing between the Ki' and the Tai' as they stared straight into each other's eyes during the long wait for the cleansing the be completed. The acrid pheromones of competing Garh males were especially pungent in her female nostrils. Visually she picked up a different subtle tension in Taur' Regc when Si' Viyatt Nu came into the room. Likewise, her intuition picked up that the gravity and bearing of the Si' Viyatt were not all focused on the ceremony at hand. Other undercurrents flowed also. Tension over the mission? Nervousness among the delegation? Incomplete bonding between the vessel's officers? She would keep her mind open, and her eyes sharp in the rotans ahead.

The second steward took the bowl and towel from Tuum' Hvenc and returned it to the table. By this time the first steward had given the dish of Merroe-fruit pastry to the Ki'. He offered the Tai' a piece with the formula "Honoured guest, eat and be refreshed." This to was repeated down the line. The cakes made from the sweet-and-sour Merroe-fruit contained a very mild stimulant, and historically had been offered to wayfarers as a quick energiser. They were a true delicacy, and becoming scarce.

The last ritual was the liqueur. Here each officer turned and picked up an individual goblet from the table, and offered it to the guest they were hosting. "Honoured guest, drink and be refreshed" went the phrase from 8 voices in unison. The Mawim, having seldom experienced this ceremony, were less prepared for the full goblet of burning liqueur that they were duty bound to down completely. All four of them gagged and sputtered; to the restrained amusement of the officers, if no one else.

The recorded Barhtiq chimes started again, a light Pentarii melody. That was the signal for the "host" to pair off with their "guest" and begin a period of light repartee to substantiate the "safety" aspects of the hospitality ritual. Conversations ranged from the mission itself, to the state of the mines on Cazu, to the likely winning team in this rotan's Bakkhu competition. Taur' Regc's eyes drifted often to Si' Viyatt Nu; but she held her host in isolated conversation, with no acknowledgment of the Taur's presence. The two stewards circulated with additional Merroe-fruit cakes and replenishment of Bahk, while the Barhtiq played through a selection of music from the Four Houses. The young Mawim were less hesitant over the liqueur after their third goblets. At the end of the ritual time the chimes sounded a brief insistent tone, and all fell silent again.

Ki' Oste began, "Genuinely honoured members of this history-changing Delegation, it is my pleasure to welcome you aboard the Confederation research vessel Pelled Krasc. We will be getting under way tomorrow at planet-rise. In two Tan we will engage the plasma drive and enter our transit phase. Prior to that, at one Tan's distance from Garhyar, we will meet here to open and discuss our orders. Until then, enjoy the comforts of this vessel and the service of her crew. “Dhia-Dhiak’u and good rest." He bowed formally to the Tai and then stood next to the portal to farewell each Delegate. When the last, and by now thoroughly tipsy guests, had left he let out a sigh and faced his officers. "People, we have a great deal of work to finish during this watch. I suggest we get to it."

The officers saluted and left immediately for their duty-stations to continue the preparations for getting under way. Ki' Oste went over to the two stewards and thanked them for their help in the ritual. His habitual respect for others was well known in the fleet, and had earned him the regard of most of his crew. He then went to the quarters he shared with his consort, and prepared to meet privately with Taur' Regc.

In the Officers' Mess, the stewards began the transformation to restore the chamber to its routine functions, officers' meals and recreation. In the two Tan before 'Tiocent l'ynat' [Interval of the Acceleration] the Mess would act as refuge and safety valve for everyone, breaking down the three-way demarcation between crew, officers and civilians. In addition, the Delegates had their own well-appointed apartments, and the collective use of a parlour on their corridor. During the Acceleration, by tradition the Officer's mess became the private domain of the Transition-Watch. To fight the boredom while the others hibernated the few crew rostered to man the vessel's systems would have that privileged space to themselves.

"

End of Part 2

The IRENICON


© Copyright 2017 James Gagiikwe. All rights reserved.

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