“There is more that you need to know about the operation of the ship, so that you can instruct your associates when they arrive,” Dreelig told them over the second meal. They’d skipped the first, sleeping in; after all, it was Thanksgiving. “And we need to consult with Znereda about how you can best assist him with language instruction for the stewards.” He looked at his watch and frowned. “Znereda will not be available until the fourth ande. We should proceed with instruction. It should not take long.”
“Lead on,” said Peters.
Dreelig led them to the ops bay, then aft. The sailors got a bit apprehensive as they approached the open door, but the deck continued flat to the threshold, with no structure similar to the “round-down” of the aircraft carrier. Hefty pegs on top and bottom of the door held bearings that ran in slots that crossed the door opening, curving to continue parallel to the midships structure. Four low consoles stood next to the guide slot, spaced ten meters apart, in a row parallel to the ship’s centerline. “These are the retarder controls,” Dreelig explained.
“Retarder controls?” Peters said with a frown as he and Todd bent to examine one. Like the control panel of the dli, it was sparsely populated: a pair of large knobs, two backward-reading meters, and little else.
“The retarders are used to slow incoming ships,” Dreelig told them. “I don’t fully understand it myself. The controls must be set for the mass and speed of the incoming vessel.”
“Arrestin’ gear,” said Peters with a nod and a grin. “I been runnin’ arrestin’ gear damn near eight years now. I reckon I can learn a new type.”
“You may know more about it than I do,” Dreelig confessed.
“Probably,” said Todd in a matter-of-fact tone. “Why doesn’t one of the regular crew come and explain it while you translate? It’s not convenient for you to be running back and forth every time we have a question you can’t answer.”
Dreelig looked alarmed. “What do you mean, the regular crew?” he demanded. “We are all crew, yourselves included.”
“Look, Dreelig, no offense and all that, but you couldn’t run this ship with a gun at your head,” Todd told him calmly. “Just about anything we want to know, you’ve never troubled yourself to ask about. There have to be tech types who run the ship while you traders go along for the ride.” He shrugged. “You called them ‘the ship people’ a while ago. We saw some down tending the engines. They wear blue and white on their suits.”
“You have seen the engines?” Dreelig was thunderstruck. “I have lived on Llapaaloapalla for four eights of uzul, and I have never seen the engines. I do not know how to reach them anyway.”
“Yeah,” said Peters. “You stick to your own knittin’ while the others get on with gettin’ their jobs done. That’s a good way to work, but it’s got limits.” He glanced sidelong at Todd. “In this here case, we’re gonna need to know quite a bit about these controls. Todd’s right, we better have a tech type around to answer questions.”
“You make a good point.” Dreelig stood, frowning, right arm across his breast, chin supported by the knuckles of his left hand. “But this arrangement has not been made. It will be a little difficult.”
“Can’t see why,” Todd pointed out.
“Yes, there is no reason you should know or understand,” said the Grallt calmly. “Perhaps you should go back to your quarters. I will meet you there after I speak with the others.”
“You got it,” said Peters. “This is likely to take a while, I gather.”
“Yes. Several utle, at least.”
“Then we’ll probably fool around for a while,” Peters told him. “If you don’t find us in our quarters, just come on down, we’ll probably be here.”
“Yes, that is a satisfactory arrangement.” Dreelig nodded and hurried off,looking concerned.
When he was out of sight, Peters turned to Todd. “That was a hell of a surprise to pull on your old buddy Peters.”
“Sorry.” Todd spread his hands. “I just now thought of it, actually. All the people in the engine room were dressed alike, and there have to be tech types around somewhere, but I just now made the final connection.” He looked at Peters. “Makes sense, though.”
“Damn right it makes sense. I’d’ve liked a little more warnin’, is all.”
“Yeah, like I said, it just now came to me.”
Peters looked at the controls for a moment, then turned away. “Ain’t no point in hangin’ around here. We don’t know what the adjustments are, and we ain’t gonna find out until somebody tells us.”
Todd sighed. “So we wait.”
Third meal came and went without Dreelig showing up, and they idled around their quarters until time for the next one rolled around. Fourth meal was a surprise: no choices today, everybody got turkey and dressing and all the usual trimmings. Highly appropriate down below, but the Grallt seemed a bit dubious. Todd saw one lift a sporkfull of cranberry sauce and look at it suspiciously; he pointed it out to Peters, and the two shared a chuckle.
After the meal they ambled back to quarters. The bay doors were open, fore and aft both, and the bow was pointed at the sun, making it hard to look in that direction and throwing long shadows from the rubble and clutter. That made it easy to find, and left them more dismayed than before at the sheer quantity of it.
It was about two utle, and seemed like a lot longer, before there was a knock on Peters’s door. He had been lounging on his bunk, bored and half asleep, and took his time answering.
“This is Engineer Keezer,” said Dreelig without preliminary, indicating his companion with a gesture. The new Grallt was female, a little shorter than Dreelig and about the same age; she wore a two-color suit like the ones in the engine room, blue and white in four parts. “Keezer will explain the retarder controls and answer your questions. She is not very patient, so we should, ah, I believe your phrase is ‘get on with it.'”
“Sure,” said Peters. “Lemme get Todd.” «Pleasant greetings, Keezer,» he said to the engineer in Grallt, and the other looked surprised. She was babbling at Dreelig, tone questioning, as Peters banged on Todd”s door. “Look alive in there,” he called.
Todd appeared, the puzzled look on his face disappearing when he saw Keezer. “Half a sec,” he apologized, and ducked back inside, reappearing with white hat firmly screwed to his head.
Peters wondered why Todd had thought the hat necessary. Then he took note of Keezer as they headed down the ladder and across the docking bay. She walked upright and kept her head up, contrasting sharply with Dreelig, who–there was no better word for it: Dreelig shambled. Todd was a lot sharper about such things than he was. He’d noticed right away that Keezer walked and acted more like …
More like themselves. The engineer even looked around, eyeing the clutter sidelong, obviously disapproving the mess. Interesting.
Keezer launched into a speech as soon as they arrived at the retarder controls, fingering a knob and going on at some length. Dreelig held up a hand to stop her, and translated for the sailors, “These consoles control the speed-retarding fields used in landing, as I told you.” The engineer babbled again, and Dreelig frowned. “Much of what she said I will not translate directly. She says that traders are sloppy and undisciplined, and most of our visitors are worse, so the retarding fields are necessary. They would not be needed if everyone were careful and observed correct procedures in approaching the ship.”
“I can relate to that,” said Peters with a grin as Todd nodded. “Tell her to go on.”
Keezer held forth, Dreelig again stopping her from going on too long. “She says that the controls are easy enough to use that even traders and aliens should be able to manage. All of the consoles are the same except Number One, which is the master. The switch here–” he paused, asked Keezer a question, then continued, “–is the master control for the system. Normal procedure is to leave the system activated at all times. This toggle controls the approach lights, right for off, center for normal operation, left for–” again clarification was necessary “–left to inform the approaching ship that it must not land.”
“Wave-off,” Peters remarked.
“The right-hand knob must be set to the mass of the approaching ship. The meter indicates the setting. The two-level knob is for the speed of the approaching vessel.” Dreelig paused, and the engineer spoke again. “She says that the controls should be set for mass and speed within one-eighth of the correct values. If they are too high, the ship may be damaged. If they are too low, the ship might pass all the way through without being halted.”
“What are the units?” Peters asked, touching a knob.
That took a while. Speed was in ultellzo, and masswas in gorz, neither of which meant anything. Keezer thought the confusion was funny; she recommended that they forget about conversions. “If you have the speed correct, the right-hand dial will show the correct mass when the ship enters. If you have the mass correct, the other dial shows speed. The combination is more important than either one, unless you have one or the other completely wrong.”
“I see,” said Peters dubiously, meaning that he didn’t. “The mass–I reckon you must mean the weight–is the important part, ain’t it?”
Keezer laughed when that was translated. “No, no, can you be that ignorant?” Dreelig was speaking in a singsong, trying to make it obvious that these weren’t his words. “Weight is what holds you down in gravity. Mass is always true, even when you are floating. You can go to the practice room and set your weight to anything you like, but you cannot change your mass.”
“Tell Keezer we’re sorry to be so ignorant,” said Peters, his tone saying he wasn’t sorry at all. “We’ve lived on Earth all our lives, and we don’t know all this space stuff.”
“In truth, I was not aware of the difference myself. Keezer thinks that is amusing.” Dreelig sighed. “I am afraid that the zerkre, the people like Keezer, they think we traders are foolish because we are ignorant of the ways the ship works. But I believe that if the zerkre tried to work as traders they would be badly cheated.” Keezer insisted on a translation of that, looked at Dreelig, and nodded. “She says that is probably true,” said Dreelig, sounding surprised. “That is the highest opinion of a trader I have ever heard from one of the zerkre.”
Keezer was amazed and angry that the airplanes had come aboard without anyone at the retard controls. “The settings are normally left on the correct ones for the small dli,” Dreelig translated. “Your people might have been seriously hurt, or even killed. They must have been coming in at relatively low speed.”
“Is that why we got two noises when each one landed?” Peters asked.
“Thum, thum,” said Peters. “Like pluckin’ a string, or lettin’ a spring go.”
The engineer responded with a couple of sentences when that had been passed along, and Dreelig reported, “Yes. When the retarders are set too low, they make a noise like that when the ship breaks through. She compliments you on your reasoning.”
“Tell her thanks.” Peters paused, running a hand along the console. “We gotta get the numbers straight before we go much further.”
Keezer thought that was amusing too. “She agrees,” Dreelig reported. He hesitated. “She also says numbers are very important.”
“She’s right. Tell her I said so, and thanks a lot, and ask her if she’d be willin’ to do it again after the others get here,” Peters said seriously. “We gotta figger out how much the birds weigh, uh, mass in your system, and I ain’t smart enough for that, but we got a guy can do it, he’s comin’ up with the others.”
“That will be acceptable,” Dreelig told them. “She says she would prefer to see the system used properly, even if it means she must go to extra trouble.”
“And ask if we can buy her a drink.”
“Keezer says you are welcome for the instruction, but she must decline your offer,” Dreelig reported. “She has duties to attend to.”
Peters shrugged. “Any time.” When that was translated, Keezer smiled, lifted her arm in salute, and took herself off without further ceremony. Dreelig looked at them when the engineer was gone. “Perhaps Keezer did not want a drink, but I do,” he said.
“That”s fine, Dreelig old buddy,” Peters said, and threw an arm around the Grallt’s shoulders, the first time he had touched one of the aliens. Dreelig didn’t feel all that different from a human. “The difference is, if Keezer ain’t comin’, you’re buyin’.”
“Ah. I believe I am willing to do that,” said Dreelig, looking the two sailors over. “Let us proceed.”
“There is still something I do not understand,” Dreelig confessed when they were ensconced at a table and he had taken the first taste of his drink.
“What’s that?” Peters asked. He and Todd had also taken a first deep sip.
Dreelig made a wry face. “If your people best us in negotiations, they could profit greatly. Why do you so readily advise me how to avoid this?”
Todd kept silent. Peters set his glass on the table with a click, and leaned forward, propping himself on his elbows. “Don’t. Lump. Us. With them,” he ground out. Dreelig leaned back, seeking a little distance from the intensity, and Peters made an effort to relax a little. “Sorry,” he said in a low voice, and sighed. “All you’ve met so far’s been rich folks, besides us. Folks in the government, folks that get to go to college and learn how the world works. Reckon we’re probably the only folks you met ain’t like that.”
“We called them ‘suits’ a couple of days ago,” Todd put in.
“Yeah, that’s one word,” Peters agreed. “There’s others. But mainly, as a group they run just about everything, and they don’t turn loose of nothin’ they don’t have to.” He sighed again. “‘Cordin’ to Granpap, it’s always been like that, but it didn’t used to be this bad.”
“Are you saying that things have changed? That this is a new situation for your people?”
“Yeah. Well, sort of,” Todd said, and paused, thinking. “Years ago, there were factories all over,” he explained. “Just about every town had a little plant or two, making something to sell.”
“Then they started gettin’ real efficient,” Peters put in. “I only know this because of Granpap, he worked at one of them little factories Todd was talkin’ about. Anyways, they started figurin’ ways to get things done with less people. Then they got to makin’ the whole system more efficient, mainly by havin’ each plant just do what it did best, and buyin’ the rest of what it needed. And mostly it worked real good. Things was cheap, so it didn’t matter much there wasn’t so many people workin’ and makin’ good money.”
“They’d hire people from other countries, because they’d work cheaper, and that was because cheaper here was lots better than what they’d get at home,” Todd interjected. “That was bad for folks here, in the U.S. I mean, but it was starting to get better, because other places needed workers too, and they had to raise their pay to keep them from coming to the States to make more money. So it was all starting to even out.”
“Takin’ a little longer than folks at home liked,” Peters pointed out, “but yeah, it was all startin’ to look good.”
“Then the wrapheads blew up Paris,” said Todd gloomily. He didn’t continue, and Peters didn’t take up the slack.
After a pause Dreelig prompted, “Wrapheads?”
Peters stirred in his chair. “Yeah. There’s this bunch of folks, Ay-rabs they’re properly called. Accordin’ to Granpap, most of ’em’s just regular folks, but a few of ’em was real sore at the rest of the world. They’d blow things up, or kill people, or what have you, and then make a speech or get somethin’ on the net about how they was makin’ the world better for their people.”
“Some of them had a lot of money,” Todd supplied. “The place where they live has lots of oil, and most of our industry burns oil for energy. We’d buy oil from the Arabs, and then sell them stuff to get the money back.”
Dreelig nodded. “Again, a common pattern,” he said with a shrug. “You still haven’t clarified very much. Why were these Arabs so angry? And what are wrapheads?”
“We call ’em wrapheads because a lot of ’em, ‘specially the poor folks, wear a kind of hat made of a strip of cloth wrapped around and tied off,” Peters said, waving his hand around his head to indicate tying a turban. “And they got a religion called ‘Moslem’, all the holy people wear that kind of hat, like a badge of office or something.”
“And it was the religious people that were really mad,” Todd explained. “They’d preach to the people and get them mad, too.”
“Why were these Moslem religious so angry?” Dreelig asked.
Peters shook his head. “Don’t rightly know. There’s some Moslem people in town, down by where I live, and far as I could see they’re just folks. They do some funny things, like there’s certain foods they don’t eat because their religion says not, but the rest of us knew that, and we got along. Sometimes there’d be arguments and that, but nothin’ serious.”
“But the ones in their home places didn’t get along,” Dreelig suggested.
“Nope. And like we said, some of ’em had a lot of money,” Peters said. “Some of the rich ones’d give money to the ones that liked to blow things up. And finally, one bunch got enough money to buy a atom bomb.”
“Atom bomb? You mean a nuclear explosive?” asked Dreelig, looking puzzled. “Those are not expensive. They aren’t too useful, because they leave such a mess behind. But they are used often in places where the mess doesn’t matter, like moving rocks out of the way or breaking them up when necessary.”
“Yeah, well, that may be real good in space, but like you say, they leave a real mess,” said Peters. “If all you got is where you live, it ain’t real good to have ’em around. Anyways, one bunch of Ay-rabs got hold of a atom bomb, and blew up Paris.”
Dreelig looked at Peters in horror. “Do you mean that this Paris was a place? Where people lived?”
“Oh, yeah. Biggest city in Europe,” Peters told him. “Well, maybe not the biggest, but big enough. Millions of people killed, and a big mess, like you said.”
Dreelig nodded. “Yes. The system you described might be very fragile after such a shock.”
“Well, the way Granpap told it, that’s true, but it ain’t that simple,” said Peters. “What happened was, one of the big religious people was makin’ a speech on the net. Probably half the people in the world was watchin’ that speech, and right in the middle, just as he was tellin’ everybody about how the folks in Paris deserved it ’cause they wasn’t Moslems, somebody blowed up Jerusalem, which is where he was speakin’ from, with another atom bomb.”
“Who did that?” Dreelig asked in horrified fascination.
“Don’t rightly know. Granpap, he said everybody that had atom bombs denied it,” Peters said. “But accordin’ to him, some reporters got in with a airplane and said it looked like it wasn’t just one atom bomb. Maybe a bunch of people all thought it looked like a good idea.”
“It wasn’t a good idea,” said Dreelig.
“They found that out,” said Peters.
“And then the economy collapsed?”
“Not right at first,” Todd put in. “But yeah, not long after that.”
Dreelig spread his hands. “We knew some disaster had occurred. We landed on the large landmass first, in the western part, what you call Europe, and visited other places. It was terrible.” He shook his head. “We thought it was a war. We’ve seen that before, and it’s part of what made us so cautious dealing with you. Your situation is bad, but most other places in the world are worse.”
“We know,” said Todd. “We’re in the Navy, remember? Mostly what the Navy does any more is patrol, trying to stop pirates and that.” He shook his head. “Actually, mostly we sit at the dock because there’s no money to run the ship. Point is, we’ve been other places. Europe, South America, like that.”
“Mar-say,” said Peters.
Todd winced. “Yeah. God, what a stink. And we couldn’t go ashore in Rome because there was some kind of disease. Same way in Rio de Janeiro. Buenos Aires was about like Marseilles. About the only halfway nice place was Havana. We had a lot of fun in Cuba, remember, Peters?”
“Yeah. There’s talk the U.S. might ask Cuba if they’d like to join up, and when we was in Cuba that was one of the big things to talk about. Some folks there are hot for it, but when I told Granpap that he about bust a gut laughin’.”
There was silence for a few minutes. Dreelig emptied his glass and set it down. “You still have not told me why you are willing that we Grallt should know enough to negotiate effectively with your people.”
“Yeah.” Peters slumped down in his chair. “Well, thanks to all that, there’s two kinds of people. One kind, like Todd was sayin’, they own the factories that’re still workin’, and they got a pretty good life. They get to go to school and learn about all kinds of things. So they get to be officers, and government folks, and that. And then there’s us.”
“The ones who don’t have jobs, you mean,” said Dreelig.
“That’s right,” said Todd. “Me’n Peters, we’ve got it good. We have jobs, and we get plenty to eat. But we both know people, lots of people, who don’t have either one.”
“Just about everybody we know, outside the Navy,” Peters commented. Dreelig was looking impatient, so he continued, “If the folks that’s runnin’ things now get your stuff, kathir suits and spaceship engines and that, they’ll figure out how to build it, and they won’t need to trade for it. That’ll mean a few jobs, buildin’ the new stuff –”
“But if they don’t get your stuff, then they’ll have to give you something of ours for it,” Todd interjected. “And if we have to trade for it, it means opening up the factories again. Making the things we know how to make, for trade. Lots of work, lots of good jobs.”
“So you are willing to frustrate the ‘suits’ in the interest of trade,” said Dreelig. “Well, if it is of any use to you, I think your analysis is correct. Your people will be better off in general by trading.” He shook his head, looked from one sailor to another. “You have both said that you do not have very good training, that you have not been educated well. Yet you have made what is actually a fairly sophisticated argument. How is it that poorly educated people can know this?”
“Well, it didn’t happen all that long ago,” said Peters with a shrug. “There’s lots of folks around who know what was goin’ on before things fell apart. They talk. Ain’t much else to do, of a winter evenin’.” He shrugged again. “There’s more’n one way to learn, it ain’t all schoolin’. We ain’t had much formal education, but we heard lots of talk.”
Dreelig glanced at his watch, signaled the waiter. “We have missed fifth meal, and I am hungry. Let us eat here.”
“Fine with us,” said Todd. “But I’m afraid you’re buying again. We’re broke.”
Dreelig smiled faintly and nodded. “Order what you wish. I will, I believe the phrase is, take it out in trade.”