44. TROUBLE FOR SITSIT*

Sitsit tells Laurentia that his tribe is happily settled on Obbo 4.
Why would he lie?

Laurentia is not pleased when she is ordered to take Tony and Bea to visit the tribe which has recently moved from Junic 6 to Obbo 4.  She is even less pleased when they go to Obbo 4, and get a rude welcome from Sitsit, the tribe’s young chief.  Tony senses the bitterness in Sitsit’s mind, and goes back later to find out the reason.

Length : 8 700 words.

 

1

“YOU AGAIN!”

“Open.” The transporter door slid aside. The Bean and I went out onto the planet Delve 12 – into a long corridor with bays containing the doors of the transporters that led to other planets. Travellers of different shapes, sizes and colours hustled past.

I started along the corridor. “Now where’s the Obbo 4 transporter?”

“No, Tony,” said the Bean. “We can’t go to Obbo 4 without telling Laurentia.”

“Why? D’you want another telling-off?”

“No, Tony. Laurentia is the official Guardian of that tribe. We can’t visit them without….”

“You again! I have been watching for you!” This could only be Laurentia, barging through the crowds towards us. She was a small, round-faced woman, old enough to be a homely mum in a telly ad, but she didn’t have the face for that. It reminded me of my mum on a not-pleased-with-Tony day. Her uniform, like a grey tracksuit, had purple bands round the chest and cuffs, showing she was an Administrator of the Galactic Federation.

The Bean squeezed my arm – warning me not to get steamed up. She needn’t’ve bothered. She and I are agents of the Federation – Troubleshooters – and we had permission to go to Obbo 4. Laurentia was on a loser here. I was going to enjoy seeing the Bean telling her so.

Laurentia stood in front of the Bean, with her hands on her hips, and her eyes gleaming. “Where do you think you are going?” Young people from Earth can sense the minds of people from other planets. Laurentia’s mind signal was weak, but her anger was so strong I sensed it.

“Obbo 4,” answered the Bean. “Didn’t you get the message from Obsidian?”

“Yes, I did! Yesterday, you pranced in here, wanting to visit that tribe on Obbo 4. I am the Commander of the Federation base on this planet, and the official Guardian of that tribe. I refused permission to visit them.”

The Bean began, “If you would let me explain….”

“I am not interested in your explanations. How old are you?”

“Twelve.” The Bean’s truthful, so she added, “Nearly.”

“Twelve!” exclaimed Laurentia. “You fancied a little trip to Obbo 4. You were refused. But you wanted to have your way. So you went crawling to the Commander of all the agents.”

“From your attitude yesterday, I didn’t think you’d listen to anyone else.” The Bean’s voice was snippy. She was getting annoyed.

Laurentia glared at her. “I wish I could stop you. That tribe asked never to be troubled by visitors. Never! You know what that means. What will they think when I allow a silly little girl to disturb them?”

“We’ll soon find out. And this is Tony. I’ve asked him to lead the visit.”

“What!” Laurentia’s face had been red. Now it got even redder. She asked me, “How old are you?”

“Thirteen.” If I was too cheeky to Laurentia, I’d get a telling-off from the Bean, but I couldn’t resist adding, “And a quarter.”

“And what gives you the right to barge onto Obbo 4, disturbing the people despite their wishes.”

“Bea asked me to go. She wanted somebody who could see it with fresh eyes.” That was true, but the main reason was that I happen to be a better mind-senser than her. We couldn’t tell Laurentia because we’ve been ordered to keep it secret. The Bean had wondered if Laurentia had a crooked reason for keeping people off Obbo 4. If she had, I couldn’t sense it, but it might be hidden by the anger.

Laurentia glared at us a bit more without speaking. Maybe she was wondering if she could still refuse to let us go to Obbo 4. But that would be defying Obsidian. It would get her in deep trouble.

At last, without a word, she turned her back on us and stormed off, along the corridor. The Bean followed, and so did I.

Laurentia stopped at the transporter door with the name ‘Obbo 4’ above it. She ordered, “Open.” The door slid aside, and Laurentia marched into the transporter, like a lift.

The Bean said, “Thank you for showing us the transporter. You needn’t come to Obbo 4 with us.”

“If you are going to that planet, I am coming with you. I will note the trouble you cause, and the damage you do, so that I can report them to Obsidian.”

“But you’re not wearing an expedition suit.” Over our uniforms, the Bean and I had thin but tough expedition suits. The helmets and gloves were on clips at our waists: the Bean thought it would be rude to wear them if we were meeting the chief of the tribe.

“An expedition suit is not necessary on Obbo 4.”

“The weather’s colder now than when you were there.”

“How did you know about my visit?”

“I’ve studied your report.”

“Well, I have no intention of wearing any fancy suit. This visit will be a brief one. I shall make sure of that.”

Without a word, the Bean went into the transporter, and I followed. Laurentia’s fury seemed to fill it. She snapped, “Close. Operate.” I felt the twist in my guts as the transporter worked. “Open.” The door slid aside, and I had my first look at Obbo 4.

2

“A FOOLISH QUESTION!”

After all the fuss, I didn’t think much of Obbo 4. The transporter was in a kind-of wood. The trees weren’t tall, but their trunks were twisted, with tufts of leaves on top. A few ragged bushes grew among them. The sky was dark grey, promising rain. A cold wind swirled into the transporter. I was glad the Bean had suggested wearing our expedition suits.

A muddy path wandered through the trees. As we started on it, I asked, “Bean, tell me about this tribe.”

Before the Bean could answer, Laurentia said, “No doubt she would get it wrong. I shall tell you, then you will have no excuse for rude behaviour. This part of Obbo 4 was uninhabited until 200 days ago, when the tribe moved here from the planet Junic 6.”

I asked, “Why did they move?”

“Give me time and I shall tell you. A gentleman called Elete 813 wished to use the island where they lived. He asked them to move.”

I didn’t like the smell of that. “Did they want to move?”

“Do you think they weren’t asked? They were given complete information about this place. I accompanied them when they came to view it. Every one agreed to move.”

“This is a cold, bleak place. Is it like the island on Junic 6 where the people used to live?”

“A foolish question! Do you think I didn’t ask? Vran, who is Elete 813’s manager, assured me that this place is better. You may be sure that the people gained by the move. On Junic 6, they lived in flimsy huts. Here, Elete 813 has built a row of houses for them. You will see it through the trees ahead.” It was a long concrete wall with a row of square holes – windows without glass.

Our path joined one that ran behind the houses. As we passed, I looked in a window but I couldn’t see much. A small room with a stone floor. An open doorway on the other side. Three rough bed-boxes, filled with dried leaves.

The path went round the end of the building to a bank of bare rock which sloped gently down from the front of the houses to a huge expanse of grey water. The only signs of life were three people in ragged clothes, standing up to their knees in the water with their backs to us.

I asked, “Is that the sea?”

“No,” answered Laurentia. “It is a wide river. When the weather is clearer, you can see the other bank.”

“What are these people doing?”

“What do you think they are doing? Fishing.”

“How many people are in the tribe?”

“Just over one hundred. Their island on Junic 6 was small: it would not support a larger number. They have more room here. The leader lives in the end house. This is his mother.”

She was sitting on a bench in front of the end window. Her skin was the colour of honey – runny honey – and her hair was black and straggly. She wore a ragged brown tunic, tied at the waist, but her arms and legs were bare. She was taking shellfish from a box at her left, cracking them open, scooping the flesh into a bowl on her knees, and throwing the shells into a box at her feet. She looked (and felt) cold and miserable, and I didn’t blame her. When she saw us, she was scared too.

Laurentia gave her a wrist unit. She took it as if it would bite her, and didn’t strap it on. Laurentia spoke into hers. The translation came through the woman’s and ours, in our own languages. “I apologise for this intrusion. I tried to prevent these insolent children coming here to annoy you. Where is your chief?”

Reluctantly, the woman put the wrist unit to her mouth. “Sitsit is fishing.” She pointed towards the nearest person standing in the water.

“Are you comfortable here in your new village?”

“We… we do not complain.”

“Thank you.” Laurentia turned to us. “You will not wish to disturb Sitsit at his fishing.”

I said, “We came here to see him.”

“So you intend to see him, even if he starves because you have prevented him from catching fish.”

I didn’t argue with her: I just started down the slope to the water. The Bean followed me. Laurentia called, “You have no consideration,” and came too.

Sitsit had rolled up the end of his tunic, but the left edge had unrolled and was hanging in the water. He was leaning forward with his back to us, peering into the water. His right hand was drawn back, ready to throw a long white spear.

Laurentia told us, “They are proud people. They would not accept help from the Federation, but I did persuade them to take these spears. They are much more efficient than the sticks they used on Junic 6.”

Sitsit turned to frown at us, then swung back to stare into the water.

I said to Laurentia, “Sitsit seems young to be the leader of a tribe.”

“He is no older than you are. When his father died, the people insisted that he should become their chief, although I urged them to appoint a sensible adult.”

The Bean asked, “When did Sitsit’s father die?”

“Just before they left Junic 6. It was an unfortunate accident. He stumbled, and stabbed himself with his own spear.”

I didn’t like the sound of that, but a question would just get a snippy answer, so I didn’t ask. I called, “Sitsit!”

Sitsit turned – for long enough to whisper, “Hush!”

So we stood at the edge of the water while the cold wind swept across the rock. I glanced at Laurentia. Her face was white, and her hands were tucked under her armpits. In my expedition suit, with my hands in my pockets, I was warm and comfortable. Except for my head. My nose and ears were nipping.

I asked Laurentia, “May I borrow the Obbo 4 wrist unit? Thanks.” Before she could refuse, I had taken it.

I waded out into the water. The ankles of my expedition suit were sealed over the tops of the boots, making everything waterproof, but it couldn’t keep out all the cold. And that water was cold! How could Sitsit stand there in it?

Behind me, Laurentia was making angry noises, but I ignored her.

Hearing my splashing, or seeing the ripples on the water, Sitsit straightened and turned. I gave him the wrist unit. “Hi, Sitsit. Sorry to bother you.”

Like his mother, Sitsit was miserable and worried. “You have driven away the fish.”

“Sorry about that. I’m an agent of the Galactic Federation. I’ve come to make sure you’re comfortable and happy here on your new planet.”

That turned his worry into fear, but he said, “I thank you for your visit, but you need not worry. We are very happy here.”