REUNION - V - Education (b)
Wednesday, November 2, 2011

You can never really go home again


Before they can even step off the ramp, something that looks like a self-propelled lawnmower rolls up, and begins scolding them! “What are you barbarians doing? You’ve damaged my meadow! Go away!”

Jayne says; “Jian ta de gui! (Like Hell!) I’m not taking no orders from some gorram machine. Get outta here!” and takes a swat at the mower with the butt of his rifle.

To the surprise of everyone, the machine reacts with anger; “Damaging maintenance equipment is illegal! This is MY meadow, and you will leave when ordered!" The engine rises in pitch, and the mower blades begin to spin, and extend further – it moves threateningly toward Jayne.

Suddenly the attack is joined by something that looks like a set of floating hedge trimmers! “And you singed the leaves on my trees when you were coming down! Can’t you be at least a little bit careful?”

Now they both launch themselves at Jayne, who finally has to retreat back into the ship. “What kinda place allows ruttin’ dangerous machines like that to wander free?”

With their target in retreat, both machines stop, then cry in unison; “Why couldn’t you land at the spaceport like civilized people do?”

The mower adds; “Don’t tell me Port Control told you to land here!”

Mal asks; “What gorram Port Control? We called and called just before we started down, and got no response!”

The clipper ask incredulously; “You called today? On a Thursday? What did you expect?”

"I expected someone to answer!"

"You mean you expected to actually talk to a real live person?"

After several more fruitless exchanges, Inara steps forward and charms the machines into telling them where the Port is. As the two machines move close to her she pats each on a side, and they point to what looks like any other field, about a kilometre away.

Jayne mutters; “Wu bu shin wo dah yan jing! (I don’t believe my eyes!) Is she goin’ to take the ruttin’ things to bed too?”

After several protests from the machines that they really can’t go to the Port without an appointment, Mal has everyone get back on board, and soon Serenity is settling down in what seems to be an absolutely empty meadow, a nondescript building with a sign saying "Houston Spaceport" at one end. They get out to go exploring, and the first unusual thing they discover is that the “grass” underfoot is not only as hard and flat as concrete, but shows no sign of scorching from their landing! Mal and Jayne want to explore the building, but it’s locked and shuttered, looks like it’s been that way since the Colonists left 500 years ago, and there’s not another sign of human presence in the entire area.

After wandering around for hours, Inara is ready to give up; "Whoever or whatever the 'Port Controller' is, he or it is not here. I think this planet is as abandoned as we were taught in school."

Diana is forced to agree; "It looks like the entire place is being maintained by machines like the ones we saw earlier. I see no evidence of human presence at all!"

But just as they all agree that must be the case, a huge spaceship appears, and they watch in amazement as it lands on the far side of the Spaceport. Soon an entire fleet of robots appears from behind the building and begins unloading cargo.

Mal and Jayne move closer, trying to see just where they're taking things without getting run over in the process, but it's difficult, as the machines seem oblivious to them. It's apparent that the only way they'll find out anything is to go to the ship, get behind the stream of robots, and watch where they're going.

They arrive just in time to meet a young man as he exits the ship. He’s even more surprised than they are! “Who are you? How did you get here?”

Mal explains that they just arrived, and the man looks at them in amazement – “On a Thursday? With no papers? You can’t do that! Why didn’t you send a request ahead?”

Mal has to ask: “Send to who? Nobody answered on any frequency!”

Jayne mutters, “Didn’t we just go through this?”

The man isn’t getting any sensible answers, so he tries a different line of questioning; “What planet are you from? I don’t recognize the type of vessel.”

Simon begins to explain about the ‘Verse, but Mal cuts him off; “We just arrived from Oasis.”

“Oasis? Nobody comes from Oasis! Nobody on that planet EVER leaves!”

The rest of the Serenity crew arrives, all amazed to find a real human. And that human is now fully convinced that the entire crew is either hopelessly stupid or incorrigible liars.

Based on that understanding, the conversation can begin in earnest…

Jayne wants to know, “Where are the gorram cities? And the people?”

The answer; “There is only one city, and you’re standing on it! The people are right underneath us! Don’t any of you know anything about Earth?”

The entire crew is stunned into silence. When everything you have been taught in the past, and everything you’ve been experiencing recently is suddenly contradicted by one man who seems quite certain of his facts, what is there to say?

Inara finally recovers enough to apply a little diplomacy; “As you so correctly pointed out, nobody before us came from Oasis, so it’s quite true we know very little. Could you take a few moments and explain the basics to us, Mister – I don’t even know your name…”

It may have been her carefully chosen words, but more likely it was the soft smile and the eyelashes, but in any event, it works; “My name is Jan, and of course I’d be glad to help out. What would you like to know first?"

Since Inara started him talking, it’s best if she asks first: “Well, could you please tell us where we are? This is supposed to be a spaceport, but it looks like a park. In fact, the whole planet looks like a park! Where are the cities and how do we get to them?”

Jan answers, “You ARE new, aren’t you? Well, you are standing on the one and only city. Long before the exodus, the cities grew and merged. But as the land became buried under the buildings, it was decided that the roofs of the buildings should be rebuilt as one huge park. But now our population is very low, the city mostly empty, and almost no one comes up here anymore.”

“Also, nobody on Earth really cares about the Galaxy outside of their work with UniWiki, which is available everywhere. So there’s virtually no inbound or outbound traffic. We only get 3 or 4 arrivals and departures per spaceport per day.”

Zoë adds acidly, “And only one day per week.”

But Jan corrects her; “No, visitors can come any day of the week, but they must make reservations. But the Controller has barely enough interest to look at a week’s worth of incoming Wave messages on Wednesday, and assigns each flight a two or three hour window, so that the limited numbers of trucks and busses don’t get overloaded. With assignments being made on Wednesday, calling on Thursday means you will have to sit and wait for a week for an assignment, and up to another week for your turn!”

Mal asks; “Then why are you still flying?”

Jan shrugs. “There are a few dozen of us who pilot these large freighters from Venus to the remaining spaceports, importing certain foods that cannot be grown on Earth from Venus which has been turned into one immense garden. We each make a trip every weekday regularly, so we have a special pass, which means we don’t need to bother the Controller for authorization. The ship is unloaded automatically. In fact it’s being unloaded as we speak, as you can see.”

Just then his radio squawks, and he turns away. When he turns back, he says, “Well, I guess you’re going to learn more about the Spaceport Controller. He wants you to come to his office. You don’t know where that is? No, of course you don’t. Follow me.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

He leads them to the terminal building, and the door that looked like it hadn’t been used in centuries opens smoothly without even being touched.

Jan takes them down in an elevator to the heart of the city. There seems to be a few people about, but not at all the crowds the crew expected.

As Jan takes them to the Controller, they take in the sights… Suddenly, Zoë spots a huge “Blue Sun” sign on an office! She asks Jan about it, but he just shrugs – just one more off world company dealing with the Earth City.

The crew is getting more and more confused as they travel – they have no frame of reference, it is so different from anything that exists in the ‘Verse.

Finally, Diana just has to ask; “This is nothing like any major planet I have ever seen. Where are all the people? The Army? The government offices?”

Now Jan is confused; “Army? What for? We’re not at war with anybody. As I said before, nobody on Earth cares about the rest of the Galaxy, and there’s only a few hundred million of us anyway. We can’t even fill THIS planet. Why would we want more? As for government, we have little need. Humans do as much or as little as they wish, and specialized robots do anything that MUST be done. If it wasn’t for off-worlders like yourselves, we wouldn’t even need officials like the Port Controller.”

After letting everyone digest that unexpected arrangement, Jan takes them to the Controller, who is dozing in front of a fireplace in an enormous, nearly empty room. Once Jan wakes him, he stands, looking disdainfully at the rather ragged looking group from Serenity: “What were you thinking? That you can disrupt our entire operation and just land whenever and wherever you want? Explain yourself!”

Mal begins; “We tried to call ahead to get permission, but there was no answer –”

This only angers the official even more: “Call? Who did you think would answer? I need a written request filed with my office. Good God man, didn’t you think to learn proper procedure before coming to Earth? It’s all laid out very clearly in UniWiki!”

Simon tries to explain, “We’ve just recently obtained our first copy of UniWiki and –”

“Just obtained it? What sort of savages am I dealing with? Or are you simply liars? We can’t have people just setting down anywhere they want! This is going to wreak havoc on my freight scheduling for months!”

Mal tries to calm him; “I don’t think our landing hurt your schedule too much. There were no other ships there at the time, and we’re not interested in freight.”

The man goes apoplectic, screaming, “You now want to tell me how to schedule? Anarchy! If we let this sort of thing go on, chaos will take over the entire planet! I’m having you charged, straightaway! I’m calling Judge Harcourt!”

But the response is all too preditable. The Judge isn’t in. However, the Judge’s scheduling computer comes on line. “We have an opening at 10 o’clock, May 17, 2536. That’s three years from tomorrow. Please be prompt.” The computer clicks off.

The Controller is visibly upset, and begins grumbling, “Why can’t I have a computer to do my scheduling? I’m a busy man. Busier than that fussbudget Harcourt!”

It’s a few moments before he realizes that the Serenity crew is still in his office; “Are you still here? You heard the scheduler. We’re done here. Please leave.”

Zoë asks incredulously; “What are we supposed to do while waiting three years?”

The Controller’s answer is abrupt; “I don’t care. Just don’t miss the appointment.”

As they leave, Mal asks Jan, “Can’t we do anything about this? Who will stop us if we try to leave the planet?”

Jan thinks this is about the silliest thing he’s ever heard – “Nobody will stop you. Why would they? There was no order to hold you.”

Inara must know: “What will happen if we don’t come back in three years?”

Jan shrugs; “The appointment will be rescheduled of course. What else would they do?”



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