Note: There was a request that my 200th post be some tea fiction. As I am planning an e-book of tea fiction soon, it seems a good idea. Thanks for the suggestion, Mr Norman!
The airlock looked to be the last barrier between the existence of humanity and the extinction of humanity. And it was opening. How long before it was all over?
Voula allowed her life to flash before her eyes. Since she only had a few seconds, she restricted it to the last 130 minutes.
Could it be only two and a quarter hours ago she had been about to make herself a pot of tea, when it happened?
The transmission that burst out every communications device on Earth. A short transmission that shared the most salient facts.
We’d never found them, in 200 years of space exploration. And yet here they are, not just one kind, but many. They found us. In 17 million ships.
17 million battle spaceships? Seems a lot. Literally an overkill. But then the Universe is a big place.
17 million ships, untold million aliens. Searchers. Also judge, jury and executioners.
Ranging through the universe, searching for something. Along the way, visiting races who had invented the cold fusion drive. Before they could get up to mischief.
The pleasant-sounding voice had informed humanity that they would meet with a representative to discuss whether the species deserved to take its place amongst the universe’s teeming multitudes, or whether its surgical removal was a better option.
“I must inform you”- the voice had said in all three major languages at once – “that our calculations, based on an analysis of your electronic communications, is that there is a 99.99997 per cent chance that we will remove your species from the cosmos.”
Whilst the World Government went into meltdown and the generals tried to work out how one cold fusion ship and a few thousand assorted cruisers could take on 17 million alien battleships, Voula had sat in her chair, overwhelmed.
And then the second transmission.
“We have identified the closest ship in which we can meet with your species. That ship is designated ‘UMRS-561-200′. We will present our representative at the airlock in 128 minutes.”
Voula jumped from her chair.
Huh? ”UMRS-561-200″? That’s us!
The 200, as it’s known. The oldest science research ship in the McMurdo University fleet, crewed by a dozen academics, collecting gaseous samples from a nearby system And it’s the closest ship to them? Where are these guys?
A minute later, 17 million battleships materialised around The 200.
Next had been the urgent message from Earth Government. “What weapons do you have?”
Her response was priceless. “Voula Trebuchet, Commander, UMRS-561-200. We have a small xenon cannon to discourage pirates, with 20 charges. I have a pistol. And there are some reasonably sharp knives in the galley. Please make no further contact.”
While Earth sent her increasingly strident messages, she ignored them. She changed out of her casual kimono into her dress uniform. She assembled the crew.
In a short speech, she reminded them that they were scientists. She asked them to go about their business. She asked Madrigal Chatterjee, her 2IC, to get into his uniform and accompany her to meet the representative. She had the dining space cleaned and organised some refreshments. She spoke to Leonard, one of the sample assayists.
She took the 20 charges from the xenon cannon, and placed them in a metal box. She had the box moved to the dining space.
It’s amazing what you can flash through in just a few seconds. The airlock door whooshed open, and a man stood there.
He was average height, average build. No extra heads. No breathing apparatus. He appeared to be wearing a dinner suit, circa 1920.
Voula swallowed hard and stuck out her hand. He shook it.
“Hello, Commander Trebouchet. You may call me Ambassador Lord Mendez.”
“Er, Ambassador Lord Mendez. Right, Welcome.”
“It’s a common enough name, and I think that my actual designation is not able to be pronounced in this language. Now forgive my clumsiness, I”m not used to this few limbs or this mild gravity. Where will we meet?”
Madrigal stepped forward. “Right this way, Ambassador.”
It was about 24 steps to the dining space. “Right”, thought Voula. “I need a plan”.
“Please take a seat, Ambassador.”
“Thank You, I have never sat down before. You humans have an unusual anatomical configuration.”
The Ambassador sat. Very gracefully for a first-timer. Voula sat opposite him, and Madrigal took up his place, standing behind her chair.
The Ambassador placed a small box on the table.
“A gift for you, as a sign of good faith.”
Voula gestured to Madrigal, who placed the metal box in front the Ambassador.
Both boxes were opened.
“The gold ingot you see was formed by melting down a golden disc that was found aboard one of your very early space exploration craft. We visited this system quite recently, about 150 of your years ago, and found this craft disabled and dead, and a long way from home. We retrieved all sorts of sounds from the disc.”
“Thank you, Ambassador. This box contains all the charges of our Xenon cannon. What better way to show peaceful intact than to surrender our only weapon of substance?”
“Thank you Commander. Whilst your weapon would not have troubled our fleet, the gesture is agreeable.”
“I must compliment you on your command of English, Ambassador. It is possibly the least sensible of the major Earth languages.”
“But it’s just peachy!” The Ambassador clapped his hands together in a curiously old-fashioned gesture of delight. “It was my job to watch every electronic programme, fiction and non-fiction, that your planet has made in the last 250 years. And I loved the English ones.”
“You’ve watched EVERY TV programme and ALL the films, Ambassador? How is that possible?”
“Well, I usually have a seriously large number of heads.”
“And you’ve enjoyed them?”
“Well, I hated most of them. So much bloodshed and incivility, so much misery. I do really love what you call ‘ period dramas’, though.”
“Yes, indeed. All the Jane Austen remakes, Downton Abbey, Mr Butler’s Butler, Upstairs Downstairs on Mars, Life at The Manor and many others. They are awfully interesting.”
“Excuse me, Your Excellency.”
Voula scribbled a note, which she handed to Madrigal, who read it and handed it to Leonard who was just appearing with a coffee pot. Leonard backtracked to the galley.
“Do you believe you can judge us from our films and television, Your Excellency?”
“I shall do so, Commander. It is my duty, a duty I have performed over a thousand times before. It is never easy, and as the human race is one of only a few hundred in the known universe to have ever invented fiction, it is even more complex. In fact, it is my first time the material I have reviewed has been anything other than documentary.”
“You have watched the output of over one thousand planets, Your Excellency, and never before fiction? Even an academic like myself would find that hard to take”
“How many of the races you have studied have been allowed to survive, Your Excellency?”
“None so far, Commander. The universe is a harsh place.”
Leonard returned with a plate of small cake-like comestibles, some fruit conserve and some hastily whipped cream.
“Please, Your Excellency, have a scone. And Leonard will serve you some tea.”
“Some tea? How delightful! I have seen this custom many times on the screen, but it will be a new experience. Please Commnder, tell me of this tea.”
“This is made with the last few grams from a tin I brought aboard this ship. It is a black tea, made to a secret recipe. It has been popular for nearly 200 years. It is called ‘Lord Petersham’, Your Excellency.”
“I hoped this might happen, Commander. Your race unfortunately has most likely but a few more minutes to survive, and it was my hope I would try this unique custom prior to its expiry.”
“Well, I believe that’s a reasonable excuse to break out the good tea, Your Excellency. It would have been a shame to waste it. Please, let it cool slightly before you try it”.
“My race drinks molten lava, Commander, but I shall do as you ask. And meanwhile, I shall ask you four questions, which I have designed to help me understand your race. It is your answers to these questions that will decide the fate of your species.”
“The first is this: explain ‘Morris Dancing’ to me.”
“What? I mean, are you sure, Your Excellency?
“I’m sure, Commander. It seems to be grown men with bells strapped to them waving handkerchiefs about. What does this symbolism mean? I don’t get it. What’s the point?”
Madrigal’s communicator whispered in his ear, and he in turn whispered to Voula.
“What just happened, Your Excellency?”
“Oh. your planet just sent its entire war fleet in our direction, so we removed them. I realise you had no part in this. Now, about the dancing”.
Voula swallowed hard. “It’s a nod to former times, our Excellency. A celebration of the past.”
“Yes, Yes, but why Morris Dancing? Why not bear baiting or typhoid, from the same era and possibly less offensive? I had hoped for some insight. Never mind, here’s question two.”
“Why do lacklustre C-grade celebrities live in luxury and good hard-working humans starve in slums?”
Voula racked her brain. And played for time to think.
“I suggest your tea has cooled, Your Excellency. Try a sip.”
She did so herself, mirroring the being across the table. She noticed he raised his pinky finger.
“Please do not stall, Commander, I have a busy… Hang on a minute!”
He took another sip.
“This is.. magical.”
He sliced open a scone, smothered it with jam and cream, and popped one in his mouth. He continued to sip his tea. For over two minutes, so-one said anything. Voula sipped her own tea.
“Right, I’ll be going“. The Ambassador stood up abruptly. “Thank you for the tea, Commander.”
He shook her dazed hand and strode back to the airlock.
“I shall be back to inform you of my decision in three Earth Minutes.”
There didn’t seem much point in moving. Madrigal looked like he wanted to say something, but didn’t.
It seemed like years, and then it finished in a heartbeat.
The door opened.
“Good news, Commander. You’re in.”
Sorry, Commander, I shall be more formal. Let me see…”
“On behalf of the Universal Alliance of Species, Humanity of Earth is hereby welcomed as a full member. Subject to a few conditions, membership can commence immediately.”
“Pretty simple conditions, especially when you consider that 17 million battleships will melt your planet if you don’t agree.
“One, we’ve sacked your Planetary Government. Bunch of semi-intelligent self-servers. We’ve appointed you as the new planetary head, your Ladyship”
“Two, your ship, The 200, with your second-in-command in charge will join our fleet as Earth’s representative. He doesn’t say much, and when you have representatives of over ten million species, the quieter the better.”
“Three. I’ve just been posted to Earth as the Consul-General from the Alliance. On a 200 year contract.”
“But why? How? Whatever? Hey? But! Ok, I think..”
Anyway, come on. We’ll whisk you to Earth, It will only take few minutes in our rather dashing runabout. And then..”
“And then, Your Excellency?”
“Then, Your Ladyship…”
He rubbed his hands together.
“Then it will be time for tea.”