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Chapter 13 Who's watching?

“Ben, let me you show you something in the hold,” said Celeste as she started walking in that direction. Ben got up and followed as she led him through a twisting maze of storage bins and lockers, stopped at one and pointed. “This is the right one.” Ben opened the locker, and Celeste said “See those tablets? Take one and let's go back to the salon.”

“This is an idea both Jacob and I came up with years ago. We call it the encyclopedia, but it's much more than that. It has a substantial database, but I control the contents that are seen. It also lets me see what people search for and are interested in. A tiny camera is built in so I can see who is using it and the local surroundings. Its microphone lets me hear and record what is being said, and I can tell where it is within a few feet. There's a speaker I use if needed. It's good for lower tech environments where the wireless communications from it can't be detected.” “You're a clever and stealthy woman Celeste. I get it. This is the gift you're, or more likely I'm the one who is going to give it to the Gaians. But how do we do this with the Eaulanders?”

Celeste leaned forward “Someone from their side is watching us as we speak. My sensors see three people clustered together at the edge of the woods. They appeared shortly after the Grand Poobahs, and their vile escorts made such an abrupt departure. I'm pretty sure they are females. What I'm thinking is we could take another tablet and put it in a box with some other items they might like or need. I could extend the ramp and walk out in what I consider to be normal clothes. I'll deploy a small bot with the box, point directly at them, then at the box and send it out near them. We will see what happens.” “Good idea,” said Ben, “What should we put in the box?” “Something simple like chocolate bars and some juice pouches with clear pictures of fruit on them, so they will know what it is. If you can go to the hold and find a suitable box and get another tablet and I'll program the auto-galley to make the food items.” 

Ben hopped up and headed aft. He filled the plastic bin from an overflowing tray of bars and pouches and dropped the tablet on top. A small round bot on treads rolled in. Ben sat the box on the floor, the bot picked it up and went aft. “There is a lift in the bottom of the ship I use to deploy the bots,” said Celeste. “It was almost cute,” said Ben. Celeste gave Ben a serious look, “I have some that aren't cute, and on a rare occasion I have used them.” Ben swallowed, “I understand.”

“Ben, watch the monitors, and we'll see what happens,” said Celeste as she walked back to the ramp room. The ramp deployed, and he saw the small bot roll out in view. Celeste stepped out with long blonde hair tied back wearing loose blue pants and a simple white blouse. She pointed to herself, to the bot, and then to the hidden persons in the woods. The bot rolled out and stopped short. It set the box down, spun around and returned to the ship. Celeste stood patiently and watched until a small figure furtively ran out, picked up the box and disappeared back into the woods.

The first view from the tablet showed three women's faces staring down into the bin all with extremely short hair. As the tablet was lifted, Ben could see they all wore the same long coarse black shift with a high neck. None had any jewelry on, and it was evident they were wearing no makeup. One woman opened a juice pouch, tasted it, smiled broadly and passed on to the others. The same thing happened with the chocolate bar. Celeste said, Watch this Ben, I'm going to turn the tablet on. The woman holding it almost let it go. The view disappeared as it was hastily shoved back into the box and with it, they disappeared. “What did the tablet say to them,” said Ben. Celeste with a sly look said “Hello, how may I help you? The timing was good because the Gaians are returning.”

Ben looked at the monitor, and in the distance, he could see the women leading the way with men following behind carrying baskets and blankets. “You've had more practice at this Celeste, what are you pondering?” said Ben. “It's time you had your first sales call Ben, I think this needs to be done in person. What I suggest is you go out and greet them and then give the tablet to one of the men to see how they react. You will just have to play it by ear. A plain ship's jumpsuit might be appropriate wear.” Ben hopped up and went to change. As he returned Celeste looked at him and said, “Don't be nervous, I trust you. Just use your instincts. I have deployed the ramp fully, and I will be on guard.”

Ben smiled back and said “Thanks, Celeste, I needed that. I trust you too.” Putting on his best smile, he walked down the ramp.

Ben looked at the small group. He recognized the tall woman who appeared to be in charge from the earlier visit. The men were all dressed in loose coarse brown pants with matching tunics and had pictograph tattoos on their wrists. He confidently approached them and stopped slightly off to one side to address them. “Hello, I'm Ben. My partner Celeste and I have traveled far to meet with you. As promised I have brought you a gift of great value,” said Ben as he quickly stepped forward and gave the tablet to one of the men.

The head woman went apoplectic. “The gift goes to me, he is merely a man.” Ben instantly froze, turned to her and coolly said, “Are you saying that I who have brought you this gift of friendship from afar is worth far less than you because I am merely a man? My partner Celeste and I have apparently misjudged you. I will take the gift back.” Ben looked directly into her eyes and waited. “I see this is the case,” said Ben, “Celeste and I are both saddened.” He took a step towards the man with the tablet. “Stop,” the woman said less confidently. “The Mother teaches us this must be the way of things.” Ben looked at her shaking his head, “Are telling me that the Mother who gives you the gift of children tells you that one child has more value than another? What kind of mother does that?”

“You may keep the gift. We have others far more significant to offer you, but we will now have to consider whether you are worthy of them. Discuss this among yourselves and return at a time of your choosing if you wish, and we will speak again. Where is the seed in exchange for the gift?” One of the men pointed to a basket. Ben walked over, picked it up and thanked him. He received a quick smile in return. Murmuring to Celeste “Would you join me at the top of the ramp and hold my hand when I get there?” “That was brilliant Ben,” said Celeste. Ben walked up the ramp and sat the basket down. Celeste joined him, and they both turned to the group holding hands for a moment. Ben picked up the basket and the ramp retracted.

“Hopefully today that was an aha moment for them,” Ben said watching the monitor as the group made an unorganized departure. Ben studied the basket. “Well, they are seeds alright but on the larger side of the spectrum.” “Ben would please grab a handful of these seeds and follow me to the hold. We'll both find out what these are all about.” Ben grabbed a handful and followed Celeste back through the maze into a corner where a set of small machines were lined up together. Celeste put her hand on a small hopper and said: “Would you drop the seeds into this.” Ben walked over, poured the seeds in and stepped back. “This is an organic analyzer. In a few minutes, I'll know everything there is to know about them.” Ben listened to the machine make soft grinding, buzzing, and beeping sounds and then it stopped. Celeste turned to him and said, “It is a fuel. This is a distant relative of an old earth plant called a soybean. The difference is it's over eighty percent oil and much larger. This is what the Eaulander's are using to fuel their power plant and vehicles.”