"Seasonal Greetings from Planet Aeralia!"
Although not quite far enough out yet to be permitted to throttle up to Full Hyper Velocity, the shimmery space wake left by the hurtling Pan Galactic express space ship 'Andromeda' nevertheless trailed many billions of old Earth miles behind it. And from the Andromeda's first class observation deck her passengers could, if they so wished, still clearly view the distant bright star of the Aeralian system from which they had been obliged to depart - and in some haste - almost two years of Earth time measure previously.
In their comfortable official suite - ultimately funded through Earth taxpayers of course - the eight remaining members of what Garrard grudgingly conceded was effectively now the ex-Earth Trade Mission to Planet Arealia, whiled away the few remaining Earth weeks left until the Andromeda finally reached the Outer Rim and could hit Hyper Velocity, at which time they would enter their cryogenic sleep chambers.
Quinn, Garrard had been left in no uncertain doubt of, had taken the events which had occurred back on that Aeralian moon Xerxes-Beta both very personally and very badly. Indeed, the vitriol contained in Quinn's report over the desertion of the team's most junior delegate, Samis, and the enforced deportation of the rest of the mission which has resulted, had surprised even the utterly loyal civil servant that Garrard had always strived to make himself be. And it was also, he well knew, Quinn's express intention to transmit his report together with his recommendations for a strong diplomatic protest backed up with extradition demands directly the Andromeda had cleared the Outer Rim. Even so, Garrard mused, nearly two Earth years occupied with little else beyond writing and re-writing that damned report! It might almost be a relief to enter the cryogenic chambers in a few weeks time.
Garrard's thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the double toned hum that came at the mission's working area entrance. Looking up irritably from his screen Quinn snapped: “Enter!”
To Garrard's surprise it was not a ship's steward but a youngish looking deck officer who came through.
The officer sketched a salute. “Mr Quinn: Sir: Bridge Command requests that you accompany me to the Communications Centre. An Aeralian official communication addressed to yourself has been received and is awaiting live transmission from Planet Aeralia.”
"Ha!" Quinn heaved himself up out of his seat. Garrard could plainly see how much further weight the old fellow had put on since their departure from Aeralia almost two years ago. "Well, well, Garrard! It's taken until we're practically crossing the Outer Rim, but they've blinked first! Just as I always knew they would do! A plea, no doubt, that we recover our miscreant Samis and avoid a major diplomatic incident!”
Garrard groaned inwardly. Another two years - or nearly that - to travel back again ...? “But surely, even though this is a government chartered vessel, we cannot just turn around?”
Quinn favoured Garrard with one of his stronger condescending looks. “Of course we can't. My dear man, that is more than half point! Let the deceitful little rule breaker stew in his own insubordinate ... juices ... for as long as is deemed fit. Why, they might very likely be conducting mind experiments even as we speak!”
Old Quinn turned for a moment, and nodded to the young officer still stood by the door. “And from whom precisely does this Aeralian official communication emanate?”
The young officer momentarily consulted the key pad attached to his Gravity Belt by means of its unwound umbilical cord. “From Princess-General Tonda-Tona-Zendarra, Royal Governor-General of Moon Aeralia-Xerxes-Beta, Premier Princess Royal of ...”
“Zendarra? Garrard, wasn't that also the house name of that Diplomatic Guard Captain Samis got himself embroiled with? Which led to all this ... bother. You would remember a name, surely?”
Garrard sensed his brain tensing. “I believe it was the same, yes.”
“... Seasonal Greetings from Planet Aeralia.”
Quinn appeared startled. “Repeat the communication subject again.”
The young officer pointedly drew breath. “It reads: 'Seasonal Greetings from Planet Aeralia.'”
Garrard watched Quinn's fleshy lips pursing. “Garrard, do you suppose this to be some kind of coding?”
Garrard hesitated. “I, uh, I think that if we were to run a Time Systems scan it would show that on Earth the day today is 12-25.”
“Under the Ancient Gregorian System? 25th December?" (Numerical systems of all kinds were nectar to Garrard.) "The day of Christian celebration known as Christmas?”
The young ship's officer coughed discreetly: Without replying to Garrard, Quinn turned back to him once more.
“Inform your commanding officer we we be along forthwith. Garrard, direct the others of the mission to proceed immediately to the Communications Centre also.”
The Andromeda's communications centre, being a purely functional unit of the ship, was less spacious and rather more spartan than most. On its far wall Garrard saw a large transparent fronted panel, a little like the Aeralian Thought Image Visual Receiver Screens he'd encountered during the Trade Mission's truncated tour of duty there.
“Hailing frequency now open, sir.”
At once the grey screen burst into colour. Garrard stared, wide eyed, as his analytical economist's brain frantically tried to make sense of the extraordinary mobile scene that presented itself.
A large, sumptuously appointed Aeralian interior. Rather like how he'd imagine the Reception Quarter of an Aeralian Royal Palace to look maybe. And decorated: Long, brightly coloured festoons, criss-crossing at ceiling height. Numerous small flashing lights. And a tall, decorated plant? Surely not an Earth species tree ...? And several laughing, smiling, chattering Aeralian juveniles, three golden haired little females, plus a couple of darker headed males, clustered around the base of the tree ...? Garrard blinked hard, and looked some more. Another happily smiling little Aeralian female riding 'horsey' fashion on the back of a shiny black uniformed Aeralian Diplomatic Guard Unit officer just now crawling from out behind the tree on all fours ... surely not the self same officer whom Garrard recalled escorting the Trade Mission Delegates onto their ship two years ago?
“Seasonal greetings from Planet Aeralia!”
A strikingly good looking Star bronzed Aeralian, resplendent in full royal regalia, now occupied the screen. Her voice, made slightly echoey by the Universal Translator, again evoked in Garrard memories of being in Aeralia two years previously.
"I am Princess-General Tonda-Tona-Zendarra, Royal Governor-General of Moon Arealia-Xerxes-Beta, and Premier Princess Royal of The Xerxian Cluster Ruling Council. And this,” she paused momentarily to tilt her gaze downwards to a golden robed male seated just to her right immediately below her dazzling golden throne, “this is my Life Prince Consort, Tondo-Earthling-Tonda-Zendarra.”
A stunned silence. Then Garrard became aware of Quinn's spluttered exposition synchronized to perfection with his own: “Samis ...?!”
Samis smiled and raised a hand in a little wave. Somewhat tanned of face, but otherwise seemingly unharmed. “We thought you might like to see the offspring. The children. Our children. Mine and Tonda's. And I can tell you too, we are just confirmed with another clutch on the way!”
A collective intake of breath filled the Andromeda's cramped little communications centre.
“Children? Children!” Quinn's voice was audibly quavering. “Samis ... good God! ... what confoundation of the very Laws of the Universe have you and this alien ... Jezabel ... perpetrated?”
Garrard took a step forward. “Samis, why the tree? It is reminiscent of some ancient tradition of Earth solstice time I once heard of.”
Princess-General Tonda leaned forward in her throne, lowering her face almost to the level of Samis'. Her eyes were incredibly blue. Rather like Garrard's recall of the Blue Sky Time hue back in Aeralia. In the background Garrard's still keenly roving eye caught sight of another Aeralian officer, a very young one seemingly, openly conversing - and laughing too - with a trio of smartly attired male drones wearing tall red and white hats; And the drones, unlike all those that he'd encountered during his time on Aeralia, were no longer staring fixedly at the floor the whole while.
“The Royal-Military House of Zendarra is celebrating Earth Christmas! My Life Prince Consort ...” She paused once more, seemingly unable to contain any longer the broad smile which now further enhanced her already breathtaking features. Garrard stared along with the others in spellbound astonishment as this Aeralian Royal Princess next leaned right down and turned her face to place a brief, yet plain to see intensely loving little kiss upon Samis' cheek.
“My Life Prince Consort, my beautiful, beautiful Earthling, has told us much of his home planet and its inhabitants. Of their methods and customs and organisation. Of their aspirations and hopes and fears. And of their weaknesses too. And we have listened. Already here on Xerxes-Beta all former drones have been granted their full freedom. Education, and opportunity, is now open to juveniles of all classes and gender. It is necessary and overdue change we believe. Likewise our relations with other clusters, and with other civilizations. And although it will likely take many, many docibells of starcrots yet before such changes become fully accepted and universal, it is at least an important beginning. On Aeralia, as my Earthling has made us see, tradition - 'The Law' as we term it - has become too rigid. Too all controlling, too stifling of new thinking. All civilizations, even that of Planet Aeralia, must we now see adopt necessary change if they are to continue to evolve successfully.”
Despite his subordinate training, despite himself even, Garrard took the lead in responding. "Is this really true, Samis? You are not being coerced? What you are showing to us is not some trick of the Aeralians?"
The sincerity of Samis' tone left no further room for doubting. "It is as Tonda says. I have found my intended place, and my intended purpose I believe, within the greater universe."
Garrard cleared his throat. “Then Samis, sincerely, good luck in everything you are doing!”
From somewhere close by Quinn's voice rose once more in an outraged, spluttering choke. But Garrard was ignoring it now.
Samis at once offered a conciliatory smile. “And good luck in all you do too, Garrard.”
Garrard reflected: All I've ever done so far is stand behind old Quinn. Been his spy in the camp. And a pretty sneaky one at that. Time to adopt necessary change then! For the first time in a very long while Garrard found himself enjoying a self proclaimed smile.
On the screen Samis' image was speaking once more: One of the four golden haired little daughters was meanwhile to be seen engaged in climbing onto his lap. Looking more like an Earth child of maybe six years of age, and clearly destined to become as heart stoppingly beautiful as her mother.
“And finally, my Royal Princess Tonda requests me to extend her personal seasonal greetings, plus those of the Combined Governments and Peoples of Planet Aeralia, to all other earthlings who might also on this special day receive this message. Especially she reminds me, that most worthy of classes, the Writebuzz Reviewers.”
Old Quinn's jaw was still working furiously although no sounds were coming out. Garrard glanced around at the six other members of the former trade mission, as well as the two Communications Centre operatives, all gazing at the screen in varying degrees of goggle eyed, slack jawed amazement. But when he looked back to it himself the transmission had terminated, and the screen had reverted to dull grey once more.
(Author's afterword: I can't explain this except to say that I was taking the dog for her night walk very late yesterday evening, and gazing up through a gap in the clouds at some stars for a moment it just sort of 'came' to me. A more imaginative person than I might conceivably have convinced themselves by now that they'd been the recipient of alien telepathic thought beam projected from some far distant place ...)
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