This section covers the events in the Reptile House.
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The Longer View
George moved into the Reptile house with Undepoldus the next day as originally planned. The visitors lottery had not yet come into operation so the strip in front of the display area was stationary and the shutter was closed.
His first move was to make the acquaintance of the Park's Director, Ivor Davies. When George called, two of the Park's veterinary surgeons were with Ivor.
When George had introduced himself, Ivor said. "Welcome to the Park George. I would like you to meet two of our vets, Vijaya Pandit and Pete Craig. The FPT has sent me a file about you and Undepoldus. It covers your status here, and what your specialities and interests are. If I may say so, they were very impressed with your credentials and so am I. I think that most of my staff have read your paper 'A New Approach to Domestic Animals' because so much of it also applies here. In the stories about making first contact with aliens from another planet, none of them make use of the techniques you described. The concept is so simple yet nobody thought of it before they saw your paper. 'Try first contact experiments with domestic animals before the real thing occurs.' You outdid the Doctor Doolittle in the children's story books. Your experiments with cows are mandatory reading for all zoologists like myself. Forgive me, I could talk about that paper all day. May I ask, did you bring Undepoldus with you?"
"Yes, of course Ivor. He is exploring his new home right now. I will be keeping open house today so that the other animal keepers and staff can come and see Undepoldus when they have a spare minute. The security is very tight. Each person who comes to see Undepoldus must have an identity card and say the name to door robot. If two people arrive together, both must be identified before the door will open. My Spacer reference is Gee-Mac 207. Each person must say to the robot that he or she wishes to see Gee-Mac 207. The robot will then advise me that I have a caller, who is calling, and how they are identified. Today is an exception. After today, anyone who wishes to see me must first contact me by vidcom."
"As you know, we have our own security systems but yours is as strict as any I have heard about. Undepoldus must be one of the most carefully guarded creatures on Earth."
"We want him to be safe. He didn't choose to come to Earth so the Spacers League intends that everything should be done to provide him with all his needs in the most comfortable and safe surroundings possible."
"That is completely understandable George. We try to do much the same for our animals but with slightly less emphasis on security. I'm free at the moment so I would like to come with you to see Undepoldus and I am sure that Vijaya and Peter would like to come too."
George said. That would be nice, but make sure that you have your identity cards with you. I cannot let you in otherwise. If you are not identified the robot will assume that I am under duress. Even if someone threatened to shoot me I could not let the person in."
The door robot identified and acknowledged George's visitors so they were admitted without fuss. George knew that Undepoldus could be anywhere, so he looked around to see where he had parked himself. He didn't have to look far. Undepoldus was perched on his desk in front of the vidcom unit. The vidcom was on but not operating.
George said. "Now you can see my little friend. Undepoldus, I would like you to meet Ivor Davies, the Park Director, with Vijaya Pandit and Steve Craig who are veterinarians."
The others looked at George as if he had been addressing a Teddy Bear but said nothing.
George explained. "I have the feeling that Undepoldus may be able to communicate with sound one day. Human babies learn to talk by hearing their parents talking to them and telling them stories. Undepoldus can only learn to talk to us if we talk to him. He may never learn to talk or understand what is said to him but I think that it is worth a try."
Ivor said. "I must confess that I never thought of that. Your paper amazed me and you amaze me. It is so logical. You make me feel that I ought to go back to school. I can see that I can learn a lot from you George."
Undepoldus did not stir as the three visitors studied him.
Vijaya said. "I cannot see any external organs. He seems to be all whiskers."
George replied. "You are right Vijaya, he is all whiskers. Even his digestive organ is covered in short whiskers. However, I am sure that he can sense things with his whiskers in ways we cannot imagine. For example I know that he can see. He is also able to recognise people."
Peter asked. "Is that why you introduced us to him?"
"No. Not exactly. I don't think that he understands speech yet but he seems to be able to detect if I am happy to be with certain people. The fact that I am happy to have you here with me seems to be good enough for him."
Peter said uncertainly. "I see." When it was quite clear that he did not see.
George said. "Ivor, come and see the display and feeding area. You can see where he will be directly but visitors will only be able to see him through mirrors."
Ivor went to touch the feeding hopper. George stopped him and said. "Don't ever touch anything connected with the feeding area that Undepoldus uses. He produces extremely potent acids to digest his rocks. He is a bit of a messy eater and may leave traces of his acids on any surface near where he has been eating."
"Thank you for warning me George. That hopper looks so brilliant that it could be made of diamond. I wanted to check what it feels like."
"You are almost right Ivor. We have a method of putting diamond coatings on almost anything. The hopper is made of hardened glass coated with diamond. The rocks will not scratch it and diamond seems to be resistant to the acids that Undepoldus produces. It should remain as bright as it is for a long time. Apart from Undepoldus, it is the thing that all visitors will look at. We want it always to look clean and bright when they see it."
Ivor said. " I could do with a few things of mine covered in diamond to prevent them from being scratched."
George said. "You wouldn't Ivor. When the process had been perfected, it was tried on all sorts of things including traditional crockery. The crockery was scratchproof but it scratched everything it touched. A diamond surface on a plate is an excellent device for making a knife blunt."
Ivor said. "Foiled again. I never thought of that. It is obvious when you think about it. Now George I think that I had better be going. I don't want to take up too much of your time. Thank you for showing me Undepoldus and his new home"
Vijaya and Peter took this as a cue to leave with Ivor. They said their goodbyes and thanks and left George and Undepoldus alone.
George soon found that the organisation of the new facilities
for Undepoldus had left him with very little to do. When he heard
the sound of running water he saw that an automatic hopper cleaning
device had switched on. A water jet washed the hopper and the
water went down a drain to a receiving station. The waste water
was collected in bottles thst were then sealed and marked with
the date and time. The filled bottles passed along a conveyor
and were placed in a cardboard box. On the box was the legend.
'London University Geological Samples'.
All that there was left for George to do was to observe Undepoldus and record the observations.
George came to the conclusion that he would have so much free time on his hands that he might as well try to put it to good use. He decided that he would need a project of some sort that would be challenging and worthwhile. He would spend his free time that day selecting a project.
George did not get very much free time because there was an
almost constant stream of visitors. Most of them had a special
interest because they cared for animals of one variety or another.
He was beginning to think that one of his projects was going to use up more of his free time very easily - in the evenings. Marita was more than a very warm and considerate share partner. She had a great sense of fun and she showed how much she appreciated his companionship. Every share partner had done her best to please him so that he would be happy if she became a frequent companion. They were all friendly, warm considerate and grateful. Nevertheless there was something in the way that they acted that was tentative. There was just the feeling that they were trying to be too nice to him. Marita was different. It might be because her training in companionship took place so many years ago and styles had changed a little. She liked to play silly games with him for fun whereas few of the other Spacers did. It wasn't that. It was more a sense that when they were together, he was all hers and she was all his.
The lottery was soon up and running. The streams of visitors passing the display area were interesting at first but when George had seen a lot of them they seemed to develop a sameness from one hour to the next and from one day to the next. The warmer weather brought a variation in clothing but otherwise no change. The only development of note came about because it was noticed that the viewing time was longer when groups of visitors crowded together.
The timing had been calculated to give each visitor five and a half seconds in front of the viewing area when the visitors were spaced one metre apart. If the spacing was decreased to half a metre, the viewing time was doubled. With a crowd of children packed shoulder to shoulder, the viewing time was even longer. The rate at which visitors stepped on the strip increased. The processor controlling the strip adjusted the speed so that the time between visitors remained constant.
The news of this effect soon spread and had a notable sociological effect. Tbe British visitors lost their reserved manners when they reached the strip. As soon as there was enough space to step onto, the next visitor would step on the strip and put his or her arms around the visitor in front for stability. The strip continued to run as before.. There were no gaps between the visitors and all had a much longer view of Undepoldus than had been planned for. The strip never broke down. However, as a precaution, it was strengthened and geared to run with a heavy load. In this way it was made more reliable.
The viewing area was open for nine hours a day but the strip
only operated for booked visitors for seven hours and forty minutes.
The remaining time permitted breaks for servicing checks, visits
by VIPs, Spacers and the disabled.
Undepoldus seemed to be aware of what was required of him. He didn't move much except to feed and clean himself when visitors were passing by. As soon as there was a break he would ramble around the room and crawl onto the desk beside the vidcom. When visitors were about to arrive he would return to the display area.
Each day George noticed how the new Undepoldus House was making progress. The enormous trench dug to house the rock transporter had been filled in and the grass restored. Only those who had seen the work being done could make out where it was. George spent a lot of his time with the vidcom, researching the details of all the events that led up to the launch of the Undepoldus Mission. When George checked how long Undepoldus had grown he found that Undepoldus had reached the length of fifty centimetres - a sort of a landmark. He checked his weight at one eighty-five and half grams. He was still a lightweight and still just able to rest on George's collar but his days of travelling that way would end soon.
Hundreds of people had seen George travelling between Regent's
Park and the Spacers Club but none had noticed that he carried
his hairy companion with him.
George always spoke to Undepoldus whenever he had a reasonable reason for doing so. Undepoldus never responded but George was sure that he understood speech more than a dog.
As a part of his project, George had a lot of correspondence with Marita's crew-mates.
Rear Admiral Umberto was delighted to help. She said that she was delighted to hear that Marita was one of George's frequent share partners. George asked Rosanne about her part in the Marswheel incident. This is what she told him.
"I was in my old ferry; I had just undocked from Marswheel, manoeuvring clear with gas jets, when I noticed something odd. I had the only craft under power but I caught a glimpse of another jet, operating near the wheel. Then I saw it clearly. It was an oxygen tank that had been holed amidships and had broken its tether. For a long moment I watched it tumbling, slowly, its escaping gas driving it in larger and larger spirals. I was practically frozen in horror as I saw that it would hit the Wheel in a few seconds.
I called the docking controller:
"MAYDAY! MARSWHEEL EMERGENCY!
CRASH COLLISION SECTOR FOUR! ROGUE GAS TANK!
As he acknowledged my call I could hear the wheel's vacuum warning siren through his communicator.
They made a vidplay about it. I could hardly bear to watch it.
I was suited up with my helmet off and the ferry was less than 500 metres from the wheel. I saw the tank hit the wheel and bounce away, but the damage had been done. It had broken several of the vital structural members that formed the rim of the wheel. At first nothing seemed to happen as the damaged part went out of my view. I moved the ferry above the wheel and saw it split where it had been damaged. The split widened and the parts between the spokes moved outwards. The controller had fired the jets to slow the wheel down but it was too late. The outward stress at the spokes was too much. The inner rim of the wheel split at the spokes and became detached. Now there was more centrifugal weight pulling the wheel apart. It broke into five pieces in as many seconds.
I knew that I had to try to help somehow. I assumed that I was the only person in a suit and that only those who had time to put their helmets on their formfits could survive. I had forty emergency transit bags aboard and a space hopper. I put the ferry on Auto and activated its beacon. I pumped down the passenger compartment and opened the door. I set the beacon target at the centre of the open door. Then, with a string of bags in tow I started looking for survivors. I was guided by the emergency lights on the formfits. Sadly, some of them were without helmets and beyond help. Each one I found that I could save was pushed into a bag, the bag sealed and its homer activated. Those I could not save were tied to the hopper and trailed behind me. There were two sections of the wheel that still retained air. They were spinning slowly and I could not match spin with them with the hopper with the bags in tow. I made a lasso with a piece of tether and managed to catch a projecting strut on the nearest spinning piece of the wheel. It pulled me away from the hopper and I was only just able to stay with the tether with my suit thrusters. I made my way to the centre of the spinning piece and banged on the window. I gestured 'Helmet on' to the first person who saw me. She didn't understand at first. I gave a Morse V signal and gestured thumbs up. She understood and put her helmet on. I then gestured 'vent'. It took valuable seconds to convince her to release air. She did in the end and the emergency door could be opened. I gave those inside the three bags to put on. When they had, I activated the homers and pushed them out.
The other piece had nobody in it so I didn't have to repeat the exercise.
I was making my way back to the ferry when I passed out.
I awoke to find myself in the hold with no helmet on. The first two Spacers I had rescued had realised what I had done with the bags. They had got out of their bags and recharged their helmets so that they could work in formfits. They pressurised the hold and passed the bags into it through the airlock. When about a dozen bags had arrived one of them went into the hold and started to open the bags for those who could not open them themselves. The other one went through the airlock into the pilot's cabin and put on my spare suit. She was about to start looking for more survivors when she saw my hopper drifting near the ferry. She dragged me into the ferry and pushed me through the airlock into the hold where I came to.
She told me that I had used 32 bags and 31 of them had saved a Spacer's life. The remaining one held a Spacer with a badly fitted helmet. I had also recovered eleven bodies. Only six of those on the wheel were missing.
I had nearly killed myself by ignoring my air supply. Because I had rescued her, she was grateful to have the chance to rescue me."
It was a fantastic story. George noted that she never mentioned that she broke her left ankle rescuing the three in the broken part of the wheel.
George made a note to remind himself that he also wanted Rosanne's story about the collision with a missile.
From time to time George looked at the building site to check on progress. He could see that it was going to look well in its surroundings while matching the character of the rest of the Park's buildings. The evenings were lighter and George took Undepoldus with him to see his new home when it was nearly finished.
In the meantime the flow of visitors continued undiminished. Some complained about the shortness of time they had to see Undepoldus. It was explained to the complainers that if everyone had a longer time to see Undepoldus, fewer people could see him at all. The cuddling queues as they came to be called changed only in the clothes the people were wearing.
On the 27th of April it was announced that there would be a
grand opening of Undepoldus House on the 4th of May. Some of the
systems used in the Reptile house were duplicated and a lot of
new ones were added.
The new stripway that ran beside the new viewing area had been completed and was being tested. The testers were having fun, doing a sort of Conga dance, the workmen and women forming a chain that repeatedly traversed the strip. They seemed anxious to recruit those who were watching to join them to lengthen the chain. Some children did, followed by their parents. Before long, enough people had joined the chain to make it a continuous loop. If it had been planned, it could not have worked as well. Each person in the chain was just a little out of step with the person in front. From the side, the movements of their legs were similar to that of the whiskers on a giant centipede, forming waves that appeared to run backwards along the chain. The children in the chain were laughing and giggling and all the adults had smiles on their faces. More and more people came to watch the spectacle that for many was more interesting than the animals they had come to see. Then the lead tester broke the chain and led the followers in front of the line of spectators. When he reached end of the line he stopped and each one in the chain of followers bumped into the one in front. This caused more amusement for both those in the chain and the spectators. He turned and bowed to the spectators and those who had been following him copied his example in a wave that progressed down the chain. The spectators applauded spontaneously. Those who had formed the chain waited until the applause faded before leaving the line. The strip had been thoroughly tested in the most good-humoured way possible. George discovered later that the event had been recorded and was carried by most of the vidcom news services that evening. It was incidentally an excellent promotion for the new Undepoldus House at Regent's Park.
The next day started uneventfully but at 10:35 George received a call from Ivor on the vidcom.
"George, go outside and have a look around the Park. Madness has broken out."
Ivor didn't elaborate or wait for George's reply.
As he left the Reptile house he saw long chains of people trying
to emulate yesterday's strip-testing chain. About half of the
Park's visitors had formed chains while the rest looked on bemused.
George presumed that those in the chains had seen the vidcom news
the night before and those who were watching had not. There was
a particularly long chain using the strip by Undepoldus House.
The strip had synchronised their footsteps so that the wave pattern
he had seen yesterday was repeated. The other chains never managed
to duplicate the waves but all participants seemed to be enjoying
the experience none the less.
The warmth of Spring and the bright sunshine at the end of April served to add to the general spirit of bonhomie among the Park's visitors.
When George went back to the Spacers Club he saw that chain-walking had become a minor craze. Some chains of young people had managed to duplicate the wave effect without the assistance of a slow-moving strip.
Undepoldus seemed to have become duller and less interesting
as the days had gone by. He seemed to have only two occupations.
He would do what was needed when visitors were streaming by and
he would crawl up onto George's desk and rest by the vidcom when
he wasn't needed on view.
He still liked to travel with George but at 89 centimetres he was too big to ride on George's collar. He developed an 'M' shape with the tops of the M on George's shoulders and the central V (more like a U) in front of his neck. George knew that he would not be able to keep that position for long because he was now growing at more than two centimetres a day. He wondered how long it would take for Undepoldus to find a different way to travel.
The next section covers the opening of Undepoldus House.
Viewers familiar with this subject may pass on to the following section.
Please select PASS or CONTINUE.