The first minutes in the control room with the Vuur delegation were like living in an utter hell. At least, that’s all Simon could think happened. His later recollection seemed to have block in place of the memory, leaving an otherwise momentous event as little more than a gray, watery fog… and a lingering cringe around his nostrils.
The Vuur were absolutely genuine; benevolent in personality and camaraderie. It was the scent of a species entirely without concept of olfactory stimulation. A sense known far too well to the Solsians in the room.
As if some gloriously merciful force sensed their discomfort, something flooded the room. The temperature dropped. A current of something vinegar-like, neutralizing swirled in a silent, invisible vortex. One end let it in, the other swept the old scent out. The process was continuous, constant, heavenly. Simon could’ve cried for joy.
It was, he later learned, done at Mataan’s request, silently transmitted to Melchondo’s crew during her shuttle ride. “To Lts. Hartke and Klimmer, due to an unforeseen development regarding our new companions, please have ready an aerosol expungent of CH3COOH and NaHCO3 to be piped through the station at one end and filtered at the other, in response to Vursara’s high sulfur content. Thank you, Amb. Mataan.“
In a moment of swift poise, Mataan evaded more discomfort than necessary and any embarrassment to the Vuur, via a judicial application of text-messaging. Consequently, this may have been the first time in Solsian history such an act avoided tragedy rather than caused it. Often enough, Solsians messages tended toward one of two maxims: “Do me.” Or conversely, “Do yourself.”
The truth of Mataan’s message, was more colloquially translated to; “Our new friends stink. Send help.” In time, the Vuur themselves would find amusement in this, however true it remained.
When that first whiff of neutralizing air barreled through the station’s ventilation, Simon was unaware of anything but the saving grace it brought. He felt like an old vid-star, too long in space and finally reaching firm ground, and falling to his hands and knees to kiss it. Except his firm ground was the airs lack of rotten eggs. He’d have kissed it, could he have without giving the whole thing away.
Foremost in mind after the air’s sterilization became his seeming inability to keep from making a fool of himself. Congenital and incurable as Human foot-in-mouth disease was, the last thing they needed was showcasing it as one of their first, official acts. Simon’s only hope lie in keeping his mouth shut as much as possible, lest the foot inch its way up… and jam its way inward.
And, if need be, the option always remained to flee to the all-embracing silence of vacuum-space.
“Ambassador Mataan,” Ramla began, voice appropriately gravel-like, complimenting her resemblance to stone well. “It is of the utmost importance we discuss this threat with you.”
Everyone squirmed now.
She continued unabated, “It is through our Sages we understand this threat to be internal. That is, we know it is primarily a Solsian matter. However–“
She took a pause. It seemed to last both an eternity and only a breath. As if their stone statures were as much mirrored in thought as body. Simon sensed no Solsian aboard willing to break the silence, even to breathe. If Simon were the betting type, he’d have lain odds on someone passing out first.
Ramla, suddenly yet calmly, continued, “It is something we know well.”
Niala spoke up, “Forgive me, but… how do you mean?”
Ramla began with a whimsy that said she was both present and lost in memory simultaneously. The scientists in the room made note of it, sensing it might well be the case. “Our people do not live long. In relation to yours, we are roughly half your life-span, but we are hardy. We descend from warrior tribes whom, over eons and generations, honed our forms to withstand all but the rigors of time. Yet we remain lost warriors, searching for greater purpose in the universe.
“As you, we have philosophy, belief. But presently, unlike yours, ours revolve around hope and peace. We are are of one mind. We focus on one goal. Our people as a whole, and individuals. You are the opposite. You come from a world of conflict and hostility– or perhaps more appropriately, worlds. Your divisions are evident in your dress. Your stances. You embrace no-one without first examining them. You shake no man’s hand without checking him first for a blade. Most of all, you each focus on many things, some conflicting even between those closest. It is a way unknown to us, but one which we wish to understand.”
There was a long, profound silence. For once, Simon and Lina were too caught up in the moment to squirm. But it was there, under the surface, waiting to remind of their Humanity.
Ramla ensured all those present understood her gravity, “You reveal much more in yourselves and your ways than you realize. Both of good and ill intent.” The Solsians averted their gaze as if to accuse one another, were quickly redirected. “But you are not without hope.
“It is for this reason we have requested to meet you, face-to-face. Impersonal distance is a burden all must bear should they hope to continue advancing, but it should be avoided wherever possible.”
She refocused, “In simplest terms, we hoped you would greet us warmly. Minor anxieties common to sentient beings aside, you have. And we thank you. It is with hope that our greatest achievements might be mirrored between us and shared from here on.”
There was silence.
Snow spoke with firm indifference. “You’ve known civil war.”
It was a statement. A profoundly insightful one. Simon would never have gathered so much so quickly. How Snow had was a mystery, but Simon sensed something of the ruling warlord in it. He found himself oddly comforted. That Snow was equal parts brutal dictator and intelligent scholar was… eerily reassuring.
Ramla’s head bowed slightly. The smallest Vuur, Curator Nakato, spoke then. “For millenia, our people fought. Thousands of tribes competed for dominance across our world. Through bloodshed and utter carnage, our people evolved, knowing little else but battle, war. Then, over several thousand years, the tribal mindset began fracturing, forming something newer and larger.”
Guardian Zulu spoke next, doing his best to mimic Ramla’s regality but ultimately falling short. “Our people began to imagine, to dream. We foresaw a united world where food was no longer scarce; where death was neither premature nor certain.”
Curator Nakato seamlessly took over, “These ideas spread until Vursara’s warring tribes joined, partnered, becoming governors and ruling bodies seeking trade above all else. Most tribes migrated for trade’s sake, adding to emerging nation-states. Health and vitality were truly and fully discovered and sought.
“But darkness loomed. The nation-states occupying the world claimed its golden lands. Few to no villages or tribes were left between, isolating the populous. Before long, the states’ encompassed enough sectors that trade was no longer necessary. The former routes became too unstable to maintain, and their central regions turned to isolationism from fear.
“Unfortunately, the lands were not all equal forever. Some became impossible to farm. Others, depleted of their luxuries; whose presence, for the first time since their discovery, was mythical.”
Guardian Zulu’s face set, as if in sadness, but his voice remained unchanged. “Isolation and need stirred resentment. Old-ways, not long enough abandoned, returned in secret as nation-states experimented with newfound knowledge to contend with lost trade. As was our instinct, these ways inevitably turned toward armament with increasingly dangerous implements. What followed were twelve-hundred cycles of infighting.”
Nakato finished with deep shame. “The toll is greatest to those left behind. Our hardiness however, promises we might yet prevail and survive, so long as we take care. Thus, it is with wounded pride our species carries on in this way. What remained of intelligent leadership then, formed a global coalition centuries old and strong now, and currently focused on providing worldwide access to food.”
“A noble goal,” Mataan said in the appropriate silence.
“Indeed,” Ramla replied. “When global hunger is eradicated, we will discern and face our next challenge as a species.” Another profound silence rang with the Vuur’s words. Then; “But this is not meant to taint our meeting. Rather, it is to our similarity. We are, in a way, kindred species, seeking the same ends through similar means, having seen first-hand the repercussions of failing to do so.”
Snow once more spoke, still indifferent. “You believe civil war to be the logical bridge between us?”
An immediate thrum of static filled the air. Simon wondered if the Vuur counter-agent was failing, then quickly noticed the rather deep hatred emanating from Mataan. She did her best to keep it subdued, but the hairs around her gown’s neck-line had thickened. On cue, Snow did his best to quicken it.
Ramla bowed to affirm. Snow visibly disapproved, “Most foolish thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Snow!” Everyone said, at once.
Ramla had anticipated everything, raised a hand not unlike theirs. “I wish to know his thoughts. He is clearly perceptive.”
Mataan was silent. The slight glisten in Snow’s eyes told of a smug grin that would otherwise have manifested. Simon saw it in that instant. Had they been in a school yard, Snow might’ve stuck his tongue out and danced– or at least pointing a finger and chanted.
Instead, he stiffened with a Kingly air. “War serves no purpose but to divide and leaden the pockets of its benefactors. Whether in practice or politics.”
“You wish then, that our meeting emphasize another topic.”
He eyed Curator Nakato, “If only in the history books, yes.”
“What would you propose?” Nakato asked with extreme interest.
“That the records state we chose an equal meeting place in hopes of scholarly trade.”
“Would that not be false?”
“Reality matters only in the present. History matters always,” Snow said astutely.
The Wizened King returned full-force. Simon began to understand how creatures such as this had commanded mighty empires– not Wolves mind, but true leaders.
“Always, it matters most that History safeguard the future. We can ensure that now, so that forty generations from now, when our people are each at the other’s throats, the recall that what first brought us together was peace, not circumstance.”
A resounding silence prompted Ramla’s queer, Vuur smile. She’d clearly been coached on it, but bowed her head all the same. The rest of her delegates followed. Then, with sun-praising pose, “Let it be so. We meet here for the sake of peace and knowledge.”
Niala waited a beat, then spoke with gravity. “Then off-record, we are under impending attack. Anti-Humanists have been roused, seeing our meeting as counter to their agenda.”
Simon felt himself speak. Absolute and utter terror pinning his tongue up and down between words. “I am Human.” All eyes turned to him. He was certain some sweat dripped down his lower back and into his butt-crack.
He spooled off several sentences as if an old VI list-reading. “Our species was first sentience in Sol. Our people reached sufficient infrastructure and advancement through-out Sol before first contact with the Zelphod. The species desired human-dominated Sol for its infrastructure. Immediate war led to chemical attacks on Human-dominated planets. These chemicals, meant to spread chaos, inadvertently activated latent genes in Solsian species, most notably that of animal life, leading to the prevalence of Evolved life.”
Simon took a breath, searching his echo for anything worthy of his terror. He found nothing and exhaled. “Anti-Humanists believe they are marginalized as a result of the system’s remnants from Human dominance. Though there is reasonable debate on both sides, ultimately, their used as scapegoats to further others’ agendas.”
Zulu eyed him, “You mean to say they feel Human infrastructure is oppressing them.”
“Precisely,” Lina interjected, sensing Simon’s fear and hoping to alleviate it. He grimaced gratefully, “The truth’s much more complex. Many Anti-Humanists are opportunistic criminals damaging the debate’s finer points with unnecessary violence and extremism. Valid issues fester as a result.”
A sudden, unanimous nodding from the assembled Vuur, said this made absolutely perfect sense. They knew something of it. More than that, they sensed the sudden release of tension from the Solsians. As inexplicable as it felt, it was clearly the result of their dangerous reality being so well received.
As if on cue– as Simon relaxed– the comm system began to chime. Mataan excused them for the communique coming through the emergency circuit. A Hog appeared on-screen, foreign to all but Snow. A moment of confusion gave way to Snow pushing forward.
The Hog was petrified; paler than healthy, and less pink more bled, frozen ham-hock. “Sir, they’re coming. A fleet of armed shuttles just appeared on sensors. Ten minutes out.”
The entire room tensed up again, Vuur included.