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Grand Central Arena: Chapter Twenty Two

       Last updated: Monday, December 21, 2009 19:30 EST



    The tall, green-and-black form of Orphan stood smoothly as the door opened, the clean, sharp lines of his coloration giving an almost formal air to his appearance, emphasized by the clockwork precision of his movements. The alien stood a good thirty meters from the doorway, clearly taking no chances on being thought of as a threat. "Ariane. Dr. Sandrisson. Dr. DuQuesne. I greet you again, and hope that we are in fact to work together." An uneven ripple of the wingcases. "I trust you understand boredom as I do."

    Ariane smiled. Trustworthy or not, Orphan had a sense of humor and – in translation, at least – of style that she found appealing. "So sitting in the corridor waiting was not to your taste?"

    "No, I am afraid not. I did take some time to explore your outer area – in part to locate disposal areas for wastes, if you understand my meaning. I have found one of your Outer Gateways, though it is of course useless at the moment."

    And already I've got another question. "Well, the fact that I don't understand that pretty much brings us to the purpose of this meeting."

    Orphan's head moved slightly back-and-forth, like a bird surveying an unknown object. "Purpose? I had thought you would wish me to bring you to Nexus Arena, for I cannot leave safely without your cooperation, and you would be unwise to enter without a guide."

    "We'd be even more unwise to enter without knowing a hell of a lot more than you've told us, Orphan." DuQuesne surveyed the alien narrowly, arms folded. "You've been part of this … Arena for a long time, I'd guess, and you can tell us the answers to a lot of questions." He paused. "Unless there's some reason you need to keep us completely in the dark before you drag us into this 'Nexus Arena' place."

    Orphan's wingcases scissored back and forth several times, left-right-left-right like a pendulum; the face, being somewhat flexible but still more chitin-like than fleshy, showed less expression than his body language. Suddenly he gave vent to the buzzing sound that was immediately translated as a hearty laugh. "A reason? Yes, but – I must confess – one purely personal, and perhaps one that you would not understand; it may seem trivial or nonsensical to you."

    "Try me," DuQuesne responded.

    Orphan seemed to understand immediately what was meant by that fairly opaque phrase. Either the translation's even better than I imagined, Ariane thought, or Orphan's awfully good at guessing. "Very well," the alien said, hands given that assenting tap, "I was looking forward to observing your reactions to each successive discovery and encounter; in all my lifetime I have seen no First Emergents, and likely never will again, and to see their first comprehension… do I make any sense to you at all?"

    "Orphan," said Simon in appreciative tones, "what you say makes perfect sense to us, and by it I think we now know you are more like us than we suspected."

    "You wanted to watch our faces – or body language – when we hit every revelation, because you'd vicariously experience the sense of wonder with us – and, maybe, because you'd have a completely irrational, but perfectly real, sense of pride over the Arena and its wonders." Ariane laughed and shook her head. "Meaning absolutely no offense – indeed, intending this as a compliment – Orphan, that is an entirely human reaction."

    Orphan responded with that bow-like motion of respect. "Then as a compliment I shall take it. It pleases me that we have such perceptions in common, for perhaps that will allow us to work together more smoothly." He surveyed them, taking in the bags and equipment they carried. "So, I will have to forego that … dramatic pleasure, but perhaps I shall have a similar one in revealing all to you in a single discussion. Since you still would not wish to invite me in, and subject me to temptation once more, shall we move a bit farther along to one of the living areas?"

    It didn't take long to get to the oval room with the strange support structures; DuQuesne and Simon set up a table Tom had fabricated to fit between two of the supports, while Ariane unfolded some chairs. Orphan spun one of them so the back faced the humans, and sat in it, leaning on the back with his arms. "My tail and wingcases are not accomodated by your sitting arrangement," he said apologetically. "But it is superior to the floor, which has been my only choice until now."

    "Glad it's at least of some use." Ariane said. "Orphan, the first question actually is about you." She glanced over the alien, noting the nearly camouflaged pouches and belts that were the only equivalent of clothing Orphan seemed to wear. "You obviously can't be carrying too much on you in the way of food or water. Our time limit, obviously, is how long you can wait before you go back to some location you can get food. Water we can supply, of course."

    "It is even possible, Captain Austin, that you will be able to supply food eventually." Orphan said. "Once we can establish methods to communicate replication patterns for food, and so on. But indeed my supplies are limited, and it has already been some time. I would appreciate very much some water now, in fact." DuQuesne passed him a canteen; Orphan opened it, seemed to sniff at it, then extended a tubelike organ – tongue? and drained the entire container in moments. "Excellent. You appear to prefer fewer dissolved minerals than we do, but that was quite adequate. You filtered out microorganisms as well, of course."

    "Naturally," Simon responded. "While it would seem very unlikely that you could catch one of our diseases, there are bacteria which have a rather wide spectrum. Of course, that doesn't eliminate the potential risk from our current contact."

    The wingcases snapped open and shut. "Such risks are not great. Though not zero, either. Many lifeforms are far more close in their biology than original speculation indicated – to the point that we can share both diseases and foodstuffs with various other races. This has, as one might imagine, been a source of glorious argument for the biologists of a thousand species." Orphan stretched and sat down again; Ariane wasn't sure, but his face seemed just a touch more rounded and glossy than it had been. "Ahh, I feel much refreshed. To return to your question, then… I would feel uncomfortable about spending more than another day here. I did not flee with anything but a few travelbars, which are not very adequate nourishment."

    "Then we'd better not waste much time." Ariane said. "Orphan, tell us about the Arena."

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