Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Salubrious Exchange (I of II)

The sun rose.

Among the tribes of the Ipsan were numbered three primary opinions as to the significance of the sun's rising. The first was named Orthodox, and held that, as the sun had set uncounted generations ago and (according to prophecy) would not rise again until the coming of the Great Messiah, the sun they saw must be a fake thing, a trick, a deceit of demonic origin. Accordingly, the Orthodox shunned the sun, seeking to live so much of their lives as was possible without its false and misleading light; a practice mocked by the Redemptionists. Those latter worthies argued that the sun was obvious, palpable (in its light and heat), and clearly real; therefore the Great Messiah had come, or was about to come, or had come and gone, but in any case the sun's rising was wonderful and a thing to be celebrated so vigorously as seemed possible. Accordingly the Redemptionists centered their waking hours about dawn, rising in the dark hours and sleeping at noon. Both groups were considered rather peculiar by the Uncommitted, who suggested (quietly, without great vigour) that perhaps it was a bit of a silly question either way, and spent their waking hours in day-time, so they could, you know, see things. A neutral observer might expect the Uncommitted to come to dominate the tribes, owing to their energy being rather more focused on pragmatic matters than those of the other two beliefs; but the fierce zealotry of the Orthodox and the Redemptionists was sufficient to balance the scales and ensure a sort of stable balance between the three beliefs.

You may be somewhat confused by the preceding, or have forgotten the name of one of the beliefs, or be unsure as to how, exactly, the Orthodox believers manage to get anything done. That's entirely all right. If you comprehend it perfectly - good! Congratulate yourself! And otherwise - well, pretty much everything that was just mentioned is irrelevant. Don't worry about it too much.

So -

The sun rose, and below it fell the fat, metal ovoid that some (notably, its owner) named the Salubrious Exchange. Spitted atop a pillar of atomic fire, it drifted lazily earthward - down, down, down, until at last its fins met the surface (with such delicacy, such caution!), at the center of a steaming, black-glass coated crater.

The crater was new.

(If you hadn't guessed. I mean, there hadn't just been a crater there, waiting for the Salubrious Exchange to show up so that it could land there. Not to assign moral judgement, but, really, it was the Exchange's fault that the crater was there at all - )

(Whoops, back to the point.)

Time passed. The crater cooled.

"Hello?" the ship broadcast to the surrounding area. "Is anyone around?"

"I have soap!" the speaker added helpfully.

But no answer came; and after a few more minutes, the ship's innards rumbled once more*, and sent the ship soaring skyward and sunward once again.

The next two landings were similarly uneventful; the third found the Salubrious Exchange accosted by a swarm of howling, half-naked natives, who hurled spears and curses at the ship. (For some reason, they seemed to think it was a "sun-devil"!) The Exchange's captain burned skyward with haste, but not without forethought; as the ship began its ascent, a hatch on the side popped open, and a package rolled out. Inside were fifty individually-wrapped breath-mints, prepared for just such an occasion - even the most savage and fierce of warriors, the captain hoped, might well be soothed by such a gift! Suffused with powerful minty flavors, they would be more likely to greet the Exchange with warmth and kindness on a later visit, should it ever pass that way again. Such was the foresight of the Exchange's captain!

The natives burned the package unopened, then buried the ashes. Alas: the plans of mice and men!

On the fourth landing, with no sign of sapients present, the Salubrious Exchange's captain emerged to examine the hull. (More specifically, to clarify: the hull's ablative (and festively coloured!) ceramic coating.) Certain superficial scratches were examined and lamented; one rather deep dent, still holding the stone head of the spear that had caused it, was covered and repaired with an blast from an aerosol-can the captain carried. Then the captain re-entered the ship, and the Salubrious Exchange, still wreathed in the red-gold light of dawn, shot upward and westward once more.

(The Salubrious Exchange traveled in a state of perpetual daybreak. The captain considered this ideal; what better time to begin an endeavor than dawn, when the whole day will be available for its completion?)

The Salubrious Exchange's next landing was in the center of a small village.

"Hello!" the Exchange shouted to the small, motionless collection of mud huts and gardens. (The village, that is.) "Nice place you have here! I'm sure we have many mutual interests! Also, sorry about your pigs!"

Black glass, covered with by a thin soot layer of indeterminate origin, creaked and cracked beneath the weight of the Salubrious Exchange. Slowly, a blackened fence-post at the edge of the crater toppled and fell. Had this planet and climate been of the sort to support the formation of tumble-weeds, one most certainly would have appeared.

"Come on," the Salubrious Exchange's captain said, exasperated. "Come out! It's safe! I only want to sell you things!" And with this the captain emerged from the ship, black pseudoleather boots clicking on the ramp, a large, clam-shell box cradled under one arm. (A small side-arm hung discreetly at the hip.) The captain placed the box at the bottom of the ramp - opened it, revealing an array of brightly-coloured spheres - took two from the box, placing them into her mouth, chewing, and swallowing with exaggerated relish - and then turned to retreat back up the ramp. "Come on come on come on," the captain murmured as an aside.

Behind her, dark shapes emerged from the shadows.


(Wait, no, better:)

It turns out that children like candy!

*You came this close to a rather unpleasant gastrointestinal metaphor there. It was a close call! I nearly used it! Be lucky this story was written by an author of my obvious skill and taste, unlike certain authors I won't name -

- cough, cough -

If you think that was referring to you, you have self-esteem issues! Sorry! Try feeling better about yourself**. That usually works for me!

**"You are a pretty cool person! Also I have nothing against your writing! I've probably never read it! This is only one reason why I have nothing against it."

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