Chapter 11 In the middle

“Ben, wake up we have company. Join me in the salon,” said Celeste with some urgency. Ben scrambled out of bed, grabbed a robe and awkwardly wobbled in a daze into the main salon and looking at Celeste with a quick crooked grin said, “You're still in your pajamas.” Celeste wryly snapped back “You're not exactly over dressed either. I just wanted to make you feel more comfortable.” The vids were showing a very early morning collection of views outside the ship. On the Eaulander side in the distance, something that looked like an ancient tractor belching prodigious quantities of black smoke was pulling a fancy black carriage accompanied by several long-haired men dressed in black double timing it on foot behind. On the Gaian side, a small group of men in drab brown tunics carrying baskets were walking behind colorfully dressed women heading towards the ship.

Ben made a cup of cafe, sat down next to Celeste and asked, “What do you think is going on?” Celeste gave Ben a mirthless look and flatly said. “This is the most difficult part of these visits. Frankly, Ben, I don't know yet, every time is very different. The Gaians appear to be bearing gifts of some sort, and the Eaulanders look, well sort of officious. Those men behind the carriage don't look very friendly, and they seem to be carrying some sort of sidearm weapons. They can't hurt us, so I think the best thing to do is to sit tight and just watch. I have the outside audio on, and we can review last night's recordings of the local voice and vid traffic later.”

“What were they all saying,” said Ben curiously. “The Gaian side is pretty innocuous. Tomorrow's weather, a village is hosting a gathering with several other local villages, which has many of the younger ones excited. There was also talk about the monthly sale of the seed to the Eaulanders. I'm not sure exactly what the seed is but it may be used as a fuel source.”

“The Eauland's have a low tech version of a vid broadcast system. It's mostly invocations and prayers to the Oneness, mixed with news and demands for increased productivity. The odd thing is I only hear men on the Eaulander recordings and only women on the Gaian recordings.”

Ben watched as the Gaians stopped a short distance from the ship. The men quickly laid out blankets, what was obviously food and jugs with some sort of liquids. They then stepped back and sat down quietly in the grass. All but one of the women sat on the blankets. An older tall woman remained standing with raised arms looking at the ship.

The Eaulander carriage jolted to a stop near the ship on the other side. Several old men in black robes stepped out and were immediately protectively flanked by the men who had been trotting behind the carriage. They walked towards the ship and one stepped forward and after some elaborate gestures intoned in a high-pitched voice “I am Davin the Senior Elder. On behalf of the Oneness who is all, we welcome you to Eauland. Come out into the light of the one who is all and speak with us.”

On the other side of the ship, the one standing women immediately stepped forward after glaring at her Eaulander counterpart said even louder. “Welcome to Gaia visitors. I am Nona the head Councilor of Gaia, we have brought you refreshments provided by the grace of the Mother after what must have been a long and perilous trip. There is no need to deal with those foul despoilers of the planet.”

The Senior Elder Eaulander puffed up and almost snarling said, “Deal not with the godless sinning Gaians. Without us, they couldn't exist.” The Gaian woman pointed at the Eaulander elder and spat out, “Without our seed Davin you would not exist at all. The bountiful Mother of this planet and our hard work makes your sordid existence possible.”

Celeste glanced at Ben and raised an eyebrow. “Got any good ideas on how to start Ben.” Ben grinned back. “It's a bit unorthodox but how about we partially lower a ramp on both sides of the ship. I'll walk a short distance out on the Gaian side, wave and immediately come back in. You do the same on the Eaulander side. We then we can judge how they react to us. it's apparent what they think of each other and there seems to be a sharp divide between the sexes here. I'm thinking it might be sobering for both groups to get a small dose of reality.” Celeste gave Ben an evil grin. “I knew you were a good choice for this. I have a huge closet full of clothes for you in the hold. Pick out something you think is suitable, and maybe something that looks drab brown like their men. I'll dress in black just like the Eaulander elders.” 

Ben quickly headed aft and after a couple of minutes found and put on a long sleeved brown shirt and a coarsely woven pair of pants. Barefooted he hurriedly headed back to the round entry room with the ramps. Celeste walked in wearing a somber black robe and her hair was now long, luxuriant and blonde. “Fetching wig Celeste,” said Ben. Celeste with a just touch of humor, “I don't need to remind you what I can look like do I, Ben?” Ben gave her a quick knowing grin and stammered, “I vividly remember Celeste.” 

“I'll deploy the ramps out a short distance and open the hatches. Be very careful Ben and I'm watching both groups carefully. I set up the audio feed so you can hear from my side as well. Are you ready?” “As ready as I can be Celeste. Let's go for it.” The hatches opened, and Ben stepped out and looked down at the Gaians who were staring back at him open-mouthed, especially the men. He waved and quickly stepped back into the ship.

The reaction to Celeste was much different. The Elders seemed dumbfounded and a half a dozen men immediately pointed weapons at her. She smiled down at them, waved, and as she was stepping back into the ship one of the men stepped forward and fired a projectile at her screaming, “She's a godless whore.” Celeste quickly closed the hatches and retracted the ramps.

Ben went to the salon and joined Celeste on the couch. Resignedly Celeste said, “I'll replay what happened for you.” The large vid split into four windows. The top two were real time views from each side of the ship, and the bottom two were recordings. Ben sat quietly and watched the scenes replay in a loop. “The Eaulander's don't seem to be a friendly bunch and I really didn't like the fact that they shot at you.”

“Can you think of anything that would discourage this type of behavior Celeste?” “I can send them a notable message Ben, watch this.” Ben stared at the vid. Suddenly a laser lanced out etching a burning line in the grass just short of the toes of the man who fired the weapon. A large low power red laser spot immediately appeared on the man's tunic. He stared at the spot on his warming chest, looked down at the still smoldering scar in the earth below and promptly fainted dropping his weapon. The sidearm discharged when it hit the ground punching a sizable hole in the fancy carriage. A red spot appeared on the next armed man's chest, who quickly set his weapon down, and the red spot went away. All the other armed men hastily set their weapons down in the grass and nervously looked at the Elders who were now frantically trying to see who could get into their carriage soonest. Surrounded by a cloud of black oily smoke the whole entourage turned around and retreated at speed.

Celeste smugly commented, “Well at least they aren't completely stupid. Was that a clear enough message Ben?” “I see you have a subtle but very effective touch, Celeste. What do you think we should do with the Gaians?” chuckled Ben watching the women now nervously huddled and talking together. The men were standing apart faintly smiling and whispering to each other. “Well they didn't shoot at us, and they saw what I did with the Eaulanders. I'm sure you will be safe. Let's try to trade with them. I think you should go back out on the ramp and ask them to come back tomorrow with some of their seed, and we will trade it for something we have.” “What kind of gift do you have in mind Celeste?” “I'm thinking a carefully edited and special encyclopedia might be a good place to start. Isn't selling encyclopedias in your job description, Ben? Let's trade this tablet for some seed so we can see what it is.”

Ben walked back to the hatch and waited for Celeste to open the hatch. “Okay Ben, ready?” “Sure am,” said Ben. The hatch swung open, and Ben stepped out on the ramp. Looking down at the surprised group and in a raised voice intoned, “Greetings Gaians. We have come in peace from far away. As you have just witnessed, we will not tolerate weapons near us. Come back to us today with some seed you trade to the Eaulanders, and we will give you a gift in exchange.” Ben backed quickly into the ship and Celeste promptly closed the hatch.