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DIATA
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DIATA

CHAPTER NINE

 

Captain Hu Neska of the spaceship “Searcher” looked down at the planet they were orbiting. His excitement was almost uncontrollable. Of all the years that he had been in the employ of the Empire of Earth and Colonised Space, thirty-one of them as captain of the “Searcher”, he had never dreamed that he would have such a find as this. He was looking down at the first planet that had been discovered that was inhabited by beings that were obviously intelligent. That the inhabitants appeared somewhat primitive in no way lessened his excitement. They were humanoid. The computer had checked the records and found that this section of space had never been visited before. It was a first time ever find that would make him famous and rich.

Commander Jek, second in command, shared his excitement. He too would reap huge benefits from the discovery, as would all the crew.

“Jek, look at that. Do you realise what this means for us? We can retire and never have to work again. The Empire will reward us enormously for this find. Every one of us on this ship will be rich,” said Neska.

“Yes, Captain,” breathed Jek, “Intelligent life! It's unbelievable that after all this time of space exploration; we have finally found intelligent life. When do you intend to send a shuttle down to make contact with them?” He was anxious to get down to the planet's surface as soon as possible. There could be treasures that could bring them an additional bonus, the size of which depended on what they discovered.

“We will go down as soon as the computer has checked out the planet for dangerous elements or virus'. We don't want to take any chances now, do we?”

The ship's computer checked the planet thoroughly and finally gave it a green certificate that also contained a warning that there were four unknown and unrecognisable radiation's that the sun was emitting. The Captain would have to assume responsibility if it was decided to expose members of the crew to them. The computer added that as there were humanoid beings on the surface, one could assume that the radiations were harmless.

Captain Neska and Commander Jek took the shuttle together with six armed crewmembers to one of the villages that had been observed from the ship. He had no way of knowing which of the villages would be classed as the 'capital' of the cluster of fifteen that were spread over a radius of about eighty miles. The villages averaged a hundred or so houses that appeared to be large enough for families of six to eight members.

Although he was not expecting any trouble, Neska had armed the crew with lasers and instructed them to set their weapons to maximum power. He could not afford to take any chances at this stage.

“Shoot only at my command or if you meet with any aggression,” he said, “keep your eyes and ears open for any tricks. The inhabitants will be as surprised as we are at finding there is intelligent life other than theirs. They may or may not like it,” he said.

The shuttle landed close to the village and the guards immediately fanned out in a half circle around the airlock. Neska and Jek alighted and stood surveying the scene. Approaching them from the village was a group of men who seemed to be naked except for a piece of cloth that covered their genitals. They did not appear to be armed in any way. Neska waited for them to come to him. It would give them the advantage if the villager's curiosity humbled themselves in the presence of space travellers.

The approaching group stopped a few yards away from the half circle of guards and stood waiting. Neska turned to Jek. “Let's see if we can make ourselves understood,” he said. Jek put a retraining hand on his arm. “We should use the recommended way according to the manual to communicate with them,” he said, “I believe that one of the rules are that we are not to smile at them as the showing of teeth is usually associated with aggression. Rather like an animal snarling.”

Neska looked at the group before him. He could see a lot of teeth.

“Are they snarling at us or smiling?” he asked, “It looks to me like they are smiling. We haven't time to read up the manual. We'll play it by ear,” he said.

Raising his hands high in a gesture of friendship, Neska smiled at them.

“We,” he began, spreading his hands wide to indicate all those with him, “come in peace.” He paused after each word as if believing that if he spoke slowly they would understand. Behind him, Jek chuckled, “That was original. I thought you were going to tell them that we were gods from heaven come to guide them.”

“If you can do any better, you are welcome to try,” replied Neska. Jek declined the offer, “That is your privilege, sir, I wouldn't deprive you of it.”

As he spoke one of the villagers came towards them. As he came near they noticed that he was a young man of about thirty years old. He was about five feet ten inches tall and his skin was deeply tanned. He was well built, rather like someone who took care of himself physically. His dress consisted of a small square of cloth or leather that covered his groin.

“He's not wearing anything under that piece of material,” said Neska.

“No. I wonder what the latest fashion is for their women?” mused Jek.

The young man reached them and smiled, showing a perfect set of gleaming white teeth. “My name is Nye. I am the leader of this village. Welcome to Diata, our planet.” Neska and Jek looked at each other, unable to believe their ears. The last thing they expected was to be addressed in their own language.

“You speak Universal English!” said Neska, when he had recovered from his surprise, “How did you learn that?”

“It is our language. It has always been our language, ever since The Mother and The Father landed here,” said the young man who called himself Nye.

“You mean that this is a colony of the Empire? But that is not possible. There are no records of this part of the universe being explored,” said Jek.

“When you say 'The Mother and The Father' you mean the First Father and his wife, don't you? The First family?” asked Neska.

“Not exactly,” said Nye.

“Who is in charge here? Where is the First Father?” Jek wanted to know.

“As I said, I am the leader of this village. If you want to see the Father you will have to go north for about fifty miles. He is leader of Hometown.”

“Contact this Hometown and tell the First Father that Captain Neska of the space vessel 'Searcher' and a representative of the Empire of Earth and Colonised space wishes to see him immediately,” said Neska. He turned away from Nye and whispered to Jek.

“We will have to show these primitives that we are not used to chasing all over the place to find anyone no matter what they call him or how important he is to them.”

The man who called himself Nye smiled again, his perfect teeth white against the deep tan of his face.

“We do not have communicators here on Diata. If you wish to see the Father you will have to go to him,” he said, “You see, he is a very man as we all are here. If I cannot be of any further assistance to you, then I must be on my way.” Nye turned to go.

“Wait a minute! Don't you realise that you are talking to a representative of the Empire? You do as you are told. You will send someone to bring the First Father here, now.

“Very well, if you don't mind the wait. I will send a messenger to Hometown. Fifty miles is quite a long way on foot, so expect a few days wait.”

“You must have transport. Hovercars, shuttles or other means,” said Jek.

“You don't understand our situation here. The Mother and the Father crashed here a long time ago and we do not have such luxuries here,” said Nye, “Now I will go and send that messenger for you and get on with my business.”

Jek bent his head and whispered in Neska's ear.

“We don't want to be hanging around here for days, Captain. Don't you think it would be worth going there? You could make it sound as if you are doing them a favour.” Neska and Jek had been together on the Searcher for many years and they had become close friends. It was because of this friendship that Jek could talk to his Captain in this way. Neska nodded. He too, had no desire to sit around waiting. He turned to Nye.

“Never mind. We will go there. Understand that we are not used to this and in future you will show more respect for an ambassador of the Empire. We will require a guide to show us where this Hometown is.” As he spoke another young man approached.

“Ahh, perhaps this young man is free to take you,” said Nye. He turned to the newcomer and said, “These people want to go to Hometown to see the Father. Would you be able to show them where Hometown is?”

“Yes, I would be delighted to help.” He looked at Neska and said, “My name is Shim, what's yours?”

“You will refer to me as Captain Neska. This is Commander Jek.” Shim smiled politely, “When would you like to go to Hometown?” he asked. Neska made it abundantly clear that he wished to leave immediately.

It took only a few minutes to arrive over Hometown. The central house was obviously an ancient prefabricated structure with added extensions. The primitive beacon dome on the roof identified it as an out of date emergency house. Jek pointed out the spacecraft close to the edge of the lake.

“Look at that, Captain. How the hell did they get here in a craft like that? It must have come out of a museum. Look how small it is!”

“Hm, I wonder how badly damaged it is. Maybe it can be repaired. Not that these people would know how to use it. The Empire might be interested.”

“You can land there on the green, if you like. The Father lives in the house in the centre.” Shim interrupted them and pointed out the green that he was referring to. Neska nodded and gave the command to land.

As the shuttle dropped lower, they saw small figures emerging from the central house.

“They are coming to greet us. Now we will speak to someone of authority,” said the Captain. By the time they had landed a small group had gathered and was waiting.

As before the guards filed out and fanned to make a half circle to protect the Captain and the shuttle, their lasers at the ready. Then Captain Neska alighted from the shuttle and stood waiting.

One of the men left the group and came towards them. It might as well have been a repeat of the previous village. The man was about thirty, well built and bronzed. He too, was dressed as the other natives, wearing only a piece of leather that was hanging loose from a cord tied around his waist.

“Hello. I am Peto, the leader of Hometown. Welcome, we have never had visitors to our planet before. What can we do to help you?” The young man smiled at them, he too, had perfect teeth.

“I want to see the First Father, young man. I am an ambassador of the Empire of Earth and Colonised Space and do not wish to waste any time. Take us to him immediately, please.”

“I am known as The Father. I am the head leader of the people of Diata,” said Peto, as he felt Shim's mind contact his, “I told you he was arrogant. When you get into his mind, you can see that he cares about nothing but what he will gain when he reports finding Diata to this Empire he claims to represent.”

Peto acknowledged Shim's thought. “We will have to be careful what we say and do then, won't we?” He turned his attention to Neska who was speaking.

“Who is this Diata? Why do you say you are the head of her people?”

“Diata is the name of this planet. It was named after my mother, who is known as The Mother to every one of our community,” explained Peto.

“Then I had better speak to your mother if she is the senior dignitary,” said Neska.

“You may see her if you wish,” said Peto, “But I am of higher 'rank'. I understood that you wanted to speak to the highest authority.”

“You? You are too young to be the First Father. Or is your father dead?”

“My father is dead. He was killed when his spacecraft crashed here. My mother took over leadership until I became of age and she handed the responsibility to me. You may still see my mother if you wish. Please come in so that we can be more comfortable. You can also meet The Mother.” Peto led the way into the house.

“Your men will be served refreshments while we talk,” said Peto. Neska looked at Jek, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.

“The men can wait outside but they are not to be given anything. Commander Jek will accompany one guard and me. It is tradition,” said Neska, making a transparent excuse to cover his distrust.

“As you wish, Captain. I can understand your suspicions, nevertheless, please understand that we have no wish to harm you or your men,” said Peto, “You are our guests and we want you to be comfortable.”

Jek laughed. “You can rest assured that we have no fear that you would harm us. Our craft if orbiting this planet and is monitoring our movements right now. If you should attempt to do anything rash, then my men will wipe out your village and the others also,” he said, feeling that it was necessary to warn Peto.

“I'm sure that there will be no need for them to try,” replied Peto. He wondered why Jek had threatened them and why Neska did not rebuke him for it. Neska however, felt that Peto's reply was almost a challenge. He didn't know why. These people would be no match against the armoury that the 'Searcher' carried.

They sat down in the lounge and Eelan entered with some glasses and a jug of fruit juice. Neska and Jek could not help staring at her. She was the first woman that they had seen on the planet. They were not expecting to see a shapely young woman dressed in a short leather skirt and an open sleeveless jacket that was so short that it hardly covered her breasts. They watched as she poured out the drinks and left the room. As she left, another shapely young woman entered the room. She was dressed as the first but she came and sat down with them.

“This is The Mother, gentlemen. Mother, this is Captain Neska and Commander Jek. They are officials of some Empire,” said Peto, introducing them.

“The Empire of Earth and Colonised Space. An Empire of which you are apart,” corrected Neska, “As you came from Earth as colonists you are therefore subjects of the Empire. But what is this, are you trying to trick us? You address this woman as your mother and yet she is no older than you are! You mean she is acting as First Mother, don't you?”

“We know of no Empire and we are certainly no part of one. We are independent here and we wish to remain so,” said Peto, ignoring the questions.

“You cannot remain independent now that we know you are here. The Governors of Earth won't allow that. All colonised planets are subject to the Empire.” Neska laughed at the idea that these people thought that they could be independent of the powerful Empire. Jek too, was amused at such an absurdity.

“What can this Empire do for us? We have managed without it for nearly three hundred years,” said Peto.

“The Empire can give you all kinds of help. You will be supplied with transportation, for instance. You do not have any here, do you? Then there is modern machinery that can do your work for you. Tools, labour savers, clothes to wear. Many other things that all the other planets are enjoying.”

“And what will these things cost?” asked Diata.

“Well, of course it will cost you something. You will have to trade with the Empire. You trade what you have in return for what you want from the Empire. That is how everyone benefits.”

The talks went on for some time. Neska trying to find out more about the planet and its resources, while Peto and Diata skilfully avoided giving away anything that they did not wish Neska and Jek to know. Eventually Neska and Jek left to return to the orbiting space craft. As soon as he got back on board he got in touch with his head office and reported his find. The reply came quicker than he dared hope for. A high-ranking official of the Empire had replied, with the request for information regarding the mineral contents of the planet in question and all nearby planets and satellites. They were not to make any further contact with the colony until further notice. Meanwhile Neska was to make as complete report as possible on everything they knew about the people and their customs. It was assumed that they had been very observant while they were on the planet's surface and had asked many questions.

Neska made out his report and after reading it he realised that they knew nothing at all about the people of the planet. He suddenly felt very incompetent. How could he explain to the officials that they had not learned a thing from these primitive people? He was Captain of an Empire vessel and had made the biggest discovery since the beginning of the Empire and he had failed to learn anything worth reporting. With sinking heart he realised that he was getting old and his job had been too easy in the past. Years of failures had taken their toll.

Jek was feeling the same sense of failure as he reviewed his own report. He felt anger as he realised that Peto and Diata had skilfully directed the talks to their own advantage. They had asked leading questions that had encouraged Neska and himself to boast about the Empire and the power that it had. Neska had been too eager to talk instead of listening. He himself had been caught up in the conversations and had also got carried away.

“They tricked us, Jek. They tricked us and we can't do a thing about it. We have been told to do nothing until further notice. We can't let the Empire know that we allowed them to trick us. We will keep it all to ourselves or we are going to look like idiots. We will. Say that we kept the talks to a minimum, as we wanted to get advice from head office. Is that clear?” Neska knew that Jek had to agree.

“Yes Captain, that's very clear.” He refrained from making any further comment. He was glad that the Captain had taken the responsibility of both their failures. If necessary he could now say that he was ordered to say nothing. The Empire could be extremely harsh towards those that it considered being incompetent.

The only thing that was in their favour was the report of an analysis of the planet's mineral make up. The ship's computer had discovered that the planet had a rich source of sycnel, a rare mineral that had been discovered on one of the moons of a planet that had been colonised many years ago. It was used in nuclear power plants and virtually eliminated radioactive waste. Until now, it was the only source ever found and was extremely rare. The entire moon had only sufficient supply to experiment with and it would be completely used up within two years.

This discovery alone made Diata extremely desirable to the Empire, the Governors of which were quick to respond

On learning that the inhabitants were virtual primitives, without any luxuries such as hovercars, communicators, labour-savers or even clothes, the Governors ordered Neska to leave the vicinity of the planet and surrounding space. A commercial freighter was dispatched to Diata containing all manner of goods that were considered luxurious and desirable on other inhabited planets.

Aboard the freighter were the Empire's two top sales representatives.

Edwan Crayle, a forty-year-old man that had been employed by the Empire for most of his working life. His unscrupulous methods had earned him the enviable position of being the Empire's most important and successful sales representative. The position had taken its toll and he looked older than his forty years. He had the unique privilege of being able to settle deals without having to get authorisation from the Empire's officials.

Careen Soman, was a woman in her early thirties. She had earned her reputation as a successful sales representative by having no inhibitions as to way she obtained a deal that was to her satisfaction. She had used her methods to gain a high position within the Empire's commercial branches. She kept her body in good shape with regular workouts in spite of the time spent in space.

They were both surprised when they received notice from the highest level that they were to hand all their present negotiations to other representatives and to await further instructions. It had never happened before and they were curious to know what was in store for them. Although Crayle appeared outwardly confident, he was a little worried as he knew the Governors had replaced employees in the past leaving them with virtually nothing. There would be nothing that he could do if that happened. Anyone who objected to the methods that the Governors used was not around for long.

Careen Soman, on the other hand, had not seen the under-handed way that the Governors sometimes did things. She could not imagine them being anything but just in their dealings. She naively believed that if the Governors punished anyone it was for a just reason. She was looking forward to finding out what their instructions would be.

The first they knew that things were happening was when the freighter began to move into position for time warp. Crayle immediately called him on the communicator.

“Where are we going, Cap. Anywhere interesting?” he asked.

“We are just awaiting the co-ordinates for our destination. Apparently we are going to a newly found planet that is already inhabited,” said the Captain.

“You mean aliens? They have actually found aliens?” He had visions of trying to sell to six-legged monsters.

“No, they are human. The records show that a spacecraft went missing about five hundred years ago. Apparently it crashed on an earth type planet and the survivors managed to start a colony there. I understand that there are quite a few villages established there now.”

“So that means it is virgin territory as far as we are concerned. We should make a real killing there. Do you know what they have to trade?” Crayle could see huge commissions coming his way. Careen could sell the women domestic goods and other stuff that women go for and he would concentrate on industry and other goods that the men jump at.

“No, I don't know what they have. My orders are to wait for an Empire official to join us, so it must be big. They have never done that before as far as I know. They are also very secretive about it,” said the Captain. Crayle frowned. He did not like the sound of that. An Empire official would take the biggest cut of the commission and Careen and he would not be able to do a thing about it. He wondered what it was that interested the Governors so much.

There was a knock on the door and Careen entered.

“What's happening, Edwan? Where are we going?” she asked. Crayle looked at her. She always dressed in figure hugging clothes that implied that she was always trying to attract the attention of the opposite sex. He had tried to get her into bed but so far she had tactfully put him off. He knew that she would readily sleep with anyone who could be of advantage to her. Unfortunately for him, he had nothing to offer that would further her career at the moment. Still, he thought, who knows what the future holds?

He explained what he had learned from the Captain, including the news that an Empire official would be joining them. She reacted as he had.

“Oh. So maybe this is not so hot after all. Why couldn't they leave it up to us? We have brought them huge profits in the past without their help,” she said. She looked disappointed. They would have to do things the way the official wanted and that could cramp their style.

“There should still be big commission coming our way even if he takes the biggest share. This is virgin territory, Careen. Think what a colony like this would buy. They have never had what we can offer. They will have nothing to match our goods. Five hundred years of struggling along with what they can make with their bare hands. No technology. Nothing. They will be jumping over one another to buy.”

“Well, I hope you are right. We will just have to wait and see,” said Careen. She could see the possibilities but she didn't want Crayle to see how excited she was. She never forgot that they were in competition with each other. Part of her commission went to him, as he was her superior. She would dearly love to have his job.

The Empire official arrived in a space shuttle that had the Empire's emblem emblazoned on the hull. The Captain of the freighter had never had the honour of such an important guest aboard his ship. He went out of his way to welcome the official, almost to the point of grovelling. Careen's opinion of him went down to rock bottom.

The official turned out to be a man in his mid fifties. He was balding and what little hair he had was silvery grey. He was about five feet three inches in height and wore the official uniform of the Empire's Councillors, which consisted of a tunic and trousers that were meant to be tight but his thin legs made them appear baggy. The only impressive thing about him was his uniform. His cold grey eyes looked over the Captain and his officers without any sign of approval.

“I am Councillor Normec. You may take me to my rooms. I will meet with you when I am settled in. In the meantime, these are the co-ordinates for the destination. You will enter them in and proceed as soon as possible.” He handed the Captain a small package and waited impatiently while the Captain instructed his second in command to take the co-ordinates to the navigator.

“This way Councillor, I'm sure that you will be comfortable in the rooms that I have had prepared for you. Please understand that this is a freighter and it was not built with the niceties that you are no doubt accustomed to. Nevertheless, I will ensure that you will have all the comforts that we can offer,” said the Captain. He extended his arm to show the way, bowing as he did so.

“I'm sure that I will not be comfortable, but this is an important mission so I will have to suffer the inconvenience, I suppose,” said the Councillor, unsmiling. He waved his hand, indicating to the Captain to get on with it.

 

The freighter was already in orbit around Diata when Councillor Normec called a meeting with Crayle and Careen. As the two sales representatives entered they noticed that the Captain had not been invited.

“This meeting is to inform you what is required of you by the Governors,” said Normec, “The planet we are now orbiting happens to be rich in the mineral sycnel. Sycnel, you may or may not already know, is an extremely rare mineral that can revolutionise our nuclear power sources throughout the Empire. The unique advantage of sycnel is that it is non-radioactive and therefore there will be no problem of waste disposal. There is only one other source of this mineral that we know of in the entire universe, and that source will only supply us for a year or two before it is exhausted. Until now the total supply of sycnel, apart from what is on this planet, is only two pounds nine ounces. The amount is too small to be of any practical use and has only been used for experimental purposes.

This planet's rich sycnel content will enable the Empire to have unlimited power indefinitely.

“The inhabitants have no knowledge of its value to us or it's use. You are to bargain for the rights to all the sycnel on the planet. The Governors want to establish excavation sites, buildings and land for the ships to remove the sycnel. These sites are to manned by men from the Empire and will be in full control of the Empire. If necessary you will trade for the land that contains the sycnel. You will impress upon them that they do not have anything that the Empire can use apart from the sycnel. The cheaper you can get it for us the better.

“Under no circumstances are you to inform the inhabitants the real value of the sycnel. Is that understood?”

Crayle looked at Careen then back to Normec.

“Yes sir, I think that is quite clear. I'm sure that we will have no problems. In fact I don't understand why you needed to suffer the inconvenience of making this trip yourself. My colleague and I are quite capable of handling this ourselves. We are quite experienced in such matters,” said Crayle. Careen looked at him, surprised. Wow, she thought, he is sticking his neck out, talking to a Councillor like that.

“Your job is to make them want our goods. What I have to do is persuade them to see the benefits of being an official colony of the Empire. Once we have achieved that there should be no trouble from them, we can do what we like with them,” said Normec. Careen could see that the real aim was to get control of these people in order to exploit them.

“Councillor, we don't know the value of this sycnel ourselves. How do we bargain with them? Do we bargain in tons, pounds or what? And for what value in goods?” she asked. She was a sales representative. She always tried to get the best deal she could but she had never cheated those that she dealt with. She felt that Normec expected her to do just that.

“As I said, you are to bargain for the sole rights to the sycnel. Once we have the right to that, then we can take as much as we want. If you can get those rights for nothing at all, that would be excellent. On the other hand, you may use the complete stock of this freighter to get those rights. That would not be good,” answered Normec, meaningfully.

“That sounds easy enough. We will have to get to know them first, to find out what their values are. They may be pretty shrewd and hard to get through to, though. Just one thing, where exactly is the sycnel on this planet? We will need to know that in order to bargain with them,” said Crayle.

“You can have as long as it takes. But I don't want to be here any longer than necessary. I will make my appearance to them as soon as you have persuaded them that our goods are a necessity to them. As for the situation of the sycnel, it is to the south but I want you to get them to allow us to make a survey of the planet. You can say that we wish to see what the planet has to offer in exchange for our goods. I understand that you two are the most persuasive sales people in our employ. I expect you to prove it. Now if there are no more questions, I suggest you go and start making plans for your campaign.” Normec made it clear that he no longer wished to continue the meeting, so they made their way out of the room and went back to Crayle's office.

 

Crayle and Careen took the cargo shuttle down to the planet's surface. On board they had a large selection of goods, including a selection of hovercars, textiles, ready made clothes for both men and women, domestic and industrial machines.

They landed close to the old spacecraft. They had been informed that the village was called Hometown and that the First Father lived there.

“You wait here and I'll take one of the hovercars to the village to make contact with the First Father. I'll try and bring him back with me. Hopefully his wife as well. You get some things ready that might appeal to her.” Crayle wanted to be alone with the leader of the people at first. He found it distracting when there were others present while he was negotiating.

“Don't be long, then. Remember that I am a woman all alone on an unknown planet. Anything could happen to me,” said Careen.

“Nothing that you can't handle,” said Crayle, “Anyway, I shouldn't be long.”

Crayle glided the hovercar out of the hold of the cargo shuttle and it sped silently towards the village. The houses were made of timber except for one. This was a prefabricated building with some timber extension. It was obviously the main building of the village and he guessed that it was the home of the First Father. He brought the hovercar to a halt close to the house so that it could be viewed not only from the house but also from the other houses nearby. He knew the value of having goods on display.

The door of the house opened and a man came out. Crayle's eyes widened as he saw that the man was naked except for a small piece of leather covering his private parts.

“Can I help you?” the man asked. Crayle approached him and smiled.

“I am looking for the First Father, I believe he lives here.” The man smiled back at him, displaying his perfect white teeth.

“I am known as The Father. It is probably me that you are looking for. Crayle looked the man over. He seemed a little too young to be the First Father. Still, he thought, it might be to his advantage. It is usually easier to persuade someone younger than himself.

“I'm glad that I've found you home. I wanted to talk to you about something to your advantage and to the advantage of your people. May I come in?”

“Of course, you are welcome to come in,” said Peto. He stood aside to allow Crayle to enter. They went into the lounge and Peto indicated a seat.

“Please sit down and make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink?”

“A cold drink would be very nice, thank you,” said Crayle. He did not want any intoxicating drinks while he was working. Too much was at stake on this visit.

Peto went to the door and called out to someone called Diata to bring a cold drink and returned to sit on a settee opposite Crayle.

“What is it you wish to speak to me about?” he asked Crayle.

“Well, actually my people sent me here. They were delighted when they heard that this delightful planet was found. As soon as they knew about it and your colony here they wanted to help you. They realised that you have been missing out on so much of the ways that make life so enjoyable and they wanted you to have the benefits of these things as soon as possible. I understand that your colony was established here something like five hundred years ago and in all that time there has been no contact with Earth and it's colonies throughout space. That is five hundred years of progress that you have lost. I am here to eliminate that loss.

“Take, for example, the means by which I arrived at this house. It took me only a minute or two to get here from the old ship down by the lake. The carriage I used is called a hovercar and can transport you and your family or friends anywhere on this planet quickly and safely and in comfort.” Crayle paused to allow his words to sink in. At that moment, Diata entered with the drinks. If Crayle was surprised at Peto's dress, he was astounded at Diata's. She came in and set his drink before him, bending down to place it on the low table. Her tiny leather top was open at the front and he had an eye level view of her well-formed breasts. The only other covering she had was a little mini skirt of leather. He thought of Careen. If she was hoping to stun the men with her dress she was going to be disappointed.

Peto noticed the surprised look on Crayle's face. His mind sought Diata's.

“He is not used to seeing women dressed like you, Mum. Your beauty has stunned him.”

“What does he want,” she thought back.

“He is bringing beads for the natives by the sound of it.” Peto turned his attention to Crayle.

“We do have a shuttle that we use. It came from the spacecraft. We find it quite adequate for us. By the way, what shall we call you?”

“Oh, I'm sorry I didn't introduce myself. My name is Edwan Crayle but please call me Edwan. You are.”

“Peto. This is The Mother. Her name is Diata,” said Peto.

“Aha, they named you after the planet, I take it. A pretty name too, if I may say so.”

“No,” smiled Peto, “The planet was named after her.” Crayle did not understand and thought that Peto was having a little sarcastic joke at his expense. He didn't like the way his sales approach had suddenly lost its impact. Maybe he shouldn't have asked for a drink. He thought that he would have to start all over and was about to do so when Peto spoke again.

“We have all that we need here. We have learned to live the way we do and are all quite happy and contented.”

Crayle could not take his eyes off Diata as she swayed over to the settee and sat down elegantly next to Peto. He then noticed that she was a little older than Peto. Maybe two or three years older. He forced his mind back to the reason that he was here.

“Yes, I can understand that you make good use of the shuttle, but just think for a moment, how useful it would be if everyone had a hovercar. Or at least every family. There would be no problem of visiting friends or relatives no matter how far away they lived. Just jump in the hovercar and you can be there in no time. And the real joy of it is that everyone can afford to have one.”

“What do you mean by 'afford to have one'?” asked Diata, “We do not have any currency here. We have never had the need for currency.”

“Not currency. I don't mean currency. A simple trading deal is all that is needed.”

“But we don't trade here either,” said Diata.

“Oh come now, you must trade with one another. For instance, the next village may have a good crop of vegetables, more than they need. Your village may have a better supply of something else. They give you some of their vegetables for some of what you have. Surely that goes on here.” The door opened and Eelan entered just in time to hear what Crayle had said.

“Nothing like that goes on here. Everything belongs to everybody. We are one big family here. We give and take,” said Eelan.

Again, Crayle was taken off guard. Eelan was dressed just like Diata. Just as beautiful, but in a different way. Her hair was longer and a little fairer. She was also a little younger than Diata. He was suddenly glad that he had not made the mistake of voicing his previous conviction that Diata was the wife of Peto. He realised that in all probability this girl was his wife.

“Excuse me, Edwan. This is Eelan, my sister. Eelan, this is Edwan. He has come to offer us some means of transport,” said Peto. His mind entered Eelan's and she received his thought. “He likes you too, look at the way his mouth is drooling.” Crayle's mouth was not exactly drooling but it was open. He could not believe that these beautiful women could dress like that without being self-conscious. It was he that felt uncomfortable and over-dressed.

“Why should we want transport?” asked Eelan. She projected her thoughts to Peto, “He can like me as much as he wants but he is definitely not my type.”

Crayle felt that he had lost any advantage that he may have had and needed to start again. The smile he gave them was brighter than he felt.

“I can see that you have not yet realised the benefits of personal transport, but there are many other useful commodities that we have brought for you. Look at this communicator.” He showed them a communicator that he was wearing on his wrist. “With these you can call your friends and relatives any time you want and converse with them without leaving you home. You can be anywhere on the planet and speak to them. Let me demonstrate. My assistant is waiting in the shuttle that we arrived in. I will call her.” Crayle switched on the communicator and called Careen.

“Hi Careen. I am at the home of the First Father and I am demonstrating the communicator. How are the displays getting on?” Careen's voice came back clearly.

“Fine. I could do with some help, though. How long are you going to be?”

“Not long now. I don't want to outstay my welcome here with these kind people. See you soon. Good-bye.” He switched off and turned to Peto again.

“There, you see how simple it is to use? Can you see the benefits of having these? If everyone had one of these, you could call for help if you were in trouble or just call and say hello to someone,” Crayle said. His hopes were sinking fast as he saw that they were not impressed at all with his demonstration. He decided to call it a day and try again another time.

Shak, in the next village came through to Peto's mind. “I've been listening in, Dad, and probing a little deeper into his mind. There's a nasty piece of work in orbit right now that is more important to keep an eye on. He's an important official of this Empire of theirs. It seems that he is waiting for Crayle to soften you up before he makes his move.”

“Thanks Shak. Crayle's about to leave. He's had enough for now.”

Crayle, completely unaware of the conversation that Peto was having with Shak, stood up and made to leave.

“Well, I do appreciate your hospitality. Look. Why don't I pick you and your family up tomorrow and take you to the shuttle. I would like to show you around the showrooms that we have. I know that you will find it very interesting. Perhaps it would be a good idea to pick up some of the leaders of the other villages. They would certainly be interested.”

Peto shrugged. He still wanted to learn more about the intentions of this Empire. The more he learned the more ominous it sounded. He felt that the peaceful way of life that he and his family enjoyed was being threatened. He could not understand the attitude of these Earth people. It was all so contrary to what he had learned from Comp and his mother. Neska had come with weapons that he was prepared to use. Not against any threat but to exercise his power. He had given the impression that the Empire was to be feared, as he himself feared it.

Now, Shak had discovered from Crayle's sub-conscious mind that there was an official of that Empire orbiting in space that Crayle feared. Peto reasoned that if the ones that were subject to the Empire actually feared it, then it was not something that he wanted anywhere near his family. He had to find out what the Empire wanted and how he could protect Diata from it.

“Very well,” he said, in answer to Crayle's suggestion, “I will arrange for some of the leaders to be here tomorrow. It will have to be late afternoon, you understand?”

“Of course I understand. Tomorrow afternoon will be fine for us. I will ensure that everything is ready for you,” said Crayle. They would need time to pass the news to the nearest villages and to travel here, he thought. It would also give him time to work out a sales strategy. Things had not gone too well for him today. He had thought that the job would be easy and that he would be well on the way to concluding at least some deals.

Peto Diata and Eelan went to the door to see him off. Crayle strolled to the hovercar trying to look casual as he got into the car and waved. He sped away across the field to impress them with the ease of control and the car's speed.

Peto and the women were not the slightest impressed.

“So much for that,” said Peto. He made mental contact with all the leaders to inform them of the results of the meeting with Crayle. As he had expected, they had all been listening in to the meeting.

“You can all come to the shuttle tomorrow if you want,” said Peto, “I will need Luka, or someone else of the third generation at least, to be with me.”

“Peto, I thought you ought to know that they are after something that they call sycnel. It seems to be a mineral that we have here on Diata. It also appears to be pretty important to them that they get hold of it,” said Luka.

“All right Luka, thanks. We'll leave it here for now and learn some more tomorrow.”

Crayle arrived back at the shuttle and went into his office. Careen was waiting there drinking coffee. As he entered she looked up expectantly.

“Well, how did it go?” she asked. He looked at her and shook his head.

“Not good. I couldn't seem to get through to them at all. I'm sure my approach was all right but it didn't seem to appeal to them. I've arranged for them to come here tomorrow. When they see the goods they are bound to like something.” Crayle declined to tell her that it was when Diata entered the room that he lost the impact that he was working towards. He deliberately neglected to tell her about the way they were dressed. She would find that out for herself the next day. He could imagine her reaction to seeing Peto with only his leather square on. He smiled to himself at the thought.

 

The next day was a busy one for Careen and Crayle. They displayed the hovercars on the ground outside the shuttle. There were three models. A twelve-seat car that could also be used as a camper for those that still liked the outdoor life. Then there was the luxurious six-seat model that had every gadget that the designers could think of. This was the one that Crayle had taken the previous day. Last was the smaller sports model. It was the fastest of them all and generally appealed to the younger generation.

There were two hovertrucks for industrial use with self loading and unloading facilities.

Outside were also displayed the gardening equipment. Self motivated robots that made sure that all kinds of gardens, from flower to orchards were kept free of all weeds, undesirable insects and diseases. There was robot controlled farm equipment for small and large farms that relieved the farmer of all the hard work.

Inside the shuttle, the showrooms were tastefully displayed with textiles, men and women's wear, both conventional and disposable, machines that sorted out the various materials and washed them accordingly then dried and pressed them. There were ornaments, carpets, bedding, jewellery and a thousand other commodities. It was like a huge department stores with everything displayed to make the onlooker covert them.

When they were completely satisfied, they relaxed to prepare their minds and thoughts for the coming evening. Crayle knew that this was the make or break show. He and Careen had to put all they had into selling themselves and their wares that evening. For the first time in his career he had doubts about his ability to sell. He had even thought that he would have to rely on Careen to make the breakthrough for them both.

“Careen, we can't afford to be in competition with one another on this. We have to work with each other. This is big and if we don't make good, we are both finished,” he said.

Careen looked at him in surprise. She had never heard him talk like that before.

“What's the matter? This should be a piece of cake. We are giving them all this for some old rocks and soil that they would never miss. They will be killing each other to get it all. Old Normec will be patting us on the back,” she replied. After the day before, he didn't share her enthusiasm.

The time came for Crayle to go to the village to pick up Peto and the others. Crayle took the twelve-seat car. He was surprised to see that there were ten men waiting at the house. He wondered who they were. They were all young men, so he doubted that they were village leaders. He felt a little let down. Seeing Peto, he beckoned him.

“We have plenty of time to pick up any of the village leaders before we go to the showrooms. It won't take long in this beauty,” he said, patting the hovercar.

“These are all village leaders from various villages around here. Some of the leaders were unable to come as there is work to do,” said Peto, “We are ready to go whenever you are.” Crayle looked around.

“Isn't your wife coming? Or your sister? There is so much that would interest them.”

The women may come along later, if they want to. There is no more room in this car, is there? They will make their own way there,” said Peto.

“Very well, let's go. I thought that it would be a good idea if you took the controls to see how easy it is to control one of these cars. Just get into the control seat and I will explain.”

Peto did as Crayle requested. The controls were similar to the shuttle that he was used to, having a joystick that just needed to be moved in the direction that you wanted the car to go. The main difference was that there was no altitude lever.

Crayle began to explain the controls to him when Peto just moved the car off and proceeded to the cargo shuttle as if he had been using a hovercar all his life.

Although called 'hovercars', they were not truly hovercrafts. The name had been in use from the days of ancient air cushioned hovercraft. Hovercars worked on the principle of magnetic cushioning. A computer gathered information from sensors that detected the magnetic poles of the surface below the vehicle and altered the magnetic poles of a series of coils around the underneath of the vehicle to identical poles. The result was that the vehicle and the surface repelled each other.

“That's it! You've picked that up quick!” said Crayle. He turned to the others, “See how easy it is to control? Anyone can use a hovercar, and you can all have one! Just wait until you see the sports model! You will love it.”

Peto stopped the car at the shuttle and they all alighted. Crayle took them into the shuttle and watched to see their reaction to the displays. He saw that they were all smiling and nodding as if in approval. Feeling relieved, he asked them to look around while he fetched his assistant. He could have called her on the communicator but he wanted to be close to her when she arrived and saw the men.

“By the way. Today, if there is anything that you like you can take it away with you as a gift from us. It doesn't matter what it is.” He left them and went looking for Careen. He found her in his office patiently waiting.

“They are here, Careen. Come and meet them,” he said, “They seem to be in a more acceptable mood today. Let's go and sell.”

He led her to where he had left the leaders, making sure that he could see her face at all times. When Careen did see them, her eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. One of the men was sitting on his heels, looking at something close to the floor. She had an unrestricted view of everything he had. She glanced quickly around the room at the other men, noting that they were all practically naked. Then she looked at Crayle, her eyes saying, “You wait!” Crayle had never believed that he would see the day when Careen would be embarrassed at seeing a few men. Her cheeks were red but she kept control of her poise.

“Gentlemen, this is my assistant, Careen Soman. Careen, these gentlemen are the leaders of some of the villages here,” said Crayle.

“Good evening, gentlemen. I hope you will enjoy our show this evening. If there is anything that you would like to know, please don't hesitate to ask,” she said, keeping her eyes fixed on their faces.

“Well, we have certainly made an impression on her. She is embarrassed at our dress.” All the leaders received Luka's thought. They had all seen Careen's embarrassment.

“It was Crayle. He hadn't told her how we dress and he has played a trick on her. She wasn't expecting it,” replied Shak.

Careen soon recovered from her initial shock and had begun to use her sensuality to impress the young men as they went from item to item. She knew how to use her body to her advantage. When she walked in front of them, she made sure that she swayed her hips. When she showed them a particular feature, she would lean close to them, her breast just 'accidentally' brushing against one of them. She would lean forward to allow them to see her cleavage. She had used these methods so successfully many, many times in her career.

It was when Eelan and several other women arrived that she realised that her methods would not work here. The women were beautiful. Their figures were perfect, without the need for any support. They walked with such effortless grace which most women on Earth would find almost impossible when wearing so little. She had expected the women to be as scantily dressed as the men were but had not been prepared for such beauty and elegance. For the first time in her adulthood, she felt inferior.

Both she and Crayle had tried to interest the men and women with the products that they had but they both felt that they were not getting through to them.

Careen pulled Crayle aside. “How can you sell a washing machine to people who don't wear clothes? How can you sell sewing machines to them? Of what use are disposable clothes to them?” she whispered.

“I don't know. I'm having the same problem. They don't want anything. Not even as a gift! Nothing impresses them,” answered Crayle.

The evening came to a close. Crayle took them all back to the village. He took the women first and then the men. He was quiet, saying nothing as he guided the hovercar to Peto's house. As Peto alighted he spoke to Crayle.

“Edwan. Bring Careen and yourself here tomorrow and have a meal with us. There is something that I would like to discuss with you both.” Crayle's hopes rose. Perhaps he and Careen had failed to read the signs of success with these people because they were of a different culture.

“I would be happy to accept your invitation. I'm sure that Careen would be, too,” Crayle said, “What time would you like us to arrive?”

“Come in the evening. It doesn't matter what time. Come when you feel the time is just right.” Peto turned to go into the house, ending any further conversation. Crayle started back for the shuttle and thought about Peto's parting words. What a strange thing to say, he thought. He shrugged to himself and soon forgot about it as he thought that tomorrow they may have a list of orders waiting for them.

That evening Crayle received a message from the freighter. Normec wanted a report from him and Careen. They made their reports and Crayle included in his that he believed that they would have what they came for the following evening. He explained that they had been invited to dinner at the First Father's home and that he was certain it was for the purpose of receiving a substantial order from the leaders.

Careen was doubtful. “I'm not sure that you should have said that in your report yet,” she said, “We could just as well be getting our marching orders.”

“I hope not. It would mean that we are finished as far as the Empire is concerned. We will end up with a small subsistence income for the rest of our lives. If we fail, the Empire's armed forces will move in and destroy these people and they'll take what they want anyway. That will be a pity as they seem to be quite nice people.”

“It's the women that you like. I saw you ogling them while they weren't looking.”

“What about you and the men! I knew that you would enjoy being with them.”

Careen scowled at him. “Why didn't you warn me about them? I thought that you wanted us to work together and you played a trick like that on me,” she said bitterly.

“I just wanted to see the look on your face when you saw them. At least, you can understand how I felt when I first saw the women walk in the room at the house! It threw me completely off my spiel.”

They talked for a while about the day's events then finally they both retired for the night, feeling disappointed and wondering what was wrong with their usually successful skills.

The following morning Peto had a meeting with three men and a woman at his home. The four had special abilities that had come to light when they were quite young. They had discovered that they were able to control, to an extent, the actions of Kandeer and other animals by means of their willpower. They had only used this power on animals and birds, mainly for amusement when they were children. When it was discovered, it was impressed upon them that it would be unkind and impolite to use their power on humans. Subsequently, the four had suppressed their unusual ability and had not used it since they were children. Now, they had been called to the meeting to discuss the possibility of their using their talents to help protect the planet from being abused by the Empire.

Peto looked at the four before him. There was Chon, a six foot three inch tall, slimly built man with fair hair and deep blue eyes. He had a ready smile that seemed to emphasise his thin features. Peto remembered that as Chon grew up there was a great deal of speculation about him because of his  height. Many had wondered if his tallness would turn out to be a new effect of the sun's radiations.

Then there was Garel. He was dark, with brown eyes and was of average height for a Diatan. He tended to be a little shy when in company of more than two or three persons, keeping in the background and letting the others do the talking.

Jem was also dark with brown eyes. He was a little shorter than average but was of stockier build. He was also more athletic than the average Diatan.

Shiel, the woman, was typical of all women of Diata. Beautiful and elegant. She had dark hair, a sure sign that her line of descent was from The Mother.

“Are you sure that you can do it?” asked Peto when he had explained to them what he wanted them to do. There was no hesitation in their affirmative replies.

“It worked on the Kandeer. I don't see why it shouldn't work on them,” said Chon, confidently.

“Well, tonight you will have the chance to find out. This is my plan.” Peto went on to explain his plan to them in detail. It was the results of their abilities that would determine whether they would be used for more important purposes later. What they were going to try had never been done before, so that evening was going to be an opportunity to experiment. Peto and the leaders had come to the conclusion that their future was threatened. They had never expected to have other humans visit them after so long and their meetings with the Earthmen so far had not impressed them at all.

“Will you be able to reach them from here?” he asked. He did not want anything to go wrong.

“All we need to do is for two or more of us, if necessary, to combine power. One of us will do it while the others boost him. There shouldn't be any problems,” said Chon.

“All right. You do it Chon. Garel, you do whatever it is you do to help Chon. Shiel and Jem will assist if necessary. You will be next door with Ata. I will expect you to start when I project to you this evening. I want you to let me know if there are any problems.” They assured him that they understood what was required of them.

“OK, we'll see you tonight,” said Peto. There was a brief flicker of light in the room and they were gone.

 

The day seemed to drag by for Careen and Crayle. Uppermost in their minds was whether or not they had managed to make any sales. Both were aware that their futures depended on it. As a result of the strain, both had been irritable and the slightest thing would cause them to argue.

“I wish I had never heard of this place,” said Crayle. He had been hoping to retire in another two years. If they failed to please Normec and the Governors, he would end up with nothing. They would make sure that all his savings would not be available when he needed them. He had heard of even very rich men and women who had displeased the Governors in some way suddenly becoming poverty stricken.

Careen too, had been thinking along similar lines.  She had worked hard to get where she was, in more ways than one. She had enjoyed an excellent position for a female of her age. She had no desire to end up with just a subsistence benefit.

“So do I. It sounded too good to be true, a few days ago. Now it's a nightmare.”

They could do nothing but wait for the time to pass. They were both ready well before time. After getting dressed, Careen entered Crayle's office where he was whiling away the time drinking a quality wine that he had opened for the leaders to taste while they were there the day before.

“How do I look?” she asked. She was wearing a bikini top made of a shiny silver material that clung to her like a second skin. It was fastened between her breasts with a jewelled clasp. Brief white shorts and white sandals completed her outfit.

“I'd say that you looked perfectly stunning. I would have thought you would wear a slinky evening gown as we are invited to dinner,” said Crayle, approvingly, “Care to join me in a drink to calm the nerves?”

“Sure, but don't get any ideas. This outfit is strictly for our hosts.”

They sat down and finished the bottle.

 

In Ata's house, Chon, Garel, Jem and Shiel were waiting when Peto's thought came to them.

“Do it now,” he commanded. Chon and Garel closed their eyes.

In the shuttle, Crayle stood up, “It's time we were going,” he said, looking at the clock on the office wall. Careen also looked at the time.

“Isn't it a bit early? We are going to dinner, aren't we?”

“Yes, but its time to go.”

“Edwan. We don't want to arrive too early, they might not appreciate it.”

“It's all right. They are waiting for us. Trust me, I know. Don't ask me how.” Careen looked at him and shrugged, resignedly.

“OK. I'm ready. It will be better than sitting here!”

They left the shuttle and Careen headed for the luxury hovercar. Crayle followed her.

Chon still had his eyes closed. Crayle stopped.

“No. We won't take that one, we'll go in the sports model,” he said.

“Why?” asked Careen, surprised. She knew he liked the luxury model best. It was her favoured also.

“I don't know. Call it a hunch,” he said. Again, Careen shrugged. They got into the hovercar and sped towards the village.

As they arrived outside Peto's house, the door opened and Peto came out to greet them.

“You are right on time,” he said, come on in.”

They entered and Diata greeted them. There were several men and women already there.

“Please sit down and make yourselves at home,” said Diata. “Would you like to taste our wine?” She brought a tray of goblets filled with a liquid. Crayle and Careen accepted one each. The goblets were made of a metal that they did not recognise and were engraved with an intricate design. Careen looked at hers. They were quite beautiful. She wondered where they had come from as there appeared to be no industry on the planet. The wine was unusual but very pleasant and she thought that it must be a vintage wine.

“I hope you like Kandeer. That's what we are having for dinner.” Eelan had come over to them, “We find it delicious, but then we are used to it, I suppose.”

“I am sure that we will. I've been looking forward to tasting the local food,” replied Careen. She noticed that the leather garments that the women were wearing were now different. They were sparkling with colour that changed with every movement. They reminded her of sequins but she could see that they were not. She tried to see what it was that made them shimmer and sparkle like they did. Eelan saw her looking at her top and looked down at herself to see what it was that intrigued Careen.

“Oh, I'm sorry,” said Careen, noticing her look down, “I was looking at the way your clothes sparkle. What makes them do that?”

“These are what we wear on special occasions. It is the feathers of the forest birds that we put on the Kandeer leather,” explained Eelan.

“Birds? I haven't seen any birds yet.” She turned to Crayle, “Have you seen any birds, Edwan?” Crayle thought for a moment then shook his head.

  “No, I can't say I have,” he said.

“They are forest creatures. They never leave the forest except when they are disturbed. Then it is a really beautiful sight,” said Eelan. Careen looked closer at the feathers.

“If they sparkle like that, I imagine that it is quite a sight,” she remarked. She saw that different feathers had a different basic colour and that they were arranged in a pattern on the garment. Some feathers had quite strong bright colours but most were of pastel shades. Eelan explained that there were thirty-nine species of birds in the forest. The larger the bird, the brighter the colour. She pointed to one of the feathers.

“This came from a tiny little bird this big.” She held her index finger and thumb about an inch apart, “And this one came from a bird this big.” She stretched her arms as wide as she could.

“They really are beautiful,” said Careen. Diata had been listening with interest to the conversation.

“Do you really like them?” she asked Careen.

“Oh yes. I've never seen anything like it. Even butterfly wings wouldn't have the same effect as these feathers,” replied Careen, enthusiastically.

“Then come with me.” Diata took her by the hand and led her out of the room and took her to her bedroom. Opening a drawer in a dressing table, she took out two garments and handed them to Careen.

“I have just finished making these. I would like you to have them.”

“Oh, they are gorgeous. But I couldn't. Really, I couldn't. They must have taken you ages to make.”

“Take them as a gift, please. Try them on,” urged Diata. Kita entered the room.

“There you are. I was looking for you. I haven't been able to talk to you yet.” Diata smiled and introduced her to Careen.

“I have just given these to Careen and was suggesting that she tried them on.” Kita nodded in agreement.

“Yes, you must try them on. Even if it is only to see if they fit,” she said.

Careen felt the leather. It was soft and delightful to touch. Softer than chamois. She made up her mind that she would like to see how it felt and how she would look in them. She smiled at Diata and Kita.

“All right, I will,” she said. She took of  her bikini top and shorts and put the Kandeer skirt on over her panties. Kita shook her head. “No, that's not right. There shouldn't be anything beneath the skirt,” she said, “It is supposed to be next to your skin.”

Careen hesitated, momentarily, then removed the rest of her clothes and put the Kandeer garments on, helped by Kita and Diata. When they were in place, she looked into the full-length mirror of highly polished metal. She raised her eyebrows in approval at her reflection. She could understand why the women liked to wear these clothes. The leather felt good against her skin. She turned this way and that way to see herself. When she had seen enough, she began to take them off. Kita saw what she was doing and stopped her.

“Why don't you leave them on?” she asked. Careen looked at her, shaking her head.

“No way! I couldn't. I am not a prude in any way, but this is a little too revealing by our standards. I can imagine Edwan's reaction if he saw me dressed like this.”

“You will only be dressed like us. Doesn't he approve of our dress?” asked Kita.

“Oh yes, he approves all right. He loves it.” Careen didn't say why he loved it.

“There you are then. Leave it on,” said Diata.

“No! Definitely no,” said Careen. In the house next door, Chon closed his eyes.

Careen was about to remove the top of the outfit when she caught a glimpse of her reflection again and decided to have another look at herself. Once again she twisted first one way then another as she tried to see herself from every angle.

“Oh, all right, I'll try it. If he starts wisecracking, I'll take it off. OK?”

“Good. That's settled,” said Diata. They went back to the lounge.

As they entered there was a chorus of favourable comments from everyone. Careen made her way to the seat where she had been sitting and stopped. The lounge seat was low. She was faced with a problem that she had never had before. How was she going to sit down without giving everybody a view of everything she had? It wasn't that she had never worn short skirts before. She had done so often but she had always worn underwear as well. She tried to remember how the other women sat so elegantly. Finally she sat on the edge of the seat and slid her rear to the back of the seat, tucking the short skirt of leather between her thighs self-consciously, keeping her knees tightly pressed together. She looked up to see Crayle smiling at her and nodding approvingly. She glared at him and wondered why she had agreed to wear the outfit.

Chon and Garel, waiting in Ata's house, exchanged smiling glances.

Dinner was served at a large table in the dining room. Crayle could not help noticing that the tabletop was made of some kind of white translucent stone. He ran his fingers over the surface. It was smooth and cool to his touch. The legs of the table were metal and ornately shaped. The seats around it were of matching design but were padded and finished in soft Kandeer leather that had been bleached white to match the tabletop. The cutlery, which had been neatly laid before each seat, was equally impressive. The knives, forks and spoons were engraved with the same intricate design as the goblets. Crayle and Careen sensed the luxury of the furnishing and decor of the room. Crayle was about to comment on it when several young people entered the room bearing large trays laden with food. He was given a plate that he guessed was made of the same stone as the tabletop. His plate was soon filled with a variety of different foods that he had never seen before. He recognised one of them as a meat that he guessed was the Kandeer meat that Eelan had mentioned earlier.

During the meal the conversation ranged through a number of subjects of no particular importance. It was when they had finished eating and were having the last of the wine that Crayle brought up the subject of trade again.

“Have you and the others given any more thought to what we have to offer your planet, Peto?” he asked. Peto looked around the table and smiled.

“We have all given it a great deal of thought, Edwan. The truth is, that we find that you really do not have anything that we need. We are quite content with what we already have and see no advantage for us to have these commodities that you would like us to have. What we are curious about, though is, what do you want from us?” Crayle laughed, partly to cover his disappointment and partly in an effort to imply indifference.

“Well actually, an analysis of you planet has already been made and there appears to be nothing of any value to the Empire here. Had you been more advanced in industry or agriculture or mining or something, then I would say 'yes', there is something that we want. But, the Empire is keen to help even those that have nothing to trade. In such cases as that, the Empire will accept even rocks and soil as token payment to bring you up to date with the rest of mankind. I think I heard that there is a mineral of some kind that could be useful as there is a substance in it that can be extracted and used. It is of little value but I am sure that I can persuade the Empire to accept it as a means of trade.”

Shiel, in the next house, reached into Peto's mind.

“He's lying, Peto. They want that mineral more than anything else. He believes that it is the most valuable mineral in the universe.”

Peto acknowledged her and replied, “Yes Shiel, I know. He's bluffing.”

“What would they use the extract for?” he asked Crayle. Crayle shook his head.

“I'm not sure. I think they use it for strengthening plastics,” he said.

“He's lying again! He doesn't know much about it but he does know that it will be used for nuclear power. It is very rare in the universe,” projected Shiel. Shak, who had been listening in silence, suddenly spoke up.

“Where exactly is this mineral on our planet?” Crayle became instantly wary. He didn't want them to find it and possibly discover it's true value.

“We would have to survey the planet to find it, I'm afraid. I believe that it is in the Southern Hemisphere somewhere. It is worthless to you of course. Refining factories are needed to extract the substance from it. To you it is just worthless rock and soil. Besides, you do not have the means to transport it. All your villages are in the Northern Hemisphere, aren't they?”

Shak nodded and was silent again but his mind spoke to Peto.

“He really doesn't know where it is. He doesn't want us to find it before his superior comes here to see you.” Peto leaned towards Crayle as if to confide in him.

“Edwan. As I said, you and your Empire have nothing that we need. We would like to be left alone as we were before that Captain Neska arrived here. If your Empire really wants to help us, it can do so by staying away and allowing us to progress in our own way. That is what we want the Empire to do for us.”

“But Peto,” pleaded Crayle, “Can't you see how useful even communicators would be to you? Or hovercars? Think of the old ones of your people. They could call for help if they needed it. They could get about in a hovercar when their legs get weak and they are not as sprightly as you and I. You are not thinking ahead. You are thinking only in terms of you younger ones here.”

Careen was listening. She hadn't seen any elderly people here. She turned to Diata.

“Where are the aged people, Diata?” she asked, “What do you do with them?”

“Our older ones are well cared for. As Eelan said yesterday, we are one big happy family here. We all take care of each other,” answered Diata, smiling.

“Let's go into the lounge,” said Peto, “We don't want a difference of opinion spoil our evening, do we? Careen, Edwan, we have no intentions of trading with your Empire for anything. Believe me, that's final.” He led the way into the lounge and they sat down. Careen was devastated at Peto's announcement. She sat down, completely forgetting that she was wearing 'native' dress. Everybody in the room sensed the fear that emanated from her. Shiel and Jem, in the house next door with Chon and Garel, looked at each other, horrified. They had never experienced fear themselves and it shocked them. Jem reached out for Peto's mind.

“You have frightened them Peto, their minds are filled with fear. They are afraid what that official on the freighter will do to them.”

“That's right. Careen feels that you have destroyed her life!” added Shiel.

“We can sense it too,” said Peto, “So it is this Empire official that pulls their strings. We have to remember that they and their Empire will destroy our lives if we let them. If they are so afraid of their own kind, think how afraid we will be made to feel.”

Shim, who had been left in another village thirty miles away with another group of men experimenting on another plan, came into Shak's mind.

“They have not had any success, Shak. The distance is too great even with eight of them boosting each other. They say that they don't think they could reach no matter how many are together in the boosting. They are tired now and I've told them to stop trying. We are going to have to think of something else. How are things with you? Can I come over?”

“Of course. We are all in the lounge, so avoid that room,” replied Shak, silently.

In the dining room there was a faint flicker of light and a moment later Shim entered the lounge.


 

CHAPTER TEN

 

Councillor Normec was furious when he received the report from Crayle. He had expected a favourable report considering the finest sales representatives that the Empire employed had been assigned to persuade these backward natives to modernise and buy Empire supplied goods. Now Crayle reports that they had not been able to sell a thing. He had suffered the inconvenience of waiting in this common commercial freighter for four days all for nothing. He would have to go down and speak to these primitives himself and show Crayle and Soman how to put the pressure on. He called Crayle on the communicator.

“You will remain where you are. When I arrive, you will take me to the leader of these people and then we will get some results. I shall be arriving tomorrow morning. You may inform the natives that they will have the honour of a visit from an official of the Empire.” He cut the connection before Crayle could answer. It was always best not to let the employees say or ask too much. That way one could always blame them for not doing so if anything should go wrong. Even he had to watch his back with the Governors.

Crayle was not at all happy. He told Careen what Normec had said.

“We have to stay here and await his majesty. He didn't sound at all pleased.”

“You didn't think he would be, did you? You know, you and I have had it. I'm going to get drunk and drown my sorrows,” said Careen. She had been worrying ever since Peto had told them that there was no chance of making any deals. It was the biggest blow she had ever received in her life. The Governors were extremely severe with failures, especially when they were relying on success.

“I'll join you. That's if it is OK,” said Crayle. Careen looked at him and shrugged.

“Suit yourself. I'm not in a good mood, so beware.” Crayle got the bottles out and poured the drinks. By the time they had finished the bottles they were both very drunk.

 

Normec arrived in one of the freighter's shuttles. He lost no time in ordering Crayle and Careen to take him to the First father. Crayle led him to the hovercar and opened the door for him and Careen then got in himself. The journey only took a minute or two but to Crayle it seemed ages. No word was spoken by any of them during the ride to Peto's house. Crayle stopped the car outside the house. After Crayle had opened the door for him, Normec said, “You will introduce us and then wait here for me.”

“Of course. This way, Councillor. Crayle couldn't understand why Peto was not at the door as he usually was when they arrived. He desperately hoped that he was in. He didn't want to upset Normec any more than he had already. They reached the door and Crayle had to knock. Kita opened the door.

“Hello Edwan, Careen. Is this your Empire friend?” she asked, looking at Normec.

The Councillor's mouth was agape as he took in how Kita was dressed. Crayle had warned him but he still had not expected what he saw. He had vaguely expected the people to be dressed in tattered pieces of leather and to be anything but attractive. Kita's beauty had certainly taken him by surprise.

“This is Councillor Normec, High Official of the Empire of Earth and Colonised Space. He is here to see the First Father,” said Crayle, trying to make it sound important.

“Yes, The Father is expecting you. Please come in.” Kita stood aside to allow them to pass and Normec entered. Crayle and Careen turned to go back to the car.

“Aren't you and careen coming in too? The Father will be most upset if you don't,” Kita said, “he was looking forward to seeing you both.” Normec turned and answered for Crayle.

“No. They won't be coming in. I am here on an official visit and they are unimportant individuals and will not be required.”

“I am sure that The Father does not think they are unimportant,” said Kita, “He likes Careen and Edwan.” Crayle was flattered but he wished that Kita would stop talking.

“It is what I consider to be important that matters. Now get on with it, girl, take me to the First Father.” Normec was getting annoyed. These natives needed to learn respect for their superiors. He would see that the First Father punished this girl. Crayle and Careen almost ran back to the car.

Kita took Normec into the dining room where Peto and several men and women were sitting at the table. Peto stood up as Kita and Normec entered the room.

“We have been expecting you. Please sit down.” Peto indicated a seat at the end of the table opposite him. Normec frowned as Kita sat down on one of the seats.

“Which of you is the First Father?” asked Normec, his eyes cold and unsmiling.

“None of us, I'm afraid. We do not use that title here on Diata. I am called The Father by most of our people on formal occasions, and Father by others. I am the leader of the people of Diata,” answered Peto, “You may call me Peto if you wish. That is my name.”

Normec looked around distastefully at the men and women seated at the table.

“I have no wish to speak to these people. I am here to speak to the leader on important subjects that need to be discussed. You will all leave at once, with the exception of your leader.” Normec waved a hand as if to dismiss them.

“These are my relatives and advisers. If you cannot speak in front of them, then our meeting may as well end right now. We, here on Diata, have no time for pomp and arrogant displays. You may continue with the meeting or you may leave. The decision is yours for the time being,” replied Peto.

Normec could not believe his ears. He had never been spoken to in such a manner since he was at the College of Councillors. It was the matter of fact way in which Peto spoke that deflated him so much. He had been used to people bowing and grovelling before him. He rose to his feet and glared at Peto.

“Do you know who you are speaking to?” he fumed, “I am Councillor Normec, High Official of the Empire. I could have you all put to death for your insolence!”

“Sit down Councillor. Let's not get into an argument over officialdom. You asked to see me and I am here. What is it you wanted to see me about?” Peto realised that the sooner the meeting was over the better. This Normec was an unpleasant individual and if he was a typical member of the Empire's leaders then their decision to keep out of it was the right one.

Normec hesitated, his face red with anger and humiliation. He remembered why he was here and what the Governors wanted. Reluctantly, his egotism deflated, he sat down again.

“Very well. It is clear that you have no knowledge of the greatness of the Empire and have not learned to respect it. The Governors of the Empire have requested that I come here to offer you help in making progress to the level of the other colonies of the Empire. We have noticed that your people are somewhat backward in development and we wish to aid you in this respect. No doubt you are behind the others because you have had no access to superior means of making progress. That can all change now. We have, as you have been told and shown by Crayle, many machines that will prove useful to you. We also have the means to educate your young men and your children so that they can develop abilities to invent, produce industries and progress rapidly. We have advanced medicines and health programs that would be invaluable to you. You will have the benefit of using the produce of all the planets of the Empire. There are many other ways in which the Empire can benefit you which are too numerous to relate at this stage.

“All this can be yours for a small piece of your land which is in the Southern Hemisphere and the right to mine the ore there. We have no intentions of interfering with you. The land is useless to you and you can benefit so much by accepting this offer of help. As a token of our sincerity, I am authorised to give you our complete stock of goods on our freighter for a hold full of this mineral.” Normec looked at them, one by one, expecting them to thank him profusely for his generosity. He was mistaken.

“Councillor Normec. We have already told Mister. Crayle and Miss Soman that we have no wish to be part of your Empire. There is nothing that you can offer that will make us change our minds about that. We wish to be left alone to progress our own way. If you really want to help us, you will comply with our wishes,” said Peto.

Normec could see by the looks on their faces that they were not going to change their minds. He thought desperately for an answer. It came to him.

“But you are already a colony of the Empire. You are part of it. You may as well accept the offer. It is your duty to accept.”

“We have never been part of any Empire and we do not intend to be,” said Peto, firmly, “We have developed here without any assistance from Earth or any other world. That is the way we like it and will keep it.”

“The first of the First Fathers was sent here to colonise this planet,” said Normec. Hoping that Peto and the other young leaders that were present were ignorant of their origins, he continued, “The space craft out there belongs to the Government of Earth. Because of that, you are a colony of Earth. You are legally bound to be subject to the Government of Earth.” Peto and the others looked at each other. Normec smiled, thinking he had gained a victory. Then Diata spoke up.

“That is not true,” she said, quietly, “The space craft was the personal property of Nyel Horrak. There was nothing aboard the craft that belonged to the Government of Earth. The records can be checked and it will be found that what I am saying is fact. This planet was discovered by the ship's computer and brought to the attention of Nyel. It was Nyel who named this planet 'Diata' and landed his ship upon its soil. Therefore it legally belongs to Nyel Horrak and his descendants.” Diata had long since had the law explained to her by Comp. She had wanted to know when the beacon was still sending out the distress signals in the hopes that someone on Earth would pick them up.

Normec glared at her. He had never been contradicted before. He was used to people agreeing with him regardless of whether he was right or wrong. He could see that there was not going to be an easy solution to obtaining the sycnel.

“The law has changed. You are humans and you originated from Earth and therefore you are subjects of the Government of Earth. You will abide by the laws of Earth or be classed as rebels. The consequences of becoming enemies of the Empire will result in severe punishment. I will be generous to you and allow you a period of time to reconsider your attitude before I deal with it further. You will be informed when I have decided that sufficient time has elapsed.”

Normec rose from his seat and walked to the door. Shim showed him out of the house and saw Careen and Crayle waiting in the hovercar. He went over and greeted them.

“Hello Careen. I would have thought you would be present at this meeting. You too, Edwan. We were expecting you.” Careen smiled and said that it was not their place to be at the meeting when there was a Councillor of the Empire there. It was all they had time to say before they were ordered to return to the shuttle by Normec. Shim watched them as the car sped towards the cargo shuttle, smiling as he entered Careen's mind.

Both Crayle and Careen sensed Normec's anger. They guessed that he had not fared any better than they had. They did not dare speak for fear that Normec would rent his fury upon them as a release. Crayle was pleased that Normec had failed. He would be in a similar situation as they were. He would have to explain his failure to the Governors.

The hovercar came to a stop by the shuttle that Normec arrived in. The two men that had come with him were waiting patiently, leaning against the shuttle and smoking herbs. They disposed of the smokes as they saw Normec and stood to the attention.

Normec got out of the car and turned to Crayle.

“You will remain here on this planet. These natives seem to like you both and it would be good to have someone to keep an eye on them. I must make out a report to the Governors. It does not look too good for these people unless they become more co-ordinates. You will continue to try to make them see sense and await my further instructions. It may be a few days as the Governors will no doubt have to meet to discuss the situation.” He turned away and left them without another word and entered his shuttle, the two men scurrying around trying to please him. Crayle and Careen were glad to see the shuttle lift off and speed skyward until it was out of sight.

“I wonder what he meant when he said it didn't look too good for the people here?” said Careen.

“He's probably thinking up some scheme to make them pay for inconveniencing him,” answered Crayle, “You can bet he didn't like being turned down.”

“Perhaps it won't be so bad for us, now that he failed too,” said Careen, hopefully.

“Not a chance. The only way we can salvage anything out of this is to talk Peto and his bunch into giving us the sycnel. Either that or finding some way to please Normec so much that he will overlook our failure.” He had been racking his brains to think of some way he could turn the tables. He looked at Careen hopefully, “Can't you get round him?” Careen snorted in reply and looked at him with disgust and said, “Thanks! Why don't you?” She turned and went into the cargo shuttle, leaving him to follow.

Meanwhile, Peto and the other leaders were discussing the meeting with Normec. They had foreseen the result and subsequent anger of Normec. Their previous experiences with other men from the Empire had given them insight as to what to expect.

“He's the same as the others, if not more so. It seems to be the norm to be arrogant and oppressive when in some upper position in this Empire of theirs,” observed Peto.

“Yes. The higher the position, the more arrogant they seem to be. He was horrid, and was so old!” said Ata, shuddering at the memory.

“We can expect some trouble from him. He didn't seem to be one who would let things go to easily. When you turned down his offer, he was thinking of using force to take this 'sycnel'. If that is what he intends to do, we will have to be prepared. We don't know what kind of force that he will use or what weapons he has at his disposal,” said Shim, “He was worried and thinking how he was going to report to his superiors, though.”

Peto nodded thoughtfully. Everything about this Empire seemed to bring out the worst in those that supported it or were subject to it. Crayle had desperately lied to get the sycnel for the Empire. Normec resorted to threats and attempted to trick them into believing that Earth’s laws bound them. As for Careen, she seemed to be the least aggressive and arrogant of them all but she too, was desperate to please Normec and the Governors of the Empire. She was willing to go along with whatever Crayle and Normec tried. She had tried to persuade the men to bend to her wishes by using her 'charms'. It seemed to him that none of them really cared what happens to the next person as long as they themselves were going to benefit. He decided it was time for them all to go back to their homes to really think things out.

Later that afternoon, Diata went to the spacecraft to see Comp. It had been her custom to keep Comp informed of all events concerning The Family. On this occasion, after Diata had filled him in with all the details, he asked her for a favour.

“Diata, do you think that you could spare one of the robots for a week or two?” his question took her by surprise. Comp had never asked a favour before.

“Of course. We don't use them much these days. They seem to find so much to do themselves. Why do you want them?”

“I need to be upgraded if I am to continue to serve you efficiently. I have been working on a plan to achieve this but I need the help of at least one of the robots. I cannot do anything myself except supervise the work that needs to be done and it will be exacting work that I feel I can only entrust to a robot. I really do appreciate it. I have taken in so much data since we have been here that my memory capacity has almost reached its limit and I feel a little outdated now. My plan is to improve my capabilities so that I can be of more use to you and The Family.”

“Don't do anything rash,” said Diata, “We don't want you to come to any harm. You are far too valuable to us.” Diata knew that she did not have to tell Comp to be careful but she felt some concern that he intended to alter himself in some way.

“It will be perfectly safe as long as I can have the robo,” assured Comp.

Diata chatted a little longer then left the ship and began to make her way back to the village. As she passed the cargo shuttle, Careen saw her and came out.

“Hello Diata. What are you doing down here. Walking?”

“I just wanted to go to the old ship. We still use the computer aboard her.”

“Do you? I thought you were all against anything like that.”

“Oh no. Our computer has been most helpful to us. We wouldn't be without it.”

Inside the shuttle, Crayle was listening to the women. He appeared at the door.

“Hi there! Why don't you come in and let us return some of that hospitality you have shown us?” he said, “Come in and have one of our drinks for a change.” Diata paused for a moment then decided to accept the offer.

“All right, I will. Thank you.” She entered the shuttle and she and Careen followed Crayle to his office.

“You must try this,” said Crayle, pouring a generous portion of an amber liquid into a glass and handing it to Diata. She noticed that his hand was not too steady.

“Edwan has been drinking rather heavily today and it is showing. And, I advise you to drink that slowly and not to have another one. Unless you are used to that drink, it can impair your senses,” said Careen, “Edwan is trying to forget what the future holds for him.” Crayle scowled at her.

“If you were half of what you try to make out to be I wouldn't need to drink to forget.” Careen ignored the insult. She had been fighting off his advances all day. She had no desire at all to let him have his way with her. He gave the impression that he imagined he was irresistible to all women and couldn't understand why she had not dragged him off to her bed. She turned to Diata.

“Excuse me, Diata,” she said and left the room, leaving Diata and Crayle alone.

Diata walked around the office, noting its contents, stopping occasionally to examine an object that caught her interest. Crayle watched her, drinking heavily, keeping his glass filled from a bottle that he kept in his hand. His bleary eyes took in her graceful movements and her slim shapely form. He walked unsteadily to her.

“You know, you are really beautiful. You and I could get along really well,” he said. Diata was immediately wary. Her mind touched his and she felt sickened.

“I must be going. They will be wondering what has happened to me,” she said. She put her glass down and went towards the door. Crayle blocked her way.

“There's plenty of time. They know where you are. Have another drink.”

“No. I really must be getting back. I have things to do.” She tried to move around him but he pushed her against the wall, pressing against her. He forced her thighs apart with his knee and his hand groped at her breast. Diata became alarmed and tried to push him away. He grabbed her hair and swung around, throwing her to the floor and fell on top of her. She screamed and fought to escape but he was too strong for her. Holding her down with his weight and one hand, he struggled to remove his trousers with the other.

Careen, in her room, heard Diata scream and ran to Crayle's office. She saw Crayle with his trousers about his knees, lying on top of the struggling form of Diata. Grabbing his hair, she pulled hard.

“Leave her alone, you filthy animal!” she screamed. Crayle, not expecting the attack, swung his arm and struck Careen in the face. The blow threw her against the desk, stunning her for a moment, then she hurled herself at him, blood pouring from her cut lips. She pushed him off Diata, freeing her so that she could get to her feet. Diata's confused mind reached for Peto's, calling for help.

Crayle got to his feet and turned on Careen.

“You bitch!” he said. He swung his fist and struck her on the side of her face. The blow knocked her to the floor. He grabbed her and ripped of the blouse she was wearing, exposing her breasts. “I'll have you then!” He threw himself onto her, not noticing the flicker of light that appeared in the room. He felt strong hands take hold of him and pull him off Careen. Surprised, he looked around and saw Peto and Shim holding him. Eelan and Lan were helping Careen to her feet.

“Where did you come from?” he cried, “How did you get here? This is private property of the Empire. You are trespassing.”

“You have violated one of the people of Diata. That is something that we don't allow. While you are on our planet, you will abide by what we consider as right,” said Peto, “Your attack on The Mother was unprovoked. We have the right to protect her and those that come to her defence. You will not be allowed to leave this craft in future. You have abused our hospitality and we would like you to leave Diata immediately.” Crayle struggled to free himself from their restraining hands.

“We can't leave. There's nowhere to go. The freighter that we came in has gone to Earth. Councillor Normec had to return to report to the Governors. We will have to wait until it gets back,” said Crayle, sneering at them, “You will all be in trouble then.”

“If he has gone to Earth, that means that you will be here for at least two years, then,” said Diata. Crayle looked at her, uncomprehending.

“What do you mean, two years?”

“It will take a year to get to Earth. The timewarp can't operate within the solar system. It will take another year to get back,” said Diata. Crayle laughed, scornfully.

“Where do you get your information from? It only takes a day there and a day back. We don't use the old timewarp any more. The Empire has improved on that a hundred years ago. The new timewarp can be used anywhere. You really are out of date, aren't you.”

“Good,” said Peto, “Then you will leave as soon as your freighter gets back.” He turned to Careen, “You had better come with us until you can leave. It will be safer for you.” Careen looked at Crayle, then nodded. She was still badly shaken and didn't want to be alone with Crayle while he was still drunk.

“We'll take care of you until you want to come back here,” said Lan

They went out, leaving Crayle in his office, and left the shuttle. They all began walking back to the village, Eelan and Lan supporting Careen.

“Let's take the hovercar,” said Careen, “It's a long walk.”

“Will that be all right?” asked Peto, We don't want to steal anything.”

“It will be all right, They are as much mine as they are his,” answered Careen. They all got into the twelve-seat hovercar. It sped away towards the village, with Peto at the controls.

Careen stayed at the house with Diata and Eelan. She quickly settled in, getting to see how they led their lives in the village. She saw the simple carefree way in which they went about their daily tasks and mentally compared it with the fast competitive life that she was used to.

Eelan showed her the different ways of preparing and cooking the only edible meat on the planet, Kandeer. She was shown the variety of vegetables that they ate with the meat. She began to feel that she was on vacation, she was enjoying it so much. Now and then, a feeling of foreboding came over her when she thought of her future now that she and Crayle were considered as failures.

Crayle, for his part, remained within the vicinity of the shuttle and it's immediate surroundings. He had twice called Careen on the communicator that she wore on her wrist. The first time to ask her when she was going to return to the shuttle. She told him that she would be back when the freighter returned. The second time he called, he told her that it would not look good in the eyes of Normec if she were fraternising with the natives. She replied that she felt safer with them than she was with him.

Four days passed and there was still no word of the freighter. Careen began to feel that she was imposing on Diata and Eelan and told them as much.

'Don't be silly. You are no trouble at all. You can stay here as long as you like,” Eelan told her, “Ata will be coming later. You can try to amuse her little girl. She wears us out, so it will be a help to have you around to share the burden! In the meantime, if you like, you can look around the village. You don't have to stay in the house.”

Careen thought that she would like to do that. She had only seen Peto's house. She wondered what the rest of the village was like. She strolled along a path that had been worn in the grass, following it to the next house. As she passed the house, a woman came out of the door and into the garden. She recognised that it was Ata. Ata saw her and acknowledged her with a wave. She waved back and continued walking. She passed several houses, noting the neat, well cared for gardens. She had been walking for some time when she saw that she had come to the end of the village. As she stood looking over the fields towards the forest, she heard her name called. It was Shim, walking towards her.

“Hello Careen. How are you today? Are your injuries healing well?” He smiled at her as he spoke, his perfect teeth white against the tan of his face. She had liked Shim from the first time that she had seen him. He was tall and attractive, with a deep tanned skin and strong healthy body.

Yes thank you, Shim. The bruises are almost gone now.”

“Good. What are you doing over here? Not lost, are you?”

“No. I'm just having a look at your village. It's so peaceful. Just then I was thinking what Eelan was saying about the birds of the forest. I was trying to see if there were any flying over the forest.”

“Oh, you won't see them. They are always in the forest. You will only see them when they are disturbed. Then they rise up like a huge colourful cloud. Quite a sight.”

Careen looked disappointed. Shim probed her mind. She would really like to see the birds.

“Look, lets go over there and see if we can disturb them. If we can, then they will rise. It's something that most of us do when we are children. We soon grow out of it.” He began to walk towards the forest and she willingly followed, enjoying his company. She looked up at the deep blue, cloudless sky, and understood why these people loved their planet so much. It was beautiful. As they approached the edge of the forest, she became aware for the first time, the immensity of some of the trees. They towered into the sky, taller than any tree that she had ever seen before.

“Keep an eye open for Kandeer. If you see any, keep away from them. They throw stones and can cause a nasty injury if one should hit you,” said Shim.

“You are kidding, aren't you?” asked Careen. Shim shook his head, seriously.

“Right. I think we are close enough now,” Said shim, when they reached the top of a small hill about sixty yards from the edge, “We'll see if we can make them rise.” He picked up a stone and hurled it at the trees. As he expected, nothing happened. It took more than a stone to disturb the birds. He had used the stone to hide the fact that he would have to use his telekinetic powers to move the trees sufficiently to disturb them. He picked up another stone.

“This time,” he said, and hurled the stone. As Careen's eyes followed the trajectory of the stone, Shim focused his mind on a huge tree several yards into the forest and to the left of them. The tree began to sway. He pointed to the right, to take her attention away from the swaying tree. The bole of the tree bent like a bow, first left then right and back again. The violent swaying causing neighbouring trees to lash about.

There was a sound like rushing water. The sound grew louder and louder until it was like the sound of a huge waterfall.

“Up there! Look up there,” shouted Shim. Careen looked in the direction he was pointing and saw a sight that she knew she would never forget. Above the trees, a cloud was beginning to form. Even as she watched, the cloud of shimmering colour grew wider and rose higher. If she hadn't have known what it was that she was seeing, she would not have believed her eyes. The colours were unbelievable. Sparkling and shimmering as the sun reflected the colours of the birds' feathers. She held her hands over her ears to deaden the deafening sound of millions of wings fluttering in the air.

Careen squealed and jumped in delight at such a display, turning this way and that, her head held right back to see as much as she could. Shim too, was enjoying it as much as she was. As one never tires of seeing a beautiful sunset, so one never tires of seeing the beauty of the birds in flight.

As she spun around, taking it all in, Careen lost her balance and fell against Shim. His arms went around her to stop her from falling. In spite of Shim's protective arms, Careen suddenly felt very insecure. She again had a morbid feeling of despair as she thought of her future.

“You are safe now,” said Shim, ensuring that she was steady on her feet again. She smiled at him. If only you knew, she thought, what I am really afraid of.

“Not even your Empire can hurt you here,” added Shim. Careen looked at him, puzzled. It's almost as though he knows what I am thinking, she thought.

Shim had turned his attention back to the birds. They were beginning to settle into the forest again, now that the disturbance had stopped.

“I've got to get back,” said Shim, “I have work to do. Will you walk back with me or do you want to stay here?”

“I'll come back with you, if that's all right,” she replied.

She arrived back at Peto's house just in time for a snack that Diata had prepared. Also there were Eelan. Lan. Kita and Ata. there was also Ata's little girl, Cali.

Cali took an interest in Careen as soon as she saw her. She was particularly interested in the clothes that Careen was wearing. She went over to careen and hesitantly felt the material of her skirt.

“Why do you wear that?” she asked, Innocently. Careen smiled at her.

“Because it is what everyone wears where I come from,” she replied.

“It feels itchy. Does it make you itch?” asked Cali, wrinkling her nose.

“No, I'm used to it. It isn't as nice as the clothes you wear, is it?” Cali shook her head. “No. My clothes are nice and soft.”

Ata was listening to the conversation and interrupted.

“Don't ask so many questions, Cali. Careen may not like it.” Careen smiled at her.

“No, it's all right. I don't mind. She's just curious. She probably never seen clothes like these before. If I had known that I would be staying here, I would have brought the outfit that Diata gave me.” Ata returned her smile.

“Even so, Cali can ask some really embarrassing questions sometimes, so be warned!”

“She seems so intelligent for her age. How old is she?” asked Careen.

“I'm two,” piped Cali.

Careen laughed, “I think you are a bit older than that,” she said. Diata picked Cali up and hugged her. “You are lovely, no matter what your age is, aren't you?” she said. “Changing the subject, have you ever had any children, Careen?” Careen looked surprised.

“Me? No. I'm...I was...strictly a career woman. No time to get married.”

“What is married?” Cali asked.

“Oh Cali. You and your questions. It is when a man and woman on Earth want to live together and have children. They get married together and are supposed to stay together and not have any children by anyone else,” explained Diata. Careen thought that the explanation was a little too difficult for a child as young as Cali to understand. She was not prepared for the next question.

“What if they don't want to stay together?”

“Then they get divorced and can marry someone else if they want to.”

“Then why do they get married at all?” Careen could hardly believe that a child who appeared to be about four years old was asking these questions.

“No more questions, young lady. Go and play with your toys,” said Ata. Careen's curiosity was aroused.

“Don't you get married here?” she asked.

“We don't have marriage ceremonies here. It is something that we never got around to having and we haven't missed it. We get along fine without it,” explained Ata. Careen had to admit that everyone seemed happy with the way of life here. She faced Diata and asked, “Do you and Peto have any children?” Diata and Eelan exchanged quick glances and smiled. Careen felt that she had asked something that she should not have done.

“Yes I do. I have seven children,” said Diata, “Every one of them a gem.”

“Seven?” exclaimed Careen, “You don't look as if you have had seven children, your figure is perfect and anyone can see that you don't have any stretch marks!”

“Believe it. I have had seven children,” said Diata.

“Where are they?” asked Careen

“Most of them are in other villages, right now,” said Diata, “would you like another drink or sandwich?” Careen declined the offer. She again felt she had asked an awkward question. The conversation changed to the new workshop that the robots were building and she did not pursue the matter.

Careen stayed in the village for a week. During that time, she made many friends. She found that everyone was pleasant and helpful. She had noticed that Diata and Eelan shared an unusual relationship with Peto that she did not understand. She had accidentally seen Peto and Eelan in a very intimate situation. She thought that Peto was cheating on Diata until he openly caressed Eelan in front of Diata. He had also shown intimate affection for Diata while in the presence of Eelan so she dismissed the incidents from her mind.

Shim had taken her to see many of the things in the village that she would not have seen otherwise. She felt pleased that he seemed to be seeking her out especially and she enjoyed his company. Unlike most men that she had spent time with, he never once made her feel that he wanted her body. He seemed to enjoy just being with her.

The message that she was beginning to hope would never come, came from Crayle at the end of the week.

“Normec is back. You had better get yourself back here before he finds out where you are. I don't why I am warning you. I've been alone here for a whole week.”

Careen told Shim that the freighter was back from Earth and that she had to go back to the shuttle. Shim simply told her that if she felt that she had to go, then she should. She felt disappointed. She had hoped that Shim would object and try to talk her out of it.

All he said was, “You can always stay here, if you prefer.”

Peto too, offered no objection. He impressed on her that they had enjoyed having her stay with them. The women were also sorry that she was returning to the shuttle but did not try to stop her. She felt that she was leaving really close and caring friends behind and couldn't hold back from shedding a few tears.