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Chapter 24 Food for thought

“Do you think they will attend the gathering Nona?” asked Lyn hustling to keep up with her long strides. “How would I know, we haven't asked. I do want them to see we don't treat our men like Eaulander's treat their women. They just don't understand the Mother teaches us we are superior.” “But Nona, don't the old chronicles say this wasn't always the case. What if the woman from the stars is right? What if we are eventually doomed to becoming slaves to Elder Davin and Eauland. Doesn't the Mother tell us that we make our own destiny? Isn't this why we take such good care of the lands the Mother has given us stewardship of?” “Hush now Lyn, we shall talk of this later. They know we are here now, the ship's ramp is descending.”

“Ben, I'll prepare some refreshments if you would please invite them onboard and serve them for me. It's a wine and sweet biscuits. You take the chair, and I will stand behind you. Let me do the talking this time, it's a girl's thing. If you don't remember Nona is the tall bossy one and the shorter one is Lyn, the Chronicler.” Ben walked down the ramp, bowed slightly and smiled. “Welcome Nona and Lyn, your presence honors us. Please follow me and join us for some refreshments,” 

The two women followed Ben into the salon and stopped dead in awe looking around. The vids were all showing stunning landscapes from a flying bird's eye view, and instrumental music was playing in the background. Celeste motioned them to sit while Ben quickly put together a tray and brought it to the table. Ben filled three wine glasses and set two in front of them. Warmly Celeste said, “Welcome to our home and thank you for gracing it. The wine is light, and one of my favorites. I also prepared some baked sweets for you. We thought you might enjoy them after your long walk here.”

Nona took a tiny sip of wine looking around, and then quickly another large one. “Is this truly your home?” “Yes, we travel a lot. This is one of our homes. Ben and I also live on Alexandria in more conventional quarters.” Celeste waved her hand, and the big vid changed to views of Alexandria and the Library as the two women gawked at the images of men and women working and dining and play together. Lyn gulped, “I have read of such wonders in the Chronicles, but I thought they must be the vivid imagination of the writers. Do other such places like this exist?” “Yes, some still, but not the thousands there were before the Great Collapse. Few ships still now operate. Pastoral has not been visited in over one hundred years.”

Lyn quietly asked Celeste, “Why did you choose to come here?” “That's a complicated question Lyn, but I will do my best to tell you honestly. The Great Collapse was caused by ignorance, greed, religion, and xenophobia. Too many thought they were absolutely right, and all the others were even more wrong. These conflicts eventually led to the destruction of earth, and along with it the ability to build the drive systems that powered the ships to the stars. 

The thing we do is try to find worlds that in time could help rebuild the technology needed to make the singularities to power the ships. Most places we visit now struggle in many ways. What Ben and I do is try to help the ones we can to make a better world. In time maybe they will be able to help us as repayment. Without star drives things will steadily get worse for all humanity. We provide tools to let the inhabitants help themselves if they wish. We never force anyone to do anything. It is always their choice. But if asked, we do our best to show them the way forward. This is not easy for most. What is the purpose of your visit today Nona and Lyn?”

Nona nervously started, “We wish to invite the two of you to a gathering in three days to visit and see how we live.” “Sadly Nona there are only two of us, and one must always stay with the ship. There are some local neighbors here that make us uncomfortable about leaving the ship unattended. Ben, would you like to go on behalf of the two of us?” “I'd like that Celeste. I could wear a camera so you can watch and participate at the same time.” “Would that be acceptable Nona?” Nona gave Celeste a thankful look, “Yes, we will send an escort to accompany Ben to and back from the gathering.” “That will be excellent, I'm sure we will both enjoy the experience, especially Ben. Now tell me about yourselves, do you have children?”

Ben cleaned up after the guests left, sat down and Celeste joined him. “Well, that was enlightening Ben.” “In what way?” “I think they are trying to convince us they are good people.” “Well compared to the Eaulanders they look like saints to me.” “Looks can be deceiving Ben. I suspect they truly believe they are good but don't see their own flaws. Attending the gathering will be interesting. It's a pretty evening, and I made you a nice early dinner. The bots have set the table up outside in the shade of the ship. Would you like to join me?” “I'd be delighted.” “Thank you, Ben, head on down, and I'll join you in a few minutes.”

Ben walked down the ramp, shook his head and smiled in amazement. An elegant table for two was set up with a white tablecloth and a single burning candle. One of the small bots was wearing a black jacket and holding a tray with two covered dishes, a bottle of wine and two coins. Ben sat down, and a moment later Celeste came down the ramp wearing a flowing green dress. Ben awkwardly stood while Celeste gracefully sat down. “Celeste, you look beautiful.” “Thank you, Ben, can I ask you something?” “Yes, any question you would like to.” “Are you happy you came on this trip with me?” Ben smiled looking into her bright eyes. “Celeste, there is no other place in the universe that I would rather be, than here with you right now.” “Thank you, Ben,” said Celeste softly, “Me too. Let's eat,” as the bot placed the meals and set the coins next to Ben.

“I made the new coin, can you tell the difference?” Ben closely studied the two coins closely. “Found it. The ear on the portrait of this one looks a little squashed like it was badly stamped. It should be easy for someone to spot if they know what they are looking for.” “Good eyes Ben, I'm going to have a bot drop them off in the woods for Lora tonight, and a drone will inject some fungus into the tractor fueling tank. Maybe after dinner, we can watch a vid and make it an early night. I have the feeling that tomorrow will be a busy day.” “Sounds good to me, can you make some more of that popcorn stuff?” “I would be happy to Ben.”