Hapdorn, 5 Fourthmonth 459D
Last week, Harshan and I were summoned to a meeting with the Population Council for Hapdorn Province. Don’t be deceived by the name—immigration and other population issues are not handled by the city or province of Hapdorn or even by the Duchy of Thorgelfayne! It’s all administered by the World Council of Countries and Independent Jurisdictions for the whole planet of Homeland; this is just the local office. On the way to the interview, I asked Harshan why that is. “I thought it would be quite obvious, Melissa,” he said. He took a moment out from driving the car to flash me one of his endearing smiles. “Population affects the planetary ecology. It is a planetary issue, and it has to be handled on a planetary basis. Don’t they do it that way back on Earth?”
“No,” I answered uncomfortably, “Not unless things have changed since we left. I do remember some talk back on Earth on that subject, but so far as I know, it’s handled by the individual countries.”
Harshan shook his head disapprovingly, “That’s not very practical,” he said. “They should at least coordinate it.”
At first, I was nervous when the summons arrived, because I was afraid they were going to review my immigration status, or even Darryl’s, and I have to admit to a small nagging fear that they might want to send us back to Earth. Then I decided that they probably wanted to urge us to become naturalized Thorgelfaynese. It certainly could have nothing to do with birth control, since our family has to stop at Darryl, who is adopted. (Since Harshan and I are different species, we can’t have any children of our own.) So as I ripped the envelope open, all those things were racing through my mind. I didn’t know what to expect.
When I read the letter, I immediately let out a squeal of delight! Harshan came running from the kitchen to see what was wrong.
“Harshan!” I gushed, “You’ll never believe the good news! Mother has decided to emigrate to Thorgelfayne and come live with us! The Population Council wants to interview us about it!”
“That’s wonderful!” he exclaimed, “We can finally stop worrying about her all alone back on Earth.”
“Why, Harshan,” I said in mock derision, “I didn’t know you cared about her so much!”
He smiled sheepishly. “Of course I care! Now I don’t want to seem impolite,” he said, “but not even mothers-in-law should have to live on such a primitive planet.”
I giggled with glee, and we hugged each other. Harshan lifted me off my feet and twirled me around a few times, until Darryl interrupted us.
“Hey, cut out the mushy stuff, you guys!” He admonished, “I can’t even hear the television!”
So we told Darryl the good news. He was so excited he forgot all about his television show and spent the whole day figuring out how we’d rearrange the furniture and what bedroom we’d assign to Grandma!
Well, the euphoria lasted all week—up until our interview with the Population Council this afternoon.
It began pleasantly enough, which is of course the norm around here. We were so excited that we got all dressed up and arrived sixteen minutes early! We even brought Darryl along, even though it wasn’t strictly necessary, because we thought it would be an educational experience. Anyway, I don’t know how we could have kept him away!
The council members were all very polite and kind, just as you would expect. After the introductions and the hugs, they very courteously explained that any change in the planetary population had to be carefully considered for its ecological impact, and that this interview was to help them determine that impact. They explained how the population of the planet Homeland has to be delicately monitored and balanced. If the population is too high, the planet would become uninhabitable. They ominously alluded to Earth as an example of a planet whose uncontrolled and unbalanced population growth was endangering its habitability. However, if the population sinks too low, it won’t be able to support a technological civilization over many generations. They gave an illustration from Zerpicker history, which was too obscure for me to follow. Apparently, the Zerpickers even developed spaceflight before they overcontrolled the population and fell all the way down into feudal times. They said that Zerpick is more ancient that one would think from their present state of affairs. Darryl’s class is currently studying extra-Homelander civilizations, so he found that part fascinating, but I wouldn’t know about such things. I was too busy reading between the lines. I squirmed uncomfortably in my chair as I realized that these people were going to decide essentially whether or not there is room for Mother on Homeland!
“What about when Darryl and I came to Homeland?” I asked, “I don’t remember a Population Council interview about that.”
“Of course not,” the moderator replied, “The first time you came, you were only a visitor. When you later decided to emigrate, the Council met and decided on you before you were permitted to immigrate, and they considered the report of a field representative who interviewed you before you left Earth. I believe it was the same person who interviewed your mother… Do you remember Dr. Bobo Lornifar?”
I nodded. I remembered the interview, although at the time I thought it was just a casual conversation.
The moderator continued, “We don’t wait for people to get here before we decide if they should be allowed to come; that wouldn’t be right at all! I assure you, we are following the same procedure with your mother that we did with you.”
Harshan squeezed my hand. His deep blue eyes were so concerned and loving. “I had to go through much the same thing just to change my permanent residence from country to country,” he whispered, “It’s just that in the case of aliens from other planets, like you and Darryl and your mother, they have to decide before they arrive.” I had occasionally wondered what mechanism allowed Harhsan, who is a Halakanian citizen, to live in Thorgelfayne, and now I knew; but I still was uneasy.
The Council asked a number of questions about Mother, most of which I thought were none of their business and some of which struck me as improper. I regretted bringing Darryl along, it was so embarrassing! I never thought Thorgelfaynese, let alone Homelanders, would stoop so low! They wanted to know about Mother’s health, her outlook on life, and even her ability to bear children!
I was shocked. “I can’t imagine why you would want to know that,” I stammered. My mother is an old woman!”
“Yes, we know that,” the moderator explained. He had the tone of voice you have when you are trying to discuss something distasteful as politely as possible. “But you do know that there are a number of fertile human males on Homeland, in fact, they are all right here in Thorgelfayne. We have to consider all possibilities, as unpleasant as they may be. We have to know if we are establishing a permanent Human population on this planet.”
At that point, I lost control. I must have called the Council all sorts of names, because even Harshan looked embarrassed as he tried to calm me down. I spat out the facts of life: even if my Mother were so inclined, she could never bear any children. She’s too old!
The moderator concluded the meeting awkwardly after telling us that Mother had already been interviewed by Bobo, and that his report was favorable, but I was so upset it passed right over my head. Before they adjourned, the Council told us that they would notify us of their decision by mail.
We drove home in stoney silence. It was a good thing, too, because I was fit to be tied.
Now I’ve had a chance to think it all over, and I have decided that I was wrong and they were right. They simply had to ask those questions, even if they were intrusive. I really regret the way I behaved myself, especially with Darryl present, but Harshan (as usual) handled it very well. Will they tell Mother to stay on Earth because of my outburst? Or for that matter, will they throw me out? Harshan keeps trying to reassure me that everything will be okay, but I can’t bring myself to be so optimistic. I’ve really messed things up bad.
Well, I feel better now for having gotten all this off my chest, but emptying the mail box sure does raise my anxiety level these days.
I’ll let you know as soon as we hear.