What happens when a young, naive culture bumbles into a millennium old banking system?
From the dust jacket:
An excerpt from the rough draft:
There were creatures everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of them milling around, all the colors that the Human eye could register and even a few that it couldn’t. Oxygen breathers mostly, but a fair number of hydrogen and methane breathers, heads encased in clear bubbles of greenish gases or other apparatuses that made it unclear what part was biological and what was machine.
The Humans huddled closer together. They were alone amongst aliens they had only seen in video or print. They oriented towards Kartick for support. Kartick was having a hard enough time holding himself together. Part of him wanted to run back to the ship. Even in the big cities on Earth, or the crowded space stations, there weren’t this many creatures.
Giant Ismael trundled alongside the twenty four inch Ordeiky. Gratoan moved like water, the pack fracturing and coalescing as they wound their way through the crowd on six swift feet. A swarm of Abtinthae, clad in battle armor, flew out from an opening in the wall. The sounds of the city were drowned out by flapping membranous wings and clacking chitin limbs.
Sound dampeners placed on either side of the entry way killed the city noise. It was like someone had drawn a soundproof curtain. The entrance hallway looked like a cave; slick, green moss grew on rough-hewn stone walls. The floor was worn smooth from foot traffic. Water ticked and dripped and trickled its way down the walls.
Marche whistled through his teeth. “Why they bring this all the way out into space?”
“On Ordeiky Prime, Human clutch, the sunlight kills. It is underneath the ground that we make our homes. I have found it a common trait among all species, Humans and Ordeiky alike, that they bring with them some tidbit of their past life - something that reminds them of home.”
The tunnel constricted. Kartick and Charla turned to squeeze through the encroaching passage walls. The Ordeiky walked without discomfort: everything was sized perfectly for him. His hand traced a familiar route across the seeping walls.
The tunnel opened into a large cavern, thirty feet high. Water tumbled from a cliff near the ceiling. On its way to the bottom, the water passed through a series of large circular stones, shaped like bowls; the waterfall feeding each of the bowls in turn before falling the rest of the way to a larger pool on the cavern floor.
The water, white and frothy where it fell, made no sound. Stones, arranged in a perfect line encompassed the pool of water at the base of each waterfall. On the ground floor, the stream snaked along, collecting into still more pools; each surrounded by that same circle of stones. The water gurgled and trickled and swooshed like water should in the spaces between.
Bright white moss-like vegetation with little neon-blue flowers covered all sides of the riverbanks. In the whole chamber, little translucent Ordeiky jumped and swam and splashed at each other like children. All the pools were filled except for one: the pool nearest the waterfall.
Shuuueaon stepped to a recess in the cavern wall and began disrobing. “Please. Join me.” He motioned at the small hooks set at regular intervals inside the room.
“Yes, Sir. I’d love to.” Kartick glanced at his team. “I’m not sure of the procedure right now. I don’t wish to cause an incident.”
Shuuueaon paused as if listening to something. “Understandable. We swim nude in the watering holes.” He continued undressing.
Kartick shrugged and unbuttoned his shirt. The rest of the Humans followed suit, one at a time – the alcove was too small for more than one. They tried as best they could to keep their garments from draping onto the damp floor.
Kartick stood next to the Ordeiky, and chatted with Charla. She had an exquisite shape. For the first time since the mission started, he felt a slight stirring of desire. He pushed his eyes away towards the pools. Almond eyes set in football shaped heads stared back.
In the Republic, nudity wasn’t strange; close proximity in the crèches, unisex restrooms and tight quarters desensitized everyone. Yet all of those eyes, those alien eyes, exploring every part of him made him want to cover himself with his hands and hide. Kartick turned so he couldn’t see them anymore.
The Ordeiky commander led the way towards the open pool. He paused for a moment at a kiosk, artfully placed in the side of a boulder. Unless you knew what you were looking for, Kartick might never have known. A holographic keyboard appeared at the swipe of Shuuueaon’s three-fingered hand. He typed, and in moments a panel slid open and a bubbling drink appeared.
It was the size of a Tercio helmet, the material clear. It bubbled audibly, and there were a dozen white-skinned creatures inside, each about the size of a Human finger. The handle of a long, three-pronged fork bobbed gently side to side.
Shuuueaon turned to address the crowd of Humans. His spade-shaped tongue lapped twice at the liquid. “I would offer you all a food-drink, but we have nothing here that would work with your biology.”
Kartick bowed. “We appreciate the thought for our well-being.” Following the Ordeiky, they stepped from the cool, damp stone onto the white moss. It was warm and soft. He sank down a few inches with each step, the moss folding in over his feet, tickling his ankles.
Kartick caught strange movement out of the corner of his eye. Dovc was on her tiptoes, trying as hard as she could to make her two hundred pound body light. Her shoulders were pulled up near her ears, her hands balled into fists and stuffed under her chin, nose scrunched.
“You ok there Tercio Dovc?” Kartick asked.
“Fine sir,” was her tense answer.
Marche chuckled. “Spread your toes out. You feel the blades tickle in between them.” He was answered with and open hand strike to the face. He laughed harder and took a couple steps away. Dovc’s anger died as the moss touched more of her feet during the struggle.
They passed through the circle of stones. A fine, warm mist covered them instantly. The waterfall sound returned as well. Shuuueaon waded into the pool and sat down, leaning back until his head floated on the surface.
Kartick looked at Charla. She took the hint. “Pardon me, sir. I’m the Medic aboard the Camal. Is there anything that I should be aware of in this water? Perhaps something that won’t agree with Human biology.”
Shuuueaon clacked his teeth together. “I would not be so careless with the Human clutch. This is the hydrogen-based liquid that comprises most of your body. There are minerals and salts as well. I have studied up on your species. Human and Ordeiky biologies are surprisingly similar. Join me.” He was no longer requesting.
“A pleasure, sir,” Charla said stepping into the water. The temperature was just under eighty degrees. She feigned a sneeze and tasted the water on her hand. It had about half the salinity of Earth’s ocean waters. She shrugged and leaned back onto her elbows. She lowered her head and let the gentle current pull her hair away from her body. The rest of the Humans relaxed.
“I apologize for me and my crew,” Kartick said turning to face Shuuueaon, “it has been my experience that it is difficult for one species to concern itself with another as well as you have.”
Shuuueaon let out a gurgle, the Ordeiky equivalent of a chuckle. “Yes. Mostly, they do not. Cannot. I however, have an interest in you that goes beyond your surface characteristics.” He barred his teeth and waved one hand.
“May I ask why that is, sir?” Charla said.
“One of my forefathers was with the landing party that first met you Humans. He was nearly killed in fact, one of your warriors mistook him for an ally of the Siloth. We have the video in our family archives. It my family’s distinct dreng to ensure your survival and prosperity in the Universe.”
“We do appreciate your help,” Charla said.
Shuuueaon nodded. “It was portentous that it was I who rescued you and your ship.” He stabbed one of the white animals and plucked it, still squirming, off the end of the fork with sharp teeth. His jaw moved in circular sawing motions. Bones crunched. “If I may, why are you flying around the galaxy in a contraption like that? It’s hardly in shape to ferry people across your solar system.”
Kartick chuckled. “It has seen better days for sure. It is a non-critical, non-military mission. They gave us a ship equivalent to the mission’s needs.”
Shuuueaon sank into the water until only his triangular ears poked out above the surface. Translucent eyelids slid over his eyes. He stared at Kartick.
Charla and Kartick shared a glance. Kartick shrugged.
Shuuueaon slid his head smoothly out of the water, eyelids dropping as they cleared. His teeth were back, just not as many of them. “I have not before studied your social system, as it bored me in the past. Now, I wonder. Is it a reward system?”
“A reward system? Do you mean, if someone does something well, they get a gun or car?”
“No no,” he said shaking his oblong head. “Let me put forward an example or two so that we may understand each other.” He turned to Charla, “Should you need a gun, where would you go?”
“Why would I need a new gun, sir?” asked.
“Because you wanted one.”
“Well, what happened to my old one, sir?”
“You still have it. You want a second.”
“Is my gun in working order, sir?”
“Then there isn’t a need for me to get another gun, sir.”
Shuuueaon lapped at his food drink again. “I begin to understand. Were your gun to break, what would you do?”
“I would take it to the armory and the Technicians would take it and issue me another one.”
“Would that sidearm be the same as those three?” Shuuueaon gestured towards the Tercio who chatted quietly on the other side of the pool.
“It would, sir.”
“Same make, same model. Theirs would just be newer and in better working condition.”
“Let me think about a phrase that your machine will translate.” His eyelids slid upward again and he chewed thoughtfully on another of the creatures from his food drink. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution.”
Kartick rubbed at his eyebrow. “Yes, I believe that sums it up.”
“I suppose you have generations of fabricators make those same guns.”
“We do, sir. They are good at it too.”
“How absolutely barbaric,” Shuuueaon said guzzling the last of the liquid from his drink. The animals inside wriggled and jumped in the empty bowl.
“Excuse me?” Kartick said.
“Take no offense. I… I just never believed that I would encounter such a place. I learned about your particular kind of economy while I was growing up; it was introduced as a kind of throwback to the ancient times of the universe. Before species could even leave their home worlds.”
“Why would you call it barbaric?” Kartick asked, unable to keep the edge out of his voice. He hoped that it would be lost in the translation.
“It’s just so backwater. You don’t find any such economy like yours within the established species in the IGA. They have all made the conversion to a free market millennia ago. They had to.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” said Charla, “I’m not sure I know what you are talking about. What is an ‘economy?’ A ‘free market?” She said the words hoping that the translator would convey it correctly.
Shuuueaon lowered his face until his mouth was below the water’s surface. Bubbles floated to the surface carrying with them sounds of tittering laughter. He emerged again, mouth wide and teeth gleaming in a Cheshire grin. “They do not even know these words! Marvelous,” he mumbled to himself. “An economy is the entire system of how goods and services are exchanged.
“The question I posed to you earlier was an example. Here is another; yet I believe I already know the answer: how do you go about finding housing?”
Charla and Kartick exchanged a glance. Kartick nodded. “We live and train within crèches until we test into our castes. Then we move into the large dormitories with people from those castes. If we elect to have children or partner up with someone, we move yet again into a family dormitory. After many years, if we serve the Republic diligently, we are awarded with a single apartment.”
Shuuueaon waved a hand to dismiss her comment. A fish creature wriggled in his fingers. “Not in what conditions do you live, those vary significantly from species to species and planet to planet. When you do change living areas, how do you select where to go? Do you have a choice?”
“Ohh, my apologies, sir. I didn’t understand the first time. The Oniwabanshu-our main governing body- assigns us a room based upon our caste and where we are assigned.”
Shuuueaon tossed the creature into the air with a flourish. He opened his mouth, which seemed at that moment to be as big as his head, and swallowed the thing whole. “I begin to see! And your food? How do you get it?”
Kartick and CHarla exchanged another glance. “We are provided an allotment every week based on our caloric needs. The Military and Support Castes get to eat the most.”
The Ordeiky was so animated that he almost dumped the remaining fish-things into the pool. “And the government controls it all? Food? Clothing? Leisure?”
“Yes sir,” she said, “everything.”
“Amazing,” he said and leaned back into the water. He blew small bubbles with his mouth, teeth gleaming white under the clear water. “And I suppose that you see nothing wrong with that?”
Kartick shrugged. “No, sir. I don’t.”
“Of course not! Don’t you see!?” His arm exploded out of the water, showering the two nearby Humans. “You are at the top of the pile! You may have whatever you want and be assured that it will work and be of outstanding quality. Which of you here is lowest ranked?”
Charla raised her hand slowly above the water. Shuuueaon turned towards her. “What if you could acquire the same quality of items as the Captain here? Would you?”
“Well… maybe. But if by doing so I took the weapon out from their hands, I would not. That would cause me to fall towards jendr.”
“But what if there was a surplus?” He looked between Kartick and Charla and saw the question in their eyes. “Surplus. Extra that they had laying in boxes in a storehouse. You wouldn’t take anything out of anyone’s hands.”
“ohh, well then sure. It might be nice.”
Shuuueaon dropped his now empty bowl. It floated away and caught on the dotted line of stones. The water’s current clinked and tinked it gently on the stony surface. He grabbed Charla’s hands. They were cold and leathery. “That, my dear Human, is the main tenant of the Free Market,” he enunciated the words like it was a revered space, “you can have anything you want!”
Kartick held out his hand as the Tercio adjusted themselves for combat.
He stood up, barley rippling the water. “Come with me! All of you! I will show you how free you can be!” He rushed from the water and across the cavern, bewildered Humans following after.