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

“DID THEY WANT TO MOVE?”

When the Bean and I hurried into the entrance hall of the Galactic Federation base on the planet Delve 12, Laurentia, the commander, was waiting for us on the big, U-shaped settee. She was a small woman who looked about the same age as my mum. Her uniform, like a grey tracksuit, had purple bands round the chest and cuffs, showing she was an Administrator.

“Hi,” I said. “Sorry we’re late. We came as soon as we could.”

She stood up, frowning as she read the name on the dark green chest band of my uniform. “Tony, how old are you?”

“Thirteen.”

“Thirteen!” She asked the Bean, “You?”

“Twelve.” The Bean doesn’t like telling lies so she added, “Nearly.”

Laurentia said, “I asked Obsidian for help with a difficult problem. I expected him to send… experienced agents.”

The Bean used her snippy voice. “Do you want us to go?”

“N…no. Since he has sent you, I suppose we must make the visit. If you are quiet and well-behaved, you won’t do much harm.”

She wasn’t sure about that. I could tell because, like other young people from Earth, I can sense the minds of the people of other planets. That was probably why Obsidian had sent us on this mission, but Laurentia wouldn’t know because our mind-sensing is kept secret, even from base commanders.

I said, “Obsidian said you would tell us why you called us.”

“I’ll tell you as we go.” As we crossed the waiting room, she began, “About 150 days ago, a tribe moved from the planet Junic 6 to the planet Obbo 4. That’s where we are going.”

I asked, “Why did they move?”

“Give me time and I shall tell you. A wealthy man called Elite bought the island where they lived, and asked them to move.” (His name sounded like ‘Ee-light.’)

The Bean, still in her snippy voice, asked, “Did they want to move?”

“Do you think they weren’t asked? They were given complete information about Obbo 4, and every one agreed to move.”

At the transporter door, she ordered, “Open.” It slid aside, showing a small metal room like a lift. We went in. “Close.” The door shut. “Operate.” I felt the twist in my guts as the transporter worked. “Open.” The door slid aside, giving us our first look at Obbo 4.

I didn’t think much of it. 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. Although Federation uniforms are supposed to keep you warm, I couldn’t help shivering.

“The village is through here.” Laurentia led us along a muddy path through the trees.

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

“That is a foolish question. Do you think I didn’t ask? I had no time to visit Junic 6, but Vran, who is Elite’s manager, assured me that this place is similar. You may be sure that the people did not suffer by the move. On Junic 6, they lived in flimsy huts. Here, Elite has built a row of stone houses for them. You will see the back wall through the trees ahead.” It was a long white 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 and an open doorway on the other side. A rough wooden table and stools.

The Bean asked, “Why did you bring us here?”

“A few days ago, I visited the people here. They assured me that they are happily settled, but I was uneasy. I sent a message to Obsidian, explaining the situation and asking for help. I expected him to send two mature agents who could study the situation. Instead, he sent….” She stopped.

“Us.” I finished her sentence.

“Yes.” She stared at me. I sensed she was thinking of going back, so I moved on. “Then let’s see.”

“Y…yes.” She followed.

The path went round the end of the houses to a bank of bare rock which sloped gently down from the fronts 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. It is a wide river. When the weather is clearer, you can see the other bank.”

“What are these people doing?”

“Fishing.”

The Bean asked, “How many people live here?”

“Twenty-nine. Their island on Junic 6 was too small to support a bigger 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 house. Her skin was the colour of honey – runny honey – and her hair was black. She wore a ragged brown tunic, tied at the waist, but her arms and legs (from the knees down) 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 frightened 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. “Greetings. Where is Sitsit?”

Reluctantly, the woman put the wrist unit to her mouth. “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. We shall speak to Sitsit.” She took the wrist unit.

As she led us over the rock, she explained, “Perhaps Obsidian sent you because you are about the same age as Sitsit. His father was chief of the tribe, but he died shortly before they left Junic 6 so Sitsit became chief.”

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

“It was an unfortunate accident. He stumbled, and stabbed himself with his own spear.”

Sitsit was standing in the water, just above his knees. He’d 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 plastic 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 her, then turned back to stare into the water.

We stood for a while as the cold wind swept across the rock. Laurentia said, “Er…, Sitsit.”

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

I don’t know how long we would’ve waited, but the rain came on, not heavy, but big drops that splashed on the rock and made circles on the water.

Sitsit sloshed ashore beside us. When Laurentia gave him the wrist unit, he said, “I was fishing but I can’t see through the water when the rain breaks the surface.”

Laurentia said, “We are sorry to disturb you. These are Tony and Bea. They bring you greetings from the Galactic Federation.”

Like his mother, Sitsit was miserable and worried but he hid it behind a polite face. “Greetings.”

“Tony and Bea have come to make sure you are settled here happily.”

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