Well, we have finally made contact. I am recording this in a temporary dormitory on the Indi space station. The Stevens (that is what they call themselves) have moved us to the outermost ring, where the gravity is highest; tomorrow we go to the surface, and we must get acclimatized. I think it will take more than this, but we shall see.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Our ship is connected to the non-rotating hub of the station by a long inflatable tube. The Stevens sent us the specs for the docking equipment, but it still took two hours to connect the tube successfully. The equipment they are using is many centuries out of date; not surprising since they left the Solar System in 488 a.t. But after two centuries in interstellar space, the Starlark hardly looks like an example of modern technology.
The acting captain Ralph Konrad and a couple of other officers boarded the station briefly, and came back with two of the Indi colonists. About a hundred of us were collected in the forward hanger, our view obstructed by the Starlark’s stowed shuttle; but I was close enough to see them when they emerged from the tunnel. A tall dark haired woman and a shorter, balding man. A slight pressure difference brought some of their station air with them; it carried some strange smells with it. No doubt our ship would have smelt pretty bad to them, if they could have smelt it. But they both had very thin, slightly shiny membranes inflated over their heads. Obviously they did not want to be exposed to any infections we might have brought with us; for our part we were taking no such precautions. If the Indis have any communicable diseases we will have to accept the situation and either find treatment or otherwise. We can’t live inside plastic bubbles on this world for ever.
Acting Captain Konrad said loudly “I welcome you on board our ship, the Starlark. May our meeting bring benefits to your people and to our own.”
The tall woman said “Greetings to you all, whosoever you be.” At least that is what it sounded like. The plastic helmets they wore made it difficult to hear them. Additionally, their accents and phrasing were strange, they sounded like they had stepped out of an historical drama set a couple of centuries ago, with an overlay of something entirely new.
“Come now with us into our habitat, Prima, those who would.” She turned tail in the microgravity and scuttled back into the tunnel, leaving the male behind. He gave a slight smile, beckoned and followed her. The hundred or so people in the hangar looked at each other more or less in silence, baffled and surprised.
Hoyle had not spoken until this point, but now that the Indis were back in the tunnel, he said “Well, I think that is an invitation to follow them. All those chosen to be in the First party should make their way down the tunnel now; take care please. Acting Captain; perhaps you would like to take the lead, as you have already seen the lie of the land, so to speak.”
“Yes, yes, come along now. Don’t want to keep the natives waiting,” Konrad said rather tetchily. Yes, I do think I remember him now; a rather bad tempered but competent individual. We bounced down the tube, Ellie just behind me with two of her Dustie companions. “Phawg!” I heard her say. “What a k-nits!” Yes, I thought; it does stink. Strange cooking, new plastic, a hint of latrine; the station was a rough and ready place, it seems.
We entered a large inflated vestibule area, lit by bright clusters of cold white diodes. That makes the place look out of date by itself, I thought. Lighting technology has moved on since their ship left Earth; on the Starlark the thin walls themselves give a soft glow, when they are not displaying images or data. Because of the glare from these lights it was difficult to see the Indis as they floated at all angles against the far wall of this space. But I began to notice similarities between them. Too many similarities. There were only two types here; a tall thin, dark-haired or grey-haired woman, and a shorter man, displaying various stages of baldness.
I looked at Ellie, who had noticed the same thing. We had seen this sort of thing before; back in my childhood on 6Hebe there were many gatherings like this, and on rare occasions since that time whenever the Parthene clone families gathered together. For that is what the Indis were; a clone race, with only two phenos that I could see. There were younger and older versions of each type, but they were all one or the other. Ellie and I drew together and linked arms. In some ways it was like coming home.
The oldest of the female Indis moved forward slightly, then stopped. She was attached to a thin dexter arm, the same silver colour as the walls, which held her in place in the microgravity. Now I noticed that the other clones, about twenty in number, were each held in place by similar equipment. On the other hand we newcomers were drifting and jostling each other, grabbing each other’s arms and bouncing off the walls. Not a very impressive sight, it must be said. The woman looked at Ellie and myself, with a small flicker of interest, before addressing us in a loud voice.
“People from Sol, I greet you. I am Barbara-Prima Barbara Stevens, of the Stevens family. Your arrival is unprecedented and unexpected; our family had thought the Old System dead. Still, you are here, and this is as it must be. With your help we can start to make this system into a new home for our people.” The plastic membrane she wore vibrated when she said certain words. Something in her manner seemed dismissive, perhaps even hostile, but she seemed to address her remarks mostly towards my clone cousin and myself. Acting Captain Konrad was fretting nearby, apparently unhappy at being ignored.
“Greetings to the Stevens Family, on behalf of all of us, of course. I am Acting Captain Ralph Konrad of the Arkship Starlark. Yes, I am sure we can help you in this effort, er, Barbara-Prima Barbara Stevens; we have much to give you, I believe. All we ask is the opportunity to build a home in this system.”
“We will consider the details of such things later. For now I suggest we eat together. The Prima habitat has only limited fare, I regret; but we can manage to keep you fed until you are transferred to the surface.”
The Stevens clones all moved as one on their dexter arms, towards a large door in the far wall. They helped us move out of the large space, passing us from had to hand like parcels. We were taken into a smaller cylindrical space, ringed with open doors leading into elevator cars. Once inside the cars- aligned carefully with our feet pointing outwards- we moved out to the rim of the rotating habitat. As we did so, gravity returned, increasing until the pull was several times greater than that inside the rotating sections of our own ship.
Feeling heavy and somewhat uncomfortable we ate a meal of uninspiring vatgrown food, handed to us by the male and female Stevens. Once by chance I saw a different type behind a bulkhead door, a tall curly haired cook preparing our food. He looked at me with an expression of surprise and what might have been fear or even disgust, then slammed the door.
“I suppose you’ve noticed that they are all, well…” the Acting Captain said to Ellie and myself, as we ate. He was seated at the same long table as ourselves, together with Harlan and Pietre the two medical officers, and some other crew. He had made a point of inviting us to his table.
“Clones, Acting Captain, that’s the medical term,” Harlan said, lightly.
“Yes, yes, I know.” Konrad had a dark look about him. “I’d like you and Ms Denley here to act as liaison officers; we haven’t many clones on this ship, and I have a feeling that they might feel more comfortable talking to you two. There’s something cold in their attitude towards us, it seems to me; perhaps you can warm things up a bit.”
“Ho Yoj,” said Ellie, but I said, “Of course, Acting Captain. Anything to help relations between our people and the Indi colonists. The Stevens Family, I suppose I should say. If they really are an all-clone family I should be able to help. I was brought up in a very similar society many years ago.”
“A couple of hundred years ago, now,” said Harlan. “We are none of us getting any younger.”
I ignored him. “Perhaps their society is not too different from the Parthene sisterhood. We will have to see.“