Science fiction read with plenty of fun!



Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Prologue: Somewhere In Space



Somewhere In Space 


    When Federation Day approached in the Federated Worlds of the Two Galaxies, beings were apt to go silly. Large or small, high or low, didn’t matter: silly was what they went. Given that on a goodly proportion of worlds Federation Day also coincided with the approach of spring, some went even sillier.
    “What?” groaned Captain Smt Wong, as the comm-blob ceased relaying a very, very, very silly communication. It began relaying it again but shut up under the scorching Vvlvanian mind-fire of its Captain’s mind-message. “Yeah,” said the Captain through her pearly mammalian teeth. “–BrTl! Get in here!”
    First Officer! To the bridge! At the DOUBLE! she sent.
    Her xathpyroid First Officer lumbered in, at the double. Fortunately the ship was pretty well solid xrillion, built to take it. Also fortunately there was nothing moveable on the bridge to be moved by the wind, make that gale, of his passing. Well, except her, but the ship wasn’t foolish enough to let that happen.
    “Yes, sir?” he panted.
    “I won’t ask what in Federation you were doing when you were supposed to be on duty, because in the first place I can see that,” said his Captain viciously through her pearly mammalian teeth.—Lieutenant-Pilot BrTl cringed, but nodded meekly: she wouldn’t be a Pilot worth her n’nk salt if she wasn’t able to see that, and a lot more.—“And in the second place I don’t want to hear any more mok shit about your bunions. I will say, Slack off when you’re on duty again and you’ll be OFF THIS SHIP! –I mean it, BrTl.”
    He could see that. He couldn’t read her nearly as well as she could read him—well, one reason why she was the Captain and he was only the First Officer—but he wasn’t that bad: he could read that much. “Yes, sir,” he agreed glumly. He waited but she didn’t volunteer anything. He couldn’t read what it was but he could see it was something not good. So he ventured: “Um, something wrong, sir?”
    “Yeah, and for Federation’s sake siddown and stop sirring me, BrTl!”
    Thankfully he sank into the co-pilot’s seat. “What?”
    “I've been called up,” she said, taking a deep breath, “for a spot of Wavey-Spacey duty.”
    “Eh?” he croaked. Given her Service record, this hadn’t seemed to him something that was likely to happen. Not in the next megazillion years, anyway. Though of course she was Space Fleet Reserve—well, so was he, most qualified Pilots were.
    “Yeah.” –Relay it, she ordered the comm-blob.
    Obediently it relayed it.
    BrTl choked. “You?” After quite some time he managed to say: “Look, Jhl, don’t get me wrong, but did a certain Whtyllian being last seen in sparf-covered Fleet Commander’s dress uniform bawling out a raft of lesser beings wangle this?”
    Jhl’s lips tightened. “It’s not apparent. But my guess’d be, Yes.”
    “I can’t think of any other reason. I mean, you? Seconded to some Diplo mok shit on a primmo world that’s due to come into the Federation on Federation Day? –Must be a rich primmo, if they’ve allocated it the actual F-Day as its F-Day,” he noted by the by.
    “Something like that, yeah. Anyway, there’ll be rafts of Federation Reppos and stupid play-beings and Space Fleet top sparf there, and there’s no way in the two galaxies I can get out of it,” she said grimly.
    BrTl thought it over. “Short of a trip to a Mullgon’yan nursing-home, no. And there’s no guarantee they’d let you go, once they had you.”
    “Quite. Added to which, there aren’t sufficient igs in the ship’s account, as you might realise if you ever did anything unrelated to bunions or eating, to pay the fees.”
    “I do know that, actually,” he said with dignity.
    Then there was a short, glum pause.
    “Will he be there?” he ventured.
    “Whadda you think? Diplomatic receptions crowded with qwlot-soaked diplos and play-beings with time on their appendages and megarafts of super-igs in their accounts that they can’t wait to chuck away on games of whim-wham that they can’t play to save their pathetic existences, plasmo-blasted spring dances crammed with lady-beings from all over the two galaxies, all telling him how wonderful he is, troop reviews in sparf-covered Number Ones, fly-pasts of entire squadrons at a time—he’ll be there in quintupled 5-D triangles! And if he thinks he’s gonna talk me into anything, he’s out of his vacuum-frozen Whtyllian mind!”
    BrTl was a male-tended xathpyroid cognate, and mammalian reproduction was a closed dendrion nut to him. Though he was quite aware that it was that sort of stuff that was causing his Captain—well, not all the trouble, that had mainly been before he knew her—but a large part of the trouble, where that precise vacuum-frozen Whtyllian being was concerned. He didn’t understand how a being could both loathe and love another being, but that was pretty much what his Captain felt for that particular vacuum-frozen humanoid Fleet Commander. It wasn’t just the rolling round on beds and flop couches stuff that was in question: many beings throughout the two galaxies did that sort of stuff and Jhl had certainly done it with many beings without ever letting it get to her. No, it was the plasmo-blasted silly idea that this particular Fleet Commander had got into his vacuum-frozen Whtyllian head that Captain Jhl Smt Wong might like to chuck in her reasonably successful and certainly interesting job as a merchant trader captain and go and live in his plasmo-blasted nirvana garden on Playfair Two! A planet so exclusive that beings such as BrTl and Jhl normally just dropped off a delivery at the back door of its Orbiting Freight Station and crept away again.
    “So, um, if you see him, will you do that repro stuff with him?” he fumbled.
    “Possibly,” she said tiredly. “The repro stuff itself is okay,”—BrTl nodded, he could see that—“but it’s the lordship-type demands that follow it that I’ve had an intergalactic bucketful of.”
    He’d got that much right, then. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Talking of buckets—”
    “No. You know plasmo-blasted-well what a bucket of nymbo cheese’ll do to your sugar levels, BrTl. Not on the ship, thanks.”
    “But the ship’s restrainos will—”
    No, they won’t, responded the ship.
    “Right, that’s another good idea down the recycler,” he grumbled.
    Jhl just waited.
    Eventually he produced: “Well, how long is it gonna be for? And what are me and Trff gonna do while you’re seconded?”
    “A couple of IG months,” she said sourly.
    “What?” he croaked.
    “Yeah.” –STRAPS! she sent.
    BrTl’s straps closed round him, welding him to his seat, and simultaneously Jhl shot the ship into hyper-hop.
    “What was that?” he gasped.
    Jhl’s mammalian cheeks were very pale, but her hands were steady enough. And her mind was very firmly in control of the ship’s blobs. “It was some Vvlvanian-cursed play-being blasting out of hyperspace into the precise co-ordinates we were occupying at the precise IG microsecond.”
    “What?” he gasped. “I thought that was impossible!”
    “Theoretically, yeah. You have to be a cursed bad pilot to accomplish it.”
    “Yeah,” he said numbly. “Did you catch what it was?”
    “A very drunk Huyajhangwanian hypered up on snuhl, taking its brand-new ship for a lovely spring jaunt into hyperspace,” she said grimly. “It is spring on Huyajhangwania, and by the feel of it the whole planet’s drunk. –Some sort of spring festival, BrTl. It’ll go on until well after Federation Day.”
    “Yes,” he said numbly. “We have those festivals at home, though it isn’t spring there now. And no xathpyroid cognate could fly a ship that badly.”
    “Well—uh—” BrTl found he was trembling slightly: just as well the straps were round him. “Guh-go back and blast the being to the Third Galaxy?” he croaked.
    “I can’t,” she said tightly. “That hop pretty well drained the blobs.”
    BrTl gulped.
    After a moment the ship sent, very weakly indeed: Yes, it did. Thank you, Captain.
    “Yeah: thanks, Captain,” he croaked.
    “My pleasure,” she said tightly, feeling the blobs. BrTl was respectfully silent. After a moment she said: “We’re gonna have to float.” As she spoke the drive shut down.
    He gulped.
    “And I’m afraid the grav will have to go off.”
    He gulped again, though it hadn't happened yet.
    Trff! she sent. “Oh, there you are, Chief Engineer,” she said as it bobbed in.
    “Yes, sir. That was a hypered-up Huyajhangwanian being in a ship it didn't know how to control,” it reported. “Thank you-it, Captain.”
    “Thank you, Chief Engineer,” replied Jhl formally. “Never knew the blobs could do it.”
    There was a discernible pause; then it admitted: “They almost couldn’t.”
    “Yeah. Grab onto something, Trff, I’m gonna shut down the—” It had already coiled a tentacle round one of BrTl’s shins. Practical, given that it scarcely reached to his knee. Grav OFF! she sent.
    After a moment they all floated gently away from the surfaces on which they’d been sitting or standing—though only to the limits of their straps, in the cases of Jhl and BrTl.
    “I’ve never actually done this in space,” said BrTl thoughtfully, “since I was at the Academy.”
    “I’ve done it once,” she admitted. “On his vacuum-frozen Seeker. Don’t think there’s another captain in Space Fleet that makes its crew perform that drill. I’ll say this for him, curse his vacuum-frozen Whtyllian heart, he’s a cursed good commander.”
    “Yeah.” He shot out a kindly pseudopod, since Trff’s tentacle didn’t seem to be helping it to float back to anything like its former position, and reeled in it in.
    “Thanks!” it hooted, dusting off its fluff a little. “That Whtyllian being’s heart was all right last time it looked,” it noted.
    “Figuratively speaking, Trff,” said its Captain calmly.
    “Oh! Of course.” After a moment it admitted: “It’s a bit tired after that sudden hop.”
    They could see she was working out co-ordinates and vectors: they waited respectfully.
    “Yes,” she said at last. “I’m sorry about this. We’ve got to get me to Ddiamphorer VI to join the diplomatic mission that’s heading for Btcx, that’s the world that’s about to come into the Federation.”
    “Yes,” agreed Trff, though no being had verbally communicated the fact of Jhl’s call-up to it. “Rich deposits of hng, diamonds and weevon, and a climate suited to the cultivation of senso-orchids, poys, glerrollis, and many other tropical fruits and flowers prized by c-based beings throughout the two galaxies.”
    “There you are, then,” admitted BrTl. “Oy: hang on,” he said slowly.
    “Yeah,” agreed his Captain: “The third moon of Pkqwrd is the nearest place to Ddiamphorer VI offering anything like R&R, not to mention refit shops, but as we haven’t got the igs to pay for a refit job, we won’t be calling in for that.”
    “Oh, good,” he said, sagging, as much as the null-grav would allow of the gesture.
    Her crew was silent.
    Jhl sighed. “Trff, what conditions would you need, to be able to get the blobs into working order again?”
    “None. They are in working order. They’ll get us to Ddiamphorer VI.”
    “Yes. After that,” she said calmly.
    “There would be a short period during which it wouldn’t need working conditions. Then it would need it-being working conditions, Jhl. You-it would have to be on Ddiamphorer VI or with the mission on Btcx, or anywhere else in the Known Universe that wasn’t on the ship or didn’t require any assistance from the ship’s blobs or from the Trff—”
    “It is tired,” noted BrTl. “It isn’t usually quite this bad.”
    “Shut up, BrTl,” she said heavily. “Go on, Trff.”
    “And BrTl would need to be off the ship and anywhere in the Known Universe that wasn’t on the ship or didn’t require any assistance from the ship’s blobs or from it, too. Then it could use its FW pack for its life-support functions and keep the ship’s blobs in stasis until they recovered.”
    “I've never heard that about blobs,” admitted BrTl.
    “No, well, nor’ve I,” said his Captain, “but that’s one good reason for having a Ju’ukrterian it-being as Chief Engineer, isn’t it?”
    “Yeah. Another one is that you-it’s our good old Trff, of course!” he assured it.
    “It knows,” it said vaguely.
    “Uh, this is gonna work, is it?” he croaked.
    “No being can know that, BrTl,” it replied literally.
    “Probabilities,” said Jhl laconically, directing a minatory thought or two in BrTl’s direction.
    Happily Trff gave them the maths. Any other being in the Known Universe would have described it as a sure thing, so BrTl cheered up immediately.
    “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you can have a bucket of nymbo cheese,” said Jhl drily.
    “No, or anything else that’s not space rations. In fact, if you-it could manage to skip meals until we reach Ddiamphorer VI, the blobs would be grateful.”
    BrTl waited but the ship didn’t agree, or respond at all. He quailed. “Yes,” he croaked. “I won’t eat anything, I promise!”
    “I’ll monitor you,” promised his Captain cheerfully, “but expect to suffer!”
    “Yeah,” he muttered. He could see she was making up her mind to skip meals, too, but he didn’t remark on it.
    “The ship barely notices the amount a humanoid eats, Jhl,” Trff assured her kindly.
    Jhl’s cheeks went very red. “Nevertheless,” she said shortly. “Let’s see: get on over to the third moon of Pkqwrd, drop BrTl off,”—BrTl shut his eyes in anticipated agony—“on to Ddiamphorer VI, drop me off, then you take the ship somewhere quiet and re-blob the blobs, Trff, okay?”
    “Not precisely ‘re-blob,’ Jhl,” it murmured. It held up an antenna. “It’s computing the relative weight and consumption of the BrTl.”—BrTl opened his eyes indignantly, he’d never been a “the” before!—“Oh, yes: you-it’s right, Jhl, it would be much better to drop him-it off at the third moon of Pkqwrd first. –It’s the intergalactic dump to end all dumps: you-it’ll hate it,” it told him kindly.
    “The BrTl knows that, Trff,” he said coldly.
    “Oops!” it replied jauntily.
    BrTl could see it was looking forward to its plasmo-blasted re-blobbing or stasis-resting or whatever it was gonna do. He swallowed a sigh. “So what do I do next?”
    Unfortunately it replied literally: “Just relax and go to sleep. That’ll draw less power from the blobs.”
    “Yeah. Go on,” said his Captain drily. “That’s an order.”—She was setting the co-ordinates. Drive ON! The drive came on.—“An order, BrTl.”—Go!
    Glumly BrTl shut his eyes, as the ship limped off to the third moon of Pkqwrd…


Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The Thwurbullerian's Tale


The Thwurbullerian’s Tale 

    The third moon of Pkqwrd was possibly the most boring place in the Known Universe, as the long-necked, hirsute six-legged being leaning on the bar at the Thwurbullerian’s side had just courteously explained. He was—the Thwurbullerian was almost sure the being was a “he,” the females tended to be larger—he was a xathpyroid, but the Thwurbullerian was both large-minded enough and experienced enough in the ways of the worlds of the two galaxies not to hold that against him. It was almost sure he’d been testing its shield, but as it was pretty confident that not much less than the probe of a Space Patrol Captain could get past it, it wasn’t too worried: the xathpyroid’s mind-powers were nothing like as strong as the probe of a Space Patrol Captain. Or at least—the Thwurbullerian took another look—not in their present under-exercised state. It had a feeling he might have noticed it looking, however, so it politely stopped and offered the being another basin of qwlot.
    “On me,” he said quickly. Well, he wasn’t all bad, for a xathpyroid, not to be anything-ist.
    The Thwurbullerian having accepted graciously, BrTl called for another basin of qwlot for himself and another IG barrel of Rwthwarian ale for it. Just as well it wasn't drinking qwlot, he didn't have the igs to pay for a barrel and the ship’s credit couldn’t stand it. It thanked him, waggling its frontal lobes politely, and he bared his teeth cautiously at it.
    “I see,” it said politely in response to this gesture: “your crew are Yufwrs.”
    “Uh—no,” he admitted. “Close. My Captain’s a mammalian.”
    Not Friyrian?—Not Friyrian —Not Friyrian?—Not Friyrian? Almost deafened by the horrified emanations from around the bar, not to say from over the other side of the room—who in the Asteroids of Hhum was that being that was eavesdropping over there?—BrTl shook his head slightly. Only slightly: it was a gesture understood by most sentient beings of the Federated Worlds of the Two Galaxies, but that didn’t mean that all bar ceilings were built to take it when the being making it was a xathpyroid. “No: humanoid.”
    “I see,” said the Thwurbullerian with a polite waggle of its frontal lobes.
    BrTl could see it didn’t. “They do that teeth-baring,” he explained. “Like Yufwrs.”
    And Friyrians? went the shuddering emanations, who was that being over there?
    Unlike Friyrians, he broadcast clearly and all the emanations abruptly stopped.
    “Sure you won’t have a drop of qwlot in that ale?” he asked, cheering up amazingly.
    “No, thanks, Lieutenant: not suited to the metabolism,” it said sadly. “Have you ever been to Hoollmabaria?”
    “Um… no.”
    “That’s very boring, too. Unless you’re a dust-mite.”
    “I see: a dust world, is it?”
    “Yes. As flat as this moon,” it reported sadly. “I’m from Luqulla, myself, as you can probably see from the veins on my frontal lobes.”
    “Of course,” he lied quickly. One Thwurbullerian looked pretty much like another Thwurbullerian, varying only in size from huge to outsize, most other sentient beings were pretty generally agreed, but of course it would have been very rude to imply that.
    “We have lovely hills and valleys there. And beautiful stretches of inland fresh water,” it said wistfully.
    BrTl was speaking Intergalactic, he generally did when he was flat-worlding, it saved bother, but he wasn’t too sure the Thwurbullerian was. “Lakes?” he said cautiously.
    “What? Yes, lakes. Sorry, did I say beautiful stretches of inland fresh water? We call them that in my home district.”
    Ah! Now they were cooking with blobs! “We’ve got a dialect word for them, too,” he said happily, “especially when they’re rather small and round and a beautiful shade of nwhortlp.”
    “Jade green?” it ventured.
    “Almost,” conceded BrTl kindly.
    “Ours are pale mauve,” it said sadly. “They reflect the sky, of course.”
    “So do ours,” he agreed sadly. “So do ours…”
    A mournful, homesick silence pervaded their area of the extensive Level Pink o-breather spaceport bar of the third moon of Pkqwrd…
    “No, well, this moon is not exciting, in fact the expression ‘an FW dump’ would not be inappropriate,” said the Thwurbullerian briskly, pulling itself together—fortunately spaceport bars licensed by the Intergalactic Spaceport Licensing Authority were built of tempered xrillion—“but I have to admit, this bar isn’t bad at all!”
    “No. Every o-breather being on the third moon comes here, sooner or later. And some only come here, of course!” The xathpyroid expression of amusement wouldn’t be appropriate, spacious though this ISLA bar was, so he gave a slight hoot on two notes down his noses, it was recognised as amusement by many— Not this being, it was emanating alarm and the servo-mech in charge of the bar had come up silently and was pointing a small let’s-hope-that’s-not-a-probe at him. 

    “Um, sorry; I was trying to express mild amusement.”
    It’s all right, that’s not a probe, the Thwurbullerian replied. Aloud it said with a polite waggle of the frontal lobes: “Of course, Lieutenant.”
    It might not be a probe but on principle BrTl gave the servo-mech a look of dislike and it slid silently away again. “Thank the Federation I’m just passing through,” he admitted.
    “Yes, it’s a convenient place to transfer for many worlds,” it said sadly. “Many worlds.”
    “Been stuck here before, have you?” deduced BrTl, not even having to read it.
    “Innumerable times. It always seems like a lifetime,” said the Thwurbullerian sadly.
    Er—yes. Did they regenerate or not?
    No, it sent mournfully. It’s Orpetularians you’re thinking of. We don’t divide.
    “Nor do we,” said BrTl politely aloud. This sort of polite conversation wasn’t exactly him. Well, amongst xathpyroid cognates it was different, of course, but even amongst other spacers he didn’t generally— Put it like this, most Thwurbullerians were very polite beings, a lot of them went in for the Diplomatic Service, that sort of space garbage, and you didn’t want to hurt their feelings by being coarse. Added to which there were rumours extant in cruder sorts of bar than this nicely maintained ISLA one that just occasionally, if one really got on the wrong side, so to speak, of a Thwurbullerian, they tended to sit on you.
    “At home,” it said, with a strong waggle of its frontal lobes, “if we’re waiting for a bubble-train we sit round and tell stories.” It looked at him mildly—not that that meant anything much: they usually looked mild, they were big enough not to have to bother not to—but he thought he caught an emanation of hopefulness as well.
    At this the pink-crested Nblyterian at BrTl’s other side looked round and said: “Do you? So do we! And when we’re camping in the wilderness, that sort of thing!”
    The two large beings propped on the higher section of the bar looked down kindly at the Nblyterian and the hairy one said: “I'm not quite sure what this ‘untamed nature with many plants and feral beings’ stuff is, but xathpyroids tell stories when a clutch of cognates get together over a few basins of qwlot of an evening. Well, not so much cognates from the same culture-pod, that’s more pulling the neck-hair and, uh, copious drinking, but when it’s cognates from different culture-pods—definitely.”
    “Well, fancy that!” said the Thwurbullerian brightly. “It just shows there’s nothing new in the Known Universe! What about when you’re waiting for a bubble-train?”
    They must have really rotten public transport on Luqulla. Though, true, public transport on most worlds tended to be that way. “No; we tend to, uh,” he glanced warily at its large, virtually shapeless physique—“give up waiting and lope, instead.”
    “You would do,” it conceded, looking enviously at his six legs.
    “Couldn't you whistle up an untranslatable noise?” asked the Nblyterian—BrTl wasn’t sure whether the being was a “he” or a “she” but he was now sure s/he was rather drunk, that pink stuff in her/s S/IG shot glass wasn’t the “Refreshing Gorbachian Plum Juice” the bar was super-optimistically advertising, it was fermented laa. Guaranteed to send the average sentient metabolism into orbit within two Standard Intergalactic seconds of its passing the gullet. 

    “No, we don't have those,” he said briefly, not bothering to ask what they were.
    “Oh, no!” s/he said, giggling—he thought s/he must be a mammalian, because his Captain also giggled when rather drunk. “You wouldn’t do! They’re native to Nblyteria!”
    Quite. “Have another fermented laa,” said BrTl generously. “In fact why not be really adventurous and top it up with a shot of Refreshing Gorbachian Plum Juice?”
    Sue enough, the Nblyterian collapsed in helpless giggles, so his guess had been right, the being must be mammalian. He still couldn’t tell if s/he was male or female, though.
    Both? ventured the Thwurbullerian.
    No! he replied crossly, forgetting his manners.
    “Yes!” hooted the Nblyterian helplessly. “Sorry,” s/he said, straightening and blowing her/s one nose—ooh, his Captain did that, too! “We are both. I’m in my female stage at the moment.” She waved at her short, not to be anything-ist, person. “Tall, see?”
    The two large beings looked down kindly at her and lied kindly: “Yes. Of course.”
    “I’m blndrabllindrD w blndreL,” she said, baring her teeth at them. “Call me blndreL.”
    “I’m BrTl,” explained BrTl, politely baring his teeth back. “Call me BrTl. You, too, Thwurbullerian.”
    The Thwurbullerian didn’t have the physiology for teeth-baring, in fact it didn’t have teeth, so it just waggled its frontal lobes at each of them in turn and said: “Good to meet you, blndreL. I’d be happy to call you BrTl, BrTl. We don’t have personal or group appellations: I’m Forty-Four from Untranslatable Shade of Mauve Sector. If you’d like to, you could both call me Forty-Four.”
    “Would you be happy with that?” asked blndreL.
    “Very happy,” it said, emanating happiness.
    “Good! We will then, Forty-Four, won’t we, BrTl?”
    BrTl began to nod, it was a gesture his Captain often used, but stopped in time. It was generally considered impolite in the worlds of the two galaxies to make gestures which moved that much air. “Yes, I’d like to, Forty-Four. There’s a corner-looking corner free over there with a Nblyterian-sized table quite handy to it: shall we take our drinks over there?”
    “Yes, let’s; and perhaps these Feeny-Argyllians would care to join us?” said blndreL kindly in response to the eager emanations from her other side.
    “Yes, please!” chorused the slender quadrupedal beings. “I’m One, and I’m Two,” they said.
    They always were, but Forty-Four, BrTl and blndreL acknowledged the introduction politely and introduced themselves. And after One and Two had explained that this yellow Flppu was theirs but it wouldn’t be a nuisance, and its name was S-Fl’Chuyilleea, they all went over there.
    A certain amount of confusion then ensued, only partly because both of the paired beings attempted to sit on the one chair, and rather more because their Flppu ordered a fermented nnru juice from the servo-mech while they were sorting themselves out, but eventually all beings had an appropriate vessel in their appendages. And the Thwurbullerian began happily: “Well, shall I beg— Oh,” it said, swivelling the frontal lobes: “would that be your Captain, BrTl?”
    BrTl peered. Small, not to be anything-ist, bipedal, wearing Durocloth coveralls… “I haven’t seen her for a while,” he apologised. “Um, she’s not due yet. –Been called up for a bit of Wavey-Spacey duty,” he explained to those of the company whom he hadn't already told. “Um, it does look like her… Is it a humanoid?”
    “Yes,” said blndreL and Forty-Four definitely.
    “Yes!” squeaked the Flppu.

    BrTl peered…
    “She is a female,” said blndreL helpfully.
    “Is she? I mean, so she is. Um, no, her head-fur isn’t that colour.” He peered… Is that you?
    No! came the laughing reply.
    Jumping ten IG fluh, he muttered: “Uh—no. Not her.”
    “They do all look alike,” said One and Two kindly. “Not to be anything-ist!” they chorused.
    “Yeah,” he muttered. “It’s been a while. And the light in this bar isn’t adjusted to my retinal range.”
    “Try blinking!” gasped blndreL, collapsing in giggles.
    “Shut up,” he said, giving up on the polite stuff for the nonce.
    “Ooh, are you wearing shades, Lieutenant BrTl?” gasped the yellow Flppu.
    “All s-beings will shut up,” he said evilly through the crunchers, giving up on the polite thing entirely.
    A horrified silence prevailed in their secluded corner-like corner.
    “Um, sorry,” he muttered.
    “No, it was tactless of it,” said One and Two severely. “You’re very tactless, S-Fl’Chuyilleea!”
    “They all are,” admitted BrTl with a sigh. “Ooh, sorry!” he gasped as the spherical fluffy yellow Flppu, unrestrained by the yellow rein which neither of the paired beings, it now appeared, had been bothering to hold, shot up into the somewhat-less-than-IG-normal grav of the third moon of Pkqwrd. Their group watched numbly as it floated across to the bar counter and bobbed gently just above the head of the female mammalian humanoid who had just come in and who wasn't BrTl’s Captain. And as she grabbed the trailing lead and hoiked it down.
    “Good evening,” she said politely, coming over to them. “I think this Flppu belongs to you?”
    “It’s afternoon, IG time, isn’t it?” said BrTl in confusion, as the Feeny-Argyllians chorused thanks.
    Yes, replied his chrono-blob helpfully. He ignored it: you had to do that or go stark, raving, plasmo-blasted— Huh? Been on where?
    “On Gr’mmeaya,” she repeated, baring her teeth at him. Smiling, she sent.
    Oh, yes! Thanks, he replied. “Gr’mmeaya?” he croaked.
    “No beings go there!” gasped blndreL in astonishment.
    “Not many off-worlders, no,” agreed the yellow-haired female mammalian humanoid. “It’s evening, Gr’mmeayan time. What is the IG time?” she asked BrTl.
    Six hours point two three four, replied his chrono-blob immediately.
    “Sorry about that,” he apologised. “More or less that—yes.”
    “Good afternoon, then,” she said primly.
    Hah, hah, replied BrTl, sending really quite a good simulacrum of the mammalian laugh.
    She must’ve got it because she grinned at him. BrTl thought he caught an emanation of wistfulness as well, so he said: “Perhaps this female mammalian humanoid would care to join us?”
    No being objected, but he wasn't quite sure if this was because they wanted the newcomer to join them, or because none of them had crunchers like his and most of them were considerably smaller, to be merely literalist, than him.
    “Sit,” he said hospitably to her. “What’ll it be? I’m buying anything within reason.”
    “Not fermented nnru juice,” explained the Flppu sadly.
    The being pulled up a chair suited to her physique and sat. The table fitted her quite well, she wasn't much smaller than the Nblyterian. “I’d like to try a small shot of fermented laa, please.”
    “It isn’t bad here,” said blndreL helpfully. “I’m blndrabllindrD w blndreL,” she said, baring her t—smiling at the humanoid. “Call me blndreL.”
    “Thanks, blndreL, I will. I'm W’t, Dohra B’Jn, IG ID CT00002578-1345872/684005-90B-W47259/00000044/02-F.”
    “Its all right, we’re nothing to do with IG anything,” said BrTl kindly. “You don't have to use your IG ID with us.”
    “Oh, good: I wasn’t too sure I had it right.”
    He blinked casually. “Yes, you did.”
    Gulping slightly, the humanoid said weakly: “Call me Dohra.”
    “Patronymic, right?” he remembered proudly.
    “Um, no,” she said, her cheeks taking on the fierce shade of pink that his Captain’s did when she was about to haul off and kick an irreplaceable piece of equipment in the guts—or when she was very embarrassed, come to think of it, only it was a long time since that had happened. “Um, my personal name. W’t is my family name. Um, I haven’t got a patronymic.”
    Oh, well, whatever blobbed you up. His impression that all humanoids had them was obviously wrong. “Oh, right, I'll remember that,” he lied smoothly. “I’m BrTl. Call me BrTl. And these are Forty-Four from Untranslatable Shade of Mauve Sector, and One and Two.”
    “Call me One!”—“Call me Two!” they chorused.
    Dohra was emanating bewilderment so BrTl explained helpfully “Feeny-Argyllians. You’ve met their Flppu. I forget its appellation, but never mind, it’s an s-being anyway.”
    “Mm,” she said, looking sideways at the small servo-bracelet round one of its flexible appendages.
    “My masters are an excellent master!” it squeaked, bobbing slightly.
    “Yes. I wouldn’t bob, if I was you, in this grav, S-Fl’Chuyilleea,” advised the Nblyterian.
    “I see, this humanoid once wore a bracelet herself,” discovered BrTl with interest.
    Dohra was again that glowing shade of pink. “Um—yes!” she gasped. “Not for long!”
    “It’s quite all right, we don’t need to know,” said the Thwurbullerian kindly, directing a mildly repressive emanation at BrTl. If it hadn’t been such a large being he would have pretended he hadn’t noticed it, it was so mild. “Delighted to meet you, Dohra. Please call me Forty-Four.”
    “Thank you, Forty-Four,” said Dohra in a small voice, looking up at its fawnish bulk in awe.
    “See the frontal lobes?” said BrTl helpfully.
    “Mm,” she murmured.
    “Those mean it’s from Luqulla,” he explained.
    Dohra nodded humbly.
    “I’m a Thwurbullerian,” it explained kindly.
    “I see!” she gasped.
    Oops. “Yes, well, fermented laa, was it, Dohra?” said BrTl quickly, sending for a servo-mech.
    “Um, just a minute. Have you had it before, Dohra?” interposed blndreL. She sounded rather like an elderly cognate of BrTl’s known to the members of his culture-pod as Bossy Elderly Cognate BrFv, and he eyed her warily.
    “No!” she gulped, once again that glowing pink shade. –It was a great pity: humanoids would be so much more, call it visually acceptable, not to be anything-ist, mused BrTl, if only their cheeks would turn a lovely shade of green…
    “Have something else, Dohra,” he said quickly.
    “The Refreshing Gorbachian Plum Juice is most refreshing!” squeaked the Flppu.
    “Intergalactic space muck,” explained BrTl firmly. “You don’t want it.”
    The servo-mech was displaying the drinks menu. Emanating offence, it reported: Our Refreshing Gorbachian Plum Juice is made from fresh, ripe Gorbachian plums.
    “Yes, and only slightly vacuum-frozen in the interval. Not to mention in the hold of a Bhylloblaster for seven megazillion light-years,” noted BrTl instantly. “And stop that emanating at once, or I’ll remind you that there’s no IG law against crushing a servo-mech in one’s cr—” He didn’t bother to go on, it had stopped.
    “It is probably the property of this nice bar,” the Feeny-Argyllians reminded him on a dubious note.
    Well, that proved they weren’t wearing shades, didn’t it? The thing was quite clearly marked “Property of The Intergalactic Spaceport Licensing Authority. SM/PK0704. IG Issue No. 549Z,634,578,921,744-B631.”
    “No, it’s the property of ISLA, though granted the bar is, too. But don’t let’s get into that. What about Rwthwarian ale, Dohra?” 

    “It’s nice with a drop of iirouelli’i juice,” said the Flppu helpfully.
    “No JUICE!” shouted its paired masters immediately, so it must have tried that one on before.
    “Fermented,” said BrTl heavily to Dohra’s puzzled emanations. “You don’t know much about drinks, do you?”
    “No,” she admitted humbly.
    “Is Rwthwarian ale suited to the humanoid metabolism?” Forty-Four asked the servo-mech briskly. It might have produced a string of lies, only BrTl could see that what Forty-Four was looking at wasn’t actually the menu and what it was listening to wasn’t actually what the thing was saying, so that was all right. “Yes, you’ll like it,” it assured Dohra.
    Meekly Dohra agreed to Rwthwarian ale. It wasn't unpleasant, but— Well, the only thing BrTl could think of that you could possibly compare it to was the liquid left in the bucket when you’d eaten the nymbo cheese, mixed with a small portion of, talking of plums, Gorbachian river water—he had no idea what was in it but it didn’t taste of water, it tasted of… Itself. Bother. No, well, metallic probably put it as well as anything. Yes, Rwthwarian ale was as like to anything in the Known Universe as slightly metallic nymbo—No, weak slightly metallic nymbo cheese water.
    “What did you have to drink on Gr’mmeaya?” asked blndreL.
    “Um, not much. Water, mainly. Um, Gr’mmeayan milk, sometimes. It’s a bit like grqwaries’ milk but it doesn’t come from a big bird,”—here the larger members of her audience looked at her kindly—“it comes from a mammalian quadruped. Um, they farm them like grqwaries,” she explained. “They eat grass and grain.”
    “Oh,” they all said understandingly, those whose physiology permitted of the gesture also nodding understandingly. The fluffy round Flppu had to bob understandingly but fortunately its owners were now grasping the two ends of its double rein, so it didn't bob off.
    “It is drinking Refreshing Gorbachian Plum Juice,” discovered Dohra limply as the Flppu siphoned it up through its phthyffia straw.
    “Yes: no sense of humour,” groaned BrTl. “Try the ale.”
    Obediently she tried the ale.
    “Is it anything like Bluellian ale?” asked the Nblyterian into the resultant silence.
    “Um, I’ve never had that.”
    “My Captain drinks that. Well, when forced: she’s a Bluellian,” explained BrTl.
    “I see. Um, actually, this reminds me of nymbo cheese,” said Dohra limply. “Only not sweet. –It’s nice, though!” she added quickly.
    The company appeared to be satisfied with this, or at least no being was emanating any other emanations and, calling casually for a small dish of jing-jing nuts, which fortunately the servo-mech interpreted in Thwurbullerian terms, and which even more fortunately Forty-Four itself insisted on paying for, the Thwurbullerian began happily: “Well, shall I begin my story?”
    “No, wait!” hissed blndreL. “Something’s happening over there!”
    So it was. Their group watched avidly as a scarred DorAvenian in half-armour attacked a Bdeeg in tattered Pilot’s Number Ones with most of the insignia removed and as, predictably, half a dozen Space Patrollers lumbered in, blasters at the ready, overpowered the struggling pair and bore them off.
    “That was good,” admitted blndreL with a deep sigh.
    “Yeah,” conceded BrTl. “Wonder what it was all about?”
    “Couldn’t you pick it up?” asked the Feeny-Argyllians in mild surprise. “It was clear to me!”
    “Go on, then,” he said tolerantly, not bothering to say he hadn’t tried that hard.
    “The DorAvenian was accusing the Bdeeg of stealing an item of food off its plate.”
    “A steak,” said Dohra helpfully.
    “Oh, was that it? My translator wasn’t picking much up,” he admitted. “Whistles and grunts, really. Um, are Bdeegs meat-eaters, though?”
    “No, that’s what makes it so silly!” chorused the paired ones happily.
    “Right: goddit.”
    “The DorAvenian was threatening to look up the whistle,” explained Forty-Four with distaste.
    “Yes:  no wonder the poor being bit him,” said Dohra.
    “Bdeegs don’t—Never mind, think of it that way, Dohra. Well, I’d have said the scars on that DorAvenian were a warning to any sensible being to steer clear of it, but when did a Bdeeg have sense?” he said comfortably.
    Agreeing comfortably he was right, the company settled back to its drinks and nuts, Dohra kindly agreeing with the Flppu that they tasted better when dipped in the small dish of Feeny-Argyllian n’nk salt the servo-mech had provided for it and its paired masters, and the Thwurbullerian began:
    “They do it with little tubes, you see.”
    “Who? What?” asked several beings involuntarily.
    “I’m coming to that,” it said on a pleased note. Several beings began to wonder: Was this how Thwurbullerian stories went? and: How long did Thwurbullerians live for, again? and: Just how slow was Luqullan public transport? And like that.
    And the Thwurbullerian began again: 

     They do it with little tubes, you see. Seventy-One from Different Untranslatable Shade of Mauve Sector, with your permission I’ll call it Seventy-One, had never realised that, when it set out on its endeavour to breed from them. For those of my audience not acquainted with the term “breed” I will just explain that in the case of certain beings, it’s a method of producing more beings of the same kind, or more strictly of the same genome. To many Thwurbullerians, and indeed, if I may say so, to many beings of the two galaxies, this of course is a distasteful concept, not to be anything-ist, but Seventy-One had the true pioneer spirit, doubtless derived from our valiant predecessors who founded the beautiful mauve world which we modern ones know as Luqulla, many megazillion IG years ago.
    The endeavour of the valiant Seventy-One was the more complicated in that more than one member of the species is needed for the breeding process to take place.—Something like the better-known process used by the Yufwrs, with which many beings from the two galaxies will be familiar.—Seventy-One had failed for what in our Thwurbullerian terms was some considerable time to make any progress with its valiant endeavour, even though it had done the requisite Third School Bio course, graduating with the highest honours from the extremely well thought of New Rthfrdian Correspondence Third School. It was only after a chance encounter with another Bio student in an establishment not unlike the one in which we are currently taking our ease that Seventy-One realised its mistake: its specimens had the wrong little tubes!
    Several IG years passed and the valiant Seventy-One had failed to track down any more specimens for its gallant endeavour. Should it give it up? Its affines urged it to—in particular one known to Seventy-One’s affinity group as “Bossy Elderly Affine Thirty-Two from Different Untranslatable Shade of Mauve Sector.” But was defeatism a characteristic of the Thwurbullerian nature? No! Not of that of the valiant Seventy-One, certainly. Doggedly it persisted…
    Several more IG years passed fruitlessly. Then at last Seventy-One made a break-through! A distant affine serving a tour of duty on Gall’ay’a reported that many specimens were available there, to beings possessed of the requisite number of igs and ready to offer suitable conditions. Immediately the valiant Seventy-One shipped aboard a tramp Bhylloblaster bound for the Fourteenth IG Sector. After a wait of only six IG months it was able to take ship as a supernumerary on a rather cramped Space Fleet Exploration vessel. But what did cramped conditions matter to a Different Untranslatable Shade of Mauve Sector affine in quest of its long-sought goal? The vessel dropped it off at sp-Or D’tenmy III in the Five Hundred and Eighty-Ninth Sector. From there it was less than a zillion light-years to its destination! 

    “I’ve been to sp-Or D’tenmy III,” noted BrTl at this point. “Well, trans-shipped there. It’s about five times IG-normal grav.”
    “Yes, very comfortable indeed,” agreed the Thwurbullerian placidly. “Just as well, because Seventy-One had rather a longish wait there. –That n’nk salt looks delicious with the jing-jing nuts: I wonder if I should try it?”
    “No!” hissed Dohra in horror, leaning forward urgently as the being’s large appendage hovered over the salt. “Don’t, Forty-Four! I don’t know how I know it,” she said, going very pink, “but it wouldn't suit your metabolism.”
    “Really? Oh, nor it would,” it realised. “You should have been a Full Surgeon!”
    True, there were beings in the two galaxies to whom the remark would pass as a compliment. BrTl eyed her warily. She appeared to be one of them, phew! Given that blaster on her mammalian hip. “I’d adjust my FW pack if I were you, Forty-Four,” he noted. “Any tendency, however slight, in the direction of, um, Special Offer, and they do tend to, um, nod off, so to speak.”
    The Thwurbullerian fiddled with its FW pack. “You’re right,” it said placidly.
    “What’s in the salt, anyway?” asked blndreL. “It tastes lovely!”
    Emanating immense gratification, the Feeny-Argyllians chorused: “Ground ur-ur flowers!”
    “Ground ur-ur flowers!” explained the yellow Flppu.
    BrTl’s mouth sagged open but no sound came out of it. Ground ur-ur flowers? The plasmo-blasted things were one of the dearest commodities in the Known Uni— Oh.
    I’m paying—I’m paying!
    “Thanks, One and Two,” he croaked. “Terribly generous of you.”
    “Try some!” they urged.
    Unless flower things were actual poison, to him they usually tasted like nothing. Well, mixture of grass—even if it was green, no xathpyroid would want to eat the stuff—and nothing. Surreptitiously he adjusted his FW pack. He took a nut and dipped it in the salt. Ugh, salty!
    “Um, yes. Deliciously salty.”
    “Better for you than nymbo cheese,” noted Dohra with a twinkle in her round mammalian eye.
    “It’s very dear here,” warned the Nblyterian.
    “I know,” he groaned. “Just wishing.”
    Allow me!—Allow me! “Allow me!” chorused One and Two.
    “Um, no, really,” he said weakly. “It’d give me a sugar high, and solid though this lovely bar is, I can assure you you don’t want that. Thanks all the same.”
    “Fried grqwary wings?” offered the Flppu unexpectedly, was the plasmo-blasted being reading him?
    “No!” it squeaked to the emanations. “This humble s-being once knew a xathpyroid who cared for them— Much, much smaller than your magnificent self, Great Master BrTl!” it squeaked anxiously.
    “For Federation’s sake! Don’t call me that, S-Fl’Chuyilleea!”
    “It didn’t learn it off me,” said its paired masters weakly. “It used to belong to a Friyrian, though.”
    “No wonder! –You’re forgiven, S-Fl’Chuyilleea. I could just do with some delicious grqwary wings. Or legs,” he allowed fairly.
    After a certain polite altercation over who would pay, which BrTl graciously allowed the Feeny-Argyllians to win—well, they must be wealthy beings if they could order up ground ur-ur flowers for a scattering of chance-encountered beings out beyond the last black hole—the company settled back with fresh drinks, more jing-jing nuts, and the best part of four adult grqwaries, each one of which would have weighed considerably more than half of what Dohra did. Just a snack—yes. 

    And the Thwurbullerian continued: 

    Seventy-One had a long wait on sp-Or D’tenmy III. However, this was not as tedious as it might have been to some, since the planet has about five times IG-normal grav. But it must be admitted there was very little for a Thwurbullerian to do there. A generous trader captain offered it a lift to the fourth moon of Far Gertunny, within relatively easy reach of Gall’ay’a. However, what was the likelihood of managing to get a ride from there? It was an agonising decision. Eventually the valiant Seventy-One decided to wait it out on sp-Or D’tenmy III. If the worst came to the worst, it would take the passenger service to Little Wincooffanellaway and pay the IG C&E transit charge to trans-ship to Gall’ay’a. At least this would have the advantage of allowing it to spend a night in comfort at the Wincooffanell City Astoria.
    IG weeks passed, then months… Would Seventy-One be the first Different Untranslatable Shade of Mauve Sector affine to pay an IG C&E transit charge? How humiliating! But that valiant Thwurbullerian would have suffered even that in order to succeed in its mission.
    But as it turned out, this wasn’t necessary. A trader ship arrived with a holdful of excellent dried mwopplell, headed for Gall’ay’a itself, and for only a very moderate charge the generous captain allowed Seventy-One to ship aboard. Not only that, the being allowed it to act as Ship’s Official Mwopplell Taster for the duration of the voyage!
    –At this stage perhaps I should pause to explain to those not familiar with the commodity—currently quoted at zero point seven eight one nine five igs per IG ton on the IG Commodities Exchange—that dried mwopplell is a standard of the Thwurbullerian diet. Perhaps comparable to, uh… dhish in the Pomorphy diet—currently quoted at zero point seven eight one nine four igs per IG ton on the IG Commodities Exchange. Though of course mwopplell isn’t a grain.
    At last Seventy-One was on Gall’ay’a within reach of its goal! Eagerly it headed for the abode of its distant affine, naturally with a couple of tons of dried mwopplell for it.
    And soon an excellent specimen was obtained—with, my audience will like to be assured, an IG Vendor’s Guarantee of the right sort of little tubes—and Seventy-One embarked on the long, long voyage home.
    I shall spare my audience the details of this journey, and of the many trials and tribulations undergone by the gallant Seventy-One in accomplishing it. Suffice it to say that no Different Untranslatable Shade of Mauve Sector affine has yet paid an Intergalactic Customs and Excise transit charge! 

    The Thwurbullerian paused in its narrative in pardonable triumph.
    “Hurray!” cried the Feeny-Argyllians, the humanoid and the Nblyterian.
    “Hurray!” echoed the Flppu.
    “Thank you,” said the Thwurbullerian modestly.
    “Um, yes, good on the being. Um, is that It?” croaked BrTl. Xathpyroid stories weren’t in the least like that. All right, in the context of the Federated Worlds of the Two Galaxies a whole affinity group’s having managed never to pay a plasmo-blasted IG C&E transit charge was a triumph—but scarcely as heroic as the Thwurbullerian seemed to believe, surely?
    “No!” cried Dohra. “It hasn’t finished yet! Please go on, Forty-Four!”
    Emanating smugness, the Thwurbullerian went on: 

    Home at last! Eagerly the valiant Seventy-One introduced its new specimens to the specimen habitat. Would they use their little tubes to breed? Seventy-One watched keenly, not a muscle of its frontal lobes moving. Would they?
    Several Thwurbullerian weeks passed, and the brave pioneer maintained its watch. Food and drink was being brought to it in relays by close affines and the affinity group’s s-beings. By now several younger affines, less sceptical than their elders, had joined in the watch.
    More weeks passed…
    Then came a tragic morning. One specimen was discovered not to be moving! Seventy-One removed it carefully and examined it. No vital signs. It offered the specimen food. No reaction. A younger affine ventured the opinion that it was merely asleep but Seventy-One knew that their outer musculature moved when they slept, rather in the manner of we Thwurbullerians ourselves, if such a concept could be encompassed. There was no doubt that the specimen was dead. Nothing was known of the specimens’ own funeral rites, if they had any, so it was reverently launched to rest in the Thwurbullerian manner, with all due ceremonies and rites pertaining to the Different Untranslatable Shade of Mauve Sector affinity group.
    Then the watchers returned to their vigil…
    Were they perhaps offering the specimens the wrong food? Urgent dispatches passed to and from the distant affine on Gall’ay’a. A hyper-hop delivery of Gall’ay’an specimen food was made at great expense to the Different Untranslatable Shade of Mauve Sector affinity group. But what did that signify? It had become a matter of affinity group pride! Seventy-One’s specimens must breed!
    At last came the joyful day! Little tubes were observed to be in use! Seventy-One’s own Grade-A, maxi-galaxy, super-deluxe recorder-blob, purchased on its numbering day, was used to record the breeding.
    But then what? When would the new specimen arrive, and how? Younger affines eagerly consulted the Intergalactic Encyclopaedia. But Seventy-One had done that many, many IG years since. It knew that the very great deal of information in that excellent facility could not be translated into meaningful concepts. And so it proved: the younger Thwurbullerians blobbed off from the Encyclopaedia, baffled.
    “We shall just have to wait, young affines of Different Untranslatable Shade of Mauve Sector affinity group,” said Seventy-One.
    Many Thwurbullerian days passed. Alas, some of the younger affines, it pains me to admit it, lost interest in the great project. But Seventy-One remained constant to its watch.
    And then it happened! A new specimen was produced from one of the specimens that had used the little tubes! Seventy-One was vindicated. They did do it with little tubes!
    What a day of rejoicing that was for the Different Untranslatable Shade of Mauve Sector affinity group! Affines were admitted in small sub-groups to observe the specimens with their new one. They kept it very close: the Encyclopaedia had predicted that.
    Hail to the valiant Seventy-One from Different Untranslatable Shade of Mauve Sector! It had remained constant in its purpose like a true Thwurbullerian, undeterred by long waits in inhospitable transit lounges, unsuitable food obtained from public facilities, long-drawn-out journeys on Bhylloblasters, cramped quarters on smaller trading vessels, and the prospect of having to pay IG C&E transit charges! 

    “Hurray!” cried the Feeny-Argyllians, the humanoid, the Nblyterian, and the Flppu.
    “Hurray!” echoed BrTl quickly. This didn’t seem quite sufficient, so he added quickly: “All hail to the valiant Seventy-One from Different Untranslatable Shade of Mauve Sector!”
    “It was a lovely story,” said Dohra, blowing her nose and smiling mistily at the Thwurbullerian. “It was so sad when the specimen died. I’m so glad it turned out all right in the end.”
    “Thank you,” said Forty-Four, emanating immense gratification.
    “Um, but if I may ask,” fumbled BrTl, “what were they?”
    “What?” replied the Thwurbullerian mildly.
    “The specimens,” he croaked.
    Immediately the Feeny-Argyllians cried: “Whtyllian cats, of course!” and Dohra cried: “Singing fish, of course!” and blndreL cried: “New Rthfrdian lemurs, of course!” And slightly after the fair the Flppu cried: “Whtyllian cats, of course!”
    “They do it with little tubes,” explained the Thwurbullerian kindly.
    “Yuh—Uh—Which?” cried BrTl madly.
    “Yes,” said the Thwurbullerian smugly, adding: “Something untranslatable.”
    “What was that?” he croaked, shaking the wrist that bore the Special Offer piece of recycled space junk that laughably called itself a translator.
    Repeating kindly: “Something untranslatable,” the Thwurbullerian rose slowly, with due precautions as to smaller beings, to be merely literalist, that might be in the area. “It’s time for the hygiene cabinets, after all that ale. Please excuse me.”
    “Shall I order you another round?” asked the Nblyterian.
    “Thank you, blndreL, please do.” Slowly it surged away.
    In its wake BrTl gave a baffled glare round the company. “Well, what were they?” he demanded crossly. “And nobody dare to say something untranslatable!”
    “BrTl, they really were singing fish,” said Dohra, leaning forward to put a kind paw on his right forearm. BrTl didn’t flinch: after IG years of travelling with a humanoid, he knew their paws were often rather sticky and typically rather warm to the touch: their body temperature was a few degrees above that of a xathpyroid.
    “Yes, that’s right, they really were New Rthfrdian lemurs,” agreed the Nblyterian.
    “Yes, Whtyllian cats,” chorused One and Two.
    “Of course, magnificent Lieutenant!” squeaked the Flppu. “Whtyllian cats, and if Your Eminence would graciously permit it, a very small order of nnr—”
    “NO.” He glared round the company, baffled. They seemed genuine… He took a closer look. Great steaming piles of mok droppings, they were genuine! Desperately he drained his qwlot. Immediately a servo-mech was at his elbow. “Yes, I will have a nnru juice this time round,” he admitted. 

    The others gave their orders and the thing slid off. The rest of them were chattering but BrTl concentrated on making his mind perfectly, perfectly blank—so blank that if a thought had been bounced off his shield it would have gone Ping!—and waited.
    “Ah!” he said, seizing the nnru juice and downing it in one swallow. When your neck was as long as his, this wasn’t hard. “Bring me another.”
    “Should you, BrTl?” squeaked Dohra.
    “No!” said the Nblyterian with a loud laugh. –At least she'd stopped sounding like Bossy Elderly Cognate BrFv.
    “Probably not,” he admitted. “It may stave off complete insanity for another ten IG minutes or so, though. Did any other being notice that the Thwurbullerian—listen carefully, please—that the Thwurbullerian did not once say what those specimens were?”
    There was a short silence.
    “Um, actually he’s right,” said Dohra. “I suppose it didn’t say it.”
    “No, of course not,” said the Nblyterian comfortably. “They’re like that.”
    BrTl breathed carefully and just managed to retain the shreds of his sanity. And not to down the second basin of nnru juice in one swallow. He took a nut and dipped it in the salt, he felt he needed it. “That apart, it wasn’t a bad story, I suppose.”
    “All their stories are like that,” said the Nblyterian comfortably.
    All Thwurbullerian stories are like that, BrTl!
    BrTl jumped ten IG fluh. What are you doing here?
    Listening to the story. May it join you?
    He took a deep breath. Yes, join us, Trff. It already had, of course, having sensed his thought before he himself was aware he’d formulated it.
    “Hullo,” it said. “It is Trff.”
    “Hullo, Trff,” said Dohra, smiling innocently at its small, spheroid, fluffy person. “Are you another Flppu? What a pretty shade of green your fluff is.”
    “This great being is not a Flppu, Madam Dohra!” gasped S-Fl’Chuyilleea in horror.
    “And I’m not a ‘Madam’!” she said with a laugh. “May I ask what you are, then?”
    “It is Trff,” it said.
    “Yes, we’ve been through that,” said BrTl quickly.
    “It’s a Ju’ukrterian it-being,” explained the Feeny-Argyllians on a weak note.
    “Yes,” said blndreL very, very faintly.
    “Yes,” said BrTl airily, “actually it is. Haven’t any of you met one before? Fancy that. Its personal appellation—don’t bother to remind me that that’s a misnomer, thanks,” he said to it, “is Slp-Og V. Trff. Call it Trff. It’s our ship’s engineer,” he added carelessly.
    The Nblyterian choked and turned a very unusual shade of pale orange all over the considerable amount of Nblyterian skin that was on show.
    “We believe,” said BrTl modestly, “that there’s only one of them in the Known Universe.”
    “It-beings?” said Trff cautiously.
    “No!” he said quickly.—They were definitely not going to go into that! Not in a bar on some primmo dump a megazillion glps beyond Blerrinbrig’s System.—“One Ju’ukrterian it-being masquerading as a ship’s engineer.”
    “It is an engineer!” it objected with a cross whistle.
    “Literal-minded, like all engineers, I’m afraid,” said BrTl happily to the company. “Well, if it may join us—”
    “Of course!” gasped the Nblyterian. The servo-mech was at her elbow, proffering a glass of water. She gulped it down, and her normal shade of yellow-green—BrTl had tentatively classed it as pale jmappl—returned. “We’d be honoured, Great It-Being!”
    “Call it Trff,” it said, bobbing onto a humanoid-style chair next to Dohra’s.
    “See it doesn’t touch the fermented laa, Dohra: it’ll fall off that,” BrTl warned her.
    Dohra by this time was reduced to silence. She looked in horror from BrTl’s massive brown bulk—well, the brown bits were him, the greyish-green bits were his Durocloth coverall—to little Trff’s spherical pale green fluff. (A very charming shade indeed, not quite nwhortlp, BrTl would have characterised it as more vlohffert.) And back again.
    “Its tentacles are quite different from a Flppu’s flexible appendages, but many beings make that mistake, W’t, Dohra B’Jn, IG ID CT00002578-1345872/684005-90B-W47259/­00000044/02-F,” it said placidly.
    “Um, yes!” she gasped in horror, her hand going to her ID disc.
    “The number is also in your-its mind,” it said mildly. “Several times. Some of them are wrong.”
    “Yes!” she gasped. “Um, call me Dohra!”
    “So, you-it likes singing fish, Dohra?” it said kindly.
    “What? Yes! Oh—the story! Yes. It was a lovely story,” she said, smiling at it. “You heard it, did you?”
    There was a split IG microsecond’s pause. BrTl was tempted to close his eyes. You never knew what it was going to come out with, especially if, as at the moment, it was returning from a stint in space tinkering with the ships’ blobs a megazillion glps from nowhere, to Zuittelfink’s Asteroid and gone, beyond the last black— Huh?
    “It picked it up,” Trff was saying temperately. “It was a very Thwurbullerian story,” it added, emanating agreement.
    Dohra didn’t seem to notice it hadn’t actually agreed that it had been a lovely story and—BrTl took a closer look—in fact she hadn’t noticed. Just as well: they definitely didn’t want to go into that with the Ju’ukrterian mind involved, they’d be here until next Galaxy Day to the forty-second power!
    That doesn’t make sense, mathematically or any other way, BrTl.
    Figuratively it DOES! And you’re LATE, where WERE you?
    It sent him the coordinates, what else.
    Giving up entirely, he sent for a servo-mech and let Trff let blndreL order it a large laa shake, the menu’s claims on that one being apparently genuine, and a very small fermented laa. Those who had never before met an it-being were rather surprised at the way it siphoned the muck up when it came, but BrTl was past caring. At least it had got here, apparently unprobed by any being and more especially by any official being. Phew!