Bayswater, Saturday Night

from Cavalerii Ordinului Galactic

ISBN 973-24-0363-2

First published in Xenos in October, 1991 and has also appeared in a number of Romanian magazines.It was one of the stories in Checkpoint a collection of speculative fiction that appeared in 2007.

No, of course you can't read it. This version is in Romanian.

'How much longer will you be in observation mode would you say Dveng? I'm not trying to hurry you,but we've got a lot of work to do.'

'I may as well move out of it soon, Jira. I'm not making much progress, that's for sure.'

'What's the problem? Anything major that didn't show up on the survey? I suppose that we did rush it a bit.'

'No, it's not that. It's just that the communication problem is going to be worse than we thought. Do you know that these people use verbals for ALL their contacts?

There's no sign of any direct communication at all?

Not so far as I can detect up till now. It's what the survey suggested, but it's hard to believe. Good thing I practiced my verbals. I'm going to find somewhere quiet to switch modes now. Stay in touch - I might be needing some advice with this one!'

*

'You won't tell anyone, Shelagh, will you? You gave me your oath, don't forget.'

'Miriam, surely you trust me after all that we've been through together? It's just that you're asking me for advice and, well, what can I say? You know what you ought to do without asking me.'

Miriam used unnecessary force to grind her cigarette into the pavement with her smart black shoe. It was as if she was if she was trying to obliterate it altogether. Already she was wondering if she had done the right thing in telling Shelagh. Her normally pale face took on a slight flush as she looked up to meet her companion's challenging gaze.

'Well, a girl's got to make a living, hasn't she?'

Shelagh was given no opportunity to reply. She stood gazing thoughtfully at the figure receding through the crowds. Poor Miriam. A friend was a friend, yes. But this was something else. It was a fine thing to try to burden somebody with. Should she tell Tommy? There was no telling how a man like him would react. With a broken bottle, most likely. It would almost have been better if she hadn't said anything to anyone. After all...

*

'Is everything OK, Dveng?'

'Yes, I'm fine apart from having to wear these clothes. They feel such an encumbrance. Must be a bit of a nuisance when it comes to sex, as well.'

'You think of nothing else. Don't forget that this society has some pretty strangs ideas about that. Monogamy and repression are the way of things down there. Supposed to be, anyway, though it doesn't seem that they manage to live up to it. Where are you now?'

'I'm just coming into one of these highly populated areas that they seem so fond of. You should see what it's like, so many of them together. And the smell!'

'All part of the job, Dveng. Are you going to try to communicate now?

*

Dveng cut a noble figure as he strode purposefully through the Saturday evening throng. He had modelled himself carefully on a character in one of the audio-visual entertainments that he had sampled, much to Jira's amusement.

But being a member of a forward reconnaisance team could be a very serious business. On one planet he had only pulled Jira out a split-second before one of the natives had lunged in his direction with a ceremonial dagger. That planet had immediately been the subject of a deletion requisition. By now it would have been as if it had never existed. This place didn't seem to be especially dangerous, but you could never be quite sure. Jira was a good partner, though. Dveng knew that, throughout the time he was on this new planet, Jira would never let his hand stray too far from the emergency transport button. One scout on the ship and one on the planet's surface was a strict rule of the Empire, and it was a good one.

*

'Any progress, Dveng?'

'Not really. These creatures are impenetrable. They may look a lot like us but I'm really starting to believe that they function as almost entirely independent units.'

'Impossible. It's a reasonably advanced civilisation in some ways. They simply couldn't do it just on verbal communication. Look for some other indicators. Use your eyes - perhaps for some reason we're not receptive to their particular mental energy.'

*

Dveng walked on, trying to remember some of the elementary observation techniques he had learned so long ago at training school. Bayswater had its full quota of eccentrics, and the tall figure acting so oddly didn't stand out too much at first. But before long his overt interest in the people around him had started to attract attention. Some of the males were giving him hostile glances. Most of the females seemed to be deliberately avoiding his keen gaze, though there were a few in whom he thought that there was a hint of a more familiar response.

*

'I think I'm on to something at last. These people seem to rely to an extraordinary degree on their facial expressions and bodily movements. Especially their eyes and a certain movement of their mouth. I think I could copy it well enough now if I tried.'

*

This one's not so bad, thought Miriam. Looks a bit peculiar with that crooked smile of his, though. Hope he's not dangerous. Pretty hunky all the same. He looks the spit of whatsisname on the films.

*

'I'm sure I'm getting through to one of the females, Jira. She's making one of those facial expressions to me. Now she's nodding her head and closing one of her eyes in the most peculiar way. You should see it. I'm going over to her. I'll be out of contact for a while.'

*

'Looking for a bit of fun, lover boy? You're a nice looking bloke, do you know that? Better than we're used to around here'.

'Good afternoon, Madam.' Despite all the practice, the words came to Dveng only with difficulty. Vocalising seemed quite unnatural when it was divorced from music in this way.

'Are you a foreigner, then? Never mind, I'll look after you. I'll show you a good time. I've got a room of my own. A nice clean one. Only forty pounds, or sixty for a special. Fancy the idea?'

Pounds? They were either something to do with weight or those strange exchange tokens that they used down here. But why was she seeking to transfer ownership - itself a difficult enough concept - to him. And what could this 'special' be? Better play along with her for now, anyway.

'That sounds most interesting.'

'You don't half talk funny. Where are you from?'

'Albania.' The woman's violent facial expressions had all but made him forget the list of countries he had memorised during his preparation, and he was glad he thought of this one. Never mind, he could tell the truth later, when they were in proper communication.

'All ban ear what? I've never even heard of that. Look we can't stand here talking on the street. We don't want Old Bill to start nosing into our business. Just follow me.'

Dveng anxiously looked around at the surrounding passers-by to see which of them could be the male named Bill. He couldn't identify him. In fact none of them seemed to be of an especially aged appearance. He then obediently followed her along the street, a little more closely than she had intended. She didn't respond to any of the the mental signals he was sending out, despite the closeness of their physical proximity. In fact, this seemed to cause her some agitation, so he dropped back a pace or two and contented himself with studying her appearance.

She was more colourfully dressed than most of the females he had seen here and carried herself with more self-awareness. Her walk in particular was intriguing, consisting as it did of a series of exaggerated convolutions. Dveng found it pleasant to watch. It reminded him of nothing so much as some of the erotic group dancing at home. If anything it was more appealing... He had noticed that she wore on her face a great deal of the decorative material that most of the females here used. Dveng did not care for that, but he saw that even the clothes that she wore, a mixture of animal skins and plastics, could not disguise the splendour of her body. It was an altogether more voluptuous version of those he was used to in the females at home.

Their walk had taken them down some shabby, grey streets and through a door with peeling paint that had once been blue. Finally they climbed some creaking stairs and passed through another door. This must be the room of which the woman had spoken earlier, though it was nowhere near as clean as she had suggested.

'Have you got my little present then?'

'Present?'

'Sixty pounds, remember? All right, since it's you, anything you like for fifty.'

Dveng couldn't remember agreeing to any kind of transaction, but thought he should do his best to conform to the social rituals, even though he had no interest at all in aquiring this room. Societies at this level of development always attached a great deal of importance to that. He thrust his hand into his pocket and, pulling out a stack of tokens, counted out fifty of them.

'All for me?' Miriam's eyes seemed to start out of her head. 'They look nice and new. I hope they're real.'

Dveng smiled his lopsided smile. He realised that now was not the time to tell her that Jira's synthesiser had produced them. He watched as the woman examined the tokens with minute care. She seemed satisfied and her face contorted itself incredibly.

'Would you like to get undressed now? I'll just go into the other room to get myself ready for you. I'll give you something really special.

'Are we going to have sex then?' Dveng was a little surprised at this sudden turn of events. He thought they were still discussing the transfer of this room. It didn't fit in with his researches into the social rituals of this planet, which were admittedly a lot more cursory than they should have been. Still, he was quite ready for this sort of physical contact, especially remembering what he had seen earlier. There were strict prohibitions against physical contacts with native species of course, but Dveng didn't bother too much with them. This job didn't have many perks.

Miriam's mouth dropped open, then she threw back her head and laughed out loud.

'You're a character! I won't be long. Have a look at the magazines while you're waiting.' Miriam liked this one, despite his oddity. She was humming quietly to herself as she left the room. She could even ... yes, why shouldn't she do that for him? After all, he had just given her five hundred pounds!

Dveng quickly and gratefully divested himself of the unfamiliar clothes. Jira had done his best with the synthesiser but they still itched unbearably. He picked up one of the magazines and flipped through it casually. The magazine, an old one by the look of things, mostly consisted of anatomical studies of not very good quality. The pages were crumpled and appeared to have been through many hands before his own. Some of them were even stuck together. He wondered what purpose they could serve. But not for too long, for the woman returned. She was wearing a flimsy costume, obviously meant to be decorative rather than functional. And he had been right: she did have a remarkable body. The women of this planet were a little distorted and bloated, but in a most appealing way. He was looking forward to this. It had been a long time since he had shared tactile content with any female...

*

'Dveng! You should have maintained better contact. You didn't answer any of my communications, and then all of a sudden you request immediate transportation back to the ship. What happened? Were you in any danger?'

'No, no danger. It's just that I realised that this planet could never be sutable. We may as well requisition its deletion'.

'So suddenly? Your initial reports were full of promise. Well, what was the problem? What are we going to put in the report?'

Dveng looked at Jira with tired eyes. He was a good partner but -

'Jira, we really need to into direct contact before you can properly understand.'

Poor Dveng. What an experience. Now Jira understood why he had made such an urgent request to be transported back. He was right about this planet. The inhabitants all lived such isolated and lonely lives. They were incapable of proper expression of their thoughts and feelings. What a way to live! Even during sexual coupling there was no real communication. It was a corrupt, purely physical, act.

Dveng had been upset by that more than anything. It had always meant so much to him. That was why he had always tried to ignore Dveng's occasional physical forays among the native females, despite the severest laws against it. It was nothing less than bestiality. But hey operated a long way from home, and despite this flaw Dveng was a great one to work with. He was quite probably the best scout the Empire had. Perhaps he had been wrong to allow it. Never mind, they were due for some home leave very shortly. He remembered that Dveng had told him that he was to transfer to a new, larger, social group. He was especially looking forward to being able to enjoy sexual relations with all the women in his new community. That would do him a lot of good after this disturbing experience.

*

A heavy fist pounded against the door.

'Miriam. It's me. Let me in - I want to talk to you.'

Miriam nervously opened the door. She new that this moment had to come, but she hadn't expected it to come so quickly

'I haven't seen your punter come out. Shelagh told me that you had one up here and I've been stuck downstairs like an idiot waiting for him to come out. What's going on?'

'I - I don't know.'

'What kind of answer is that? What do you mean, you don't know?'

'That's just it, Tommy. I really don't know. One minute he was here and - you know - and the next I go for a glass of water and when I come back he's gone. And he just couldn't have gone out of the room without me knowing. And now you tell me that you were waiting downstairs. The funny thing is, he left all his clothes here.'

Miriam sensed the quick anger rising within her protector. He looked around the room to see if there was someone to vent it on. There were no hiding places in the room. She edged away. She had tasted his temper before.

'And I'm supposed to believe that?'

'Don't get mad, Tommy. He paid first. He paid well. Look.' She handed over five hundred pounds. 'He must have made some mistake. I think he was a foreigner.' She wasn't going to tell him or anyone else about the two thousand she had found in her strange customer's pockets. The way things were looking, she might be needing that.

'Very nice,' he said with only momentary surprise. He slipped the money into his pocket as if he was used to getting such an amount every day. 'But I've been talking to Shelagh about you, Miriam. You've been keeping something from me, haven't you?' Tommy was carefully putting on his black leather gloves. She knew what that meant. What a fool she had been to trust Shelagh.

'Tommy, please. I've been good to you. It needn't be so bad - I can still work for you. Anyway, that doctor only said that I tested HIV positive. That doesn't mean I've got it. It doesn't, does it Tommy?

===


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