|A Human Perspective - Episode 5|
|Series||A Human Perspective|
|Source||A Human Perspective - Episode 5|
|In the series|
The Banu agricultural world Shyewhea, in the Ophos system, stank like nobody’s business. The fact that it had a fairly thin atmosphere turned out to be a blessing: it forced them (him, Angela, even the Banu who lived there) to wear a simple breathing device whenever they were out on the planet’s surface, which cut the stench considerably, but not entirely.
To Charl it was just like any other ag world, and he’d seen plenty of them: flat farmland as far as the eye can see, field upon field, livestock yard upon livestock yard, hatchery upon hatchery, all gridded off with mag-lev rail lines. Productive, efficient and boring as hell.
“You don’t mind the smell so much?” he asked Angela on their first day on Shyewhea’s surface. Her light blue jacket matched both her eyes and the twin-mooned sky.
“No. You find it unpleasant?” she asked innocently, putting gear into the back of their ATV.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” he exclaimed, scrunching his face. “That’s quite a stink. I suppose you’ve been on a lot of ag worlds, though, being a bio tech.”
“Not really,” she replied simply, voice only slightly muffled by her breathing apparatus.
“No field work? That’s strange, I would have thought … here, those are kind of heavy, let me help you …” he began, but Angela managed a pair of heavy field packs without his aid. “Strong little thing, aren’t you?”
“We should make the Welshwar Ridge by midday,” she pointed out. “The hwasheen wranglers will meet us there.”
All business, then, he thought. I can handle that. They drove along dirt roads for hours that day, mostly in silence, which suited Charl just fine. They kicked up dust past kilometer after kilometer of endless crops. It was more than enough to keep fleets of cargo ships busy feeding nearby Banu industrial worlds.
The Banu wranglers in charge of the hwasheen herds made Charl grin. They were rugged fellows, wheel- and grav-bike riders who managed the thousands of animals that ranged over hundreds of hectares. They wore leather clothes and wide-brimmed hats to keep off the orange sun. Banu cowboys, indeed.
“Try some, Charl-Grissom,” one wrangler offered, gesturing toward a plate of steaming hwasheen meat on their chuck wagon table. Give them credit, he thought: they walk the walk out here. Quickly, he whipped up an excuse.
“I’m not due to sample the meat for another few days,” he said, stretching the truth just a bit. The Banu cowboys all spit and trembled. Jolly jokers.
Unlike on the Banu yacht Shuulyear (which, he was happy to hear, was also to be their ride back off this backwater planet), Angela’s quarters were clear across the compound from his. A couple of days ago he would have thought that preferable, but today …
Try as he might, he found himself eager to see her smiling face every morning. Charl helped Angela gather bio samples (as disgusting as that was sometimes), run tests, and generally gather data. They wandered among the hwasheen, bonding with a couple of them, he guessed, though it was really hard to tell if the beasts reciprocated at all.
Try as he might, he couldn’t get them to play fetch.
After a couple of days of gentle ribbing, Charl finally sat down to the plate of hwasheen meat the wranglers offered him. They gathered close to watch his reaction, while he steeled himself and made the mental commitment to chew and swallow, no matter what it tasted like.
“Here goes,” he said, tearing off a small piece off and popping it in his mouth (no forks here). The Banu watched expectantly. Had they placed bets, he wondered? It wasn’t awful, even when he drew the odor through his nostrils. Ultimately, it was kind of bland, tough but with a sort of wormy consistency. He swallowed and shrugged, sending the wranglers into some kind of tizzy. He ate the remainder, suffered a minor belly ache that night, and that was the end of it.
The next morning he shared his opinions with Angela.
“I suppose it’s all in the preparation,” he suggested, leaning against an instrument table they had set near the fence perimeter. A handful of hwasheen gathered around, probably because they got occasional treats, he supposed. Angela examined slides under a microscope. A light breeze played along her gathered hair and long skirt.
“A little butter and pepper can do wonders. I wouldn’t say it was bad tasting, but it was nothing to vid home about. When are you going to give it a try?”
“I’m … I’m not really sure,” she said, distracted by her slide work.
“Try to get some right from the chuck wagon, the same way I had it. Then we can compare apples to apples, or whatever it is they eat around here.” Still, no reaction, and Charl sighed. He realized that he had been pretty cold and distant to her, especially at first, but he was strangely disappointed that Angela showed no interest in being friendlier. Sure, he didn’t care for Humans in general, but perhaps it was Humans in their billions he despised. Taken one at a time maybe they weren’t so bad.
But for whatever reason, she must not think of him as her type. Plenty of stars in the galaxy, he reminded himself … but, he realized with a small grin, she was the only ‘star’ for a few hundred light years.
“I suppose if the hwasheen are easier to raise,” he continued, resolved to make the most of the morning, “more efficient or something.” He picked up a MobiGlas and flipped through some of their accumulated data. “Are these the latest figures?”
“Yes,” Angela replied, never looking up from her microscope.
“Well, if these figures are right, then the hwasheen are way harder to raise than even cows. Look, here … their feed consumption is higher, and their water consumption is a lot higher.” He scratched his head. “I don’t know for sure, but I can’t see people giving up beef for hwasheen meat that’s not as tasty and twice as expensive.”
“We’ll have to put that into our report,” she said simply. “I’ve got some other instruments to gather on the north range.”
“I’ll come with you,” he offered.
“No, I’d prefer to go alone.”
“Oh,” was all he managed.
Later that evening, as he attended to his scant few duties, Charl saw that their ATV was back. Angela had returned and not even bothered to let him know. He cursed and lamented being out of rye and Banu beer.
The next morning, he opened a vid line with Lyshtuu, hoping if he filed his report early they might come and get him off this rock. He was surprised to get real-time communication. His Banu friend must be in-system on some other business, Charl supposed.
“Those are the figures,” he said, sharing the preliminary data through the conference channel. “These hwasheen are pretty hard to raise and are way off the charts on profit and loss for livestock animals.”
“I observe, Charl-Grissom,” Lysthuu replied, scanning the data at his end.
“I’ve tasted the meat, and it is not appetizing. I’m sure most Humans would not enjoy it.”
“Perhaps processed for nutritional purposes …”
“Perhaps, but, again, the efficiencies are substandard. Also, if Torreele is thinking of importing these things as pets, they can forget it. They’re not particularly friendly, and they don’t bond or play well. Honestly, I think Torreele’s way off the mark on this one.”
“You should continue,” the Banu trader suggested.
“I’m not sure why, Lyshtuu. There just doesn’t seem to be any point to it. If it’s a matter of money, I can take a cut on the contract …”
“Transport unavailable now, Charl-Grissom. Fulfill acquaintance desired.” Charl understood. There was no shortening the mission. He was stuck here for another five standard days, like it or not. He assured Lyshtuu he would finish things and ended the transmission. Solemnly, he laced up his boots and wandered out into the livestock yard where Angela was back going through her slides.
“Angela!” he cried, “Your breather!” It was sitting on the table beside her microscope. She could go maybe a minute without it, but … Charl rushed across the livestock yard toward her. She reacted strangely, looking up slowly from the microscope … so she heard him, at least … and picked up the breather like she’d never seen the thing before.
“Put it on!” he yelled, astonished, but she just stood there, as if frozen. By the time he reached her so did a handful of Banu in yellow lab coats who burst out of Angela’s quarters.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked as one shoved him aside. “You guys aren’t wranglers! Where did you come from?” Two of them now interposed themselves between him and Angela, holding out their hands, babbling some Banu nonsense, blocking his view. Two more descended upon Angela, grabbing her by the shoulders and easing her to the ground, apparently motionless.
“Get out of my way! Angela!” Charl reared back and punched one of his lab-coated interveners right in its mouth. But the other produced a small aerosol canister and sprayed him with a sweet-smelling gas, and he remembered nothing more for some time.
“Where are we?” Charl insisted eventually, rubbing his aching temples. Two Banu in yellow lab coats stood with him in a modest waiting room. They were not the ones who had subdued him. How many of these guys are there?
“Are you listening? Tell me where we are!” Charl was an experienced-enough spacer to know the gravity here felt different and artificial. The place had that air-tight resonance, too. They were in space — somewhere. The Banu eyed him studiously and the smaller of them responded.
“Safe. Affirmative. Safe.” Great, they’re literalists. He was not restrained in any way and he figured he could get to the door before they stopped him, though there might be a dozen armed guards just outside for all he knew. He tossed his head back, took a deep breath, and tried to think.
“Charl-Grissom desire food or drink?” the other Banu offered.
“No,” he growled, barely keeping his temper in check. “Where … is … Angela?” The techs looked at their comps and at each other.
“Angela repair,” Little-tech answered, eliciting in Charl an unexpected protective response. He stood up suddenly and towered over the cringing techs.
“She’s injured!” he shouted, and one fumbled in his pocket for something, probably more knock-out gas. “You spray me and I’ll strangle you both! If you’ve hurt Angela I’ll …”
“Angela broken.” Little-tech explained again. Charl’s throbbing mind raced. She must have suffered oxygen deprivation from the ag planet’s thin atmosphere. Did they know how to treat that? What do a bunch of Banu know about treating a Human, anyway?
“Take me to Angela! Right now!” he insisted, but Little-tech shook his head no — they knew that Human gesture, anyway.
“Orbital station,” the tech said, pointing to all three of them in turn and gesturing to the surrounding space. “Orbital station Shyewhea, Ophos system.”
“Is Angela here, too?”
“ Hanroyth Angela.”
Hanroyth? But that’s a word for machines …
To Be Continued …