Believe it or not, I have arrived on Homeland!
The spaceliner voyage was surprisingly short. Since it took us four days to go the four light-years from Earth Watch Base to the Alpha Centauri Transfer Point, I figured on a week to ten days. But, as you can tell, it was much shorter than that!
The ship I was on from Alpha Centauri to Tau Ceti was simply stunning! I was constantly amazed at the open spaces and the luxurious decor. It was easier for me to believe that I was in a posh hotel than a space liner. One day, while I was enjoying the swimming pool, one of the other passengers explained that the ships on the feeder routes were older models. I described the ship in detail.
“Oh yes,” he nodded, “That was an old Halakanian Model 5 System Blazer!” He paused to take a sip of his drink, “They haven’t been built in a hexacentury and a half!”
I did some quick math in my head. Imagine! My spaceship was older than Mozart!
He wanted to know how I came to speak Thorgelfaynese, and I explained why I was travelling and that my final destination was Hapdorn.
“Congratulations on receiving the grant,” he said cordially, “I hope your trip will meet with all your expectations. But between you and me (and no offense is intended, mind you) those Thorgelfaynese are pretty strange!”
“In what way?” I inquired, surprised to hear a non-Human talk that way.
“They have a very peculiar form of government. Everything is done by experts; no real democratic vote. The Duke merely acts as a traffic cop to settle disputes about jurisdiction. That place really gives me political vertigo!”
I knew all about the Thorgelfaynese form of government from my orientation class, of course, but my ears stung to hear someone actually criticize it. I thought that everyone would consider it to be a very enlightened form of government, and I told him so.
“The Thorgelfaynese have benefitted us all far beyond their numbers; don’t get me wrong. All nations have their unique contributions. They have my respect, but I still think they are a little cracked...”
Seeking to change the topic, I asked him where he was from.
“I am a Natonian citizen,” he answered in obvious pride, “Natonia is a parliamentary democracy.” He lifted his drinking glass to slide the remaining pieces of fruit into his mouth. “I am an Economics Major at Snodgrass University, and that is why I speak Thorgelfaynese,” he continued. “However politically dizzy those Thorgelfaynese may be, they are no slouches when it comes to education. Best university system in the Spiral Arm!”
This really piqued my curiosity! I wanted to know all about Natonia; climate, language, people; that sort of thing. His answers didn’t appear to make much sense. Just a casual glance at a world map would show that, and I had studied a globe of Homeland for hours on end!
“There’s only one thing that puzzles me,” I ventured politely, “Could I be misunderstanding you? The nation you describe couldn’t possibly be in the northern hemisphere; why, the continents are too small, and...”
He interrupted me with a sharp laugh! “I guess you are confused, he said, “I am a Zerpicker! Natonia is a Zerpicker nation! I am returning to the university after a furlough back home!”
My goodness! Three sentient species in one lifetime, and most people only meet one!
I have to keep reminding myself that this is not fiction, and that even the most mature and advanced people might disagree in their mutual assessments. I guess that the maturity of the aliens stems not so much from what they think of each other, but whether and how they act upon what they think. Or, as I read in a book of Thorgelfaynese proverbs: “Thoughts are free, but deeds are not.”
Any way, the trip was quite short and before I knew it we had arrived. The Tau Ceti Transfer Point is located on Homeland’s first Moon, but I didn’t get a chance to see any sights. We were transferred to smaller shuttle craft, similar to the jitney that I left Earth in, but fancier.
From space, Homeland and Earth look nearly identical because the swirling clouds and blue oceans look the same. It’s only when you look very hard that you can see that Homeland has the continents in the wrong place-a giant one in the southern hemisphere, and a couple Australia-sized ones in the north. It would be very easy to convince a person that he had never left the solar system and was returning to Earth, but he’d have to be a little weak on geography and not very attentive.
The shuttle landed at the spaceport in Fomin, which is the capital city of Halakan, the oldest nation on all of Homeland. Fomin also is the host of the World Council of Countries of Independent Jurisdictions; and again I was frustrated in my attempts to see this wonderful planet. I had to catch a taxi and rush to the airport.
The taxi was my first proof that I was not on Earth! Oh, there was nothing unusual about the cab; it just looked like next-year’s model of something. Nothing strange about the streets or buildings; it just looked like I was in a fastidiously clean foreign country. But the cab was clean and the driver was nice! Now that’s never happened to me before! (No smart cracks from you, Ken!)
I noticed his key chain dangling near the steering wheel, so I asked: “Are you afraid someone will steal this cab?”
“No ma’am,” he replied in a thick, monotone Halakanian accent. “Hasn’t been a car theft in memory!”
“Then why the keys?” I asked smugly.
“Oh the keys! Ha ha, no! They’re a safety measure, ma’am! Wouldn’t want my kids to imitate their Daddy too early in life!”
“Oh,” I said, and slinked back into the seat. Back on Earth when my only contact with Homeland was through Ken Collins’ stories, I always wondered why John Anderson’s car had a key. Now I know.
The driver dropped me off at ThorgelfaynAire. They checked my baggage, validated my ticket, and before I knew it I was on the plane.
So here I am in the plane, seat belt fastened securely, seat back tray in the “down” position, writing you this rambling note. I still can’t see the sights! Nothing but sun and clouds outside.
A special message just for my friend Joanne: I’m okay now. I haven’t even thought of Harshan in three days.